1. Cuisine

The $5 Challenge: How I Lived on $5 a Day for a Week and Failed Spectacularly

$5 Singapore bill
I have taken half a year of leave from work to concentrate on my PhD. No work, no salary, no money, but still must pay school fees, spend on daily necessities, and eat. I googled randomly best ways to save money when I stumbled upon Singaporeans Against Poverty (SAP). It says,

According to the Department of Statistics, 105,000 families in Singapore are earning on average $1,500 per month.  This means that life is a daily struggle for some 387,000 Singapore citizens and permanent residents. After paying utilities, schooling, housing rental or loan instalments and medicals, they are left with about $5 a day for food and transport per family member.

When I was young, my family was well-to-do, but when my dad lost his engineering position at an American firm that pulled out of Singapore, and as my brother was studying in Australia, our savings poured into his education. We were impoverished, so poor that I had to go to public toilets and drink tap water. So poor that I counted 5cents and 1cent to buy a small bowl of $1 peanut porridge to share with my jobless Ex.
when we were young

Yet amidst the penury, we made joy out of misery. That was and remains my strength–to be able to make light of my own suffering. It was those days of destitution that made me realise money is nothing; as long as I’m happy, as long as my life is full, full of love and laughter, money is just a piece of paper. On my deathbed, I will remember the people I love, friends and family I laugh with, not how much money I have. Happiness can be very simple.

That is why SAP is a cause near to my heart. That is why I started the $5 challenge. I cheated a bit by only counting food cost, and not transport fare. My two rules are (1) I have to eat at least one meal outside of home to simulate conditions of working people; and (2) to have a balanced, natural (no processed food), healthy diet.

28/7 MON.

salted egg yolk bunBreakfast
Let the hunger games begin. Bought salted egg bun from my downstairs bakery at the after-8pm sale last night: $1.

Used my Kopitiam card to get 10% discount. I asked, “How much is it now?”

The cai fan boy said, “$2.60.”

“What can I add to make it $3?”

“Not possible,” he replied. “If you add another veg, it’s gonna be $3.30.”

cai fanInstead of my usual fish, meat, and veg, I got a meat and 2 veg. $3.30-10%= $3. Very thirsty. Passed by ZTP. My body is heaty, and I need to drink herbal tea 3-4 times a week. If not, I’ll fall ill: $2.
A piece of Strepsil: $0.15

Huccalyly called, “HEYYYY! We are going to eat Korean BBQ. Wanna come?”

“I can’t. I’m on a $5 challenge.”

“So honest ah? Cannot bluff your readers? I come and fetch you now.”

“I can drive…”

“Ok, see you there.”

“Aiya, I better not. I can’t.”

“Don’t nehneh lah. You want to come or not? I hear from your voice you want to join us.” Giggles in the background.

“BYEEEEEEE,” I said.

Later, for dinner, mother stewed braised pork belly with dark soya sauce in claypot, and cut rock melon. I locked myself in my room to prevent cheating. This was not working out as well as I had hoped, and it was only the first day.

Dinner: Nil.

Money Spent: $6.15
Hunger Index: 10/10
What went wrong?: The herbal tea broke me. It was, or is, inconceivable how tea can cost 2/3 of cai fan?! Not enough protein in my diet. I required better planning.

29/7 TUE.

I could only spend $3.85 today, because of my Monday’s deficit. On Tuesdays, I am vegetarian in a feeble attempt to save the lives of animals.

12.13am. I had been drinking water the entire night, but my stomach felt like there was roadwork drilling it. Best unriped green banana ever! I didn’t know banana could taste so good. I savored each bite very slowly: $0.40

I was woken by Hunger. The sharp pang had mellowed into a dull buzz, I might be getting used to it. Nope! There went the pang again. The water was taking an eternity to boil. I hardboiled the egg because solids–comparing to sunny side-up, omelette, or half-boiled–seemed more substantial and could keep me full longer.  2 Eggs ($0.15×2) = $0.30

5 minutes after the eggs, I was starving. But I endured, and gymmed in city area. After workout, I was craving for an ice cold coke light, as my gym’s vending machine called out my name. Resisted. Ravenous by this time but everything was exorbitant in the city. Took a train back to my neighborhood, hungry like a wolf in winter.

