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Live Below the Line


I am interested in the Live Below the Line challenge-- living for 5 days on $1.50/day (i.e. below the poverty level).


I'm getting pretty good at budget cooking but without thinkings like olive oil, flour, herbs, etc. to grab from my pantry without thought makes this much harder.

So.... how would you live below the line for 5 days? Can you help me with recipes?

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  1. "...and when there was no meat, we ate fowl and when there was no fowl, we ate crawdad and when there was no crawdad to be found, we ate sand."

    Squirrels, pigeons and raccoons are everywhere. Start sharpening some sticks.

    1. You might find the series of posts by rworange interesting, although they dealt with the luxurious budget of $3/day!


      This thread gives further links to the experiment, including weekly purchases and recipes.

      1 Reply
      1. re: meatn3

        Very luxurious! Thank you- these look great!

      2. Linda Watson set out to see if one could eat healthy and organic on a food stamp budget. Her explorations are here:


        Lots of recipes and suggestions.

        1 Reply
        1. I lived in Guatemala for an entire year on the following diet:

          Breakfast: black beans and tortillas
          Lunch: black beans, tortillas, and a cooked vegetable dish - occasionally a slice of queso fresco
          Dinner: black beans, tortillas, and an egg, or the leftover vegetable dish

          Not only did I survive, but I got used to it and felt healthy. Chili sauce is essential for the beans. Occasionally making refried beans with onions adds variety. It helped that the tortillas were made with fresh nixtamal. Maseca would at least be better than factory tortillas. For the vegetables, we ate a lot of cabbage and gusquil, aka chayote, which grows there in profusion.

          1 Reply
          1. re: CathleenH

            I tend to eat a lot of the same things on a regular basis. I need to switch to dried beans and cut out some of the add-ons though. Thanks for the ideas- and making them so accessible!

          2. The only way it would be possible to live up to this challenge is to team up as the article suggests. You could then buy the salt, pepper, cooking oil and all those things that you don't think about much. A team would also be good for pooling assets to make a stew or a soup.

            The challenge would be very different in an urban setting vs a country setting. In a country setting, you could hunt, fish, forage and in the long term could grow veggies. In an urban setting, foraging would include dumpster diving, charity food pantries and soup kitchens. In the long term veggies could be grown in containers and small lots but it would be difficult.

            To meet the challenge, I suspect CathleenH's approach would be about as good as any. Buy a pound of rice and a pound of beans and a stack of tortillas. Maybe a head of cabbage and some pasta of some sort. Maybe a couple of potatoes and onions if there is any money left.

            Cooked beans and rice would last in the fridge. I think I would be tempted to make some type of beans and rice stew about the consistency of chili. It could be spooned onto the tortillas and rolled up. The cabbage could be sauteed up for dinners.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Hank Hanover

              I'm thinking the same thing- CathleenH's approach seems very reasonable to me.

              I'm in an urban area and don't feel comfortable taking from local charities- I'm just uncomfortable taking advantage of limited resources when I don't have to. However, I'm still contemplating taking advantage of some of my company's wonderful benefits, namely an unlimited supply of milk, coffee, tea, and fresh fruit.

              1. re: wandajune6

                Wow! Free Milk and fruit. Definitely take advantage of that. Bananas are only about 10 cents a piece and so are eggs. Well, nowadays eggs are more like 15 cents. If you are strapped for cash, and can still cook and have refrigeration, steel cut oats can be bought for $1 per pound and they keep in the fridge in a sealed container for a few days. Try to have a big breakfast, some of that milk and fruit for lunch and in the afternoon before getting off work.

                A baked potato is cheap, filling and you can do things like pour canned chili or soup over one for dinner. You can do the same with rice. Also, whenever you make rice, make extra so you can stirfry it another day. It also makes a porridge if you add milk, butter and a little sugar. You can always add it to canned soups to make them more substantial.

                Finally, a can of progresso soup and a 3 or 4 slices of french bread make a very nice meal for about $2.

                A box of mac and cheese and some cut up Vienna sausages can feed you for a at least a couple of days.

                Potatoes can be cooked in the microwave. They aren't quite as good as baked but not bad. Poke them with a fork several times, wrap them in plastic wrap and nuke them on high for 5 minutes. Hey it is less time than an hour in the oven.

