Sunday, March 15, 2009

Birthdays, Budgeting, and American Me

All of us in this picture had birthdays this week. Me (81), Christian (78), Benj (78), and Trent (80). And we all turned the same age. Really weird. Also weird is despite the constant gatherings of volunteers this weekend, the moment this picture was taken was the first and only time that the four of us were actually gathered in the same room. Part of the difficulty in assembling this group for a picture was that Benj was in Fiji until late yesterday afternoon.

In any case, confluence of 4 of us born within 8 days each other was cause for celebration, and with celebration comes spending money. Don’t get me wrong, other volunteers bought me drinks and stuff. There was an outpouring of generosity. But when everyone is working on the same shoestring budget, people can’t be expected to foot too many costs. And between meals, taxis, and a certain amount of celebration, life gets a little more expensive for the birthday boys too. At times like this, I like to call on my American counterpart, American Matthew.

As Samoan Matthew, I receive a monthly stipend from the Peace Corps, and I try and budget accordingly. But occasionally, American Matthew steps in to supplement certain expenses. American Matthew has very few living expenses. Since his existence is on hiatus for a couple years, he doesn’t have to pay rent or car insurance or phone bills. And even though he got laid off a year ago, he was able to get by on severance and such. So compared to Samoan Matthew, American Matthew is relatively wealthy.

But lucky for me, American Matthew is also generous. He pays my internet bills and most of my prepaid cell phone refills here in Samoa. And on special occasions, he does nice things. He took me out to dinner on my birthday. He bought the boxed wine for yesterday afternoon’s get-together.

Other Peace Corps are hesitant to rely on their American counterparts for any Samoan expenses. And I can understand that. Some people prefer to save that money or use it for traveling. The Peace Corps also frowns on using American money to pay for things. Volunteer stipends are calculated based on an annual cost-of-living survey, and volunteers are encouraged to live on the same economic level as a typical Samoan in the same position.

It would be inappropriate for me to get a big screen TV or an air-conditioner for my house or a car (Peace Corps aren’t allowed to drive anyway.). I think I follow this rule pretty well. I sewed my own curtains. I cook most of my own meals. I rarely take taxis anywhere. I only dip into rich American Matthew’s pockets for, like I said, internet bills, phone minutes, and special occasions.

And the weird thing is, Samoan Matthew actually saves enough money each month to cover all of these expenses. But American Matthew has a debit card and can therefore pay bills much more easily. It’s also nice for Samoan Matthew to have money saved in Tala for certain things (monthly variations in food spending, occasional large purchases, cash for stays in beach fales, etc.).

There’s a fine line that separates who pays for what, and Samoan Matthew sustains himself pretty well. And American Matthew is hesitant to pay for too much. But the 2 Matthews work it out. And in the end, everyone wins.

I hope you’re budgeting well. Pictures below.

You are all weirdos.

Erin was among those hanging out at the Peace Corps office this morning.

Peanut butter. The ones on the top shelf are 12 oz. for $8.40. The bottom shelf are 16.3 oz. for $8.55. Which is the better deal? Hmmm...

This glove fell into this position by itself. Fight on.


Unknown said...

Glad to know you got American Matthew to cover the internet. I hope he keeps paying for it as I (and I'm sure many others) enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...

you funny :)