No vegetarian stall at Kopitiam. At Kou Fu’s vegetarian stall, I usually order brown rice with 3 veg ($3.90), but not today. I stood in front of the vegetarian stall, and thought, How can vegetarian meal at Kou Fu cost more than my cai fan meal at Kopitiam on Monday? I walked out of Kou Fu, walked to Kopitiam, and ordered 3 vegetables for cai fan. The cai fan boy looked at me strangely, wondering about my food selection.

Desperation and hunger had sharpened my mind. I planned to eat half of the meal, leaving the other half for dinner. Then it RAINED. Not a common rain, the kind of storm that the torrents attacked the food court, wetting half of it. I couldn’t ta bao because I couldn’t walk home in this deluge. I had to finish the entire plate. I just had to! $2.90 at 10% discount= $2.60

hardboiled eggsDinner
55 cents left for today. 4 eggs devoured over the course of a long, long night: $0.60.

Money Spent: $3.90
Hunger Index: 9/10
What went wrong?: The WEATHER. If I could ta bao home, I could save half a packet for dinner, be full, and didn’t have to eat so many eggs. Also it was unhealthy eating 6 eggs a day but at least my protein problem on Monday was solved.

30/7 W.

Good. My budget today was up to $4.95. I could work with that… right?

12.34am. The hunger was the worst one yet, I held my stomach in a fetal position. My mouth kept salivating. I couldn’t hold on. I must eat, and immediately felt better. Banana: $0.40

3.44am. Woke up to find my hand was clenching my stomach. My mouth stank. I was so hungry. I wanted to give up the challenge. Just walk to the kitchen, Magnum and Ben&Jerry are waiting, the night whispered. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I tossed and turned, worrying what to eat tomorrow.

Woke up late. Hunger was now a way of life. “Good morning,” I texted Huccalyly.

“Your morning is so close to noon.”

“Better close than never.”

My body ached from two days of gym. I needed protein today.

Breakfast: NIL.

chicken saladLunch
Bought rotisserie chicken and romaine lettuce from supermarket. Quartered them. Chicken never tasted so good. ($5.80+$1.30)/4= $1.775

Still hungry. Banana: $0.40

Heated up lunch leftovers, and 2 eggs. I felt like if I ate another egg, I’d puke. No more eggs. $1.775+$0.30= $2.075

Money Spent: $4.65
Hunger Index: 6/10
What went right?: My body got used to hunger. I slept in late, which meant I used less energy, and needed less food. Good idea to buy from supermarket, instead of food courts–better value. But I wasn’t getting enough calories because of dearth of carbs today. A grown man needs at least 1600 calories to repair the body, I estimated I got 1000 today.  I needed to cook my own brown rice or quinoa tomorrow. I had some in storage.

31/7 Th.

Budget today: $5.30. YES!

Woke up late.

cai fanLunch
Craving for fish–which I usually eat 2-3 times a week–and bak chor mee. But fish was expensive, and bak chor mee impossible to halve and keep for dinner.

Wanted to halve my lunch to keep for dinner. But, today, it was the female server, not ah boy, and she gave too little to halve. $3.30-10%=$3

Mom bought canned herbal tea and my throat felt dry. $0.60 + $0.15 (strepils) = $0.75

Huccalyly asked to meet for dinner. I couldn’t. :(
Heated leftover rotisserie chicken and cooked half cup brown rice and spinach. $1.45 + $0.15 + $0.375 = $1.975

rotisserie chicken, brown rice, spinachUp till now, I spent $5.725, exceeding the budget a little, but still acceptable. Later, my mother bought sweet and sour pork rice for my father’s dinner. He wasn’t hungry, and asked me to eat. I didn’t want to. It sat there, and sat there, and sat there until 11.21pm, and I swallowed it in two minutes.

After that, everything happened suddenly, but also in slow motion, like I was moving underwater. I walked to the fridge and took out 2 Magnum minis (because 2 minis equal one Magnum). And then, I drank a glass of Meiji milk, and had a quarter of Li Bai’s mooncake, and Julie’s cheese sandwich biscuits. I binge-ate, I broke the bank. Sorry, I had been starving for days, I couldn’t stand the starvation anymore.

Money Spent: About $25
Hunger Index: 8/10
What went wrong?: The female server. Herbal tea. My heaty body. Constant hunger, constantly thinking of food. Seductive sweet and sour pork. Willpower, weakened by night.

1/8 F.

I need to start afresh, I’ll get back on the wagon. Budget: $5. 

fried yam cake and kueh salat nonya $1.10.

“How come there is bubble tea in your car??” I asked my sister.

“My colleague bought for me,” she said. “I don’t want it. It’s oolong honey. Do you want?”