            2. i can buy battery eggs for under $2.00 for a carton of 18. less than 10 cents per egg. i can afford better, so don't buy them, but eggs have always been a cheap go-to protein for me.

              bone broths can also be very cheap and very sustaining. i am able to buy fish heads and frames for pennies to make soup. i can buy several pounds of beef bones for a few dollars, and bags of chicken heads and feet for $1 per bag. these make many quarts of broth.

              stir in 1 or 2 eggs and you have a delicious healthy meal.

              5 Replies
              1. re: hotoynoodle

                Interesting....Do you buy the fish heads and frames, the chicken heads and feet, and the beef bones at an Asian store? I would love to find a cheap source of chicken feet. In my market, they are ridiculous.

                Oh.. what's a battery egg?

                1. re: Hank Hanover

                  fish heads/frames and chicken heads/feet (sometimes backs, also) i do get at asian markets. the beef bones i can also get cheaply at my supermarket.

                  some cuts, like oxtail and shortribs used to be less than $2 pp. they now often exceed $4. still cheap in the scheme of beef, but too spendy for me just for broth-making.

                  battery eggs are the mass-produced eggs, laid by chickens crammed beak-to-beak in cages of utter sadness and desperation. lol. i try to buy the running around and pecking bugs kinds of chicken eggs.

                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                    ive never even seen chicken heads. chicken feet at asian stores runs about $1/lb. chicken feet are still exported to china THOUGH ANTI DUMPING TARIFFS run over 100%. chicken feet here are mostly converted into animal feed for 2 cents a pound. exports run about 50 cents/lb. i've wondered how pho shops can make such great broth and make a living at it.

                    1. re: divadmas

                      i always figured these stores cut up their own birds, which is where the odd bits come from, and why they are so cheap. they also are not stocked everyday, it's kind of hit-or-miss to find them.

                  2. re: hotoynoodle

                    What are battery eggs? I've never heard the term but love eggs.

                    I'm not sure where to buy chicken heads but the feet are always great for soup. I'll have to check that out. Thanks!

                  3. I don't much keep recipes for basics, I'm sorry, but everyone has had good comments to date as far as tips go. I especially second the eggs nomination, and the buying cheap cuts of meat + bones to make stock to make soup.

                    Most major grocers here have "last chance" type sales, where veggies looking less than aesthetic but not yet spoiled go on discount. Ditto meat that's in its last day or two on the shelves; these items are often 30%-50% off, and even on my middle-class budget I'll buy and freeze these straight away for a later quick thaw & use. Day-old bakery items are an option as well, or the scads of stuff they bag and toss outside that's still good but no one will buy because it's two days old.

                    Dried herbs are much cheaper than fresh, and the difference is not too dramatic if you stick to thyme, rosemary, etc., versus the more succulent mint, cilantro, and basil. If you're using beans you have to reconstitute from dried.

                    Produce is always cheaper the more in-season it is; make your choices according to the calendar where possible.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: megjp

                      you can also buy ends of deli meat and cheese much more cheaply than the sliced-to-order stuff. often less than $2 pp.

                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        So, do you just ask the supermarket deli folks for these, or . . . ? I haven't seen these packaged and labeled..

                        1. re: juster

                          I often get ends. The stores I go to seem to pit them out a couple times a week, but if asked will wrap what they have. I especially like the ham ends and cheese ends. Good for chopping and using in omelets and more.

                          1. re: calliope_nh

                            i see them packed and often buy cheese this way. it's fine for eggs.

                    2. Just pulled the weekly grocery store sales flyer out of the trash. They have 40 pound boxes of chicken leg/thigh quarters for $20. 15 pounds of potatoes for $3 and 3 pounds of onions for .88.

                      A half pound of chicken per day for five days is 2.50 plus 3 plus .88 equals $6.38 for five days. Probably wouldn't need that many potatoes so buy a cabbage or something with whatever was left.

                      If you believe half what you see in the news, there are many folks around the world that don't eat that well.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: kengk

                        I haven't seen 40 pound boxes of leg quarters but my grocery store routinely sells 10 pound bags at 59 cents a pound ($5.90). have seen specials on 10 pound bags of potatoes that make them very cheap.

                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                          Yeah, that caught my eye because I haven't noticed it either. It's apparently a special deal available ONLY FRIDAY AND SATURDAY!!!!

                          They typically have the ten pound bags at a reasonable price all the time.

                          If someone really is watching their budget these loss leaders are a way to go.

