“Live Below the Line” and the Value of Extreme Challenges

A close friend of mine recently introduced me to Live Below the Line, a charity that challenges people to live on a food budget of $1.50 a day for five days. Live Below the Line is run by the World Food Program and actually starts tomorrow (though you could, of course, do the challenge yourself any time).

$1.50 a day. That’s not very much money at all.

In researching how on earth to pull off that kind of challenge, my attention focused on nutritionally balanced foods (or close to it) that are dirt cheap.

My meal plan for this challenge involves brown rice, dried beans, whatever greens are incredibly cheap at the store, eggs, and salt and pepper for seasoning.

At the store, for example, I can get a dozen eggs for $1.49 right now, a bag of dried mixed beans for $1.49, a bag of 14 ounces of greens for $0.77 (on sale), and a one-pound box of pasta for $1.25. I can buy a giant bag (fifteen pounds) of brown rice for $17, too – it might be cheating a bit there to count a pound of brown rice as being about $1.15, but I’ll go with it since that’s what people would do who were trying to stretch that food budget for more than five days. I’d count just two pounds of it.

So, if I bought one pound of brown rice for $1.15, two bags of greens for $1.54, a dozen eggs for $1.49, and a bag of dried beans for $1.49, I’ve spent $5.67 of my $7.50 allotment right there. Add in a second pound of brown rice and I’m at $6.82. I’d probably add enough fruit on top of that to get me to $7.50.

It is a huge challenge to eat on $1.50 a day. That food, spread over five days, results in a pretty low caloric intake, but a survivable one.

Of course, the response to this would be that eating on $1.50 a day isn’t really a relevant concern in our lives. We don’t have to eat on $1.50 a day, so why do it?

The big reason, of course, is that it provides a quick and stiff education on the challenges of global hunger. Many people in our world live on that small amount as their monthly food budget.

Another reason – and one I find really compelling – is that extreme challenges teach you a lot of things about yourself.

A strong personal challenge can show you angles on a situation that you’ve never seen before. They can make you try things you never would have considered before. Sometimes, they can lead you to a better way of doing things in your life outside of that challenge.

Another, somewhat less extreme example: my wife and I often do what I call “money-free weekends.” We go through an entire weekend without spending an extra dime. We eat purely out of our pantry and whatever extras we have on hand and we find community activities to engage in. We used to make a big deal out of these weekends, but today, we just do them naturally because they’re filled with stuff we like to do anyway. The lessons from “money-free weekends” just bled into our daily lives. (Want to try this and need some ideas? Here are 100 things to do during a money-free weekend.)

Take on a challenge in your life. Take on one that seems ludicrously hard and unnecessary. Throw yourself into it and go as deep as you can.

Sure, you might eventually fail, but the lessons you learn from pushing yourself in a new way and the lessons you learn from failure can bring about lasting changes in your life.

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