Contrary to what many people think, living on less is not simple. Of those living on two dollars a day in Peru 20.5% get their income from more than one source, according to the World Bank. That means working more than one job to get the same small earnings. Meanwhile those working single jobs are usually putting a day’s labor to receive the same trickle of cash, which leaves less time to take care of personal matters. Time and money become precious not only for their utility but for their allocation throughout the day. This being the case there are numerous complexities to micromanaging a family living on two dollars a day or less.
In many parts of the world other things that we would consider to be trivial in the face of potential starvation are highly valued in poor communities. Television sets, alcohol, tobacco, and festivals are all important things that people seem to spend a good deal of money on, regardless of income. Ensuring a more vibrant and interesting life tends to be a necessity to the point where a little extra food can be ignored. Although Peru’s poor spend less than 1% of their budgets on drugs like alcohol and cigarettes, their numerous festivals are a must. Finding ways to distribute indispensible income to accommodate for needs and non-essentials at the same time takes planning, negotiating, and calculated sacrifices. It also provides a degree of choice that can be liberating in a state where everything is limited by price tags and hours in the day.
This appears to some as a counter intuitive norm. I was sitting down to dinner with a Peruvian who moved to Europe and started a Danish touring company that operates in Cuzco. He told me about growing up in the region and how it was changing. According to him the country has been growing a lot in the past few years especially in its economic efficiency. Corruption and materialism, though, are more and more rampant. Things are better, “but Peru may always be a third world country,” he said, slowly tapping his temple with his finger “it’s all up here sometimes.” His comment shed light on a healthy skepticism that exists regarding how poor families emphasize certain things we consider only for the luxurious. But the exploration of a harder way of life isn’t just about how much you can afford to eat, its how much you can afford to be happy as well.