Food stamps are for food, right? Well, yes, but there are exceptions. It is generally well known that food stamps are used to buy groceries, but not all food is equally eligible. There are certain places where you can use them, and places where you cannot, which we will cover in our next post. Here we will go over some of the things you may never have thought of when planning your grocery budget.
The most efficient way to use your food stamps, if you have the time to invest in it, is to use them to purchase garden seeds. You can buy vegetable or culinary herb seeds because they count as food. To the best of my knowledge, flowers do not, but I could be wrong. The only catch is that you have to buy them from a place that accepts food stamps. You can buy them at the grocery store (springtime often brings a rack or two to the produce department) or your local co-op (more likely to find organic seeds there), or anywhere else that meets the criteria. This is an excellent way to feed your family organic produce for very little money. I can pay $2.99 for one organic cucumber at my supermarket, or I can pay $2.99 for a package of organic seeds and have enough cucumbers to last me probably two years. This is the most efficient way to use your food stamps, though there is the waiting time from planting time to harvest.
In this same vein, you can also buy vegetable and herb seedlings. I like to buy my seedlings at the farmer’s market from a local farmer, but my supermarket and co-op also sell them. If you have trouble getting seeds to sprout, this is probably the second most efficient use of food stamps in terms of amount of food for the cost.
Most food stamps are used at supermarkets, because that is where most of us buy our food. Supermarkets have a wide selection of foods to fit all kinds of diets, from kosher, to vegetarian, to paleo, to the standard American diet. If it is a food at a supermarket, you can most likely purchase it with food stamps. The exception is food that is made to order. This usually includes the hot food bar near the deli, and sometimes the salad bar. I have had the salad bar go through for me on some days, and not go through on others. When you use food stamps to buy a food that would normally be taxed, the tax is waived at the register. I always do a double take when the clerk says, “That will be $4.36, please,” then the register asks me to confirm the price as $3.99, and the register says transaction complete.
Some grocery stores and convenience stores have pre-made wrapped sandwiches in their cooler section. These can be bought with food stamps. This is wonderful for people who have no place to prepare food, like the homeless. It is also a sanity saver when you have been out on the road for way longer than you expected, you have kids in the car with you, it has been hours since they could run around, they are tired and hungry, and you forgot to pack a lunch or snack. You can get them a sandwich instead of a box of animal crackers or cookies. As they say, Thank heaven for 7-Eleven. And kudos to that chain for adding bananas to their stores so frazzled parents can give their kids a banana instead of a candy bar. Although this is an acceptable use of food stamps, and a wonderful boon at times, it is not the most efficient way to put your food stamps to work.
Although cleaning supplies like soap and dish detergent are vitally important to health, they are not purchasable with food stamps. Since you can’t eat them, you can’t spend your food stamps on them. If you receive EBT cash benefits, you can buy them. But did you know that you can make some cleaning supplies with food? It is true. When I lived entirely on food stamps, section 8, and child support, I didn’t have much cash available for window cleaner, oven cleaner, etc. Fortunately, some foods make excellent cleaners. Baking soda and vinegar are foods that do double duty. My window cleaner was made of a tiny bit of dish soap (a couple drops) mixed into a spray bottle with vinegar and water. I got cheapo vinegar for cleaning, and saved the raw, organic apple cider vinegar for cooking. Baking soda makes a good oven cleaner, when mixed into a paste with a few sprinkles of water. I got lots of homemade cleaning recipes at care2.com.
Do you know of unusual things you can buy with food stamps? Leave a comment below and let us know.