The number of people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more casually known as food stamps, ticks up every year. In 2021, roughly 41.5 million Americans were enrolled in SNAP -- up from the nearly 40 million enrolled in 2020, according to the KIDS COUNT Data Center. That's about 13% of the U.S. population.
The importance of SNAP cannot be overstated. For many folks living on low income, SNAP is their main source of nutrition assistance and the difference between having food security and going to bed hungry. Hopefully we'll see more benefits come to SNAP, similar to what we saw in 2021, when the Biden administration permanently boosted average SNAP benefits by more than 25%.
SNAP is clearly life-saving -- but it's not making anybody rich. Enrolled consumers still have to be highly mindful of what SNAP does and doesn't cover (you can learn more about that here) and how to make their food stamp money work the hardest.
"Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest ways to stretch the value of your food stamps," said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com.
"Generic brands are typically much cheaper than name-brands and are often just as good -- if not better -- than those big-name counterparts. By shopping for generics, you'll save on each item, which means you'll be able to buy more of what you need with your food stamps."
Buy Seeds or Seedlings
"You can purchase food-growing seeds or food-producing plants with your SNAP allotment, which can potentially stretch your budget quite a bit," said Ashley Schuering, the blogger behind Confessions of a Grocery Addict.
"Granted, you need a bit of gardening know-how and either containers or land to grow on, but this is a great move towards food sovereignty and can be the best ROI out there."
Go to Farmers Markets
"I've worked at many farmers markets, and a lot of them have a program where SNAP funds are matched dollar for dollar, meaning you can get double your budget," Schuering said. "Foods that are in season are also often much cheaper, local foods are often more nutritious, and supporting local agriculture is good for the community (and food system) at large."
To get even more bang for your buck, Schuering suggests going to farmers markets close to closing time.
"Many farmers will implement deep discounts to help offload fruits and veggies rather than hauling them back to the farm or risking them going bad."
Don't Shop at Eye Level
"Brands pay big bucks to get prime product placement on the shelves," Schuering said.
"Looking toward the top and bottom will often show you much cheaper items in the same product category."
Buy Frozen Foods
"Frozen fruits and veggies are picked at peak freshness, meaning they retain all their nutritional goodness," Schuering said. "They're often much cheaper than fresh, especially when items are out of season. Frozen chicken and fish are also often cheaper than fresh."
Shop at Affordable Stores like Walmart
"In addition to buying generics, shopping at overall more affordable stores will help to stretch your food stamps even more," Ramhold said.
"Retailers like Walmart generally have pretty good prices, especially when it comes to their own brands, but even on other groceries like produce and meat. So, if you're near one, it may be a good way to ensure your food stamps go further."
Claim Eligible Deductions
"In order to make sure you're receiving the maximum amount of benefits, you should check to see if you can claim any deductions in your SNAP benefits paperwork," Ramhold said. "For instance, you may be eligible for deductions related to child support, medical expenses and excess shelter costs. Basically, if anyone in your household is legally obligated to pay child support, you may be able to claim that deduction in order to receive more SNAP benefits."
The same goes for medical expenses, if you have a disabled person or senior in your household, Ramhold pointed out. Eligible expenses can include things like medical and dental, medications, nursing care, in-home health attendant care, health insurance premiums, transportation costs and service animal expenses, she said.
"As for excess shelter cost deductions, look for things like rent or mortgage payments, insurance, property taxes, home repair and utility costs to be eligible," Ramhold said.
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