the halfway mark

Just past the halfway mark in the month of June, and halfway through the June Food Stamp Challenge. Yesterday was our payday, so I paid bills and wrangled with a couple of items. If I was a food stamp recipient, I would be glad of the extra money coming in, but either way, I’m really annoyed about the money going out, too.

To wit: Our health insurance company sent me a letter saying that if I switched to their mail-order prescription service, my co-pay would decrease by 1/3. I would pay $20 for a three-month supply of Medicine A. At pharmacies, I pay $10 a month. OK, sounds good. I signed up, sent in my order for two meds and waited for the package to arrive. Then I saw the bank charge — for $90. What? Should have been $40 for three-month supplies of Medicines A and B. Maybe they’d sent it FedEx or something…?

The package arrived yesterday, and while one med was charged for $20, the other was $70 — more than double what I would have paid. I spent the (considerable) time on the phone calling the mail-order company, arguing and persuading, but it’s illegal to send back medications, they say, so I’m stuck. I do have the right to appeal the charges, and so I did that through member services (another lengthy phone call), and it came down to this: Medicine A was a generic, but medicine B was not, though I can request it for next time, but I’m hosed this time. Can’t return it, contest it, or do without it. That’s how my appeal went. So there’s $50 I did not mean to spend, and though I was playing by the rules (as set down by my oh-so-caring health insurance), still, got the short end of the stick! Irksome, but luckily for our real-life budget, won’t kill us.

However, in the world of the Food Stamp Budget, a hit of $50 — especially when we’d been led to believe by an institution we depend on and need, that it was a deep discount program (and it will be, 3 months from now, grrr) — this could have huge consequences. Because although food stamps pay for food, it doesn’t cover toothpaste, soap, medication, pet food, shoelaces, needles and thread, stain remover, gasoline, vet bills, telephone bills, bus money, late fees, postage, parking meters and more. Some of those things are necessary. Some are expendable. But $50 could make the difference between buying medicine or not. Having toothpaste or not. Having enough money for a bus pass. Not having a quarter for the parking meter, and risk getting a $45 — or $75 — or $125 parking ticket that we then cannot pay.

Which reminds me of another hot item at out house — pet food. One of our cats (Norma Jean, photo — how could you resist that sweet face?) has this ongoing issue with skin itchies — scratching, hair loss, dandruff, etc. It breaks my heart to have her itching like crazy. She seemed to live in utter misery. Turns out she’s allergic to the cheap cat food — the 20 lbs for $10 Brand-X kind. Bummer — now she is supposed to eat only canned food or the twice-as-costly no-filler-meat-only kind of kibble that  you can get only at the pet food store. Budget buster in the extreme. No way could a person do this on food stamps or a low income — even though food stamps don’t buy pet food. The amount of money that is suddenly demanded by our cat’s special diet — eek. The “good” food is $15 for 5 lbs of kibble, and has to be supplemented with canned food — at about 50 cents a can per day.

Should poor people be allowed to own pets? That money has to come from somewhere, and no, it’s not the government — but should poor folks be spending cash on “good” pet food if they can’t afford to buy their own groceries? If you start down this path, the question of who gets to own pets, and should income be a factor in pet ownership, arises…another slippery slope when you consider how important for companionship, love, comfort, stress relief, shared exercise, or protection a dog or cat can offer. Hmmm. Another shadow on the horizon of what it is to be poor or struggling (unemployed, disabled, elderly, single parent, working poor, low income).

Thursday Menu
Breakfast: Julia: cereal, milk, coffee. Austin: last night’s spaghetti; Ana: yogurt; Simone: fruit (?); Patrick: oatmeal, hardboiled egg, green tea.
Lunch: Simone: leftovers and snacks (?); Ana: homemade calzone*, carrot/celery sticks; Patrick: salad; Julia: spaghetti, toasted leftover hot dog bun.
Snack: grapefruit slices, nectarine, hot tea with milk and sugar.
Dinner: Soup**, French bread and butter (bread: free; butter: $1.29 a pound with coupon/sale. 4 cents/tablespoon = about 2 cents per person). Cost of dinner: estimate $1 total for cup of dried beans, macaroni and leftover vegetables.

