Live Below The Line Challenge: $1.50/Day Lessons

Last week I successfully completed the Live Below the Line challenge along with thousands of other people around the country, eating for 5 days on just $1.50 a day. Here are my takeaways from the week:

My challenge experience. In terms of doing the challenge itself, it wasn’t all that difficult. I planned my menu carefully to make sure I got at least 2,000 calories so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by hunger. My food was bland, but relatively nutritious. I usually drink mostly tap water anyway. To satisfy the somewhat arbitrary rule of only buying entire containers, I bought most of my ingredients from bulk bins and markets by the pound. If I was allowed to buy in bulk, I would have been able to eat even better.

I did feel a low-level hunger, which grew gradually as the week went on. I think this meant I was running a small caloric deficit as I kept up my usual light exercise routine. I lost roughly a pound. By the 5th day, the repetition of eating the same thing over and over was starting to grind on me. In other words: 5 days was fine, but 50 days would have been incredibly difficult.

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Live Below The Line Challenge: $1.50/Day Menu Pictures, Cooking Tips, and Taste Test

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I’m now nearly halfway through the Live Below the Line challenge, and here are some pictures and additional cooking/eating commentary about my $1.50 a day menu. Please also refer back to my menu and ingredient list and my nutritional information breakdown.

Breakfast

These banana crepes/pancakes are pretty big at nearly 8 inches in diameter. At 300 calories each, each one has about the same calories, fat, and (update: half the) protein as an Egg McMuffin at McDonald’s but at only 10 cents each they are less than 5% the price and have no added flavors or preservatives. If I added another egg, it’d be 15 cents each and the protein would be equal. (It’d be even better if I used whole grain flour.)

I have to prepare them from scratch daily, but I timed myself and cooking time including prep was only 15 minutes. I know that may still be too much time for some folks, but waiting in a busy drive-thru line can take 5-10 minutes on its own. I simply whisk .75 cup flour, an egg, 1 cup water, and a little salt together to make a thin batter. Then add one sliced banana. While frying the second pancake, I clean up my mixing bowl, whisk, and measuring cups. When done eating, I simply wash my single plate and rinse/wash the nonstick frying pan.

They actually taste good; I would eat them on any given weekend. I don’t really miss the milk found in the original recipe. I do wish I could alternate between apples and bananas, but apples cost too much for this challenge. For a bit more money, the variety would be nice.

Lunch

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Live Below The Line Challenge: Sample $1.50/Day Menu Nutritional Information

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I’m taking the Live Below the Line challenge this week, which means eating for 5 days on just $1.50 a day. I plugged all the ingredients from my $1.50 per day Sample Menu into the food diary at MyFitnessPal.com, and below is a screenshot of my breakdown of total daily calories as well as grams of fat, protein, and carbs.

As you can see, I won’t exactly be starving. The “daily goal” is based on my height, weight, age and my stated desire to lose one pound per week. The total calories in my BelowTheLine daily intake are around 2,000, which a bit low for a male of my size, but may be too high for someone else. I’m actually too high in carbs, a little short on protein, and even shorter on fat. To compensate, I may add a little extra canola oil to my food with the 8 cents left in my budget. Most of my food is cooked and ready to go (pictures coming). Is it weird that my only wish right now is that I could drizzle on extra virgin olive oil instead?

Live Below The Line Challenge: Sample $1.50/Day Menu

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I’m taking the Live Below the Line challenge, which means eating for 5 days on just $1.50 a day. After a shopping trip and a few cooking experiments, here’s my menu for next week (4/29-5/3).

Rules

Even though the challenge rules allow it, I won’t be using anything that is significantly processed. That means no ramen noodles, protein powder, multivitamins, etc. Also, when calculating the cost of the ingredients, I will use the unit costs based on common supermarket sizes, not wholesale or warehouse store sizes. Examples are 5 lb bag of rice, a Morton can of salt, and a 28 oz. bottle of oil. I cross-checked all my listed prices with the USDA database to make sure they were reasonable.

Update: I misread the rules and have made some changes in order to avoid buying things like a 10 lb bags of beans, even though in reality that would be the most economical. Instead, I had to find the places that had the cheapest bulk bins. Some prices went up, but some prices actually went down. I had to leave out the onion from dinner, but otherwise the menu stayed the same and under budget.

The Menu

I wanted to make things simple, so I just planned to have the same meal for all five days. Breakfast is pretty quick and will be made each day. Lunch and dinner will be prepared on Sunday night and be reheated for the rest of the week.

