By Elizabeth Zimmerman, 2018-2019 Literacy First Tutor
Most people think that living on the (admittedly small) AmeriCorps stipend means that you have to sacrifice your favorite foods or give up eating out to save money. There are several ways that you can have it all while still staying on budget. Here are my tips for saving money on food during your service year.
Apply for SNAP!
One of the benefits of working with Literacy First is that most members qualify for SNAP Food Benefits (food stamps). SNAP is a federally funded program that helps people buy food. The money can be used for any cold food that needs to be prepared. It can’t be used for hot foods like pizza, or at restaurants, or for tobacco, alcohol, or items that you can’t eat or drink. The money comes loaded on a card similar to a debit card that you use when you check out. The money is loaded onto the card monthly, and if you don’t spend all of your SNAP benefits, the extra rolls over! Literacy First helps you with the application process at the start of your service term, and many members of the tutor cohort use SNAP. Qualifying for SNAP also means that some of your other bills can be reduced. If your utilities are in your name and you qualify for SNAP, you can ask for a reduced electric bill, according to the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Internet companies like AT&T can also offer you discounted internet with proof of your SNAP benefits.
Visit your local farmers market!
Farmers markets are a great way to spend a morning exploring different parts of Austin and getting local food. Some farmers markets accept SNAP and will even double your SNAP money! Check with the farmers market that you are going to beforehand, because not all of them in Austin accept SNAP. The farmers markets typically happen on the weekend, but there are also some that happen during the week. Farmers markets are a good place to find specialty foods. For example, the farmers market that I visit hosts a gluten-free bakery, a Polish food stand, and an Indian food stand.
Plan your meals!
A great way to save money is to meal plan. Meal planning is great because you can plan out all of your meals for the week right at the beginning! I like to plan out my weekly menu that so that I am eating meals with similar ingredients all week. This way, I can make sure that I use up all the food that I buy. With meal planning, I spent a little more money in the beginning to help get started. I bought some glass containers, which have held up better than plastic. The glass containers also don’t stain like the plastic containers, which means I don’t have to worry about putting tomato-based sauce in them. If you are someone who doesn’t like their food to touch, you can get containers with sections. Some other items that I invested in are reusable forks, knives and spoons. They are great for taking my lunch to school because I am not trying to hunt down plastic silverware during my lunch time. (On that note, having a reusable straw is also great to have if you like using straws, because the campus cafeterias don’t have plastic straws.)
Eat out for cheap!
There are so many great options if you want to go out to eat or want to hang out with friends. Tacos are a staple in Austin, and you can find them just about anywhere! Taco trucks are a great place to get good tacos. My favorite is the Al Pastor taco truck which has great prices – about $2 a taco! There are also many restaurants that offer teacher discounts that you can take advantage of with your school badge. Another fun thing to do instead of eating out with friends is to buy a cookbook and get a group of friends together to cook something at home. Every time that y’all meet to make a recipe out of the cookbook, everyone signs the recipe and gives a review.
Use your coupons!
Coupons are a great way to save money. Some apartment complexes have coupons for you when you move in. It works best for me if I organize the coupons by month, so I know when they expire and don’t have to worry about missing out. Some places like Starbucks and Chick-fil-a offer discounts through apps so it is always good to check out the apps for the places that you visit most frequently.
As long as you’re careful, you can definitely avoid a packaged ramen diet and eat good food on a budget during your time in Austin!