Day One

Christopher making tortillas

Christopher making tortillas

At the end of last school year Christopher and I were loaned the first three seasons of Lost and were immediately engrossed in the happenings on “The Island.” Charlie is one of my favorite characters; as we watched I would frequently comment that he is now my favorite hobbit as well (Sorry, Samwise Gamgee). In one scene he is trying to help out the pregnant Claire and all she wants is peanut butter which is difficult to come by on a  seemingly uninhabited island. He eventually brings her an empty jar and the two of them imagine themselves eating peanut butter off of their fingers.

This morning I drank my coffee in a similar fashion. I spent several minutes walking around with an imaginary cup while talking to Christopher, pausing every once in a while to take a sip. Fortunately, he knows that I am crazy, so he was not too shocked. I will probably speak more of coffee at a later point. I have a slight addiction. In fact, I actually stopped drinking coffee a week ago just to make sure I would not be cranky the first few days of this experiment. I think that helped me today.

That is not to say this will be easy for me. This morning as we ate our 6 cents worth of oatmeal, I was already pointing out (pleading) to Christopher that if we split only one tablespoon of margarine for our oatmeal it would  only cost 3 cents and it would greatly improve the flavor.  He resisted the temptation. Grudgingly, I did too knowing that it might mean a larger meal later.  We already know who will be the weakest link.

This is beginning to change the way we look at food.

Last week we were trying to eat up all of the food in our house so we could start clean and I got a bit frustrated.  We had jelly, but no peanut butter or bread, we had lettuce and a can of refried beans, but no tortillas. We had a couple of cans of soup, but that was all I had for lunch that week ( I think. I may have my lunches mixed up… in any case it was hot and stuffy in our house and soup was not going to work for me).  I laughed when Christopher said we could just make tortillas, but he pointed out to me that millions of people make their own tortillas everyday.  So we gave it a shot.

That night we had  burritos with Spanish rice (I made that!), refried beans, tortillas, the remains of our Sour Supreme, and some lettuce.  That was the turning point for me. I could eat burritos for every meal of everyday, so I knew I would survive.  Of course by the end of this I may change my mind.

We repeated that meal tonight, minus the Sour Supreme, but we made our refried beans from scratch.  Much to my joy we came in far enough under our dollar that we could each have a small amount of lettuce and one serving of taco sauce on our burritos. I made a big batch of refried beans yesterday and we made the rice and tortillas tonight. We have divided these into portions, so we will most likely be having these as components in at least two, but probably three, more meals this week. I guess I will get to test that previous claim.

We were both very aware all day today about when we should be eating meals. When we realized that we only ate 91 cents worth of food today we were able to have desert: one tablespoon of peanut butter on a spoon… no bread, it was too much.

It seems odd to me that we have the luxury of doing this as an experiment when there are millions of families who have to budget their meals like this everyday.

I am nervous for this, but looking forward to see what challenges come up. For the first day, it was not bad. We have already had a generous donation  of $100 which will go to the Community Resource Center or the One campaign. Thanks for your support.

Take care,


Today’s Totals

Breakfast: 1 cup cooked oatmeal – $0.06

Lunch: PB and J sandwich on homemade bread – $0.36,  2cups popped popcorn with salt – $0.07

Dinner: 2 Bean and Rice Burritos – $0.42 ( Beans – $0.07, Rice -$0.11, Tortillas – $0.05ea., small strips of Lettuce – $0.07, 1 TBSP taco sauce – $0.12)

Dessert: 1TBSP Peanut butter – $0.05

Total: $0.96



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26 responses to “Day One

  1. Christopher, Kerry,

    This is a great “experiment”. I’ll be reading your blog and watching your progress.
    I wanted to know if you will be monitoring your health as well? IE: changes in weight, energy, headaches, etc…
    Taking your values now, and comparing them at the end of the month. Also, will you be taking medication or vitamins if necessary, and is that going to be included in your budget?


  2. Dan

    I think this is a great experiment. Mr. Greenslate told us all about it. I wish the best of luck to both of you.

