When I travel, I travel like a backpacker. What does that mean? It means I don’t have a lot of money, but I am convinced that shouldn’t stop me from traveling. For example, I remember looking for a hostel while traveling for 10 days in Laos in Southeast Asia. The hostel owner explained to my friend and me that he had two types of rooms. The $6 room did not have air conditioning or a TV, while the $8 room included AC and a TV. The crazy thing is that I remember contemplating whether we should save the $2 and get the $6 room. Luckily, I snapped out of it and rented the room with AC, considering it was probably 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
But back to my main point. When I travel, I am very aware of the money I spend. During my third-world travels, a dollar lasts a long time. However, the second I hit the airport on my way home, all of my thriftiness goes out the window. At the airport, I am forced to spend $15 for a sandwich, because airport food is ridiculously overpriced. At many moments on my transition home I feel overwhelmed by the cost of living in the United States. For example, shortly after a trip home from Peru and Argentina I had to go to the eye doctor. It was $150 for the eye exam and $200 for new contacts. I was frustrated by the feeling that life is expensive, and there is no way around that.
It wasn’t until a trip home from Kenya in 2009 that I decided to simplify my consumption. I watched Kenyans, who had so little, be creative to solve their daily needs. For example, a T-shirt is not just a T-shirt. To me, once a T-shirt has a hole in it, it’s a donation. Kenyans wear the T-shirt, then they might rip it up to make a rope out of it, then the kids will use it to create a doll. They create soccer balls by lacing and braiding old plastic bags. Their talent for resourcefulness is beyond impressive.
So for six months, I committed to being resourceful. It became a fun game. My purchasing rules:
- You can’t buy it if you already have it (for example: shampoo, soap, tape, pens, chapstick).
- You can’t buy it if you don’t need it right now (Use the things you have first. Don’t hoard.)
- You can’t buy it if you can create it (birthday cards, wrapping paper). Creating is either making it, borrowing it or, worst-case scenario, purchasing from a thrift store.
You might ask, did I accomplish my goal? Yes, I did. Six whole months of living by this theory. It was not confining but liberating. It allowed me to make, create, interact. One of the biggest blessings was stumbling upon two different friends who, coincidentally, were giving away two huge bags of clothes, which they allowed me to look through. I walked away with over a dozen new outfits.
This week, I challenge us all to pay attention to our spending. Again, it is liberating to take control of your money, not confiding. It allows you to be resourceful and think before you spend