The extreme budgeting videos are booming on TikTok. But poverty campaigners have concerns about the Gen Z trend
People on TikTok are challenging themselves to live on £1 a day. But is that possible? Image: @beckysbazaar
Toba Courage was sitting on a train home from work when he had an unexpected bill come in that demolished most of his salary. He had £40 left in his bank account.
“I was like: ‘Flipping heck’,” the online star, better known as The Hack, says now. “I’m literally on the DLR on the way home calculating how much I have left to spend for the rest of the month. It came down to £1.30 a day. And then I thought, why not film it?”
It’s a trend booming on TikTok in the cost of living crisis. Young people are asking: can you live off £1 a day? With food prices soaring and inflation hitting yet another 40-year high, a pound coin can barely stretch far.
According to the Minimum Income Calculator, a single young person with no kids spends around £391.98 a week if they have a so-called decent standard of living. That works out at around £56 a day and includes rent and bills. For just food, it’s slightly over £9 a day.
Long gone are the days when a pound would bag you a pint of milk, an apple, possibly a couple of Freddos and maybe even a knock-off pot noodle. Instead, millions of people across the country are struggling to afford their grocery shop every week.
New research from the Food Foundation found 9.7 million people have gone without food over the last month because they couldn’t afford it. The charity’s senior business and investment engagement manager Rebecca Tobi says: “For many people it is just not possible to budget their way out of price rises and the squeeze on incomes.”
But as the cost of living rises, Gen Z and TikTok scrollers are looking to spend less on essentials (a lot less). This money-saving challenge is one of many savvy TikTok trends that have peaked in recent weeks such as ‘cash-stuffing’, DIY tips to keep gas prices down and tours of tiny-apartments where the rent is extortionate.
“Everything is literally going up,” Courage says. “I’m going to have to be making a lot more money to average it all out and be able to survive in this country. It’s hitting everyone.”
Courage now has a following of over 800,000 people across his social media channels. He was one of the first YouTubers to create a £1 a day challenge video four years ago – the trend boomed at the time, picked up by some of the world’s most followed influencers, and now it seems it’s having a new lease of life as the cost of living crisis batters the country.
“The best way I can describe the content is the urban Bear Grylls,” Courage says. “Bear Grylls survives in the wilderness. I do it in civilisation and I find ways to survive and stretch the pound.”
It’s a simple idea. The creator goes about their day with nothing to spend but a pound, usually just on food. But the challenge has received a fair amount of backlash over the years with people accusing influencers of making entertainment out of a struggle that is a bitter reality for families living in poverty.
“While ‘eat for less’ challenges can be a good way for people to try new things and are often well-meaning, for many people every day is an ‘eat for less’ or even a ‘don’t eat at all’ challenge,” Tobi says.
“Cheaper foods often tend to be the more energy dense and less nutritious ones. We need structural changes that make healthier foods available and, crucially, affordable for everyone, not endless food budgeting advice or online challenges.”
In 2018 YouTube vlogger Alfie Deyes faced backlash when he made a ‘Living off £1 in 24 hours’ video which saw him complain about drinking tap water, bag a box of free Krispy Kremes when the staff recognised him, and buy menial items like a beard comb, a game and earrings, all while living in a £1.7m mansion. He was accused of being “tone deaf”.
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And in 2020, Aldi sparked criticism when they challenged social media influencer Natalie Lee to feed herself, her husband, and their two kids for seven days with only £25. They called it the Poorest Day Challenge. Commenters accused the influencer of “playing at being poor” for a week, before going back to a life of relative luxury.
Sabine Goodwin, the coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, says: “Trying to eat for £1 or less is a grinding and increasingly more frequent reality for people up and down the country.
“Far from being trivialised, this state of affairs must be challenged from every angle. Adequate and nutritious food should be affordable and a choice for everyone in our society.”
But the influencers say there is a sensitive way to take part in the challenge that could actually help people. Courage set out to do the challenge for himself and help him save money at a time when he really needed to cash in all he could get.
He gives helpful tips in his videos – such as going to supermarkets at the end of the day when the prices drop, going to community fridges and ‘pay what you can’ cafes. “It definitely takes a lot of research,” he says, “and finding the resources around you.”
TikTok creator Becky Chorlton was well aware of the controversy surrounding the challenge when she set out to make her video. The 24-year-old raised over £100 for the Hunger Project, a charity which runs multiple challenges in which people ‘live below the line’ to raise awareness about poverty-prevention and fundraise.
Chorlton admits the response has been mixed: “A few people were extremely negative and gave quite a bit of hate. They were saying things like: ‘You’re pretending to be poor for a challenge or a trend.’ I totally understand that.
“But it’s all about raising awareness and providing an educational value as part of the video. It’s not about getting views and followers. I think we share good tips, which should hopefully help a lot of people.”
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Chorlton only budgeted for food, adding disclaimers in her video that said it would be “impossible” to live off £1 a day. She didn’t include petrol prices to get to the shops or money for rent and bills, and she struggled to find healthy options.
Researchers at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) have found there is a “strong correlation between consumers’ squeezed budgets and their less healthy food choices”. In the cost of living crisis, people are having to buy what they can afford rather than having the luxury to pick healthier options.
This was something that London TikTok creator, Adam Elkaffass noticed, he described the food options as “extremely unhealthy” and “processed”. He says: “People don’t really have a choice, and the only choices they have are unhealthy choices.”
Elkaffass started creating family-friendly TikTok content four years ago, and some of his videos have reached millions of views. He had almost forgotten his living off £1 a day video, filmed two years ago, until it started gaining popularity in recent weeks.
He also filmed a ‘Living on £2 a day’ video around the same time. Recently, he went back to the same shop and bought the same items as a “perfect way to measure inflation”. He noticed prices have doubled. What cost him two pounds then is now closer to four pounds.
But Elkaffass shares the doubts of campaigners and charities around whether the £1 a day challenge is ethical in the cost of living crisis. “It’d be a lot more difficult to do that challenge today,” he says. “The UK is in a crisis right now and I don’t think it’s the right time to be doing challenges about how it is to be poor. That’s how I see it.”
Ashley McLean, from the Poverty Alliance, adds: “Challenges such as these trends tread a fine line between amplifying the struggles of living on a low income to wider audiences or trivialising poverty by presenting it as a game.”
She said it was the government’s responsibility to tackle the bleak state of poverty in the UK, calling on ministers to remove the benefit cap and two-child limit, and immediately uprate benefits in line with inflation.
“This is why we have to be clear that living on £1 a day, or even less, is a very real and impossible challenge being forced onto households due to inadequacies in our social security and employment policy,” she adds. “In watching these challenges, it is important we raise awareness that this isn’t a game for many; for some it is a cruel reality.”
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