Surviving on $35


Canned tuna fills the shelves at a local Save-A-Lot store / Photo by Bethany Prange

Can you feed yourself for $35 a week?

When I heard that Anytime Fitness was sponsoring the “Survive on 35” challenge, I was intrigued.

The goal was to encourage people to eat healthy on a budget, and to bring awareness to hunger issues.

They chose $35 because that is the average amount a person receives through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

I knew that eating on $35 a week would be tough, but I was confident I could do it. I had an even smaller budget when I was in college, living on my own and making a fraction of my current income.

I also grew up in a large family where we purchased most of our food from discount grocers. My parents taught me how to be a thrifty shopper.

By the end of the challenge, I managed to just stay under my budget and I did come up with some tasty, nutritious meals. For me, this was a seven-day experiment that taught me a few lessons in frugal eating.

But for others, this is an everyday reality. This challenge truly opened my eyes to why so many struggle each day to provide food for their families.

• You can live on $35/week, but you’ll need transportation. To stretch my grocery budget, I drove past my usual grocery stories to shop at Walmart. Driving a few extra minutes was easy with a car, but if I didn’t have a means of transportation, I don’t know if I could have afforded to eat three meals a day.

• Eating out is a luxury you can’t afford when you’re on a strict budget. When you break down $35 per week it comes to just around $1.66 per meal. This means you have to plan out all your meals. Want to meet up with a friend for lunch? Forget it – unless you want to go hungry the rest of the week.

• It’s often easier and cheaper to eat unhealthy meals than it is to make highly nutritious, healthy meals. Ramen noodle cups were a staple of my lunch diet six years ago. This time around, sticking to a budget was much more difficult when I couldn’t offset it with 25 cent meals.

• Free food becomes a welcome treat. I’m extremely fortunate to work for a company that provides bread and bakery items to its employees. Some days I walk right past the food without glancing at it. When you’re on such a tight budget, you accept food whenever and wherever it’s available.

• You sacrifice convenience when you’re on a budget. I cooked more during this week than I normally do during a month. If I were working multiple jobs to support a family, it would be difficult to find time to prepare meals.

The goal of this challenge was to demonstrate ways to eat healthy on a tight budget. But more importantly, I think it also highlighted the tough decisions people have to make every day.

Yes, you can eat for $35 a week but you also need other resources such as transportation, basic cooking skills and time.

So if you ever come across a food drive for the St. Louis Area Foodbank and wonder if your donation of a few canned goods or $5 is going to make a difference, you can rest assured it will!

Patricia Lee


Patricia Lee is social media manager at Panera Bread and is a St. Louis Area Foodbank Social Media Avenger


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