How To...Live Below the Line

Live Below the Line is an initiative that was set up to raise awareness about poverty. It does this by challenging participants to live below the extreme poverty line, the equivalent of which is to eat on AU$2 per day for five days. Though the official period is May 5-9, Live Below the Line can be completed outside of this period - my school, Narrabundah College, challenged its student body to complete the challenge between 2 and 6 June.

In this instructable I will demonstrate how I 'Lived Below the Line' for 5 days, and how you could too, either this year or for next year's initiative.

For more information visit Live Below the Line Australia, or Live Below the Line International.

If you would like to donate to Live Below the Line for my efforts, follow this link which will allow you to donate money to the cause.

Step 1: Shopping

You've paid rent, electricity, water, internet (if you can afford it) bills and you now have just $10 to buy food for the next 5 days.

Obviously where, and how you shop, is really important if you are going to 'Live Below the Line'. The first thing to think about is where you are going to purchase your food. While it would be nice to support the local deli or independent supermarket, it really is going to be very hard to buy food from these places and stay within the budget. Big supermarkets will most likely offer you the best bang for buck. On that note, while Costco can be great for some things, it means purchasing things in bulk. This is fine if you have a reserve of cash that you can use to buy food for the next month, but imagine that you are really living below the line, surviving paycheck to paycheck.

Now that we've sorted out where to shop, what should you buy? While confectionery, meat and fresh produce are nice to have, they are also expensive; what you take for granted is a luxury to someone living below the poverty line. Likely not being able to afford these things within the budget, you will need to aim for foods that are cheap, high in energy, and release said energy slowly. Both chocolate and rice are high in energy, but rice will keep you going for a lot longer because it releases the energy over a much longer period of time, not to mention it being cheaper. I will go into more detail in individual steps, but if you are buying cheap (home brand is awesome), wholesome, high energy food, you will be able to survive.

Step 2: Breakfast

While some people choose not to eat breakfast, I find it an important part of my morning, particularly so if you are going to complete this challenge. I won't go into the benefits either side of the argument re: eating breakfast but I will say this, during the challenge you will be putting your body through something it is likely not used to...not at all used to. By skipping breakfast and not eating until lunchtime, you MIGHT save $1-$2 over 5 days, you WILL greatly increase the danger of having to pull out of the challenge because of medical reasons. I can attest that it is possible to eat 3 meals a day during the challenge, and I implore you to try and do the same.

Now that we've decided that we are going to eat breakfast, what do you eat? You could buy Rice Krispies, Coco Pops or many other brands of sugar filled cereals. On the flip side, you can get your day off to a great start with some Muesli or Oats (AKA Porridge). Both Muesli and Oats are much cheaper (home brand is just as good), much better for you and are a good high energy start to your day. Not wanting to eat a dry breakfast (and not wanting to shell out for milk) I chose Oats. Oats can be made with boiling water and in Winter (I'm in the Southern Hemisphere) are a nice start on a cold morning. Alternately, I could have bought muesli which also would have been a good option. I leave it up to you which of these you choose, my recommendation is to stay away from 'sugar cereals', and buy home brand. :D

Step 3: Lunch and Dinner

In order to save money, I chose to make the same meal for lunch and dinner. Over a longer period of time, this would not be a viable option and changing some of the ingredients would be recommended.

For lunch and dinner, I decided to go with a vegetarian fried rice as it allowed me to get in plenty of carbs (carbs=energy, carbs =/= fat) and as much 'fresh' produce as I could afford. Speaking of fruit and vegetables, these are extremely important in a 'balanced diet'. At least where I live, frozen veggies are cheaper than fresh veggies, the difference in price is enough to justify the saving made, and unfortunately, the nutrition lost. Frozen veggies are however, better than no veggies. Brown rice was chosen because it was cheaper, is more nutritious than white rice and also made my meals look a little less plain. :-)

One drawback with this meal is that it won't store for a week in the fridge (and defrosted rice doesn't taste that good) so it has to be made multiple times throughout the week. This is a drawback of rice itself. Pasta may survive a little longer, I will discuss this in the next step.

Step 4: Options/Alternatives

As hinted at in some of the steps, mine is not the only way to go if you are challenging yourself to 'Live Below the Line'.

For breakfast, one could choose to buy Muesli (and milk) instead of Oats, or even to buy milk for their Oats to make them creamier. I chose to buy the cheapest coffee I could find - certainly not espresso quality but a hint of a luxury is always nice when you're toughing it. If you can afford to, I recommend buying your favourite hot drink in its cheapest form as a bit of a moral boost each morning (or evening). Interestingly, the coffee that I found was actually the cheapest 'per drink' option I could find for hot beverages.

For lunch and dinner, it would be awesome to change between 2 meals for a bit of variety. Had I not indulged in coffee, I could probably have afforded to do this; priorities right? :D If you take this option, I recommend having a rice and a pasta meal that you can choose between. Both of these are cheap ways to get in lots of energy and can easily be 'jazzed up' with different ingredients added in.

Here in Australia, a loaf of bread can be had for AU$1 at the big supermarkets. Some of this would have to be frozen (and subsequently defrosted) to last a week but this would easily do 5 breakfasts and lunches. While this was an option, I was struggling to find any spreads that would be cheap enough to keep me within the budget and still buy a good dinner. Your mileage may vary depending on the availability and price of sandwich/toast spreads at your supermarket of choice.

After shopping, I still had $AU1.60 left in my pocket. For a bit of extra luxury, I could have bought 2 or 3 small chillies to add some flavour to my rice, and maybe even a small carton (200mL) of milk to add to my coffee and Oats. Depending on what you bought and where you shopped, you may have some money left over. I chose to save it but you could equally buy some cheap 'luxuries' to spice up (no pun intended) your meals.

