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You Think You Have Money Problems? Try Visiting Mexico…

We just got back from our week long vacation/wedding attendance in Ixtapa, Mexico and we are trying to get back into the swing of things after taking the week off. While we had an incredible time, the poverty that we saw on the roads to and from the airport and into town really struck me as extreme. I feel kind of guilty about the fact that I flew in, spent a lot of money in a resort town, and flew out…without helping out much of the local economy. Sure, we all see images of poor neighborhoods in this country, but in Mexico the poor areas are way more downtrodden than any neighborhood in this country could probably be. If there is one thing that this vacation taught me, it is that there are so many people worse off than either I or anyone I know could ever be and that I really have nothing to complain about.

Of course, everything is relative…there are more job opportunities here in the United States along with more help available to those that need it. But still, to see people living in huts with no electricity, windows or probably even running water was difficult to swallow. We drove past kids playing baseball with a stick and some rocks, an old woman sitting in her hotel office that was falling down around her, and lots of broken down cars piled up in people’s front yards. Parts of Mexico, it seems, is a far cry from what we call “poverty” here in America.

I think what got to me the most was that here was a handful of resorts, all lined up on the beach, catering to people from other countries who had the money to fly on an airplane, stay at a four-star resort, spend as much money as they wanted on food and drink, and spend the day sitting poolside while some guy delivers margaritas right into our hand, all while surrounded by people struggling just to get by. And as much as I tried to not think about it, day after day it really bothered me that here we all were having the time of our lives while kids outside the resort area did not even have clean water to drink inside their home.

So while I pause to say that we did not have a good time (because we really did), it really did force me to think about my past and future financial state and think to myself – I will be OK, no matter what. I have options available to me – I can get a new job, I can buy a cheaper car, I can save so I can stop working one day. If something were to happen to me, my wife would be OK, as would almost any member of my family. Call it being blessed or whatever, but from now on I will think twice about complaining about the price of gasoline, a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, or the square footage of my house. It’s just not that big of an issue when you see how other people are really struggling to exist, never mind live a semi-comfortable life.


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Comments (16)

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  1. boomie says:

    Mexico is a very corrupt country. It’s government thinks that the way to help it’s people is to ‘allow’ them to come to America to work and then fund Mexico with American dollars.
    Do you know who owns those hotels along the shoreline? Those companies are helping the Mexican citizens by giving them jobs. There is nothing wrong with tourism as a way to rise up out of the ashes. By your going there, you helped many, many people.

    I know exactly how you feel. Until we Americans leave our shores, we have absolutely no way of knowing how well off we really are.

    Prices for us are high? It should be an honor that we even have the money to pay it. My family in Italy all own cars BUT they do not have the money to pay for the fuel to drive them. My cousin lives only 12 miles from her father and can NOT visit him because of the price of gas.

    Good post and very appropriate for this Thanksgiving season.

  2. plonkee says:

    So you see why people want to move to the nearest wealthy country. In America, as in London, the streets are paved with gold.

  3. mo says:

    What for the life of me I don’t understand is why is the rate of depression way higher here, in USA,
    than in these countries?????

  4. vh says:

    If you think life is hard in Mexico, you should visit Haiti. Makes Mexico look affluent.

  5. Brip Blap says:

    mo – the rate of depression is higher because it’s CHOICE that depresses most people. Studies consistently show that if people have no choice they are actually happier because they adjust to their reality. In the USA the choices are bewildering and it leads to a sense of loss.

    I had the same experience with the lifestyle gap when I worked in Russia. Being in rural Siberia really slapped me in the face… I realized that my complaints about how expensive my cable TV was were pretty ridiculous.

    And I will say one thing about the “I will be OK” thinking – you’ll be OK unless you have a catastrophic illness and you are ditched by your insurance company. One of the great uncertanties in American life is that your access to health care hangs on a thread, and that creates a lot of angst. Americans enjoy the present but fear the future (credit card debt, retirement, health care) and for that I sometimes envy other countries. They may not have material comfort, but their doctor won’t charge them $8000 for a bed, either.

  6. david says:

    Very true Blip Blap – I should have mentioned that as well. Unfortunately, our health insurance system is crap and only focuses on your health AFTER you are sick – there is nothing that is done ahead of time to prevent one from getting sick. I guess I was talking about having a roof over my head and having food to eat, something some people in Mexico have to fight for. Thanks for the valuable comment!

  7. For two weeks in the late 1980s, I spent two weeks in what I call “the real Mexico”. It was two hours from the Gulf of Mexico, the town was surrounded by farmland and the standard of living was far below anything I understood prior to my trip. I stayed with a family that was considered lower middle class with an annual income of ~$5,000 US dollars. The running water was intermittent, I cleaned myself using a five gallon bucket of water and cockroaches were a part of daily life. The people were kind and generous despite their circumstances and I walked away with a new appreciation of life and wealth (even as a teenager).

    Your story is a great touchstone and very timely. Thank you.

  8. david says:

    Thanks Frugal Pursuit, I am glad you liked the post. Sometimes it takes a trip like these to remind us how good we have it, even if we don’t get a Lexus for Christmas or a 52″ plasma TV. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Each time I visit India (for work) I come back with mixed emotions. The extremes you see are mind-boggling.

    My lesson learned is – perspective. When you venture out of your comfort zone you see and experience things that truly expand your horizons. And getting a new perspective on people, finance and life is always refreshing.

    Great post!

  10. Patrick says:

    David, I know exactly what you mean. I traveled extensively in the USAF and saw a lot of places that made me realize how much most Americans take the US for granted. I have a great appreciation for our contry and the freedoms and wealth we enjoy. I wish more people could experience an international trip to a less fortunate detsination to see just how good we have it compared to the rest of the world.

  11. david says:

    Patrick and Investing Lessons – you are both right – you learn a lot seeing how other countries live. It’s unfortunate that so many people in the US think they have huge problems, which are really nothing compared to most of the world. Thanks for the comments…

  12. jj says:

    I have to take offense with the comment about Italy because it makes the country sound like a third-world nation which it isn’t. Gas is prohibitively expensive in Italy and most of Europe so that’s why someone may not be able to afford it. Plus Italians generally don’t have credit card debt. Many Americans could not afford their lifestyle, including gas, if they actually used cash. I’ve been to Italy many times and have family and friends there so I’m writing from experience.

  13. Cat says:

    I really enjoyd reading this post. A few weeks ago I visisted Papua New Guinea and it was truly a reality check. We’ve just had our national election here (Australia)…some of the hot election issues included affordable housing, an improved healthcare system, better water infrastrucure and better industrial relations and while these are problems, in PNG it is a whole new ball game. It made me realise just how lucky I am and my fellow Australians as well.

  14. david says:

    It’s a good lesson, Cat – one we should all learn. Thanks for the comment.

  15. […] You Think You Have Money Problems? Try Visiting Mexico”¦ @ My Two Dollars […]

  16. […] Two Dollars – You Think You Have Money Problems? Try Visiting Mexico… I traveled extensively when I was in the USAF and saw a lot of places that made me realize how much […]

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