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What I've learned about people while living on less

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.

It was really interesting to see how many people donated without saying anything publicly about it. Some of them came from surprising places and were very generous.

I definitely appreciated supportive comments, and many did end up donating. However, it was surprising how small the overlap was.

We are all busy, distracted, and often have other priorities, I don’t expect everyone to have donating to my fundraiser as their top priority. It does always surprise to find out who are the fastest to quietly take actions and who will be the ones vocally supporting (which is appreciated, but surprisingly small overlap).

There were definitely issues with the donation process, however, I also wonder if part of the disconnect between good intentions and follow through is that when push comes to shove we all worry that giving away our hard-earned money could lead to us no longer being successful if we give away our 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

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 [Update: $5,195.15 by the end of the campaign] 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.

[Updated on Feb 25]

Here each of the articles I’ve published about what I’ve learned while living on less:

My final article will sum up the final results and discuss what’s next. Please subscribe to get the updates right to your inbox, donate to help end poverty, read about what I’m doing, and share with your friends.

Which charities am I supporting?

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.


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).

How to define ‘good’?

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.


I want to be a force for good in the world


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


Good is something experienced by sentient beings when their flourishing is increased, suffering is reduced¹, 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.


  1. I linked to two articles on Utilitarianism when talking about flourishing and suffering, while I think maximising the former and minimising the latter is ultimately ‘better’ I only hold the weaker goal of increasing and reducing as something that’s feasible and required for ‘good’.
Reflecting on 2016

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?

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

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.

Brexit: Some Interesting Perspectives

Brexit: Some Interesting Perspectives

It’s an amazing time to be alive and I’m humbled and made painfully aware of how little I understand the world and how hard it is to get inside the minds of other people… but it’s always worthwhile trying to understand things better.

Here’s my roundup so far of the most interesting perspectives on Brexit I’ve read. Please let me know if you find some more.

2016 Commemorative Edition NSW “Revvy” Bicycle

2016 Commemorative Edition NSW “Revvy” Bicycle

Introducing the 2016 Commemorative Edition NSW “Revvy” Bicycle¹ – brought to you in collaboration with the NSW State Government and the NSW Police.

We’ve taken all the things that you love about riding a bike and made it better!

We know you love riding along without wasting time finding your ID when stopped by the authorities so the Revvy comes with our License Plate™. The Licence Plate™ is an externally mounted government issued identification so that when our authorities have nothing better to do and randomly stop you they can quickly assess whether to fine you for not displaying your identification.

We know you love riding at the early hours of the morning to avoid traffic on Sydney’s dangerous roads so instead of wasting your voice alerting a jaywalking jogger to your presence with a “good morning” you can instead blast our Mandatory Mounted Alerting Device™ to wake up the neighbourhood and save your larynx for the post-ride coffee.

We know that you love the feel of the wind in your hair while slowly pottering alongside the beach heading down to the shops so the Revvy comes equiped with our Super Strong Aircon™ to simulate that feeling while wearing your mandatory helmet. Our Super Strong Aircon™ can take you another step closer to hitting your CO2 emission targets and helping Australia proudly lead the world in CO2 emissions.

We know that you care about getting around safely so the Revvy comes equipped with a full-body Metal Safety Cage™ ² – it helps keep the air conditioned atmosphere inside, stops you from having to be connected to the outside world and removes the tediousness of chatting with other commuters as they pull up beside you in the congested traffic – plus the added tonne of metal helps you trigger all the green light sensors!

We know that the Metal Safety Cage™ decreases visibility around corners so we’ve installed a suite of Safety Mirrors™ and made sure to go that extra step further by having severe penalties to enforce stop signs – we’ve taken the temptation of high visibility away from you. You’re welcome.

We know that the added weight of the Metal Safety Cage™, Safety Mirrors™, Super Strong Aircon™ and Mandatory Mounted Alerting Device™ do increase the weight for the Revvy over that of “traditional bikes” but we’re letting you in on a secret, that’s what gives the Revvy it’s name! The Revvy comes equiped with a 200 horsepower engine to help you travel at a consistent 10km above the speed limit while carrying all the extra load. Not only will the Revvy enable you to Go Together™ with other road users at 10km above the speed limit but it will remove the need for us to shift 4 meters worth of Westconnex budget to build that 3% gradient offered by Harbourlink that the “traditional bike riders” will still yearn for. With the Revvy you won’t need Harbourlink. Go ahead and give Revvy’s 200 horsepower Safety Speed Engine™ a whirl as we removed the speed cameras because they don’t have any proven benefit (and in this case we care about proof).

