Blog

What I’ve learned about poverty while living on less

As promised, here’s the next instalment of what I’ve learned living on less.

If you haven’t yet read the prequels this may make very little sense to you. Go read them first. I’ll wait.

Without further adieu here’s what I’ve learned about poverty during my first 23 days of living on less to help raising money for highly effective poverty-alleviation charities.

We live in abundance

Almost everywhere I go there is food I could have just grab if I hadn’t limited myself in the rules. Chocolates lying around the office. A pantry full of food at home. Biscuits brought to the table at a cafe. A fruit bowl in reception for a meeting.

Food is everywhere around me if I want it.

Yet while I’ve been limiting what I purchase for my menu this whole time I’ve still benefited greatly from the luxuries of a fridge, freezer, running water, stove, electricity, a roof above my head and bedding and clothes to keep me warm, a shower and toothbrush to keep me clean. (Not to mention the appliances that have made food prep a lot easier – a slow cooker, rice cooker, food processor, pasta maker, blender, etc.)

I haven’t included these in my budget and on global standards, they are a true luxury.

I’ve also benefited from living in a place of the world with great infrastructure like roads to ride my bike on and public healthcare (I sliced my thumb open last week and a doctor was at my house within 2 hours – fortunately no stitches, and I can easily afford the $10 in extra bandages he recommended).

Contentment makes you rich

The first week was the hardest because my brain couldn’t help but focus on what I was missing out on. Someone offering to buy me a coffee was a stab in the heart.

But then things changed…

Meditations on those feelings made me stronger.

Focusing on what I have deepened my gratitude.

I feel so much richer for it.

Inequality

While the focus of this has been on relieving extreme poverty this experience increased my rating of inequality being morally important compared with absolute wealth.

While the lowest hanging fruit for having a big impact on people’s lives is still definitely extreme poverty, I cannot deny that inequality is a big issue.

While smelling my wife’s delicious cooking and trying to stomach another bean patty, the reality of inequality that others experience started to sink in.

Not only is it an issue in developed countries with wide income distributions but it makes it worse for developing countries when people see the lifestyles of the rich countries.

It’s hardly surprising that China is building 2 coal-fired power plants a week and Myanmar has tripled its per capita meat consumption in 7 years when they see what the rest of the world has.

Being your own Robin Hood (taking from the rich and giving to the poor) not only vastly improves the lives of those who need it by making them richer, but it lowers inequality and lowers the distance between you and your fellow man – your neighbour, whether they live across the street or across the ocean.

If we can all learn contentment the world will be vastly better.

If we want the world to change we need to take charge – to be the change we want in the world.

Poverty has real problems

Poverty isn’t simply a low calorie, boring diet.

Poverty is nothing remotely like my little experiment of limiting my menu to $2.50.

The effects of poverty are cyclical and we need to be attacking it on all fronts.

Poverty is both caused by and leads to disease, crime, unemployment, ignorance, revolt, environmental destruction and gender inequality. To put salt on the wound – it can even be more expensive to be poor.

A child born in poverty starts so far behind and faces the steepest possible route to climb out of it.

First world problems are also real

I’ve had a lot of discussions over the last month covering topics from zoning in my local neighbourhood, events in the lives of my friends and family right through to global geo-political and economic mega-trends.

These problems are just as real, and we need to care about them also.

However, they are just on a different scale and they need an entirely different approach.

They are much harder to solve, and they involve people changing themselves. In fact, one kernel of truth to the overly simplistic #firstworldproblems retort is that much of our first world problems would in fact be more easily solved solved if we focused more on gratitude, compassion and generosity instead of the rat race and an us-vs-them mentality.

This all comes full circle because gratitude, compassion and generosity can all be practiced by giving to those who need it most.

There is hope for fighting poverty

The great news is that that we are making huge progress in fighting poverty. There are many other problems to solve after it, but this one can be made history in our lifetimes.

Watch at 3:30 in the video below when Beth reveals how much we can achieve if the richest 10% gave 10% of their annual income (which almost certainly includes you).

“the first year would give us enough to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger, eradicate all neglected tropical diseases and many others besides, triple medical research, give everyone secondary education, permanently save every rainforest in the world, get us well on the way to fixing climate change, fund an unparalleled renaissance in the arts, and have enough leftover to launch several manned missions to Mars.”

The charities I’m supporting are all contributing to this progress.

The money goes directly to evidence-backed, thoroughly vetted, underfunded organisations. These include interventions from anti-malarial bednets right through to deworming programs or direct cash transfers.

All of these interventions are high-impact and directly alleviate the daily suffering of our fellow human beings and reduce poverty over the long term.

