Sunday, May 06, 2012

More Live Below the Line preparations

It's amazing how stressful it is for two adults, both of whom have more than a few pounds they'd like to lose, to prepare to live on $1.50 each per day for 5 days. At one point, as we tried to plan our meals, we started arguing about how best to set up the spreadsheets we were using to plan our meals. I have always been a bit panicky at the prospect of being hungry or missing meals, which may explain my inability to follow Weight Watchers or any other diet plan for long. My husband is about the same.  We are also both smart people who are used to being right.

I am guessing that each person who does this challenge interprets the guidelines slightly differently. Here are our house rules:  You can read the official guidelines on the Live Below the Line site.  We actually decided to follow the example of a couple of other #belowtheline bloggers and do our experiment Jewish-holiday style, with the challenge stretching from sundown on May 6 to sundown on May 11. We plan to start with a late dinner tonight and break our fast late on the 11th with a big dinner.  This is cheating a little and makes it slightly less daunting, though still difficult.  Since pooling resources with other teams and pricing out some items in the pantry is allowed, we decided to weigh out and price out the servings of the items we would use rather than counting the full price of packages of things like rice and beans. We allowed ourselves to shop for bargains but did not use coupons.  We left 40 cents in our budget to cover the cost of things like salt, pepper, and spices. No free food or foraging (I read a blog from one person Living Below the Line who looked for shops giving away freebies -- we aren't going to do this).  I expect that the dandelions in our yard are going to start looking tempting but though gardening is allowed if you can account for the cost of production, we didn't really grow them on purpose.

It took four shopping trips plus the aforementioned spreadsheets to plan out our meals.  We made the final shopping trip to make some final tradeoffs. We hit the jackpot with a loaf of cheap white bread marked down to 39 cents.  We had bought a loaf for $1.99. We had most wanted to add some bulk to our lunches. Between swapping out decent bread for our cheap find, swapping cheddar for a pasteurized cheeselike substance, and finding cheaper deals on staples like lentils and macaroni and cheese, we saved enough to buy some apples, celery, and a few more carrots to supplement our meager-looking lunch fare.  Veggies and fruit were the hardest things to fit into the budget.  We are still eating very lightly for the next few days. I didn't calculate the calorie count because I am afraid of making myself nervous. My husband, who is roughly my size, is going to have it harder because men have higher calorie needs than women.  He is getting a few extra calories in the form of grape jelly, which I hate. Here is a photo of our food for the next five days:

Breakfast, all days: Tea, 1/4 grapefruit, 1/2 cup of rolled oats prepared with water, 2 tablespoons of raisins (unpictured here), cinnamon from the pantry.

Each of us plans to save our teabag from breakfast to reuse later in the day to squeeze whatever caffeine we can from it.

Lunch, 4 days: 2 slices of white bread, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (and a tablespoon jelly for my husband), an apple, carrots and celery

Dinner, to be divided between two nights: White beans made with canned tomatoes, 1/2 an onion, salt, pepper, and some spices from the pantry. Plus white rice.

Dinner one night and lunch another day: Macaroni and cheeselike substance, carrot. Will use pasta water instead of milk to thin the cheese sauce.

Dinner, to be split between two nights: Lentil soup made with celery leaves, carrot, 1/2 onion, and water, with salt, pepper, cumin, and cardamom from the pantry.

Snacks, four days: Air-popped popcorn with oil spray and salt from the pantry.

We have the luxury of unlimited, free, clean tap water, which people in developing countries do not have. We also have a little bit of wiggle room as our cheaper bread and peanut butter means we have a little of each extra in case of extreme hunger. I am hoping to leave that for my husband as he actually has to go to work all five days and I only have to be on site a couple of days this week.

I plan to limit my exercise to gentle activities like walking and yoga this week. I don't see the reason to build an appetite that I can't satisfy.

This whole process has been informative already, and the real test hasn't started yet. It's easy to see why poverty and obesity go together in this country -- it was tempting to fill our cart with cheap bread and snacks that would at least add bulk to fill us up even though they wouldn't be very nutritious. Plus the extra energy and time required to plan meals to the penny really was exhausting.  I can't imagine what it would be like to live this day in and day out.

The Live Below the Line people say that no one under 15 or over 60 should participate in the challenge and that anyone who feels unwell during the challenge should stop and seek a doctor's help.  I think that is sensible, but the 1.4 people who really live like this every day are mostly children and they don't get to stop after 5 days. I am hoping that remembering this fact will help keep my whining to a minimum.

If you would like to donate to my fundraising effort, you can do so through my profile, which will direct donations to CARE. Or you can just go to the general donation page for the U.S. and select the partner charity of your choice, or go to the global page and donate through your home country's link.


  1. That was supposed to be 1.4 Billion people

  2. ah... I wonder if you could have done it without the price estimates from the pantry? Because all those spices are expensive, and buying a bottle of spice would take a substantial amount out of the budget. If this were for real, you wouldn't be buying spices, because when you decide to invest in a little spice for the month, you're deciding to skip a few meals.

    I'd like to see these so-called challenges get real.

    1. I saw spices for $1 per container at Aldi. I just didn't want to buy new when I already had them. I also bought a huge can of the oil spray we are using for popcorn for $2.49. I thought leaving 40 cents in the budget seemed adequate to cover those items. There is no way this challenge simulates what it's like to really live in extreme poverty -- as I said, just having free, clean, easily-accessible water is a huge advantage.

      I do invite anyone who thinks this is easy to try it.

  3. Adding: bulk spices from food coops are very reasonably priced, can buy very small quantity, so I agree you are okay with your estimate. The only time I buy spice through regular channels is if I want the container to refill from bulk. This doesn't happen often, because I have reused/kept containers for many years, but occasionally will buy a new spice.

  4. JEN - you are the most computer savvy person I know. I have a system question - is there a way on blogger to set pictures so they can not be copied? I have been careful not to put pictures up of my kids faces in all these years. Now that I am private, I am considering posting family pictures in their entirety but wondered if it was possible to set them so they can't be copied. (Every once in a while I find a picture on the web which can't be copied.)


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07