How do you stretch your food dollars?
November 18th, 2013
04:00 PM ET
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Cuts to SNAP benefits in November 2013 have left 47 million people with $36 a month less to spend on food. That cut (based on a family of four) is a 5% reduction to an already stretched budget.

The February 2014 presidential approval of the Farm Bill entails an $8 billion cut from SNAP over the next 10 years. This means 850,000 families will see an average $90 monthly drop in their food budget.

Millions of others who don't qualify for benefits, but who still struggle to feed their families, are finding the aisles of their local food banks more crowded with fellow shoppers than ever before.

We asked our readers, via our comments and Facebook, to share their strategies for making the most of their limited food funds. Here's what they had to say.

Cook without a kitchen

"I'm homeless and I am still able to buy food and sometimes even meat!
Why, because because I think about what I can buy before I get to the store with the money that I have! Aldis, Dollar General and Walmart are my usual choices.

Hint, shop at the outside aisles because these are where the cheaper brands and clearance items usually are. I can forage for food better than most, so I leave the welfare for the welfare moms!

What do I get? Lots of pastas, noodles, ramen, bread on markdown, sauce packs, SPAM (yes it makes a tasty meal, when done right), rice, beans and anything I can cook without a kitchen." - Jaay

Shop smartly and think ahead

"One turkey can feed a family of four well for a week at a very small cost per meal. Never buy pre-cut meat whether chicken or beef. Don't buy prepared meals. Use canned goods. Make meals from 'scratch' ranging from bread, biscuits, cakes, and cookies. Flour is cheap!" - Willard W. Olson via Facebook

"Soup is always good. You can make ten servings of good hearty and filling soup for less than $10. Buy day or two old bread for toast, bread pudding or a breakfast. Many stores sell baked goods at a discount price once they are a day or two old. Purchase packed meats on their expiration day. You can often save $3-5 on such a meat package." - Elaine Golding via Facebook

"Lentil soup and black bean chili. When you get dried beans and rice from the bulk bins in a grocery store they are way cheaper, just a few dollars for a big bag that lasts all week. And just a few bucks more for the big bottle of hot sauce." - Jeannie Allen via Facebook

"Buy non-perishables in bulk and don't buy so many cold food items. The non perishables last longer and if you get stuck inside due to an ice storm or something you do not have a lot of spoiled food. Peanut butter is something I always have. It is something you can eat that you do not have to keep cold, and it is healthy." - Tina Armstrong via Facebook

"People always think unhealthy food is cheaper and healthy food too expensive, but that is just an excuse. You can buy Kraft dinner which will feed you just one or two meals. But if you buy an entire bag of noodles, a jar of sauce and a few veggies you can make a healthy meal, freeze it and have food for weeks or months. It may seem more expensive at first, but in the long run it is cheaper." - Hollie SC via Facebook

Grow your own

"IF IF IF you have a little dirt, PLANT YOUR OWN vegetables! We do, but then I have an acre lot. Then there are clay pots to use also, hanging tomato plants." - Rebecca Howard via Facebook

I did gardening this summer the price of dirt was $6 I went to the dollar store and bought my containers for $12 and hit Walmart for seeds for $10 dollars. I had tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, strawberries and green peppers all summer long. Cheaper then buying produce all summer long for a family of five." - Brandi Devlin via Facebook

"Invest in fruit trees and a vegetable garden. Recycle organic waste into compost and till the soil. A garden is the cheapest investment one can make with the highest continual return." - Tyllor Parker via Facebook

Pump up the protein

"At the food bank where I work we're typically low in foods that are high in protein. Obviously meats have protein, but so do nuts/seeds, dairy products, eggs, beans, quinoa, peanut butter, lentils, barley, etc. We actually recently developed our own intentional food products, one of which is a lentil and barley chili mix, as a way to combat our lack of protein in the warehouse. It's all donated from local farmers, packaged by volunteers and it's delicious!" - Carly Petersen via Facebook

Get cooking

"$30 a week per person doesn't sound too bad, assuming you have a kitchen, time and ability to cook and shop. It'd take some effort, and there are 'start-up costs' if your kitchen is otherwise bare. If your usual lunch is a $10 gourmet spinach salad, it's not going to be easy to get used to. And doing all the work involved for one person is a pain, compared to cooking for a family. But it shouldn't mean rice and beans for dinner every night and PB&J sandwiches for lunch, either. Nor mystery meat and hot dogs.

Let's see: two chickens ($8), a dozen eggs ($3), a pork chop or steak ($3), a pound each of pasta ($1), rice ($1), carrots ($1), broccoli ($2), cheese ($4), onions ($1), greens ($2), loaf of bread ($3), gallon of milk ($4), bag of generic breakfast cereal ($5). That's $38 without shopping very hard, substantial meat every day and leftovers." - Bill

"Learn how to cook and buy raw ingredients. Flour, butter, sugar etc. Making tasty food is easier than you think. Most people overthink cooking and preparing food. Making things like homemade stove top macaroni and cheese takes the same amount of time as boxed. Eating to live and not living to eat takes some reconditioning but it can be done. If you cut out the junk food you have more money for the good stuff. Can't do organic though - too pricy! Plus I buy frozen veggies cause they are cheaper but still healthy." - Sierra Bingham via Facebook

Double your dollars

"The Sustainable Food Center farmers markets in the greater Austin area have an excellent program for SNAP recipients. And there are markets in areas all over town, making it somewhat easier for everyone to find a way to the market. AND, they double the dollar value SNAP and WIC recipients can spend on fruits and veg. Moreover, they advertise these benefits broadly to get the word out to people in need." - Lisa G

Editor's note: Wholesome Wave also doubles SNAP benefits at farmers markets around the country.

Shop around creatively

"We are not on the system, we just don't qualify. We watch every penny. My grocery budget is $160 a month for my family of three. That covers breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks for two adults and a preschooler. That also includes all restaurant and impulse (e.g. Starbucks) purchases. How do we do it?

Easy - first, I have an arrangement with a local organic farm to work in exchange for produce. That takes care of the bulk of my family's need for veggies and fruits. Then, I take my shopping list and visit my fave grocery outlet or dollar store. My next visit is Costco for their discount organic items before I'm done with usually enough left for one trip to Starbucks and one trip to a low-cost restaurant (we have a local diner where we can get a family dinner for $25).

Through all of this, my family does not eat low-standard food. We don't fill our menus with pasta, cereal, bread, etc. (my husband is diabetic). We focus on fresh vegetables, some fruits and lots of legumes, seeds, nuts. It works for us. We are not starving, yet we are also not over-fed." - Tonya

Comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Learn more ways to help the hungry people around you at CNN Impact Your World and please share your strategies in the comments below.

How to feed your family from a food bank
Opinion: SNAP isn't about a 'free lunch'
The food stamp challenge results: eating on $30 a week
Could you live on $30 a week?
Our family will lose $44 in food stamps
5 Shocking statistics about hunger
Witnesses to Hunger: A portrait of food insecurity in America
Childhood malnutrition has long lasting effects
"A time of record need" for food insecure
Lawmakers eat on a food stamp budget
Food stamp cuts a cruel proposal

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Filed under: Buzz • From the Comments • Hunger • Shopping • SNAP

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