8 Ways to Live Off of $4 a Day

February 10, 2015

8 Ways to Live Off of $4 a Day

Photo Credit: theplate.nationalgeographic.com

I know what you’re thinking. There’s no way anyone could survive off of such a small amount, let alone live a healthy lifestyle along the way.

Well, as someone who doubted this whole project, I’m here to tell you that it’s not only possible, but it’s also pretty friggen amazing.

How it All Started

Leanne Brown, a food studies scholar out of New York City, set out to prove that eating healthy is not only for the wealthy, and challenged herself to create healthy meal options for those living off of SNAP, or Food Stamp benefits. In case you didn’t know, food stamp programs generally allocate about $4 a day, per person.

At this point, I’m sure you’re just as skeptical as I was, so let’s break down my favorite tips from Leanne’s Good and Cheap Cookbook. As a sidenote, she has a ton of other, useful tips in her book, these are just my favorite and the ones that I found the most practical. That doesn’t mean I’ve covered everything, it just means these ten tips are realistic and easy to implement for anyone trying to live healthy on a budget. Oh yeah, her book is also free so anyone can access it.

There’s No Ramen Here

Again, I was just as skeptical as you are. I assumed that in order to live off of $4 a day, you’d have to settle somewhere between Ramen noodles and the closest dollar menu. Boy, was I dead wrong and pleasantly surprised. Leanne shows you how to create decadent meals that seem like they would have cost a fortune. Plus, her cookbook also has high-quality images that leave you drooling and excited to use her gourmet, yet affordable ideas.


Here’s Leanne’s philosophy: less of a focus on meats as the main component of a meal, and more emphasis on creating meals based on fruits and veggies. Don't worry meat eaters, her mouth-watering recipes still include meat and are not completely vegetarian.

According to Leanne,

“My intent was to create satisfying food that doesn’t require you to supplement your meals with cheap carbohydrates to stave off hunger.”

Sorry carb addicts, you won’t be consuming boat loads of pasta to stay under budget.

Good-and-cheap Cookbook


Without further adieu, let’s break down this so called lifestyle into manageable bites.

1. Use foods that can be used in multiple meals

This should go without saying, but with over $165 billion dollars wasted annually, my guess is that you may not be using all of your groceries as efficiently as possible. If you know that you never finish a whole bag of spinach, plan on sauteing it with some garlic and oil before getting to the point of having to throw it out. (Leanne also has more ideas in her cookbook on this point)

2. Start building a pantry


BOGO’s can be a lifesaver here. Check out your grocery store’s weekly ad for staple items that may cost a pretty penny (olive oils, sauces, or spices as Leanne suggests), but are a huge money saver as a BOGO.

Don’t wait until you’re too low to buy these items as you may be stuck with some pricey sticker shock. This tip takes time, but is well worth it in the long run. Buy these items when you can and save them for times when you’re funds are a bit lower than you’d like.

3. Think weekly

Meal planning can be daunting. I’ve been there and can totally relate. To help out, I like to break my weeks into two parts: I take a trip to the grocery store on Sunday and purchase enough meals to last me until Thursday. My boyfriend and I usually have our date night (where we go out to dinner) on Friday and then pop back into the grocery store on Saturday morning to purchase stuff for both Saturday and Sunday. Then we repeat the process on Sunday night when we are gearing up for the week.

For us, this makes it less daunting and allows us to stay excited for the meals each week since it changes so frequently. We also keep a recipe binder of our favorite meals that we’ve made so we spend half the amount of time thinking.

4. Think seasonally


This tip is not a revelation, but here’s how I use it: I only purchase veggies and fruits that are on sale since they’re in season. As much as I love blackberries, I just can’t fork over $7 for a batch so I wait for the sales to hit the shelves and then freeze any extras before they go bad.

This also helps me change up my meals. If one of my recipes calls for an ingredient that’s too expensive, I immediately look for an alternative. Many times, the alternative becomes a great way to change up the flavor.

5. Buy frozen fruits and veggies instead

If all else fails and your store of choice is being stingy with their sales, check out the frozen aisle. As long as you’re choosing fruits and veggies that don’t have any sauces on them (steam in a bag is your best bet here), you’ll be safe. Plus, you’d be surprised how good the sales and prices can be on frozen items as compared to buying fresh.

6. More veggies, more flavor (instead of the ol’ Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems)

Throw out your old way of thinking where you use the age ol’ formula of meat + vegetable + carbohydrate = meal. Use veggies as often as possible and start replacing some of your carbohydrates with veggies instead. Trust me, the more you add, the more full you will be and the healthier, and slimmer you will feel.

7. Make your own broth or stock

Sure, chicken broth seems reasonably priced at a mere $2-3 a container, but what if I (mostly Leanne) told you that you can make it yourself for less than pennies at a time?

Thanks to Leanne, I’ve learned to use any leftover vegetable scraps by freezing them and eventually boiling them down in water to create a homemade, healthy stock. While saving $2-3 doesn’t sound like much, it could technically buy you another day or meal thanks to living off of $4 a day.

8. Don’t waste money on bottled beverages


This should be another no-brainer, yet the beverage aisle seems to be growing bigger and bigger each time I take a trip to the grocery store. Stop wasting your money and your waistline on expensive bottled beverages. For what you’d spend on one soda or tea bottle, you could have had a whole day’s worth of food with this plan.

While these are my top tips, there are still plenty of others along with recipes in Leanne’s Good and Cheap Cookbook. Since using this plan, I’ve been averaging about $6 a day for meals and I’m usually consume about 5 meals a day (three large meals and two snacks).

Quit wasting your money and start reading her book today! Download it for free right here.

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