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5 Things I Learned Doing Live Below the Line

5 Things I Learned Doing Live Below the Line

We all know the scene. It’s 10pm, you’ve finished dinner, and you should be brushing your teeth, but you think you’ll just peer into the fridge, and see if there’s anything in there that takes your fancy. You stare into the light for a while; maybe decide no and close the door — but inevitably you’re back a few minutes later, with slightly lower standards and a slightly more determined appetite. 

But every year, there’s a week where I walk past the fridge — door firmly closed — or at least, I don’t take anything out of it, if I am tempted to glance inside. It’s not a diet, or a budget, really: it’s a $2 challenge called Live Below the Line.

Every May, I spend five days feeding myself on $2 a day. That’s the Australian equivalent of the extreme poverty line — what you would live off, in Australia, if you were living in extreme poverty. 

I take the Live Below the Line challenge because I know how easily I can inhale half a bag of chips without thinking about it, and it’s a neat (if not difficult) annual reminder of the fact that not everyone has the agency to choose to scan the fridge at night.

For me, it’s a learning curve; a sobering experience; an excellent, gentle reminder of solidarity and empathy with the 700 million people who don’t have the choice to opt out once the five day challenge is over. 

Here are five things I learnt from doing Live Below the Line in 2015. 

1. Not being able to choose your dinner is worse than going to bed hungry

I ate the same plain, lumpy dhal for four dinners in a row — and then skipped the fifth, because I decided I’d rather miss the meal than have to eat the same thing again.

2. Food is a social crutch

And it’s confronting going out with people without eating or drinking the same things as them. But when the alternative is to sit at home and avoid my friends, I chose being the sore thumb with the glass of tap water.

3. I need to sleep more

Chorused every high-achieving, self-critical Millennial. But during Live Below the Line, I slept 10 hours every night. I felt lucky that I could change my schedule around to accommodate that (I pushed a work deadline to the following week; I cancelled a couple of social plans; I didn’t exercise or play sport for five days). If my real-life budget was $2 a day, I would never have been able to manage my workload and the rest of my life on the tiny amount of energy I was consuming.

4. I don’t like chickpeas as much as I think I do

And next time I take this challenge, I need to buy something different.

5. Empathy is a drug

And taking this challenge has left me deeply committed to maintaining the frame of mind that I ended the week with: a tiny bit more aware of my own good fortune, a tiny bit more aware of what life is like for millions of people, whose everyday situations — like work, sleep, snacking and travelling — are decided by nothing more than the circumstances they were born into. A tiny bit more aware of my appetite at night. And, crucially, a tiny bit more aware about what I can do to help fight poverty.

Live Below the Line has just launched for 2016, and I’ve signed up. I’ll be taking the challenge again, and collecting donations from friends and family members, that will fund education initiatives across the Asia-Pacific, that enable young people to break out of the poverty cycle. And as well as that, I’m educating myself a little bit more about the injustice of poverty, and the role I can play here.

And when I go home tonight, I’ll only have a snack if I really, really, really want it.

Sign up to Live Below the Line here and make your meal count.