Living on $5 a day

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve left my teen years behind, and I’ve since started adulting. Yikes, I know – the dreaded beginning of a new life chapter. And while I’ve graduated from university and gotten a stable job, I’ve yet to get all my affairs in order – namely my finances. 

It was only after hearing my peers talking about BTO expenses and other scary adult purchases did I realise the need to be aware of my expenditures, and how to better manage them. So to challenge myself and see how much – or little – I really needed to go about my daily life, I challenged myself to spending only $5/day for a week

And while it takes at least 18 days to form a new habit, I was determined to take the first step in becoming a more conscious spender. Here’s how it went: 

My spending habits prior to the challenge

5 dollars a day challenge
BRB, drooling.
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

So a little background story: I won’t go as far as to say I’m completely broke, but it’s undeniable that my savings account is faring poorly thanks to my spending habits. Friends and family may know this, but I’m a picky and small eater. However, that’s not to say that I don’t spend on food – I enjoy indulging in unique cuisines, barbeque buffets, and sweet treats. 

5 dollars a day challenge
It’s always someone’s birthday – which of course, always calls for celebratory shots.
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

Hanging out with friends outside would also inevitably mean splurging on alcohol. And this is without taking into account my expenses on clothes. Carting out from online shops was almost a daily occurrence, and I was easily sucked into online clothing ads. To save you the horror of the actual amount spent on my vanity, let’s just say that I am what some may call a shopaholic

In order to revive my bank account and cut down on my extensive spending, I took on this challenge to see if I could survive on just $5/day, for a week. The budget allotted would cover transportation, food and recreational activities. 

My $5/day gameplan

Now I know sticking to $5/day sounds demanding and absurd, even for the average person with normal spending habits. But I had 3 steps and ways I was going to stick to, in order to successfully complete this challenge: 

  1. Stay at home as much as possible
  2. Rely on home cooked food for my meals

5 dollars a day challenge - pandamart haul
pandamart to tide me through the week – received my items 30 minutes after placing my order.
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

I am pretty lucky as my parents go on regular grocery runs, so my fridge was well stocked. But to ensure that I had everything I needed to get me through the possibly impossible week, I ordered a couple of necessities including breakfast cereal, eggs, and ready-to-go meals from foodpanda’s pandamart

As for step numéro trois, I turned off all notifications for my shopping apps, and muted e-mail notifications so I wouldn’t be informed of any ongoing sales. 

Surviving on $5/day

Day 1

Come day 1 of the challenge and my spirits were high. I had no plans for the weekdays as I had anticipated a busy work week, so I knew I was saving on recreational expenditure already. I had woken up late, and this meant skipping breakfast – which I would usually be hangry about, but today it meant that I didn’t have to spend a penny on my first meal. 

5 dollars a day challenge
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

For lunch, I’d decided to whip up the simplest meal to make – spaghetti. To spice it up, I tossed in a couple of cheese sausages since I was famished. These were all ingredients I already had in my fridge, so no costs incurred here. 

5 dollars a day challenge
A seemingly plain meal – but a stellar combo in my opinion.
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

When it came to dinner, I was still pretty full from my carb-filled lunch so I went with my go-to: tortilla wrap with cheese slices. I already had the cheese at home, so the only expense for this meal, and the day, was $0.72. 

Day 1 total: $0.72 (wrap)

Day 2-4

Day 2 came and it was WFO day. To make sure I was taking the most cost-effective route, I used the LTA Fare Calculator to suss out the cheapest way to get to the office.

5 dollars a day challenge
Planning our lunch the night before. Not pictured: our glorious bowl of mala.
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

Soon, it was 12.30pm and time for lunch – I had intended to pack leftovers from the day before to bring to the office, but I didn’t have any remains from lunch or dinner. This meant going out to buy lunch, but thank the stars that my birthday had just passed, and I had friends who made plans to treat me. So thanks to Ian, my lunch for the day was sponsored. 

5 dollars a day challenge
Dinner is served.
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

My dad was passing by my office at the end of the day, so I managed to hitch a ride home. And my mom was WFH for the rest of the week, which meant I could reap the rewards of her cooking – for free. This time, I’d made it a point to ask her to cook more for dinner so I could have the leftovers for lunch the next day. 

Day 2 total: $1.63 (travel)

5 dollars a day challenge
Breakfast (left) consisted of Koko Krunch cereal; lunch (right) were leftovers from dinner.
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

Day 3 was pretty much a repeat of the first day, given that I didn’t have to go to the office and had no post-work plans so I could save on transport costs. All that was left was to sort out my meals, and they were all supplemented from home. 

5 dollars a day challenge
Trying my best to capture how perfectly cooked the rice was – an ode to my culinary skills.
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

For dinner, I attempted to make egg fried rice since there was a tonne of rice left over from the night before. Full disclosure, I had tried making this once before and failed miserably. But I had my mom’s guidance this time, and I managed to whip up a yummy dish that didn’t cause any stomachaches the following day. 

Day 3 total: $0.62 (cereal) + $1.56 (eggs) = $2.18

5 dollars a day challenge
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

Soon, it was Day 4 and I had woken up early to cook breakfast before heading to the office. Yes, eggs are very standard but they’re so simple to prepare and filling, plus I had eggs from my pandamart haul. After fueling up, I took my $1.63 bus ride to the office. 

Lunch came and this was when the spendthrift in me reared its ugly head. It had been long since I had kolo mee, and I couldn’t resist – I dabaoed a bowl to have at the office. Thankfully I had remembered to pack my reusable container, so I managed to save $0.30 on the plastic takeaway box. 

