What I've learned about poverty while living on less

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.


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.

We are living in the safest and most prosperous time in history.

There are many other problems to solve after extreme poverty – so how about we make poverty history in our lifetime and then move on to everything else. With a coordinated effort and a commitment to the future it’s mind-blowing what we can do beyond ending extreme poverty.

I seriously recommend watch the point at 3:30 into the video below when Beth Barnes 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.

One Reply to “What I've learned about poverty while living on less”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.