Live Below the Line: The Big Grocery Shop

Well, I didn’t exactly make several trips to the grocery store or trial run any recipes as I suggested I would in my last post. I did, however, have another read through of the rules and confirmed that I cannot accept donations of food as I take the challenge, nor can I benefit from food banks or other such charity. The point of the challenge is to gain a glimpse into what life is like for those who live in extreme poverty, which means living on less than what you can buy in the UK for £1 per day. And I only need to apply that to my food expenditure. Those who live in extreme poverty must make the equivalent to this amount stretch far enough to cover food, housing, clothing, transportation, medical expenses, and education. The math doesn’t add up.

Generally, the challenge requires that you buy whole packages of your main food items, such as a full pack of spaghetti, even if you’ll only use part of the package over the five days. The only exception to this rule is for items such as salt, pepper, herbs and spices. For these items the Live Below the Line team suggest working out the cost of each item per gram, figuring out how much you will use over the 5 days, and subtracting those amounts from your overall budget.

Jonathan and I worked out the price per gram of our salt, pepper, cinnamon, oregano, basil, brown sugar, and olive oil and estimated, on the slightly generous side, how much of each we thought we would use as we took the challenge. The total for these came to £1.11, which we subtracted from our joint budget of £10.

We did have a glance at the Live Below the Line cookbook to get some meal ideas as we thought about the rest of our shopping list. The only recipes that really grabbed us were the pizza, the veg and pork noodle broth, and the cinnamon apple with oats. Apart from these ideas we simply thought up things we often make at home when short on time and money and adjusted accordingly.

We decided to have oatmeal for breakfasts and had just purchased a new, yet untouched, bag of oatmeal a few days before. We subtracted the cost of the bag of oatmeal from our budget, £1.29, and headed to the grocery store with £7.60 to spend on food for 10 lunches and 10 suppers.


At the grocery store we purchased,

  • Milk (4 pint) £1.18
  • Can of chick peas £0.69
  • Bag of flour £0.77
  • Bag of cous cous £0.69
  • Bag of spaghetti £0.39
  • 8 pack of pork sausage £0.57
  • 1 loose carrot £0.12
  • 1 onion £0.11
  • A package of 80 Fairtrade tea bags £0.27
  • 2x small packages of ham £1
  • 6x packages of noodles £0.66
  • 3 loose tomatoes £0.35

The total came to £6.80 leaving us with £0.80 in the budget for one loose courgette, which the grocery store had sold out of, and the hope that we might be able to afford an apple or two later in the week to make some dessert.

Apart from all the figures, factors, and details of our grocery shop two realisations impacted me. When weighing out how much we thought one courgette might cost, which impacted whether we saved the extra £0.80 or splurged instead on a £0.45 tube of biscuits, we realised that it was cheaper per pound to buy the package of four courgettes than to buy them loose. However, on our budget we couldn’t afford the package of courgette. If we had more money we could save more money. But we didn’t have more money and, once the grocery store has loose courgette in stock again, we will be penalised and forced to pay more because we have less.

The second insight came when, in our excitement to be able to afford tea, we were suddenly faced with a conundrum. How would we drink tea at work? Jonathan and I both work in an office that provides us with tea and an endless supply of milk for our tea to drink throughout the day. But over the next five days we must forgo that privilege. With 80 tea bags in our grocery basket, surely there must be a way for us to have tea at work, we thought. But what about milk? We can’t use the milk on site. And then I remembered that we had saved a couple of small glass jars that once held various condiments. Jars with lids that screwed on tight and were perfect for transporting just the right amount of milk for tea to pop into one of the office fridges and have on hand for the occasional tea break. So it was settled, we could have our tea and drink it too!

I found it interesting that, even though I work in a safe, warm environment, which pays me more than enough to afford the essentials, I am still treated with small luxuries such as free tea. I was struck by the notion that those who earn a decent wage and work in comfortable jobs are provided with these extra luxuries. I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with our organisation for providing their staff with a mid-afternoon pick me up. I simply find it interesting that someone such as myself, who is earning more than enough to provide my own tea, would be able to subtract this small expense from my daily budget and in this small way am rewarded for my affluence.

I’ll end there for now, but will chronicle our meals and further insights over the next five days.