Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The $2 Project: What I've learnt so far

I'm really enjoying this. Okay, so I haven't been nearly as strict as I should be on it, but it has changed my perspective significantly.

I'm enjoying quite a bit more energy - something that goes hand in hand with my new exercise buzz. I had decided that I would get some exercise after new years in an attempt to save me some money. Wait... Save money? Yep. Save money. I was having back problems and seeing a chiropractor who was charging me near on $50 / visit. I realised that all I really needed to do was to get out there and allow my back to sort itself. So $50 / week saved - just by getting some exercise. Of course, I went for a free option - plugged into a pair of headphones while jogging around and up and down Mt Eden. I've even gotten the rowing machine out - so that gives me an option for winter.

The kitchen was getting painted and so I found myself without a kitchen for a little under a week. Sod it - I can pause the project for a week right? Only it was REALLY difficult. The way that I eat has changed significantly. A burger and some chips from Burger Fuel one day for lunch cost around $15 - and I felt like crap afterwards. It wasn't that the food was particularly bad. It's just that my body has adjusted to meals that have a focus on fibre and nutrition (I think). I don't eat nearly as much as I used to and the meals I've been making don't really have a great deal of fat.

Funnily enough, I haven't been losing weight as you'd expect. The combination of the change in food and exercise has me building muscle. I'm hoping for a bit of weight loss soon though I'm kind of enjoying having the muscle tone.

What really surprised me though is that I'm not struggling with this. Okay, so I could do with a few more recipes. But the food is satisfying. I'm not missing the expensive ingredients (I watched an episode of Master Chef Master Class where one of the chef's was talking about anchovies and claimed the reason people don't like them normally is because they're eating cheap anchovies. He then went on to say that at his restaurant they use anchovies that cost $1.60 / fillet. That's almost a meal!) TOO much.

But what's really surprised me is the contrast between $2.25 / meal and what people see as reasonable. Someone said to me that they'd brought a huge (2 litre container) amount of salad for $18! She was horrendously excited about it. $18?!? While I've got to admit it was an okay salad (I prefer my beetroot to be in smaller bits - small cubes or grated), that's ridiculous. A few years ago I considered anything under $10 to be a bargain.

Which brings me to an interesting point. I didn't realise that I had gone to a primary school that was considered "decile 10". Basically, in a wealthy (The decile system also has letters associated to it. So decile 1A is the poorest of the poor while a 10Z - I don't believe this actually exists - would be scaringly wealthy) area. It turns out that no one around me considers themselves to be well off BUT they live in an area that's considered well above average in terms of income. What do I conclude from this? That we're taught to live outside of our means and to view ourselves as not as good off as the next person.

So what would happen to the weekly grocery bill if we all started to look at what food items we're actually buying and buying more... appropriately? Would we still all look for that $15 steak? Would a "price of a cup of coffee" still be used as an indication of how inconsequential an amount was?

Oh - one bill has increased. Given my exercise, I'm now having to wash my clothing on a heavy cycle rather than just regular. So a bit more water and electricity. Still, given the benefits, that's a sacrifice I'm perfectly willing to make.

While we're on the whole diet discussion - I always hate it when the news comes up with a story about how some food item is unhealthy for you because someone was an idiot consumed stupid amounts of something. The latest in that vein has been the Coke death. The woman in question had had health problems for months leading up to her death and didn't consider up to 10 litres a day of Coke to not be in her own best interest. She had fair warning and STILL didn't do anything about it. I remember a few years ago there was something similar said about smart drinks. ANYTHING consumed in stupid quantities will kill you - Too much oxygen (concentrations above 50%) will kill you. So will too much water (drowning and water overdose).... This warning's been given before.

Super Size Me was spurred on by lawsuits against MacDonald's about their food being unhealthy. People should know better... or listen to their body's warnings.


  1. I like your $2 challenge. It's a cool idea. The main 'problem' I see with it is that you need to be creative in the kitchen to avoid monotonous meals.

    To gain muscle you need lots of protein. Not huge amounts, but more than you are probably taking in. What you are feeling is probably not new muscle but your muscles 'waking up'. After a month or two that will stabilize. Also, running is mostly an aerobic activity so any muscle gain will be minimal (or negative).

    For muscle build-out on the cheap I'd go with boiled eggs (egg-whites really) or canned tuna for protein and push-ups + squats 2 times a week for a basic routine. I'd recommend joining a gym for a month just so the trainers show you the best posture for basic exercises (it's worth it) along with good stretching routines.

    Just be aware that if your calorie intake is less then what you spend your weight will go down (and that includes muscle mass).

  2. *grumble* I'm going to have to do an unapologetic comment..

    You're COMPLETELY missing the point of this.

