5 Money Lessons From the Third World
There is a fear that pervades North American culture. It is a fear that people might think that you have less than others. So much of what drives people relates to their desire to maintain a certain appearance — a facade. We seek to present a false reality. Not only is that an unhealthy financial habit, it is also certain to lead to a life of misery.
Four years ago, my family moved to the third world country of Papua New Guinea. (For context, here's an interview with a few PNG citizens.) Since the very first day we moved, we have been learning important lessons about money and finances. Today I'll share five money lessons we can learn from the third world. However, in order to learn those lessons, we first need to look at the two following illustrations.
Illustration #1: Entertainment
On a recent day trip to the beach, our family filled the back of our pickup truck with items to help entertain ourselves for a few hours. The truck was packed with chairs, balls, towels, floaties, snacks, and toys.
However, when we arrived at the beach, we found a group of kids who were running up and down the beach playing with empty 5-gallon oil containers and small pieces of plywood. They transformed these two pieces of "junk" into hours of entertainment. Meanwhile, we spent as much time unpacking and setting up as we did playing.
By the end of the day, all our fancy gadgets were cast to the side as we instead tried to see who had the best form while jumping into the water over a high-jump structure made of sticks.
Illustration #2: Repairs
Several weeks ago, the front cover of my truck headlight broke. Because of an upcoming safety inspection, I knew the headlight needed to be fixed. I did what any good first world citizen would do: I tried to find a new one to buy. The problem? There are no replacement headlights in town. However, with the help of masking tape and cable ties, I was able to reinstall the headlight. In the process, I saved myself $45. The point is not that I fixed my own car, but that I was forced to be creative, and I saved $45 in the process.
These two illustrations taught me that I should be learning some money lessons from my friends in the third world.
5 Money Lessons From the Third World
1. Try to fix it before you buy it
Change your default thinking. When something breaks, force yourself to spend some time figuring out if there is a way to fix the item. Hey, you might surprise yourself with what you can fix. If you're in the first world, you have one huge advantage: the Internet. I learned how to build almost all of the furniture in my house with the help of Google. I figured out how to fix my oven by following instructions on the net. I'm certainly not qualified to do those things, but I decided to at least take a look before buying something new.
2. Be creative and use what you have
It is amazing the number of items people from the first world dispose of just because it fulfilled its original purpose. In the third world, once something has been used for its original purpose, it is time to ask what its next job should be. As such, newspaper is used in the stores for keeping freezer items cooler. Empty margarine containers are used to make ice blocks. Sugar is stored in old peanut butter jars. Used oil marks the boundaries on sports fields. On and on the list could go. The third world teaches people how to be resourceful.
3. Focus on functionality
Are you consumed with how things look? I'm convinced that most people in the first world could save enormous amounts of money if they we more concerned about functionality than fashion and fancy. When the radio breaks, are you willing to fasten the battery plate with tape?
4. Fun is not a byproduct of money
Far too often we think that when we get money, we also get fun. It's as if we think both things are packaged together. While the amount of money you have can contribute to the type of happiness you can enjoy, there are so many fun things that can be done without money. Challenge yourself to consider great activities that don't cost a dime.
5. Don't buy it if you don't have the cash
A fortunate advantage of many third world citizens is that they don't have access to credit. As such, they only buy things when they have the cash. I sometimes wonder how different North America would be if people had to have cash to buy things. I think people would have much better personal finance conditions if they were forced to pay cash. If you have any type of credit card debt problems, then you should seriously consider going to a cash based system.