Updated: Living below the line, on £1 a day

Updated on 02 January 2014 | 0 Comments

Now Ben Affleck is at it! How will he cope with 'living below the line' on $1.25 a day? Lovefood's Charlotte completed the challenge six months ago and shares her experience here.

benThis year, Ben Affleck, Tom Hiddleston and Harry Potter's Bonnie Wright are among a gaggle of celebrities attempting to live on US $1.25 a day to highlight the plight of those who survive below the extreme poverty line (nearly a quarter of the world's population). I 'lived below the line' back in November last year, because I too wanted to understand what it would be like to have very little. This was how I got on...

The Live Below the Line challenge asks everyday people to survive on the equivalent of the extreme poverty line for five days, and in the UK that means spending no more than £1 a day on food and drink. Think about it. £1 for a whole day? When a single apple costs nearly 40p?

I’m never one to say no to a challenge (I turned vegan for a week and ate cereal for a month recently) and so decided to give living below the line a go. To save me from doing it on my own, mother Morgan and my colleague Nick also took up the challenge, both eager to appreciate what it would be like to have so little.

Our shopping list

listMum and I decided to pool our resources together, seeing as we live in the same house. What to get with £10? Fellow journo Harri Pierce lived Below the Line in May and ate mainly porridge and Tesco Value frozen sausages, either with cheap white bread or pasta and tinned tomatoes. Hmmm. Not particularly healthy, but when a pack of 20 frozen sausages costs the same amount as three leeks, what can you do?

We went for a vegetarian shopping basket (mum hasn’t eaten meat for 30 years) and tried to replicate an extreme poverty diet as much as possible. Hence lentils, potatoes and oats were to be our staples, and we bought everything from the Waitrose Essentials range because it was (surprisingly) cheaper than other supermarkets. Nick, on the other hand, went down the Tesco Basics route and planned to live off cuppa soups, porridge, ‘value’ eggs, spaghetti and a few tins (shopping list pictured, above left).

Here’s what we got:

Porridge oats: £1.00
Red lentils: 99p
Feta: £1.69
Mozzarella: 95p
Canned garden peas: 39p
Large baking potatoes: £2.14 (for baked and stew)
Baked beans can x 2: 80p
Pearl barley: 49p
Root vegetable selection: £1.39
TOTAL: £9.84 

This was our vague meal plan: porridge oats with water for breakfast; a salad of red lentils, pearl barley, tinned peas and mozzarella and/or feta for lunch; and a jacket potato with beans, or a vegetable stew for dinner. 

I cooked a massive batch of lentil salad on Sunday night – by far the worst meal I have ever made, given my lack of ingredients and the fact that I had no seasoning or oil for help (the smallest tub of salt we found was too expensive at 36p). Plus tinned peas don’t go with cheese. 

Monday – puny lady

potatoPorridge with water is not nice. Just a touch of salt would’ve made all the difference, but we haven’t the pennies to be picky! The gruel kept me going for a couple of hours before I started on my bland, smelt-like-a-recycling-bin salad. I took five days’ worth to work in a big tub, and tried to eat only a fifth (enough to fill a mug). 

I walked through Whitecross Street food market for a breath of fresh air in the afternoon, but the smells of frying chorizo and freshly baked brownies made me giddy. Not one stall offered lunch for less than £4 – that’s almost my entire week’s budget.   

I felt so hungry and weak by 6pm that I had to get my boyfriend to come and escort me home from the station. My jelly legs couldn’t handle the walk, and like a puny Austen lady in need of her smelling salts, I required a strong man’s arm for support. 

Dinner was a jacket potato (I missed the crunch one usually gets from a potato baked with lashings of oil and salt) and half a tin of beans. I felt so much better after it, but still went to bed hungry.

Tuesday – caffeine withdrawal

saladThe porridge hasn’t improved. In fact, it’s got even gloopier, and this time it exploded in the microwave. Mum reports the same problem – she even gets some in her hair. 

