The minimum wage in Ecuador is:
(Yes, Ecuador does use the U.S. dollar. You are much more likely to see Sacagawea coins though, instead of dollar bills.)
The minimum wage is only applicable for people who are employed by a person or business other than their self. This is also about the same amount (minus rent) I am making monthly. As Peace Corps Volunteers we are expected to live at the same level as the average Ecuadorian.
The majority of Ecuadorians are at the moment unemployed, or self employed and this minimum wage does not apply to them. Some of these people are the bus drivers, bus vendors, restaurant/store owners, and people who sell fruits and vegetables in the market or on the street. The majority of Ecuadorians do not have a constant income. Rather, they work long hours every day trying to make as much money as they can. Despite the fact that many Ecuadorians are struggling to find work, and struggling to pay their bills, pay for food, etc. they are some of the most generous people I have ever met. I have received more free food here in the last few months than I have in my entire life prior to arriving in Ecuador.
As the minimum hourly wage is $1.50, I thought it would be interesting to share with you what one is able to buy in Ecuador for a dollar fifty.
$1.50 in Ecuador will buy you:
- 5 local bus rides (30 cents each)
- 3 bottles of water (50 cents each)
- 10 eggs (15 cents each)
- 6 green apples (25 cents each)
- 1.5 pounds of cat food
- a 5 minute taxi ride within a town
- 2 Bailoterapia classes (75 cents each)
- a bowl of soup
- around 3 pounds of uncooked rice
- around 4 pens (35 cents each)
- 3 servings of peanuts (50 cents each)
- a beer (with 25 cents leftover)
- An empanada (with 50 cents leftover)
- 1 cone of pinguino ice cream
- four rolls of toilet paper
- 1 hour at the gym
The every day things here in Ecuador may be considered "cheap" by North American standards, however when you are making an average of $12.20 a day money runs out extremely fast, especially if you have to take care of a family.
Anything that is imported to Ecuador is incredibly expensive. Most everything that is not a necessity, like tourist attractions and things one may decide to do to have fun, are also extremely expensive. A movie here is $7.80 which may seem cheap to you - but for me I see this as enough money to pay the bus to and from school for two weeks.
Although some things are relatively expensive, I'm continually surprised at how cheap fruit is! This past Sunday I went to the market and bought two apples, a pineapple, a papaya, a melon and a bag of strawberries for $3. This fruit usually lasts me for an entire week and I love it because it's also extremely fresh.
When you are making only $366 a month - money runs out extremely quickly. For that reason I have found that I have to be very careful with my money. I am not ashamed to say that I am now a change hoarder. Not only because no one ever seems to have change for more than a $5 bill but also because I have found that I need and I use every last cent. I have also had to learn how to regatear* at the markets and ask for the yapa* so I can get the most for my money. Finally, I have found that it is usually better to go to three or four different places to check the prices before buying anything. This helps a lot on cutting down costs.
I have also started to keep a budget for the first time ever! A budget on a peace corps salary is extremely important. I have learned that I can't just spend money willy nilly. I really have to make sure to keep to my weekly budget and to save the money I don't use for later on down the road in case of an emergency.
Peace Corps is definitely not a job where you're ever going to feel rich, and most of my fellow volunteers feel like they live paycheck to paycheck. However, although you may never be rich in terms of money, your life will be so much richer for the people you meet and the experiences you have. And that my friend, is what truly matters.
*yapa - whenever you ask for the yapa at a market you are basically asking for a gift of one or two more of whatever you are buying. You usually do this if you are buying a fair amount of a product, or if you are buying from the same person every week. People here will normally want to give you the yapa to entice you to come back and buy from them again.
Regatear - to bargain or to haggle