No matter how frugal a food-budgeter you are, eating on a $1.50 a day—the amount a person living in extreme poverty has to spend on their food—isn’t easy.
Having just completed the Live Below The Line challenge, a campaign that tasks participants with eating on $1.50 a day, for five days, to raise funds to support the estimated 1.4 billion people worldwide who face this exact challenge daily, I found out firsthand.
Here’s what spending just $7.50 on five days worth of food taught me.
It’s nearly impossible to eat healthy.
While I maintain that you can buy healthy fruits and veggies and still stick to a budget, my eyes were opened to just how difficult it is to live on $1.50 and do the same.
Because I normally make a conscious effort to eat plenty of greens and organic fruits, I tried to approach the challenge in somewhat the same fashion. But, $7.50 doesn’t go very far, unless you’re making meals out of cheap staples like ramen and bread.
With my budget, I bought a cheap (and small) bag of coffee ($1.50), baby spinach ($1.29), peanut butter ($2), milk ($1.09), eggs ($.99 —but had a “free” coupon), bananas (.75), russet potato ($.39), cheese ($1.40), and yogurt ($.40, also with a “free” coupon).
Technically, I was $2.31 over budget with those items from the start, but because I didn’t think I’d eat all the peanut butter, cheese, and eggs, I let it slide. (Ignorance is bliss; I ate every last bit!)
Hunger will make you compromise your values.
As if living “below the line” itself isn’t tough enough, I teach yoga and spinning for a living, and am training for a marathon. Because of my activity, I probably eat more than the average person.
For the first three days, I drank a lot of coffee and water to float myself to the lunch hour, and used the banana, spinach, milk, peanut butter, and ice cubes to make smoothies for lunch.
Day one dinner was spinach and cheese on top of a baked potato. I was hungry, but not yet out of my mind. The second day held much of the same, but with scrambled eggs and cheese for dinner.
Day three was when I fell apart. After having some yogurt and a banana for lunch, I devoured half of my son’s (not involved in the challenge) mac and cheese while making him lunch.
I didn’t eat it all—but let’s be honest: I essentially stole food right out of my child’s mouth.
You can’t afford to get sick.
On day one of the challenge, my husband got the stomach flu. Though he was fortunate enough to stay at home using a sick day, his stomach medicine cost about $9.
For a person living in extreme poverty, there’s probably no paid sick day or room in the budget for Pepto Bismol.
Kids blow your budget.
To buy myself some “time” at the grocery store while getting said stomach medicine, I let my son choose a treat: A Horizon single serve chocolate milk—for $1.29.
The fact that one little milk with a straw would cause a mother in poverty to nearly blow her entire food budget for the day was not lost on me.
You have limited access to public places.
As a freelance writer, I rely on coffee shop-provided Wi-Fi to work when my son is at preschool.
Though I spend $2 on a coffee to do so, it’s more cost-effective than driving back home to work. But, I had to make adjustments during the challenge, and rely on free public library facilities instead.
Though not a huge sacrifice, I had to work in my car in the parking lot for an hour (tapping into their Wi-Fi) until it opened.
I also realized that those living in poverty have limited access to conveniences most of us take for granted–including being the “paying customer” that most business require you to be in order to use their restroom when you or your kid has to “go.”
The Bottom Line on Living Below the Line
Though I survived the challenge (minus that Mac & Cheese moment), it was an eye opening experience far beyond hunger and food cravings.
I realized that when you are in living in poverty, the general disruptions of life are challenges that never let up–despite how meticulously you ration, plan, and budget.
Though I’m thrilled to be done, it was an enlightening experiment that will made me think about money in terms far beyond interest rates, debt reduction, and wealth-building.
I recommend the Live Below the Line challenge to anyone looking for a fresh perspective and reminder of why most of us have so much to appreciate—regardless of how stressed or frustrated living without the income or career we truly want can be at times.
If you’d like to contribute to the cause, please feel free to donate at my official Live Below the Line Page. Every $250 raised will provide 1,000 school lunches to kids in need.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer based in Columbus, OH. The founder of Wellness On Less, she also writes on small business, consumer interest, wellness, career and personal finance topics.