  3. i found you through an email from ODE, and of course backtracked to start at the beginning.
    i can’t begin to say how much i admire this. we used
    our small tax refund to stock up on beans and rice, and are eating very economically to pay off all credit cards and get out of debt.
    that’s resulted in freedom to take cats to vet and to donate to care and to oxfam and to tibet and to the humane society … constantly aware of how blessed we are as westerners.
    for what it’s worth, i broke my coffee addiction with strong black tea, and you can re-use loose tea or teabags and get more steeps and a 2nd cup. it is doable.
    “futuring”- guayaki has organic and green m$ate mixed with ramon nut that does taste like coffee so you can be healthier. don’t drink after 4 pm. coffee never kept me awake in over 30 yrs, but this does.
    blessings. L

  4. ps we named our new kitten Samwise

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  6. Found your blog article through the NY Times this afternoon. I have to tell you I went through a similar scenario while living in Florida a few years back. Although, it wasn’t an experiment. I was a struggling student trying to handle 3 jobs that barely paid min. wage and going to a full schedule of classes. Needless to say, I was on a truly strict budget. And it was HARD to find fresh food or healthy food to cook at a reasonable price. I ended up putting on about 15 lbs over the coarse of 2 months because of that.

    I really hope that your experiment sheds some light on things that are wrong in our country, as in the cost of food! I mean, really, why does one think there is such an obesity problem in America?

    Thank you for taking the time and telling us about your experiences!

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  9. awesome! i love the idea… i’ll be going through each of your posts in sequence to see how it all went down. my wife and i are thinking of trying this ourselves, but for a slightly shorter time frame (maybe a week) to see what it feels like.

    congrats on the NYT article!

  10. Colleen

    I just finished trying a similar experiment but allowed myself $1.00 per meal for 1 week. I was allowed $21.00 for the week and could not use any food I already had nor did I accept any food from others. I also gave up coffee, found I could buy a box of green tea bags for 98 cents. I know I could not have lasted on only a dollar for the whole day! Best of Luck.
    I went to bed hungry most nights (I’m a “big eater”, I exercise a lot). I found that left over spaghetti sauce make very good tomato soup when you add water and a small amount of milk. Also grilled peanut butter sandwiches are quite good. I am a registered dietitian and AGREE, I couldn’t eat healthy. I could not afford any fruit.
    I got very sick of the same foods (don’t want to see cabbage for a long time). I’m glad I did it but don’t want to do it again
    I’ll be interested in following your progress.

  11. I watched a piece on the television still not sure what channel or news broad cast but it just struck me to be so fascinating.

    I thought to myself okay I live every day and take for granted the things some will never have in a lifetime. And They probably live of a dollar a day if that. This being in most third World countries we see everyday on Television.

    So when I seen you and your husband on T.V I was amazed and wanted to see for myself how it worked and turned out…..

    I was amazed and think you had the greatest idea and challenge…..I think some of those meals you prepared could be introduced to your Living Healthy in America…..

    I live in Canada and would welcome anyone to come into my home and help me and my two daughters plan a a weeks meal healthy on a low budget as I have. I work Full Time but still need the assistance from Disability to cover and help Rent.

    Some of those meals I may try just to lower my budget and see if these meals do taste good.

    Kepp up the Work and you are an amazing Couple to ry this Really amazing…

    Take Care
    Sarnia, Ontario

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  13. I am also curious about any medical challenges that you had to overcome. Wonder how this would work with a family and kids. Kids have other needs than adults. I guess .50 per day per person would be more realistic.

  14. peggy

    I just heard about your experiment on the web, I know you did this a while back. I think raising awareness about the problem of Americans not having enough food is cool. I personally raised six children and a husband on 365.00 a month on foodstamps because of my husbands disability. He had nine operations on his ankle and I could not work because of bipolar disorder. We have had to live on just beans ourselves and its not fun not knowing where you are going to get food for your children. Maybe if a few more people try what you did then they will start letting farmers grow food again instead of keeping the price of food up to where know one can survive. thanks peggy

  15. Christy

    This is a fascinating experiment! Not one I’d ever want to do, probably mostly for health reasons and then for taste reasons. But I live in an area of the country where food costs are comparatively low, and last spring, before food costs went up sharply, I was trying to live on $10/week for food. I struggled a bit, but it worked. Now I’m on $20/week, which felt like a luxury at first but is now just a little harder with the higher produce, egg, and milk prices. But it still works well. I don’t buy much meat, cook with a lot of lentils, and make a lot of wonderful, savory curries and stews that make all my coworkers wildly jealous. I eat better (more tastefully) than most of the people I know, on a very restricted budget. It’s possible!

