By: Emma Newbery |
– First published on Aug. 7, 2023
Are SNAP benefits enough?A monthly payment of $973 for a household of four equates to around $8 per person per day. While SNAP benefits aren’t designed to cover everything, it isn’t easy to feed a family on around $2.66 per person per meal. Indeed, research from the Urban Institute showed that the maximum benefits often don’t cover a family’s food costs. “Amid inflation, SNAP benefits did not cover the cost of a meal in 99 percent of counties in 2022,” said the report.The new benefit amount — a monthly increase of $34 for a household of four — is roughly in line with cost-of-living increases measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Its latest Consumer Price Index figures show that the cost of all items in June, 2023 was up 3% over the year before. However, inflation does not impact all aspects of life equally.The BLS data also shows that food at home increased by 5.7% year over year. The new SNAP benefits do not match this. Hypothetically, a 5.7% increase in benefits for a family of four would mean a new monthly payment of $992, rather than the planned $973.In addition, this year brought the end of the pandemic-era emergency food benefits throughout the country. According to CBPP calculations, this meant the average person received about $90 a month less in SNAP benefits. Even factoring in the increased SNAP benefit amount, many households have seen a significant drop in their food benefit amount, and the revised 2024 payments will do little to close this gap.How to make your SNAP benefits go furtherIt can take time and energy to provide healthy food for your family on a strict budget. The challenge is that in a busy household, time and energy are also limited resources. Even so, if you can carve out some time to plan your grocery-shopping trip, it can make a big difference.Here are some ways you might stretch your SNAP benefits a little:Use cash back apps and coupons: Look for cash back apps that work in stores that take your EBT card. You’ll usually need to download an app and then scan your receipt after you’ve been to the store. Pay attention to coupons, whether in store or online as these can often carry hefty discounts.Always shop with a list: Planning your food shopping is one of the best ways to reduce costs. Even more so if you use a cash back app or coupons. Check what offers are available on items you normally buy before you go shopping. Mark the items that qualify for rewards or discounts on your list, so you don’t miss them when you’re shopping.Look for double up programs: There are Double Up Food Bucks or other programs in various states that essentially give you two for one on all produce at participating farmers markets and stores. It’s a great way to get more fruit and vegetables for your SNAP dollars.Buy in bulk and batch cook: It isn’t always easy to find the extra cash for bulk buying when you’re eking out every cent. However, if you can manage it, you may be able to save both money and time. You might, for example, batch cook a stew and freeze portions for future meals.Unfortunately, food insecurity still impacts many American households. If you don’t have enough money to feed your family this month, look for additional help. Find out what food pantries and soup kitchens are operating in your area on which days, and whether you’ll need to present any documents. Call United Way at 211 for information about assistance programs in your area.
By: Dana George |
– First published on Aug. 18, 2023
I’ve been off social media for several years. I don’t want to dislike someone because they post a political, religious, or health-related comment that I think is ridiculous. I don’t want to sit with a cup of coffee in the morning, my hair sticking up like an anime character, scrolling through the make-believe online worlds people create for themselves.What I do miss is reading other people’s insightful thoughts, which may help explain why I spend so much time reading online reviews. I’ve found some of my favorite reviews on Amazon. I am absolutely over the moon when someone writes that they had the worst day ever because the fly swatter they ordered didn’t arrive on time or a fabulously witty person writes a review like this one for a one-gallon jug of whole milk: “I was very dissatisfied that this product does not come in other colors. The white will work, but not after Labor Day.”Curious about what reviewers thought were the very worst products Costco sells, I headed back online. Here’s what I found.1. Kirkland Signature Stainless Steel 6 Burner Gas GrillIf I were going to buy a grill based solely on appearance, this baby would be right up my alley. But, because I read reviews, I know