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. Elisabeth says:

    Please post each day with your daily menu and shopping and challenges place. This will be fascinating!

  2. erika says:

    I can’t wait for you to continue!!

  3. gingerbell says:

    Jeffrey,

    do you just plan your daily meals with what coupons you have and what is on sale?

  4. jeffrey says:

    @gingerbell Basically, I plan my meals on whatever I have, and whatever I have is what I can get on sale or have great coupon deals for. If there are money making coupon scenarios, then I have a bit more freedom choosing what to buy. Then there are staples that I need (milk, eggs, cereal, ect) which I try to get on sale or with coupons, but isn’t always possible.

  5. Wendy says:

    This is great! I can’t wait to see how this month goes.

  6. Kacey J says:

    You are a genius just like Thrifty Mom! I follow her blog for thrifty deals and often miss out because I don’t have as much coupons as she does.

    http://www.athriftymom.com

  7. Rose says:

    Do you ever, or will you eat out? Grab lunch with a friend or dinner out with family? How will you account for this?
    I’m fascinated by your challenge and I’m just being curious!

  8. Pingback: Life is good! « Nevermind Kim

  9. David says:

    I could live on $1 a day if I ate 2 times a day which is a great way to loose weight. I would have to eat the same thing everyday though.

    My breakfast would be cheap cereal with powered milk and my dinner would be 2 packs of ramen noodles @ 25 cents for each pack.

    So my breakfast would cost 50 cents and my dinner is 50 cents.

  10. sarah says:

    join ihop’s facebook page and sign up for their ‘revolution’ and get a free meal today to treat youself after the dr visit.

  11. doesn't cook either says:

    Peanut butter and bananas is actually not that strange. While it is not something that I have tried before, it is something I have heard of. I have however had peanut butter plus marshmallow cream and bananas on toast that was delicious.

  12. iamjames says:

    I was very interested in this challenge until I read this:
    “Blinkie coupon actually makes the Philadelphia Cream Cheese minis a $0.06 money maker for each one you buy since it is for $0.55 cents off and with the current promotion, each one is $0.49 if you buy in groups of five.”

    So he actually made 6 cents for every cream cheese mini. While technically this works,
    a) I’m sure the manufacture will fix this coupon error very quickly
    b) Not everyone has a store that pays you to buy food.

    He then goes on with:
    “I had $1.00 off 1 box coupons for the Wheat This and Fig Newtons and free bags of Ghirardelli chocolates that I had received from an online contest. ”

    Online contest? How does that help anyone reading your article unless we can all win coupons from online contests?

    And that was just day 1 so I’d say the experiment is a bust, you can’t eat on $1 a day, or at least he was unable to demonstrate that it’s possible without winning online contests or coupons that pay you more than the cost of the food.

  13. jeffrey says:

    @ iamjames

    I think you need to reread 😉 I couldn’t keep the chocolates because not everyone could get them (my sister happily ate them). There was no manufacturer error. This is a common practice and there are often deals like this that make money at any of the major Supermarkets (there is one this week — it’s all part of the game) and it is how I have been able to donate over $10,000 worth of food to food banks over the last few months for a few hundred dollars: http://www.pennyexperiment.com — While there are a lot of things to legitimately find flaws with this challenge (and I would never recommend anyone try this), those two you gave aren’t relevant in my opinion.

  14. Effrafax says:

    Wow, I’m definitely impressed. Since I prefer to eat mostly primal I don’t think I can get my food budget that low but it still is inspiring.

  15. Kat says:

    Will you marry me?

  16. jeffrey says:

    @Kat

    lol — if I had known this challenge would bring about responses like that, I would have been a lot more excited to do it from the beginning 😉

  17. Michael says:

    I get the point of this “exercise” but if body composition is of any consideration, I think the true cost of this diet is quite high. I see lots of carbs and not a lot of protein. I see you called it “fairly healthy.” Well, by the typical obese american, maybe in some weird part of the universe, this is healthy. But from someone that knows real nutrition, like followers of the Precision Nutrition system, this diet is way below less than ideal. The only person this can consider this eating well is someone that only has $1 a day for food in the first place…

  18. Pingback: Cooking for one « Every Red Cent

  19. beachgirl-CA says:

    Please have the pages linked, at the end of each page link to the next or at least to go back to the list of all page-links.

