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.


    Where is all the fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. Should be the die in five days diet. There is more then enough good healthy food to go around in the world. All the hunger in the world is political hunger.

      Wow - how is that sheltered box you're living in...? Get enough light in there?

      I'd like to see you plan 5 days worth of fresh meat and veggies for under $10 (and that's not $10 a day, mind you). And since you know so much about the world's starving masses, and how to fix it, would you mind running for parliament, so that I can vote for you, please.

      Vote 1 - Jackie Jones!

      What does "All the hunger in the world is political hunger." even mean? Could you be any more vague and ambiguous?

        Etheopia is starving to make a political statement.

        Either this is a very obvious troll or this guy is seriously deluded. Either way I thouroughly enjoyed the post.

        I think he was trying to say that we have so much food that one of the biggest problems western society faces is obesity. The production of food for the world isn't ALWAYS the problem, it also involves how hard it is to get that food to the starving masses. Which is why he talks about "political hunger".

        Not justifying, just translating.

    There's a reason why infectious disease is such a problem around the developing world and that is one largely to do with nutrition (and closely followed by sanitation). You're filling yourself with processed carbohydrates here, have very little quality protein serves (eggs just scrape in) and frozen vegetables. No fruit, not even one serve a week? Corn flakes? If you wanted to be true to the spirit of this exercise you'd realise that breakfast cereals are the antithesis of healthy, cheap breakfast nutrition and are a concoction of the advertising industry. As the poster above me states this is a quick recipe for disaster, you're likely to show signs of poor nutrition pretty quickly. Look for skin health deterioration, oral/gum disease to set in, hair changes, bowel habit changes (if you don't already live on a stupid diet like this).

    How about you use some advertising revenue from your site to consult an actual dietitian to compose you a meal plan that covers your bases to properly illustrate your point next time?

      How about you realize the point of the article.

      Which is its about living on two dollars a day.

      It's not about eating healthy.

      It's about scrounging your money together for enough calories so you won't starve.

        +1 to Blake.
        Doc_monkey, if you had bothered to realise the point of the article you wouldn't have made an arse of yourself.


        While I agree with Doc_monkey that it's an unhealthy diet (and I happen to eat oats almost every morning, which is better than corn flakes in every way), the whole point of the exercise is to suffer and draw awareness to the suffering of others.

        Bear in mind that the kind of person who has a real budget of $2/day for food probably can't afford to consult a dietician; probably doesn't have access to high-energy, quality-controlled foodstuffs, clean water and comfortable shelter; and probably spends a greater proportion of their energy earning that $2 than Angus does on an average workday. A bit of a sore stomach and a lack of fruit for a week hardly compares to the hardships of third-world life, so while Doc_monkey's points are valid he, himself seems to be missing the point of the Live Below the Line project.

          The sad truth is that you don't have to be in a third world country to find people that survive on $2 a day

    So i guess the last 2 posters completely missed the point of the challange? At no point did anyone say this was a good way to live. For 2 bucks a day some people woudls be forced into unhealthy eating like this. Or did i miss the point?

      Nope I think you understood the point perfectly while some missed it by a rather wide margin.

    It's $2 a day, what do you expect?!
    If you know how to get this fantastic diet for 10 dollars per 5 days, then by all means enlighten us.

    Or, maybe you're too busy in Africa, shaking your head at the "disastrous" diets of the children there. Don't they know all that processed white rice and a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables is unhealthy? No wonder they are sick all the time. Maybe they should use some of their sponsorship money to get a clue.

    @Brandon - yep, both of them have missed the point
    Quote from the Live Below the Line Website:
    "Live Below the Line will challenge you to live on $2 a day, for 5 days. It opens a window onto the day-to-day experience of extreme poverty, and mobilises thousands of Australians to make a real difference."

    The challenge is to demonstrate how difficult it can be to live a healthy life at the poverty line
    This isn't a 'diet' (as in - a way of eating that will lead to weight loss)
    This is a demonstration of how some people have to live in order to go to bed at night without feeling hungry

    @ first 2 poster
    please read the article next time before spouting comments will you?

    "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." - that quote is a bit deceptive. There are some countrys where you can get a pretty feed for $2 day. Think some parts of China, vietnam etc.. where most of the billions of people are. Granted u can't live on $2 day in Australia given the price of food etc... But that's not to say you can't live on $2 /day on food in other countries.

      While this is true, there's more to those places than just the price of food. Consider the quality of the food - how safe is it? How convenient is it to acquire? What about things we take for granted like clean water, cheap electricity for cooking/light and comfortable shelter? Not to mention the working conditions that many people with this kind of budget are under, which places a variety of physical stresses on their bodies which we are thankfully spared through our first-world laws and workplace regulations.