“It’s out of my $5 budget.”

“Nobody has to know,” she tempted. I kept quiet with monsters struggling within me. “If you don’t want it,” she continued, “I’ll throw it away.”

“What? Ok, then I shall consider that I pick it up from the rubbish bin.” Cost: $0

cai fanDinner
“Who wants to grab dinner?” Huccalyly asked the third time this week.

By now, the cai fan boy knew me. He said to me kindly, “Give me your card, so I can give you a 10% discount.” He knew I was poor. $4.10-10% = $3.70

Money Spent: $4.80
Hunger Index: 4/10
What went right?: Slept in late. The binge yesterday energized me. Free bubble tea.

2/8 SAT.

This was planned long, long time ago, before I decided to take on the $5 challenge. And these days, it gets very difficult to gather friends together because we have different lives now. I couldn’t possibly cancel the appointment, and I had already rejected Huccalyly’s dinner invite thrice this week. And we were celebrating her birthday.

Money Spent: $80 (Cherry Garden dim sum) + $29 Chocolate Origin birthday cake = $109
Hunger Index: 0/10
What went wrong?: Having a social life.

3/8 SUN.

leftoversEvery weekend, I teach William swimming. I had to stop this week, because after swimming, I get ravenous and I couldn’t survive on $5. But I now more or less knew how to live with $5. Watch me do my final lap, and finish strong.

Microwaved leftovers, quarter chicken from Wed, and brown rice and spinach from Thur: $1.975 (Note: Kids, don’t try this at home. Leftovers should be kept at most for 3 days.)


cai fan

Because I had a heavy breakfast, I wasn’t that hungry, so I could halve my cai fan: $3 / 2 = $1.50

I ate the remaining cai fan at 5pm, couldn’t wait till 7. $1.50

Money Spent: $4.975
Hunger Index: 3/10
What went right?: Two tricks I’d learnt surviving on $5 were: start with a heavy breakfast (to give an illusion you’re full throughout the day), and pick spicy food (because it tricks your stomach into thinking it’s full). There was sliced chilli padi in cai fan. Having the dim sum buffet helped too. 

What I Learnt From the $5 Challenge

At the beginning, I set out to test two questions: (1) Is it possible to live $5 a day?, and (2) is it possible to eat healthily with $5 a day?

In short, the answers are yes, and no respectively. You can spend $5 a day if you eat only 2 meals without fruits. But it is impossible to eat healthily on $5. Everything extraneous is cut away, and although in some ways the abstinance is beneficial, like cutting off sugared drinks, more often than not it is unhealthy.

Unhealthy because there is no variety. The only balanced meal with protein, fibre, carbs in a food court or hawker that is about $3 is cai fan. Chicken rice? No fibre. Western food and nasi padang? Overbudget. Bak chor mee, Hokkien mee, carrot cake? Little proteins and fibre. But even with cai fan, you can at most pick 2 veg and a meat. The meat MUST always be pork or chicken. No beef or fish, they will break the budget. A healthy balanced diet must consists of a variety of food. But there are many types of food that $5 a day just cannot buy.

A recent survey states that wealthy people eat healthier than poor people. Of course! Because rich people can afford to buy wild caught salmon, organic quinoa, freshly baked bread, seasonal or even non-seasonal fruits, and free range chicken. With $5 a day, poor people just don’t have that luxury of buying fresh food. The cheapest food are always the processed food, like packaged bread with tons of preservatives, potato chips, chocolates, baked beans, hotdog, nuggets, etc. These are trash, full of carcinogens, but they fill the stomach, they are affordable. They can be prepared quickly after a long, manual day of labor.

It is impossible to eat healthily on $5 a day but the worse thing, a side effort that I hadn’t anticipated, was the psychological trauma. Firstly, you must have ZERO social life, you cannot go out with friends. Humans are social animals, and the complete isolation from society will drive even the most misanthropic person insane. You see many people talking to themselves, don’t you?

Secondly, you must be a robot, you must have ZERO craving. Want a magnum or coke on a hot day? A magnum costs $4.20, so eat air with your remaining $0.80. Note my complete and embarrassing meltdown on Thursday.

Lastly and most importantly, it is the constant worrying. This nearly drove me mad. Every waking moment, I planned what I should eat next. The thought of poverty occupied my entire existence that I could not think about anything else. I couldn’t sleep well at night, I tossed and turned, I worried.

