The way I am living right now is not sustainable.

If you live in America, most of Europe or other “developed” places, the way you are living is not sustainable either.

This isn't an argument over the definition of sustainable. Other people have done this and do it better than I could. For example, Raam Dev gave us this profound quote about the sustainable distribution of abundance.

“On an individual level, the abundance we accumulate — be it in the form of wealth, possessions, knowledge, and even skills — should only be accumulated to the point where we can provide for our families. Anything beyond that point should be given back to the community, to those who need it. Wealth of any type, just as love, must be shared to be fully realized.”

I'm not here to make you feel bad. I'm here to make you feel good about the change you can bring to your own life in very simple ways.

This short post is about the book Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day. This isn't a book review but rather an exploration of the use of resources in a way most of us can't begin to comprehend.

If you've never read the book I strongly recommend checking out the first chapter for free. If you do nothing else, read the first four pages about how the poor budget, how they view the concept of money management, and the tools available to manage their money. This is seriously “tell me more” kind of stuff.

What Can Be Done on $2 a Day

The world's poor cost of living is much lower than ours is. This isn't groundbreaking news.

Yet the poor still have money left over to invest, for discretionary purchases, and to lend to others.

How is this possible?

Well, they are much savvier than we are about converting money into other primary resources like shelter or food.

Imagine for a moment the fraction of resources you use on a daily basis. Just in the few minutes after you wake up your money has:

  • Paid for the housing you're in
  • Purchased the bed you slept on
  • Secured access to heating or cooling
  • Kept the food you pull from your refrigerator cold

From the moment you get dressed your time is only limited by:

  • The need to make money to afford the things you consume
  • Mostly routine and simple commitments to co-workers, friends, and family
  • How “productive” you're feeling that day
  • How many websites, movies, magazines, or TV shows you feel like watching

And while this is happening, 2.7 billion people are living on $2 a day.

From the moment the world's poor wake up their money has:

  • Potentially paid for housing – if they aren't homeless – but not something you might think of as a dwelling
  • Potentially purchased an object to sleep on, debatably called a “bed”
  • Provided access to food, not necessarily within walking distance and not necessarily stored in a safe manner

From the moment they get dressed their time is limited by:

  • The ability to transport themselves to a place where someone might pay them for their service or product
  • How long it takes to get to a (hopefully) fresh water source to secure water for the day
  • Other things you and I find unpleasant and don't have to deal with

The wonderful thing about the poor is they are forced to be resourceful. When resources are lacking and ways to manage them are almost non-existent, it's not an option to maximize resourcefulness. It must be done. All day, every day.

Don't Feel Guilty…Just Do Something About It

Stories of the Poor

I don't mention all this to make you feel guilty.

I mention this so you'll do something about it. If you don't know what you can or should do here are some suggestions:

  1. Read Portfolios of the Poor
  2. Understand what two-fifth of the world's population require to live and how they define the word “need”
  3. Assess the resources you consume on a daily basis
  4. Plan ways to distribute the abundance in your life to others. Locally, nationally or internationally.

Are there other suggestions you can think of that would be useful?

Newsflash: Many of You're Needs Are Actually Wants

If you do nothing else, do this.

Write down the basic needs you and your family have. Then compare your needs to what you understand the needs are of those living on $2 a day.

And then reflect on this:

“Virtually all of the rural Bangladeshi households followed the well-established tradition of musti chaul—of keeping back one fistful of dry rice each time a meal was cooked, to hold against lean times, to have ready when a beggar called, or to donate to the mosque or temple when called on to do so.”

Yes. Many of the world's poor are saving their resources for people who are even poorer or needier than they are. It's times like this when I think about what resources I'm hording “just in case“.

Let's be real though. Not all of us love money or love the pursuit of money. Becoming Minimalist claims money can devour our values, fuel unneeded competition, or cause us to sacrifice our passions. And I agree.

The poor see money as a tool but do you and I?

If you're still not feeling the impact, skip through 10 slides on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website related to Portfolios of the Poor. Put yourself in the shoes of the people you see for a moment. Investigate the tools the poor need to manage the little money they don't immediately spend.

And last, start your plan today to distribute the abundance in your life to others who just plain need it more than you do.

You don't want to get shown up by someone making $2 a day, do you?