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:

Beans (dry)
Lentils (dry)
Top Ramen (<-- can use the flavoring packets elsewhere) Onions Carrots Eggs? Salsa? Spices & Herbs Bananas (I'm thinking banana bread... ripe ones are available for cheap at Asian market) Hmm... Which carbs to pick? I actually don't really know what the cheapest fruits are... apples? We also have wide variety of herbs and a few vegetables from our home garden, according to the rules they are allowed as long as I account for cost of production. From what I've read, it appears that I'm lucky that I don't have a caffeine addiction. If you're a fellow blogger and want to join me with this challenge, send me a tweet or leave a comment and I'll add your link below. I might need the moral support! Andy shares his grocery purchases at

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  1. What a bad idea. There is a fine line between saving money and ruining your health. Sure you could live off beans for a week but your body will take a toll and for what gain? Leave the experimentation to that supersize guy and avoid the toucher.

    • Um, we are a family of 3, living of $5 a day total, $1.66 per person. It’s not to “save”money, it’s to survive. Property taxes and childcare expenses, none of which we have any control over the amount of, put us here.

      “Just move” lots of people ay. The divorce judge decided that the kids WILL go to school here, and if we move, loose parental rights and time together. So, we “splurge” on 87 cent tv dinners occasionally.

      We make too much to get assistance, which is necessary to pay the school taxes/aftercare etc, but too little to live reasonably ok.

  2. Beans are good since they are cheap, have protein, and might help keeping weight in check. Another idea is oats w/ fruits. A 10-lb bag of Quaker old-fashioned is $7 something at Costco. It’s kinda cheating since Costco does require a membership, however.

    $1.50/day/person is tough. But it’s doable if you don’t mind spending the time to cook. It might also lead to a healthier diet as it forces you to stick to non/slightly-processed foods.

  3. Jacob- Did you even look at his list of items he is looking to buy? Overall they are very healthy. The body is not going to disintegrate in 5 days.

  4. I’m pulling for you Jonathan. Rice and beans together will give you a complete protein and what ever inexpensive veggies you can find at the Asian market. I’ll be most interested in how much $7.50 even buys.

    David is right, you won’t ruin your health in 5 days and it will definitely give you some perspective on how much of the world lives.

    Good Luck

  5. I guess it also depends on how big he is and his exercise level. But I dont think he is going to get much produce. A banana or apple costs around 33 cents on sale where I live. Carrots are pretty cheep so I would recommend those.

    If you buy from the bulk bins you could probably get some variety (Ie oatmeal is very cheep, I am pretty sure beans and rice is too)

    I dont think you will have enough to buy any spices even salt.

    The impact to your health is all going to depend on how much food you can get and thats going to depend on the store you goto.

    My initial though is that you just cant eat enough with that little money. But after thinking about it, its possible. I think your protean intake is going to limited to beans as I cant think of a single other protean that cheep. Even nuts are expensive.

    In my fantasy novels they eat radish soup so you can try that.

    • Dearest Jacob: I kind of think that the impact on peoples health is a good point seeing as how this is trying to show people who are Way more fortunate how hard it is for those Way less fortunate, those folks below the poverty line. Its not that they chose to live this way they HAVE to. The person on this webpage is simply trying to let others see what the poverty stricken have to deal with on a daily basis. And may Their list is mainly healthy but when you are below being poor, eating healthy takes a back seat to just keeping your family fed, day to day, period.

  6. This is really interesting and along those same lines. it is about a group of guys who traveled to a third world country to live on $1 a day.

  7. I would go to stores that sell damaged goods at a discounted prices. Such as dented cans. There is a produce store here in my city that sells bags of vegetables and fruits for a buck a bag. If the produce is going to turn quickly, I freeze what I can and eat what can’t be frozen.

    Also, don’t forget dumpster diving. Free is always good. I was looking in a dumpster behind my grocery store for cardboard boxes and there was a case of Keebler Cookies, unopened not damaged in any way except they were expired by one day.

    Necessity is the mother of invention and great ideas. Good luck

  8. Eggs are cheap protein. Potatoes should be added to your list also. Spinach is a cheap source of iron.

  9. What a great and noble experiment. I think we all should do this from time to time to always be aware of what poverty looks like, to give us perspective. I sure wish we could do the opposite also and live as the super rich for a few days from time to time.

    Having come from a poor family living on the cheapest foods, I would also add some things to think about. Families in poverty also have to deal with times with no working toaster oven or microwave (while saving for a new one), or a freezer that doesn’t work, making it difficult to keep food. Things that we do to save money, such as buying food in bulk or pre-cooking meals, can sometimes be impossible or impractical to those in poverty.

  10. What about growing some your own food?

  11. Well, I don’t think this experiment really is all that useful. Cause you still have a choice and you can be creative. For truly poors, they have neither.

