Tuesday 19 February 2013

What is a luxury?

Just read a thought provoking blog post from Pubol's Post on Cultural Economics - basically how it's not easy to compare the cost of living from one country to another, because of so many variable factors. Where one thing might be cheap in one place, other things may be more expensive in another.

Living abroad, but getting funding from home means that you continuously have to work out exchange rates and compare prices of what is available to what you can afford. What might seem like an unnecessary luxury for some, may well be essential for another. For us, the debate is often about healthcare. Coming from the UK, health expenses were never really a big discussion and certainly not something that would need budgeting. Yet, living in South Africa, where healthcare is insurance-based and expensive, you can find yourself having to pay a significant portion of your budget on sickness prevention. I know for some missionaries, working in difficult situations, security is one of the big expenses. Many have to have private security guards and insurances - an expense which can prove very costly, yet completely unnecessary in the UK (and therefore often not easily understood).

From this must come a certain measure of trust from the supporters who keep us here. When we pay out a significant sum for something, we have to ask our supporters to trust us that this item is important/necessary for our continued work here. That, in itself, is a step of faith on their part.

Right now, I'm fixing my car. If this was in the UK and I had a car which was 15 years old, with over 260,000km (c.160,000 miles) on the clock with the engine that needed a whole overhaul, the cost comparison to getting it done compared to scrapping the car and buying a new one would be laughable. It would be considerably more expensive to fix than to replace. Yet, here, to fix the car will cost a fraction of what it would cost to replace. The reason? There's a flat second hand car market, making used cars really expensive. Therefore, even if it's expensive to get the car fixed, it's still worth doing, even if it is an old car!

We all look at financial decisions based on our own culture and experience. The more you travel, the more you realise that these decisions are different in every place and not always easy to make. The missionary is always in a difficult place, because they face criticism from local people on searching out 'unnecessary luxuries' that the missionary is missing from home, and spends a 'fortune' buying, whilst facing the need to defend actual necessities that those back home think are an 'unnecessary luxury'. Therefore, part of our job when we budget is to explain clearly the importance of spending extra on the 'unusual' things and why they are important to budget for. And never underestimate the importance of local knowledge!

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