Could you eat for $1.50 a day?
The Live Below The Line challenge proposes a 5-day grocery budget of just $7.50. Use this as a reality check for your own food bills.
Ben Affleck fans were all agog when the actor announced he'd be spending no more than $1.50 a day for food. Affleck and other celebrities (and ordinary citizens, too) will tighten their belts Monday through Friday this week as part of Live Below the Line, an initiative designed to raise awareness of global hunger and poverty.
The challenge is simple: Agree to spend no more than $1.50 on your daily grub from April 29 to May 3. That figure represents "the accepted global figure used to define extreme poverty," according to The Global Poverty Project, which created the challenge.
The cutback is also designed goal is to raise money for global hunger and poverty programs. Participants can collect pledges or donate on their own.
Even if you don't opt to join in, you could use this as a reality check for your own grocery bills.
Think of it as boot camp for your food bucks, or a fire drill for your finances. After all, food is the most bendable place in the average budget. Knowing that you could eat on much less than you're spending now would mean a little breathing room if your finances suddenly go south (e.g., layoff or illness).
Obviously it won't be easy. A full seven days of below-the-line dining represents just 34% of the average weekly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (formerly called food stamps) benefit of $33.34 per person per week.
But you can eat fairly nutritious meals on a shoestring. For example, The Hillbilly Housewife's "$70 emergency menu" feeds four to six people for a week -- i.e., as little as $1.66 per person per day -- and even includes a little meat.
It just takes a little creativity and, yeah, cooking from scratch.
S-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g that dollar fifty
The Live Below The Line website suggests eating lots of lentils, oats, pasta, rice, bread and vegetables, and splitting purchases with friends. A jar of peanut butter costs more than your daily allotment, for example, unless two or three of you share the cost.
Here are some tips to wring every last penny of value from that buck-fifty. Use these tips to get the foods listed below at the cost of one-tenth of a cent (or less) per calorie.
Oats. Buy in bulk in the health-food section of the supermarket; they cost half as much than the ones in the cereal aisle, and you can buy small amounts vs. a whole box. Hint: Add a spoon of peanut butter and your breakfast will stick with you longer. Oatmeal also makes a good evening snack if you're still hungry after your 50-cent supper. Nutritional info: 5 grams of protein and 150 calories per serving.
Lentils. Fast-cooking and versatile, this is some of the cheapest protein out there ($1.19 in the bulk aisle, $1.49 bagged). Cold lentils with a bit of olive oil, pickle vinegar, garlic, pepper and whatever vegetables you have on hand makes a good salad that's easy to carry to work. You can make a satisfying curry with a diced potato, one or two carrots, a little onion and garlic (fresh or powdered), a dab of peanut butter, cooked lentils, some curry powder (buy it for a buck at the dollar store or ethnic market) and any broth you have on hand (or just vegetable cooking water you've saved in the freezer). Nutritional info: 13 grams of protein and 180 calories per serving.
Pasta. A frequent dollar-a-pound loss leader -- and it doesn't have to be paired with tomato sauce. Tamar Adler's delightful "An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace" has a recipe that uses just chickpeas (cheap when bought dried), a little oil, salt, pepper, pasta and optional garlic. The Internet abounds with non-spaghetti recipes, too. Nutrition info: 1 cup (just under 5 ounces cooked) has 221 calories and 8.1 grams of protein.
Bread. Look for a bakery outlet in your area; I get multigrain bread for as little as $1.50 per loaf, i.e., less than 17 cents per sandwich. Peanut butter is probably the cheapest filling. Nutritional info: 2 slices multigrain bread contain 170 calories and 8.6 grams of protein.
Rice. Add it to curries or soups, or make it a main dish by sautéing whatever vegetables you have on hand and adding cooked rice. Bigger bags cost less, especially at ethnic markets or warehouse clubs. But even a dollar-store bag equals 5 cups of cooked grain. (Incidentally, the last rice I bought at the dollar store was grown in South Carolina.) Nutritional info: 1 cup cooked rice has 205 calories and 4.3 grams of protein.
More food for thought
While in the supermarket keep your eyes peeled for "manager's special" (close-dated) milk, bread, eggs and fruit. (Meat, too, if you split an order with a friend and turn it into a stir-fry.) Some recent examples of my own:
- Eggland's Best eggs, $1.49 for a dozen large, or about 12.5 cents each. Hint: Poach a single egg directly atop grits or leftover beans, lentils, stew or curry.
- Six huge, day-old hoagie rolls for $1.39, or about 23 cents apiece.
- A gallon of milk for $1.69, half of which got turned into homemade yogurt. Hint: Rice and milk makes a good breakfast or an evening snack.
