Live Below the Line: The Preparations

In my role as a BzzAgent, I got an invitation to join this year’s Live Below the Line campaign. I was really pleased about this as I remember reading about it last year, but I had just missed the week it took place. I was keen to take part, but as expected I forgot all about it. So the BzzAgent invite was a timely reminder.

The ‘dry’ cupboard. I like to be prepared…

Live Below the Line challenge is all about raising awareness and cash for global poverty. Between the 7th and 11th of May I will be living on a pound or less a day for food and drink to hopefully influence the way I understand poverty and also to encourage my friends and family to think more about what poverty really means. I am specifically raising money for a charity called Peace Direct, although when you sign up for the challenge you can pick from a number of different charities to support. Peace Direct supports people taking local action against conflict to build a better life for themselves and their community. Conflict really makes a massive contribution to global poverty, taking away people’s land, resources and lives.

There are 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty right now. That’s more than 20 times the UK population. The £1 a day baseline is roughly equating the poverty line for living in this country, but of course extreme poverty is a global issue. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks starting to plan how I am going to tackle this challenge, and of course beginning my fundraising efforts. I have a modest target of £50 because I know times are hard for everyone. I hope people will make the effort to support me though, in particular because my birthday is Wednesday 9th May – right slap bang in the middle of the challenge, so I am hoping that my self imposed austerity will help encourage others to sacrifice even 50p of their disposal income towards the cause. You can donate by PayPal so it’s really easy to give even a tiny amount.

Preparing for the challenge and talking to friends and colleagues about what I am planning to do has really brought home how difficult it will be. I am already a frugal shopper, but I have realised that living on very little money means that food becomes a real issue that you have to think about all the time. It’s true that walking a mile in someone else’s shoes really increases your empathy. I have been trying to plan out a shopping list in readiness for starting the challenge next Monday and there have been some tough choices as to what to get in terms of providing myself with enough bulk to stay full, but also enough vegetables to receive a decent amount of goodness. I’m not a big fruit eater, which I’m really glad about now as most fruit is so expensive as to be way out of my reach for this challenge. I do like my veg though and I have been quite disappointed to find that on £1 a day, there isn’t a huge amount that is accessible to me in the fresh veg aisles of the supermarket. All of the food I am planning to buy is tinned, frozen or packaged – because that’s where the bargains are. I know sometimes you can get a bowl of veg for Leicester market at the end of the day for 50p (they’re normally a pound) but I’m not sure I can take the risk that I will go along next week and find something for that price. It must be hard to have to take measured risks like this with your diet all the time.

Our spice cupboard.
There is a cupboard for tins & one for bottles also.

I’m trying not to be too generous with myself in terms of pricing allowances for salt, spices etc. however I know that these sort of flavour enhancers are really where I am going to have to make sacrifices. A cinnamon stick here, a knob of butter there, these are the things which for me make the difference between food as fuel and food for enjoyment. I adore food, and we have full store cupboards all the time to ensure that we never have to live a life where food is nothing but fuel. 

Interestingly, I’ve found that when I talk to people about the challenge, one of the first things they talk about is potential ways to ‘cheat’. I’ve never had so many people offer to bring me cake on my birthday, it’s quite overwhelming!! However, of course the whole point is to do the challenge properly, to get the most out of the experience. Unfortunately, one is not able to accept donations of food. It does make you wonder though,  what would be the best technique to stretch the most out of your tiny budget if you were living in extreme poverty? What lengths would you go to to feed your children? We were talking about bin diving out the back of expensive coffee shops at work today, to grab the packaged sandwiches and cakes that they throw out at the end of the day. Also, I was recently reading about the increasing number of Food Banks in the UK, where people charitably give away food (tins, packets etc.) to people in need. Interestingly, the volunteers who worked there noted that they were now giving away more food to people who worked, rather than people on benefits, as people were finding that their wages were not stretching far enough each month.

Using mysupermarket.com to price up

So far, my shopping list is as follows, although it may change as I refine my meal plan. I also need to go to Aldi to see if I can get any of these products cheaper there, to make my meagre budget stretch a little further. Needless to say, nearly all of the products listed below are value brands.

6 pitta breads – 20p (breakfast sorted!)
soft cheese – 50p (more cost effective than butter)
battered fish portions x 4 – 69p
marrowfat peas – 15p
mushy peas – 8p
tinned new potatoes – 23p
sweetcorn – 35p
tuna flakes – 49p
baked beans and sausages – 34p (for 2 days of luxury breakfast!)
kidney beans – 18p
tin of veg soup – 24p
passata – 29p
1kg rice – 40p
500g pasta – 30p
27p – value tea bags!
Total – £4.71, leaving 29p for my salt/spice/sweetner/mayonnaise allowance

My main plan is cooking an evening meal of rice/pasta that I can double up quantities of and use for lunch at work the next day. It’s worth noting that we are relatively lucky to have the value brands at the supermarkets in this country (although of course that is a whole other kettle of fish in terms of food miles, the death of the high street, exploitation of producers and questionable quality of goods) – in many places you simply can’t obtain food as cheaply as we can here.

So what do you think – could you Live Below the Line? What are your favourite bargain menus?


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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