As promised, here’s the next instalment of ‘what I’ve learned living on less‘.
Today I’m covering off what I’ve learned about people during my first 21 days of living on less and raising money to help end poverty.
People are awesome
My heart has been so warmed every time I’ve seen someone contribute to helping those in need. I cannot stress this enough, I am blown away every time I see someone making a decision to focus on the needs of others. This really gives me hope for humanity.
Results may vary
The responses have varied greatly from admiration and support right through to bemusement, disbelief, disregard and derision. A few rare people have provided some good quality conversations – the kind I was hoping this would result in.
The people who have made negative comments seem to make things about themselves and their insecurities – there’s a lot of deflection and people feeling like my actions are judging them.
People seem to feel the need to justify their behaviour for being different to mine and I’ve already experienced this attitude a lot, especially since taking meat out of my diet.
This visceral reaction to being challenged is entirely human.
The Venn diagram
I’ve had two very different kinds of support, those who publicly support and those who privately support. The strange thing is how small the overlap in that Venn diagram is.
While I totally understand that people are busy, distracted and have other priorities, it always surprises me finding out who are the fastest to quietly take real actions and who will be the ones vocally supporting but not following through with action.
I also wonder if part of the disconnect between good intentions and follow through is that when push comes to shove people worry that giving away their hard-earned money could lead to them no longer being successful if they give away their wealth.
Maybe people just don’t truly believe that giving makes them happy and there is a lingering fear that in our ‘culture of more,’ they’ll end up unhappy with less.
I hope here that we can start to shift our culture to one that sees the joy of giving for what it really is. A tremendous opportunity to improve the lives of both the giver and the receiver. A rare, non-zero-sum opportunity.
Many of us feel poor
“I really admire what you’re doing but I cannot afford to donate”
Firstly, I want to be clear that I understand some people really cannot afford to give, and I wouldn’t shame them for not doing so.
However, the above statement is something I heard very many times and still find fascinating. The statement has been particularly poignant to me while I’ve been living on less than $2 a day.
I felt like if I was to do anything to demonstrate to people that we can live on less and give more it would be exactly what I’ve been doing this month. I’ve tried to be clear that no donation is too small, that every dollar goes a long way to those in need.
Yet I keep hearing that statement from a surprising number of people who I can plainly see aren’t living frugally, and who are in stable jobs earning far above minimum wage here in Australia.
It seems people think that they always need to be richer to be able to be generous, they have a ‘minimum acceptable donation’ amount in their head, or that it is somehow a slippery slope and a small donation could eventually lead to a large decrease in their standard of living.
I see this as an opportunity to examine why people in developed countries who are earning a competitive wage still feel poor.
Firstly, let’s look at the actual numbers:
For someone in Australia who earns the average full-time income of $78,832 per year (excluding bonuses and overtime) is in the global richest 1.3% and in the richest 28% locally (mean is not median when there’s income inequality).
Even if you halved it to $39,416 you would still be in the global richest 5.5% and richer than a third of all Australians.
Secondly, let’s look at our tax implications:
Perhaps the lack of willingness to donate due to the ‘slippery slope’ feeling has to do with confidence in money management and they fear that any donation could have a real impact on their bottom line.
I recommend you check out a tax calculator like this one – about ⅓ of every donation is directly offset by your taxes if you earn between $37K-$80K.
Finally, let’s look at our financial literacy resources:
We are fortunate to live in a country with not just an exceptional safety-net but also some really good resources.
Check out the government’s MoneySmart website for some tips and tools. A great podcast with an Australian perspective is Insufficient Funds (discontinued but a good back catalogue) and there’s a wealth of good blogs around (like Mr Money Moustache and many more).
Want some inspiration for meals? See what I’ve been eating, get on Google/Pinterest or read my post about food (coming soon).
There’s a lot of psychology and real hard numbers at play to varying degrees for different people.
If you don’t feel like you can give generously but suspect that it’s something you could overcome – I really do encourage you to take this on as a growth opportunity (do some reading and some maths).
I’m always open to conversations if you want to reach out.
Some people are enormously generous
This experience has helped identify a few special comrades – even those who have specifically not supported financially for very good reasons.
Having discussions about what I’m doing has helped me discover some incredibly generous people. Some have surprised me, some have given to my other fundraising efforts before. Each one of them has made my day at least once this month.
These people are the salt of the earth and I’m so happy to know many of them.
Giving needs to be normalised
I encourage people to be more vocal about their giving – not to attract attention, but to normalise the behaviour. If we see that the people around us who live normal lives are excited by the opportunity to give to others then we feel more comfortable doing the same ourselves.
I encourage people to be more public about stepping off the hedonic treadmill for the sake of their own happiness, the happiness of those around them, and doing some good in the process.
Ethics is under-taught
Throughout this experiment I’ve had more conversations about ethics and morality than I’ve expected, and it’s become clear to me that we don’t have a common cultural understanding of what they even are. Most people don’t have a code of ethics other than what feels right at the time – understandable, because it’s not included in formal education.
I find this scary though. Intuitive ethics can lead to some questionable outcomes, and it’s amazingly easy to manipulate someone’s emotions so they over- or under-react; just look at history for a few prime examples.
If you’d like to learn more, I highly recommend the Crash Course Philosophy series as a start.