Yesterday was my birthday.  I did NOT follow the guidelines to the letter.  First, if I’d been on food stamps (and I have been in the past once), I’d have saved up so I could have something special on my birthday.  That’s just what you do.  Second, if someone offered me free brownies for my birthday, I’d definitely accept.  It’d be rude (and dumb) not to.  So… I cheated.

I’ve noticed some definite flaws in this challenge for those of us who aren’t well-off CEOs of major companies.  I can’t use food I already have on hand?  I’m a smart shopper; I buy in bulk and it lasts me a week, a month, or more.  buying for just one week for this challenge was a waste.  Not being able to use food I already have was wasteful and irritating.  If I did this challenge again, I’d do the month-long version.

You can’t accept freebies?  Trust me, if you’re on SNAP, you will accept any freebie you can get… and will actively seek out discounts, perks, and other things.  Again, I understand that the idea is to experience hunger.  It’s still flawed.

This challenge also assumes that you don’t already occasionally miss a meal or make a less-nutritious offer because you’re on tight funds.  Yes, I’m blessed and I can occasionally splurge, but I’m also digging out of four years of divorce debt.  I know what being hungry feels like.  I know what doing without feels like.  Between my finances and my ulcerative colitis, I can’t afford to let my nutritional levels drop too much or I really will be just like someone on SNAP… suffering from anemia, malnutrition, and other deficiencies.

I’m still going to try this today, but I may stop soon.  It HAS made the point… and I don’t have a big enough following to stress over it.  I just don’t.

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So Day 1 is in the bag.  Overall, I got through it alright, although I got very hungry around 5:00 and no amount of carrots was going to change that.  Since I wasn’t going to be able to eat again until 8:30 pm (at a job), I drove through Taco Bell.  You have to understand, I hate Taco Bell.  I call it Taco Hell.  But I was hungry enough and rushed enough to make a bad nutritional choice and drive through there for a cheap Beefy 5-Layer Burrito.  Ugh.  Nasty… and I ate every bite of the pasty white-flour tortilla, gloopy filling (which may or may not have had any meat in it) and the stuff that spilled over my fingers as I tried to not make a mess while I drove.  Note to self:  Taco Bell is a terrible option for driving.

I had a job that required me to purchase food at 8:30.  The food was actually pretty nasty (just like the Taco Bell), but I have to mention it here because it was separate from the money for the challenge.  However, if I were on food stamps, I would be actively trying to get side jobs and free things, so I think this was pretty realistic (at least for me).

Since today is my birthday, I treated myself to a Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks.  Happy birthday to me… and I am now down to $8.73 for the week and it’s only Tuesday.  Yipes.  I may be eating a lot of rice and carrots this weekend.

A packet of oatmeal.

That’s my breakfast today.

I won’t starve on a packet of oatmeal.  Not even close.  It’s vitamin-fortified, too, so I may get some nutrition from it.

Psychologically, though, I’m missing my 3/4 c oatmeal with a tablespoon of flaxseed, 1/2 c of berries, and 2 tablespoons of nuts.  Oh, and my tea.  Or coffee drink.  I’m fortunate that I’m not a big caffeine addict, so I don’t physically miss the morning drink.  But I miss it anyway.  The warmth.  The flood of tastes over my tongue.

I’m going to psych myself out of this thing before I ever get started.

I have a kind of weird week to be doing this.  I won’t actually be back home until Friday night, so I’m getting a good dose of trying to do this on the road (or homeless).  It’s a birthday week, but I won’t be celebrating.  I’m not supposed to accept free food this week, but what if there’s a birthday thing here at work?  What about the mystery shop I’m supposed to do that involves food?

I’m giving myself a pass on those.  If I were truly living off SNAP benefits, I’d be grabbing up every free food opportunity I could find.  Just because this is only one week shouldn’t change that.

My plan for the day is this:

Breakfast:  1 packet of oatmeal and 8 ounces of vanilla almond milk.  I wanted the chocolate, just so I’d feel like I was having my morning mocha, but the chocolate was not on sale this week and cost more than $1 more.  Seriously?  So I have the vanilla.

Lunch:  1 whole grain sandwich thin with 2 tablespoons of berry nut peanut butter.  I’m trying to not go cross-eyed at the amount of processed food I’m eating or the fact that there is hydrogenated vegetable oil in my peanut butter.  The peanut butter I would normally have purchased was $3 more.  The almond butter was $5 more.

For snacks, I have a banana for the morning and carrots (lots of carrots) for the afternoon.  Did I mention I’ll probably drink a LOT of water?

Dinner today is my cheat day, although I don’t think of it as cheating.  I can’t get around the requirement to eat at this location for my shop, so I will eat.  I’m still debating if I’m going to count that as part of my $14.77 remaining cash.

That’s it.  That’s my day’s food.  Really, it’s not that different from what I normally eat, except less healthy versions.  Is it harder to be healthy on SNAP benefits?  I didn’t buy bulk items because I’m doing this for just a week, but I would definitely be buying more bulk if this was my way of life.

Here goes nothing…

I checked in this week to see how I’m doing at my goal to save $200 by 2014: $53.  That’s one-quarter of the way there with three full months to go.  I’m starting to feel like I can do this, in spite of birthdays, Christmas, new contacts, and a much needed dentist visit being on the agenda.  But I can’t get complacent.

Next week I’m going to pretend I’m on food stamps for a week and see if I can survive on $4.50 a day (or $31.50 for the week) as part of the Feeding America SNAP Challenge.  While this will be good for my wallet, it isn’t so good for training, so I’m going to bring my training down for just that week.  I did bike 37.6 miles and run 8 this week, so I wasn’t totally slouching, but I need to get back to weight training soon.

Beyond that, I don’t have any words of wisdom on this whole savings thing.  Slow progress is still progress.  I’m still moving up, not down.  I guess saving money is like weight loss; you want it to magically appear all at once, but it’s a lot healthier to do it in bits and pieces and get the habits in place for long-term living rather than short-term results.

It still would have been nice to win the $400 million Powerball on Wednesday night.