Eat on $3 a Day

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Introduction: Eat on $3 a Day

About: Hi! I'm Star Simpson! I'm a real me! See more at [http://stars.mit.edu stars.mit.edu]. photo by [http://bea.st/ Jeff Lieberman] (http://bea.st) stasterisk - my name is Star, and when I was 13 I ...

I've been feeling fantastic lately, and also not eating that much. I figure energy in = energy out, and this feels great, so I'm going to stick with it.

I've also long wanted to see what it's like to live on notmuch, like half the world does. I already don't spend a whole lot, but I'm sure it's more than $3/day. Of course, a lot of things aren't accurate. I go to a university where there's frequently free food, and the greater area here is also practically overflowing with free food.

Check out Abbie Hoffman's "Steal This Book", which has all kinds of tips on getting food for cheap or free. Stolen here, and available for download: How to "Steal This Book"

I will write of what I buy and what I eat, every day for an entire month, plus estimates of the price of anything I've bought previously. Free food, and food that gets thrown away, is still counted as free.

So today, on 1/9/07, I begin.



Tell me what to eat! If you think of some ultra-cheap kind of food I haven't thought of yet, post it in the comments!

Do you know anything about growing mushrooms? I'm curious!



Edit, 1/15/08:
I'm going to keep a running conclusion of what works best, when eating for ultra-cheap.

-DUMPSTER DIVING - getting one's food almost any other way makes no sense. Commercial dumpsters are basically treasure chests of fairly good and useful food or materials. Follow common dumpster ettiquette, like leaving the dumpster cleaner than you found it, not reselling found items and competing with the business, and visiting at night so as to not tarnish the establishment's image. Then, enjoy the bounty of urban recycling. Beware of situations where you might be considered to be trespassing.

For local dumpster/skip information, see the TrashWiki

Most dumpsters can sustain a population of at least 20 people. After a while, you will find yourself becoming choosy, and only selecting high-quality garbage. Typically, there's even more food thrown out than anyone can manage to consume. If you think recycling is good for the earth, you must dumpster dive. Anything else is causing waste. seetheseinstructables to find out [https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Vintage-Jeans...-Coffee-Style/ why]
-Eggs are great. Fabulous, delicious, filling, easy to carry in one's pockets, and cheap! What more?
-Brewer's Yeast - this stuff is delicious. Get a jar, put it on everything. It has so many vitamins, and so many amino acids - it's amazing!
-Sprouts. You can be full for pennies. And you have delicious crunchy food right there, all the time.
-store-bought Veggies (bags of carrots) for 99 cents a pound, or cheaper.
-Hanging around talks and conferences - free food and leftovers go a long way!
-Pizza boxes piled on top of trash bins. 2/3 of them during the course of this experiment still contained pizza.
-Fresh fruit off of trees!
-Buttermilk is full of tasty bacteria
-Wholesale food, a la the ten-pound meat blob in step 7

Step 1: 1/12/08 - Day 4

Due to travel restrictions, I have to leave Massachusetts on a train at midnight to catch a 6AM flight out of Providence, RI. I grab a slice of pizza from my lab group, and eat three eggs on the way.

  • $0.45

Unfortunately, I leave my laptop in a taxi cab, and find myself in Los Angeles with no way to contact my friends who don't know I'm coming. There, in the airport, in my moment of greatest distress, is an ice cream store. Forlorn, I can't pass up a chocolate ice cream cone.

Ice cream cone time! $2.00!

  • $2.45

I see now how things get expensive. The rest of the day I eat delicious dumpster-dived tiramisu, chocolate soy milk, and salmon. And one of the carrots I packed in my bag.

  • $2.65

I spent all of today rapelling down cliffs and running down riverbeds in the San Gabriel mountains, but all the sugar has gone straight to my tongue and given me some inflamed tastebuds.

Step 2: 1/9/08 - Day 1

Yesterday I started brewing a batch of kombucha, and today I'm throwing a bunch of lentil seeds in a bucket with some water, and making sprouts.

I'm also drinking a whole bunch of water, carrying a gallon jug around with me. Have you ever wondered why a gallon of water is ~$1, but a quart is $2.50? I think I'll never know.

Here's how I'm doing:

Some yogurt mixed with flax seed/trail mix. Big yogurt probably cost me $2.50, and I'm eating about 1/3d of it, or about $0.80. I'm probably eating around $0.50 of the toppings, too.

