HOW TO LIVE OFF OF SIX DOLLARS FOR TWO WEEKS IN YANGON

Fresh produce from a market in Yangon, Myanmar.

One of the first times I went to the bank in Myanmar, I was shown an example of the paperwork I’d need to fill out to be able to transfer money home. The example was of a real person, currently working in Yangon, making upwards of $5,000 a month. I became instantly depressed. In two months he makes what I’m going to earn this entire year, and I have to send more than half of my monthly paycheck home to cover a portion of my bills.

All the while piles of cash were being counted around me. How do people find a way to make so much? What am I doing wrong? I’ve never been so money conscious in my life. I guess it’s time to learn from past financial mistakes, and figure out how to get by on very little income. Like most of the world has to.

A powerful, unexplainable, sort of spiritual transformation is taking place in my life. When you’re left with nothing else, it’s amazing to let go, allow yourself to be provided for, and learn in that process of hitting the bottom. It’s humiliating, humbling, and I’m left with wanting to give so much more.

I’m nothing but thankful. I feel nothing but gratitude. My core. My character. My faith. All have been tested. My call. My choices. My decisions. My path. All have been doubted, questioned. What it took was coming to a place like Myanmar to strip everything else away. When you’re left with seemingly nothing, you realize you have everything. And you can find a way to make $6 last until the end of the month, even if payday is still two weeks away.

SHOP LOCALLY 

Shopping locally is a win-win situation for all involved. A large street market is only a few blocks away from where I live. Going to the market instead of a chain grocery store like City Mart, has forced me to interact with locals. I’ve gotten to know my neighborhood better as a result.

Plus, you can shop locally for much less. You can get fresh, produce within a few steps. Not a long, expensive taxi ride away. You support small family businesses and individual livelihoods. And in a place like Yangon, you can buy eggs from a seller on your street instead of an overpriced dozen from a convenience store.

DON’T BE STINGY, BE CREATIVE

You’re forced to get creative when you don’t have much money, whether you’re looking for forms of entertainment or a meal. Internet access in Yangon is limited, so I’ve spent a lot of money for food and drinks in cafes that have decent Wi-Fi connection.

However, I’ve figured out the cheapest items to buy, so now I only purchase one thing when trying to suck as much Wi-Fi out of a place as possible, even if I stay for six hours at a time. I’m polite, and I leave a good tip. No one seems to mind.

Although having to decline invitations to attend some social outings is necessary on a tight budget, it doesn’t mean you have to become totally anti-social. Get a glass of draught beer instead of a bottle. Eat beforehand, and ask for refills on the free plate of peanuts most bars and pubs around Yangon provide.

I’m not above chugging a cheap bottle of Mandalay Rum in the back alley instead of buying drinks at an upscale establishment either. Go trashy outside. Keep it classy inside without spending a kyat.


Banana bread baked from ingredients found in my cupboard and fridge.
Use items you’ve had sitting in your cupboards for a long time. I’ve had milk powder stashed away since moving in, so until I use it up, I’m not going to purchase fresh milk. Common ingredients like flour, sugar, margarine, and old bananas are perfect for baking cookies and/or breakfast to last a few days.

GETTING AROUND

Walk to work, walk everywhere. You get exercise, you see the sights, and you become better acquainted with your whereabouts.

Getting around Yangon isn’t actually that difficult, if you don’t mind the heat. It’s a relatively small, condensed city compared to many places I’ve lived. Just for a short drop, taxi drivers charge more than what I can currently afford to live on per day.  Instead of taking a taxi, I can get enough fruit and vegetables (pictured) to last two days.

ALLOW OTHERS TO HELP

If all else fails, hope and pray you’ll be invited to weddings, work functions, birthday celebrations, as well as staff dinners. If you do attend any of these paid for events, ask to take home leftovers. Why not? They'll go to waste.

Having lunch provided at school during the week has been such a blessing. Oftentimes it’s the only full meal I eat in a day, and I’m so thankful to get to share it with coworkers.

As a challenge for myself, along with the kindness and generosity of others inviting me to occasional dinners and providing lunch, I’m going to see if I can live off of $1 a day for the next month. This won’t include essentials, and a bit of a budget to splurge once or twice. I challenge you to do the same.

No matter where you’re living in the world, see if you can get by on significantly less than what you’re currently spending. If it’s impossible to survive on a buck a day, try living off of three or five dollars. I guarantee you’ll realize just how much can be purchased for the price of one coffee from a corporate chain.

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