    Not having that makes it much more difficult to read through the pages one to the next and keep track of what you have read in the long list of pages of your days.

    It’s a great education. I had little idea these things exist. I’m reading it not only to see how you did it but how much sugar you could not avoid. (eg day one you bought instant oatmeal – and sugared is the only kind I’ve seen. (ie not healthy)

    Good journalism. Good work.

  20. jeffrey says:

    @beachgirl-CA — all pages linked at the end of the post to the next post and the beginning page.

  21. tpi says:

    Why does the number of computers matter? What can you do with 4 computers that you can’t do with 2 in this context?

  22. jeffrey says:

    @tpi

    The way that the online coupon companies limit the number of coupons is by computer. You can usually only print 2 coupons per computer. That means that the more computers you have access to, the more coupons that you are able to print.

  23. Ryan says:

    Ok I’m impressed and here’s why:

    When I first saw the title of your article, I was like “This guy has to live somewhere in the Mid-West where groceries are totally cheap.” I’m thinking, there is no way I could pull this off living in the South Bay Area (Sunnyvale) where the cost of living is ridiculously high and groceries are way more expensive. So I start looking at the pics of your receipts for and indicator of location. 408 area code…well damn.  You’re in Santa Clara county too. Seriously dude, I’m really impressed. If you can pull this off in Santa Clara county, you can pull it off anywhere in the country.

  24. Pingback: This Is All New To Me Too – Day 44: Eating Well On $1 A Day - Grocery Coupon Guide

  25. Laura says:

    Well done! I would suggest that you don’t tie your “winning” or “losing” to your sister’s opinion since she has a history of changing the rules on you at the very end. Why don’t you either let your readers decide, or don’t make it about “winning” or “losing.” Just make it about showing that it can be done.

  26. Texas97 says:

    Love your blog. Been poor, couldn’t cook, so I taught myself. Here’s an easy soup that is cheep and will last you at least a week:

    Taco Soup
    1 large onion diced
    1 large green bell pepper diced
    1 roll of ground turkey (yes a roll, I buy 93/7 fat at Wal-Mart for about $2.50, but you can get 85/15 fat cheeper)
    1 can of black beans or equivalent cooked (do not drain)
    1 can of spicy chili beans (do not drain)
    1 can of corn (I use no salt added, do not drain)
    1 can of diced tomatos (do not drain)
    1-2 cups of water or chicken stock
    1 package of taco seasoning
    1 tbl oil
    Add oil to large pot and cook turkey with onion and bell pepper until veggies are soft and turkey is cooked. Add all of the remaining ingredients and cook for 1/2 hour. Garnish with grated chedder cheese and eat with chips. Enjoy.

  27. Mel says:

    Here’s how to make rice tastier: use chicken boullion cubes in the water.

  28. Grok2 says:

    I’ve read a lot of the blog entries in your 30 day food experiment with interest.

    But after thinking over how much I spend on groceries for the basic things that you use for breakfast/lunch/dinner, I find that the trouble you are going to with coupons and what not is a little bit ridiculous.

    Ridiculous because for a family of 3, I spend about $40 per week (about $6 per day for 3 people or $2 per day for 1 person) on groceries without doing any of the above.

    Thing is we “cook” all our food (breakfast, lunch and dinner and perhaps that we are vegetarian helps). We don’t shop at Safeway and such though — we shop at ethnic grocers — the Chinese/Korean/Indian groceries (SF-Bay Area). Here the fresh veggies are cheap, seasonal fruits are cheap too and a 10 pound bag of rice or a 10 pound bag of wheat flour to make tortilla’s or bread help keep the costs down.