  • $1.30

Free cookies! I got two cookies from a libraries promotion. Delicious!

  • $1.30

Free pizza crusts! Yum!

  • $1.30

Step 3: 10/10/08 - Day 2

So, after an fast and hard game of ice hockey, I started sleeping a lot more. The past week (before this experiment really began, though I was eating the same way), I had been sleeping around 5 hours/night, comfortably. Last night was a more reasonable 8 hours, and I'm humanly tired again.

Scored a free Samosa from an Indian buffet catered for some talk.

  • $0.00

Eggs cost $1.79 per dozen at my local grocery. Awesome!
Also, did you know you can make scrambled eggs in a microwave?
They turn into this giant fluffy, scrambled egg marshmallow.

I also felt really good afterwards, so I suppose I needed the protein.

Two eggs, at 1/6th of $1.79, or $0.30

  • $0.30

Half a chicken burrito, served on my lab group's robot arm!

  • $0.30

The rest of the yogurt with raisins and nuts and flax seeds, at $1.30

  • $1.60

I am hungry! I got some akmak whole wheat crackers, my favorite when I was little, for $2.00, and there are five sheets inside. $0.40

  • $2.00

It seems astoundingly easy to be quite full all the time, and not spend close to $3. I'm considering cutting out the free food, although it's difficult to resist.

Step 4: 10/11/08 - Day 3

Up like a shot, at 10 AM! Only five hours of sleep needed, for me. I'm trying to sleep as much as I need to - go to bed when I feel tired (though I'm usually working on my MASLAB robot until late - instructable coming soon), and wake up when I feel like it. So it's especially neat that I seem to need little rest.



I munch on some veggies - carrots and kale (I surprise myself because I'm actually hungry for leaves).

Carrots are only 99 cents per pound, which, in my bag, is 5 carrots. One carrot, 20 cents.

  • $0.20

I feel like I could eat as many eggs as I wanted to. Why are eggs so cheap? Isn't protein supposed to be expensive? If I spent $3 a day on eggs, I would be eating 24 eggs, every day.
Are eggs far more expensive in other countries, or are they just hard to get? I can make meals out of these things just by dipping them in hot water, or microwaving them. That's easier for a college student to make than Ramen!

I hardboil and eat two eggs, $0.30.

  • $0.50



The key to this is clearly to eat stuff when I actually feel hunger, or even just its beginnings. It's becoming rare, most of the time I feel satisfied, happy, energetic, and not in need of food. The main difference between this and my past eating habits is, I don't feel 'full' or 'stuffed' ever, just 'not hungry'.

I'm flying soon - does anyone know if eggs are counted as a liquid, by the TSA?

Can I fly with hard boiled eggs that are 3oz. or less?

Does putting my perishables through the x-ray machine at the airport make them last longer?



Delicious whole-fat cream on top vanilla yogurt with trail mix and flax seeds, $1.30.

  • $1.80

I'm leaving the university for a bit, so starting tomorrow I'll see how $3/day holds up against travel and the "real world"

Step 5: Day 5 - How Not To

So, today is an exercise in how not to. I start the day with a quesadilla, and a surf session at Manhattan Beach in LA. What a good way to get an appetite!

The quesadilla cost about $0.50, and I follow it with an egg.

  • $0.65

After this, though, things don't go as planned. My two most stylish friends talk our way into an industry-only fashion show, and get to look at the latest legging swatches, and the newest in sustainably mined green enviro-hip chemically etched jewelry, and then consume a whole lot of Mexican food, including a "Bionica" (a huge pile of fruit, yogurt, and dried coconut guaranteed to give you huge pulsing muscles filled with ), and a "Torta Hawaiiano". I can already feel that I've eaten far more than I want or need, and I spend the entire day being thirsty.

Step 6: Day 6 - Conference Food & Downtown San Francisco

I get the heck out of Los Angeles, and try my luck in San Francisco, instead.

I eat one of my last traveling eggs for breakfast, and head to Macworld to bathe in the aura of shiny gadgets, bLOLggers, and people with iPhones. The conference has a bunch of food, so today I subsist on two free chocolate chip muffins, and a whole lot of mint tea with milk and honey.

This is a lot of free food! I'm don't feel much like I'm learning about subsisting on cheap food, right now, but I'm learning a whole lot about how sensitive I can become to what I've eaten. These two muffins sit like rocks, in my stomach. Huge, chocolatey, pillow-like rocks.