Shameless plug

Please donate to help end poverty, read about what I’m doing, and share if you haven’t yet.

What I’ve learned about food while living on less

As promised, here’s the next instalment of what I’ve learned living on less.

If you haven’t yet read the prequels this may make very little sense to you. Go read them first. I’ll wait.

Today I’m covering off what I’ve learned about food during my first 22 days of living on less to help raising money for highly effective poverty-alleviation charities.

A budget of $2.50 is very restrictive, but it’s certainly not impossible.

Here’s what I’ve learned (plus my menu and costs)…

Snacks, drinks and nutrition

So far I have lost at least 3 kilos. For a lean guy that’s a lot – about 5% of my bodyweight.

Looking through the data I can see three main causes:

  1. Drinks & snacks normally give me 15-20% more energy
  2. It’s hard to eat when you’re bored of your food
  3. Protein, vegetables, and variety are expensive

I normally eat very healthy but snacks are expensive or if they’re cheap then they are super unhealthy. Snacks are also my rewards that I use for doing good things like exercising.

By the third day I was already in calorie deficit. Although I’d planned to eat close to ten thousand kilojoules it was hard to stay interested in the same food.

To keep up my interest and introduce snacking I re-introduced simple carbs like rice, pasta and white bread (for peanut butter sandwiches). This helped but it also meant that my protein consumption is down to the bare minimum.

Food is social

One of the hardest parts is removing the social aspect from food. I’m a really social person, I use food as a way of spending time with people. I see my morning coffee as payment for a seat and a chat with a friend.

This month the choice has often been to either (a) excuse myself attending events at pubs, restaurants, cafes, or anything that’s catered or (b) pre-eat or bring something along (if appropriate).

To avoid the awkwardness I’ve tried inviting people to ours more, or inviting people into my office for a cup of tea. However, only having people over really limits your options.

The saying goes that you’re the average of your 5 closest friends. I guess that probably applies to the cost and nutrition of your food also.

Food is also much easier to prepare more cheaply and with more variety if you eat in a group.

Brands and convenience are costly

Some things can be up to 10 times the cost for brands and convenience. You may not notice much on smaller items (“What’s the huge difference between 85 cent and 4 dollar pasta?”) but they certainly add up.

Buying brand name black beans by the tin can cost over $3 whereas buying them dried by the kilo worked out to cost about 50 cents for the same amount.

Solving the brand problem was easy but solving for convenience was harder.

After almost bonking on the bike for lack of anything convenient to eat while riding I had to find a solution.

That’s when I introduced peanut butter on white bread. It’s about the only conveniently palatable thing I could afford.

My menu

At the time of writing this my menu has included:

Servings Recipe Cost / Serving
6 Bean lentil curry $0.66
1 Brewed Coffee
this morning I treated myself
$0.09
6 Chickpea bean dip $0.15
8 Chilli and rice $0.50
4 Creamy bean soup $0.30
16 Curry pasty $0.26
11 Curry pasty #2 $0.24
7.5 Flatbread $0.06
1 Homebrew beer
this was my half way reward!
$0.24
2 Instant coffee $0.03
23.85 Oats $0.25
12 Patties $0.14
57 Peanut butter $0.09
5 Pumpkin soup $0.45
14.75 Soynuts $0.04
6 Spaghetti bolognese $0.43
23 Tea $0.02
2 Veggie pasta $0.78
54 White bread $0.04

For the first 21 days here’s my daily spend totals:

Date Cost Energy (kj) Macronutrients
1-Feb $1.87 9,043 20% (P), 28% (F), 49% (C)
2-Feb $1.94 9,027 20% (P), 29% (F), 48% (C)
3-Feb $1.24 5,626 21% (P), 28% (F), 47% (C)
4-Feb $2.27 12,331 18% (P), 29% (F), 50% (C)
5-Feb $1.04 6,005 19% (P), 31% (F), 47% (C)
6-Feb $1.31 6,092 20% (P), 33% (F), 44% (C)
7-Feb $1.86 9,323 19% (P), 31% (F), 49% (C)
8-Feb $1.47 6,923 16% (P), 31% (F), 50% (C)
9-Feb $2.01 10,173 17% (P), 29% (F), 52% (C)
10-Feb $1.83 9,120 16% (P), 27% (F), 55% (C)
11-Feb $1.90 9,835 17% (P), 31% (F), 50% (C)
12-Feb $2.14 9,842 16% (P), 29% (F), 53% (C)
13-Feb $1.58 6,414 15% (P), 26% (F), 57% (C)
14-Feb $2.13 8,619 16% (P), 34% (F), 47% (C)
15-Feb $1.91 8,979 17% (P), 28% (F), 51% (C)
16-Feb $2.02 8,042 15% (P), 29% (F), 48% (C)
17-Feb $1.92 9,201 19% (P), 35% (F), 43% (C)
18-Feb $1.47 6,740 16% (P), 27% (F), 56% (C)
19-Feb $2.05 9,759 18% (P), 31% (F), 48% (C)
20-Feb $2.37 9,293 19% (P), 28% (F), 50% (C)
21-Feb $2.30 10,805 19% (P), 32% (F), 47% (C)

If you’re interested in more details (such as the ingredients to all the recipes) you can find it all in my food log.