Breakfast

  • Banana “crepe” pancakes
  • Ingredients per day are: 0.75 cup flour, 1 egg, 1 banana, 1 tbsp oil, and a pinch of salt. Basically mix everything together with ~0.75 cup water to make thin batter, and fry. This makes two large pancakes (see picture) and my first attempt was pretty tasty. The riper the bananas, the sweeter. Total cost of 5 meals: $1.88

Lunch

  • Lentil soup with 2 large chapatis (flat bread).
  • Soup ingredients for all 5 days are 2 cups dry lentils, 4 carrots, 2 onions, 4 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp oil, and 3 tsp salt. 10 large chipatas (2 per day) are 3 cups flour, boiling water, and 1/4 cup oil. I haven’t made the soup yet, but I fried up some chapatis and they were a nice bread/tortilla replacement. Total cost of 5 meals: $2.03 + $0.44 = $2.43

Dinner

  • Plate of rice, beans, and tomatos.
  • Ingredients for all 5 days are 2 cups uncooked rice, 2 cups dry pinto beans, 1 can crushed tomatoes, 2 tbsp oil, and salt. Pile o’ cooked rice, pile ‘o cooked beans, pile o’ canned tomatoes and diced fresh onions. I actually used to eat this anyway when in “bachelor mode”, except with canned beans and bottled salsa. Total cost of 5 meals: $3.11

Total cost for the week: $7.42

Shopping List

Here are all the ingredients that I will be using, broken down into the price of the overall package and the unit cost.
 
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Live Below The Line Challenge $1.50/day – What to Eat?

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I recently learned about Live Below The Line, an annual anti-poverty campaign which challenges people to feed themselves on the equivalent of the extreme poverty line for five days. According to the World Bank, that works out to spending less than US$7.50 total ($1.50 per day). I’ve accepted the challenge, which will run from April 29th to May 3rd, 2013 (Mon-Fri).

I don’t want to make this about politics, guilt, or anything negative. Although this is in part a fundraising campaign, I’m not asking you to donate money. (I will fulfill the goal with my own money. If you really want, you can give here to the Global Poverty Project.) It will be a learning experience for me; I hope to gain some perspective and appreciation for my many blessings. I liked how this tweet put it:

So… 7 bucks and 50 cents. What should I buy?

I’ve read about many families of four that claim to live on $200 of groceries a month, which is pretty much $1.50 a day per person. Getting more people to pool resources definitely helps. But since it’s just me on this challenge, things are going to be a bit tougher. I’ve gone vegetarian for short periods before, so it looks like that will be my best bet. Here are some brainstorming ideas:

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Kiva Microfinance Loan Update & Default Rates

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I have been lending some money to people through Kiva microfinance to help alleviate poverty since 2007. While reinvesting some funds that were paid back, I noticed that I just reached $1,000 in money lent out through 40 loans of $25 each. Kiva loans do not pay any interest. Out of the $1,000 that I have lent out, I have received about $805 back, about $185 is outstanding, and I have lost about $10. Now, you should know that the people borrowing this money are paying interest rates much higher than zero but much of that interest goes back to paying operational costs and covering defaults. There has been some debate as to whether this is becoming a form of predatory lending, but I believe there is a real need for such lending in these countries. You also have to trust Kiva in their selection of MFI field partners. I also do microfinance lending at Microplace.

Right now you can get a free $25 trial to try out Kiva using my invite link (I get nothing). You basically get to make a free $25 to a person of your choosing from a developing country, but when it is paid back you the money goes back to the sponsor. I know, rather cheesy. I think you should just have to keep lending it out by making it ineligible for withdrawal. That’s what I like about this type of lending – the money you commit can help many people over time.

$5,000 Cash & Two iPads Holiday Giveaway from MyMoneyBlog (Winner Announcement)

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Winner Announcement! The contest is now over. Congratulations to Devin A. and Julia D., the lucky winners of $2,500 and an iPad 2. You should have received an e-mail notification to your registered e-mail address. Thanks to all who entered, I hope to do it again next year.