I am still feeling well-rested enough, and get up really early, but all this food is quick to slow me down.

Later in the night, I am visiting some friends in Santa Clara who feed me a spinach salad with lots of kidney beans, cottage cheese, and chickpeas. Then we go pick and eat delicious tart oranges from trees. California is the best!

Step 7: Day 7 - the East Bay

I spend this day hanging out in Berkeley/Oakland, and on Alameda, at Squid Labs.

All I need in the morning are a pair of steaks, courtesy of Tim Anderson himself. He buys the meat in these giant 10 lb. blobs, and pares off strips of meat, and broils them in a toaster oven. This must be the easiest conceivable way to cook meat.

The steaks go on top of a salad made out of mung+lentil bean sprouts, and some leftovers from some company lunch.

I'm so set all day! Towards the later afternoon, I become hungry and find a bowl of "brownie bites", and snack on them for a while.

Today = free!

  • $0.00

Step 8: Day 7 - Back in Boston

Man, airports are quite possibly the worst place to get food that's good OR cheap.

At 5 AM, I land in Atlanta, eat my last hard-boiled egg, and snack on a cheese danish I had stashed in my bag.

After that, I see which restaurants will give me the most free water. Cinnabon does all right, but their water comes out of the icky fruit punch tap, and is slightly red and ickyfruitpunch flavored. Starbucks keeps a pitcher full of ice and complimentary water on their cinnamon-dusting table, but they give out small cups and the water is too cold for me.

That's all until around 2 in the afternoon, when, catching the train to Boston at the Providence train station (travel restrictions), I have a tiny cup of vanilla yogurt for $1.79.

Not at all the same value as the big tub I'm used to, and it doesn't even come with bacteria!

  • $1.79

Later, I'm laser cutting my newest robot, when I feel the urge to forage.

The media lab regularly stocks everything I need except for food. This must be what it feels like to be a graduate student. Everything I need to keep working, except sleep or food.

Actually, food does sometimes appear, if you know where to look. And the sort of random superstition one could only develop by living in Skinner's box, I seek food.

Victory! A stack of pizza boxes on top of a trash can yields one remaining pristine slice. It's all mine, in its full, crunchy-crusted, pesto-and-anchovies glory.

I much on pizza, and think "my robot needs 6-32 bolts". Time to look for robot stock. "And I want to listen to Devendra Banhart," which is also in stock.

Step 9: Week 2 - Living in Lab

I have been awake all night. I have been building robots since 4 PM yesterday. All on the power of chinese takeout and powdered hot chocolate!

Around 3:30 AM, my favorite late-night cleaning lady, Peggy, offered me some Chinese food she'd ordered, but didn't want any more of. And her offer was well received, even though it was an off-time for eating and I wasn't quite hungry. The gluttonous student who doesn't know when the next meal will appear had struck, I suppose.

And, I reflect as I continue to pick pieces of bright pink meat from my teeth, that meat was tasty.

  • $0.00

The rest of my energy has sprung from the artificially-intelligent Media Lab drink-maker-cum-Starbucks. This machine can literally make any drink involving coffee, milk, or tea, and all you have to do is press a bunch of buttons. I think I've had, dissolved in watery milk, at least six packs of hot chocolate mix. Which gives me a few more hours of robot building before I stumble and fall into a glucose coma.

The sunrise brings renewed energy, stronger lasers, and hope. By noon I have consumed nothing more, than those six packets of hot chocolate powder, and Peggy's chinese food. I'm not hungry, but rather thirsty, so I buy myself a new gallon jug of water (I'm not sure where my old one's gone).

A note on water - I really like having a jug like a boat-anchor. I don't feel compelled to finish it, so I sip as I'm thirsty. I can always refill it, it's cheaper than a nalgene, and if the bottle gets broken or lost, I can always get a new one that's exactly like the old one.\

Gallon of Water: $1.29

  • $1.29

I suppose I can understand, right now, what it's like then to be both hungry and attempting to not eat. I'm not trying to be hungry - I feed myself with something good when I am, but I have this amazing craving to spend a large amount of money, on food.