Shameless plug

Please donate to help end poverty, read about what I’m doing, and share if you haven’t yet.

What I’ve learned about people while living on less

As promised, here’s the next instalment of ‘what I’ve learned living on less‘.

If you haven’t yet read the prequel and the pre-prequal this may make very little sense to you. Go read them first. I’ll wait.

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.

Venn Diagram of Supportive Commentors and DonorsThe 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.

Try plugging in your own numbers globally and locally.

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 oneabout 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).

You don’t even have to pay Microsoft for a copy of Excel when Google Sheets is free. If Xero and Quickbooks are out of your budget then try the Pocketbook app.

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.

Shameless plug

Please donate to help end poverty, read about what I’m doing, and share if you haven’t yet.

What I’ve learned living on less

It’s day 20 of my living on less challenge and so far I’ve averaged $1.79 per day for my food, taken 3 train trips and been a passenger in a car four times. I’ve raised an AUD equivalent of ~$1,140 to support some of the most effective charities helping to improve the lives of people in poverty.

It’s not been a walk in the park by any means but I’ve certainly learned a lot.

When I started writing this post I thought it’d be a few quick lessons – turns out I was very wrong. I’ve decided to break it up into what I’ve learned about people, food, poverty, fundraising and habits.

I’ll be putting the finishing touches on the posts and publishing them over the week. Subscribe to email updates if you want to get them delivered to your inbox.

I’ll also link them all here once they’re published:

P.S. Please read, donate, and share if you haven’t yet.

Which charities am I supporting?

As you may know, I’m living on less than $2.50 during February to raise money to help end extreme poverty. I thought I’d expand a little on who the charities are and why this matters.

The charities I’m supporting are not simply band-aids.

They all have a proven effectiveness in both effectively saving human lives and many flow-through effects from health to education and economic.

The charities cover a wide range of interventions, I’ll go into a little detail on three of them.

If you care about health, Against Malaria Foundation doesn’t simply save lives, it prevents sickness for hundreds millions of people. This also happens to be a proven way of helping them to get out of poverty. They were recently featured in this podcast that I recommend.

If you care about education, Deworm The World doesn’t simply cure children from the discomfort of intestinal worms, it increases their school attendance and helps them be upwardly mobile.

If you care about self-actualisation, GiveDirectly puts money directly into the hands of some of the worlds poorest, they typically invest this money into things like upgrading a thatch roof to a tin one that not only keeps them healthier and safer it has a yearly return on investment (from durability) that’d make Wall Street envious.

Have a few minutes to dig a bit deeper?

  1. Read more about GiveWell’s top ranked charities
  2. Watch Peter in his 2013 Ted Talk explain the logic and practice of giving with your head as well as your heart.

Donate

Finally, another shameless plug to head over and make the world just that much better today by donating to help improve the lives of your fellow man – it’ll make you happier (because science).

Today begins my $2.50 food budget

For the entire month of February I’m living on less than $2.50 per day for my food because I want us to end extreme poverty. Read more here.

This morning started with $0.21 of oats and I have cooked up a few meals for the week. You can check my log and calculations here.

Please read about why and how, donate to help end poverty, share and subscribe to my updates.

How to define ‘good’?

Every morning I remind myself of my personal life goal, my purpose as I currently define it.

So far I have only shared this goal with a few select people.

When I have shared it there always seems to be a follow-up question. A question that is just as important to me as the goal.

For the first time publicly I’m sharing both my goal and my answer to that common followup question.

Goal

I want to be a force for good in the world

Question

Okay, that sounds great… but how do you define ‘good’?

Answer

Good is something experienced by sentient beings when their flourishing is maximised, suffering is minimised, rights protected and their agency balanced with the deterministic aspects of life. This is often achieved through a practice of virtuous behaviours and universal rules. It is ‘good’ to balance the competing goals of ‘goodness’ using rationality and critical inquiry. We experience ‘good’ as we engage with the richness of life in all it’s complexity, happiness, hardship and joy.

