Minimalism lite

Which way, Western Man?

I live on less than USD $30 per day.

Planning to travel light while in Philippines, I gave away my mocha pot to an appreciative Eritrean and decided to make do with instant coffee until I settled down.

Anywhere in the Philippines, a sachet of Nescafe is cheap and available from any corner sari sari store.

Little known fact:

Nescafe is drinkable, even black with no sugar.

I suspect instant coffee has improved since I last drank it in my university days but I can find nothing about this online.

Real coffee is better than instant, of course. You’re talking to a latte-sipping wanker from Melbourne who has lived in the birthplace of coffee on the Horn of Africa.

Fancy brands of instant are also superior, but Nescafe is alright in a pinch. Make sure you don’t add the water too hot or the coffee will burn. Make it strong or not at all. Buy smaller sachets to avoid keeping one open for more than a week as it can get stale in the dank humidity.

I now realize there is decent native coffee available but I keep resisting the purchase of a proper coffee device because of the pipe dream that I’ll be leaving here any day now. I’m only allowed to take 20kg of luggage on the domestic flight off the island so every purchase seems wasteful.

If you’d asked me any time over the last two decades, I’d have told you that I don’t drink instant coffee thank you very much. I remember an Indian restaurant in Australia that only had instant and I was scandalized.

The belaboured point is, our material needs are more flexible than we think. If put to it, one can adapt to a surprisingly spartan life without becoming significantly less happy than before.

Following my budget app’s insights, I found a cheaper place to live with a shared kitchen. I previously would have considered that a deal-breaker but after six months, it’s fine. There’s usually no one else here anyway and we’re accustomed to lugging trays to our room and back.

Actually, my lodgings are eccentric and I doubt any of my readers would find them tolerable, but more about that another day. Suffice to say, it’s cheap and near the beach so I let a lot of other madness through to the keeper.

I also watch my pennies by limiting consumption of imported goods. There are massive tariffs even on goods not produced locally, like olive oil. Anything imported, however humble, is ridiculously expensive. This is a common Third World thing.

I normally refrain from imported cheese, meat and alcohol.

You can buy local beef but it’s hard to get as they’re not really set up for it.

Do I miss all that nice stuff? Regular beef, Scotch, real coffee, real cheese, quality tea, salmon, proper bread?

Not really. So long as I have something nutritious for dinner I’m happy enough. I can live without Laphroaig and feta. I rarely think about them.

I remember seeing some Australian Bega extra tasty cheese in a fancy supermarket and salivated, but decided not to buy because it was about twice the price as in Australia. Funny thing is, I hadn’t thought about that cheese until I saw it there. I suppose that’s the point of constant advertising – remove lovely things from your sight and you’ll soon forget about them. Kind of like how seeing pretty girls in town can set off one’s lust switch.

I can tolerate Tanduay Rhum, Lipton and small amounts of local, processed cheese (not Eden, I have limits).

We go out to eat once or twice a week. That’s enough.

Could I live on even less?

Probably.

I’ve seen habitable apartments in town for $150 less than this place per month, plus I could survive without eating out if necessary.

I reckon, if put to it, I could survive on $20 a day without whingeing too much. Plenty of Pinoys live on less than that without complaint but they can eat a plate of plain white rice for lunch and reside in a mouldy fibro shack that would kill me. They eat protein three or four times a week or not at all if they’ve lost their jobs due to lockdowns. That is what poverty means.

Mind you, there are foreigners here who live like ordinary Pinoys. Some frequent the local diners, called calenderia, whose inexpensive Bain-Marie of Death dishes will obliterate all but the strongest of digestive systems. Mostly these are Americans on basic military pensions. That amount (about $1,000 per month) is close to livable if you refrain from wine, women and song, but you know.

None of this is to say, ‘You can retire in the Philippines on $30 a day!’ That would be irresponsible advice.

First, few Westerners can live like I do. Keep in mind that I barely drink and don’t go anywhere or do anything because of Covid restrictions and customary laziness.

Second, you need extra in reserve for incidental expenses like travel, health care, taxes, unexpected bills and various other things that come up.

I reckon for the average person, a half mil is the minimum before you try to live here on your savings. If you have an income, even a modest online gig, you can get by on less.

Rather, the point of this article is: you can live far more simply than you think. What you imagine as grinding poverty, you’d probably find acceptable once you got used to it.

The rich think they couldn’t possibly drive a second-hand Kia or shop at Target. The middle class think they couldn’t live in a share house or cancel Netflix. I thought I couldn’t drink instant coffee or the dreaded orange paint stripper. Forced upon one, these merely material hardships are not too difficult to bear. All are preferable to heartbreak, betrayal, subjugation, loneliness or spiritual despair.

Seneca (who actually lived like a king on the salary he got from advising Nero) recommends spending a week or so living very simply in order to reassure yourself that it’s not so bad, to reduce your fear of poverty. He was a hypocrite but it’s still a good idea.

I’ve noticed a fear as I get older and more established, that someone might take my hard-earned away. It’s true: when you have no money, you don’t worry about it. When you have it, you have to think about it. Suddenly taxes loom large in your mind and you try to puzzle out ever more obscure forms of diversification to wriggle out of the inevitable risk that comes from living in the universe.

As Seneca also says, the fear of the thing is usually worse than the thing itself. If you ever fall on hard times, you’ll cope with the same internal resources that you use to get through today’s challenges and annoyances.

If your were forced to drink only instant coffee for the rest of your life, you’d be fine.

If you had to do without coffee, alcohol, sex or the internet for years, you could do it. The prospect is far worse than the actuality.

Still, if I ever get to my job in Japan I’m gunna buy a new mocha pot and a lovely bottle of 10 year old Laphroaig. I’m not a monk.


4 comments

  1. Tim914 · August 1

    I was somewhat well off in my youth until my father lost the family business. I went to a prep school where I met some ultra rich people, including a DuPont. She was set for life but not very happy. She traveled the world so much that she was sick of it. I saw no psychological benefit she derived from being the daughter of billionaires. I concluded from knowing her and some other very rich people that being so loaded isn’t really good for you, they all seemed a bit off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · August 1

      I’ve met two people who inherited enough money not to work, both as you describe. Constantly travelling, not enjoying it, no direction in life. Needing to work keeps most of us grounded.

      Like

  2. oldfossil · August 5

    You could live like a king in South Africa on $1000 a month. Philippines must be damn expensive for a fourth world country.

    Like

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