I’m relieved to end the $5 challenge. But for the 387,000 Singaporeans, life is a constant struggle for them. So if you know any friends like that, help them out. Treat them to a meal now and then.

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Categories: 1. Cuisine

65 replies »

  1. Hi Nathaniel! I applaud you for doing this challenge and I myself did try it out for a few days. However, I did manage to eat a relatively healthier diet. For me, I instead did some grocery shopping and cooked and packed my meals(a bit similar to the rotisserie chicken you had) personally I found this worked easier and I could withdraw myself from constantly seeing food, like in the food court or ppl beside me eating which also worsens the hunger


    • Thanks for the support. I’m glad you did this too. You can appreciate how tough it is. You’re definitely right. Cooking at home can save costs. My logic is many working people don’t have time to cook, and you know how tiring it is after work to cook. So i want to stipulate the conditions as close as possible.


  2. So how come the only thing you cook is eggs? Surely a $4 pack of pork belly or chicken from NTUC can go a long way on such a budget. Just chuck in oven or pan for 20 minutes and voila.

    Also lots of local greens are cheap as chips and so easy to cook in wok or steamer. Piece of cake. Rice also very easy to cook… Brown rice is very nutritious. Even better is oats or barley, and you get free tea with the latter.

    Fruit from a can is cheap and still retains nutrients.

    So please consider cooking at home next time and invite friends around.


    • Ah… I just explained why i didn’t cook to the previous comment. My thinking is many working people don’t have time or energy to cook at the end of the day. And so all my meals should be store-bought. Cooking healthy food is really troublesome, shopping, chopping, dicing, washing, marinating, cleaning the pan, pot, dishes, mopping the floor. People after a 12-hour labor-intensive shift just don’t have the energy.


  3. Congrats on trying this. I had the intention to try at some point but never went ahead with it. It might be easier with cooking at home (and the fact that I eat mostly veggie so am used to getting non animal protein) but when you work that means taking food in or indeed looking for economy rice. Very very hard and I really applaud you for using your popularity to make this point.


  4. Hi,

    Frankly, i do not agree with you that you are unable to spend less than $5 a day (on food). because personally, i am able to do that, by not eating out and spending some time planning my meals and cooking them. This way, it makes it much easier to eat healthy and cheap food. You dont need to starve in order to spend less. all you need is ample planning.



      • I do work 12 hour shifts too, sometimes even longer, and i still do my own cooking. One pot meals makes my life so much simpler and easier. I marinate in plastic bags and cook everything in one bowl, and then, eat directly from that said bowl. Steaming food such as chicken/fish/meat/eggs/tofu. Nutritious, healthy and tasty yet cheap at the same time. A tip is to prepare meals for one week at a go.


  5. Some advice. the main reason for failure other than social life is a stomach calling out to you. some knowledge and education will go a long way. the main reason for the hunger is probably due to u being a growing person doing gymming. i wonder if you cut down on carbs and only eat more carbs on gym days will help. carbs are the stuff that make you more hungry. check out this twins who did different things one go high fat low carbs the other one high carbs low fat. the one doing low carbs can never finish his food the other one cannot stop eating. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2546975/One-twin-gave-sugar-gave-fat-Their-experiment-change-YOUR-life.html


  6. I will be the first to admit that I can’t do that. I tracked my expenses a few years ago… marjority of it went to food (compared to shopping, transport, entertainment)..


  7. As someone who used to only spend $1.70 a week, I can honestly say I know the pain and the health struggles. I used to buy a packet of Maggie brand curry instant noodles every week and only from the mama stall near my ex’es since they had an ongoing promotion that had 7 packets of noodles instead of the usual 5 (it used to only cost $1.70. Damn inflation!). I skip breakfast, and had a pack of instant noodles everyday at lunch. I made my noodles using a container and hot water. I occationally had to use the microwave in the office if the water isn’t hot enough to soften my noodles. I skip dinner. I had hair fall problems shortly after. I picked up smoking since smoking removed the hunger and I could get free cigarettes from others. My health depreciated. But on the positive side I lost 10kg. Lol.