that complaints on the Costco website claim that the grill is:A fire hazardLikely to rust within six weeksSure to start a grease fireProne to propane leaksUnlikely to arrive with six burners that workIn all fairness, some people love their Kirkland Signature grill. After all, there are more than twice as many 5-star reviews as 1-star reviews. But it’s the low scores that appeal to me and those dramatic stories that have replaced my need for social media.2. Realgood Foods Chicken EnchiladasWho wouldn’t salivate at the thought of eating a chicken enchilada that reviews refer to as “the worst thing I’ve ever purchased at Costco?” The reviewer goes on to say, “The outside wrap tasted like cardboard. Really, like cardboard. They were awful.” Another uses the delightfully descriptive word “putrid” to describe the meal.And because some people are very good about finding the silver lining, another reviewer wrote that the dish is fine once it’s been smothered in everything from cheese to sour cream and hot sauce.You have to wonder how many people are willing to pull out a credit card to pay for food they have to smother to enjoy.3. Mohawk Home Waterproof Luxury Vinyl Plank FlooringThe best reviews read like a novella, complete with a story arc. This is a (dramatized) version of what one reviewer had to say:”We were really excited to be getting a new floor and purchased 101 boxes of vinyl planks. A very nice delivery driver helped my husband get them into the garage. From there, my husband carefully transferred the boxes to the job site. And that’s when the horror began.Our installer mentioned that all the cases had damaged edges and corners, but my husband thought he might be exaggerating. So, my husband and I began opening boxes one by one. Sure enough, every single one contained damaged pieces of flooring.”The couple was in a pinch, so they had no choice but to carry on with the installation. “The installer had to spend time cutting broken pieces off, and we ended up paying double in labor.”Worst of all, the reviewer claims that they are now “stuck with sub-par flooring.”She ends her review by adding, “Do yourself a favor and don’t make the same mistake I did. Choose another product.”We all know that one review may represent a fluke. However, this reviewer was not alone in her disappointment. Another said that every plank in the box they purchased was shaped like an arch — step in the middle, and the board sinks down to the floor. The reviewer cleverly added that installing an entire floor with these vinyl planks would be like “installing a bunch of mini speed bumps throughout my house.”A reviewer named Mark shared that at least one plank in each box had a bubble in it, requiring “a lot of wasteful cutting.” Several boxes had damaged corners from shipping, which meant Mark also had to deal with damaged plank corners.Just last week, a reviewer named Michelle wrote that they used this product in their new home and have regretted the decision since. Michelle’s concerns include noticeable water damage to the planks around their refrigerator and sink and how easily the floor is dented when anything is dropped.Taking out a mortgage on a new home is expensive enough. It’s easy to understand how a sub-par floor would pour salt in the wound.4. Alaskan Golden King Crab Legs and ClawsNormally, reviewers offer us a range of opinions. One may not like a sweater because it’s “too purple,” while another thinks it’s “too blue.” Every single negative review of the Alaskan Golden King Crab Legs and Claws complained about the same two issues. As someone who reads more than her fair share of reviews, I find this fascinating.Here’s the scoop: For $400 to $500 (depending on whether they scored a discount), customers expected to receive the gorgeous seafood array shown on the website; big, thick crab legs. Instead, they received a box of small broken pieces, each piece containing very little meat.The other complaint was even more surprising. Several report receiving little support from customer service when they attempted to make a complaint or request a refund.5. Kirkland Signature Nut BarsThe best thing about reviews is the way some people will sacrifice their pride to help another person save money shopping at Costco. While this reviewer says that the Kirkland Signature Nut Bars taste fine, they claimed to be left with “such bad gas that I get stomachaches.”Don’t worry, though! This clever soul found a solution. “I had to learn a yoga pose that helps you pass gas.”And there you have it.Whether you read reviews because they’re informative or because you find them entertaining, it’s really rather thoughtful that people stop by to share their experiences — even when you disagree with them.