‘Tis the season of giving so I’ve decided to award two lucky MyMoneyBlog readers with $2,500 in cold hard cash!  And as an added bonus, each winner will receive a brand new iPad 2 (64gb).  Yes, really! I don’t think you’ll find a richer giveaway on the web so please tell your friends, family and coworkers to get an entry in!   Winners will be selected at random on the morning of Wednesday, December 21st and to enter the giveaway, you need to follow two simple steps:

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Veteran’s Day: Top Requested Gifts For Soldiers In Afghanistan

Why not observe Veteran’s Day with a useful gift for a current soldier? My wife’s co-worker is currently serving in Afghanistan, and he sent over a list of requested items from his unit. I’ve also read through several recommended lists online – long but good ones here, here, and here. There are some inconsistenties – one says to send homemade cookies, another says that nothing homemade is allowed. Some places accept books and music CDs, others don’t. However, between them there are definitely many things in common.

Mainly, don’t treat giving to the troops as a charity like Goodwill or Salvation Army. They are already supplied with all the essentials, and may have access to a commissary (though many don’t!). The point is to provide them with comfort and improve morale. They are far from home in a tough environment, so give them something that reminds them of their “normal” lives.

Don’t give them hotel toiletries, find out their favorite brand of toothpaste or shampoo and send them that. This applies to everything else as well. Find out what they want first if you can – requests can be very specific – and then send it to them. If you don’t someone particular in mind, you can get an individual’s name and address from AnySoldier.com, complete with their personal requests. In addition, here is a highly condensed list of popularly requested items.

Food
Individual-wrapped items are preferred as they are easier to share and to carry around.

  • Energy & Protein Bars – Clif Bars, Powerbars, Muscle Milk.
  • Drink powders – Starbucks VIA instant coffee, Arizona Green Tea, Crystal Light Energy, Propel, popular GNC products. Also sugar, Equal/Extra/Splenda, and powdered creamer packets.

Entertainment

  • Batteries (colder months only; AA, AAA, C & 9V)
  • DVDs of current television shows and new release movies
  • Recent magazines and/or newspapers
  • Cards, board games, travel games

Improve Morale

  • Phone cards, unlocked GSM phones, or other way to call home
  • Letters and picture to let them know that you support them.

Other

  • Thick heel, high or low ankle socks. Black, olive green, or white. Cotton or wool. Seems you can’t have enough good socks. These are also used to cool drinks. Less worry about getting the right size.
  • Small plush toys or school supplies for Afghan children

Do not send alcohol or adult materials. Do not mix toiletries and food, unless they enjoy food that tastes like deodorant. Don’t send anything that will melt, leak, or explode like aerosol cans. Rather just order a pre-made gift basket online? Check out TreatAnySoldier.com.

MicroPlace Microlending: Free $20 to Invest

As you may know, I support microlending to poor entrepreneurs in developing countries through Kiva and Microplace. I have a little under four thousand dollars spread across both sites, and intend to continuously reinvest my principal and any earned interest to create a “foundation” where my money keep being lent out over and over. Kiva is non-profit, while Microplace is for-profit. I have lost some principal at Kiva, but none at Microplace yet. Here are my previous posts mentioning Microplace.

Yesterday after reinvesting some funds, the website provided me a link to share that appears to give any new investor a free $20 to invest. No strings attached. When the investment matures, you have the choice of either withdrawing the investment (plus interest) to your Paypal or bank acount, or reinvesting it again in another loan. Why not try it out?

Update: Apparently this link is open to any investor once, not just new investors. I just tried it for myself and it did not give me a choice in investments. The $20 will be invested in “Reduce extreme poverty in Haiti and help reverse its fortune – Sevis Finansye Fonkoze via Oikocredit GC Note”, earning 2.0% per year until April 30, 2014. You do have an alternative to simply donate the $20 instead and receive the tax deduction.

‘Tis The Season For Giving… Away Your Extra Stuff

It’s the Season of Giving, so why not give away the things you don’t need anymore? I think right now is even better than “Spring cleaning”. We just spent a chunk of this past weekend making a box of stuff to give to various charities. Here’s why, along with some tips:

  • Get started. In order to break out the Christmas or other holiday decorations, you’re already rummaging around the attic, basement, or garage. Don’t stop there! One helpful tip I read about recently was to get three big boxes and mark them Keep, Undecided, and Toss. Then you can just barrel through quickly without getting stuck on any single semi-sentimental object.
  • Full Closets? Most people probably have gone through all four seasons of 2010 and not worn a lot of their clothes. If you haven’t worn something in an entire year, it’s seriously time to consider donating it. This time of year, places are always looking for winter clothes like coats, gloves, and boots. If you need some extra spending money, sell your trendier stuff to vintage and thrift shops like Buffalo Exchange.
  • Getting kids involved. The young ones are probably very exciting about the incoming gifts. Now that they are a “big boy” or “big girl”, isn’t it time to look through their toy box and see what they don’t play with anymore? Santa may not bring them as much stuff if they don’t have any more room… ;) Gently used toys can easily be donated, even if you can’t re-gift directly.
  • End-of-year tax deductions. If you donate by December 31st, you can claim any charitable donations as a tax deduction for your 2010 taxes and reap the benefits sooner (assuming you itemize). Here are a few donation valuation guides from a Salvation Army, another Salvation Army, and a Goodwill branch. I used ItsDeductible from the Intuti TurboTax folks last year and liked it.
  • Use the internet to maximize your effectiveness. Sites like Freecycle and Craiglist allow you to give your stuff away to someone who can actually use it. There are also many niche charities popping up here and there, specializing in redistributing everything from sporting goods to business clothes for job-seekers to partially used gift cards.

