At the current $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage has become a poverty wage. A full-time worker with one child lives below the official poverty line.
Yesterday, we hit the jackpot when shopping in Rivas, on the mainland. For the first time in Nicaragua, I found a jar of whole dill pickles, French honey mustard, and Snyder pretzels. Today, I received my first Social Security deposit. I’m officially old and lovin’ every minute of it. Yet, both of these events got me thinking about the poverty level in Nicaragua.
Do Nicaraguans think they are poor or do we, who were born into a capitalistic society, only perceive Nicaraguans as poverty-stricken? Do Nicaraguans prioritize their lives around how much things cost? To help answer my philosophical ramblings, I asked myself, how long would a Nicaraguan have to work for a jar of dill pickles?
On the average, a full-time Nicaraguan employee earns 100 cordobas a day. That’s the equivalent of $4 a day at the current exchange rate. My jar of dill pickles cost 135 cordobas, which means the average Nicaraguan would have to work more than a day to buy a jar of pickles.
To put this into perspective, a minimum wage worker in the states would have to work about 42 minutes to buy a jar of pickles. Of course, pickles are a luxury item here, so the cost is much higher than in the states. My neighbor kids love mayonnaise. They beg for mayonnaise when they come to visit because it is pricy and out of reach for most wage earners in Nicaragua.
Honestly, I seldom look at the prices of most food items in Nicaragua. We buy very little processed food, but there are certain treats like peanut butter, mayonnaise, pretzels, chocolate and pickles that we enjoy when we can find them.
Out of curiosity, I’ve compiled a list of how long a Nicaraguan would have to work for various items that we normally think nothing of purchasing.
One day of work would buy: 100 cordobas or $4.00
1. 1 jar of mayonnaise
2. one giant Hershey bar
3. A week of telephone minutes ( depending on how long one talks and if calling a Moviestar phone from a Claro phone)
4. 4 pirated DVD movies
5. 4 bottles of Tona beer
6. almost a jar of pickles
One week of work would buy: A work week is 6 days. 600 cordobas or $24
1. A month’s Claro internet plan for a dongle modem
2. 3 jars of peanut butter…very expensive in Nicaragua
3. A tank of gasoline for a motorcycle
4. A cloth hammock
5. 2 bags of cement
One month of work would buy: About 3,000 cordobas or $120
1. Rent under $120 a month for a small house.
2. One double mattress thick and padded
3. A used bicycle
4. 4 baby piglets
5. Two taxi rides to Managua from Rivas
One year of work would buy: 36,000 cordobas or $1,440
1. A cheap Chinese motorcycle
2. A refrigerator, a washing machine, a bottle of propane, and a small two burner cook top.
3. 2 rt airline tickets to Miami , plus the cost of the visas
4. A manzana of land for grazing cattle on the volcano
5. 2 fiberglass canoes
Compiling this list put a lot of things into perspective for me. Now I understand why the prices for most furniture, appliances, electronics, and vehicles are listed first in monthly installments with the full price at the bottom. Most Nicaraguans buy on credit with little understanding of interest rates. Usually, they will buy an item on credit, and if they can’t make the monthly payments, the repo man visits. The repo men are very busy in Nicaragua.
Now, I understand why most young families live with extended family members. Who could afford to rent a house? Even on Ometepe Island, where the rental prices are still reasonable, a small house with a tiled floor, one bedroom, and a flush toilet will run about $150 a month unfurnished.
Now it makes sense to me why mayonnaise is “rico” and gallo pinto for breakfast, lunch and dinner is the life force of Nicaragua. I can see why they cook with wood instead of propane because a bottle of propane costs about $15.
Now, I understand why the Nicaraguans barter, beg, or steal. They are their best when bargaining for a good deal. It’s accepted practice to never take the first price offered. In fact, it’s a performing art to watch the thrifty Nicaraguans bargain.
Now it makes sense why most Nicaraguans live a stress-free life and why making money or getting rich is not a main goal in their lives. I understand why they don’t have a clue about budgeting because they live day-to-day with little extra money to budget.
Finally, I understand what it is like to live like a Nica. Money is not high on their list because they have so little of it. They creatively make do with what little they have. They work hard, play hard, and laugh often. They don’t think they are poor. Their birthplace determines their future, and in my opinion, it has little to do with money. They prioritize their purchases depending on immediate needs, not wants. If their basic needs are met, then they buy luxury items on credit, or barter and bargain for them. Do I think the Nicaraguans would work a whole day to buy a jar of dill pickles? Not a chance!