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Living on Less

Sticky note: Need v. Want

I lived on just $400 last month!

Yes, this is a proud moment in the life of Hady Mendez.

The $400 I spent includes some money from savings in addition to money from the stipend I am paid each month. I’m really proud of this accomplishment because living simply has taught me to be more disciplined, more thoughtful, and more creative, around my spending habits.

I can honestly say I wanted for nothing during the month of September. I bought what I needed but not always what I wanted. There were difficult choices to make (almost daily). Often I asked – “Can you give this (fill in the blank) to me for cheaper? I’m a missioner and I don’t have a lot of money”. Sometimes people took pity on me and shaved off a peso or two from my purchase. I actually got the woman at the Catholic bookstore to mark my account so that I always get a 10 percent discount.

I don’t know that I will be able to pull this off when I move back to NYC next year but I’m OK with that because I’ve discovered a little secret here in Bolivia that I want to share with all of you today:

You don’t need a lot to be happy.

Yeah you read right. I’ve been happier here living alongside the poor in Bolivia than I’ve been in years. And I’m convinced it’s because I can see that there is joy in simplicity.

One of my main reasons for going on mission was to see what it was like to have very little. I wanted to experience it firsthand. I feel I will be much more effective at serving people struggling back in the states if I know what it is like to struggle myself. And I wanted that memory to be fresh in my mind. I also thought it would be an adventure to live the way Jesus describes in the gospel of Luke, chapter 9, verse 3: He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey – neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic.”


Hady with her laundry

Me and my hand-washed laundry

Admittedly, I am not living so adventurously as I still have plenty of nice clothes to wear, I have money in my purse (although not much), and I have choices when it comes to outerwear (hoodies, jackets, a poncho, etc). But what I am doing differently? I am wearing shoes and boots that I would have already replaced had I been living in the US. I wear many of the same clothes over and over again (something unheard of for me). I also eat the same thing for lunch everyday. Except on Fridays when I treat myself to pasta at my favorite Italian place.

I still like nice things, going on fun vacations, taking up hobbies, and splurging on a good meal. I just can’t do it with the same frequency and I’m OK with that. I’ve come to realize that I don’t mind living simply most of the time if I can take a fun vacation or treat myself to something nice every once in a while.

Will I keep washing my clothes by hand back in the states? Will I cook most of my meals at home the way I do now? Will I continue to ask myself “is this something I need or something I want”? I don’t suppose you can be 100% certain about anything. But I feel like my attitude has changed in the last year and will continue to change during the rest of my time here. I recognize that having more doesn’t necessarily translate to being happier. I miss my days of shopping for new outfits and shoes but I’m happier than I was when I could buy whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Different things bring me joy now. And God is a big part of those things.

Thanks for your role in my journey so far. I’m almost 9 months into my time here and I can barely believe it! Time is flying and I’m learning a lot. Thanks for the support you’ve offered by way of emails, cards, packages, prayers and donations. I can tell you every bit of it has made a difference.

I hope to keep learning more valuable lessons during my time here and I promise to keep sharing them with you when I do.


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A self-described “Hija de Brooklyn y Puerto Rico,” Hady Mendez is the youngest of four daughters raised by Puerto Rican parents in Brooklyn, NY. A proud Jasper, Hady graduated from Manhattan College in Riverdale, NY, before starting a corporate career in technology that lasted for more than 20 years. Hady has a true passion for world travel and social justice and recently returned from two years of mission in Cochabamba, Bolivia.