Eating Well On $1 A Day


Note: If this is your first time to this challenge, you may want to read over the frequently asked questions. You may also be interested in how I did it without spending a whole lot of time by incorporating lazy couponing

I was talking with my sister and explaining to her that with couponing, I think that I could live on $1 a day for food and have plenty to eat. She looked at me skeptically thinking that I was exaggerating.

“No, really, I could live on $1 a day and not be hungry,” I said.

“All you would eat is cereal and junk food,” she countered. That is not a healthy diet for a month.

“I think I could have a fairly healthy diet on $1 a day,” I replied. “At least a lot healthier than you think.”

“Including fruits and veggies?” she asked, the skepticism in her voice coming through again.

“Including fruits and veggies,” I said.

“You couldn't last a month,” she said sure of herself.

Thus the “Eating Well on $1 A Day” challenge was born with the following rules in place:

1. I will begin on May 1 and will have no accumulated food of any kind. I have $31 to spend ($1 for each day of the month). I can start buying food on May 1 and can not exceed the $31. I must document the cost of the food with receipts.

2. I can only use 2 computers to print coupons. Although I have access to more which would make this challenge much easier, we agreed that not everyone will have access to a lot of computers. However, we also agreed that anyone reading this has access to at least one computer and should be able get access to another one using a bit of creativity.

3. I can only use 2 inserts from the Sunday paper each week. Although I have access to many more than this (I usually pick up anywhere from 3 to 5 copies for free from the local coffee shop alone each week), we decided that not everyone would have access to dozens of inserts. We agreed that anyone could get the coupon inserts from at least 2 Sunday papers with a bit of creativity. I am allowed to use up to 2 of previous week's coupon inserts that I already happen to have.

4. I can use as many coupons as I want that I can get in the grocery store where they are available to everyone.

5. I can only buy food from retail outlets (grocery stores, drug stores, food markets, etc). I can't supplement what I buy at the store with free food from trees, dumpster diving, friends, food banks, donations, growing my own, etc.

6. I can only use deals that anyone else would have access to getting.

It should be an interesting challenge and I will have my work cut out for me, but I think that it will be possible. If nothing else, it will certainly be a food event that will bring some surprises and humor…

Day One: What I bought
Day One: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Day Two: The Object Is to Stay Alive
Day Three: Eggs & Bananas
Day Four: Berry Smoothie (but not the type you want)
Day Five: Getting Into A Routine
Day Six: Sugar Withdrawals
Day Seven: The First Week
Day Eight: Drinks
Day Nine: Eating Breakdown
Day Ten: One Third Done
Day Eleven: Fingers Crossed
Day Twelve: Score!!
Day Thirteen: I Hate Shopping
Day Fourteen: 2 Weeks Down Summary
Day Fifteen: Tampons & Pantiliners
Day Sixteen: Over The Hump
Day Seventeen: Different Perspectives
Day Eighteen: Disappointment
Day Nineteen: Tough Day
Day Twenty: Forgetfulness Is Costly
Day Twenty-One: Peanut Butter Revelation
Day Twenty-Two: Disaster!
Day Twenty-Three: Math Deficient, But Lucky
Day Twenty-Four: One More Week
Day Twenty-Five: Decisions, Decisions
Day Twenty-Six: Turkey Franks
Day Twenty-Seven: My Current Food List
Day Twenty-Eight: Irritable
Day Twenty-Nine: Should I Continue?
Day Thirty: Discount Find
Day Thirty-One: Final Day

10 Things I Learned Eating On $1 A Day For A Month

I have decided to continue this $1 a day challenge, but now that I have established that it can be done with fairly strict rules, I will make some changes allowing me a little more freedom to really take advantage of the coupon deals and throw some creativity in there as well:

1. I am no longer limited to 2 computers and 2 inserts from each Sunday paper. I can use all coupons that I can get hold of as long as I don't pay for them (eBay, coupon brokers, etc) and I am only allowed to pay for 1 Sunday paper.

2. I am allowed to use food out of my garden (although that probably is more than a month away before it produces anything).

