A few weeks ago I watched this amazing documentary called Living on One Dollar. The documentary helps viewers gain insight into how 1.1 billion people around the world live on less than one dollar a day.
It chronicles the experience of four average, middle class American college-aged guys who spend a summer Pena Blanca, Guatemala, a poor rural village where 7 out of 10 people live under the poverty line. I love documentaries and learning about different people so this film was right up my alley.
What Really Stuck Out To Me
- The documentary really grips you from the beginning as the first scene captures a morning routine of an average American and compares it to the morning routine of someone living in Pena Blanca.
- The guys spend 56 days in rural Pena Blanca and they only allow themselves to bring $56 each to use throughout their stay.
- Most of the people in the village are unofficially employed and work on farms never knowing when they will get paid. To create a more realistic experience, the friends drew numbers ranging from 0-$9 each day to determine how much they would get ‘paid’ since the people in the village were paid inconsistently for their work.
- The guys also took out a loan to pay for their housing (since that’s what most of their neighbors did) and a loan to start a small business growing radishes. They had to pay the loan provider $6.25 every 15 days.
The film was very insightful and highlighted several of the hardships the people of Pena Blanca had to go through from finding clean water to affording enough food to go around, let alone having any extra money to save. I liked how the documentary focused on how people budgeted given their financial situation.
It was sad that a lot of kids couldn’t go to school and had to work because their parents couldn’t afford the $25 for books and supplies or even feed them. Since only one man in the entire village had a reliable job that guaranteed him a paycheck, it was extremely hard for people to take out a loan in order to start their own business or improve their situation.
Yet and still, I got a sense of the people’s strong community ties as I watched the film and witnessed them support each other by welcoming the four boys into their village and teaching them how to find sales at the market and cook food that would be more filling.
So What About You?
Could you live on one dollar a day if you really had to? The documentary really got me thinking about my own life and financial goals and they seemed so insignificant compared to what other people are going through around the world. I mean, these people were practically begging for a loan so they could use it to improve their lives while most people I know (self included) are eager to become debt free.
It really made me wonder, Does personal finance even exist in other areas like these when there isn’t even enough money to go around? Do my tips even help someone who’s living in poverty?
When you really think about it, how can an article about saving truly help you when you have no money to save?
Here I am talking about my strategy to save money on food spending and meal planning – as it’s a struggle for a lot of us – when someone else in the world can’t even afford a stove and would be dying to cook their own meals each day.
I’m not going to preach about how privileged we are and how we need to appreciate it, because I’m sure we all know that by now. And it’s not anyone’s fault because you don’t get to choose what situation you are born into.
But to answer my own question I would have to say no. What those boys did was courageous, eye opening and no doubt life changing, but I personally don’t think I would have been able to make it. I’m just too accustomed to the way I live now and while I try to spend less each day, things cost a lot more over here than they do in South America and the economy is extremely different.
Gratitude. Establish a Community. Contribute. Repeat
I realized that even though I can’t put everything on the line and live in an impoverished village like the boys from the documentary, I can evoke change by taking these simple steps and start right in my area.
Gratitude: This is often a concept that is overlooked and underestimated. Please, don’t underestimate the power of gratitude. Everything we have can be gone in a manner of seconds and it feels great to appreciate the good in your life instead of stressing out over the bad. A positive outlook along with being aware your privileges can go a long way.
Establish a Community: I believe the only reason the people in Pena Blanca continued to survive was because they established a strong and supportive community. Even though they had nothing, families and neighbors supported each other. One community member organized a savings program so that 10 families could pitch in and each of them could buy a stove while another took out a loan on behalf of another family. Talk about generous.
I’m really grateful for the personal finance community and I try to establish my own little helpful community with this blog. Blogging and interacting with others I meet along the way has been so empowering because we all have goals but we are working toward something bigger than just saving and paying off debt. We’re working toward improving our lives overall. After I pay off my debt and meet my other financial goals, I’ll be extremely happy. Then what? The world won’t end….hopefully. The supportive community ties will still be there and I can encourage others.
Contribute: What do you contribute to your community? Whether the community is online or local, it’s important to contribute something you’re passionate about in the hopes of helping others succeed. Even if you’re not in the best situation, it’s not right to just take, take, take.
I’m nowhere near where I need to be financially but it’s really no fun to just suck up resources without contributing some of my own. Since I’m slightly obsessed with HR and I love to help people find jobs, I started mentoring a student at my old university and writing resumes for people. I figure that if my goal is to help people have their own ‘debt epiphanies’ and begin to manage their finances properly they need money to manage in the first place.
Do your struggles always seem so significant until you notice someone who’s doing substantially worse? Do you think personal finance even matters to people who are living in impoverished areas? How does being apart of a community help you reach your goals whether they are related to finances or not?
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