At this point, I was feeling pretty guilty for spending my whole day’s budget on lunch. But things started to look up as my colleague Josiah had driven to work, and had offered to fetch me to a nearby MRT station – essentially shaving off half my journey home. Truly a blessing to have work pals that stay near you. 

5 dollars a day challenge - cp kampung fried rice
One of the many ready-to-eat meals available on pandamart.
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

Dinner was quick and easy – I heated up the CP Kampung Fried Rice that I’d gotten from my pandamart order, and called it a day. 

Day 4 total: $0.39 (egg) + $2.97 (travel) + $5 (lunch) + $3.90 (dinner) = $12.26

Day 5-7

5 dollars a day challenge - koko krunch cereal
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

Since I had gone way over budget the day before, I was set on making up for it today. But lo and behold, it was TGIF and I had plans to go out after work. So for breakfast, I decided to take the simple route – cereal and milk. I used up the leftover milk I already had, so I didn’t have to crack open my new milk carton yet.

swensens birthday meal
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

I had to think strategically now, if I was going to make my budget last. I decided to cash in my 3-course meal voucher at Swensen’s, gifted from my financial advisor for my birthday. I knew that this would make me full enough that I could settle for a light dinner before meeting my friends. But, this also meant that I had to take the bus out to the nearest mall. 

5 dollars a day challenge - instant noodles
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

And as for my dinner plans, I knew I couldn’t afford dining at the restaurant. So I planned ahead and cooked instant noodles before heading out, so I wouldn’t starve while I watched my friends chow down on their food. 

5 dollars a day challenge - dumpling darling
What I was missing out on – but my friends took pity on me and offered a couple of bites FOC.
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

5 dollars a day challenge - jigger and pony
My healthy choice of beverage, with a side of free chips.
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

Then came the drinks – there was no way I could afford a ~$30 cocktail, so I nursed my free cup of water while my friends sipped away on their alcoholic beverages. Thankfully one of my friends stayed relatively close by, and she had heard of my challenge and offered to carpool back with me as a birthday treat – saving me from the exorbitant after-midnight cab fee.

Day 5 total: $0.62 (cereal) + $3.57 (travel) = $4.19

5 dollars a day challenge
Chill dinner for a chill day.
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

Because I had gotten home late on Friday, I only woke up at 3.30pm on Saturday – and I wasn’t hungry. While skipping meals isn’t something I encourage, the silver lining was that I could save a bit of cash. Dinner came about and my mom had informed me that the asparagus we had bought previously had to be consumed soon, so I decided to cook those with porridge. 

I was still hungry after dinner so I heated up the CP Fried Beehoon for supper. No pics here as I was too famished to feed the camera first. 

Day 6 total: $3.90 (supper) 

5 dollars a day challenge - eggs
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

It was finally the last day of the challenge, and I was so ready for it to end. Keeping in theme with the home cooked meals, I made 2 eggs for brunch but decided to wrap them with a tortilla wrap mid-meal. 

5 dollars a day challenge - homecooked meal
Image credit: Joycelyn Yeow

I managed to bribe my friend over for dinner with a home cooked meal instead of eating out, so I could stay within my budget without compromising on my social life. 

Day 7 total: $1.50 (eggs and wrap) 

Cutting down on my spending for a week

Admittedly, I had little faith that I would survive this challenge and successfully complete it. But looking back, I’d say that I fared quite well for the challenge, going over my budget only on day 4. It had also been the first time in a long while since I kept track of my expenses, detailed to the last cent. 

But was it a sustainable lifestyle, you ask? Not really. During the week, I lived a pretty solitary lifestyle where I only left the house when necessary – going to the office for work and meeting friends for special occasions. I depended heavily on home cooked meals and favours from friends. 

foodpanda pandamart
Good news for all you night owls – pandamart is open 24/7. 

But I’d say that there were a couple of takeaways gained from this challenge, including the knowledge that I could go a week without excessive spending on clothes or cabbing everywhere. And platforms like foodpanda made it easy to prep and cook meals at home, saving the time and transport costs of going to the grocery stores yourself. 

For those who’ve been inspired by my home-cooking adventures, it’s a good time to stock up on groceries now as pandamart, foodpanda’s grocery delivery service, is running the following promotions: 

  • 18th-24th July: Up to 35% off and 1-for-1 deals on selected fresh produce
  • 25th-31st July: Up to 50% off and 1-for-1 deals on selected breakfast essentials

And the goodies don’t end there – there’ll be 1-for-1 deals, daily flash sales from 2pm-5pm, and up to 50% off selected items every week. These deals will be available from now till 28th August, and they apply to categories including alcohol, ice cream, snacks, and meats. 

foodpanda pandamart
You can check the exclusive pandapro perks with the filter function.
Image credit: foodpanda

And if you didn’t already know, pandapro is foodpanda’s subscription plan where you can score unlimited free delivery on food and groceries, plus exclusive discounts. And psst, foodpanda is offering a promotion for users who are interested in levelling up to pandapro – you’ll get 1 month of pandapro subscription for only $0.10

You’ll be able to unlock a slew of benefits, such as unlimited free delivery on thousands of restaurants and grocery deliveries via pandamart when you hit $15 and $29 respectively – perfect for those looking to maximise your savings. You’ll also snag 25% off on your pick-up orders, and 20% off when you dine at selected restaurants.

As the saying goes, work smarter, and not harder. Take it from me – you don’t have to starve yourself or retreat into a hermit life in order to reduce your spending. Taking advantage of deals such as the foodpanda ones will go a long way in saving you a pretty penny for future rainy days. 

Find more perks on foodpanda

This post was brought to you by foodpanda.
Cover image adapted from: Joycelyn Yeow

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