Being Poor is Expensive

It’s expensive to be poor. It sounds strange but it’s true.

You see, sometimes we forget just how amazing things are. Things that we use every day, that we have as a normal part of life in Australia. One of those things is technology, and the access to facilities that save us so much time and money.

Take a trip to the bank for example. If we want to withdraw some money, we can just go the local ATM in our area, or even take it out from the supermarket when we do our next shopping run. It’s even better if we want to transfer some money to someone else, we can do that from our desktop, or mobile device, which can happen anywhere, even on the toilet.

On the odd occasion that we actually need to go into a branch, the banks have ‘reasonable’ opening hours and we can take some time during our work day to do that. Sure it may ruin our lunch break but we can do it.

In places like the Philippines, getting access to cash or to make a payment is not as simple. It actually requires a physical visit to the bank. A remote agricultural worker needs to give up a days wage to travel to the nearest financial service provider and pay for the transportation, this is a huge cost burden.  Imagine losing 20% of your weekly income, plus travel expenses, just to visit a bank. Nobody likes banks that much…

This another example of the complexity of poverty, and how those who are living in it can be trapped by the daily issues they face. But the more we understand it, the more we can do about it and create a hand up for those caught in its cycle.

Myth: $2 a day

Extreme Poverty is defined as anyone living on less than about $2 a day. We still have hundreds of millions of people in that situation which is horrific and no one should ever have to go through it.

I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I would try to calculate what I could with $2 per day to see if there is a way that I could survive. Surely you can make anything work, if you budget well enough, were frugal with spending, survival would be possible. Extreme poverty can’t be that difficult. Can it?

Not only is that a harsh way to look at it, but my thinking also had a fundamental flaw. One of the most difficult aspects of life for those living in extreme poverty is the unpredictable manner in which they earn an income. Whilst in Australia, most of us know what our next pay check is going to be, when it will arrive in our bank account and how we can access it. In places like India for example, many work in unregulated areas and do so irregularly. They may earn $20 on day ten which averages out to $2 a day. Meaning that they don’t literally receive $2 every single day. It’s not neat and tidy and it makes budgeting and increasing financial security impossible.

There are many organisations, including Opportunity International, who are fighting against this and creating a way for people to earn a regular income to increase their financial security, making life just that little bit easier.

Guilty

We all have motivations that drive our behaviour, whether they be to feel good, or because of love, or a sense of responsibility and sometimes it comes from guilt.

Guilt can be a strong motivator and I have come across a number of people who will give generously to churches or charities to appease a sense of guilt they feel about one thing or another. Sometimes that guilt comes purely from within them, and other times the organisations they give to have sought to create a sense of guilt for them, so that they will give.

Whilst guilt can motivate us to do good things, it is not a quality long term motivating factor. After a while, people will generally tire of feeling guilty, like they are trapped in to doing something, and cease to engage in their generous acts.

A stronger motivation, and a somewhat healthier one, is a sense of responsibility. This is a more positive, proactive response that doesn’t require someone to feel bad about there current situation. Instead it provides a way for a person to use their current situation for the benefit of others. To act out of freedom.

As Australians, we are one of the wealthiest countries on earth, we could feel guilty about that and offer our generosity as some sort of payment to overcome the guilt, or we can see our place in the world as a gift, which carries with it a responsibility to help others who are not as financially blessed as we are.