Here’s what Elon Musk said when I told him I spent $2 a day on food like he did as a teen

Inspired by teenage Elon Musk, I spent $2 a day on food for the month of January.

Long before the SpaceX and Tesla CEO accumulated an estimated net worth of $11.7 billion, he challenged himself to survive off $1 a day to see if he had what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

“When I first came to North America — I was in Canada when I was 17 — and just to sort of see what it takes to live, I tried to live on $1 a day, which I was able to do,” he explained to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in an episode of Tyson’s StarTalk Radio podcast.

“I was like, Oh, ok. If I can live for a dollar a day — at least from a food-cost standpoint — it’s pretty easy to earn $30 in a month, so I’ll probably be ok.”

To replicate the challenge, I adjusted for inflation — $1 in 1988, when Musk was 17, is the equivalent $2 today — and set aside $62 for the 31-day month of January.

After completing what I coined the “Elon Musk Challenge,” I reached out to the man himself, asking about any guidelines he set prior to the experiment and letting him know that he inspired my $2-a-day January food budget.

He wrote back in an email:

That’s great, although I would not encourage anyone to live on $1 a day. That would not be super fun. Also, I did this back in 1990, so a dollar went a lot further back then. Would be much harder to do that today.

It’s nice to hear he doesn’t recommend the arduous challenge.

As for his reference to 1990, yes, I caught that. I did the entire month based on the value of a 1988 dollar — and while I was not about to re-do it, I couldn’t help but check the value of a 1990 dollar. It’s equivalent to $1.81 today, meaning I would have had a budget of $56.11 for the month.

Since I actually came in under budget at $60.93, the difference boils down to a few eggs and sweet potatoes. I have a little food left over post-challenge, so I’m confident the point still stands.

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