Pinto beans. They cost $1.49 a pound in the supermarket, less at an ethnic market or warehouse club. Again, split an order with friends and you'll have plenty left over to make chili and burritos later on.
Cornmeal. As a broke single mom I had cornmeal mush for supper at least once a week. Call it "grits" if you want, or add some diced vegetables and a little cheese and call it "polenta." Cornbread is cheap to make and will turn a dish of seasoned pinto beans into a very filling supper. Buy it in the bulk section for as little as 99 cents per pound.
Ramen. You just knew I'd bring that up, right? It's not particularly healthy but a Saturday ramen lunch won't kill you. Cheapest at warehouse stores and ethnic markets, but I've seen it on sale for 20 cents at supermarkets. Add diced vegetables to make it a little more nutritionally acceptable.
Frugal feasts for your financial future
Now consider this: Suppose you ate this way for one week every two months?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Cost of Food At Home" analysis, a single male under the age of 50 spends anywhere from $41.80 to $83.20 per week on food; a single woman pays $37.20 to $74. A family of two shells out $86.90 to $172.90; a family of four spends $126.50 to $287.50 (depending on the age of the children).
Eating on the $1.50-a-day plan would save you anywhere from $29.70 to $257.50. Multiply that week by six and you'd hold onto an extra $178.20 to $1,545 a year.
What could you do with the money? Lots:
- Establish an emergency fund.
- Throw it against consumer debt/student loans.
- Add it to your retirement.
- Start a college fund for your kid.
- Take a vacation.
Following the below-the-line regime even for a day or two this week could help you re-think the way you look at food. Specifically, you might choose to stop saying things like, "I'm starving," or "There's never anything to eat around here." Plenty of people in the United States and around the world say that every day -- and they're not exaggerating.
Readers: Could you eat for $1.50 a day? How much do you spend now?
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Also, does the $1.50 include the fuel to cook your food? Or the electricity to run the refrigerator to keep it? Probably not.
Two rifle shells at $1.00 each bought two deer and 200lbs of prime venison in my freezer. Heck yes I can live off of $1.50 a day and I'm eating natures most organic meat!
I live on about $3/day and I eat well! However I only buy fruits and veggies in seaon.. I try never to pay more than 99 cents/lb for fresh fruit not including bananas. I try not to pay more than 1.99 lb/meat. I divide a pound of ground beef nhalf and use half for spaghetti made with homemade sauce and whole wheat noodles and the other half will go into chili or a beef and veggie soup. Soups are cheap and healthy. Whole wheat pastas are cheap. Eggs are cheap and sometimes I will have a boiled egg for breakfast and scrambled eggs with fruit for dinner. There are so many ways to eat cheap and healthy mostly by following weekly advertisements, and stocking up when things like meat are marked down. We eat lots of oatmeal for breakfasts and before bed I make the kids oats with raisins, butter and a little brown sugar stirred in. Sweet enough for a snack but still rather wholesome. Cutting down to $1.50 a day would be hard but do-able. More bananas for the fruit and a lot less meat!
I am a single and I pretty much already do this, REGULARLY. My weekly budget is $25. It covers ALL my food, cat food & litter, paper goods, cleaning supplies and HBA PLUS 5L of wine. I eat salad every day, veggies with lunch & dinner and a serving of fruit/day. My standard menu is:
Yogurt + fruit 2x
Cereal + fruit 2x
Toast + ? (cream cheese, cheese, PB)
Egg + fruit
Waffle or pancakes + fruit
Cottage cheese + veg 3x
Planned leftovers + veg 2x
Egg + veg
Junk food (hot dogs, pizza, ?)
Chicken + salad & veg 2x
Fish + salad & veg2x
Veg + salad 2x (pasta w/ veg, lentils, egg)
Meat (often ground beef or turkey)+ salad & veg
I find that going to local farmer's markets are the best place to buy food in bulk. It usually taste and looks better.
I could possibly do it if I could pick different family members. Some of them eat more than the others.(LOL). But seriously, they are talking on a shoestring budget. The recipes they are giving are actually going to cost you more. Think about it. For instance, Lentils- they suggest adding olive oil, pickle vinegar, garlic. The spices alone are going to cost you unless you are growing your own.
Things I purchase:
4) Dried Lentils/Beans
5) Cans of tomatoes
6) Flour Tortillas - instead of bread - I even make flatbread pizzas out of them
8) Thinly sliced cheese
Things that are too expensive:
2) Beef, Shellfish, and any meat not frozen
3) Anything pre-packaged
4) Most fresh vegetables (I do plant a garden every year)
5) Peanut butter & Jelly (I do make my own jams in the summer as fruit goes into season)
Wealthy people living this way is insulting to me - this isn't trendy or a lifestyle choice. I wouldn't live this way if I didn't have to...but I'm making the best of it.
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