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Survive on Five Challenge - Niamh Mulholland's Diary

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Niamh's Diary: Day one - Total Spent £5.00


I was off work on the first day of the Survive on 5 challenge and had managed to make it until lunch time without looking at my work phone, at which time I was surprised to see a lot of activity from my colleagues who had already begun to document their journey.

Panicked, I thought back to breakfast and tried to figure out if I’d put a massive dent in my budget without even realising it. Luckily, however, I had consumed a reasonably sensible breakfast of porridge with berries and peanut butter washed down with a cup of instant coffee with some oat milk, all of which came to the grand total of 70p. I was delighted that I hadn’t ruined my day before it had begun but it was now time to turn my thoughts towards lunch and what I could have.

I trawled through the cupboards taking out a selection of items that I might be able to combine to make something tasty. However, with the amount of different ingredients I wanted to use, the cost was mounting so although frustrated and underwhelmed with the prospective of a quinoa and chickpea salad, I opted for the simplest approach. Lunch came in at £1.64 and I was nervous about the prospect of having only £2.66 left for dinner but I plodded on.

During the rest of the day I refrained from snacking and had only one more coffee (11p) but I constantly had food on my mind and wasn’t looking forward to dinner at all. When it did roll around I came up against the same problem as before, I couldn’t use all of the ingredients I wanted to create a sauce and I was getting too frustrated calculating all of the different meal options that I decided to go for a simple meal of tofu and veg, sauce free. As you can imagine this was not an enjoyable experience.

What became even more difficult was that I was now out of money and with the rest of the evening stretching out before me I had to refrain from having anymore coffee or snacks. I knew I had to change my tactics and began to think of what tomorrow would bring.

Niamh's Diary: Day 2 - Total Spent £3.10


When beginning day two I decided to learn from my mistakes as I didn’t want to be left without any food for this evening, like I had the previous one. I decided it would be a good idea then to skip breakfast and to bring my inexpensive porridge to work for lunch. Sorted!

Only problem is that it didn’t take long for me to become over hungry and during the time that I wasn’t eating I felt just as bad as the evening before. But finally lunch rolled around and I quickly consumed my porridge which to a certain extent did do the job but the mornings fasting has left me craving something sweet and convenient.

This problem continued into dinner time and I decided I wanted to have something cheap that I could have lots of and that I decided would be pasta. But I didn’t have a sauce at home and so on the way home from work I popped into a local shop to grab a pasta sauce. Then to my horror I was faced with smallish jars of pre-made sauces that were going to cost me almost £2.00 and although these jars would argue that they serve 2/4, I would later prove them wrong by consuming all of that sauce without much issue.
So I finished the day with a belly full of pasta and enough money to have a cup of coffee and a biscoff, with extra left over. But I definitely wouldn’t be repeating my food free morning tomorrow.

Niamh's Diary: Day 3 - Total Spent £4.30


Day three was when the monotony of it all really hit me. I was getting sick of saying I had porridge for breakfast but I was also keen to eat something I knew was cheap, nutritious and would keep me full. I had made some extra pasta the night before and was having it for lunch so there was very little change in what I was eating from day to day.
But I soldiered on feeling like, even though I wasn’t having the most adventurous food, that I was managing. That was until I arrived home to discover that not only had my oat milk (£1.80) ran out but I was also out of coffee (£4.00). My first thoughts were that this was a crisis. I was distraught that I couldn’t afford to have the coffee that I wanted and enjoyed and which honestly has dragged me though many a tough work week. But the more I thought about how I was feeling the more embarrassed I got, I felt ashamed of my dramatics when thinking about others who this is a lived reality for. How could I who was only challenging myself to walk in their shoes for a week get so annoyed about a luxury like my favourite coffee brand?

I felt like that for a while and I even thought about stopping the challenge because I felt like I was being insensitive rather than helping, but then I got mad. I got mad because this is a lived reality for so many because of the unfair system that we live within. This is due in large part to the rise of the cost of living and the freeze on many wages and all workers under 25 receiving national minimum wage that doesn’t even nearly reach the national living wage. I got mad because it should be within everyone’s reach to have those little luxuries that make their life a little more bearable.

It also hit me that it might be easy enough to count the cost of small items to get through the day but what about when there wasn’t extra for those bigger items that don’t get purchased every week. Where does the extra come from?

So I decided to see it through until the end.

Niamh's Diary: Day 4 - Total Spent £6.20

Finally, I caved and bought some oat milk with the extra money I had saved throughout the week but I still couldn’t bring myself to get my coffee, it was just too expensive and I didn’t want to waste money on a brand I might not like.

Nothing major happened today and I am still continuing along pretty much as I have been for the whole week. At this point I really want the challenge to be over so that I can add a little more variety and choice into what I can buy and eat.

Niamh's Diary: Day 5 – Total Spent £5.00


It’s the final day of the challenge and by far it’s the most difficult day so far. Coming to the end of a long work week it is usually on a Friday that I treat myself. It could be a takeaway or a meal out with friends or even a coffee. A friend did invite me for a coffee and I had to tell them I couldn’t afford it which left me feeling isolated, disappointed and slightly embarrassed, not that this was the first time I’ve had to tell someone that was the reason I couldn’t take part in a social activity but usually I can stretch to a coffee in the middle of the month.

But there wouldn’t be any extras this evening and this felt like a sad way to end the week.

Final Thoughts

Reflections; #surviveon5

  • I didn’t enjoy doing this challenge.
  • ​I felt that my life took on a new level of monotony – there was no joy to be had in meal times although this can be blamed in part to my own lack of planning.
  • I don’t think I could sustain my vegan diet on this budget long term – definitely a luxury to choose my own diet.
  • I missed being able to spontaneously choose what to eat – or grab something while on the road.
  • I could appreciate more how this isn’t an acceptable way for people to have to exist – we should all be able to have certain little ‘luxuries’ or ‘treats’ that make our lives a little easier or more pleasant.

I would recommend trying the challenge though because it has given me a greater appreciation of the choice that I have and has made me more motivated to try and raise awareness of the issue for those who do not enjoy the same level of choice and financial security.

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