Could You Survive On $1.50 Per Day? A Bunch of People Tried It for a Week, and Here's What Happened

A buck fifty. Less than the price of an energy bar, it is the amount that 1.4 billion people in the world must live on each day. They are the ones who fall below the “extreme poverty” line, a sum set by the World Bank.

Makes you kind of feel like an asshat for Instagramming a picture of your $4 Starbucks latte this morning, doesn't it?

Last week, a campaign called Live Below the Line took place across the United States, the U.K. and Australia. It gave folks one challenge: to spend just $1.50 per day on food for five days. “We think that to really fight poverty, we've got to try to understand it,” the website says.

So people signed up, calculating their grocery-store pickings (mostly cheap starches), cutting non-essentials such as caffeine (the horror!), and pooling money with friends and colleagues to make their pennies go further, all while raising money for charity. Of course, many took the first-world luxury of blogging about their experience. Here's what they found.


They had to strategize.

I got really excited last night to “splurge” for dinner: a few pieces of lettuce, 1/2 a tomato and lemon juice for dressing and a small bowl of chorizo flavored pasta.

Sounded good in theory, but it left me so hungry that the food emojis in my text messages made my stomach growl by the time I went to bed. Today I've switched my method — had a HUGE breakfast (two pieces of toast with PB, my favorite) to start the day strong and then will taper off to nearly nothing by this evening. We'll see . . .

Let me tell you . . . if I didn't believe it before, I believe it now. Eating on $1.50 a day SUCKS.

They got bored.

Could not hack rice and beans for dinner again. Had to do something. The situation was desperate.

They were sad and tired. (This woman did the challenge with her co-workers.)

It was isolating. I went with friends to the bar, and sat with a glass of tap water while they downed cold craft beer. I smelled my landlord's butternut squash soup simmering on the stove and gazed pathetically at my Tupperware of plain pasta.

. . . But the experience was revelatory — by the end of the week, we were all zombies staring at our computers, unable to focus on anything other than our growling stomachs. And, of course, we have desk jobs. I can't imagine facing hours of hard labor on the same amount of calories.

And they really missed fresh fruits and vegetables.

How did I make it through the challenge? . . . The knowledge that this challenge was voluntary and temporary, and that on Saturday morning I would be taking my Vitamix blender back out of the cabinet and making my usual organic, fresh fruit smoothie without needing to painstakingly price out my ingredients.

The participants acknowledged that the mission wasn't about playing poor. After all, they knew that at any time, they could quit and grab a cheeseburger. It was about gaining a sense of empathy for those less fortunate, then taking action.

“For billions of people around the world, there is no end to the opt-in challenge,” one wrote. “Living 'below the line' is a daily reality. For those of us not subject to this reality, may we be increasingly better stewards of the resources we have been blessed with.”

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