        It can't be too bad. Apparently a lot of our food comes from these places..;-)

          This and the fact it can support a population of 1 billion souls and counting.

      Yeah, it should be indexed... Unless, of course it is.

      I'm sure there are people living in parts of China and Vietnam who only have an equivalent $2 to spend on food a day.

      The $2 a day figure is based on Australia's economy. What you can get in Australia for $2 a day is equal to what others below the poverty line live on. In the UK they have 1 pound per day, in the US it is $1.5.

      FD: I am the campaign's Online Director.

      Foodwise, yes, you can live on $2 a day, that has just been proven above, and yes, in some countries, that $2 might stretch a bit further.
      But it's not just food that we're talking about here. The $2 a day figure is the amount an example person living below the poverty line earns each day, and they are required to spend basically all of it on food (to survive). This means that when someones falls sick, the house starts falling down, or education becomes available, there is nothing to spend of these things. What if there a little mouths to feed too? Young children don't earn $2 a day (and if they have to, that's another tragedy) and they still need to be fed.
      These life-and-death dilemmas are the reality of living below the poverty line - it's not as simple as just buying food, but the Live Below the Poverty Line challenge uses it to represent a much more complex issue.

    I think the worst thing about these ideas is you still have good air tight containers, refrigeration, cooking equipment and everything else that someone living on $2 a day would not have. How good would milk be on day 5 without a fridge? Did you plan on cooking the pasta?

    I think the quality of fruit and vegies is definitely a lot better than in Australia. Places like Thailand and Vietnam have great fresh produce for dirt cheap and tastes way better than the old fruit and veg from Coles or Woolies.
    To be fair though, I think people should try fasting if they really want to feel what the poor go through. In some parts of Africa they actually eat DIRT just to stop the pain in their stomachs from not having any food!
    This is one instance where I happen to agree with the whole Muslim / Ramadan thing. Fasting for a whole month would definitely make me think of the poor a lot more.
    Just my 2 cents

      This is completely off topic, but apparently there is a rather interesting increase in babies born with all types of health issues like 6 months after Ramadan in Muslim families and communities*. I don't remember the exact timing and I realise this is pretty vague, but it's basically caused by this fasting at a certain point in the pregnancy. IF this is true and it's caused by people intentionally fasting, it must be a terrible thing to have a child in the countries this campaign is promoting awareness of where they have no choice...

      * this is not a go at Muslim people or Ramadan in anyway

        There are cases where people can be exempt from doing the Ramadan fast, and pregnancy is one of them, becuase Muslim people realise that fasting is not good for mother or baby, especially in Australia because Ramadan is in summer - no drinking in 35-40 degree heat? Really bad idea.

        Pregnet and nursing mothers are exempt from fasting as well as the sick,elderly,children and dissabled.The fasting is only during daylight hours so most people get up very early eat a large breakfast and skip lunch then make up for it at dinner.

    living like this will give you cancer. Period.

      Care to back up that entirely unsubstantiated assertion with some evidence?

    Where's the boiled (brushed) potatoes? Theyre about $1.50/kg and have a lot of beneficial vitamins etc in them (especially when consumed with the skin on). Add them to your pasta and it will help in filling your tummy, using less pasta and giving you some of its goodness. You can also add boiled chopped potatoes to your noodles.

      Sure. What are you dumping from the budget to pay for them? (If you're keen on the oats, that's one option.)

        I would probably change the pasta for potatoes myself.

    if they could work in some dried beans (buy in bulk and soak in water) and maybe some fruit (apples/mandarins are bout $2 a kilo or less)

    Then for maybe 2 dollars or more and it would actually be a nutritious meal. it does highlight the wastage we must be going through normally though

    Is the $2 adjusted to our economy? $2AU would go a lot further in a 3rd would country.

    If you couldn't see yourself living on $2 worth of food a day, I wonder if you would consider sponsoring a child for a dollar a day, so at least one poor soul in the world doesn't have to either. When you consider how indexing and GDP affects things, that dollar is minimal to us but large in say Cambodia. Also, kudos on the toast between fresh bread sandwich! It was a delicious revelation!

    being a chef myself i tried doing this but over a month, I actually managed to design a menu that covered most of the food groups and in decent portions.

    This article is a very basic idea of how the $2 challenge works but spread over a few more weeks you can incorperate much more. this includes some meat and plenty of fruit ( this may also depend on prices at the time ). It's certianly not impossible but may need to rely on the law of averages. the longer you do this for the more variety you can use.

      I make the point very explicitly that even going seven days rather than five gives you an edge. Doing it over a month would definitely be easier.

    Just get the hungry to eat the poor...

    there you go....

    the world's problem solved....

    The problem with these campaigns is that $2 a day here is not analogous to $2 over there.

