Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Or as we’d say in Shqip: Kikirikë (kee kee reek)

Peace Corps Volunteers survive on peanuts, I’m talking about the CASH-O-LA factor here….not those that go along with CrackerJax at the ballgame. In Albania, we live on $230 a month (actually women get an extra $5 a month. I’ll trust you can figure out why.) That translates to a little over $55 a week which should cover our costs for food, household items, hygiene, transportation and recreation. Our rent and utilities are paid through a separate “allowance.”

The $230 Living Allowance is less than 10% of my previous, modest non-profit monthly salary (after taxes/pas takseve). And I thought I was living on a BUDGET then! Do you think YOU could do it?

Sure, there are differences in prices/çmimi (chmee-mee) between the United States and Albania. But I can assure you, our allowance doesn’t allow for much wiggle room. My days of impulse buys are long gone. Good thing there aren't racks with the gossip magazines at the market/tregu (tray-goo).

See here that nearly 75% of my budget is food-related. (Nerd Alert! Yes…I keep track of my purchases to make visual aids like these!) And for a frame of reference: Here are some of my typical Albanian costs, well…averages, converted to US Dollars:

• 1 liter of milk: $1.15 (about 4 bucks a gallon)
• 1 loaf of bread: $0.40
• A bottle of water: $0.50
• 2 lbs of tomatoes: $0.70 (produce is really affordable and super fresh!)
• Small Jar of Peanut Butter: $4.00 (Yowzah! Now that’s a luxury purchase)
• 16oz. bag of pasta: $0.75
• Snickers Bar: $0.40
• Indiv. Bag of Lays BBQ: $0.50
• Fast Food lunch: $1.50
• Coffee Break: $0.70
• Pizza and a Salad dining out: $7.50
• 3-hour busride: $4.50
• Texting plan-500 in 30 days: $5.00
• Cut/style/blowdry: $6.00 (women’s)
• Shampoo: $4.50 (Pantene)
• 12-roll pack of TP: $3.20
• Hand-knit wool socks: $2.50

What surprises you most? My inexpensive texting plan or that shampoo isn’t such a smoking deal? That a simple US “staple” like Peanut Butter is considered High End? Or that my coffees are less than a dollar! (No venti caramel macchiatos here!)

How do I do it? For one thing, I’ve cook much more at home and with the freshness of fruits and vegetables, it can be pretty delicious/shume e shijshme (shoom ay sheesh-may)! I don’t spend much on “nightlife,” but with gender norms among other factors, my town’s nightlife scene isn’t exactly a major draw. And for household cleaning… a bulk purchase of dish soap has served well for dishes, cleaning the bathroom, mopping the floors, etc! Creativity with resources!

Besides, when it all boils down, I’m a product of H. Lee Dunn, Financial Advisor and Frugality Expert. He taught me how to be smart with my money and so I manage. I try to stick to essential purchases, even though I'll treat myself to ice cream now and then! But damn it... if there aren’t days when walking past that super cute shoe store doesn’t take ALL MY WILLPOWER!

In the US, how do you spend your money? On things you need? On things you want? On things that ensure you "keep up with the jones's?" How much do you spend on yourself versus on others? Is your spending thoughtful or careless...or somewhere in between (that's where I prefer to be)? I only ask because many incredible non-profits are struggling in the current US economy. Before YOUR next impulse buy...consider saving that $$ and sending it to your favorite charity or buying a hot meal for the homeless man you always see on that corner. No buyer's remorse will follow that decision!

Peace, Love and Creamy JIF in care packages (HINT)


  1. keeping receipts.. that's an idea. i'll attempt to do that for march and see what happens :) and then ill compare my pie chart with you..(which I have a feeling won't be nearly as fiscally conservative and financially responsible as yours :p)

  2. Nice post Melia. I'm kind of curious to see your numbers. Do travel and entertainment fall under Other? Have you looked into saving money?

    I also feel compelled to add that prices for produce can really swing from summer to winter. I know cucumbers for example cost much more - $2.50/kilo compared to $.50/kilo in the summer. However, bananas are $.30 each all year around.