    However it is not entirely impossible to lead a health(ier) lifestyle on a budget. When I started to get more money, I cooked. I bought food from market and supermarkets. Meat, vege, rice, bread and even fruits if you want. Plan weekly or monthly. Say we eat a normal meal of rice, meat, vege and fruit daily. Chicken cost around $2.50 for 6 fillets. Vege costs around $1.50 for a big bunch and the cheapest rice you can find cost about $1.00 per kg (bigger packs are cheaper and only buy on sale). Say we eat 1kg of rice, 2 packs of chicken and 3 packs of vege every week. Each lunch or dinner meal would cost around $0.75. This is of cos according to my portion size. If you eat more, double it. It will still cost $1.50 per meal. Way within budget. Fruits are not that expensive too. So long as not individually bought from fruit stalls. 1 bunch of banana $2 (can be used as meal replacements too!), 4 – 5 apples, oranges, pears, and others all at around $2. Eat 1 per day and it would add around $0.40. Eat bread for breakfast (can be used as snacks and food substitute too). $1.15 for a huge loaf of white bread and $1.60 for huge loaf of wholemeal bread. House brand of course. Get eggs to go with bread. Spurge a little. 2 eggs per day, which is around $0.40 (can be cheaper if bought in trays). A loaf of bread and 2 eggs will add up to around $0.60 per day.

    Breakfast: $0.60.
    Lunch: $0.75.
    Dinner: $0.75.
    Fruits: $0.40.

    Total: $2.50 a day.

    It is possible. Just (very) troublesome since the cooking will take quite a bit of time. I cook on weekends and store the food in the fridge or freezer till I want to eat it. Much to my mother’s dismay. She do not approve of overnight food.


  8. Actually a lot of production workers do cook and bring their food. it’s also cheaper if you cook for your family’s lunch (for them to tabao to work) – economy of scale. I found it is a lot cheaper to cook, especially if you buy from the wet market instead of the supermarket.

    Otherwise, if your company has a canteen / cafeteria (most factories do), it is usually partially subsidised.

    The growing cost of food is a real issue – linked to complicated problems like global warming, wage inflation, etc. In Singapore, as we do not have unions, it is not mandatory for the companies to provide food FOC or at a heavily subsidised rate. Hence, many do also to prevent their staff from leaving the company at lunch time (to ensure that they start work on time), especially if the factory is in Tuas. A lot of foodservice providers also give healthier options (and some started working with HPB).

    I used to work in the restaurant industry and usually spent about $30 a week (including cigarettes) because I had free lunch, and sometimes leftovers for dinner / supper. Now, it IS difficult but as I have a reasonable subsidy from my company’s cafeteria, I spend about $2 for lunch (fruits + cai png).

    I should try this again! :)


  9. Just a food for thought, in case you are not aware, I can bet that there are AT LEAST 100 working moms in Singapore alone who finish work at 5-6pm then go back to cook for the WHOLE family, do the dishes, laundry, sweep and mop the floor then go to sleep. What is your excuses, being someone younger having so little energy as compared to someone else mom, who is twice thrice your age??

    My suggestion to you is to go grocery shopping once a week and do the cooking for the whole week the same day, then prep it into individual microwave safe disposable containers so that way you just have to microwave your food at the end of the day and throw the container away. This eliminate your excuse of working people having no time or energy to cook and save the trouble of washing the dishes at the end of the day.

    Of course, you can still give the excuse of lazy to cook, very troublesome to cook, how to plan, don’t know how to cook, no time to go grocery shopping, bla bla bla…. It all boils down to how determine are you at achieving what you set out to accomplish.

    As the saying goes, if it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.


  10. Preparing your own food would have been cheaper. Cai fun is the worse.
    Just the other day at the wet market, I bought 3 pieces of chicken breast for $1.50. Throw in some greens for $2, cook the chicken, mix it all up and you’ll have 2 meals of salad with chicken breast.
    You don’t even have to put expensive dressing. Drizzle some cheap fish sauce and that’s it, $3.50 for 2 meals. And it really isn’t hard work.
    Go order that from a salad bar and you get charged $15 for a salad with a sad looking chicken piece.


  11. No offence, but this is rather silly. Why so stubbornly spend money on ready-made processed goods? Why pay 1 dollar for a bun, when you can have a whole loaf of bread for 1.15! And rather than have a crappy bun, you could have eaten a wholemeal and enriched bread. And a banana for 0.40 ? Where did you buy it? That’s just mad! A bunch of 7-8 bananas at Fair Price will set you back maybe 1.5 SGD and you can eat to your hearts content.

    You whine about lack of protein and heavily spend on animal products, that is not a smart move – cost or health wise. If you buy the bananas and eat them all, in example for breakfast, that will already give you 9 grams of protein, that is almost 20-30% of your daily need. A cup of white rice can give you another 5 grams, and if you skip meat you will have “caloric allowance” to eat more than one cup.

