Monday, February 05, 2007

Can you live on $2 a day?

This article excerpt comes from Tom and Christine Sine's Mustard Seed Associates newsletter. Gary and Ev Heard talk about their family's experiments with living on $2 a day (not in overall expenses, but in terms of food):

During the first week of school last year, our family undertook an interesting challenge: to live on less than $2 per day per person for food. Aware that over one billion people in the world live each day on less than $1, we undertook the challenge as an effort to identify with the circumstances which they face. Being a family of five, we began our week with a group negotiation centered on how best to spend our $70 for the week. There were sacrifices which needed to be made, and a reflection on how we might construct a menu which would last a whole week. Our three children, ages 13, 11, 9 were keen participants!

Two things were either eliminated from considerations very early, or curtailed severely: meat and dairy products. We also needed to shop around to get the best value for our limited resources. New veins of creativity began to flow. During the week we kept a family journal where we recorded comments and reflections: how we were feeling, what we were enjoying, what we were missing, things we were learning. We quickly realized that those who live on so little and whose resources must stretch to cover more than food require levels of creativity and a range of skills which do not come naturally to us.

Although this only went for seven days, the long term impact has been quite extraordinary on all of us. Ironically, our food bill isn't anywhere near what it was and we are eating healthier and a much more varied menu. I don't deny that more work is involved, but I have gone somewhat European in that I avoid supermarkets where I can and take enormous pleasure shopping at fresh produce markets and getting to know the vendors. The European tradition is also to eat what is in season, in which case you get the finest quality without as much quantity. This experience has turned our meals upside down.

Alongside our change of lifestyle, we have committed the savings from our normal food budget to a micro-enterprise project in a community in Africa. This project provides interest-free loans to people to allow them to set up a small business which allows them an opportunity to break out of the poverty cycle.

What a challenge. For my own family of four to have $2 per person per day for food would be $56 a week. Just looking at our most recent credit card statement (Dec/Jan), I see that we spent about $300 for the month at the grocery store. That's not too bad - it translates into roughly $75 a week. That amount includes some extra expenses for the holidays, but doesn't include eating out, which we try not to do more than once a week. I think I probably actually did live on $2 a day when I was a grad student living on ramen noodles, but it's been a few years since that was the case. (BTW, I know that many Christians practice fasting as a way of identifying with the global poor. One of my heroes, John Stott, intentionally never takes seconds at meals as an act of solidarity with the majority world.)

I've mostly been touting the $100 project recently, but is anybody up for this $2-a-day challenge?


L.L. Barkat said...

three hundred dollars a month? you obviously don't live in New York... wow... (do you eat any organic foods?)

Al Hsu said...

Well, Chicagoland isn't necessarily the cheapest place to live, but I suppose it depends on where you're comparing it to. Some weeks it's more like $100 a week for groceries. It just depends.

We do indeed eat some organic foods - cereals, pasta, baby carrots, snacks, etc. I have problems with dairy lactose, so I've been getting organic soy milk or rice milk for a while now. Organic isn't a huge part of our diet, but it's certainly part of it. We'd like to do more shopping at local farmers' markets too, but with Chicago winters, that wipes out about half the year!

L.L. Barkat said...

I think maybe the problem is not only that I live in New York, but also that it's very close to the city, in a very affluent county (not that I experience any of that!)... I just heard that we have the highest property taxes in the nation... so, I suppose that food stores price accordingly. Even our gas is about $0.30 more per gallon than in other areas.

christianne said...

Am I ready to take the $2 challenge? To be honest, not yet. But I was driving home the other night after having gone without food for several hours past my usual fill-up (I try to eat something small, like a handful of almonds or an apple, at least every 2-3 hours), and I was feeling the burn of hunger. I began to feel a great sense of sadness at how it must feel for people who are actually starving to have to cope with that feeling all the time -- to have it become normal -- to not even know what it's like to live without it. I felt intensely aware of our nation's affluence, and it felt very lopsided and immoral for the first time, to me.

Anonymous said...

I just heard a report from OxFam that said more than a million people in the world now live in EXTREME poverty, getting by on less than $.50 a day. Made me think that $2 a day for food is quite generous. I am looking forward to taking up the challenge, but I may need a week or two to prepare. I'll report back soon!

The Mighty Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a Los Angeles resident who's recently decided to try this myself. I decided to do this as a personal challenge.

When I suggested what I was going to do to coworkers they looked at me like I was crazy. I figured it would make a great challenge at that point.

I am currently in week 2 having started with $4 a day and now am on $3 a day. I start $2 on Tuesday of this upcoming week. I'm hoping to do this for an entire 6 months.

Honestly, I can say that I've almost never eaten better (both in terms of health and in terms of variety) in my life!

I'm blogging the process, including recipes, receipt totals and commentary on my blog feel free to check it out.

BTW, I don't know if you read Digg, but there was an article there of someone doing this on $1 per day, however, he didn't really seem to have a good grasp on what he was doing (a ramen noodle, rice with instant mash potatoes kind of life...ick). You can probably find the article on google.

Best Regards,

TK said...

Hey al,

found you via tony at ts | mobilizing | students | mission. Thanks for the info/challenge on living on $2/day. My wife and I have had some good conversations already. We are thinking about undertaking it for a week as family lent experiment.

peace and prayers,


Eliacin said...

Al Hsu,

My name is Eliacin, from Mustard Seed Associates. You've started a good conversartion here with the story about Gary and Ev. My family, together with Tom and Christine Sine will take the challenge.

Let us know more of your experience and stories.