    The $2 project is more a project than a challenge. It's a way to put poverty into the minds of people and make it not so much of an abstract concept. It's surprisingly sustainable. It also shows that most people seem to eagerly live outside their means when you compare this amount to what most people spend on groceries and yet will still complain about a lack of money. The reason I don't see it as a "challenge" is that a challenge lacks perspective and sustainability. This isn't a "Eat nothing but barley sugars and sugary fruit juice for 48 hours for the children of Africa" - this is "Look! It's actually possible to have a health focus on minimal money".

    So $2.25 per meal is living well in excess of poverty... Recipes really aren't hard. Look other at other places (Asia and Italy are particular favourites at the moment). Sure, you have to be creative. This isn't a problem - it's an opportunity. So boiled eggs - BORING! If you can't be that creative - well, I'm starting to post up recipes (though I'm thinking that a wiki would be kind of cool - post up a recipe, allow others to include comments and modifications). You really should go back to this post: and this one

    Next, the aim is not to gain muscle. It's a side effect. It's something positive that's happening. A gym is COMPLETELY unnecessary. It is possible to live a healthy life without them. Creating barriers such as this, and it really is a barrier, is counter to this project. i.e. "I have to save up $X in order to go to the gym". I know you mean well, but the few people I talked to about this comment had much the same reaction as I did. WTF?!?

    So here it is - the idea is to gain perspective and hopefully share this perspective with others.

    Put yourself in the shoes of someone stuck in a state dependency cycle - where the psychology is probably very different from yours. Those on the outside just don't seem to get it and keep trying to sell 'em stuff while they're still desperately trying to put food on the table.

    Now - are you going to tell them that they should eat boiled eggs and go to the gym?

    If the aim is to lose weight, then people shouldn't be put off if their weight has seemingly plateaued. There are probably other positive effects happening such as muscle gain.

    Next - have you read any of the recipes? You'll find that protein is in all of them. Please stop issuing advice like that. Hell - chances are you need this piece of advice. It is FAR more important to concentrate on getting a balanced meal. Saying otherwise is just bad advise. The world could do with less of that kind of bollocks.

    1. Haaah, I think you misunderstood me. I didn't mean to imply that you should immediately join a Les Mills and start eating 12 boiled eggs a day. The two main points of my argument were
      - how to improve your diet cheaply and
      - how to get most out of exercise

      In your new post you mention that pasta and rice are the main staples in poor countries and I would add bread to that list. When combined with other cheap ingredients (veggies and common spices) you will lack in protein. How is this a balanced diet? If you run recreationally on top of this it might become a problem. Not a huge one, but still a problem.

      Boiled eggs boring? Well so is rice if all you do is cook it plainly and eat it on it's own. For $0.25 you get a cheap ingredient that balances the protein in your meal. Do you dislike eggs for some reason?

      Personally I don't aim at $2.25, more at $5 per meal, per person and it's much easier to do when you cook for two. I'm guessing that it gets easier when you cook for more then two.

      Again, I didn't actually tell you to 'save up and join the gym', I told you that it would be a good idea expanding your exercise with simple, quick, no-gym, no-weight exercises. I told you this because you mentioned that running makes you feel good. I mentioned a gym as a place where you can get help with this initially (probably for free) if you decide to go ahead. It helps to maximize your efforts (less time spent exercising) and to keep the injury potential low. I really don't understand your response.

      While having good muscle tone (think rowers, not body builders) is not essential to leading a good life, it certainly does help. It costs nothing but a person's time and effort.

      When you reject my comments out of hand it looks to me as if you're actually pursuing a different goal than what you laid out above.

  3. Dude... have you seen any of my recipes not include protein? Take an example, add MORE protein and you're going outside the realms of a balanced diet. No I don't dislike eggs. I dislike boiled as a method for cooking them UNLESS something really interesting is done with them such as pickling. The protein should be interesting - the base doesn't need to be.

    The gym is a barrier. It's not an aid. To most people, they give up because people keep telling them to go to the gym. Meanwhile our lifestyles have changed to the point that we don't get a normal level of exercise. The solution - isn't to go to the gym. What I laid out above is a project about PERSPECTIVE. It's to look at how you can live healthily on very little money. Very little money excludes the gym. No two ways about it. The idea is to use the things around you (mountains, streets, perhaps pools etc.) to get fit.

    Your advice isn't so much advice as it is:
    a) missing the point of the project - keep repeating the word "perspective" and ask yourself "Why $2.25?"
    b) a barrier - gyms by their very business model (their "nature"?) are designed to extract money from you while being oversubscribed (i.e. it's in their best interest if you're a member and don't go to the gym). Like I said before - the aim of the project isn't to get "cut" but to live healthily.

    Remember - all of this is in the perspective of poverty. I don't understand what you're not seeing....