Eating For $2 A Day: What Live Below The Line Can Learn From Mastercheap

Live Below The Line challenges people to eat on $2 a day for five days to raise money for charity. Two years ago, I undertook the similarly-themed Mastercheap challenge. Can I adapt that $3.50 a day budget to work for even less?

Live Below The Line begins this week. I’m not taking part (I am sponsoring a couple of participants), but I figured it might be interesting to see if Mastercheap’s $25 for seven days budget could be reduced down to Live Below The Line’s $10 for five days challenge.

I chose the $3.50 a day limit to create a neat weekly figure ($25) and because it roughly equated to the price of a cup of coffee. The $2 a day figure is said to represent the global poverty line: the amount that 1.4 billion people have to spend on food every day.

One immediate disadvantage for this project is that it runs over five days rather than seven, which means you don’t get the advantage of buying over a longer period. Under the circumstances, two of the main tenets of Mastercheap — trying to maintain a nutritious diet, and trying to vary the meals as much as possible — are also going to fly out the window.

The meal plan

Obviously, there would be a lot of ways to solve this problem. For $10, you could purchase eight five-packs of 2-minute noodles (at $1.17 each) and eat nothing else. Potential sodium disaster and massive tedium, but possible. Using the existing Mastercheap plan as a template, and ditching the snacks, desserts and a bunch of other things besides, this is what I would go for. (The prices are for store-brand goods; as we’ve indicated before, these will cost you similar amounts whichever supermarket you choose.)

For breakfast: One packet of store brand corn flakes, $1.99. One litre UHT skim milk, $1.08. Done.

For lunch: One packet of store brand white bread is $1.00, and contains 24 slices. (Yes, I prefer multigrain, but that’s 50 cents more). Either way, that gives a dozen sandwiches, or a few less if you go the infamous toast sandwich. But that’s a couple for lunch each day. What to put on them? Buy a dozen eggs for $3.01 (a big chunk of the budget, but a cheap source of protein.) Each of the sandwiches can have crumbled hard-boiled eggs, or scrambled if you’ve a little milk spare.

For dinner: 1 kilogram of pasta costs $1.26 and will get you five meals. Grab one kilogram of frozen mixed vegetables ($1.59) as an accompaniment/topping, also split five ways. (While you can spend fractional amounts on individual vegetables, very few are priced at under $1.60 a kilogram, though carrots sometimes fall into that category.)

Grand total on that budget: $9.93. Doesn’t take long, does it?

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t absolutely mean you need to discount all your preferences. For instance, I dropped muesli from the Mastercheap budget and replaced it with cornflakes to save 60 cents. Rolled oats are actually even cheaper than cornflakes, but the plain truth is I don’t like them. Plenty of people would go that route and have a few extra cents to spend.

Compared to the original Mastercheap, this is much more limiting — but it does have a vaguely reasonable mix of food. It’s an identical set of meals every day, and there’s not even room for margarine for your bread. What I think I’d really suffer with is the lack of teabags. But suffering is kind of the point.

Got your own Life On The Line budget, or other suggestions? Share them in the comments.