Lunch (pictured here) is the same, but I eat even more of it this time. I notice I have only one mug of my salad left, to last me three days. Oh dear. I’m also already bored with drinking only water, and because we couldn’t afford the luxury of teabags, my head pounds as I enter phase one of caffeine withdrawal. 

How’s Nick doing? Well, he’s surviving on two cuppa soup sachets for lunch, and already can’t stomach his breakfast gruel anymore. He complains less than I do, though. 

Dinner is a stew of parsnip, carrot, two potatoes, onion and pearl barley. It’s supposed to last me and mum two nights. Again, I go to bed hungry after sitting lifelessly on the couch for a couple of hours.

Wednesday – cheater

topicNo… energy… left. I’m lethargic, grumpy and “a little bit yellow-looking” according to concerned colleagues. The porridge leaves my stomach feeling watery and hollow, and both mum and I have finished our horrible salad allowance. What are we to eat tomorrow and Friday? 

I don’t think we handled the shopping very well. Financial journalist Faith Glasgow seemed to get on much better when she lived below the line on porridge, chunks of cold Spanish omelettes, rice and Dahl. “I didn’t mind the limited diet in itself, but I was bored by not being able to absent-mindedly have a little snack,” she told me. 

“I wasn't too grumpy overall, but very glad it was only five days! And we stayed up until midnight on the Friday in order to have a drink, which was a bit sad.” 

Tonight mum and I finished our stew. All we have left is porridge, one potato each, and a tin of baked beans to share. 

Nick is also struggling, and decides to take a little break from the challenge today. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that tonight is our all-you-can-eat sausage and beer work social night – a party I skip, because I feel on the cusp of fainting. 

I probably would’ve fainted, had it not been for the Topic chocolate bar I bought on the way home. Yes, I cheated (evidence pictured above). And I’m ashamed to admit it. But I just couldn’t stand on those jelly legs. It cost me 65p, which takes our spending to £10.49.

Thursday – bacon butties

buttieGruel for breakfast, gruel for lunch. I am losing my ability to concentrate now – this morning I threw a pair of socks into the toilet, thinking it was the wash basket. True story.

I’m still exhausted and lacking in any kind of energy, except maybe to type. Plus this morning I helped cook sausage and bacon butties for 25 hungover work colleagues... it took a lot of will power to get through that. My head still pounds, screaming for caffeine.

Nick, meanwhile, is back on his cuppa soups and eggs with toast for dinner. It was a lonely-looking potato with half a tin of baked beans for me. I crave FAT and SUGAR so much. I’ve been fantasising quite a lot about a chocolate plait I had in Paris last year… it was the most indulgent, most delectable baked treat I’ve ever had…. with a chocolate chip and custard filling… oh my.

Friday – just porridge

porridgeLast day, hoorah! But only porridge left in the pantry, boo. The messy mix explodes again in the microwave, leaving me hardly any to eat. Just as well really; I can no longer stomach the stuff.

But I struggle on, skipping the pleasure of lunchtime porridge, and by the end of the day I can barely muster the energy to walk to the toilet. Enough, I’m done. I can’t go any longer without substance, without sugar, without protein, without taste. My stomach feels empty and watery, like it does after you’ve been sick.

What I learned

I had a proper dinner on Friday. So I didn’t quite complete the challenge. But at least now I can appreciate how little a quarter of the world has to live off, whereas before I had no idea. It was extremely tough, not only on my stomach, but also on my mood and concentration. It’s just scratching the surface, though… I still had warmth, safety, shelter and access to clean drinking water all week, which is far more than most living in the Third World can hope for.

I’ve also learned how outrageously expensive food is, especially the healthy kind. If you’ve got less than a fiver in your pocket, it’s pretty hard to get a filling lunch in London. How can we be spending someone else’s weekly budget on just one sandwich, a packet of crisps and a fizzy drink?

Have you attempted the Below the Line challenge? How much do you spend on food a week? Share your stories and talk to us in the Comments box below.

Ben Affleck image courtesy of Medill DC

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The vegan challenge

Surviving the cereal diet 

How food banks are helping fight food poverty



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