Eating Without Money Part 2: Ordering My Free Food

Over 12,000 calories, and it didn’t cost me a dime!

Last year, I participated in the SNAP Challenge, during which I ate (rather well) for an entire week with a budget of $31.50. I actually spent only $26.01 to feed myself for a week. I got to thinking whether I could eat without spending any money at all, and in an earlier post vowed to do so. As detailed there, my plan was to do jobs using Amazon Mechanical Turk and use the earnings to buy food from Amazon. Since the earnings can be used directly for Amazon purchases, no actual money will change hands.

Groceries on Amazon are usually more expensive than in a supermarket, but in many cases, the prices are competitive. The secret is to shop around, even if it means buying some unfamiliar products. Of course, a more reasonable approach would be to buy the reasonably priced staples on Amazon, and buy other products at a local store. This strategy could actually be quite useful to stretch a grocery budget. But for purposes of my experiment, I want to acquire everything I will eat on Amazon, without using any money.

The process is even more difficult because not all items are eligible for free shipping, and it’s necessary to make a total order of over $35 to qualify for free shipping. Back in November, I came up with one shopping list. However, prices change frequently, and my final shopping list is somewhat different from what I originally planned.

After my post in November, I did earn the necessary $35 on Amazon Mechanical Turk. However, instead of using the earnings for this experiment, I instead purchased the Baofeng UV-5R and got myself a free radio. In the last week or so, I did some more work on Amazon Mechanical Turk. This was mostly surveys of 5-10 minutes each, which I did in my spare time between doing other things. Today, I had about $46 in my account and decided to order my food.

As you can see from my shopping list below, I probably have enough food to last me several days. But because the selection is much more limited than what I had during the SNAP Challenge, the diet would become very monotonous. So instead of dragging it out, I’ll eat this food for one day, and see how many leftovers I have. Also, since my kids are interested in participating, I will have plenty to share with them, without jealously hording “my” special food, as I did during the SNAP Challenge.

I placed my order today, and I should receive it sometime next week. Yes, as you can see, I don’t really have any vegetables, but I will probably survive a day without them. As noted above, a better strategy would be to use the Amazon food in connection with low-cost groceries from a local store.

Here’s the order I placed. The total was $45.45, with free shipping:


If you read what I wrote during the SNAP Challenge, you know that I’m not going to give up coffee. The Cafe La Llave espresso was fairly reasonably priced for 10 ounces. I could have saved a little bit of money by buying a smaller package of instant coffee, but this looked like a much better buy for the money. The instant lemonade was the least expensive beverage I could find, and it looks like it should be plenty for a day.


Shopping for staples was somewhat frustrating, and I could have saved quite a bit by using cash and buying small packages of things such as flour and sugar at the dollar store or even the supermarket. But the point of the experiment is to get everything from Amazon without using money. That also means that I won’t be able to buy things like milk and eggs, so whatever I buy can’t require additional ingredients. I decided that the most versatile choice would be a package of pancake mix, which requires only water. In addition to pancakes, I should be able to use it for other recipes.  I did spend quite a bit more than I would have for the same package at the supermarket.

Sweeteners also presented a problem. I looked for things like sugar, syrup, honey, jams, and jellies, but they all either cost too much or were in packages much larger than what I would need.  The least expensive item I could find was the agave nectar, which I can use as a sweetener in other recipes, and also as pancake syrup. And this 17 ounce bottle should be more than I need.

For cooking oil, I toyed with the idea of buying some Ghee (Canned Butter), which was available with free shipping. It was, however, priced a bit higher than I was willing to pay, so I settled for the butter flavored Crisco.

Main Courses

The Hormel Compleat main courses were quite reasonably priced, very similar to what they would be at the supermarket. The price shown below is for a package of six, so even if I eat two of them, I’ll have some leftover for things such as traveling, since these are handy to keep and heat up in a microwave.

I wanted some meat for both breakfast and lunch, and I was lucky to find the gift package of sausages at a very reasonable price. It also includes some crackers and mustard, which will come in handy.

As I did during  the SNAP Challenge, when the food arrives, I’ll detail my experiences here.

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