How to survive on just $2 a day: Live Below the Line


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Could you survive on only $2 a day? Around 767 million people in the world do. And each May, I live on only $2 a day for five days as a fundraiser and to raise awareness about food insecurity.

Oaktree is an Australian youth-run anti-poverty organisation. Its Live Below the Line challenge raises money to support its poverty alleviation projects. Participants opt to eat on a budget that costs $2 or less for two days or for up to five days.

Easy peasy? Even for me, who regularly crafts meals that cost $5 or less and who lived on $50 a week for a year, this challenge is hard.

live below the line $2 a day oaktree serina bird ms frugal ears food groceries

For one thing, you cannot accept "free food" on the challenge. This means saying no to my workmate's home baked brownies, no after work drinks or even foraging for dandelion weeds if your stomach grumbles.

The last time I did this I went to a swanky reception and had to insist on tap water and refuse the buffet. Poverty can be socially isolating; when you don't have much money, it makes it hard to go out to restaurants.

Secondly, you can only eat what you can afford to buy. So, if you buy a large bag of lentils for $10 but only use 50c worth, you still need to cost in the entire $10. This forces you to think strategically about what to buy, choosing small portion sizes and nutritional food. Meal planning is critical.

This year, my partner decided to join me on the challenge, so we had $20 in total to spend.

This meant we could combine forces and buy more items. He scoured Woolworths and ALDI, pricing items and compiled a spreadsheet.

We made some hard choices, supplemented by a few end-of-day bargains from the fruit and vegetable markets. We come in 9c under budget.

Chicken drumsticks $3.14
1kg rolled Oats $1.08
UHT milk 1L 90c
Margarine 500g $1.19
Bananas 500g $1.14
Mixed vegetables frozen 1kg $1.59
Sugar 1kg $1
Eggs one dozen $2.59
Brown onions 1kg 99c
Diced tomatoes can 60c
Brown rice 1kg $2.19
SR flour 75c
Plain flour 75c
Kale $1
Mixed fruit $1

Cage eggs (a controversial item) were on the menu because they are a cheap form of protein.

Brown rice, while more expensive, was better than white rice because it kept us full longer. Some form of fat is essential because otherwise it is difficult to cook without it. We factored in sugar because I have a sweet tooth - once upon a time sugar was a luxury that only the rich could afford.

For five days we ate creatively, and we ate well. Slow-cooked chicken drumsticks with vegies and homemade gravy, Chinese stir-fried onions and egg with a chicken dish, chicken soup with doughboys, homemade fettuccine with tomato sauce, and caramelized onions with chicken, kale and fried eggs plus an apple and plum crumble as a finale. .

My partner made me delicious scones with leftover porridge. Several of these dishes, notably the roast chicken, would have been special occasion birthday food on the farm in Inverloch when my dad grew up; bread and dripping was a more usual staple.

We missed not having many condiments to add flavour like salt and pepper - our food was nutritious but at times bland.

We missed our morning cup of hot tea. I missed Vegemite on toast, and my partner missed steak. We could not have a glass of wine with dinner, something we usually do on Friday nights at the end of the week.

I noticed that I was full yet still craved food. How much of what we eat is done out of habit rather than real hunger? Did I really need that after dinner chocolate or mid-afternoon trip to the cafe downstairs at work? Was it about the food or more about the ritual and distraction?

What I enjoyed about the challenge was how it made me rethink my relationship with food. There was virtually no waste - even apple peels were reused as a type of faux tea made with sugar.

We found we stopped eating when we were full, hoarding extra food to use for the next day to stretch things out. With so much fibre in the diet and not much in the way of processed food, I felt healthier than I had in a long time.

It took more time to prepare the meals and more thought. Homemade pasta mid-week is not something that everyone has the energy to do, but it was much more cost-effective than ringing for a takeaway pizza (and to our minds, more satisfying).

We were surprised to find we had food leftover - one egg, one cup of flour, a litre of chicken soup, half an apple and plum crumble, half a kilo of sugar, two cups of oats, three cups of cooked brown rice and a banana.

And after our final meal on the challenge we were full so didn't try to eat it all up.

After the challenge we considered that maybe we should do it semi-regularly. Maybe?

But right now I am enjoying a piece or two of buttered toast with Vegemite, along with a nice hot cup of tea.

Visit Live Below the Line to donate

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Serina Bird is a proud frugalista who has amassed more than a million dollars through frugal living. She is the author of The Joyful Frugalista and The Joyful Startup Guide. Serina blogs at The Joyful Frugalista, and her podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. She is also the founder of the The Joyful Business Club.
Kerri Moore
May 16, 2018 5.43pm

Easier to do if u have $10 upfront we were just doing it in our heads
Hard but doable

May 17, 2018 7.00am

Thanks for acknowledging that there is an ethical cost to this too. I believe in buying cage-free eggs but that's not a luxury I would have if I had to live on $2 a day.

Serina aka Ms Frugal Ears
May 18, 2018 12.26pm

Yes, having the $10 upfront helps. If only $2 at a time it would be hard. It is also much easier when you can combine forces with someone else, as this means you can buy more bulk items.

Serina aka Ms Frugal Ears
May 18, 2018 12.28pm

Yes, the whole egg debate. And also items like cheap tuna (not on this menu, although we contemplated sardines). People living below the poverty line often have to make hard choices. Usually, we have farm eggs from my fiance's parents farm. We contemplated using those and costing them in, but that would not reflect that most people doing the challenge would not have that option.

May 10, 2021 5.20pm

Toast and tea and vegemite . Ok so why not just live on that instead of kale? I found kale to be a waste on your list

Sure it's your choice but I thought living mean My meant ON THE BASICS, kale? Sorry that's not s basic.

Stella S
May 11, 2021 9.30am

Enjoy your scurvy.