3. I am allowed to go to the local coffee shops and buy tea (only tea) there. I don't consider this breaking the spirit of the challenge. I go to coffee shops because I am much more productive if I get into a new setting at least once a day (this was one of the toughest things about the challenge), but it is not fair for me to use their wifi and not pay to be there.

4. I am allowed to forage for food and get food from alternative places than just regular retail outlets.

5. If I come up with other ways to get free / cheap food, I will put it to the vote of the readers here as to whether or not it is an acceptable way for me to get it — and abide by their decision.

Day 32: What Was I Thinking?
Day 33: Should I Be Proud Of This?
Day 34: Apparently, I Don’t Know How To Eat Corn
Day 35: Major Coupon Blunder
Day 36: Free Beer
Day 37: Mail-In Rebates Are A Pain
Day 38: Blackberries!
Day 39: Blahh
Day 40: Being Hungry Sucks
Day 41: Costco Is Expensive
Day 42: Time Consuming
Day 43: Balanced Diet
Day 44: This Is All New To Me, Too
Day 45: Fighting With Wildlife
Day 46: Coupon Organization
Day 47: Where To Get Sunday Coupon Inserts
Day 48: My Simple Coupon Strategy
Day 49: Should I Be Able To Eat Free Farmer's Market Samples?
Day 50: Square Watermelons
Day 51: Should I Be Allowed To Buy Things For Others To Get Free Food?
Day 52: There Aren't Any Good Coupons
Day 53: Squirrels Are The Enemy
Day 54: Air Travel On A Tight Food Budget Sucks
Day 55: Should I Be Able To Forage Food From Private Property?
Day 56: How Sad Is A Cooking Injury?
Day 57: Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Day 58: Should I Be Able To Use Basics That I Have Purchased, But Don't Bring With Me When I Travel?
Day 59: Is Gum Food?
Day 60: Is It Acceptable To Bring Your Own Food To The Movie Theater?
Day 61: Apparently, Eating On $1 A Day Is Too Easy
Day 62: Challenge Goals
Day 63: Perishable Food Dilemma
**Step By Step CVS Moneymaker Example
Day 64: Cooking Is By far The Biggest Challenge
Day 65: I'm Avoiding Grocery Shopping
**Poll Results
**Step By Step Safeway ecoupon MoneyMaker Example
Day 66: Wild Turkey (not the drinking kind)
Day 67: Free Dinner From My Sister
Day 68: Travel Day
**Major Coupon Disaster
Day 69: Eating Squirrel Leftovers
Day 70: Giant Lemon
Day 71: Free Birthday Party Food
**Step By Step CVS Extra Bucks Money Maker Example
Day 72: Shopping Without Coupons
Day 73: I Can't Flip Omelets
Day 74: With Compliments Like That…
**Step By Step Safeway Moneymaker Example
Day 75: Can I Take Condiments From Restaurants?
Day 76: Cooking Rebellion
Day 77: Recovering From Cooking Rebellion
Day 78: The Plastic Bag Omelet
**It's Hard Giving Money Back To A Store – CVS Step By Step MoneyMaker
Day 79: Maturity Of A Three Year Old
Day 80: More Than One CVS Card?
Day 81: The Coupon Man
Day 82: Some Foods Don't Mix
Day 83: Bacon!
Day 84: Free Cheese!
Day 85: The Coupon Man Poem
Day 86: I Still Can't Flip An Omelet
Day 87: Roasted Stuffed Green Peppers
Day 88: Sometimes It's Worth Missing A Morning Smoothie
Day 89: Creating Havoc At The Hospital
Day 90: Major Decisions
Day 91: I Still Think I Can Change The World
Day 92: Walking Helps Me Keep My Sanity
Day 93: Getting Coupon Lazy
Day 94: I Gave Up 3 Days Worth Of Food For A Girl
Day 95: Recruiting Child Labor
Day 96: A Small Cooking Miracle Takes Place
Day 97: More Protein Than I Really Wanted
Day 98: Garden Rivals
Day 99: Realising I Have No Common Sense
Day 100: The Final Day

I have had numerous requests for people wanting to know how I do my couponing and was able to eat well on $1 a day. Here is my guide to Lazy Couponing for those who hate couponing (in the traditional sense), but still want to reap the rewards that couponing offers:

Introduction: How to Coupon for the Rest of Us
Step 1: The First Month
Step 2: Start Collecting Sunday Newspaper Inserts
Step 3: eCoupons

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82 Responses to Eating Well On $1 A Day

  1. Pingback: Eating Well On $1 A Day « Gidget Eats

  2. AB says:

    Catalina question: I have been couponing
    for a couple of years now but RARELY get Catalinas other than the drugstore extra bucks. Are they advertised somewhere
    or do you just get lucky?

