#1 - The Value of a Dollar

As most of you know, I'm an American. To be more specific, I'm a 29 year old male, raised in an upper middle class suburb, who traded in his 19th floor condo in Chicago's River North neighborhood to move to India about a year ago.

Full Disclosure: I moved as an expat with my company & have been sheltered even here. I'm not living the Peace Corps lifestyle or anything.
The town I grew up in provided a wonderful childhood, but definitely left me (and many others) sheltered.

It was the sort of place where as a child you met your friends for coffee at Starbucks... Before there was a Starbucks on any corner. In fact, you could almost classify a suburb's ability to shelter children based on when the first Starbucks arrived. We got ours in 1991.

Perhaps that is where my perception of the worth of a dollar started. After all, if a dollar didn't even buy you a cup of coffee as a tween - imagine my perception of it's worth at 29.

That all changed in India. In Delhi, a dollar (let's say 50 rupees) can buy you more than you could possibly imagine. In fact, I've quietly been making a list of things one could buy for a dollar here in Delhi. Ironically, a cup of coffee isn't one of them (at least not a cup from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf - the closest thing to a Starbucks here in Delhi).

  1. 50 minutes of mobile to mobile calling (vodafone pre-paid)
  2. 6 days of satellite TV (Including HBO, StarWorld, CNN, etc)
  3. 9 pounds of Onion (@12 INR a kilo)
  4. 1.4 personal pizzas from Dominos (starting 35INR)
  5. 5.5 miles in an auto rickshaw (Delhi Rates)
  6. 7 (update 16) pressed shirts from neighborhood press wala
  7. 3.5 loafs of bread
  8. 1/2 pound chicken or Bangalore Beef from high end shop
  9. 4 bottles of premium bottled water
  10. 16 issues of Hindustan Times (INR 3 per issue)
I could go on and on - in fact, I encourage my Indian followers to do so. Tell me, what is 50 rupees worth in your life?

I am not naive, a dollar can't possible buy you the same amount of goods in the United States. I do understand the economies of producing products in these markets are very different. I'm simply illustrating how the perception of a dollar's worth, when seen in the broader context, can change your life.

I can assure you that when I visit Chicago next week, my new value of a dollar will certainly play a role in my consumer behavior. This time I'll pass on my triple grande non-fat latte at 200 rupees. Instead, I'll buy 36 pounds of onion upon my return.

This post is part of a 30 part series called 30 Things:
June 4th is my 1 year anniversary of living in India. I'm taking a few moments each day to reflect on the year, piece together my thoughts on living here as a quiet observer of Delhi lifestyle. I can't promise this will be the most profound list of things I've learned about myself, India, or life - but it is sure to make you smile.

So, with that, June 4, 2009 - my 366th day in India. Time to start reflecting.


Paavani said...

now this is a fantastic review of power of 1 dollar in India!

Latin Sardar said...

Congratulations on completing a whole year in India. Your one yr anniversary in India coincides with my mum's b'day.

The things you could add to your list -
1. 2.5 chicken burgers (without cheese) from McDonalds.
2. One liter of petrol.
3. A 2 ltr bottle of pepsi/coke
4. Beer.
5. A bollywood movie DVD (not pirated).
6. Coffee at Cafe Coffee Day/Barista which happen to have more in common with Starbucks that Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf since these two are big chains throughout India and CB&TL is a single store. And although the coffee is not the best at CCD/Barista, you can get some if you are REALLY desperate for a cup of coffee.

Oh, BTW!! Your recommendation, Stone (Def Col) was AWESOME!! Went there with my sis just before she left for England with her husband and we had a great time with the food and the wine there.

Anonymous said...

I hope you get more shirts ironed from the neighbourhood presswala than just 7 for Rs 50!
Here are some more things (for Mumbai):
1. Travel in a taxi for ~8 km
2. Deluxe, 'special' entry to see the Lord at Siddhivinayak Mandir
3. 5 plates of Bhel Puri/ Sev Puri / Pani Puri made with bottled water
4. 5 packets of potato chips (medium size, any company except Pringles)
5. One deluxe, double scoop sundae at Baskin Robbins

I could go on! :)

shelmes said...

Yes, you were correct - at 3 inr per shirt, it is more like 16.

Bangalore streets said...

In Bangalore:
- 1 ltr petrol (gas)(expensive by american standards?)
- 5 plates of idli/sambhar in a stand and eat Udipi restaurant
- Unlimited travel on the local bus network using a pass for 3.5 days.

Kathleen said...

Hi Scott, I have just arrived in Pune this week and am experiencing the value of the dollar!

unfortunately...I am not as lucky as you to be here on an expat assignment but I am so excited to be back in India that it doesn't matter!

Anonymous said...

Being in the US for the past 3 years I have completely lost my perception of value of a dollar in India!! And I think I'll have a mini heart attack the next time I visit (or whenever I come back) and see how little a dollar buys nowadays in Delhi. For eg saw a receipt at my friend's place after his recent trip to India and Rs 425/- for a bloody Mary??!? That's insane! That was my monthly allowance back-in-the-day.

And I'd love to get 1.4 pizzas or 3.5 loaves of bread with a dollar (among other things on the list) here. That would be sweet!

Anonymous said...

wow! you are doing good. per the comments at amreekandesi, not much can be bought for a buck!

- s.b.

Nitin said...

Rs. 50 will buy you books, pens and textbooks. Decent food from a dhaba/restaurant.

Anonymous said...

you know I am a middle class (very) Indian and when I moved to the US I found it really cheap. Even though I was making very little money as a grad student. Food is cheap, compared to what a minimum wage worker can buy here compared to there. I am not talking organic, just basic super marker offers and such. All Indians put on weight in the US when they first move there. So 50 Rs is a lot more than a USD to some!