  16. AMY


  17. Chris

    Hello, I am 64 years old and I have been homeless off and on during my life. I am mentally ill so I receive money to live on. And, I have also used other resources such as local church groups that give out food to the homeless.
    I am wondering just how you made bread? I am currently living in the back of a store and I have a hot plate… some toaster overs… But, I believe it requires an over to bake bread.
    Likewise. beans from stratch require fuel to cook them. I don’t have to worry about electricity now. But, living in my cars and using stoves with bottled fuels cooking something that took a long time to cook was impractical.
    There is also the problem of storing foods. I have had problems with mice, rats and squirrels not to mention ants and other insect pests. It costs money to store many dry products safely. Or, you know, it takes time to find something useful that someone has discarded: for example a metal can that is a safe place to keep flour from rodents.
    I once lived in a small room that had a nice stove and I baked and made many kinds of breads. I had a large plastic trash can full of flour and thought that I was safe but the mice or rats ate through the plastic and were feasting on my flour from the bottom of the barrel.
    I baked breads and made donuts and pies and also noodles from a recipe in a book for young wives written in Japanese. This was before I discovered the hole in the bottom of my flour barrel.
    Also keeping things like milk and leftover foods with an ice chest is costly. Probably more so than an electric refrigerator. I made deals with other homeless people for ice in exchange for food. Even so in the summertime it was not possible to keep foods for long with ice alone.
    We also had much trouble with the police when we were in the park. I was forbidden to feed other homeless people. I had a camping stove with two gas burners and I cooked meals from the canned goods the church gave us and other food that I bought myself at the markets.
    Anyway, I am wondering just how you figured in your equipment like a stove and refrigerator and storage containers and so on and so forth. OK I just read the one day. I am being very unfair in my mind.

  18. Chari

    I think Chris’s comments bring a whole other dimension into the discussion. A large majority of Americans have structures to live in, as well as enough food to eat. We don’t think about how homeless people cook their food, let alone how they keep it safe from bacteria, vermin, and ultimately disease. Truly, other than heating up canned food and getting supplemental food from food banks and charities, what can they do?

  19. Anon

    This is a nice idea but please remember that $1.00 in some countries is worth MANY times more than it is in America. So in some countries, eating on $1 a day could be like eating on $10 a day in America.

  20. jazmin

    I think this is a great experiment. I am troubled as to why so many people think fruits and vegetables are so expensive though. If you are in the middle of winter that makes sense, but in the spring, summer, and fall there are tons of fruits and veggies you can grow…even in a container garden on a balcony or in a window. You could also grow fresh herbs to liven up the taste of your food. I grow fresh herbs in my kitchen window year round and our winters are harsh in the Rockies. I would think even in the winter season you could grow some varieties of lettuce in San Diego. If you eat seasonally and out of your own garden (be it a container or your yard) you will cut your food bill greatly and still be able to eat those healthy foods.

  21. Jim

    “Truly, other than heating up canned food and getting supplemental food from food banks and charities, what can they do?”

    Tell him to gather up all the cigarette butts, aluminum cans, burrito wrappers and broken glass there at the intersection where he stands with his cardboard/magic-marker sign, put it in a plastic garbage bag, and I’ll give him $100.

  22. Anna

    You can make bread on top of a stove in a frying pan — best if you have a lid. Actually what you will get will be more like an English muffin. Bread is water, salt, flour, yeast and once you get your first batch going you never have to buy yeast again – just save a piece of dough, add water and flour and wait for the yeasties to do their thing. You don’t need much yeast — not more than one package. Add to water, add flour, let rise ; add more flour, more water, salt, let rise again — you can put oil with it or not– you can add cornmeal, oatmeal, whole wheat flour – about 50 percent. When I cook the bread on the stove top – I use about the amount for a roll- small. Flatten it out (flour it on both sides) and let it rise for at least 1/2 hour before trying to cook it. Do not oil your pan first- it will burn the bread.. just heat the pan, and plop the bread in and cover.

    If you soak lentils for an hour, they cook very quickly, like in five minutes.

    Sometimes I can buy chicken for as little as 49 cents a pound– no idea that would do on a dollar a day budget.

    You can buy oranges in NYC for 25 cents each and you can eat orange rind for vitamin C, or you can buy C really cheaply.

    Preparation costs – heat, refrigeration, should be included next time.

  23. Jeff

    Hrm, $1.01 for day one by my math. You forgot to count your $0.05 tortillas twice, making your two burritos $0.47, not $0.42. I know you have enough days after this that come in under $1 to make up for it, but just pointing it out.

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  25. Interesting project!! A couple of reading suggestions for you; The More with Less Cookbook by Longacre and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Both really awesome, relevant reading. I’ve been making sauerkraut for a few years now and its a really great, inexpensive way to keep enzymes and probiotics in your diet.

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