Step 5: Final Notes and an Update

Obviously, 'Living Below the Line' can be dangerous for some people. If you have any medical conditions, I recommend speaking to a medical practitioner before taking part in the challenge. Likewise, if at any time during the challenge you feel sick, light headed or nauseous, eat something. At the end of the day, your health is the most important thing and you shouldn't feel guilty or bad if your body can't handle what you want it to do. Much like how you have a physical limit to how high you can jump, or how fast you can run, there is a limit to what little food your body can function on and you need to be mindful of this.

Update - 03/06/2014 - Today is Tuesday, two days into the challenge. All going OK so far, methinks I will be sick of rice by Friday but that's all part of the challenge. :D I went to the shops after school to spend some of my remaining money as I will be going caving on Friday (06/06/2014) and will need a bit more energy for that. Yes, chocolate is energy! I will of course be carrying emergency food for the caving trip in case things go awry but I still plan to stay within my budget. I now have AU$0.60 left which can't really buy much - it was a choice between milk for my coffee or chocolate for the climbing trip, chocolate won out in the end. I will post another update at the end of the challenge (Friday night or Saturday morning) to give an update on how the week went. :-)

Update - 11/06/2014 - It's been a while now since I completed the challenge but I can now say that it went well. I did end up eating half of a protein bar while in the cave. This was at about 6pm on the last day and I chose to eat it because I was participating in a recovery of someone from my party (feet cramps don't make a 30m ladder climb easy). While this did put me slightly over my AU$2 per day, I believe my 'bending' of my budget was justified given the situation. Had I not been required to assist in the recovery I could have very easily stuck to my budget, even on the last day. I can say that at no point during the challenge was I hungry, I managed to east on AU$2 per day, for 5 days. At no point did I skip a meal and the only issue I had was boredom with the food. Even then, this wasn't a major issue and had I been completing the challenge for a longer period of time, I would have been able to change my food choices up a bit, possible being able to afford some sandwich spread to make sandwiches, or maybe substitute the rice with pasta occasionally.



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    8 Discussions


    4 years ago

    I've been unemployed for months now. Living below the line has become habit. Some tips: 1) Pick up sugar packets at a restaurant. 2) Forage for herbs, many can be found growing in most urban areas. 3) Forage for food behind grocery stores. They throw away a lot because it isn't pretty. Many stores just pile it up to make only one trip to the bin. 4) coupons are your friend. Look for ads in any paper.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Sorry about your situation and those are some awesome tips. As part of
    the initiative, 'free food' can't be used as donations to the cause are
    encouraged instead. I can however attest to the viability of using your
    suggestions outside of the program - restaurants are awesome for salt,
    pepper, sugar and other condiments. It is amazing what can be found
    growing in urban places and it is almost disgusting the amount of food
    that supermarkets and grocery stores throw out. I worked 9 months for a
    major supermarket here in Australia and things like dented cans,
    squashed bread and many, many other foods that were still perfectly good
    were thrown in the skip (dumpster) as 'damaged stock'. A packet of
    donuts that had had one out of twelve missing was thrown out instead of
    being sold at a lower price. For anyone doing it tough I can not
    recommend highly enough checking the loading dock/dumping area for the
    local grocer or supermarket. Most of the food that is 'damaged' is just
    cosmetic damage to the packaging, and there really isn't very much wrong
    with the bread that is a day past it's 'best before date'.

    nic nak

    4 years ago

    It's perfectly safe for people in good health to fast for up to four days taking in only 25 - 50 calories a day, after which time your body enters a starvation mode. As a proponent of the 5:2 fasting (less than 500 calories a day) diet, and occasionally 4:3 fasting, I can assure you, you're not going to fall down in a starvation induced faint.

    1 reply
    Pickles5000nic nak

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    No you may not, but depending on your own personal metabolism, exercise regime, and other variables, it may not be wise to fast, etc. I have a friend who is a high level swimmer who simply would not be able to safely continue the level and amount of training that he does everyday if he were to fast, or even to complete the Live Below the Line challenge. On the other hand, even though I have quite a high metabolism, I don't exercise to the level that he does and thus have much a much better viability to complete the challenge. Yes, there's the survival rule of threes (3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food) but this really does depend on your own personal health, and situation.


    4 years ago

    Here in Arkansas trash (even in a dumpster) is property of the store and dumpster diving can get you trespassing and burglary charges if the store so chooses to press them. Check local laws first. Some stores/owners might not mind but others will press charges.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Good point. I know of places that lock their bins for various reasons. What is more sad is that even if the store didn't want to sell a 'damaged' item, there are organisations (at least in Australia) that take donations of unused food from bakeries, restaurants and other places. It's sad that big supermarkets don't seem to see any value in this and instead waste perfectly good food.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I have frozen bread before for long term storage and it definately changes the texture of the bread (not for the better).

    regarding your comment in step 4 about the bread, I disagree. you do not need to freeze it for it to last a week.

    I buy my bread 2 loaves at a time from the supermarket near me because the 2-pack is only a few cents more than buying an individual loaf. I store my bread in my fridge (since I dont have counter space for a bread box) and I have yet to have any of it go moldy before both loaves are gone which can occasionally take as long as 2 weeks depending on how often I make sandwiches.

    while the cold will not kill any mold spores that may be present on the bread, it will definately cause it to be dormant, giving you a much better chance of finishing off the loaf before it goes fuzzy.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    True. I find that the time for mold to form really depends on what brand you buy, where you store it, etc. There are quite a few variables to consider so it would likely be different for each situation. I have stored bread for a week with no mold whatsoever, and another brand sitting in exactly the same place a week later went moldy in 3 days. I do find that while defrosted bread isn't great as a sandwich, it still works fine for toast. :-)