  3. jeffrey says:

    @AB

    There is no master list that the Catalina Company puts out. If your store is good, they will list Catalina deals with the price tag on the shelves. Unfortunately, a lot of stores don’t bother doing this. I do have a list for Safeway of the Catalina deals I know about there (which reminds me I need to update), but not for other stores yet.

  4. Pingback: Learning the ways of extreme couponing « My Cup of Green Tea

  5. Lark says:

    I understand that you were doing this project with the focus being coupon clipping, and it’s a great idea! But I take issue with the “no growing your own” component of it. Perhaps you could try another bet, but growing your own food on a dollar a day.

    Too many people don’t realize that with a small plot of land, you can grow much of your own food at a fraction of the cost. $6.00/lb spring mix? A seed packet costs cents. A tomato plant will set you back $1, and will produce many pounds of fresh, local tomatoes–way better and cheaper than the grocery store ones!

    For all you commenters looking for a cheap way to get the best food, try a backyard (or even container on your fire escape!) garden and get all the vegetables you want!

  6. Pingback: Mastercheap: The Big Lessons Learned | Lifehacker Australia

  7. Lorna says:

    Jeffrey,
    I noticed while reading that you may NOT purchase coupons but can someone send you a RAOK with an envelope containing them?? :)

  8. Lorna says:

    Jeffrey,

    Just a thought to add…

    I think what you are trying to do, and accomplishing (very successfully IMO)deserves a pat on the back!!

    Everyday we hear about people either starving, spending WAY too much money on the family grocery bill, wasting WAY too much food in general, so on and so forth and what you are doing is NOT starving, NOT spending an obscene amount on food and definately NOT wasting anything!

    I am a big coupon user and in fact have two home businesses: a coupon clipping service through my email based customer list and my boyfried and I also obtain items for very cheap and resell them at our local flea market. We are always on a limited budget and without coupons would find it very difficult to get by.

    …Even if you did purchase female products, like my boyfried has many a time for RRs at Walgreens—LOL—remember what you are doing and keeping track of on this blog teaches others and you should be VERY proud and hold your head high

    Lorna:)

  9. jeffrey says:

    @Lorna

    I wouldn’t be able to use the coupons for this challenge (most people don’t have people sending them coupons), but would be more than happy to put them to use for any deals I can find for Penny Experiment and the food banks.

  10. Sam says:

    I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed this Jeffrey. I found it a few weeks ago, and have been catching up in my spare time (finally done!).

    It is very possible to cook ahead, however in the quantities you usually buy it can be difficult. My whole kitchen strategy is an amalgam of my aunt’s frugality (5 kids, plus running a daycare from her home, if she didn’t save at least 80% on a shopping trip she was really mad) and dry goods storage (that woman had a months worth of food at all times, in case the deals weren’t so hot and stocked up when they were) and my grandmother’s lazy cooking.

    Gram cooked once a week. She cooked enough for herself and my great-grandmother, plus a little extra, every Sunday, enough for a week or so of hot lunch and dinner entrees. She then froze single servings of everything (she bought a full size stand up freezer for this) to reheat. It doesn’t take long to build a stockpile of meals once you get into the habit. She’d pull out an entree and heat it up, grab a handful of frozen veggies to warm, possibly boil a little fresh pasta or nuke a potato, and didn’t eat the same meal twice in a week unless she really wanted to.

    With how you move around, and how variable your cooking successes have been, this may not be a good step for you right now, but I highly recommend you try it once you’ve mastered a few recipes.