Facebook Inc., decides to try to convince MIT programmers to write the hip new mashed-up blogoriffic killer-app by buying pizza the way the cookie monster buys cookies. There's just so much pizza, everywhere, on multiple floors of the building. Someone brings a few boxes back to the MASLAB/6.002 lab, where I'm madly building robots.

Hooray, pizza! Three slices and many pizza crusts later, I'm filled.

  • $1.29

Step 10: Week 2

I could not possibly eat any more pizza, after yesterday. I fill my backpack with discovered low-cost staples - yogurt and trail mix, eggs, a fresh apple, and a jug of water.

I eat at least half the container of yogurt, and four eggs, and snack on trail mix. I also grab free chips that someone's eating in lab.

Yogurt and trail mix are around $1.50, the eggs, $0.60.

  • $2.10

MIT has a mailing list called "reuse", where people who want to get rid of things will send out an email, and give away some amazing stuff. I picked up a 5-gallon bucket of popcorn kernels, so tonight my friends and I have a chocolate milkshakes + popcorn party, and watch "Bubba Ho-tep" about a revived Elvis Presley who lives with a man who believes that he is John F. Kennedy, and who together battle a southern-transplanted ancient Egyptian mummy. Both my brain and my stomach are full of delicious non-nutritional content, afterwards.

Step 11: Week 2

My free living food has borne fruit!

The sprouts are sending up green shoots, and the kombucha is sparkly and delicious, today!

A handful of sprouts, and a glassful of kombucha, and some eggs, are the best way to start!

I also juice a lime I picked in California into my water bottle. All water should taste so good.

My friends from China, Jim and Mandy, give me a "Moon Cake", which looks like a bun filled with eggs and meat, smells like a pastry, and tastes fabulous.

Sprouts: probably about $0.02. I probably paid $2 for a sack full of lentil beans, and used a tenth of it for the sprouting. Those twenty cents worth of sprouts will last me for at least two weeks. Man!

Kombucha: All it takes is a teabag and some sugar. Should I even count this beverage? It's nutritional because it's full of bacteria, and they reproduce for just a few ounces of sugar. My glass of the k'cha: $0.05?

So, I'm already full, and only set back $0.07, plus $0.30 for the eggs.

  • $0.37

This makes me think I could probably do pretty well growing mushrooms. Does anyone know anything about growing mushrooms?

Step 12: Conclusion!

Since my sprouts & kombucha blossomed, I am set for at least two weeks of low-cost/free eating. So, at this point, I conclude writing about what I'm eating, as I've discovered and localized around a set of foods that cost me mere pennies.



Additional foods that I thought of being good and cheap to eat, but didn't explore:
-Oatmeal:
You can eat a filling meal on just a handful of this and some hot water.
Tastes really good mixed with anything (fruit, yogurt, trail mix, ketchup..)

-Quesadillas:
So, cheese and tortillas are both sold in reasonable bulk and at prices where you could cheaply eat a few quesadillas every day.

- Sauerkraut:
Sauerkraut is a surprisingly tasty topping for a slice of bread/pizza/soup/anything.
Sauerkraut, and anything you can grow on your shelf are fabulous cheap foods.

-Kefir!
You can also grow Kefir on your shelf. Like kombucha. No instructable on that yet.

-Mushrooms
I am curious to know what growing mushrooms (especially indoors, on a shelf) is like. Can mushrooms be grown hydroponically?

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    148 Discussions

    I am so happy that someone else has found that sauerkraut pizza is delicious! Have you tried pickle pizza yet? It's a little funky, but if you have been having pizza a lot and need to break up the flavor perception, pickley-salty goodness is a great way to do that I find. Also, they are cheap too.

    You could scramble an egg inside its shell with a shock or old shirt sleeve.

    Living Chicken + seeds + coop = free eggs!

    Thats how my friend did it to avoid going to the grocery store. But I don't know about other countries with owning animals but theres no problem here in the US as far as I know

    i live in canada and used to work at tim hortons a coffee store and every shift they had to throw out all the items not sold from the previous shift ....whih was only 4hrs before we threw away perfectly fresh bagels donuts muffins etc...it made me sick and i stopped working ther becuse of the amount of waste ther was.if every store and thers like 20 in my town every day donated to soup kitchens and the food bank ther days items for freezeing none would go hungry its crying shame that we are all busting our butts to pay bills buy food at ridiculous prices and people are still going hungry and thers all this waste.

