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How to Get the Most Out of Food Stamp Benefits
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) gives people food stamp benefits. These benefits let people buy foods that are approved by the United States Department of Agriculture. SNAP benefits are put on an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card. The EBT card works like a debit card.
Finding out how to get food stamps can be easy. But making the most of your benefits might be harder. You have to shop for healthy foods for your family every month with the benefits you are given. Find out tips on how to get the most out of your benefits below.
Learn About the Benefits of an EBT Card
You will get SNAP benefits on your EBT card. The EBT card works like a debit card or credit card. EBT cards are accepted in all 50 states and D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam.
Access Your Free Food Stamps Guide:View Guide Now
EBT cards make it easy to look at what you have spent on groceries. You can set up an account online with a user ID and password. Then you can look at your last 10 transactions. You can get a two-month statement, too.
If you think someone took your EBT card and PIN, you can file a claim using your account to protect your benefits.
EBT cards will get new benefits every month that you are part of SNAP. You don’t have to get vouchers. This means you don’t have to deal with delays or worry about losing voucher papers.
There are two main approaches that consumers take when getting free credit reports. You can request reports from all three bureaus at one time to see how the scores vary slightly (as they often do). Otherwise, you can spread out your requests throughout the year to track your credit increases or decreases every few months.
Need to ask questions about your SNAP benefits? You can call the toll-free customer service helpline 24/7. You can check your balance and change your PIN number. You can ask for a new card if yours was lost or stolen, too. The hotline service is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, Haitian-Creole, Italian, Korean, Russian and Spanish.
There is no limit on the number of times you can use your EBT card. You just have to keep in mind how much you have left in your SNAP balance. Remember that you cannot get cashback or use ATMs with your EBT card.
Quick Tips for Shopping on Food Stamps
Making smart purchases and learning as much as you can about how to buy and prepare new foods can help you make your SNAP benefits last longer. Take a look below for three quick tips on how to shop with food stamps. These tips can help you start getting the most out of your benefits.
Tip 1: Plan Ahead
If you plan your meals every week, you will know exactly what you need and how much it will cost. This keeps you from wasting food. It helps you stay within your budget, too. You can plan ahead with these easy steps:
- Make a grocery list. Making a list of foods you actually need will help you to stick to a budget when you get to the store. Do not buy what is not on the list.
- Eat before you shop. Going to the grocery store hungry can make you think about buying foods you don’t really need. If you eat before you go grocery shopping, it’s easier to stick to your grocery list.
- Meal plan for the week. Making a plan of all your meals for the week can help you before you shop. First, you can buy only what you need by planning ahead and checking what you already have at home. Second, you can save time during the week by cooking in batches.
- Cook in batches. Making bigger portions than you need for the day will give you the chance to have leftovers. You can freeze those leftovers to have them as a meal later in the week. Cooking in batches makes it easier to use all your fresh meat or vegetables before they go bad, too. So think about multiple meals when you shop.
- Know your EBT balance. Make sure you know your balance before heading to the grocery store so that you don’t go over budget. You can find your balance at the bottom of your last receipt or by calling or checking online.
- Know where to shop. You can find grocery stores that accept EBT cards by looking online. Shop around for stores with the best deals right when you first get food stamps. This can help make your benefits go further.
Tip 2: Know What You Can Buy With Your SNAP Benefits
SNAP lets you buy bread, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products. You will not be able to buy hot foods, vitamins, liquor or any non-food items with food stamps. Take time to learn what is and is not approved, so you can plan better. Once you have a plan for what you want to cook each week, you can buy SNAP-approved foods at your grocery store.
Be sure to check the expiration dates on foods you buy. You can find foods with a later expiration date towards the back of the rack. Grocery stores usually stock the foods that are going to expire sooner towards the front.
Check the prices, too. Find the best price for each food by comparing brands. That could mean shopping at different stores, too. You can usually save by buying the grocery store brand instead of the name brand. You can think about buying foods in bulk, too. Some foods will be cheaper if you buy more of them than just one.
Tip 3: Get Foods That Last Longer
Getting a lot of dry food and canned food can keep you from wasting your benefits. Dry and canned foods don’t expire fast. These include rice, beans and canned vegetables. If you buy bigger cans and larger bags of dry food, you can use them for a lot of meals.
Dry beans are cheaper than canned beans. Be sure to check prices and learn how to use dry beans and other ingredients you might not have used before to get the most out of them. The USDA has a SNAP-ED program that gives you recipes and meal plan ideas if you’re interested. If you have questions, you can talk to SNAP workers at a local office, too.
Stocking your pantry with foods that last can help you save money each month because you won’t have to always be replacing them. Getting a big bag of rice or potatoes can last your family for a long time. So try to look at bulk prices early on and buy a few big items until you build up your pantry. Then, you can make your meal plans based on what you already have.
Keep in mind that proteins like canned fish can last a long time, too. So you can buy a lot of them. If you want to buy any fresh meat, make sure you freeze anything you don’t need that day so that nothing goes to waste. The same goes for vegetables or fruits. Buy canned fruits and vegetables that can last a long time or make sure you freeze fresh fruits and vegetables you don’t use so you don’t waste them.