Eating with $1 a Day

This post was written by my CRAZY husband, Dan, about a challenge that he and his friend recently embarked upon. Enjoy, and please try not to judge. Ok, go ahead and judge a little. This takes frugality to a level I never even dreamed of…


I’ve always been someone who’ll jump at the chance to try new things, especially when it comes to food. So when a good friend posed a challenged he found on Soulpancake to live on only $7 for one week, I immediately got on board! I’ve heard of this sort of challenge before, so I knew it was possible and there would be a fair amount of research available to consult before we said “go” two days later.

Here were the rules for the week of eating on $1/day game :

  • You only had $7 to spend on groceries for one week and you couldn’t spend more money and parcel out only $7 worth.
  • Free samples are allowed but we could not buy a Costco card before the weekend to hang out there chowing down on Saturday.
  • No “gifts” of food can be accepted by spouses, friends or family.
  • Stealing food is allowed
  • Can’t eat food that was purchased prior to the contest.
  • Pictures of receipts and photos of meals were to be taken along with a caloric count of each meal.

On to the Research: Although I am pretty health conscious and had a solid knowledge base on how to survive on such a small amount of food ( I was an Eagle Scout), I still wanted to look into whatever source I can find to ensure my success for the week.  However, my findings were not a prosperous as I expected and ultimately fell into three categories:

1)     You simply survive on what you purchase outright and end up so tired and weak, you can barely pull yourself out of bed to go to work.

2)     You can eat relatively well with the occasion vomiting spell if you spend a significant portion of your free time clipping coupons and finding loopholes in the grocery buying system, you just have to put up with off-brands that might make you sick and spend more money on gas getting to multiple stores.

3)     Dumpster diving will suck up about 2hrs of your evening a couple times a week from 11pm -1am, but it yields the most fruitful results in the form of packaged goods. You just have to be willing to get a little dirty – apparently “freegans” report healthier results than the previous two options.

My friend who posed the challenge stuck with option 1) and I was leaning toward option 3). It was then time to go shopping and I headed off to Wal-Mart first with my $7 in hand. Rice and beans were the #1 item on my list, as a perfect protein, I planned to rely on them as my main source of calories and in the cart they went. After picking up a few more items, I checked out and headed to Caputo’s to pick up whatever fresh produce I could with my last buck. There, I was able to pick up a box of 24 bananas for only $1 – Caputo’s packages up their produce that’s a day away from being thrown out and sell it for pennies, this was a huge find. Below is the full list of what I was able to purchase for my money:


16oz Instant oatmeal $1.64 1950
16oz Canola oil $1.28 3840
1lb bag of dried pinto beans $1.36 780
1lb Bag of dried brown rice $0.78 1600
Pkg of 8 hot dogs $0.75 880
23 bananas $1.00 2530
TOTAL (w. tax) 6.96 11580


With my grocery shopping complete, it was then time to start parceling out each meal for the week and decide how to best split up my caloric intake. Oh, and I was able to snag some free condiments form Wendy’s such as salt, pepper, sugar and bbq sauce. Here’s a list of each of my daily meals, yes they were the same every damn day…

Breakfast:  2.5ox or oatmeal mixed with one banana with 1packet of sugar(taken from Wendy’s) and two doughnuts. You’ll notice the doughnuts weren’t on my original shopping list, keep reading and I’ll explain their mysterious appearance.

Lunch: One hot dog, 10 cherry tomatoes, two small bananas: I originally peeled and froze all the bananas to keep them from spoiling but when I packed two in my lunch the next day, I ended up with brown soup by noon time. I gave it a taste anyway and regretted that decision immediately.

Dinner: ¼ cup dried brown rice with 3/8 cup of dried beans and 2 tbs of canola oiI, and pkg bbq sauce from Wendy’s.


This left me with roughly 1454 calories per day, but that still wasn’t enough for me, I wanted a bigger edge on the game; which is why a large part of my research landed on something called “freeganism” 0 cue the doughnut and cherry tomatoes.

The rising social trend called Freeganism circles around the waste of food by major grocery chains and it’s a fact that most major grocers throw away 20-25% of their food every night. While a portion of that food is expired produce and dairy, a larger portion is packaged goods that are tossed simply because they’ve passed the company’s “sell by” date, a value established to maintain that “fresh” store appearance.  So it’s fairly common for the store’s dumpster or compactor to be chock full of canned goods, boxed cereals, etc and that’s where freeganism comes in. My goal was to then go out at night, after the stores have closed and (without actually diving in) sift through the top layer of the dumpster in search of any uncontaminated food. This is where this game gets interesting.

Over the first two nights of the game, I went to: Jewel, Dominick’s,Aldi, Whole Foods and Wal-Mart. I went out too early the first night and was limited only to Aldi where I found a package of cherry tomatoes and a dozen doughnuts, uncontaminated and sitting right on top for me to grab. This was an instant 250 extra calories added to my daily intake; and when I’m limited to less than 2000, I need all I can get. LET ME ADD: I am 5’8”, 155lbs and workout a regularly with a high metabolism. The next night, I went out after midnight and headed straight for Whole Foods as I heard this place was a goldmine for fresh organic produce. I was wrong. Turns out, Whole Foods, like the rest of the stores I visited that night, put all their expired food into a compactor to keep animals and human from digging through it – Freganism fail! I was discouraged but I knew I would be ok until I went out again a day or two later.

After three days of only 1700 intakes per day, I wasn’t doing too bad; in fact I really enjoyed trying to think of new and exciting ways to raid dumpsters or steal a free meal to boost my caloric intake that day! It became a rush of creative survival to find the next score or loophole to feed myself.  The first day was obviously the hardest, I think for my wife more so than me, because if you’ve ever seen a Snickers  commercial, you’ll know that men turn into cranky divas when they get hungry, and I was HUNGRY!!.

By the end of the third day, my friend and I mutually decided to call it quits. We got the message of the experiment loud and clear and the whole thing was putting more strain on our marriages than our stomachs, so we both opted to end the game and eat a big fat dinner with our wives (complete with beer/wine, a luxury not afforded on a $1/day  budget). Of course the whole purpose of this experiment resided with the old parental sermon about kids in Africa not having enough to eat, so I better finish my vegetables. The whole game was somewhat eye opening, more so in the fact that I was surprised I took right to dumpster diving rather than waiting it out. At least I know I’ll be able to provide for my family if I ever hit rock bottom!

I would recommend giving this a shot, although I’m certain you’ll have the same results, it’s very interesting when you are able to step away from yourself and critique your innate human reactions to living on such a meager food supply. Bring it on Hunger Games!


3 thoughts on “Eating with $1 a Day

  1. Pingback: a farewell nod to 2012 | Wine and Workouts

  2. Pingback: Dan 2.0 | Wine and Workouts

  3. Pingback: dismissing food labels | Workouts to Wine

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