    My year-round freezer staple is meatballs (Italian, guilty as charged). Nothing beats being able to grab a few for a meatball sandwich. :)

  11. Carson says:

    Hey Jeffery,

    Here’s a question are you including the cost of the Sunday paper subscription in your $1 a day calculation?

  12. jeffrey says:

    Carson,

    No, because I had the subscription long before I started this challenge and I could easily get by without it – in fact, I have no intention of renewing when the time comes.

  13. Susan says:

    i like roast tomato halves (can be roma/plum tomatoes or your regular round ones) as a side dish – on the cut side, do the following:
    lightly salt and pepper to taste, a tiny pinch of dried oregano, a small drizzle of olive oil and add parmesan cheese or your grated cheese. roast at 375 degrees until cheese melts and tomato shrinks a bit – sorry, i don’t time it myself.

    when adding tomato slices to sandwiches, i like to slice them thin and then add a couple of layers – just tastes better to me this way.

  14. Pingback: Successfully soliciting retail manufacturers for coupons « My Cup of Green Tea

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  16. Margret says:

    Jeffrey
    Have been reading and enjoying your diary of your “adventure.”

    I haven’t figured out what your job is – but you write very well.

    You might want to check this out for your next adventure! Do it quickly though – time is about up

    http://www.msichicago.org/matm/details/

  17. Brenda says:

    Walking is good for the soul. Clears the cobwebs and shakes the blues off. Wish I could do more of it. Sitting by a clear water pond and watching the fish is also very zen calming.

    I missed your quote for today. The video that you had was lovely also in one of your past blogs.

    I learned to navigate or travel on the computer with some of your little side trips. Click and go on a little trip over the rainbow to other interesting places.

    Your smoothies look delicious. We are trying it with blue berries tomorrow.We have got some frozen cherries also so I may try one with those.
    It has been a while since I made these but I often froze slices of ripe fruit, put straws or skewers or sticks in and dipped them in melted chocolate and rolled in crushed cereal. Makes good fruit treat that is more healthy than just ice cream treats. Also budget friendly.

    I make smoothies for my kids and grand kids with frozen orange juice undiluted, chilled canned pineapple chunks and some of the juice from it, and a lot of powdered milk for strength and bone building. Add some ice cubes to the blender, and pulse till slush and small chips. We taste test, and add a few table spoons of full frozen orange juice, or more juice from chilled pineapple can. If you need it you can add sweetener, but we like it a little tart. Add a little lemon juice fresh if you like. Makes it a good morning or lunch starter.
    I used to make it a lot for a friend now lost to cancer. She was in her mid eighties and enjoyed it better than ice cream on a hot summer day.

    Make it thick for a spoon and the dish almost becomes like a sorbet.I have frozen it in cups with sticks to make pops for the kids.

    We always had to budget our treats and plan ahead. Homemade treats can be made more healthy, less sugar and more control over ingredients.

  18. Pingback: Quest for non-native fruit « Baon Ko Bento

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  21. Bob says:

    Love this.

    There is a lady that feeds a family of 3 on $80 month with all the couponing. I kinda agree with the IT guy (even though my 4 digits per hour income includes cents). The time and effort would be huge here.

    I do it simpler and actually achieve close to a dollar a day.

    I only eat whole healthy foods. I enjoy baking with whole wheat. My primary foods are beans and brown rice with some 49 cent chicken and lots of eggs and canola oil.

    Canola cost about 2 dollars for 5 days worth of calories and is way healthy. So theoretically you could survive on 12 dollars.

    I supplement with garden produce and actually grow enough to sell.

    I also enjoy hunting and fishing for food (not sport) and have friends that alert me of fresh deer road kill.

    I don’t put more than 45 minutes per week into shopping and actually shop twice per month at 2 stores.

    I enjoy the time and exercise of gardening, hunting and fishing, so I don’t count that as time spent.

    I also make my own vodka and wine at about 50 cents per bottle. Also a hobby!

    All in all with the sale of my excess produce I’m close to zero per month. (don’t tell anyone I might sell a little wine on the side?)

    And wild game with fresh produce is much healthier than store bought yick.

