Reflections on the Live Below the Line Challenge, Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, Brett and I took the Live Below the Line Challenge, spending R12 a day each for all our food and drink. We did the challenge for five days. And we survived. Now, some people who have read about the challenge or heard us talk about it thought that it would be very possible and easy to live on R12 a day. And in many ways it was. Other friends were shocked and thought it would be near impossible and that we would be near starving. We weren’t but it was difficult. Here are some things I learnt and some of my thoughts on poverty.

1. We were ‘privileged’ to have 120 rand to play with at the beginning of the week. Pooling our ‘allowance’ for the week enabled us to buy in larger quantities and to save money. More on that later. However, the R12 (or $1.25 or 1 pound) a day poverty line is an average. That means that many people who are struggling to survive and meet their day to day needs live on less than R12 a day. And some have a bit more to live on. But what is true for most of those under the average, is that they are not assured from day to day that they will actually have R12. With no formal employment and subsistence wages, contract jobs, street vending, other jobs in the informal sector (e.g. being a car guard) and begging as primary sources of income, R12 a day is not a “budgetable” amount. Today I may get lucky and earn R20, but tomorrow and the next day I may not get anything. Our friend Lisa wrote a fantastic blog on this which you can find here, but I like this paragraph because it captures the essence of the problem of averages:

“Very few people living on or below that line actually have the luxury of knowing their R12 will arrive reliably each day. Living below the line is not an extended budgeting challenge. It’s not a challenge to Eat Healthy for under R12 a day. For many, it’s the rollercoaster of not knowing, from one day to the next, where the next mouthful of food will come from, if it will come. Which is a completely different thing.”

More thoughts can be found below…

One thought on “Reflections on the Live Below the Line Challenge, Part 1

  1. Okay, so yesterday wasn’t great. Kind of learning this on the fly, didn’t do much preparation for this (as I knew I wouldn’t last week). I just decided that I was going to commit to it regardless, because there are too many people out there who don’t have a choice. I almost flinched because I was writing a 24hr take-home exam, but as I said, there’s no question of choice really. Anyway, calculated how much breakfast I could have (yes, I did the maths of working out cost of breakfast and milk and portions sizes – coming to R3 for 50g of ProNutro with milk). I got hungry at lunch time and eventually got myself 2 Portuguese rolls (R2,20 total). Plain, nothing on them. Was tired mid-afternoon and struggling to focus (middle of an exam that started at 9AM remember), so I desperately calculated whether or not I could afford some (free) coffee at the department. The maths said yes, R1 = 8.5g. I recalculated later and it seems that I was a bit off and is actually R1 = 6.25g, so I am deducting the remaining 22.5c from my remaining cash. I went home that night for lasagne with my family and some family friends. It was hard to work out how much it is worth, but I am taking R10 or R15 off of my R30 total for the 3 days as a result. I got peckish later on (still typing my exam), so it was 4 slices of toast (approx 40c each) with margerine (approx. 30c worth?). TBC

    I went to bed and overslept by about 3.5hrs, which is not ideal in the middle of a 24 (well, 25hr actually) exam! Anyway, got up and got typing! Essay 2 accomplished in 3 hrs (Essay 1 in 13) – but had been thinking about both all of the time. Now, I am relying on the fact that, if you miss breakfast, you are less likely to be hungry for the rest of the day. (Nevermind the fact that your body is in energy debt, losing 50% of your energy stores overnight.) I think that I am going to rely on sandwiches for the rest of the two days, except for a communal dinner tonight with my home group, which will hopefully equate to a filling soup of R1/R1.50 or so. Not digging the fact that I’m up early tomorrow for a 6:30AM flight. The reason that I mention all of this is because I imagine that these are the everyday realities of the self-same people whose lives I am pathetically trying to emulate – for 3 days! I am trying to avoid cutting corners (mentally, where you are not acting in good conscience or true motivation to identify with those whose daily reality is living below the line), so I am not going to allow sleeping half of the day in order to eat less. Of course, it would perhaps explain why some homeless and jobless do exactly that – to ignore hunger pangs. Less energy spent, less need to eat. I need to check the facts, but these low energy effects are I think related to depression and anxiety levels, which are prevalent in situations where people have so much uncertainty about where their next meals comes from. The compounding of low energy and low motivation are not conducive to helping people overcome a below the line situation. My expectations and standard of living make this challenging for me, but in truth, I do have the luxury that I can ‘opt-out’ at any time, or just hold my breath until Thursday. 13 million people in this country – not so much! These will continue as far as I am able to, sporadically, but hopefully reasonably timed today and tomorrow. Back to water it is!

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