Two Dollar A Day Challenge

Virginia / July 12, 2012 / by The Team

What would you do if you had to live your life, spending just two dollars a day? For most of us, it is something we are lucky enough not to experience. However, for a vast number of people across the world, it is a daily struggle to feed, clothe and house themselves on just two dollars. 

Dr Shawn Humphrey, professor of Economics at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, founded the Two Dollar A Day Challenge to encourage his students to experience, rather than simply read about, the effects of poverty. 

There are plenty of books and films about the poverty in which people live across the globe but Humphrey says that “at the end of the day, those are all really incomplete.” He decided that for him and his students to truly understand the dilemmas and hardships they were discussing in class, it was necessary for them to experience them directly. 

“We have a very incomplete approximation of what it’s like to live on $2 a day,” he says. “The Two Dollar A Day constraint is simply symbolic because at the end of the day, all you’re doing is buying food and toiletries throughout that process.”

It certainly does not come close to recreating the same conditions as those in which people live but the goal is to “try to find a way to prepare the wealthy with the right mindset to make a difference that is effective and responsible and sustainable.”

“There are multiple dimensions of poverty and we’ll just give you one little piece of that to experience,” explains Humphrey. 

While it is essentially a fundraiser in which every student raises money for each day they can live on $2 (all to be donated to a charity of the student’s choice), it teaches the participants more than they could ever learn from simple fundraising. 

“For me, it’s about taking a set period of time and stripping down all the excess and all the things that we don’t need,” says student participant, Brian Downing. He sees it as getting back to “what’s really important.”

Each student is allowed two full sets of clothes, explains Erin Kitten, also a student participant. “You’re also allowed to have a pot for boiling water because one of the things that you do is, you have to get water and boil it before you can consume it to try to imitate some of the conditions of poverty.”

Sarah Alvarez admits that “at the beginning of the week, I had no idea going into the challenge, what I could buy with $2. Never in a million years would I think that was my budget for food for a day.” With her budget, she bought herself two bananas - a pound of which cost $0.69 - and two cans of peas and carrots, which each cost $0.65. 

It might seem to some to be a redundant exercise but the effects of living on just two dollars a day are already felt by the students after just a short amount of time. Downing explains that the effects of going “from 3500 calories a day to 1200 calories a day” are soon felt as they are "trying to keep up with school work.” 

“By about day 3, people are slipping you know, people are starting to find that edge of where they’re comfortable. And I think that’s a very important part,” he says. 

While this exercise does not come close to the long-term poverty millions of people have to live through, it gives the students the chance to be much closer to that poverty than they have before. It also gives them a forum in which to think about and discuss ways they can work towards helping others. 

Kitten emphasizes that the challenge is truly effective in “the way that it opens your eyes to the challenges that are faced by those living in poverty and some of the discussing that you have about where your money should go, where your effort should go," is invaluable. 

As Alvarez says, it also provides a reminder, albeit not always a welcome one, to the other students on campus that there are difficult issues to be dealt with and thought about on a daily basis. 

“The mere fact that we’re in the middle of campus forces people to pay attention. I mean, it might agitate them a little bit to have to be reminded every day that there are students who are taking part in this activity but for at least five days, they can’t say that they didn’t know about it.”

To learn more about Two Dollar A Day Challenge, visit their website, Facebook page or Twitter feed