What I Learned Living On Less Than $1 Per Day

Two weeks ago I went through a rather stress-inducing 3-5 days. (It actually turned out to be 4.)

I just received payment from a client through my business, Graphic Design Experts. This payment was very welcome, because I was running low on cash in my wallet.

I logged into my PayPal account, and saw the $500 I needed sitting there. Great! (As a gauge of my how much money this is in Asia, my rent is $150 per month.)

“I’ll just withdraw the money and….. Uh. Oh.”

I didn’t realize it, but PayPal has a 3-5 day transaction period for bank withdrawals.

This shouldn’t be a problem. When I opened up my wallet, however, I realized that I only had 100 Baht left!

No money was coming for 3-5 days. Until then, I had $3.33 to live on. Even in Thailand, this is NOT a comfortable living situation.

Not counting my rent, I was actually going to live on less than $1 per day.

Oh boy, this will be an adventure.

I could no longer eat the bowls of beef/seafood/duck noodles I had grown to love. At 35 Baht each, I would last about 1 day. (Not taking into account that I would often eat two as a meal)

Street food on a stick was a delicacy I could no longer afford. At only 5-10 Baht each, I could have maybe bought enough to fill me up for 1 meal.

Just about all I could buy that made sense (and would fill me up) was white noodles. Even then, at 10 Baht for a meals worth of this ‘filler’, I was just brushing the ceiling of what I could justify buying.

I didn’t want to think about what would happen if I spent too much and didn’t have any money on day three.

It was strange to walk the streets of Chiang Mai looking at Thais gladly paying 50 Baht for squid or papaya salad. When I had arrived, I assumed that I would always be ‘the foreigner with money’. Now I was buying white noodles and begging for broth from the soup vendors to add flavor.

Even though the situation was unexpected, I find it fascinating how quickly I was able to cope. Within a moments notice, I was able to drop my spending from 100-200 Baht per day (mostly on food) to less than 30. I found new ways of coping that I had never seen until I needed to see them.

I made it through the four days, and the money cleared PayPal and entered my account. With 20 Baht left in my wallet, I went to the ATM to withdraw 7,000.

‘I will NOT die in Asia.’ I remember thinking to myself.

While the experience was a little unnerving, those 4 days were also an exciting adventure.

As I ate plain white noodles (10 Baht) mixed with a couple tomatoes (5 Baht) and free broth from a soup vendor, I realized that even the worst was not so bad. I was often hungry at inopportune times, but even this was not so terrible. My hunger made the food taste better, and each and every bite was a victory I could be thankful for.


Most interestingly, I realized just how much I took for granted when money was readily available.

‘If I could only spend 30 Baht on this meal, I would be in heaven!’ I remember thinking as I eyed the sweet peas and carrots in the before-sunrise market.

Only afterwards did I laugh at myself, remembering that 30 baht was about $1, and that I would easily spend $10 on a burrito at home in America.


After my experience living off of $1 per day, I have tried to keep my ‘enjoy the little things’ glasses on.

I was able to live off of 30 baht per day and ‘make it.’ Shouldn’t I feel like a king on 60 Baht per day?

When I buy cheap food, similar to what I ate on my 100 Baht week, I DO enjoy it quite a lot. As I gnaw on a carrot I notice how darn healthy I’m eating, and that it’s actually pretty good. Maybe a little sauce would be nice, but I genuinely enjoy it.

The only difficulty comes before making a purchase. When you’re sitting in the apartment contemplating what you want to eat, your brain says ‘get the more expensive soup’, even though you know you will enjoy your carrots and tomatoes just as much.

The food tastes pretty good whichever decision you make. The hard part is convincing your brain to make the decision to enjoy the carrots and sweet peas without feeling like you are ‘missing out’ on something.

If I could just stay happy eating carrots, tomatoes, and peas, I would never need to worry about money again AND I would eat healthier. As soon as I get my financial legs under me, however, my brain demands more, more, more!

Those four days opened a small window into my own mind that is usually jammed shut by a full wallet. I got to see how I adapt to not only falling into a challenging situation but rebounding and quickly re-habituating.

This week showed me how often my brain is not thinking in my best interests.

Sure, those couple days were a little unnerving but they taught me something about myself that I couldn’t learn in any other way.

Strangely enough, I’m glad that I nearly ran out of money in Asia.