Feeding yourself on a dollar a day - Macleans.ca

Feeding yourself on a dollar a day

When debts start piling up, two teachers decide to drastically reduce their grocery bill

Feeding yourself on a dollar a day

Photographs by Jessica Darmanin

Looking for ways to save on groceries? There are plenty of tips in a new book written by a pair of California schoolteachers who detail their month-long experiment to live on just a dollar a day. For 30 days, Kerri Leonard and her boyfriend Christopher Greenslate lived on oatmeal porridge for six cents a serving and lunches of homemade bread filled with five cents’ worth of peanut butter, and a favourite dinner dish, chana masala, a kind of chickpea curry that came in at 25 cents a serving.

In their book, On a Dollar a Day: One Couple’s Unlikely Adventures in Eating in America, Leonard writes that “car payments, mortgage payments, and credit card payments” drove them to attempt the project. Her proposed solutions to economizing, she writes, “ran along the lines of more reasonable grocery lists and better planning. That was when Christopher volunteered the information that a portion of the world eats on a dollar a day or less. ‘Why don’t we try it?’ he asked.”

The couple embarked on the project after purchasing an out-of-date copy of a book called Eat Well on a Dollar a Day. The book is older than the couple, who are both in their thirties, yet it outlines “key strategies for making every penny count,” writes Leonard. “Buy in bulk, shop around, eat smaller portions and forage.”

To start, the couple “walked around using our cellphones as calculators” at a large, local discount store. “We bought a 25-lb. bag of rice, jars of peanut butter and jelly, and a large bag of yeast for making our own bread, as well as several industrial-sized items. The can of tomato sauce was so big we had to use both hands to carry it.”

Back home, “we weighed every item to find out the cost, and we bought a food scale to make sure we were as accurate as possible,” writes Leonard. “Christopher and I have the space to line one wall of our kitchen with buckets of flour, beans, rice and cornmeal.” Leonard advises others to make a pantry, “whether in the kitchen or in the closet.”

For meal variety, Greenslate writes, “we did some brainstorming—we looked at Mexican, Chinese, and Indian cuisines for inspiration about how to avoid the mundane.” Soon, the couple was mixing and rolling their own tortillas at a cost of six cents a piece. “If you have flour, shortening, and water, and you have time and you’re interested, it’s definitely worth doing,” Greenslate told Maclean’s in an interview last week.

Tortilla dough takes 10 minutes to mix, he says. “The next step is rolling out each individual tortilla. You break off walnut-size balls of the dough, roll them in your hand, then roll them between wax paper until they’re super thin.” A double-batch takes an hour to roll, and the batch lasted the two for a week. “When I realized that burritos would be possible during our project, I knew I would survive,” writes Leonard.

But beyond saving money, writes Green­slate, “the most noticeable benefit was that, for the first time in our lives, we knew exactly what we were eating.” For instance, store-bought tortillas list as many as 30 to 40 ingredients. “You’d need a dictionary or the Internet to try to figure it out,” he says.

For soup, Leonard saved vegetable scraps and simmered her own stock at no cost at all. For dessert, the couple dined on peanut butter. “We had each spent 91 cents,” writes Greenslate, describing a typical day, “and the remaining nine cents was burning a hole in our stomachs. As I stared into the open cupboard, wondering where to expend the last few pennies, it dawned on me: peanut butter. For five cents a tablespoon, this plastic tub of high-fructose corn-syrup-sweetened goodness was the shining light in the darkness of our barren pantry.”

The couple’s blog, One Dollar Diet Project, is still up with a list of all their costs and recipes—for instance, potatoes, 10 cents each; spaghetti, five cents an ounce. They’re not recommending the diet, though. One frequently asked question is: “Will you share your month-long menu with me so that I can do this, too?” The answer is, “No. We don’t recommend you replicate this experiment. It isn’t healthy, and could be dangerous.” Greenslate lost nine pounds on the project. “It was not enough to have a balanced diet and maintain physical stamina. It even put a strain on our relationship, as tempers ran high and intimacy declined,” writes Leonard. However, after further experimentation, they’re living healthily and happily, they say, on a daily budget of $2.36.


Feeding yourself on a dollar a day

  1. Old news to those in my peer group of income.

    We live like that all the time. In fact, I've detailed the struggle to eat nutritional food and still stay healthy. In Canada, income in the lowest decile category requires spending no more than $1.00 day on food.

    • I'm sorry for being crass, but do you starve so you can pay for your computer and internet connection?

      • Good point… interesting where people's priorities often are placed in our society. Alcohol over education, satellite tv over exercise, etc.

        • BTW – public libraries have free internet access. Try thinking before judging.

  2. 'Experiment' is the key word to this article.

    The couple mentioned probably know they can (and should) cut down in areas other than food to solve surviving on a lowered budget. Try living without the cell phone/land line; automobile; holidays or entertainment; new clothes and a host of other items people living the reality of poverty don't even consider.