*Yes, I made an attempt at homemade Hot Pockets — using half of the homemade pizza dough and some leftover pizza sauce, I chopped some mushrooms and grated cheese and baked 4 homemade calzones. They are wrapped in the freezer and I await Ana’s review of how they taste. Sorry, no photo.

**Soup happens about once a week or so at Casa Tracey. The odds and ends of onion, celery, carrots, and other veggies go into a bag or a Tupperware and stay in the fridge until soup time. The soup costs virtually nothing to make, since it is all odds and ends. I don’t buy anything special for the making of soup. A cupful of noodles or rice adds bulk; leftover meat would go in, but we have no meat at present. Sometimes I save bones from several dinners in a bag in th freezer — even chicken bones from take-out hot wings can be thrown into a soup base. Boil the bones and then remove them before adding spices and veggies. A cupful of cooked beans is also nice to add protein. Today I’m boiling up some dried kidney beans for a three-bean salad for this weekend, and some of those beans will end up in the soup, literally. 🙂

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6 Replies to “the halfway mark”

  1. Here’s a tiny ray of light for low-income pet owners. The Alameda Animal Shelter collects pet food around the holidays, just as the Food Bank puts out barrels for donations of food.

    One of our cats developed not only the itchy wrong-food skin allergy, but diabetes as well. Once again, I was glad to have a credit card with some ‘room’ on it for the thousands we ended up spending to have the vet sort him out.

    I took the giant, opened bag of cheapo cat food to the shelter, thinking they would feed it to their shelter cats. No dice. However, I was asked to turn around to find a large barrel intended for ‘holiday donations’ for low-income pets. I was happy that some cat may be able to eat it.

  2. No matter what we think, income IS a factor in owning a pet.
    Pet ownership is NOT frugal!
    Caring for another living being is never cheap.
    It’s all about priorities with your money, no matter how much or little you have. Everyone one(outside of Bill Gates maybe)has finite resources so you must choose whether you can live without other things to have a pet.
    You can also choose a less costly type of pet if money is tight….you might not be able to pet your goldfish or take your canary for a walk, but you can still give love to those kinds of pets too. 😉

    Personally, I think this country has gone crazy with the amount of $ people(in general)spend on their animals. Use to be, vet care for pets was very basic and didn’t bankrupt you. Then the industry saw the cash cow they could have with selling drugs and surgeries to pet owners(among other non-essential things), all the time telling you that if you loved your pet enough you would spring for the $100 a mo. kitty prozac or the $30K surgery to help Rover’s bladder condition.
    If I can’t spend that kind of money or choose not to spend that kind of money on my pet then I am a bad person in this society’s eyes.
    We try to extend our pet’s lives to get every last drop of ‘life’ out of them(perhaps because we are so scared of death that we can’t face it in our pets, let alone ourselves?)to the point that ghastly sums of money are ‘wasted’…money that could be going toward ‘better’ priorities like curing diseases in humans, funding food banks and other humanitarian projects.
    Why can’t we let our pets live out their natural lives w/out cancer surgeries? Again, priorities…

    I don’t know where I am going with this(ramble, ramble)but I will say that no one has the right to pet ownership. When you get down to it, it is Not a need, it’s a want. You won’t die if you don’t have a pet like you would if you don’t have food to eat, though your quality of life may suffer a bit.
    Are there other ways to add the joy in life that a pet brings that is less costly? Perhaps….that is something everyone must decide for themselves, right? Having a pet is all about priorities on where to put your $. Spend it on pets and you don’t have it for something else(like your kid’s glasses).
    I think this is a great discussion and one that not enough pet owners have with themselves BEFORE they let that puppy with the big eyes persuade them into bringing him home.

