Blog post

Living on less than £1.50 a day

3 min read
20 Apr 2015

This week I started Charity Science's latest fundraising challenge, a worldwide challenge designed to raise money for and awareness about extreme poverty. Specifically, the challenge asks you to feed yourself on £1.50 a day, the average amount a poor person in a developing nation has to spend on food.In fact, and rather shockingly, half of the world's population spends less than £1.50 a day. I am doing it for a week, and am excited and apprehensive.

My excitement is mainly due to the overwhelmingly positive reaction I have received on my fundraising page. Friends have sponsored me. Acquaintances have sponsored me. Strangers have sponsored me. This only goes to show how generous and willing to help others people really are, when given a little push in the right direction.

I am apprehensive because I have a lot going on in my fundraising week. I have three job interviews and have recently taken up weightlifting. I have already been told by several people that I must take it easy and make sure I get enough calories, and they’re right. And okay, while this is more down to poor planning by me than deliberate design, it does throw an interesting additional factor into what was already shaping up to be a challenging week.

Many people in the developing world live on extremely low incomes, and spend their time doing manual work, farming and travelling on foot for long distances. They can’t choose to ‘take it easy’ – they must do physical work on the limited calories they have, otherwise no food comes in at all.

Indeed, there are reports that during bad times, children are often fed significantly less than they need so adults can eat more; this ensures that the bodily capable parents have enough food in them to physically keep working, and their children have just enough to survive in a severely weakened state [1].

I don’t have children, but the idea of having to deliberately starve my children in order for myself to keep working to maybe – and it’s a big maybe – get enough for them later on is horrific to even contemplate. By comparison, spending seven days on low calories is nothing.

Left: What a typical American family eats in a week. Right: What a typical family in Chad eats in a week.

Actually, I was feeling quite smug about my chances of doing well in the challenge in the run-up - £1.50 over seven days is £10.50, about what I used to try and spend at the supermarket as a student.

When I bought it, however, I started to feel uneasy. Yes, that was what I approximately spent at the supermarket as a student, but I also ate out more. Got a coffee between lectures. Had a snack at a friend’s house. Got a kebab after a night out. Went home for dinner. Whereas I won’t be able to accept so much as a cup of tea while I am doing the challenge.

In fact, as part of my challenge, I decided to donate the difference in what I would usually spend on food in a week and what I was spending during the challenge myself, confident it wouldn’t be hugely different. The difference was £38, and a genuine shock.

I’ve been spending a lot more on food than I thought – and most of it is just stuff I want (like a nice coffee or a chocolate bar), not stuff I actually need. After the challenge, I could spend more carefully and actively think about my food consumption. I could save money, and therefore maybe have more to give away to effective causes like Deworm the World, where all the sponsorship money is headed.

That’s scary and exciting too.

You can raise valuable funds for Deworm the World and raise awareness of Effective Altruism by taking part in the challenge, donating, and sharing this challenge on social media.

1. Dasgupta, Partha, Economics: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press (2007), pp.101-103