    The problem with Tezz's comment and others suggesting that $2/day isn't as hard as it sounds because it goes so so much further in a poor country - the poverty line figure is based on purchasing power parity.
    When they talk about people in poverty living on $2/day, it means people live on the equivalent of what we could buy for $2. Their purchasing power 'over there' is the same as ours would be with $2 here. It doesn't include subsistence resources, gifts, or aid, but it is still a comparable figure.

    Thanks for clearing that up mehdi! I'm amazed anyone would post here without checking their facts first. The $2 figure is clearly explained on lbl's website.
    This is a tough challenge and over half way through I'm beginning to get a tiny glimpse into what it's like for people living in extreme poverty.
    With the Federal Government's 2012 budget announcement about foreign aid this makes live below the line even more critical.
    Angus, thanks for posting this. this campaign is about getting through the best way you can!
    To those people not participating please get online and donate and share the abundant wealth we have with those who need it.

    $1 100g snow peas
    $1.20 200g mushrooms
    $1.50 1kg sweet potato
    $1 1kg potatoes
    $1 1kg bananas
    $1.50 1kg pink lady apples
    $2.80 left to get a dozen eggs with

      Interested: how would you translate that into 21 meals?

        And on further reflection: who is selling you bananas for $1 a kilo right now? (Most of those prices seem well below market prices.)

          Food Markets, many are $2, fresher green ones, ripe ones, esp near closing time will be $1 when they try to flog them off.

          Mix it up however you want really, there's no need for structure, I don't think people living on $2 a day would exactly have structured complete meals.

          This however for a week, is more interesting for the palate that what I've seen so far for me personally. Much healthier too.

          Sweet Potato is one of the most nutritionally dense food you can get, so that helps.

          You can mash, grill, roast, and do other things with the root vegetables.

          You could make yourself a cut fruit salad of banana and and apples if you get tired of eating them whole.

          I believe there is enough there for half decent nutrition for 5 days, and probably better than what

          many people eat now.

          There are other much cheaper things than snow peas and mushrooms, more around the $1-$2 mark per kg you could get too, just not off the top of my head, this is what I bought today, is why I've chosen this.

          This is unrealistic because of the time frame, except for students and others on the like, falling short of money for a week for food etc.

          Better variety and complete built meals could actually be had by people living on $2/day just for food.

          With a longer time frame, you can get your spices, sides, meat, condiments, etc. Meat at markets become really cheap at closing time when they want to get rid of much as possible, $10 tray of 10 - 12 steaks, scotch fillet, not the best scotch fillet, but pretty reasonable, and very nice if you can cook half decently.

          I bought more stuff, but a lot of items, that could make a lot of meals, like chillis, 2 large green chillis cost 50c, a whole bunch of coriander $1.50, $2 for 100g of galangal root, among other things.

          If you can plan well, you can have excellent meals on that budget, you need a longer time frame though.

          Eg l what I made tonight with all that was a thai green curry with fresh ingredients. Of course you can get a small can of very pre-made strong stuff for $1.50 that will go for a lot of meals.

          $2/day doesn't have to be unhealthy poor food, with little nutritional value that will lead to bad health, that is also kinda bland and boring, especially the same thing every day.

          You would need to be very organised about it though, not simply think on a day to day basis.

          Also the potatoes I listed are thorpdale potatoes, and imho the absolute tastiest potatoes I have had for roasting, you cannot get them in supermarkets for some reason, sebago's by comparison are terrible.

          In any case, if you want some structure to meal planning based on such a small time scale, just divide everything in 5 portions, and that is what you can eat for that day.

          2 eggs a day with 2 left over.
          a few snow peas
          a few mushrooms
          200g of potatoes
          200g of sweet potatoes
          200g of bananas
          200g of apples

          breakfast, would be fruit, and some re-fried mashed potato and sweet potato for a full stomach.

          lunch more fruit

          dinner, 2 eggs cracked over the top of roast vegetables, perhaps mixed together before hand.

          I'm assuming we don't have to include a weeks worth of oil in the budget, just like we don't cooking utensils and appliances.

    Coles also does it's $6/kg mince you can always get, portioned off and frozen, along with frozen cheap market meats at the end of the day would ensure variety, I've kept stuff as long as 6 months frozen.

    Try lent instead where it's no meat wheat ir dairy.
    I ate rice and fruit .
    This is all about I think not spending money Un necessarily rather what's at home.
    We tend to over consume and throw away where there are people who'd give for a stale piece if bread.
    Ok it's not healthy but it's enough to survive on.thats the whole idea. Not let's go all out and eat luxe it's ok what's in the pantry like those in the 3rd world and see how it works.
    Soup of grass anyone.its big in Syria.

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