    And all time you insist to eat out, and even if you don’t, you buy ready-made chicken (fail!) – it would not kill you to cook some rice/pasta/lentils and stir fry some veg. Working people often bring lunch to workplace too, so the assumption that you HAVE to eat out every single day does not make sense IMO.

    You say poor people can’t eat healthy – BULLSHIT. Cook your own stuff, stock up on healthy lentils and legumes (those are pretty affordable even in organic versions, as long as you buy the dry packed form and cook yourself), go for veggies like zucchini, carrots, potatoes (all cheap and keep well) and the excellent protein source that is broccoli and cauliflower. And mushrooms! Cheap, filling and excellent for health. Eat lots of cheap fruits like bananas an apples (and for goodness sake, buy them in bulk! even Fair Price has pretty decent deals on fruits!). Have the occasional piece of tofu now and then. If unsure if you are getting enough nutrition, use Cronometer app or website and track.

    You have not failed at the challenge, because it feels like you never truly wanted to succeed. In my eyes you only failed one thing – to portray yourself as a martyr, and it feels like that was your only goal.


  12. Really glad that people like you took time to experience and understand those that are less privileged. I used to take home a little over three thousand dollars a month. i was contented for a 22 year old back then. things started going downhill after my father had to battle cancer in year 2013. i had to change jobs to take care of him and put food on the table as i was the sole breadwinner. The hours that i had to commit for work minus those that i had to use to take care of him for, i couldn’t earn what i used to. from a no budget brat to having a $5 to nothing budget a day, things certainly took a toll and i was even under depression for a certain period of time. slowly, i grew used to it and learnt to accept and adapt to it. Previously I was the kinda guy that will not choose a kopitiam (even air-conditioned ones) if there were better but more expensive choices out there. not because that i’m snobbish and look down on anything or anyone, but because i feel that i deserve the right to have better choices if i can afford it. didn’t know the pains of being the less privileged nor the feelings of those that has budgets or limitations. I used to urge my buddies to join me for extravagant activities. never sparing a thought for how they felt whenever they rejected me because they couldn’t instead of wouldn’t. Years passed and as i looked back now, I regretted deeply for treating money like dirt and if given a second chance, I would’ve used the money for better causes. the total income for my household right now is less than $1500 as I’m the only one working and as what the article points to, most of the time people like us will just go to bed with either a half filled or empty stomach. It’s really tough as Singapore’s costs of living is so high. Simple necessities like transport and food are already slowly smothering those that are already earning so little let alone medication and other household bills. As the old saying in Singapore goes, you can afford to be poor but not sick in this country.


  13. Have you heard of Intermittent Fasting? You can save money by skipping breakfast and go straight to dinner. Morning after you wake up.

    Down 2 cups of water. Free
    Brew your own coffee power. Mixed 1 tablespoon of Kerrygold Butter or Anchor. NTUC have it. $6 divide into 14 days. Nescafe classic $3 divide in 30 days.
    Do not eat until 2 to 4pm.
    Dinner go big on rice, potatoes and vegetables. You pack high carbs and high vegs. Balance them out throughout the week with protein and fats.

    You not only get to slim down. You save alot on your wallet.
    I learn this from Bulletproof executive. Cheap and good and healthy.

    ps. Why it works. You body is meant to burn fat. By putting on carbs throughout the day. You body will create insulin to convert carbs to fat. That means instead of using carbs to use as energy for your daily activities. It store fats and burn sugar. Try it for 14 days. I lost 8 kg in under 2 months. I started in late Oct. 104kg. Now Jan is 94kg.


  14. Great effort. Your effort is really admirable.
    But I miss out something. You mention $5 is for food and transport. A $2 transport fee from home to work and back would have put you in the negative. You might want to rethink if it’s possible.


  15. Hi there,

    It is more stressful to have less money because it requires a person to spend a lot of time to evaluate and arrive at the best choices. I want to correct the misunderstanding that having no money means the poor buy cheap trashy food. It is usually when the mind is over taxed and someone picks something trashy and tasty for self soothing, like chips, icecream etc. You may want to differentiate planning ahead from worrying. Planning ahead means checking out and evaluating options it it avoids anxiety and worry.

    I want to put things in another light for people who actually need tips how to survive on a small sum.