    1 reply

    I live in Canada too and my son quit working at Wendy's after only one shift because he was appalled at the waste. If he didn't make a hamburger "right" out it went! It truly is a crying shame how much food is wasted, and how many people are going hungry in this rich country.

    Adding flax seed to your yogurt gives no nutritional value. From what I have read, they are not digested; they just pass on through. I think you need to grind them for nutrition.

    Nice ideas for eating on $3/day, now try the same $3/day limit but this time with severe food allergies to eggs, cow's milk, soy, zucchini, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews & sulfites (food preservative)! welcome to my life - eating cheaply can get interesting to say the least :)

    I don't actually intend to use it, but I really like this instructable, it made me smile. :)

    Foodstamps only gives me $2.74 a day. and I live in a small city where there arent dumpsters- people do a really good job around here of locking up dumpsters and putting cameras up. On top of that about 90% of what the foodbanks around here give are more then a week expired all the way up to years expired(Im not kidding). and whats not expired more then a week ago about 50% expires within the next couple of days. so what you have is a whole couple of meals that you have to eat right away, OR get sick(has happened to me on numerous occasions). Your only allowed to go once a week. Then the other issue is they put moldy produce in with the good produce, making the good stuff go bad a lot quicker. Where do you think all those tomatoes went when that samonilla outbreak was? You've guessed it- the food bank. the food bank had a ton of nice lookin' tamotoes all the sudden- I didnt take any I took the broccoli that was all mixed in the same bin- and I washed it, but got very ill- not sure if it was samanilla- cause I couldnt afford the doctor. Anyway I need to get to my point. Your better off finding your toiletries and soaps, and furniture and clothing as free as possible and using your money on food. There are alot of garage sales, free piles. Lots of items can be cleaned with a good cleaner and be as good as new, but with food thats not the case. Be smart dont dumpster for food. dumpster for household items, magizines, even kitchen appliances are better then dumpstering for the food itself, thats how I got all my dishware and pots&pans;.

    6 replies

    How to Bypass Locked Dumpsters
    1. Put superglue in the key hole.
    2. The company will have it removed and likely replaced.
    3. Put superglue in the key hole of this new lock.
    4. Keep putting superglue in their locks until they give up and leave it unlocked.
    Enjoy

    I hope they figured you out and put up a camera to catch you.
    You should be ashamed of yourself destroying orther people's property.
    I owned a business and what people do to your things is a sin. That is why prices go up, did you realize that? then you would be the one to complain about it.

    Never done it myself, just sharing the instructions.....but thanks for the friendly words. : |

    Or they get fed-up and install a compactor. Or put in surveillance cameras so the next unknowing dumpster diver who comes buy gets arrested for your vandalism. If you're that determined to get in, don't mess it up for everyone else, learn to pick padlocks then you can close it up again when you're done. No damage done and you learn a valuable skill.

    I'm sorry you live in a place like that, I do too now. But I used to live in Seattle and around and the finds were often mountains of items which were clearly perfectly safe and fresh despite being post-sell-by-date. So don't equate dumpster fare universally with the trash you've experienced at your food bank.

    Stasterisk's priorities: 1. Robot Parts 2. Food What better example of the DIY and Instructables spirit is there? :) Anyway, great instructable. I would also like to advise people to try to find local farmers and butchers for meat. I get mine from a local farm, and I know the people that run it. It's organic, free-range, and inexspensive in bulk.

    I cant do this. =/
    Im tooo OCD when it comes to food sanitation.

    DUMPSTER DIVING - getting one's food almost any other way makes no sense. Commercial dumpsters are basically treasure chests of fairly good and useful food. . .
    Ugh, i couldnt read on, this started to make me feel queasy.
    Sorry.

    2 replies

    I don't plan on trying this out myself (mainly because where I live I would get shot at for dumpster diving :) but I don't think it's really that bad. From what I've seen of the world, most food-service establishments' counters are very likely less clean than their dumpsters. As long as you avoid the poison that is put on dumpsters to stop rodents and such, you're likely going to be okay. I'm still having my steak fresh tonight, though :)

    As long as the stuff is sealed in cans or plastic bags, the contents should be just fine. Of course, if you still feel queasy, just take canned stuff and boil the cans in water first. Now the contents (if they haven't exploded while being boiled) Are cleaner than most foods served in hospitals.

    If we actually ate the food we already have instead of buying more and more, we would save much more money, but my dad is picky.