Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Cost of Living

Several members of the ASONOG team have recently discovered a nearby house-come-restaurant that caters to a student crowd.  For 38 lempiras ($2) we can eat like kings and queens.  Delicious, home-cooked meals that come in big porportions and variety.  It's a sensation, because it's so affordable, and sooo tasty.  When I gave the lady 40 lempiras, she tried to insist on giving me my change.  Humble.

Even on a volunteer's salary, eating out here is an attractive option if you know local favorites.

To give you some idea of the prices and salaries in Honduras, here's some of my research to date:

20 lempiras ($1.05) - cost of getting 12 pairs of jeans washed by hand by an old woman.

100 lempiras ($5.25) - cost of a days unskilled labour by a man.

300 lempiras ($ 15. 75) - cost of a days skilled coffee-cutting labour, seasonal work. Done mostly by school-aged boys.

6 000 lempiras/ month ( $ 310)- woman accountant at a department store or teller at a bank*

12 000 lempiras/ month ( $ 620) - male technician, starting out with a local NGO

8 600 lempiras/ month + housing costs paid directly  = ($ 456 + up to $400 ) - CUSO International volunteer in Honduras.  Plus, we get $3000/ year deposited into our Canadian accounts.

I'm putting the genders down here, because it really matters.  There is still a huge discrepancy between what internal genitalia will get paid here, versus what external genitalia will get paid, to do the same job.

I have no idea what the top guys in ASONOG make.  I imagine that it's a lot closer to the kinds of salaries that middle-class Canadians enjoy. 

If you are now thinking that hey, food is cheap, so yah, the salaries are low but no big deal, the price of other stuff compensates.  Wrong.  Food is relatively affordable for people like me.  Gas is the same price as anywhere else.  Electronics tend to be more expensive.  There's no social safety net, so if you get injured or disabled or lose your job because you get pregnant, consider yourself f@#ked.  If you do get to keep your job, though pregnant, then you are entitled to 2 months maternity leave. It's not comparable in any way, shape or form, to Canadian priviledges that almost all of us enjoy and/or take for granted.  But remember, the next time you see Stephen Harper on your ballet box,  "if you ignore your rights, they will go away".

 *6000 lempiras/ month is considered a very good wage by my Honduran Spanish teacher. She had a dream of becoming a bank teller, until she went and worked at a bank and discovered that there is absolutely no employee protection. She told me the story of one teller who added an extra zero to a deposit of 3000 lempiras, making it a 30 000 lempira deposit instead. She was not allowed to leave the bank until she'd found the mistake. Finally, with an 11pm call to the depositee, she figured out the 27 000 lempira discrepancy. The manager got on the phone and told the depositee, that if he wanted to, he could keep the money, and the teller could pay for the mistake out of her salary.   Do the math folks, that's 4.5 months worth of salary for 1 extra piddly zero that GOT CORRECTED.


  1. Useful post. I think income is one of the things people in North America most often wonder about, including the income of Cuso vols. I linked to it in the context of kids doing coffee harvest work in a post today.

  2. Thanks Paul. I just read your post about the workshop and the killer bees. Wish I could have attended. I love Jody's chosen avatar, I literally laughed out loud, so apt! Next time, feel free to leave the link.

    For those who are wondering, be informed and entertained about Honduras and beyond here: http://willcocks.blogspot.com/2012/03/killer-bees-and-honduran-business.html

  3. Good post! Really puts things in perspective. Another one, from our own household: Three hours to do housecleaning and washing laundry, 120 lempiras. And it's definitely women's work. I've been really struck by what's relatively cheap (food) and what's not (technology, furniture, appliances, vehicles, gas). There's an ad for a store in San Pedro Sula that speaks volumes in terms of just how tight things are for people here: You can buy a 152-lempira watch ($8) in 12 monthly payments. That's 66 cents a month.

  4. I find the 'relativity' of costs and services quite intriguing and the adjustments you have to make. Following Jody and Paul's postings, especially on real estate costs are intriguing in this land of huge house prices. Yet, it is the day-by-day expenses,as you present them, also are enlightening.