  3. Just want to play devil’s advocate in response to slugmama’s comment “You won’t die if you don’t have a pet like you would if you don’t have food to eat, though your quality of life may suffer a bit.”

    I checked, and there are studies that show a correlation between pet ownership and improved health, especially in the poor/elderly. As with most things that strike us both as trivial and important, there is rarely an easy or simply answer.

  4. I recently went through one of my two dogs having a lump removed that ended up being cancer. This dog is part of my family. My family health is a priority – including that of my dogs. One thing that I have seen though is how to Slugmama’s point we go to the extremes as a society in order to avoid feeling “guilty”. I love my dog and made a concious decision to have a second surgery performed to assure the cancer was removed and based on my financial abilities, I also opted to follow up with a med that was less than $20. The total surgery/meds were less than $400 – which is by no means a small chunk of change – but one I reasoned I could afford. I did not choose to follow up with radiation. I don’t “dress” my dogs, buy designer foods, toys, treats, etc. for my dogs – nor my kids. I think that we as a society are so manipulated by advertising that we are often “sold” on things rather than weighing the needs against the cost/benefits. But, with my family (kids & dogs), I try to get the best value for my money. Right now we feed both dogs “cheap” food. I’m looking for some healthy recipes or nutrition plans for the dogs that are economical as well. (The non-cancer dog has some digestive issues but I have a problem with $30/bag food.) Any suggestions? I figure that if I can feed my family more nutritionally AND economically by cooking from scratch, the same should apply to the dogs – right? I mean truly – even the expensive pet food is still based on “scraps” from the food industry – so pet food based on home cooking scraps ought to not only be better but also essentially “free” for the home cook. Maybe I’m rambling too, but it just seems that if we switch from mindless buying based on marketing to deliberate consumption based on reasoning, we would all be futher ahead.

  5. I don’t remember if I posted about this before on your blog… but we had cats with extreme itchies too, and switching to a biologically appropriate raw food (BARF) diet turned them around. They get cheap chicken thighs (easiest to cut up) and some fresh fish once a month, maybe. Google it! It made a quick and HUGE difference to our critters.

  6. So, I know I’m Wayyyy late here but I stumbled upon this blog yesterday and have thoroughly enjoyed catching up w/ the challenge! I have def found some inspiration but I gotta add my 2 cents!

    My dogs ARE my priorities period. I don’t ask anyone to foot the bill for their care, training, whatever I choose for them. They are my kids. I work a full time job plus coach on the side and hubby works full time as well. In lieu of extravagant trips or gifts, or whatever, we choose to spend our $$ on our dogs. I guess what I am saying is when is it someone else’s place to tell me what MY priorities are?

    I guess some wouldn’t have liked that I spent $12,000 on chemo for my rat terrier…yeah you read the zeros correctly. I paid every penny with odd jobs, selling stuff on Ebay and craigslist, etc. When the cancer proved that it was going to win, we opted to stop treatment and allow him to live out his life happy. He had a great quality of life for 6 months then got very sick. We chose to have him put to sleep. BUT when my mom was diagnosed w/ cancer, she also had chemo and radiation. Both are my family.

    In response to the question about dog foods: our babies do NOT get commercial dog food. The ingredients are scary! And if it mentioned any kind of “rendered” crap that means dogs and cats have been ground up in there…BLUH! Twice a week I make a big pot of roasted or boiled chicken, ground turkey, or lean ground beef and add some brown rice and lots of fresh veggies. My dogs like most of them esp. asparagus and carrots. I haven’t purchased a bag of dog food in well over 2 years. I started looking into diets for pets when my guy got cancer. Anyway, it’s a darned shame people are starving in our country and we continuously ship food and stuff to other countries. I don’t have a problem w/ helping others as long as our own here in the US are taken care of by us first. Stepping off of soapbox!

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