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What’s in a Food Budget?

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Residents making dinner

“The program and the staff just help you with everything. It’s definitely made me thrive as a person.”

Speaking with some of our clients recently, we noticed that several mentioned how it important it was to them to learn how to budget for food and plan meals for the first time in their lives. “I’ve never been a big spender,” one said, “but I like to make sure I have enough, making sure I have that weekly budget for food.”

We took some time to sit down with Kandi Marlow, one of our Case Managers, and she walked us through how they work with our youth on budgeting and meal planning. For many of them, this is the first time they have been held accountable for their finances and like all of us, need a little help staying organized.

Here’s what Kandi had to say about the process of meal planning and budgeting for food with one young woman:

“So when I first started working with her, we made a plan on how much her budget was, she used the meal planning tool, found all the recipes, scheduled it out and figured out what she needed for each recipe. It’s nice that a lot of our clients can use Drop-In for meals and that really helps them out in the beginning.

“My rules for the first time shopping are: I will drive you there, I will walk around with you and I will help you find things, but the rest is up to you. The first trip always has a learning curve and hers was that the prices in the store were different than the prices online. And while it worked out fine overall, she didn’t have anything left over for snacks or extra goodies.

“A lot of our youth find that their planning doesn’t always work out, so maybe they planned for goulash for three nights in a row and they realize by the second night maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.

“On the second week, that’s where the guidance comes in. We went over what she learned from last week, staff worked with her on what the pros and cons were and worked with her to figure out what to change.

“For all of them it takes several times to understand the full process. What I do is slowly back away after I know they can figure out the budgeting piece. So the next time I met her at the store, so she had to think about how much she can carry home and there’s that learning curve of figuring out how to shop without her case manager’s car.

“There is also giving her the reality that even though I’m teaching her these skills, I, myself, don’t do it perfectly each time. In the real world, this is a lot of work, and if you forget the milk, you go back and get it. And they learn things like, maybe it wasn’t the best idea to spend your whole budget on buying pizza for your friends.

“Like most things, it’s a tool for them to use, it’s important for them to know and understand this process, but it’s also important for them to know that it’s not necessarily the reality every day.”

What do the clients think? One young woman mentioned several times how grateful she is for this coaching on  how to live independently. “The program and the staff just help you with everything. It’s definitely made me thrive as a person.”


Special thanks to Walmart for providing one year’s worth of meals for our residences and Drop-In Center.

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