Case Study

Using Mental Models to Manage Food Stamps Efficiently


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps low-income families by giving them a monthly food allowance of $250 on average per household for food purchases (also known as food stamps). The monthly allocation of funds can lead to overspending. For example, consider Peru. There was a 70% increase in the purchase of alcohol and sweets when government assistance moved from twice a month to monthly payments. How can individuals in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) best utilize their resources?


The Center for Advanced Hindsight’s Common Cents Lab partnered with Propel, a fin-tech startup in New York with a mobile app that allows SNAP recipients to check their balance and transaction history. In our control condition, we showed SNAP recipients their monthly SNAP balance. In our experimental condition, we showed SNAP recipients a weekly budget. This anchored them to a weekly spendable amount.


saving for food experiment | Budget managemet Center for Advanced Hindsight

In the control condition, families spent 80% of their balance after nine days, while families in the experiment condition reached 80% of their balance after 11 days. For a family depending on SNAP to put food on the table, this can equal about six extra meals per month, just from a simple intervention of changing the SNAP balance display.

Why it Matters

There is great potential for this research to inform policymaking.

Note: This project was possible through the Common Cents Lab initiative, supported by MetLife Foundation