Yes I Buy Ice Cream With My Food Stamps

by Melissa cross posted from her blog Permission To Live

When we were on the brink of transition, and facing the prospect of losing our income and home, we spent a lot of time crunching numbers. How much money would we need to survive for 3 months with no income? How about 6 months? We added up the costs for rent, insurance gas and upkeep for our 13 year old van, utilities, our life insurance policies, and diapers. And one of the costs I always included in my calculations was food.

It never even occurred to me to get food stamps. That was something “lazy” people got, who “didn’t work” and “lived off the government”.  Even when times were tight in the past, we put food expenses on our credit card, never even considering that we might qualify for welfare.  While we lived in Canada and experienced universal healthcare, my perspective changed a little, but I still saw government support as a shameful thing, even if I now saw it as necessary.

For most of our marriage we lived pretty comfortably financially. We paid our taxes. We have never missed a payment on anything and sometimes paid things off in advance.  We are both oldest children, both fairly serious, and both lean toward the “saver” side of the spectrum vs. the “spender” side.

When Haley lost her job last year, we were starting over again, with a lot less.  Moving from white-collar middle-class to blue-collar working-poor can be a jarring experience. We were lucky in so many ways!  We were able to not only find affordable housing in a decent neighborhood, but we were also able to convince the landlord to give us a chance even though we were unemployed, because we had our little nest egg and were able to pay 4 months’ rent up front. Most people in our position do not have that starting point. We already had a car, in decent working condition, giving us the ability to drive to appointments and job interviews. With my non-existent resume I didn’t get work for 3 months, and when I did it was a trial part-time position, 10 hours a week at minimum wage. My first paychecks were under $200, even with 2 of them each month, that wasn’t enough to make rent, we had to use a loan and credit cards to keep up.

Do you know how much 4 kids eat? Do you know what it feels like to open the cabinet and see canned peas and canned chicken from the food bank? I’ve lived with little food before, but now it was my kids involved, and I wanted them to eat good healthy food.

So we decided to get help. First I called our food bank and they told me they would help walk me through the application process. We went for an appointment with a huge stack of important documents and filled out lots of paperwork. A few weeks later while Haley was in school, I bundled all the kids in the car and drove down to the county office and picked up our card. We stood in line with so many other people and their children. I got up to the front of the line and they processed my application and made copies of everything and explained that the food stamps card would only pay for food, not toiletries or diapers or garbage bags or alcohol. And the card wouldn’t pay for ready-to-eat type foods in the deli section of the store.

Did you know that being poor involves saying no a lot? When your kids ask for ice cream from the ice cream truck, you have to say no. (Even if you have a few dollars in your pocket from barista tips, you know you have to hang onto it for gas money, because there isn’t any other money.) When they want more than one pair of shoes, you have to say no. When the neighbor kid gets their own headphones and your child wants some too, you can’t get them. You wash the sheets and put them back on the bed because there aren’t any other sheets.

So when we are in the grocery store buying our rice, beans, cheese, fruit, veggies and pasta, and they ask for ice cream. I say yes. Because I am efficient enough with our allotment for food that I can afford to spare 2 dollars for a box of popsicles.  And you know what? Sometimes I get some whip cream for myself, to put on top of my yogurt and granola. Sometimes working nights and watching the kids during the day wears you out, and we could not afford to go out to eat last year at all, even to fast food. So we would buy a couple of frozen pizzas, with our food stamps, for those rough nights where making a dinner wasn’t going to happen.

I don’t own an IPhone as these snarky meme’s suggest, but sometimes when I go to the store, I am in sweats. Because I changed out of my sweaty flour and sugar and coffee covered clothing when I got home from my 9 hour shift that started at 5 am. How that can look lazy to anyone is beyond me. And sometimes my wife has hair that looks nice, because she is a cosmetologist and her co-worker wanted to practice her skills highlighting hair and Haley was willing to try something different. Oh, and she knows how to do her nails nicely all by herself. Apparently that means we shouldn’t get food stamps? Because you know, if you look too nice that means you don’t need food stamps, and if you look too sloppy that means you don’t deserve them.

Let me stress again how lucky we are. We started over with a little cushion. We are not only in stable mental health, but we are physically capable of working jobs that wear on the body. We have no addictions pulling us under at a moment’s notice. We have a stable loving marriage and we pool our resources and don’t have to try to find affordable childcare since we can trade off caring for them and working opposite shifts. We even have our own wash machine in our apartment and we don’t have to spend our day off at the Laundromat. In some ways I hesitate to call us poor at all, despite what our tax return says. There are people who have so much less.

