During the SNAP Challenge, I ate very well for a full week with a budget of $31.50. In fact, I finished the week about $5 under budget and with food left over. I decided to take the challenge to another level: Is it possible to eat without spending any money? I’ve decided to give this a try. I won’t do this challenge for an entire week, but I plan to do it for a full day, and expect to have food left over.
There are probably other ways of accomplishing this goal, but since I have internet access, the best way I can think of to do it is to earn the money online, and then purchase the food online using with my earnings. Obviously, I won’t be able to do complete the entire project in one day, since it will take some time for the food to arrive.
Amazon seems like the most logical place to buy my food for this experiment, for two reasons. First of all, even though the prices are higher than other places, many items are available with free shipping, as long as the total order is over $35.
Secondly, I can make Amazon purchases with funds earned from Amazon Mechanical Turk. I explained Amazon Mechanical Turk in an earlier post. It’s a site that allows internet users to perform relatively menial tasks and get paid. Some very savvy users occasionally earn as much as $100 per day. I probably won’t be this successful, but I should be able to earn $35 in about a day. (My website also contains other methods of earning money online.) This money is generally available for Amazon purchases within a day or two. Therefore, I should be able to place my food order shortly after the experiment begins.
I should note that to use either Amazon or Mechanical Turk, I believe that you need to have a credit card or bank account (although I believe there are some workarounds, such as buying a prepaid debit card). You might need to have a bank account, but you do not need to have money in that account, since you can make a purchase solely with Mechanical Turk earnings. Therefore, it is quite possible to eat without money, which is what I intend to do. I will document my experiences in earning the money, in placing my order, and finally in eating the food.
Planning my diet will be somewhat challenging, because Amazon is not a particularly thrifty place to buy groceries. Some items are very much more expensive than they would be at the supermarket. Almost all items are at least somewhat more expensive than they would be at the supermarket. And obviously, fresh foods are not available. There’s really no way that I can get a quart of milk or a dozen eggs. Quarts of shelf-stable milk or even powdered milk and eggs are available, but the prices are too high. The self-rising flour that helped me so much during the SNAP Challenge is available at a reasonable price, but the sugar is prohibitively expensive.
Therefore, I won’t have a lot of variety, but I have settled on a shopping list something like the following. All of these items cost more than they would at the supermarket, but they are not significantly more expensive. Prices change from day to day, and I’ll have to adjust my menu when I finally get around to ordering. But for my daily supply of food, I’ll buy something along the following lines:
As of today, the total price for these six items is just over $40. Prices change on a regular basis, so by the time I finally place my order, it might be quite different. All of these items offer free shipping, as long as I’m over the $35 threshold.
These items will provide a somewhat adequate diet for one day. I’ll actually have much more of most of these items than I need. Obviously, the lack of variety would grow very tiring after a day, but it would be enough to sustain life for multiple days. After my one day, I’ll determine how much food I have left over, and how long it would last me.
Since milk and eggs won’t be available, I decided to use the Pancake Mix, since I can use it by adding only water. Any kind of butter or margarine seemed to be out of my budget. I was able to find ghee, which is essentially canned butter. While intriguing, it did seem to be out of my price range, and I’ll probably go with the Crisco instead. I’d prefer to smother the pancakes with butter, but I have some ideas of how I can put the Crisco to use. Finding a sweetener proved very difficult. Sugar, honey, syrup, and even jams and jellies were all prohibitively expensive. But since the Tang is mostly sugar, I think I’ll be able to get by with that.
For supper, I’ll get by with something like one of the Hormel Compleats dinners. They’re fairly reasonably priced for packages of six. I don’t normally eat such things, but one or two of them will make a good lunch or supper, and these do come in handy for quick lunches, traveling, etc., so the leftovers won’t go to waste. And since they contain token amounts of vegetables, I’ll be able to say somewhat truthfully that I will be eating a balanced diet for my one day experiment.
If you followed my posts during the SNAP Challenge, you’ll know that I’m not willing to give up my coffee. Fortunately, the Instant coffee I found is about the best bargain on Amazon, and is priced about the same as what I would find at a local supermarket.
To buy all of this, I’ll need to earn about $40. Based on my experience with Mechanical Turk, almost all of the money will be available within about a day after earning it, with a small amount trickling in a bit later. While I think it would be possible to earn all of the money in one setting, I’ll probably break it up over a few days. First of all, most of the jobs are rather menial, and my attention span isn’t suited to doing that sort of thing for long periods (and I have other things to do). Secondly, even though there are thousands of jobs available, I do notice that after I’ve done it for a while, I’ve picked through many of the best ones, and it’s often best to wait until the next day for better ones to show up again.
I had a spare half hour this morning, and got a head start on the project by doing four surveys, which netted me a total of $1.55 in exactly a half hour. That seems to be about the same amount per hour I earned in my earlier Mturk expriment. Therefore, it seems like I have about 12.4 hours left to go to earn the money to buy my food.
Obviously, it would not be a sustainable proposition for a person to work 12.9 hours, simply to earn enough money for the food for one day, which is what I am doing. However, I have no intention of eating all of my pancake mix, Crisco, and Tang all in one day. I’ll have plenty of leftovers, and if necessary, I would be able to eat the exact same diet the second day. While that would sustain life, it’s not a particularly appetizing idea. But what I think I will discover is that by using this system on a regular basis, it would be possible to supplement a diet with “free” food from Amazon. Since one can order different items each time, after a while, this “free” food would include a large variety. But as with any experiment, I won’t know until I give it a try, which is why I’m doing this.