By: Natasha Etzel |
– First published on Aug. 18, 2023
Calling all Girl Scout cookies fans! You can now pick up Girl Scout Thin Mints at Costco. That’s right — you don’t have to wait until the upcoming cookie season to satisfy your chocolatey-mint cravings. Some shoppers have reported seeing Girl Scout Thin Mint Bites at Costco. While these tasty treats aren’t the original full-sized cookies you know and love, they have a similar taste and are a bite-sized version. Here’s what you need to know about this exciting find. Pick up a bag of Girl Scout Thin Mints Bites at Costco You’re not alone if you’ve already devoured the entire collection of Girl Scout cookies you bought earlier this year. (This is a universal problem, right?!) But the good news is you don’t have to wait until next spring to get a taste of the No. 1 best-selling Girl Scout cookie. Some shoppers have reported seeing 20-ounce bags of Girl Scout Thin Mints Bites at their local clubs. While prices can vary by location, California and Texas shoppers have seen these sold for $12.69 per bag. Made by Edward Marc Chocolatier, these sweet snacks are inspired by the classic cookie we all love. Each bite-size piece features a crispy center with mint and dark chocolate. If you’ve been in the mood to try a new treat, this may be an item you want to look for the next time you’re at Costco. While they’re bite-size, we can’t promise you won’t finish an entire package in one sitting. Costco also sells other Girl Scout Thin Mints treats If you haven’t seen Girl Scout Thin Mints Bites at your local club, you may want to see if you spot other Girl Scout snacks instead. Costco members have reported buying other snacks inspired by the popular cookie. Here are some additional products to look for. Girl Scout Thin Mints PretzelsGirl Scout Thin Mints Pretzels are another tasty treat you may discover the next time you shop at your local club. Each 26-ounce bag features crispy snack-sized pretzels double-dipped in mint-flavored dark chocolate. Shoppers have reported seeing these for sale with price tags ranging from $9.29 to $9.99 per bag. You don’t have to worry about draining your checking account at that affordable price point. Girl Scout Thin Mints AlmondsIf that’s not enough mint-chocolate goodness for your taste buds, we have another product you may love. In past years, some Costco clubs have sold Girl Scout Thin Mints Almonds. While these mint-chocolate-coated almonds haven’t been spotted at Costco in the last year, they could show up again later. In 2021 and 2022, these were being sold for around $12.99 per 30-ounce container. I have a feeling I’m not the only one hoping they return to Costco. Could a Costco membership help you save money?Some shoppers find a Costco membership to be a worthwhile investment. To shop here, you must pay $60 to $120 per year, depending on your chosen membership type. But you could save significant money by purchasing everyday essentials and groceries in bulk. Worried you’ll overspend and rack up a big credit card bill? The best strategy is to always show up at your local club with a shopping list. And if you find yourself loading up on any of the Girl Scout Thin Mints snacks mentioned above, maybe stick to buying only one or two items at a time so you can satisfy your sweet tooth while continuing to honor your personal finance goals.