    So you don’t really have to work too hard to get healthy meals cheap — if you are prepared to try and “cook” more of your food from basic ingredients. It takes time though.

  29. Granny GoodHeart says:

    This is totally AWESOME…and so are YOU! Great job! And thank YOU for sharing this experience with us! xoxoxo

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  31. Pingback: Eating on $1 a day « Spontaneous Symmetry

  32. Fern says:

    I’ve not read all the comments, I’m lazy that way. But over at the Hillbilly Housewife site, she has shopping list and menu to feed a family of 4 for about $75 a month. OTOH, she includes …. recipes. Including making your own bread.

    But she does assume that you have to buy salt, pepper, all other spices, etc.

  33. Sam says:

    You don’t need to use more than one computer. Just clear out your browser’s cookies if you want repeat coupons. The concern you stated (“I have access to more [than 2 computers] which would make this challenge much easier”) is irrelevant and silly.

  34. jeffrey says:

    @Sam,

    You obviously not tried to do this yourself 😉

  35. Megan says:

    I just found this cookbook that might help you out (it’s a pdf): http://thestonesoup.com/blog/images/free_stonesoup_ecookbook.pdf
    All recipes are 5 ingredients and take about 10 minutes, according to the intro.

  36. Angela says:

    No update for 2 days? I hope everything is ok!

  37. ami says:

    When you get a chance could you do a catalina guide? I have heard of them… but I haven’t seen one in a very long time. Are they random? I thought it was a coupon for the next purchase of the item you just got. Are there stores that don’t do them at all?

  38. jeffrey says:

    @ami

    Yes, I am working on it (need more hours in the day). They can be for different things. For example, Safeway has one this week when you buy 4 kellogg’s products you get free milk on your next purchase. Most are a dollar amount off anything on your next purchase. I will try and have that up this week.

  39. Pingback: Another clean slate… « Lish’s Blog

  40. Niomi says:

    This whole experiment is excellent and inspiring and uplifting. All the best.

  41. Tracy says:

    Wow. I just ran onto this blog (via Mental Floss). This is AMAZING! I’m always trying to figure out how to use coupons to my advantage, and don;t bother with them because the coupons are generally for products I won’t use. Now I see how to use them to my advantage! I’m bookmarking this page. Thank you for all your insights!!

  42. Dice says:

    Congratulations and thank you for the insightful means of eating healthy within a budget.

    I can share with you the insight I have for the stores not allowing “more then one computer” as you call it:

    It is not the number of Computers that is the limiting factor, but the number of internet connections. The stores track the shopper by IP address, or Internet Protocol address. Each internet connection to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) usually only has one IP address, no matter how many computers are on a persons internal (home) network. Clear the cache in the browser will not help this.

    Some ISP’s will change the customers IP address everyday. Some ISPs will track a computers MAC address (Media Access Control Address which is attributed to a computers network adapter from the manufacturer) and continually assign the computer the same IP address. This is usually done as a matter of convenience for most people, however, maybe not this crowd. 😉

    Without insight into the process of the internet and the ISP, only your ISP can dictate when your IP address will change. There are ways around this, BUT it can be quite technical.

    Either way, this is why multiple computers are required, from multiple locations, or multiple internet connections.

    This is also done for ticket retailers for concerts and such, so keep this in mind when waiting in queue for the next Pink Fold concert!

    Just an FYI.

    Dice

  43. jeffrey says:

    @Dice

    It is not IP address – as I have said, please try before commenting. I use 4 different computers with the exact same IP address and it will allow me to print on each computer, but not more than 2.

  44. Anon says:

    This is pretty awesome, I wish the grocery stores in my country offered 1/10th the amount of coupons/savings that are mentioned here. Sadly they dont.

  45. juan says:

    Did he died?

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  50. Susan says:

    I think you’re very resourceful but I don’t think that eating the apricots that the squirrel had his claws on is a good idea. From the photos, the apricots had some cuts in them too. Who knows what kind of germs the squirrel could be carrying. Just my 2 cents.