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$365 a year for food

It's not a social experiment for her but rather a matter of a very tight budget.

By Karen Datko Mar 16, 2010 6:34PM

A dollar a day for food: You may have seen some of these posts, where well-meaning people experiment to see if they can make it work -- if they can eat like poor folks.


Blogger “j.” saw them too, and thought she could do better. But for her, eating on $1 a day is not a social experiment:

Well, here I am. Broke, newly moved, and almost totally without food. Like those who came before me I've got some rules, but unlike those before me I'm not doing this to help anyone else. This is all about my grocery bill.

She’s not joking. One of her rules is that if she wins the Powerball jackpot, the $1-a-day food limit comes to an abrupt halt.


Among the other rules at 365 Dollar Year (and a tip of the hat to Miss Bankrupt for the link):

  • If j. loses more than 15 pounds, it’s time to reconsider the plan.
  • A total of $104 of each six-month allocation will be spent on fresh fruits, vegetables and “random wants.” Another 50 cents a week will be budgeted for splurges. A rare bag of potato chips can taste like the junk food of the gods.
  • Produce will be purchased only if it costs less than 50 cents a pound, not including monthly bulk buys like onions, which she uses a lot. Produce that costs more will come out of “splurges.” (Note: J. is not a carnivore. Also, the 50-cent rule was later doubled to a buck when the only produce available under the 50-cent mark was sweet potatoes and cabbage.)
  • Free food is free and doesn’t count (and doesn’t free food always taste good?).

How is it going? Four days before the Feb. 14 launch, j. admitted to getting cold feet: How could she keep the roaches out of her bulk-purchased foods or compensate for the high price of rice?


Her initial days on dollar-a-day grub produced uneven results. (J., you’re right. Popcorn is not a meal.) But as she discovered or invented new recipes, the quality of dishes improved. The addition of a slow cooker, rice cooker and wok also helped.

Breakfasts are still heavy on oatmeal, interspersed with a homemade cinnamon bun or crumb cake, but dinners now sound appealing: sweet potato gnocchi and onions with almond cream; veggie “pork” potstickers; and tofu, lots of tofu. One meal consisted of what j. called popcorn tofu and chicken-fried tofu, with onions. (You can find her tofu frying primer here.)


What has she learned so far?

  • Eating cheaply requires cooking, organizational skills and self-discipline.
  • Batch cooking saves time. Cooking dried beans in the slow cooker creates the base for more than one meal. The beans you don’t eat can be refrigerated and used later.
  • Ethnic grocers and dollar stores have steep discounts on food, particularly spices.
  • Having the splurge money to buy an avocado, a tomato and a lime all in one day is a source of joy.

Hopefully, j. can stick with the program. Or better yet, maybe she’ll come into some money. (It’s unclear whether she’ll continue if she gets a job.) She said:

Again, I'm doing this for my budget, not to save the world. If I open my door and the money fairy hands me a huge pile of (legal, not stolen) money, this ends and I eat chocolate and take-away forever. Until then, I might as well have fun being broke, right?

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