Jessica White is not your average burger in a bun. She is however, an old classmate of mine, a psych major at U of C, she’s smart and her curiosity exceeds that of a cat. For one of her classes, Jessica had to engage herself in an experience she had never been through before. Jessica chose to completely immerse herself as if she was homeless for four days straight- no money, no change of clothes, and no place to sleep. She wore only the clothes she had on. While she told me many cool stories about her experience, I wanted to focus specifically on her meal plan. I think you’ll be interested in this interview my cheap eat$ peeps, since being homeless requires a low budget diet.
Steph: Thank you for meeting with me Jessica. You are brave to completely submerge yourself as if you were homeless. Now, you previously told me that the hardest part of the whole experience was getting people to interact with you. Correct?
Jessica: Yes. Whether I was asking for food or money, or even just saying hello people gave me the dirtiest looks as if I were the most disgusting creature, or they would just completely ignore me. Mostly I was invisible.
Steph: Your homeless experience was obviously very tough. Focusing more on your experience with eating, what did you do for food or money for food?
Jessica: Well I sat outside of a few food places. McDonald’s, Potbelly, and Panera mostly. I tried to pick areas with a high traffic area of people. I wanted to completely submerge myself. I held a cup out and asked for money. Most people just walk by, but the key is eye contact. Once someone makes eye contact it’s a lot easier to draw them in. I think a lot of people were skeptical of whether I was homeless or not, because I hadn’t been living in the streets too long, so I didn’t exactly look grungy. Most people gave me loose change. One man in a nice peacoat and suit pants gave me a $5 bill. A lot of people saw me on their way in and brought out their left over food.
Steph: Did you eat the food that they gave you?
Jessica: It was very hard to at first. I had to accept the fact that I didn’t have any other options besides making money. So as long as it looked untouched, I would accept a cheeseburger or a cookie.
Steph: How often did you have to use money to buy food and specifically, how much did you make?
Jessica: It was hard because I never had very much money at all, so I had to figure out when to stop and find something cheap to eat. I made about $7 every 3 or four hours that I held the cup out. I mostly ate McDonalds. I used their dollar menu because it was the cheapeast and most filling. There were surprisingly a few hotdog stands that were well priced. Quite a few times workers gave me something extra for free like a cookie or a piece of bread.
Steph: Did you ever go hungry or feel sick?
Jessica: Honestly I wish I had done this for a week, because I never really went hungry, due to the fact that I looked nicer so people seemed to trust me more. They knew I wasn’t going to go off and buy drugs or anything.
Steph: What types of cheap eat$ would you recommend to our readers if they only had a few dollars in the freezing windy city?
Jessica: I’d say definitely fast food, but that’s obvious. If you go into grocery stores, there’s always some kind of deal on fruit, or snack items to fill you up. The places that look run down like a Billy Bob’s Rib Shack type place, are normally very cheap and surprisingly delicious, so I would recommend you keep your eyes peeled and stay open minded with those types of places.
Steph: Other than your homeless experience do you have any tips that you use on an everyday basis when you’d like to save money on food?
Jessica: Personally I like to cook at home a lot. I find that it’s much cheaper to buy groceries once a month and work with what I have, rather than eating out all the time. I also recommend that you create a budget plan for all your expenses. Ever since I did that, it’s been a lot easier to save my money, because I know exactly how much I have to spend, and how much I have to spend on whatever I want after paying the rent and the bills.
Steph: Most of our cheap eat$ peeps will probably not be going homeless anytime soon, but we thank you for sharing your eating experiences with us from your experiment, and giving some ideas on how to stay cheap and get a good meal for your buck.
Cheap Eat$ Peeps I know this isn’t the most light hearted of subjects, but many people out there today are living homeless and have to work very hard to get food. We thank Jessica for letting us interview her and giving some good tips, but please remember to help out the homeless if you are able to spare some change in light of the holiday season. Also, if any of you have some great budgeting tips, with the holidays coming up, please feel free to share, there’s never too many cheap eat$ tips to give. Leave some love Cheap Eat$ Peeps and Happy Holidays!