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June 27, 1909: How I managed to live on $5 a week

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: September 10, 2012 - 10:42 AM
 
If you can scrape by on this vegetable-free diet for a month, you’ll not only save money, you'll also lower your body-mass index by 25 percent. Be sure to consult a physician before starting any dietary regimen, especially one that leans heavily on buttered toast and beef tongue. Bleeding gums, impaired memory and uneven hair loss may result. From the Minneapolis Tribune:
 

How I Managed to Live on $5 a Week; “Quick Lunch” and Good Digestion Solve Problem.

 
By George O. Harding
 
When I landed in Chicago three months ago an inventory of my assets disclosed that I had just $8.92 in money, a suitcase full of clothes and a strong desire to go to work. But the work didn’t materialize as rapidly as I had pictured to myself in my day dreams of making my fortune, and a couple of days of prospecting put such a crimp in my resources that it was up to me either to economize or write back home for money.
 
I didn’t want to do the latter, as that would be hewing too close to the line of my father’s predictions after I announced my intentions of deserting the farm and making my own way in the world. “All right,” he had said when he saw that my mind was made up to strike out for Chicago, “go ahead and make the trial. When your money is gone just write and let me know and I’ll send you enough to get back to the old place.”
 
So I didn’t write. Instead I economized. I secured a room outside the loop district for $2 a week. That was the first item in my scheme of economy. Then I began to figure about the food question and finally decided that the quick lunch room was made just for me. Not only that, but after a few visits to this food emporium I found that I could have a varied menu for each day and each meal. It required some little expenditure of thought and a few days of practical experience at the counter, but the results will show that the effort was not without success.
 
These are the menus I formulated for each day of the week.
 
MONDAY.
 
Breakfast – Coffee, 5 cents; buttered toast, 5 cents … $ .10
Dinner – Cocoa, 5 cents; corn beef hash with bread, 10 cents … $ .15
Supper – Tea, 5 cents; tongue sandwich, 5 cents … $ .10
Total -- $ .35
 
TUESDAY.
 
Breakfast – Coffee, 5 cents; cinnamon roll, 5 cents … $ .10
Dinner – Cocoa, 5 cents; ham sandwich, 5 cents … $ .10
Supper – Tea, 5 cents; chicken pie, 10 cents … $ .15
Total -- $ .35
 
WEDNESDAY.
 
Breakfast – Coffee, 5 cents; doughnuts, 5 cents … $ .10
Dinner – Corned beef hash, 10 cents; pie, 5 cents … $ .15
Supper – Cocoa, 5 cents; buns, 5 cents … $ .10
Total -- $ .35
 
THURSDAY.
 
Breakfast – Cocoa, 5 cents; beef sandwich, 5 cents … $ .10
Dinner – Coffee, 5 cents; cheese and spaghetti, 10 cents … $ .15
Supper – Buttered toast, 5 cents; stewed prunes, 5 cents … $ .10
Total -- $ .35
 
FRIDAY.
 
Breakfast – Coffee, 5 cents; egg sandwich, 5 cents … $ .10
Dinner – Cocoa, 5 cents; cheese sandwich, 5 cents; peaches, 5 cents … $ .15
Supper – Buns, 5 cents; pie, 5 cents … $ .10
Total -- $ .35
 
SATURDAY.
 
Breakfast – Cocoa, 5 cents; buttered toast, 5 cents … $ .10
Dinner – Box lunch … $ .10
Supper – Tea, 5 cents; baked beans with bread, 10 cents … $ .15
Total -- $ .35
 
SUNDAY.
 
No breakfast, as I slept until noon … $ .00
Dinner – Coffee, 5 cents; chicken pie, 10 cents; raisin pie, 5 cents … $ .20
Supper – Tea, 5 cents; rolls, 5 cents; cake, 5 cents … $ .15
Total -- $ .35
 
Total for week … $2.45
 
Thus for $2.45 I got rations for a whole week. And added to this my room rent made a total of $4.45. The question of laundry was solved by my landlady, who found a place where I could get it all done for 30 cents a week, with the darning thrown in. As my room was within walking distance of the loop district, I had no expenses in the way of car fare. Thus out of a $5 bill there was left a quarter each week to go on the right side of my economy ledger.
 
Two weeks later, after I had put my scheme into effect, I had landed a job. It wasn’t much in the way of wages, paying only $10 a week, but with my “living on $5 a week” plan I got along splendidly and saved money, too. Now, fortunately, I am getting enough so that once in a while I can take a little flier from the “quick lunch” into the realms of table cloths and waiters.
 
Stillwater1912d.jpg" />
Not a tablecloth in sight, but plenty of food to choose from: From left: Albert (Shorty) Leonard, John Dolan, Arthur Olson and Dick Dolan at the O.A. Anderson Lunch Room on E. Chestnut Street in Stillwater in 1912.  (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)

 

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