We know that you’ve always wanted to travel along safely without having doors suddenly opening into your ribcage. That’s why the Revvy comes with a Beastly Bull Bar™ so that if someone opens their door in your path it’ll probably kill them and both you and the Revvy will survive without even a scratch.
We know that stability is important to you and this could be a problem with the addition of the our patented Metal Safety Cage™, Safety Mirrors™, Super Strong Aircon™, Mandatory Mounted Alerting Device™, Safety Speed Engine™ and Beastly Bull Bar™. That’s why the Revvy comes equipped with our innovative Stabilising Safety Wheels™. The two additional Stabilising Safety Wheels™ will help you cruise by at breakneck speed with the our Safety Speed Engine™ carrying all the additional weight you like and helping you to use your fair share of the dangerous roads.

Gone will be the days of illegally riding slowly on footpaths while lamenting the lack of decent bike infrastructure because with the Revvy you’ll feel comfortable on our dangerous roads thanks to our Metal Safety Cage™. Sure, you’ll be too wide to use the limited bike infrastructure but now you can while sit back on a cushioned seat while in congestion with the rest of us. You can pass the time in Sydney congestion using the Revvy’s built in Radical Radio™. Sit and enjoy the easy listening of AM talkback radio – you’ll be educated on why it’s totally normal to be bigoted and narrow-minded, it’s the NSW way and now you can be 100% part of the Groupthink Gang™. While listening to these fresh ideas you can sit texting with your mates about how right they are.
Don’t worry about now being forced onto the roads, we’ve got billions to spend on building new tollways, and while sitting in the induced congestion you’ll even get to experience the schadenfreude of watching those ghastly people on “traditional bikes” get what’s coming to them as they’re randomly stopped to produce their government issued identification.Now that you feel safe to ride on Sydney’s dangerous roads thanks to our Metal Safety Cage™ you may be worried about getting fines when you try to pass closely by those pesky people who dare to use the roads that are mandatory for them to use on “traditional bikes”. Don’t worry you can swipe as close as you like to teach them that they should also purchase a Revvy – we don’t really plan on enforcing that 1m passing rule when you travel using a 1 tonne Revvy. You can also rest assured that you don’t have to worry about fines for “riding furiously” because we guarantee that you won’t win the Strava M2 segment when sitting in traffic in the Revvy-sized lane on the M2.

If you’re worried about where to store the Revvy because you already have a car or you don’t have a garage then never fear – that’s why we invented Street Space™ so that you can take up a lane of road even while you’re not using the Revvy!

Hurry now and get your 2016 Commemorative Edition NSW “Revvy” Bicycle – we’ll only be producing 60 million this year and every minute without a Revvy you could be spending a fortune on fines, falling behind on your CO2 emission targets, breathing too much fresh air and wasting the opportunity to use your fair share of Medicare.

Get in quick and you’ll get the Revvy for the low low price of $39,990 ride away, no more to pay (except yearly rego, insurance, quarterly servicing, weekly refuelling BUT no extra costs for the roads because that’s already been paid for by a combination of stamp duty, council rates, GST and income tax).

If that sounds pricey then don’t worry we also have financing with extra tax breaks to make it affordable to own a Revvy at the cost of everyone else in society and increasing your already high debt load. We want you to be safe.
Stay tuned… Next year we’re introducing the Pedestian Face Tatto™ and Road Roller Motorshoes™ with our trademark Metal Safety Cage™ technology to improve the safety of all our free³ citizens.


  1. This is a satirical piece and not intended to be nuanced (that’s what I spend the rest of my time doing).
  2. The Metal Safety Cage™ and other safety features of the Revvy do not aid the safety of other road users⁴.
  3. Actual freedom not included.
  4. Who cares? It’s everyone for themselves right?