    As a few persons mentioned, if someone has to live on very little that means, not eating out at all. No snacks, no coffee/drinks. Eat lots of vegetables and be judicious about eating fruits. Sugar is expensive and leads to additional sugar cravings. Cutting out sugar helps to manage those cravings. The cheapest protein is chicken, eggs and tofu. Drink only water. Eating the same meal for a week meaning, eating four different meal types a month is considered sufficient variety for the body.

    I also want to correct the idea that social life always means being a consumerist. There are no cost options available eg, walks, library. The other alternative is to consider being entertained using the things you already paid for, eg, internet. Additionally, it is perfectly fine to accept free things or purchase only second hand items for use.

    Consider supplementing income. Evaluate if the job is paying reasonable rates if the hours are too long. Evaluate if taking a lower paying job with lesser hours could allow a second job with greater income. An active evaluation of income options helps to put a person in a positive mindset.

    For all those who need assistance, also explore social welfare to check for qualifications.


  16. I think it’s wonderful you’re trying this out. It’s not easy but definitely possible. Ease into it in a couple of weeks. It also depends on how much you really need to do this.

    My personal survival tips:
    1. Drink water before every meal
    2. Only drink tap water from your new best friend, a water bottle.
    3. Avoid herbal teas, strepsils & meds. Your body would adjust in time & you won’t fall ill.
    3. Eat only veggies at the caifan stall (as you did on the 2nd day). Unless a vegetarian diet really won’t do for you.
    4. Bananas and apples are great (for an entire meal). Look for specials at the markets.
    5. Be careful with snacks like carrot cake and buns. They might not fill you up and you might end up spending more.
    6. Desserts are useless unless as an entire meal.
    7. Cheap biscuits (one at a time) and yoghurt can help curb hunger if really needed.
    7. Carry a poncho or umbrella (you can pick some faulty but usable ones at trash cans) so you can ta bao your food. Half for lunch is a good strategy. I sometimes eat lunch as late as possible so I can eat less for dinner.
    8. Don’t do strenuous activities when you’re only beginning to eat less. Start those again when your body has adjusted.
    9. Learn to ignore your cravings. Think “we are very privileged to even have preferences.”
    10. Check your low bank account balance once in a while to remind yourself constantly why you can’t spend (it can be depressing).
    11. Eat slowly & purposefully.
    12. Never waste any food, even garnishes that you don’t like.
    13. Meet friends before or after meals. Or else make new friends.

    I was much more extreme and at one point, I trained my body to run on only $2 biscuits (lasted me 3 days) and tap water. I started eating a little better when I fell while trying to sit down. The lack of nutrition affected my ability to judge distances.

    Oh, and do walk as much as you can and plan each journey with mrt & bus transfers (you have 45 mins between each transfer before it’s considered a new trip, and you can’t take the train twice in that journey, or it will be a new trip too) to keep it to about $2 max.

    Some Buddhist temples and Catholic churches offer free meals (I didn’t try those) to anyone in need, regardless of faith.


  17. Some 3-4 years ago I was living months on months with $250-300 a month all included, almost no transport (i live close enough to walk to work), for eating, telco, etc. My target was <$7 a day for food, have a day job, still try to cook sometimes (3-5 times a week, noodles, pancakes, etc). it was possible to maintain for a few years (3-4 years), not just a week or two.

    I went out sometimes and spent maybe $20+, but for a few days after that I (had to) punished myself and had to make do with say $4-5, still possible. I guess everything is possible when you absolutely have to.

    Probably can still do it in 2015, however it is somewhat affected by people around you, if you have group of friends who have budget mindset, surely you can give each other pointers on where to buy food and groceries on the cheap.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I work normal office hours (9am-8pm) and I cook dinner for me and my husband daily. Not to save , but because it tastes better and is healthier. You should try that, then you will realize how much of the price you pay for food outside isn’t really food costs, but rent, labour, packaging etc.

    By the way, I’m 27 and comfortably middle class…cooking can be enjoyable and need not be seen in as a last resort to save. There are so many ways to do it efficiently – slow cookers, thermal cookers etc.


  19. The only way to survive on $5 is to accept freebies. So not directly accepting your sister’s milk tea in the car is kind of a head-scratcher there. Never too proud to beg, man

    1. I cycle commute and self-sufficient in minor fixing so after the initial purchase of the bike, transportation is free
    2. Out of NS I got into really low-paying jobs (think $5/hr), so living on cup noodles and bread is not unusual to me. Unhealthy I know, but with very little money you don’t have a choice in the matter. 10 years later I still have a loaf of bread and honey at my desk to curb my hunger if I don’t want to eat a whole meal.
    3. Since I’m muslim, fasting is fine. Other people have fasted for days living on only water. You just need to do your activities in moderation
    4. Since we’re all blessed with clean water from taps (and hopefully food-heating facilities at work), oats is another thing you could’ve lived off of for awhile.

