Category Archives: Eating without money

Eating Without Money Part 4: The Big Day Comes

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I recently conducted an experiment to see how well I could feed myself for a day without expending any money whatsoever.  To accomplish this, I ordered about $45 worth of food on Amazon. Rather than purchase it using money, I used earnings from Amazon Mechanical Turk.  The food arrived last week, and I chose yesterday to perform the experiment.

Even though I had more dollars to work with this time ($45, vs. $26.01), this experiment was more challenging than my experiences during the SNAP Challenge, when I had to feed myself for an entire week with a budget of $31.50.  This is because at local stores, I was able to find lower prices and, more importantly, smaller quantities of items I needed.  Fresh food was also available.

Despite these hindrances, I ate quite well yesterday.  Here’s what I had:





Since a box of pancake mix was part of my purchase, it’s only logical that I had pancakes for breakfast. I actually made them the night before, froze them, and heated them up in the toaster. I made plenty, and unlike during the SNAP Challenge, I had plenty to share. Therefore, my kids also had pancakes for breakfast. They had theirs with normal syrup and butter. In my case, I had neither. The least expensive sweetener I could find was the Agave Nectar, which was excellent, and much better than normal syrup. I had ordered this to use as a sweetener for other recipes, but for my one-day experiment, the only thing I used it for was the pancake syrup.

I had fried the pancakes in the Butter Flavor Crisco, which turned out to be the biggest surprise of this experiment. I had assumed that I could use this shortening for cooking, but it never occurred to me that it could actually be used as a butter substitute. As you can see, I decided to use a small amount in place of butter. Obviously, it wasn’t as good as real butter, but it actually passed as margarine. This is a good thing to keep in mind for emergency food storage.  The Crisco has an essentially infinite shelf life, and could be used as a substitute for butter in an emergency.  As you can see, I (and the kids) also had some of the summer sausage for breakfast.

Yes, it’s kind of weird to have lemonade for breakfast, but that was the only drink I had available. When I purchased it, it was the least expensive beverage to be found on Amazon. When I checked again today, it was still available on Amazon, but at an insanely high price for such a small package. The Cafe La Llave Espresso coffee was excellent, and only slightly more expensive than regular coffee.


DSC01144For lunch, I could have gotten by simply be eating crackers and sausage from my sausage sampler.  But I decided to try my hand at actually cooking something with my limited supply of ingredients, and made some biscuits.  Despite their odd shape, they were actually very good.  I simply mixed a cup of the  pancake mix with about a half cup of Crisco (melted in the microwave for about 45 seconds) and a small amount of water,  I baked them at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes.

That sounds like a cookie recipe, and they wound up looking like cookies.   But they tasted great and were very filling.  They turned out extremely crumbly, and I think I would have done better to use a little less shortening and a bit more water.  As you can see, I turned them into a sandwich with the sausage.

All of this, of course, I washed down with lemonade and coffee.


I ate lunch rather late, and the biscuit sandwiches were extremely filling.  For supper, I only had half of one of the Hormel Compleat dinners. (My son eagerly ate the other half.)

During the day, I also had some snacks of pancakes, sausage, and crackers from the  sausage sampler.


From what’s left over, I could repeat an identical diet for about two more days.  Some of the items (such as the Crisco) would be left over.

Was this a practical way to feed myself?  No.  I didn’t spend any actual money, but I could have used that $45 for other things.  I could have had an almost identical diet for a day for about $5 and still have leftovers.  So this is definitely not the most practical way of doing things.  But what I wanted to demonstrate was that even without any actual money changing hands, it is possible to subsist by using whatever resources are available.  In this case, the resource at hand was Amazon.

From a more practical point of view, the better course of action would have been to supplement normal groceries with staples from Amazon.  The pancake mix I bought was very expensive for a single box, but by buying larger quantities, such as this 4 pack, the price becomes much more reasonable. I’ll be making use of the remaining five  Hormel Compleat dinners, which were reasonably priced and are very convenient for a microwave lunch away from home.  By shopping around  Amazon, it would be quite possible to stretch a grocery budget by buying items with “free” money such as I was using.  It’s also possible to purchase luxury items such as the  Agave Nectar and the  premium coffee at no cost.

Eating Without Money Part 3: The Free Food Arrives

My free food, courtesy of Amazon.

My free food, courtesy of Amazon.

I’ve been rather busy the last week, and didn’t get a chance to really open it until today, but my free food arrived last week.  Tomorrow will be my day to subsist on this food and nothing else.

Mornings can be hectic, so tonight, I made a batch of pancakes and put them in the freezer.  In the morning, I can simply put them in the toaster.  I’ll also make some sausage for breakfast.

The brick of Cafe La Llave espresso coffee smells good, and I loaded the coffee maker and set the timer. I tasted the Agave Nectar, and it should work very well as pancake syrup. The taste was quite similar to honey.

The sausage sampler proved to be a good deal. The description wasn’t clear on the exact portion size, but each sausage is eight ounces, for a full pound of meat, in addition to the crackers and mustard. So I should be well set for both breakfast and lunch.

The lemonade mix proved to be quite expensive, since this package makes only two quarts. But it will easily last me the day, and was the least expensive beverage I could find. Interestingly, it did include the whisk shown on the Amazon picture.

Unlike my experience during the SNAP challenge, when my $26.01 worth of food lasted me a whole week, this experiment will last only one day.  Since I have much more than I’ll need for that time, I won’t have to jealously hoard my food as I did during the SNAP challenge, and my family will also get to experience eating without spending money.  They will be able to eat other things as well, but they’ll be able to know what my free food tastes like.  And it looks like I have plenty of free food to go around.

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.

How To Eat Without Money: Part 1

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.