There are several legal ways to turn food stamp benefits into cash, or something close to cash.
1. Bottle Deposits
It is our understanding that, under federal law, food stamp benefits must pay for any bottle deposits. Even if your state does not have a bottle deposit and redemption system for soft drink containers, you may be able to find products like juice and milk in glass bottles that have a deposit.
In our nearby grocery store, there is orange juice and milk available in glass two quart bottles. The deposit on the juice bottle is $0.50, and the deposit on the milk bottle is $2.00. You could buy two bottles (one gallon) of milk, and, once empty, return the bottles to the store for $4 in cash. You have the option of using the $4 for store credit, but that is not mandatory- if you need the deposit refund in cash, they are required to give it to you.
Eleven states currently have bottle deposit systems for carbonated and/or single serving beverages. For every container of club soda or Coca-Cola purchased, the deposit is anywhere from two to ten cents, which is returned to you when you return the container.
Please do not discard the liquid just to get the deposit money back. Drink it or use it in cooking. Discarding the juice, milk, or soft drinks is unethical, and depending on your state, potentially illegal. If you simply must have money right away, put the liquid in a pitcher or jar at home and drink it at a later date.
2. Extra Care Bucks and Register Rewards
Large chain drug stores such as CVS and Walgreens have instant rebate programs. The rebate items vary by the week, so you will need to check the current Sunday circular, which you can do online. For example, this week, Walgreens has 23 ounce containers of powdered Similac infant formula on sale for $23, but you also get $2 in Register Rewards, which you can use on anything in the store. If you need and will use infant formula, this type of sale would be an especially good time to stock up on formula, because for every can you buy, you get $2 in Register Rewards that can be used to pay for non-food necessities. Once you become familiar with your store’s system, you will also be able to “roll” the instant rebates- buying something with your rebates that triggers more instant rebates. The particulars of these methods can be found on couponing websites, but you can certainly get started using your food stamp EBT card.
3. Gift Card Promotions
The best example that we can think of is Target- it is a major store that frequently has gift card promotions. These are featured in their weekly ad that comes out on Sundays and can be viewed online. An example is buying four large frozen pizzas and receiving a $5 gift card to be used on a future purchase. While not cash, it can be used like cash for non-food necessities.
4. Mail In Rebates
We frequently see mail in rebate offers for coffee and cold cereal. An interesting type of mail in rebate is also offered by beer companies, it is called the “no beer purchase required” mail in rebate. Most often, you take a form from a tearpad in the beer aisle and then purchase cook-out items- meat, buns, or condiments.
After you have bought the rebate eligible items, send the company your completed form, receipt, and/or proof of purchase (typically cut from the packaging) and in several weeks, you will receive a check in the mail for a few dollars. Of all the ways to turn food stamps into cash, this one is the most difficult, because you have to wait a few weeks, you have to buy a stamp to send the rebate form in, and you need to have a bank account to cash the check. However, once you get good at finding these deals and get used to mailing off the forms, it’s nice to have a stream of checks, however small, flowing into your mailbox.
Contrary to popular mythology, it is perfectly legal to use coupons while also using food stamps. This can really help you to stretch your benefits. People can be nervous about using coupons in conjunction with food stamps because of tax issues. Seventeen states levy sales taxes on food. All seventeen of these states waive taxes when using food stamps as payment. When coupons enter the mix, things can get confusing, because coupons are considered a form of payment, not a discount.
It works something like this: You are buying $110 worth of food. You have $10 worth of coupons, and $100 in food stamps. You are therefore taxed on the $10 worth of coupon purchases that you made. The state with the highest sales tax on food is Mississippi, which levies a 7% tax on food. If you were in Mississippi when you made this hypothetical $110 purchase, that $10 in coupons that you used to pay for part of your order would cost you $0.70 out of pocket in taxes. Even though that is a great deal- ten dollars worth of food for seventy cents- many people who get food stamp benefits are so cash poor that they cannot spare the pocket change. If this is your situation, remember your bottle deposits so that you can use coupons to stretch your benefits.
If you are in one of the thirty-three states that does not levy a tax on food intended for home consumption, then you don’t have to worry about coupon induced sales tax at all, and using coupons with food stamps is a no brainer.
In the event that you forget to use a coupon after your order has been rung in, you can often take your manufacturer’s coupon and your receipt for the item to the customer service counter and turn them in for cash. Check your store’s coupon policy. Target is one store we know of that permits this.
The second coupon method is to use coupons so aggressively that you manage to acquire an overage. An overage is when you have combine sales, store coupons, manufacturer coupons, coupon doubling, etc., so effectively that not only do you get the item for free, the store ends up actually owing you money. Stores vary widely on this; some allow overages and some don’t, some allow the overage to paid to you in cash and some only allow the overage to go toward other items in the same order. You will have to become very familiar with your store’s coupon policy in order to make this work.
For example: you have a coupon for $1 off any size box of General Mills Cereal. You find a small box of cereal marked down to $0.75. After the coupon is applied, you have just earned $0.25. Depending on your state and your store’s policies, you may be able to put that money in your pocket, have it put toward sales tax, or put it toward a new toothbrush that’s also in your order.
In theory, you could use coupons and get an overage for non-food items without relying on food stamps whatsoever. We have found, though, that when first learning these methods, it is reassuring to have means to pay even if things don’t work out as originally calculated.
Please do not sell your benefits. It is illegal and can get both you and the buyer in serious trouble. You could lose your benefits permanently if you are caught.