By: Maurie Backman |
– First published on Aug. 19, 2023
For many people, the highlight of shopping at Costco is getting to pick up some yummy sweets from the store’s bakery section. Whether it’s mega-sized muffins or a massive cheesecake, you’re apt to find something that tempts you. And given Costco’s generally competitive prices, you won’t even have to feel bad about your resulting credit card tab.But Costco has recently introduced a new item in its bakery lineup that’s actually not all that sweet. And you may want to hunt it down and bring it home immediately. How does chile-flavored cornbread sound to you?Costco’s Kirkland Chile Cornbread is a savory concoction with a bit of a kick — hence the chiles. And so far, customer reviews seem positive. Now, if Costco’s cornbread is based on the recipe used for its corn muffins, a bakery mainstay, you can expect a side dish that’s not too dry and not too sweet. And the addition of the chiles easily propels it out of the dessert category and into the “actual food” category. Plus, at a price of $6.99, you might have a hard time whipping up a homemade batch for less. You might, in fact, save money if you’re tasked with making cornbread for a family picnic or function (though do note that Costco prices can vary by location). Here’s another great thing about the new Kirkland Chile Cornbread. Normally, it’s kind of hard to justify a Costco bakery buy when you’re not freezing some of it or serving it to a crowd. But since cornbread can function as a side dish for chili and other stews, you don’t need to be hosting an event to justify buying it. You might, for example, decide to whip up a pot of chili for your family one Sunday, serve cornbread on the side, and then enjoy that combination throughout the week as leftovers.You may also want to keep Kirkland Chile Cornbread on hand as Thanksgiving approaches. Cornbread is a common side dish for that event. And while you might generally prefer to go the homemade route, for $6.99, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to outsource some of your baking.A low-risk propositionTaking a chance on new products commonly means running the risk of losing money if you don’t end up enjoying or being able to finish what you’ve purchased. But here, your risk is minimal. If you’re someone who likes cornbread and doesn’t mind a bit of heat, then chances are, you’ll like Costco’s version. But even if you find it too spicy, you can tame that spice with a little dollop of sour cream. And if you find Costco’s version too dry, buttering it should do the trick. Plus, if you’re planning to serve it alongside chili, that, too, takes care of the dryness factor. Of course, if you really don’t end up liking your cornbread, and you don’t make too much of a dent in it, you can probably bring it back to Costco for a refund. The warehouse club giant is really good about issuing refunds for food products that don’t meet customers’ expectations. So all told, you really don’t have too much to lose by giving the new Kirkland Chile Cornbread a try.
By: Maurie Backman |
– First published on Aug. 20, 2023
When I initially joined Costco, I didn’t spring for an Executive membership even though I knew that getting one would mean scoring cash back on my purchases. Back then, we had a kid-free household, so it didn’t make sense to buy the more expensive membership when we didn’t visit Costco so frequently.That decision wasn’t a bad one. But a different decision I made during my first year as a Costco member is one I later came to regret.When you become an inadvertent brand snobI’ve always been happy to eat at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and I’ve never been someone to splurge on expensive clothing. That just doesn’t align with my financial priorities.But there was a time when I was more particular about the food and medication brands I brought home. And so when I first joined Costco, I pretty much walked past any Kirkland products I saw on the shelves. I preferred to stick to the brands I knew and liked, even though they commonly cost more.But I changed my tune about Kirkland products several years back. And I’m glad I did, because it’s resulted in a lot of savings for me.The upside of buying Kirkland productsKirkland is Costco’s signature brand. It was introduced in 1995 and has expanded considerably through the years.These days, you can find the Kirkland label on everything from medications to pantry staples to baked goods. And you can commonly save money on the items you’re buying by choosing Kirkland over a brand name.When I first joined Costco, I wouldn’t have dreamed of buying Kirkland-labeled snacks or pills. I just had it in my head that sticking to the brands I was already familiar with was a better idea.But then I decided to give Kirkland a try due to the savings involved. And lo and behold, I found that the quality was just as good.These days, I regularly load up on Kirkland items. It’s not even a question. And as a result, my Costco bills tend to be lower.Case in point: Buying Advil in bulk at Costco online will cost you $0.07 per pill (note that store prices can differ from those listed online). Buying Kirkland Signature Ibuprofen online will result in a cost of just $0.01 per pill.This is just one example. But the Kirkland version of whatever you’re buying will often be cheaper than the fancy brand that spends money on marketing. So it could pay to at least give a few Kirkland items a try and see if they work for you.Granted, they may not always be the items you prefer. While I have no problem scooping up Kirkland products in general, I won’t stray from Bounty as my go-to paper towel brand. I’ve tried the Kirkland version, and to me, it’s just not as good.But that’s probably the only exception. So if you’re eager to slash your Costco bills, give Kirkland a go. The worst that’ll happen is you won’t love the product and you’ll know not to buy it the next time. And if you’re really dissatisfied, you can always take your purchase to customer service and ask for a refund.Costco is really good about issuing refunds in those situations provided you don’t take advantage by frequently returning purchases based on simply not liking them. So there’s really very little risk involved.