    When you have nothing you’ll want to make full use of your environment, and you will definitely have to make a lot of sacrifices.

    Unless you wanna spend evenings fishing at Bedok Jetty, I don’t think living healthily is top priority to people who live on $5 a day. Though I do think some smart ones do fish….


  20. Well, I think it really depends on your location. The hawker centre near my house sells cai fan (3 veg) for $2.50 I can buy 2 packets of that like off that.
    Those aircon hawker stalls are all over-priced, meant to serve the office crowd that can actually afford those.
    I prefer my hawker centre to be non-air conditioned and have cheap food.
    Takeaway is always an option if I don’t wanna eat in a stuffy hawker centre.


  21. Well, I think it really depends on your location. The hawker centre near my house sells cai fan (3 veg) for $2.50 I can buy 2 packets of that like that and it pretty much settles all my meals, $5 exactly.
    If not, you can have 2 veg and 1 meat for 3 dollars. Just increase to $6 and it should be enough.
    Those aircon hawker stalls are all over-priced, meant to serve the office crowd that can actually afford those.
    I prefer my hawker centre to be non-air conditioned and have cheap food.
    Takeaway is always an option if I don’t wanna eat in a stuffy hawker centre.
    Too many people over-eat.


  22. Guess to put certain things into perspective, some planning, cooking and assuming you get your salary on a lump sum (and monthly basis) will help reduce your food cost per day. But say if you’re living from hand-to-mouth (or paid) on a daily basis or your monthly wage is really low, then $5 is truly a challenge. And it hasn’t include travelling costs and other essential necessities that one needs. And we haven’t even touched about social life! (imagine most of your friends grew up mostly at least slightly lower to middle-class. They may understand your situation over time but how long before they disappear from your circle?!) There are also those who may have to set aside money for family expenses that can’t be skimped e.g. medical treatments.

    For those who mentioned about moms being able to cook after work and preparing food for the week, I agree it’s do-able and it’s assuming you’re earning an income and so is your spouse. What happens if your spouse for some reason is not (or can’t) working, you have a growing kid and the family depends on that single income? Is $5 a day still do-able within healthy means? (I’m excluding social assistance to make it a fair scenario.)

    Earning that little on a daily or monthly basis may be hard to find in our country these days but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. This exercise is definitely do-able but definitely detrimental to another aspect of your life. Definitely a situation that we have to admit and can’t run away from.


  23. Come across this when I am planning/ review on my budget meal. I always stick to $250 / mth budget. One thing is true that the poor spend more if they do not have a proper place to cook, and store food or a credit card on saving on the grocery. e.g my mum ( always cash no card person) go for quality could be expensive. I go in value and price e.g the same tofu but the cheapest.

    I am blessed with a proper kitchen now. I used to live in a rental flat and try to live on $2/ meal budget outside not cooking. Is very tough.

    I usually spend $5 or less. As my grocery bill is around $15 to $25 per week for a person. That save me a lot if I have social life on once a month on restaurant I could have budget to spend.

    Usually I eat all my meal at home or lunch box for work. Even on weekends also eating at home usually.

    I always meal prep on 1 day for the 5 work days lunch. Frozen meals. It goes very long way. I ensure I had all the nutritions covered too. Don’t feel hungry easy. And I eat 1 or 2 meal per Day.

    If you able to cook yourself, and willing to try this challenge again

    I have the grocery list below

    Mix veg,
    Brown Rice,Yellow Millet, black beans, canned chickpeas, Pearl Barley ( self mixed rice)
    Fish, chicken, tofu
    Bread/ bun
    Fresh noodles
    —- this list is long but usually not more than $5 / items or per kg

    Try on frozen items i/o fresh
    Calculate the value in per kg/ ml/ g to ensure you have the best value
    Try shop on the value shop some outlet or items are lot cheaper than supermarket

    Nonfat yogurt

    or popcorn( self make it i/o ready to eat)

    Miso soup ( not sure diaso or donki which sell the cheapest in box but the instant pack of 12 must go to donki as it only $1.90)
    – salt, pepper, wine
    -onion ginger garlic

    Always buy reduced price fruits and vegetables e.g 6s Apple only $1.50

    Always drink plain water 1.5 to 2


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