    Still an interesting effort by you. Perhaps you should try my method and see how that fits.

    Congratulations!!

  22. Thumby says:

    Holy crap, the first person to comment on this makes her own friggin vodka. How sweet is that!?

  23. Thumby says:

    …wait, no the first person, but the last person. Makes. Her. Own. Vodka. How pimptastic is that?

  24. priscilla says:

    One thing you may not have thought of: while many people in cities can now get access to a computer (like say at a library) not everyone has access to a printer. People without printers have to pay to print and that makes couponing uneconomical.

    I am also concerned about the amount of time you spend searching cor coupons: the working poor typically don’t have that kind of free time.

  25. pepsibookcat says:

    I stumbled back into reading about your project again today. I’ve kept it bookmarked in a “frugality” folder on the computer all this time. I got laid off, and money is SCARY (2:00a.m. puking up stomach acid scary) right now for me and my little boy. It’s likely to stay scary for several weeks as finding a new job in this town with mommyhood compatible hours + summer vacation child care is a hard combo to swing.

    Rereading through your entries has reminded me of 1 good thing and 1 bad thing. The good thing is that since first reading your project when it was happening, I’ve cultivated my creativity in making something with what I have in the kitchen. I’ve discovered some unusual but yummy and healthy combos just by opening my mind about how to use ingredients with which I had been in a rut. I’m much, MUCH better about opening the fridge and cabinets and making do than thinking about what’s missing that’s I’ve got to walk up to the store to buy.

    The bad thing is the same frustration that aggravated me something fierce when reading through the first time. I live in a backwards, impoverished, small rural town. We don’t have Walgreen’s, Safeway, Rite-Aid, etc. We don’t have grocery store wars and certainly not coupon wars. And, a couple of places here now even refuse to accept internet coupons. I don’t have the coupony/offery options that you do, and I certainly don’t have the gas money to drive an hour to the city for it. That gas money would dozens of times over wipe out the grocery savings not to mention increasing my carbon footprint. I hitch a ride with a friend into the city when I can, but that’s not a reliable enough occurrence that I can formulate a weekly plan based on sales that you do. We’re talking about maybe once every couple of months. I live (I really don’t want to live here, but for the time being, I don’t have the means to escape) in one of the poorest counties in one of the poorest states in the nation. (My ex-husband’s work brought us here.) I grow what I can, barter what I can, mooch what I can, and get hardcore frugal about what I can. But, I can’t exploit offers like you do because the stores and deals are not in my location. This makes me quite cranky when I think about it.

    Anyway, it’s a year later, and I still think your sister was a jerk about your challenges. 😉 lol

    *hugs* Stay healthy and thrifty.

    Oh yeah, and I still think you are utterly adorable. :) lol

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  27. Samantha says:

    i want to first say thank you for providing all this couponing information to people just starting out. however, there’s a couple issues i see for the “average couponer” that you never really address.

    from my experience (living in new england, and shopping in the southeast when i visit family), every grocery store i frequent has a coupon policy that sets a limit on the number of identical coupons used (at only 4), and prohibits splitting up a transaction as a way to bypass their coupon policy. basically, i could have 100 coupons for a product, but would be limited to 4 on that day, and would not be allowed to split up my transactions to use more. this still gets me great savings on my purchase, but not to the extreme that i see on some of these websites.

    another big concern is the way you use coupon overages. it has been my experience that if my cream cheese was on sale for $0.49, and i had a $0.55 coupon, the coupon rings up at $0.49. not only would i not receive money back, i wouldn’t receive any credit to the other items in my order. that appears to be “standard operating procedure” for these major grocery chains.

    perhaps you’ve lucked out and your stores don’t have such a limiting policy, but for most of us reading this guide, that will not be the case.

    don’t get me wrong, i’m still saving a lot, but your overage and multiple coupon strategies aren’t universal for your readers.

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  30. Josiah says:

    Is this possible to do and still follow a strict gluten free diet?

  31. jeffrey says:

    Probably not to the extent that I did to this challenge, but you can use the same general principles to greatly reduce the amount you spend on it…