Last week, we took the Hunger Challenge as part of the United Way of King County's Hunger Week. For five days we gave ourselves the same budget as a family living on food stamps. That is $26 per day for five days, or a $130 for the five days for our family of five. When we were starting, we didn't think it would be incredibly difficult as we don't spend a lot on groceries anyway and none of us are big eaters (some people call us smaller than average, but we prefer fuel efficient). What we found out right away was that we had to do more planning what we would eat each day. There was no room in the budget for changing our minds about what we wanted on a given day. Also, we had to be careful about buying extra stuff. We normally have a fridge and freezer full of alternate meals and food just up for grabs for anyone that is hungry. The same goes for my mid-afternoon snack. I work from my home, so I can walk into our well-stocked pantry or over to the fridge and pick out a snack of either healthy or junk variety. These sorts of things would not be options for that kind of budget.
It would also be hard to get better pricing by buying things in bulk. When you are using your entire food budget each week, buying large amounts of a food product would be extremely difficult even if it saved money in the long run.
All of that said, we did not eat bad this week. We were able to prepare good, nutritious food that was very tasty and in budget. But we only had to do it a for a few days. To have to budget and eat that way for a lifetime, or any extended period of time would be extremely difficult. It would be much harder on a family that had very small children (buying formula), people with dietary restrictions, or just eat more than we do. It would be almost impossible to feed three teenage boys on that kind of budget.
Finally, the hardest thing might be the inability to go out to dinner. We love eating good and interesting food at restaurants, and that is a big part of our weekend entertainment. With this sort of budget, the only eating out option would be to eat fast food.
The day we were done with the hunger challenge, we went out for a frugal Thai meal (yum) that would have added up to a third of our budget for the five days of the challenge on a single meal and felt very fortunate to be able to do it!
We are looking forward to doing more of this sort of thing. We are thinking that we may volunteer at a food bank next!