SNAP Challenge Day 1: Comparing Prices, and a Moment of Panic


Last night the SNAP Challenge started in earnest for me. I had wandered through the grocery store earlier in the week to scope out what I might be able to buy with my $36 for the week and how to plan my meals.

But on this trip to the store I took my revised list and went to the local grocer to start the challenge. Rather than filling my cart with what looked appealing or what caught my eye, I went cautiously down each aisle looking for the items I had pre-identified some best bets to get me through the week. When I found one – eggs or rice or beans – I studied the selections. Not reaching for the name brand as I often will but comparing the prices and trying to read the fine print on the sale items to see what might save me 20 cents here or there.

I got everything on my list except nuts which we just too expensive to fit in the budget and I passed on bananas because I know a cheaper place down the street to get them. The dream of organics or fresh produce in general quickly dropped away.

I ended up spending $28.54 so I only really have a few dollars left but I got what I needed to put my eating plan into action: Oatmeal with banana for breakfast, tuna pasta or rice and beans with cheese for lunch, and scrambled eggs for dinner. Not much variety.

The one indulgence, I didn’t buy the cheapest tea but spent the extra 80 cents for my favorite as it might be one of the few perks in what could be a long week.

The nerve wracking moment and while I wouldn’t wish it on anyone it was an important one for me came when I made my way to the cashier. There were two items – oatmeal and tuna in a can – that had very different prices on the containers themselves than on the promotion flyer on the shelves where I found them. At the promo price I could get them but not the sticker price. I awkwardly asked the cashier to confirm the actual price. When she confirmed the sale price I thanked her and said I would indeed take them. Then I cautioned her, “but please tell me if you get close to $30 because then I will need to make some choices.” she smiled at me and I tried to settle my stomach and catch my breath.

I’ve never had to do that before. Unless the lines are particularly long at the checkout or the store ran out of a necessary ingredient, grocery shopping isn’t usually such a fraught experience for me. As I walked out of the store and felt the anxiety start to subside, I realized I haven’t really even gotten started yet.