There is a lot packed into that definition and ‘being a force for good’ with that definition is an incredibly challenging goal that I’ll only ever be taking small steps towards – but it’s the kind of goal that keeps me honest.

The links in the definition are the best ones I can find right now, I plan to update them as time goes on. All of the aspects of ‘good’ packed into this statement are major premises that I would always love to talk about or be challenged on. To define them best I think I’ll need to write about what they mean to me and unpack it in further detail – for the sake of myself and for others.

This is my ‘draft’, my working definition. I look forward to its continuous development and seeing how it changes over time as I grow and as I am challenged.

Reflecting on 2016

2016 has been both one of the hardest and most confronting years on some fronts but also one of the richest years for growth in my relationships, character, understanding and growth in many other things.

It’s been a year of tears and a year of smiles. It’s had a rich complexity that’s essential to life.

I’m grateful to have lived another 364.4 days in 2016 so far (it’s a leap year!) and to have so much fortune to be surrounded by so many wonderful people and such a huge amount of opportunity in my environment.

There are many more things than I could mention, but, in essence, I’m so incredibly lucky and I know it.

Thanks to all the people that keep making that happen.

Thanks to those who support me, those who challenge me, those that help me grow.

Cheers 🍻 to the last two days of 2016 and to all that’s ahead in the richness of all our lives.

What’s that embedded in my toast?

I’m so lucky.

In fact, it could all be summed up in this very moment. Let me describe it for you… in detail.

Right now I’m eating two slices of toast.

One has homemade marmalade spread thick on it.

This marmalade was given to me this morning by my loving grandmother who is lucky enough to have learned her skills in the kitchen, have the appliances and electricity to make tasty foods, and lucky enough to have close friends and family to make things for, knowing that it will be appreciated.

I was lucky enough to visit my grandparents this morning because I’m lucky enough to have Sundays off, I am lucky enough to own a bike (that’s older than I am!), fit and healthy enough to ride said bike, live in a place with quality roads that I can ride it on and where it’s generally very safe to ride.

I was able to visit my grandparents because I’m lucky enough to still have them around in good health, I was able to have a wonderfully interesting conversation with them because they’re both still sharp and spent their lives caring enough to think deeply about the world so that their thoughts and ideas are still captivating.

The other slice is spread thick with homemade peanut butter.

The peanuts were only four dollars at Coles and my beautiful wife was lucky enough to pick up a second-hand NutriBullet cheap from someone who was lucky enough that they could afford to buy it fully price. We could pay for both because we’re lucky gainfully employed in jobs that we enjoy.

I was lucky enough to be able to make the peanut butter in less than a minute because of the energy, engineering, science, economics, investment and physical labour that was all embedded into the process of getting me peanuts, a blender and electricity. I was lucky enough to get this all at such a low cost of my time, money and effort.

Oh, and to add icing to the cake a beautiful day.

I could go on to talk about the $3 sourdough bread, the toaster, the roof over my head and all of the luck right back to my lucky draw in the ovarian lottery but I’ll stop with one final point.

It is undeniable that there are a lot of things in the world that could be better and that fact gives me a healthy dissatisfaction and a desire to share my luck in life. However, in this very moment I’m acutely aware of how lucky I am and hope that I am lucky enough to remain mindful of that fact in as many of the moments left during my short time on earth.

So what is embedded in my toast? A whole lot of luck.

Don’t simply dismiss as bigotry, dig a little deeper

This video by Junkee about Pauline Hanson is very much worth watching.

It talks about the global “they took our jobs” trend in messages around the world that if dismissed as simply racism and bigotry could actually lead to more racists and bigots getting into dangerously powerful positions.

Many people feel left behind by economic globalism. Whether they truely are or not is secondary (many are, many actually aren’t). People look for others to blame for their lot in life and will listen to whoever they feel is hearing them.

I don’t agree with almost anything that Pauline Hanson, Donald J. Trump or Nigel Farage say but you need to empathise and have compassion for their supporters if you’re to stop them from tearing down the world and burning it to shreds.

This is about feelings not about reality. Understanding how people feel (regardless of whether you think it’s rational or justified) is the only way of having a productive conversation.

Otherwise we’re headed in the same direction as depression era radicalisation circa pre-WWII. We’re all humans with our own wants, desires, feelings and opinions we need to learn to empathise with each other. If you dismiss people who feel disenfranchised it’s hardly going to help to convince them of your point of view.

For more on this I recommend this my list of interesting perspectives following the Brexit referendum, ‘Scared, F**ked off, and “Not racist but”: Lessons from talking to residents of Notamajorcity‘ by Dan Ilic and watch #Twitchike on ABC iview.