Take a break from the holiday accumulation frenzy and declutter instead. Even though I put it off as well, it always feels great afterward.

Creating Our First Charitable Giving Plan

Up until this year, our charitable giving has been all over the place. If we saw something we wanted to support, we’d write a check. If our workplace had some sort of matching grant or charity drive, we’d participate. I always buy whatever a kid is selling when they come door-to-door because I remember how much I hated doing that when I was younger. (Although a pet peeve of mine is getting hit up for $1 at Safeway every time I buy some milk.)

We were sitting on a plane on so-called “Cyber Monday”, and thought it would be cool instead to decide on which organizations we wanted to support. (We also spent Sunday shopping at some outlet malls.) We weren’t alone. Payment processor PayPal just reported that charitable giving was up 45 percent during Thanksgiving 2010 as compared to last year.

Choosing Where To Give

Who should you let essentially spend your hard-earned money for you? Here is a list of the best charity comparison websites out there. In their holiday giving guide, Charity Navigator suggest that you pick charities that are financially healthy, committed to accountability and transparency, and creating measurable results.

However, giving for us is still personal, so we tend to include groups that are either local or have personally affected our lives. For example, Mrs. MMB and I both received some form of scholarship from our alma maters, so we give back to them.

Spreading The Love

In the beginning, I wanted to have us pick four organizations to support, and then divide our money evenly. For example, if we were to give $2,000 then each place would get $500. However, once we got going we ended up having so many different charities we “had” to give to, so we decided to split the money in half, and then we could give how we wanted. We could each give all of it to one single charity, or split it between 20 of them. Here’s what we ended up with:

Universities (Alumni)
Local Humane Society
Local Hospital Foundation
4-H Youth Program
Microplace Microfinance*
KIPP Schools
PSI (Global health: HIV/AIDS, malaria and family planning)

*Microplace is not a non-profit, but instead a for-profit site owned by eBay that packages microloans to entrepreneurs in developing areas into interest-paying investments. All of my interest earned is reinvested, so that each year the outstanding loan balance grows. Right now, if you give a $20 investment gift to someone, you get another $20 matching gift for free. $40 impact for $20. The recipient picks where the investment goes, and when it matures they get $20 back to re-invest or keep.

Find The Best Charities: Best Charity Comparison Websites

With the recent natural disasters and also economic recession, many people are being extra careful to make sure their donations go as far as possible. Earlier this month, BusinessWeek ran an article Philanthropy: Rethinking How to Give which did a good job exploring the many websites now available to help you do just that. Initially, most websites focused on financial factors like what percentage of donations go to administrative or fundraising expenses, whereas now many sites tackle the harder task of measuring actual impact for the dollar.

Here is a list of the links, along with a quick description of that makes them unique, as they each have a slightly different approach. What was new to me was the idea of giving to a mutual fund-like portfolio of charities focused on a specific area, like education or global health.

  • CharityNavigator – Largest and well-publicized charity rating site, provides a 4-star rating based primarily on financial criteria.
  • GiveWell – Tries to identify the best charities, not rate them all. Focused primarily on charities working internationally
  • GreatNonProfits – Allows clients, volunteers, and funders to post personal reviews based on their experiences.
  • GuideStar – Tries to be a one-stop shop for both financial data and personal reviews of charities. Must register to see a lot of things, and pay a subscription fee for premium in-depth data.
  • Partners for Change – Tries to educate and direct “mass affluent” philanthropists (who donate at least $10,000 per year) towards a mutual fund-like portfolio of charities.
  • Philanthropedia – Ranks non-profits based on opinions of experts, and groups them to mutual fund-like portfolios.
  • Root Cause – Provides detailed “social impact research” reports to larger groups and financial advisors.