    My suggestion is to first donate money and food to your local food bank, then wait in line and get the daily ration from them for 5 days. See what you can do with the things given.

    Simulated pain is never the same as real pain.

  12. I think this is possible if you eat pasta for a week. A box of pasta costs around a dollar and that’s easily 8 servings. A few large canned tomato sauce is also around a dollar each. Add some herbs from your garden and some dark meat chicken when they are on sale, that’s easily a week’s meals during my collage days. Good luck!

  13. Oatmeal is a cheap and healthy option too. Good luck w/ your experiment!

  14. DebentureBoy says

    Cabbage! You can eat it shredded as a salad or cooked. It is much more filling than lettuce, costs less and stores much better. It is an awesome way to fill in for more expense but more traditional produce items.

  15. Costco Weight Loss shakes, about $15 for 24 or .63/ea. But 3 a day will break the limit… Eggs not cheap by me. Definitely Costco potatoes, 20# for $6 or so. Lentils for sure.

  16. Potatoes are very nutritious and healthy when they are not prepared by deep frying, etc. They have complete protein as well. I would definitely add them to your list.

  17. Try doing a 4 day fasting, eat only a 100-200 calories a day of mostly vegetarian content and do a feast on the last day of whatever budget is left. Sure it’s not the true poor man’s diet but we also don’t have the environment in which we can simply isolate ourselves into rice and beans only lives .
    You’re sure to experience what it’s like to go hungry for 4 days. This nearly religious experience that seems to show that, if done every 2 months, can cure nearly of every health risk we have from a calorie and fat-rich diet prevailing the developed world.

  18. Dona Collins says

    I’ll definitely be following to see how you do. I’m fighting some health issues right now so I don’t think a huge diet change like that would be right (at the very moment) or I’d do it with you. I’m cheering for you, though. I’ll be interested in what you end up buying.

    I wanted to add sweet potatoes to your list. Healthier than white if they’re cheaper.

    Also, you can basically use flour and water to make your own tortillas on the stove, so that would help you to stretch your budget further.

  19. One of the big problems with the cost and supply of food in America is the political influence on government subsidies. Heavy subsidy of corn (and not the kind you’d eat off the cob but the kind that’s fed to livestock) results in cheap junk food: high-fructose corn syrup and McDonald’s hamburgers. When a (unsubsidized) healthful piece of fruit costs more than a burger, that’s how you get the obesity & health problems we have in this country. Watch the movies “Food Inc.” and “King Corn.” Read the books “Food Politics” and “Fast Food Nation.” It’s quite enlightening.

  20. Not sure if anyone asked this earlier. Does $1.50 US buy the same quantity of food/produce around the globe (something like Big Mac Index)? If not, aren’t you experiencing a different set of constraints from the people who don’t have any choice. I mean these are apples and oranges. Just saying.

  21. I’ve been thinking about this today, though more specifically with a week, because then you could have a bit more for “bulk” purchases.

    A lot depends on where you live though. Here in Texas food is cheap. Right now you can buy a dozen eggs for 99 cents, chicken for $1 a pound. A cob of corn for 25 cents and 3 grapefruit for a dollar. Throw in some beans, rice and possibly a potato or two, and while it’s certainly not feasting, it’s not that bad. You’d probably want to get some salt too, just for some flavor.

    As other have mentioned, oats, carrots and bananas are cheap and healthy too and can add for some variety. Ramen is cheap but not healthy, so I would personally stay away from it, other than for a bit of variety and the flavoring packages.

    I’m half tempted to sign up and try this out myself.

  22. My first thought on seeing this was annoyance at what I assumed was yet another shock statistic-based initiative that didn’t take into account the enormous differences in food prices and living styles around the world (many people live largely outside the economy, for instance, so how much they spend in currency is largely irrelevant).

    But on further consideration I gather that the point is to come up with an amount in the range where it would force a person in the U.S. to live off cheap staples like rice and beans, as so many people in the world do (and not to compare currency flows directly).

    In the same vein, I assume it’s cheating to raid the Costco dumpsters and get lots of good food for free, since that’s not an option in most of the world.

    Likewise, I suppose it might be against the spirit of the thing to buy in extreme bulk, and prorate the portions to within the accepted $$ range? Then again, that’s sort of similar to pooling resources with other people (as a family would do), as the post mentions.

    I also imagine eating food you grew from your garden or orchard is cheating, since presumably, again, the whole point of this is to simulate the most destitute people who have little money and also don’t have sufficient agrarian resources to feed themselves well.

    Regardless, I think it’s great to remind ourselves how blessed we are and how much less many people have than we do, and I admire this experiment. And semi-fasting for a few days is probably more likely to have a healthy effect on most Americans than to cause problems.

