Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Guest Post - Making the most of your SNAP benefits

Guest Post by our friend, Shopping Ninja/Sakura Phoenix of  Ninjafrugality.com :

By Request- making the most of your SNAP benefits

I have a few readers that receive “SNAP” (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, also known as food stamps. Here’s some strategies and ideas on how to stretch them further!

The Basics

1. Treat your food stamps like they are your money. Like your money, there is a finite amount available to you in any given month, so you don’t want to run out on the day they load and spend it all!

2. Know what you can buy. You can buy almost any food item, but there are some items that are not allowed to be purchased by food stamps, like the precooked, hot rotisserie chickens, ready-to-eat pizza, salad bar items, basically anything that is cooked by the store and would otherwise be subject to meal tax. However, you can usually buy the “take-and-bake” pizzas, cold heat-and-eat fully cooked chicken, and deli salads.

Another thing that many aren’t aware that they can get with food stamps is seeds and edible plants. That means you could use your food stamps to purchase herb seeds or a basil plant from your produce department. Double check with your local store, as this may or may not be the case in your area!

3. Coupon, coupon, coupon. You’re given an exact dollar amount budget for the month, so the very best thing you can do is stretch that by shopping sales and combining sales with coupons. Food stamps have a way of shining a light on how much stocking up when prices are low affects your budget. For example, if your family typically eats 2lbs of pasta per week, then you’ll need about 8-10 boxes per month. My personal favorite pasta brand runs about $2 per one pound box when not on sale. Add in the $1 off 2 coupon that’s available at any given time, and I’m looking at spending $3 for 2 pounds of pasta, or $12-$15 per month. However, when my favorite brand goes on sale 10/$10, then I’m looking at spending only 50¢ per box after coupons- or $5 for 10 boxes. That’s $10 extra in your food budget!

Please note, in some states you will be taxed on the coupons- that does not occur where I live, so I can’t give details on this. But, be advised that you may have a small amount to pay out of pocket, so be sure to have some change in case this happens in your area.

4. To separate or not to separate- the transaction that is! If you have a cart full of items, some food, some non-food, then you have a decision to make as to whether or not you want to separate them into two transactions. Most of the time, it really doesn’t matter either way, as the register will automatically determine how much of your order is SNAP eligible. However, if you have some items that don’t qualify for SNAP and you’re using coupons on those, be aware that sometimes, the coupon is coded or entered incorrectly, and you may end up paying the full price on that item out of your cash. For example, say I have a package of diapers thrown in with my groceries, and I have a $3 off coupon for those diapers. If the coupon needs to be manually keyed in, most cashiers will actually enter it in wrong, just typing in “$3 grocery” for ease rather than the more correct “$3 HBA nonfood non tax”- and that $3 will come off your food stamp allotment. Yes, the cashier in this example made the mistake, but it is just easier to make sure everything comes out right if you separate your orders. Sometimes, the mistakes will go in your favor, too, but I’d rather not tempt fate!

Advanced SNAP usage

1. Combine coupons, sales, and rewards to maximize your benefits. Many stores run Catalina promotions- those little coupons that are generated at the register. Many times, there will be a promotion where you buy several items and the machine will spit out a “$X off your next order” (OYNO) coupon. These coupons can be used on ANYTHING sold at your store. For example, my friend Cindi wrote up a deal her store was running on cheese here. Basically, she received a coupon for $5 off her next order for buying 5 cheese products. The next time she goes into the store, she could use that $5 coupon on anything- including items that are not eligible for SNAP, such as laundry detergent, diapers, or cleaning products. The only caveat is, you should separate your order into two transactions, one for food, one for non-SNAP eligible items, to ensure that your coupons come off correctly.

2. SNAP plus Extrabucks or Register Rewards= more savings! Don’t forget that most, if not all, Walgreens and CVS stores accept SNAP benefits as a form of payment, and will still spit out the corresponding ECB or RR for the items purchased on your SNAP card! Then, you can use the ECBs or RRs for anything else you may need!

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