  3. When one is faced with a truly 'low income', the food budget is the last to face scrutiny.

    • I don't agree with that. After my divorce, I really had to make sacrifices in many areas and food budget was top of the list… I replaced much of the meat with beans and lentils, started growing some vegetables and reduced portions greatly on top of shopping around alot more for specials…

      • If you were truly in a poverty situation then something else would be at the top of the list as your food budget would already be very low. Spend a day at a food bank and ask around. Priorities of the low income are very different than those looking for publicity.

  4. I'm tired of people with decent incomes getting publicity for playing at poverty. Too many people don't get to quit after a month, or go up over the dollar. They've no choice, no publicity and no book royalties after. No car, no luxuries like cell phone calculators, wax paper and GIVE ME A BREAK buying a food scale. At least there's a tiny recognition at the end – the afterthought for the reporter, which should outrage them and all of us – that IT'S NOT HEALTHY TO LIVE LIKE THIS FOR A MONTH. Never mind all the time. How about a companion movie to Supersize Me…we could call it Starve Me?

    • so why don't you get a job so you don't have to live like a hick.

      • Yeah, get a job at a bank so you can help widen the disparity between the rich and the poor even more. It's funny how some people never realize they're "hicks", regardless of their income.

  5. the article did not mention the habits taking away income that should rightly go to proper nourishment…cigarettes,,one carton a week 130.00/weeks x 4=520.00/mth, booze….100/week=400/mth, drugs you figger that one out 1000 mth maybe…this equals to approximately $2000/mth plus mortgage/rent…if alive by 40 years you will start being sick and needing medical attention and dead in another 15 to 20 years feeding off the medical system and not to mention pills just to keep you alive…now go be depressed!

    • you be depressed, you pansy.

  6. It’s a great experiment to lead a day with only $1. But it is a day-to-day phenomena for the people living in thirld wold countries. They even can’t spend $a per day. So think about them.

    • You don't need to go to third world countries to find this "phenomena" for a lot of people in both Canada and the United States THIS IS REALITY.

    • Noooooooo, lets NOT think about THEM. There are eough starving people in our own country, we should not be focusing our attention on the woes of hunger in third world countries until we solve the problem of hunger in our own country. I grew up in Canada, going to school every day without breakfast and without lunch, my one and only meal of the day was supper when I got home from school, and that consisted of 1 chicken cut up and divided between a family of 14 people. Thankfully, in spite of those obstacles in life I was able to rise above it, and build a great life and a great career and financial success for myself. But I know all too well the harsh realities of hunger in my own country so forgive me if I don't put my efforts and energy into feeling sorry for people in other countries.

  7. I think this experiment diet is worth trying at least once. (thumbs up)

  8. i think the lately systemic failure of our economy has shed some light for these younger generation, for 1st time….. $1 a day….
    well, if you make home meals, pack your lunch, brew your own tea/coffee, the food price from any supermarket is reasonable enough to give most of us a healty diet without that much drama.
    Curb credit spending on the big ticket purchase, own a smaller home, keep your older car, or no more new clothes or add another bigger TV.
    Rid of one big item, you can have enough to feed the whole family for months.

  9. how about fasting dawn to dusk with not even water, think how much you will save and breakf your fast with your peanut butter sandwich or chickpea curry ,only one choice. and think of all the hungary mankind in the world.

  10. Phony baloney.
    One jar of peanut butter is over $2.00.
    Start with what people that had been disabled by crime have to do after paying for treatments not covered by our idiot premier.
    Have it every day and maintain proper health.
    You are indulging there with luxury.

  11. I really think the young Lady lived on farmer sauseage and the young man lived on warm juicy peach cobler pie.

  12. reminds me of an article I read more than 40 years ago about by a reporter who lived on a welfare budget for a month. Oh my but it was lots of fun and none too hard, according to the reporter. Hey one month and it was back to the good life unlike most people living on starvation income. Even the navy allowed us $2 a day food allowance in the early '60's.

  13. The novelty of the credit overextended middle class trying a $1/day diet is a slap in the face to those who are trying to survive on ODSP or pay over 80% of their income for rent. There's a big difference between choice and compulsion, between having options and having no options. Between buying what you like and having to choose between buying deodorant or buying day old bread and peanut butter on sale with your last $5.00.

    Still, making the effort to get out of debt, eat healthier meals, and lose weight is not to be criticized. Would that more Canadians would follow some self imposed austerity program before they encounter circumstances that leave them no other option.

  14. lol…get rid of the cell phones!!! Also micro-wave ovens, recurring charges for cable/iphones/text messaging, gas-guzzling car, etc. They are bad for your health. Cell phones are a dumb idea that's sucked in most of the moronic population….you don't need one and it can give you brain cancer! By the way, "high fructose, corn syrup sweetened" peanut butter is also very bad for you. Why not buy peanut butter in bulk from a health food store, or buy the just-peanuts variety. When you stop eating the surgary hydrogenated processed fat junk food and soft drinks, you won't have headaches, for which you have to buy pain killers. You can make healthy soups, stews and pasta sauces for pennies a day from farmers' market vegetables, or grow your own.

  15. ello, its a me Josiah

  16. When one is faced with a truly 'low income', the food budget is the last to face scrutiny.

    That was great @oldandbold.

  17. i think Jack is correct, he young Lady lived on farmer sauseage and the young man lived on warm juicy peach cobler pie.