If you’ve ever been a recipient of EBT, you could benefit from knowing what you can and cannot buy with EBT.
You may even know that feeling when the cashier announces the total, and you realize that something you bought wasn’t approved.
It's not a fun experience by any means, especially when you’re on a tight budget and funds are nearly non-existent. That’s why it’s very important to be aware of what you can — AND can’t — buy with EBT food benefits and/or EBT cash benefits.
What to Know About EBT Cash Benefits
First, you’ll need to know whether the store you’re visiting accepts EBT as a form of payment.
You can usually find this out by looking at the door of the retailer you are entering. If there is a Quest logo with a $ sign on the left bottom corner, they accept EBT cash benefits.
Some even have a sticker with a brown paper bag full of groceries that states "We accept food stamps here." It doesn't get more easy to understand than that.
What can EBT cash benefits buy?
Cash Benefits are to be used for things that your household needs and can also be withdrawn from ATMs free of charge twice a month. You can also request it as cashback from select retailers like you would with a debit card purchase.
While the benefits seem pretty straight forward to some, it’s important to know what you CAN’T buy to avoid serious penalties. Even if you didn’t know an item was on the no-no list, the system doesn’t always stop these purchases from going through.
This could put you in a sad predicament if you're not careful. Penalties could range from including paying for the banned items and/or benefit loss from 3 months up to 2 years.
What You Can't Buy with EBT
What Can You NOT Buy With EBT Cash Benefits?
- "Adult" Material
- Vacations or Travel Services
- Other things include: getting tattoos, using the benefits for bail money, gambling and/or buying lottery tickets, and buying guns and/or ammo.
The basis of these banned items is that they will not help your household in any way, shape, or form, and it's a pretty big no-brainer on why they aren't allowed. Just stay clear of these things and you’ll be fine.
Note that while you can't buy travel services, you can still travel and use your EBT in other states. You may wish to set up a good budget traveling itinerary to accommodate expenses because you could face higher food costs or the need for more convenience food due to a lack of cooking options.
Also Note That: If you do wish to purchase alcohol or cigarettes in the same shopping trip as one where you'll be using your EBT card, separating the items into different transactions can avoid the confusion at the register.
While EBT cash benefits come with a lot of rules, food stamp benefits, aren't much different. Both benefits come with their own set of rules that must be adhered to.
What Can’t You Buy With EBT Food Benefits?
Similar to the "no-no list" for EBT cash benefits, EBT food stamps has a list of items that cannot be purchased using the card.
- Hot and Ready to Eat Foods
- Tobacco Products
- Any Kind of Pet Foods
- Household Item
- Paper Products of Any Kind
Every state has the right to make exceptions to this list though. For instance, in the state of California, EBT food stamps will allow you to buy brown paper bags so that the user doesn't need to pay cash for them.
This is a good reason to stay alert to your state-specific laws so that you can make sure you're getting the most out of your benefits.
What You Can Buy with EBT
What Can You Buy With EBT Food Benefits?
If you’re using food stamps, chances are you’ve used them at least once at one of the nation's leading retailers — Walmart. Not only is Walmart EBT friendly, but they also offer EBT as an option of payment for grocery store pick-up.
Grocery store pickup is not only convenient but also can save you time and money. You can plan your whole trip from home!
If you're on a tight grocery budget, I highly recommend using grocery pickup whenever you can because it can help you avoid impulsive purchases and stay aware of your finances, especially while meal planning.
WalMart is extremely EBT friendly in the food department but like everywhere else they have limitations according to EBT friendly foods. Let’s look at some commonly asked questions to get a better idea of what you can and can’t buy.
If it is hot, no you cannot. However, if it’s in the cold case, it is completely EBT friendly.
Most stores will even put an EBT sticker on these items to show that they can be bought with food stamps. Some of these items may even be discounted which saves you even more money.
If it's hot, no. But you can buy any premade salads, sandwiches, and basically anything cold that they have to offer.
Yes, most (if not all) frozen foods can be bought with food stamps at an EBT-friendly retailer. This includes everything from tv dinners to frozen veggies, gluten-free foods, and ice creams.
Yes, as sushi is not served hot and is in a cooler or frozen section. That makes it EBT friendly at participating grocery stores.
You will find that if you go to the freshly made sushi section of your local grocery store and place it on the conveyor belt, it rings up as a cold deli item and your food stamps can cover it.
Basically, any food for humans that isn’t purchased hot can be bought at WalMart, including birthday cakes and bakery items.
You can even use EBT to pay for Easter baskets, if there is food items inside the premade basket. See: Easy Ways To Celebrate Easter On A Budget
Using EBT at Gas Stations
Can EBT Food Benefits Be Used at Gas Stations?
Yes, they can. Any of the premade sandwiches and burgers in the cooler can be bought on food stamps, as well as drinks. Some convenience stores even have a self-use microwave, for warming food after purchase.
Because the food items are purchased cold, you can use your food stamps to pay. By buying them cold and reheating them to eat, neither you nor the gas station is breaking any rules.
Yes, but some stores are weird when it comes to that. Some stores have rules in place stating that the straw can’t be in the drink until after the purchase is complete so it’s not ‘ready to drink’. But yes, slushies and fountain drinks are covered with food stamps.
Yes, to some. If the label states it has nutritional ingredients rather than supplemental, it is considered a food item and allowed to be bought with EBT. This includes the more popular brands such as Monster energy drinks and excludes things like some of the tiny energy shots.
Checking Your Card Balance
If you’re ever unsure of your balance just look at the back of your card for the Customer Service number. You can call that EBT number to check your balance of food stamps and more. Simply listen to the prompts and then enter your 16 digit card number to hear your food and/or cash benefits.
There are several helpful prompts on that line, including one where you can hear your most recent expense amounts and retailers. This could be great if you forget where you last used the card or suspect someone using it without your permission!
Two other ways to check your balance
Your card can be read and checked at an ATM or POS machine. Also, after any purchase amount, towards the bottom of your receipt, it will detail your beginning and ending balance.
If you’re unsure what places accept EBT food benefits in your area, just Google search ‘Places that take EBT food stamps near me’ and nearby EBT friendly places will pop into view. Be careful to read the smaller detailed notes on these listings as some areas will have fast-food locations pop up under the list.
I hope this has helped you gain a more clear understanding as to what you can and can’t buy with your EBT benefits. As long as you are following the rules and using your EBT card correctly and legally, you're doing nothing wrong by getting the most out of your card.