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How Much Money is in a Frugal Food Budget?

by Brenda Kohlmyer

Any family facing major budgetary hurdles can trim food expenses, but many people don't know where the line lies between abundance and actually not enough to survive on. A good benchmark is the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) budget allotments, which are adjusted each year. In 2012/2013 household maximum allotments are:

  • 1 person household — $200 per month
  • 2 person household — $367 per month
  • 3 person household — $526 per month
  • 4 person household — $668 per month

That works out to about $2.00 per meal per person per day. It’s not much money, but it is enough to live on.


The catch is, you have to know how to cook from scratch, or you have to learn rapidly. If you don’t learn rapidly, you face the “too much month at the end of the money” quandary, forcing you to tap into discretionary savings if you have it or go hungry if you don’t.

Currently 46 million of our fellow Americans are involuntarily living within this budget. In spite of high profile politicians doing a one week challenge without much actual preparation or planning and then proclaiming how hungry they are, it is possible to get by on the USDA’s SNAP budget, whether you have to or whether it's a financial choice.

Here's more information on the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and how they calculate a basic budget for families of varying sizes and incomes. Scroll to the end of this page for the full table of SNAP allotment dollar amounts.