How much do you reckon you need for food and drink? Could you live on £1 a day? Given that a coffee on the way to work costs more than £2, then there's lunch, and you might call in at the pub when you leave the office, let alone what you consume when you're at home, you probably think no way.
But £1 a day is what 1.4 billion people worldwide have to live on – for everything, not just food. That figure is the World Bank's benchmark for 'extreme poverty'. This week, to try to raise awareness, and funds, a bunch of charities have got together and thrown open the challenge to 'live below the line' on £1 a day for five days, to anyone game to give it a go.
Partly out of curiosity, muggins here signed up with many thousands more worldwide, and most of them are right in the middle of their ultra cheap diet right now. I did my stint below the line last week, so I'm now in the happy position of knowing it's all behind me and I need not confront another bowl of brown rice for quite some time if I choose not to.
[Related feature: Five 'meals' for less than 50p]
So how was it, I hear you ask eagerly? Well, gentle reader, I cannot claim that hunger reduced me to a wan wraith, though I may have contracted scurvy. I did a big (£5) shop at the beginning of the week, and then lived for the week on what I had bought – porridge for breakfast, hunk of potato omelette for lunch, rice and dahl for dinner, the odd oatcake (3p each) when hunger pangs hit hard in late afternoon - all washed down by tea (2p a bag) and water.
I saved up odd pennies and afforded a small cup of proper coffee (20p) on the last day. And yes, I confess, one evening I had half – only half, honest – a piece of Lindt chocolate from a bar I found in the cupboard. About 8p, I reckon, but it was the sweetest 8p of the week…
But while I was rarely hungry, one of the hard things was the gap left by the things I couldn't afford. Fruit, veg apart from spuds, onions and carrots, meat, treats and alcohol were all beyond my means. Yep, it was dull, dull, dull.
Another was sheer lack of choice. Maybe if you live like this permanently you become more creative with your cooking over time, but I really don't want to see another potato omelette for the foreseeable future.
The third is that when you can't have the food you want, when you want it, you get a bit one-track-minded about what you are allowed, what you've spent, how long till the next meal. Boy, was I boring myself by Friday.
Of course, as a friend pointed out, many genuinely poor people wouldn't bother cooking at all – they would simply buy £5 worth of spaghetti hoops, spam and own-brand biscuits and get by on them. Well, maybe so, but I reckon part of this challenge is to try and live in a sustainable, reasonably healthy way. And I did feel quite detoxed by Friday, after five days with no booze, very little fat and no sugar (almost).
But I wouldn't want to have to live below the line for any more than a week at a time – it really made me realise the luxury of choice that you take for granted when you have enough money.
If you want to find out more with a view to joining the party next year, see who's doing it (there are one or two celebs up there in the roll-call), get some ideas for eating very very cheaply, or (the best idea!) retrospectively sponsor my five days of inner turmoil and do your bit towards fighting extreme poverty, go to www.livebelowtheline.com/me/faithieg
[Related feature: Life on minimum wage]