Tips for Using Your Food Stamps Wisely

Families who rely on food stamps for feeding members of their households need to stretch their grocery dollars even further, as the average benefit per person is around $126 per month. This requires that you budget.

While larger households typically receive more assistance than smaller families do, most beneficiaries find it difficult to make their benefits last the entire month. However, SNAP beneficiaries can save money on their food costs by budgeting, keeping track of their expenses, using coupons, shopping for seasonal produce and planning their meals for the week.

Moreover, households who receive SNAP benefits need to protect themselves from fraudulent activity, as stolen benefits are difficult to recover. To protect themselves from theft or unauthorized transactions, beneficiaries should only share their electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards with other household members, and it is important that they keep their PIN numbers private. For more tips on using these benefits, review the information below.

Track Your SNAP Benefits with a Smartphone App

Households who receive SNAP food stamps can stretch their grocery dollars by tracking their spending patterns with the free Fresh EBT smartphone app. Available for Android and iOS devices, the app helps families to track their EBT balances more easily, locate nearby grocery stores and farmers markets that participate in the program, and track their food dollars. Additionally, the app helps program participants to save money on their groceries by providing them with coupons that can be used at 21 different grocery stores throughout the U.S. According to a Harvard study, the app helps food stamp recipients to extend their benefits by as much as 4 percent.

Related Article: What can I buy with food stamps?

As another option, SNAP participants may check their EBT card balance in several other ways. For instance, customers may refer to their most recent grocery receipt or they may contact their state EBT customer service number. Additionally, beneficiaries may check their balance by calling the toll-free telephone number indicated on the back of their EBT card. In some states, participants may be able to check their balance online as well.

Use Your Food Stamp Benefits to Purchase Seasonal Produce

Beneficiaries of the supplemental nutrition assistance program can make their food dollars go further by shopping for in-season fruits and vegetables, as seasonal produce typically costs less. For instance, broccoli is in-season in the spring and fall, while pumpkins are in-season in the fall and winter. Asparagus is cheapest in the spring, while kale is least expensive in the spring, fall or winter. When SNAP beneficiaries purchase seasonal produce, they can plan their meals around these items, as doing so will help them to save money on their food expenses.

Protect Your SNAP Assistance Payments

Households who receive food assistance rely on these monthly benefits to feed their families, as many beneficiaries would go hungry without programs such as these. However, stolen benefits are difficult to recover, and most cannot be replaced. Therefore, SNAP beneficiaries must keep the following tips in mind to protect their benefits from any type of fraudulent activity:

  • Keep all personal identification numbers (PINs) private
  • Only share EBT cards with trusted users such as other authorized household members
  • If a close friend or relative needs to use the EBT card, consider adding them to the case as an authorized representative
  • Store EBT cards in a safe location, such as a protected sleeve or wallet
  • Change the card’s PIN if an unauthorized user gains access to the number
  • Check all receipts after each transaction to ensure that the grocery and EBT receipts match

Moreover, program members must keep their EBT cards with them whenever they shop for eligible food items, as customers need their credential to complete the transaction. If customers cannot present their EBT card when making the purchase, they will need to use an alternate form of payment.

Don’t Let Your Food Stamps Expire

All remaining SNAP benefits carry over at the end of the month, giving beneficiaries the opportunity to use them the following month instead. However, program members will permanently lose their benefits if they do not use their EBT card for more than one year. Therefore, beneficiaries should use their benefits, even if they do not plan to consume their food items right away. For instance, households who receive food assistance may take advantage of the following items:

  • Canned or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Frozen meat, fish and poultry
  • Food-producing plants and seeds
  • Cereals
  • Cookies and crackers
  • Shelf-stable milks
  • Bread

While bread is perishable, customers can preserve their bread or buns by storing these items in the freezer until they plan to consume them.

Get a Refund on SNAP Food Stamps Just as You Would if You Paid with Cash

After making a purchase with SNAP EBT benefits, beneficiaries may return any unwanted or spoiled food items if they wish to obtain a refund, as long as the store’s policy allows them to do so. After making the return, the refunded benefits will transfer directly onto the EBT card, just as they would if customers paid with another type of credit or debit card. However, beneficiaries cannot obtain cash refunds, and they may only return the item if it complies with the store’s policy.

In some cases, shoppers who receive food stamp assistance may obtain a refund on their purchase if they pay for eligible food items with cash or a credit or debit card and wish to recharge the items to their EBT card. To do so, they will need to return to the store with their receipt. Depending on the store’s current return policy, the retailer may or may not agree to complete the transaction.

Know When Your SNAP Benefits Will Become Available

Food stamp beneficiaries can budget their monthly grocery expenses by familiarizing themselves with their state EBT pay schedule. However, the date on which monthly benefits are issued varies widely by state and several other factors. For instance, some states use case numbers to create a pay schedule, while others use Social Security Numbers, birth years, identification numbers, or the first letter of the client’s last name. In the state of Indiana, for example, beneficiaries whose last name begins with an A or B receive their benefits on the fifth day of the month. In Massachusetts, SNAP participants whose Social Security Number ends in a zero receive their benefits on the first day of the month.

Related Article: Where to Use Food Stamps

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