What one month in Ukraine taught me about money
How to live for $200 a month, what a true financial diet is, and how changing your attitude toward money can make you happier.
I know what you think:
What the heck did she do in Ukraine, and how did it happen she spent a month (!) there? Where is Ukraine, after all?
Okay, first things first:
Back in 2012, Ukraine and Poland happened to hold the international soccer championship. As far as I was lucky to take summer courses of practical psychology at Kyiv International University in 2009, I decided to go back there again in 2012 as a volunteer teacher of the English language for Ukrainian students during Euro 2012. Yes, it was long before I had joined the team of PlagiarismCheck.org as a content writer; and I must admit this kind of experience helped me a lot in a professional growth.
Long story short, I had 1500 UAH for a month of my living in this country. It was about $190, according to the currency rate of that time. And, frankly speaking, I am happy to visit Ukraine in 2012 but not today when those 1500 UAH would turn into $57… Though the experience and impressions would be richer, I suppose.
I had no idea how to live upon $190 a month, taking into account the fact I had to pay $63 for rent (I shared a three-roomed apartment together with two other volunteers) and $25 for urban transport. So, I had about $102 left for all other expenses: food, clothes, and entertainment.
Why $190, you ask?
Well, it was a living wage of average Ukrainians then-time, so it was a kind of experiment for me to see how they lived for that money. (For those interested, their living wage in 2017 is about $123 a month.)
So, I had $102. How did I spend this money, and what were the financial lessons I had learned? (Spoiler alert: “Actually stick to a budget” is #1 of them.)
Wheat and buckwheat groats, potatoes, carrots, cabbage... Half-rotten apples ($0.6 for a kilo), no bread (expensive for me), no meat (too expensive for me, I take 10 eggs instead), 10 liters of water (you can't drink from the tap in Ukraine – water is dirty there), salt provisions (tomatoes and cucumbers)...
All cost me $15, and I plan to eat these products during one week. Sounds optimistic: with $3.39 of a daily budget, it seems I've saved $8.73! No coffee, tea, cakes, or any other yummy and favorite food of mine... But I think I can handle this. For a week or two…
That's what my standard meal looked like:
After a week of eating like this, I feel a smell of cappuccino, fish, and meat everywhere (literally!) My roommates treat me with bananas, tea, and nuts from time to time. Agneshka and Tony, guys, if you read this, thank you, thank you again, you saved my life!
A lesson learned: Don't spend too much on junk food and cheat meals you could go without. More than that, you don't need diets to stay slim. Healthy products and smart balancing of nutrients in them can do wonders. But sure thing, there's a big difference between a healthy eating and starvation diet.
For a month of such nutrition, I've saved around $35 for other expenses. It looks like Ukrainians spend 60% of their wages on food, and I must admit I don't like such a tendency. $35 for medicine, clothes, and entertainment sound like a mission impossible; but do I have any choice?
It happens that I do.
I am lucky to visit Ukraine in summer when the risk of getting a cold is minimum. Also, I plan to spend a month there, so I can live without any new clothes. What I want to buy is the Ukrainian national clothes – vyshyvanka – but it costs around $60, the unattainable luxury for me. As they say, c'est la vie. But as I say, God bless friends: since a month after my way back home, one of my Ukrainian friends sends me this beauty:
A lesson learned: Don't spend money on clothes simply because you want a new dress or shoes. Use your gray matter and don't let emotions get an advantage of mind. This item of cost happens to be only when your old clothes are truly worn-out.
Okay, it's close to impossible to spend money on hobbies and entertainment when $35 is all you have. For instance, I am a big fan of step aerobics and going to cinemas with friends. But I can't buy a gym membership ($38) and watch a new movie every week ($8 for one ticket, apart from cola and popcorn as a part of the ritual).
What I do is spending $10 for one visit to a gym. Also, I go to a cinema. Once. With no coke and popcorn but a small bottle of water. The rest $17 are spent on going out with friends ($5 for a cappuccino in a cafe where we watch a soccer match, for free), going to a library, and two books from a local market.
A lesson learned: You don't have to spend thousands on hobbies, travels, and entertainment to be happy. Emotions cost nothing, and the world is open to everyone: if you do want to go somewhere, visit an interesting place, or master an interesting hobby – you'll know how to achieve this goal with scarce funds, either.
…That month in Ukraine has become a true financial diet for me. What can I add? It's possible to live for $200 a month only if you don't have to pay for rent, you never get the flu or any other diseases, you walk by foot all the time, you don't have kids, and your perfect pastime is at home with a laptop or a book (although books and the Internet access are what you should pay for, too.) In other words, budgeting rules but… anything done in excess is unhealthy.
Savings are saviors, that's why we should always reserve a part of our profit for a rainy day.