                          We are blessed here in the U.S. with cheap, mostly wholesome, food. Can't eat "amazing organic gourmet" food for a buck fifty a day but you can sure avoid starvation on that with a little planning.

                        2. re: kengk

                          wow, i never see meat that cheap.

                          my grandmother told me stories, of her childhood during the depression, of having to lug home 50 lb. bags of potatoes to feed the family of 7. i'm quite sure there was very little meat.

                          you're right, 8 oz. of meat is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more than most people in the world eat per day.

                          1. re: kengk

                            Those are amazing prices- I can't get anywhere near that in my area. However, I do get a discount on store brand merchandise at one of the local chains and have a tendency to buy whole chickens that way. At $3.50 (pulling out all of the discounts/markdowns/etc) it's a great deal but may take up too much of my budget- but workable if I'm teaming up. Great call!

                            1. re: wandajune6

                              I get the 10 pound bags of frozen leg quarters for $5.90 at Randall's in Austin, Tx. They are owned by Safeway. Perhaps Safeway has the same deal sometimes?

                              1. re: Hank Hanover

                                On Wednesday 4/18/2012, I went into a Walmart and saw 10 pound bags of Chicken Leg quarters for $5.90 which is 59 cents per pound. This Walmart was in Austin, Texas. Perhaps this special is in other Walmarts around the country. That is cheap enough to buy it just to make stock with.

                                I had recently bought a bag at the same price elsewhere. The bag held 9 large leg quarters quarters. I used 4 to make 2 quarts of stock. The next day I roasted the other 5. We didn't eat one. I took the one leg quarter and the bones from the other 4 leg quarters and put them in the 2 quarts of already made stock. Tomorrow, I will have 2 quarts of double rich chicken stock. Saturday night, I plan to use 2 cups of this super rich stock to make my grand daughters new favorite....Chicken Marsala.

                          2. I actually cooked that way when my husband was a student but that was a half-century ago when soup bones were free and flour cost 27 cents for five pounds. Can't imagine how it's done today with prices the way they are. The principle, though, was to combine a little of something more costly (ground beef, shredded cooked meat, canned tuna, tomato sauce, white sauce made with milk) with a lot of something that was cheap (pasta, rice, cornmeal mush aka polenta) resulting in a big pot of food that could be applied to for several days. Avoid fashionable stores like WholeFoods. Seek out cheap stores like Aldi's. Chain stores put weekly ads online---watch for loss-leader items and combine them with coupons when possible. Watch for trees that bear fruit nobody uses because they think the tree is just ornamental---learn to recognize a mulberry, pawpaw, or black walnut tree. Watch for old abandoned houses about to be torn down to make way for a new subdivision etc as old houses usually had berry patches, asparagus and rhubarb beds, fruit trees and nobody cares if you take the food. I second and third comments on eggs. Catch fish if you can. Generic oatmeal is cheapest breakfast cereal. Let your drink be water. If you can possibly scrape up the capital, buy half a ham now at post-Easter reduced price because every bit of it can be used---even skin and odd bits will flavor a pot of beans and bone makes killer soup---you can get the basis of at least 20 meals for your, say, eight bucks.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Querencia

                              And, if at all possible, grow some food. Thank heavens, I now do it for fun rather than strict necessity, but even as starving students, Mr Pine and I always had a few pots of veggies or herbs growing outside the door of our student-housing apt.

                              1. re: Querencia

                                These are great ideas!

                                Where I am, some of the foraging isn't as easy to do. But the shopping suggestions are definitely applicable for me. We're starting to grow our own veggies now but won't likely have anything to eat for months- and the campaign says that we only have to account for the resources put into growing it (basically just seeds since we use rainwater and compost).

                                In some ways, I think this endeavor would be easier over a longer time period. When I'm just planning for 5 days, I feel like you don't get as many long-term economies of scale. I am feeling much more optimistic on how to do this though!

                                1. re: wandajune6

                                  I think it would be more realistic to plan on eating for 30 days at 1.50/day. If you literally only had $7.50, and no pantry items, it would be tough to go shopping for five days of food. With $45 you could plan out for the month.

                                  I grow a vegetable garden and raise chickens for the eggs and meat. I have no doubt that I could buy an equal quantity if not equal quality for less than my input costs. Maybe not on the garden but definitely on the chickens. I only do it because I enjoy it, not to save money.