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Saturday, September 05, 2009

USA: The Proportions of Money

The proportions of money, or rather the things it buys, get all out of sync when you are living or traveling in another country.

Normally, accommodation is the biggest daily expense, whether we pay on a mortgage, rent an apartment, or stay in a hotel or motel. In Thailand, my food and snacks are by far my biggest expense. So, if I have really cheap street food, and pay 20 baht for pad thai, and 10 baht for a bottle of water, I have spent one-fifth of a night's accommodation costs. If I have pasta (100 baht) and a Diet Coke (20 baht), I have spent nearly four/fifths of the cost of a room for the night. A beer or a glass of wine instead of the Diet Coke, and now I've eaten a night's expenses.

I've had to adjust. I try to measure things in terms of food, rather than in terms or room costs. Looked at this way, my room in Chiang Mai cost me five street-food meals or one pasta meal with wine. A tuktuk ride cost 50 baht, or three store-bought Diet Cokes and a really cheap ice cream bar.

Working put another spin on it. I get paid 400 baht for two hours in the classroom. Subtract the 100 baht I spent round-trip, and I made 150 baht an hour. Now, suddenly, I'm working an hour to pay for my room, and worse, I'm working an hour to pay for a pasta dish and a glass of wine.

Travel on to another country, and the proportions change again.  In Mexico, long distance bus fares are more of a factor.  While the buses are great, they are so relatively expensive that for really long trips it can be cheaper to fly.  The bus fare for a five hour ride costs as much as two nights in a dorm on Isla Mujeres.  The bus fare for a five hour ride in Ecuador costs less than one night in a dorm in Quito. 

As a child, I measured money in popsicles. A comic book cost two popsicles.  A paperback book cost fiive.  Even those proportions have changed.

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