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Failing the budget test

For the past week I’ve been writing this column in my head.

I originally plotted out — paragraph by paragraph — my tale of conquer over the SNAP Challenge.

The idea behind the contest is to spend no more than the average amount a person is allotted for one week through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — more commonly referred to as food stamps.

That works itself out to $29.56 for one week, all food and beverages included. A little less than $4.25 per day.

After a couple days and a haphazard attempt at frugal grocery shopping had passed, I started editing my mental rough draft. So, I revised a story where I accomplished the feat, but succumbed to some tiny cheating in minute, inconsequential areas. Still a passing grade on the report card, but not quite the A-plus I’d envisioned.

I cheated a little here by drinking office coffee. I cheated a little there by using condiments with my meals that I already had in my fridge. Minor violations, I figured.

By Saturday afternoon — my fourth full day of the challenge — I opened the floodgates a little wider in the cheating department when my parents came to visit.

Hot wings, two beers and an omelet cost nearly as much as I was supposed to spend for the entire week.

Already hiding behind a thinly disguised veil of truth, I confronted my lie head-on Monday when I flat-out gave in to the pressure of working on a deadline and knowing I didn’t bring my lunch to work with me. I surrendered to the efficiency and convenience of fast food. No longer could white lies justify my completion of the SNAP Challenge.

I failed completely.

But what did I learn from my downfall?

In some ways, I managed to eat healthier while watching my budget to the penny. I didn’t spend money frivolously on artery-clogging fast food. However, I wasn’t exactly eating my daily allowance of expensive fruits and vegetables either. And I found my habitually random shopping habits plagued my bottom line.

My shopping list included 10 pounds of potatoes, a package of ground beef, four hamburgers, eight hamburger buns, one can of refried beans, three yogurts, two chicken breasts, tortillas, spaghetti noodles and one jar of pasta sauce. Not too bad.

But I also ended up with a box of Klondike ice cream bars, a package of guacamole and a bag of tortilla chips. How’d those get in my shopping cart?!

Planning is absolutely key if you’re going to succeed at cooking on a budget. My final tally came out to $35.66 ... plus two meals paid for by my parents, coffee courtesy of The Chronicle and some leftover condiments from my fridge.

My opinion on food stamps wasn’t changed by my experiment. I still believe it’s a program that needs reform. But it’s also a service that is important in this country, and I don’t have a problem with some of my tax dollars funding it.

Garrett Rudolph is the managing editor of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via email at grudolph@omakchronicle.com.

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