Every year, through a global cause called Live Below the Line, people around the world take on the challenge of eating for just $2 per day to raise funds to end hunger. The greater truth is, this is a good discipline—and a good challenge—for all of us. If we had to do it, could we do it? If we wanted to do it to save funds towards some other use, could we pull it off?
On that same note, this makes for an excellent "couponing challenge!" What do you think you can orchestrate, using your "coupon magic," if you only had $2 per day to spend on your meals? Let's find out!
1. Eat in
For the most part, eating out just won't be an option while on this type of strict budget—except for select fast food menu items, which often aren't the healthiest daily menu choices.
Example: You’re craving that Cajun classic dish, "red beans and rice."
- Option A: You go to Pappadeux and spend $9.95 + tax and tip for a single serving.
- Option B: Using Budget Bytes' Louisiana Red Beans and Rice recipe, you cook up a batch that feeds 10 (or makes you 10 meals) at $0.85 per meal!
2. Pre-planning is essential
When eating on a strict budget, advance planning will be essential (especially for buying in bulk). You want to avoid discovering you’re starving while still an hour from home (and sitting at a stop light right next to your favorite eatery).
- For help: Check out this great KCL post for awesome ideas for “theme” menu nights, stockpiling, planning menus around sales and more.
3. Say no to casual snacking
In the same way, dining on a strict daily budget will require selecting menu items that will keep you full between meals. Snack costs can add up quickly—especially when vending machines are involved. Rather, buy your favorite snacks in bulk and keep a couple of each item on hand (in your backpack, purse, desk drawer) for when cravings strike.
Example: You need an afternoon snack pick-me-up.
- Option A: Go to the vending machine and spend $0.75 – $1.25 on a single-serve snack.
- Option B: Reach in your desk and nab a granola bar for $.24 (Amazon) or bag of salted peanuts for $0.34 (Amazon).
4. Buy in bulk
One of the easiest ways to eat well (i.e. no fast food at every meal) is to buy in bulk when there’s a good deal. This is a fact even beginning couponers tend to pick up on quickly. Here is a list of bulk items you should absolutely keep on hand. You can make lots of different recipes with these core items, and luckily, they also keep well over the long-term!
Best long-term "buy in bulk" staple items for budget cooking:
- Grains: Oatmeal, white rice and wild rice will keep in a cool, dark pantry for up to 12 months. Brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, rye and couscous can keep well for 3 months if stored in sealed airtight containers in a cool place (preferably the fridge or freezer).
- Flour: White flour will last 12 months in a cool, dark pantry. Wheat flour can have the same shelf life if stored in the fridge or freezer. Other whole grain flours can last for 2-3 months in a cool, dark place (preferably the fridge or freezer).
- Nuts: As long as they are sealed in airtight packages, nuts can last 6 months in the fridge and 12 months when stored in the freezer.
- Dried beans and peas: Dried beans and peas can last up to 12 months when stored in airtight packaging in a cool, dark pantry.
- Dried fruit and veggies: Dried fruits and veggies will last unopened for six months, and once opened can last 8-12 months after that if sealed in an airtight package in the fridge.
- Granola: As long as you store granola in airtight packaging in the fridge, it can last up to a year.
- Pastas: Pasta will last up to 12 months if stored in airtight packaging (best in the fridge or freezer once opened).
- Coffee, tea: Coffee and tea will last up to 12 months in a cool, dark pantry.
- Sugar, salt, baking soda: White sugar, salt and baking soda can last up to 2 years in airtight packaging in a cool, dark pantry.
5. Get your recipes on
Ordinarily, I am not a cook—not even a dabbler. But in order to stick to a food budget, some level of cooking skills will become necessary. If you can toast bread, scramble an egg, boil veggies and bake a potato, you are already off to a good start.
6. Cook in bulk
Another great tool for eating on a strict budget is to cook in bulk (if you favor less time in the kitchen like I do, you will especially appreciate this tip!). If you can cook up a stew you can eat for several days, you cook once, use up your cheap bulk ingredients, and have cheap meals for the week—a total win-win.
- Example: See #1.
7. Coupon your heart out
Finally, couponing is key to sticking to your daily food budget. One of the best reasons (besides simply saving money) to try on a strict food budget for size is to hone your couponing skills. Get creative, save more money, and surprise yourself with how little you actually need to spend on food every day.