Live Below the Line: Meeting the challenge to live on $1.50 a day

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2012 – Could you survive on $1.50 a day for 5 days?

Most of us spend $5 on a cup of coffee without thinking twice.  A $3 bottle of water is a necessity for some.  Very rarely do we stop to consider that millions of people live on far, far less. 

Recently as I was surfing the net I saw an advertisement for Live Below The Line.  It inquired in big bold letters if I thought I was up to the challenge of feeding myself for $1.50 a day for 5 days. 

No, was the first thing that popped into my head.  Absolutely not.

But by this time my interest was piqued.  I went to the website and was even more intrigued by a video of Hugh Jackman explaining the challenge. 

Ok, so Wolverine sealed the deal.  I was interested.

In partnership with the United Nations’ Shot @life, Unicef, Malaria No More, and several other organizations, The Global Poverty Project initiated the Live Below the Line challenge. 

The challenge consists of living for five days, May 7th to May 11th, spending only $1.50 per day on food and drink.  The complete rules can be found at the website.

Why $1.50 a day?

The World Bank defined extreme poverty as living on $1.25 or less.  The Live Below the Line website explains that more than 1.4 billion people worldwide are living in extreme poverty.  And $1.25 doesn’t just have to pay for food- these people have $1.25 a day for ALL expenses.   

The challenge for participants is $1.50 because that is the current global figure to define extreme poverty when inflation is accounted for.  (The $1.25 figure was calculated by the World Bank in 2005).

Looking it from this perspective, living on $1.50 just for food and water should be comparatively easier.  Right?     

At first, I thought, I’ll just do it for one day and document it.  However, I realized that if I am going to commit to doing this, I want it to go toward something bigger than myself. 

So I signed up for the Live Below the Line challenge.  I put my name on their website and will help raise money to alleviate poverty around the world.  There are a number of poverty-fighting organizations that participants can support.  I will be supporting UNICEF  I will also document my progress with YouTube and posted updates throughout the week. 

I think that taking this challenge will help me understand the real life struggles that millions of people experience daily- and how wasteful we can be.  I know it will only be a superficial glimpse of what extreme poverty is like- I do live comfortably in NorthWest DC and don’t plan to move in with the folks on McPherson Square any time soon.   

However, I am curious to see if it can even be done and what I will learn doing it.  

I have enlisted my husband, who will be my reluctant partner as we try to live for five days on a combined budget of $15.00.  It won’t be easy.  DC is not an area known for its cheap food prices, and I must confess from the outset that I am terrified of DC tap water. 

But I am confident that with a little imagination and patience, we can do this. 

When I discussed with my friends and family this weekend, everyone was skeptical.  I am the first one to admit that I love food and love to eat, but I was surprised at my friends’ reactions.  “No way!” was generally the first thing out of everyone’s mouth, followed by “You? Really?”  

Most think that I will not last a day and I am determined to prove them wrong.  

I aimed high- I want to collect $1,000 and the deadline is only a few days away.  You can donate to fight world hunger- and support me in the challenge with as little as $10. 

This will be more than everything that I will eat and drink in the next five days! 

You can sponsor me and help me to meet my goal.

Planning for the Week

My husband and I hit the local Safeway with our $15 in hand Sunday afternoon.  We quickly realized that we were going to have to plan carefully if we were going to survive the next five days.  

On our $15 budget, the prices of even the most basic foods seemed astronomical.  

We realized that staples like coffee and juice were out.  Even the bargain brands were way too expensive.   Meat was going to be a problem, even though hot dogs may be the way to go.  

Dairy was also probably going to be out of our budget, and forget most fruits and vegetables.  

We left the store with our $15 and a resolve to formulate a plan and return to the grocery store in the morning with a shopping list.  My husband is a huge health nut and I am beginning to see that this is not going to be easy for him. 

Tonight we will research local food prices and specials and return to the store in the morning. 

Initial thoughts

Now that I have to think about surviving on $1.50 a day, I can’t believe how much time it takes to simply plan out what we are going to eat and where we are going to buy it.  This is doubled if you are thinking about being even slightly health-conscious. 

I can’t imagine how many productive hours people living in poverty have to spend just figuring out how to stretch that $1.50. 

I am also beginning to realize the health repercussions of having to survive on so little.  It is clear that we are going to have to eat a lot of starches, rice, pasta, sliced white bread (maybe?).  The only meat we will be able to afford will likely be highly processed and filled with sodium and nitrites.  Vegetables and fruits were clearly not going to be in our daily diet.  There is no way we will be able to meet our 5 daily recommended servings- I doubt we will even get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables for the entire week!

These are just preliminary thoughts that I hope I can develop as the week progresses.  Please help me raise money for UNICEF as I take the Live Below the Line Challenge!



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Laura Sesana

Laura Sesana is a writer and DC, Maryland attorney, joining the Communities in 2012.  She is the author of Colombia: Natural Parks, and has also written several articles on literary criticism.  She writes about food, health, nutrition, women’s legal issues, and the environment.  

In addition to writing for the Communities, Laura also works as an attorney and legal content writer.


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