The Illinois Food Bank Association issued a challenge to Illinoisans — could they survive by spending only $25 a week for food? $25 a week is the average weekly food stamp benefit that an individual receives in Illinois. Could you make such a small amount last while still eating nutritious meals?
Every week, thousands of Illinoisans struggle to feed themselves and their families on less than $25 per person each week – or approximately $3.50 a day. If this sounds nearly impossible, it is. As a result, more and more of our neighbors are turning to food banks and pantries just to make ends meet.
The challenge is over now and the participants have shared what they learned about hunger and about frugality.
One poster, named Becky, was optimistic about the project. With $100 to feed four people, she thought she could clip coupons and make it work:
We all worked together to plan our menu (a lot of carbs, leftovers, and pb&j), collect coupons, and find the best sales. We between 2 coupons we had, a brand deal, and a store discount we actually got 6 boxes of cereal for free! However, at the store, when we had to stay away from our organic, whole grain, carbonated fruit juice all natural soda, and anything at all convenient the challenge began to be less of game and sunk in for real. We were terrified as our sub-total climbed and we still had meat, dairy, and produce on the list.
As the week has progressed, I feel an overwhelming sense of failure and guilt for not providing for my family. I cannot help but to think of the families who face this every week.
Now we are out of milk and fresh fruit. We have 6 boxes of cereal to eat, but no milk…
Another poster shared her shopping trip to Aldi, where she got a good deal on ingredients for chicken soup– but her family still craved between meal snacks, and her husband quit after one day.
I bought a whole chicken, a loaf of bread, a bag of salad, a box of rice, a bag of egg noodles, a gallon of milk, a box of grapes, a 24-pack of bottled water, a box of deli turkey for sandwiches, a bag of cheese and a 30-count package of eggs…all for $24.88.
Another participant was astonished at how grouchy and distracted the challenge made him:
I have lost a lot of concentration and patience due to the Challenge. I have become extremely agitated for no decent reason. Last night when I came home, my girlfriend asked me what I would like for dinner and said I wanted something I bought off my list. She said fine, but proceeded to fancy up the dinner by adding some things to it. My tone came off negative as I told her I could not have the fancied dinner because of what she was adding was not within my $25. I’m not sure if I was just grumpy because I hadn’t eaten much, but I did not like it. After I ate, I was cheerful again. It’s a weird conundrum.
The challenge is over, but that’s no reason not to challenge yourself. Can you feed yourself on $25 a week? Can you eat healthy meals? How do you save money on food?