  23. @Jacob – I agree, I might go low on protein for a bit but the caloric intake should be fine. Eggs and beans/lentils. I got lots of fat reserves as well on board. 🙂 What’s toucher?

    @joally – I agree, I think eggs are definitely going to be included. I think a bunch of spinach is 99 cents, might be too expensive.

    @Lucy – You just described my college days as well, 99c tomato sauce and pasta… but with ground beef instead of chicken.

    @Denis – Interesting. I don’t think I’d be very productive at work eating 100 calories a day, and my wife might kill me due to my resulting hunger grouchiness!

    @Dona Collins – Thanks, I think I am going to do some simple chapatis with flour water and oil, here’s a idea cookbook that I’m going to try the recipe beforehand.

  24. @Kim – Thanks, I’ve read Fast Food Nation.

    @Sid – The $1.50 is supposedly adjusted for the US by the World Bank, the limit is slightly different for each country.

    @Mike – Thanks for the ideas, I agree that this is actually not as bad as I thought initially. I agree that I think I’m going to avoid processed things in order to keep it more realistic. So no protein powder or ramen noodles, even those may be very cheap protein/carbs/fat/sodium.

    @James – No dumpster diving for me. No extreme bulk, but I think I’ll prorate the sizes available at the grocery store. Growing food is allowed in their challenge rules, but I’ll probably also decide to not bother unless the blandness drives me crazy. We have basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, thai basil growing like weeds in the garden and it’s 100x cheaper than buying a few sprigs at a supermarket.

  25. the sad thing is cost of goods are cheaper in the US, so technically your dollar stretches further.

  26. Apples with peanut butter is pretty cheap and healthy breakfast. Green smoothies are a good way to use up lots of fruit/veg so it doesn’t go to waste.

    I think eating cheaper (vegan/vegetarian) will absolutely improve your health. A recent study just showed that when the USSR fell and Cuba’s economy collapsed (goodbye subsidies) meat and dairy became incredibly scarce and health outcomes improved (more walking/bicycling also played a role). The same thing happened minus the exercise component when Germany overran Norway during WWII and commandeered all their meat/dairy for the war effort- heart disease and other chronic disease went way down!

    Meat is expensive, often in terms of your pocketbook or health care costs down the road. Legumes, whole grains, fruits, and veg, nuts/seeds are less expensive in both respects.

    I’m a vegan teetotaler, so I am happy to spend money on quality food (fair trade and organic) since I don’t spend money on meat or alcohol.

  27. I’m going to do this. My plan is to do one $7.50 shopping trip. I’ll post what I bought on Friday morning. Passing up the free food at the CLE I have to attend next week will be tough. Since I normally eat mostly junk food this challenge will be healthier eating for me.

  28. Although this sounds like a great cause just to increase general awareness about hunger and poverty, however the amount ($1.5) is not the same as what the amount would be in a local currency.. Say in China, $1.5 = 9 Chinese Yuans per day or 75 Indian Rupees a day
    which buys you a lot more in the local economy than $1.5 would buy you in the US.

    Hence the comparison on that scale is unfair and incorrect for people to try the same here in the US if you know what I mean

  29. How about frozen peas? I can usually find them for $1/lb. A serving is 3 oz, so that’s about 20 cents per serving. Also, I can typically purchase sweet potatoes and quite a few other vegetables for 69 cents/lb. at my local international market. And you might be able to find chicken breasts on sale for as little as $1.60/lb. Look at the weekly ads for grocery stores you don’t normally frequent and you might find some bargains you didn’t know were out there.

  30. Jonathan,

    Long time reader rarely post but for this I had to say good on ya! 🙂 I have joined the challenge as well. I imagine I will be eating a great deal of white rice and beans to meet the grade.

  31. I’m in….lots of oatmeal! and bananas….

  32. a black man says

    why are so many poor people fat?

  33. You can find cheap grocery at the Mexican supermarket in southern California:
    a bag of 10-lb potatos, 99 cents
    a dozen of eggs, 99 cents
    5-lb tomatos, 99 cents
    7-lb oranges, 99 cents

  34. Wow, I feel poor now. We do this naturally.

  35. I used to make this cheap meal years ago that I called chipped beef noodles. It consisted of egg noodles, cream of mushroom soup and a single serving bag of beef lunch meat. You can stretch this out for two meals and it costs about $2.00 if you only use store brands.

  36. I didn’t read all the comments so I apologize if this is repeat, but polenta! It’s just cornmeal and water (you can add salt, butter, garlic, etc to jazz it up if you want, but you don’t have to). If you buy the cheap cornmeal it should be about 2 cents per serving. If you buy the organic cornmeal it should be about 9 cents per serving. Plus it’s delicious and really versatile.

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