As my wages and hours go up, our food stamps get reduced.  And then Haley got a job too and our food stamps got reduced accordingly. It funny how something that I was afraid to tell anyone is what has helped us keep everything rolling this first year as we started over again. My perspective on welfare and food stamps has continued to change. No one should have to feel ashamed for feeding their family. The people and the system that makes it even harder for the working poor to make ends meet are the ones who should be ashamed. When politicians try to say that you shouldn’t be able to get food if you own a car, they are forcing people to choose between working to get ahead and feeding their children. And yet these same politicians are perfectly fine spending large amounts of the taxpayer dollars on food for themselves. What does it take to see the humanity of families who can’t fit food into the budget? The SNAP program works. And the people using it should be able to eat.

And everyone should be able to have a little beer once in a while, or ice cream.

Comments open below

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Melissa blogs at Permission to Live

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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  • Joy

    SO well said. Thank you.

  • Sarah

    PREACH. Not to mention that this fabled iPhone that everyone likes to get up in arms about, despite having their own, usually costs more to cancel than to buy the phone itself. iPhones start out at cheap as free with contract, and up to $350 in early termination fees. Within a two year contract, it’s likely that people experience unexpected financial difficulties including job loss. The only people I’ve ever seen complain about this have the same iPhone I do, and I refuse to believe they never read the fine print or that the phone just magically appeared in their hands with no explanation of their contract.

    Of course, if it did, that only provides yet another explaination for the food stamp, iPhone wielding people they’re getting so judgey about.

  • MyOwnPerson

    Bravo! I scratch my head at how in America wealth is associated with virtue. The American Jesus is barely recognizable.

  • teaisbetterthanthis

    My food stamps are about to finish up (I had five months, and I’m near the end of that). I’ve BEEN working. Eight hours, Monday through Friday, lifting heavy (45 pound boxes seem light in comparison to 80+) boxes and standing on concrete slab. As in, my workspace used to be an outdoor area that they built walls around. And that’s WITH a Bachelor’s degree. And, while I haven’t bought ice cream (mostly because I take the bus to and from work, and I always forget my reusable bag that keeps things cold), I HAVE bought hummus, coffee, twizzlers, and other things that aren’t bare minimum necessities. And I use a pre-paid phone, which is still $50 a month (the plan was SUPPOSED to include e-mail access and voicemail but neither work, and the company doesn’t exactly do customer service very well).

    But that means I’ve been able to buy actual food. Like chicken, and olive oil and spices, and broth (to make soup, which is a personal favorite food), and dried beans, and more interesting canned vegetables than just peas and green beans and corn. I still frequent food pantries, but it’s nice to neither have to rely mostly on them or live on ramen. It means that I HAD $10 to pick up two of my grocery store’s $5-for-three packs of crackers and could get Nutella and, yes, I could spend $10 from my paycheck on a 6-pack of beer (which will last two weekends). And I could spend $50 on a pair of sneakers, which were 60% off and actually have arch support, so I won’t have completely swollen ankles by the time I get home from work each day. Because I didn’t have to worry about buying bread for my peanut-butter-and-nutella sandwiches for lunch at work.

    Though I’m not a pjs (or sweatpants) in public kind of girl, but that’s personal preference. Mostly because I like having pockets, and jeans have pockets.

  • teaisbetterthanthis

    And, well, I live in an area of town that is college-student-heavy (and I look like an older student/grad student; jeans, t-shirts, and carrying a backpack will do that). There’s a lot less judgement of clothing choices. And shopping choices. The nearest grocery store is usually full of students, and their choices are anything from a cart full of ramen and easy mac and soda to quinoa and fresh vegetables. (I only silently judge the kids who have a cart full of booze and are complaining about being too broke to buy food. Honey…)

  • Trollface McGee

    Yes, thank you. This infuriates me – people acting like it’s their business to decide what everyone else should do and how – taxes don’t work like that – or otherwise, I should be allowed to personally dictate how the military operates because I pay taxes for that too.
    And just as you said, it’s a no-win situation. If you buy normal food and normal clothes then you obviously aren’t suffering enough. If you eat gruel and dress in rags then of course you won’t get out of poverty because no one is going to hire a ragged person like you for above minimum wage.

    Poverty isn’t a crime or a moral failing.