Key Takeaways

Recently, as part of its annual SNAP cost of living adjustment for 2022 paired with a permanent adjustment to the Thrifty Food Plan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) raised the minimum monthly program benefit to $20 for most one- or two-person households.1 That’s up from about $15 or $16 just over a year ago. (In Alaska, the amount ranges from $26–$40; in Hawaii, it’s $38).

If you’re a SNAP-eligible older adult who qualifies for the minimum monthly benefit, $20 may not sound like much. But every dollar in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance can help you afford healthier food. And even modest improvements in diet and nutrition can lead to a variety of positive health benefits.

According to Facebook user Suzanne Leary, she agrees that $19 or $20 may not seem like much. "However, you need to look at the bright side of the coin. I have a telephone that I don't pay one penny for because I qualify for SNAP benefits. I also have an Amazon Prime account for which I pay no shipping charges on anything I send to my family for a discounted price of only $6 a month," Leary said.

"So my $20 a month actually saves me over $700 a year. So in addition to these savings, I get enough to buy bread, milk and eggs every month," she continued.

What will $20 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance buy?

Keeping in mind that prices will vary depending on where you live and where you shop, here are some ideas for stretching your minimum monthly SNAP benefits*:

$20 Basket A - Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Food Item Cost
(1) dozen, fresh eggs $1.93
(1) 16 oz. bag of ground coffee $5.54
(1) 16 oz. loaf of (white) bread $1.55
(3) 5 oz. cans of tuna (canned, chunk light) $3.172
(1) 16 oz. box of pasta (elbow macaroni) $1.16
(1) pound of fresh tomatoes $1.89
(1) pound of 100% ground chuck beef $4.77
TOTAL $20.01

$20 Basket B - Protein Pack

Food Item Cost
(1) pound of 100% ground beef $4.55
(1) pound of pork chops $4.02
(5) pounds of chicken (whole, fresh) $8.10
(2) dozen, fresh eggs $3.86
TOTAL $20.53

$20 Basket C - Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Variety

Food Item Cost
(2) pounds of bananas $1.26
(2) pounds of navel oranges $2.86
(1) pint of strawberries $3.10
(1) 5 pound bag of white potatoes $3.95
(1) pound of fresh tomatoes $1.89
(2) pounds of romaine lettuce $6.36
TOTAL $19.42

$20 Basket 5 - Basic Staples

Food Item Cost
(1) 5 pound bag of white, all-purpose flour $2.10
(1) 5 pound bag of white sugar $3.55
(2) 16 oz. boxes of dried pasta $2.32
(1) 5 pound bag of dried beans $7.50
(1) 5 pound bag of white rice $4.15
TOTAL $19.62

Of course, these sample baskets barely scratch the surface of what you can buy with SNAP. By using some of the strategies below, you may discover that $20 wields even more purchasing power for even more grocery items than you might have thought.

*Unless otherwise noted, all prices are based on national averages as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Mid-Atlantic Information Office for January 2022.3

What other strategies can I use to shop on a budget?

  • Buy in bulk when you can. Items like dried beans, rice, pasta, spices, and flour generally cost less than their canned, boxed, or other pre-packaged counterparts.
  • Check the per-unit price. Each shelf label should include this information, which can be useful to your decision-making. For example, “Family Size” quantities of the same item—such as cereal—can often cost less per ounce than if you bought a smaller box. You’ll pay more up front, but you’ll also have more cereal to eat. This is a particularly good strategy for non-perishable groceries.
  • Shop at discount grocers if you have some nearby. Sometimes known as “surplus stores,” “bent-and-dent stores,” or “closeout grocery stores,” these retailers can offer significant savings if you’re willing to take a gamble on inventory, which can vary week-to-week. Use the USDA’s SNAP Retailer Locater to find a participating discount store near you.
  • Use store apps. If you have a smart phone, check whether your regular grocery store offers an app. In addition to other conveniences, many of these apps offer discounts and promotions based on your shopping habits. This can help you save more money on items you regularly purchase—without having to scour the weekly circulars. Coupons specific to you will load directly into the app, and you can apply them during checkout. Some stores will even offer “freebies” to entice you to return.
  • Shop online. Did you know that can use your SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card to buy groceries online in certain places? As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA launched a SNAP online purchasing pilot in 48 U.S. states. If you live in one of them, you can use your SNAP benefits for this purpose (you can’t use SNAP to pay for delivery, however). Online shopping could help you quickly compare prices and find discounts on everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to pantry staples—both from your local store and large national retailers.

Sometimes SNAP benefits are lower than they should be. This is because when you apply for SNAP, your income determines the amount of SNAP benefits you get. There are certain “deductions” that are considered and can increase the amount of SNAP benefits you get.

For example, there's a deduction that could apply if you pay a lot for housing (including your rent or mortgage, as well as utilities). If you're over 60 or have a disability, you may also be able to deduct out-of-pocket medical costs.

If you think you may not be getting all the benefits you deserve, contact your local Benefits Enrollment Center, or BEC, or call your local SNAP hotline.

Sources

1. USDA’s “SNAP FY 2022 COLA for Maximum Allotments”. Found on the internet at https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/2022-SNAP-COLA-%20Maximum-Allotments.pdf

2. BLS Beta Labs’s “BLS Data Finder 1.1”. Found on the internet at https://beta.bls.gov/dataQuery/find?fq=survey:[ap]&s=popularity:D (all data searched and extracted on March 3, 2022.)

3. BLS’s “Average Retail Food and Energy Prices, U.S. and Midwest Region”. Found on the internet at https://www.bls.gov/regions/mid-atlantic/data/averageretailfoodandenergyprices_usandmidwest_table.htm

4. USDA’s “Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2019” (p. 72). Found on the internet at https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/Characteristics2019.pdf

5. USDA’s “Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2019” (p. 78). Found on the internet at https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/Characteristics2019.pdf

6. USDA’s “SNAP Special Rules for the Elderly or Disabled”. Found on the internet at https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/eligibility/elderly-disabled-special-rules#What%20deductions%20are%20allowed%20in%20SNAP?