Kampala on Less than Two Dollars per Day

The view from my place in Bunga

Since I began working in Kampala, I have had to consider my personal budget and make a few changes. Before I was hired at the bar, my boss informed me that he’d be paying me a “Ugandan salary,” normal for a workaday Ugandan, but a significantly lower rate than I’d grown used to. The work I am doing is in no way intellectual or particularly tasking, so my salary is 200,000 Uganda shillings (about $80) per month. Included in this would be a place to stay, a free beer and free meals each day from the restaurant. I took the job, figuring I could survive handsomely with the situation, and maybe even save a small sum.

The rate I am being paid is the same rate I was earning when I was twelve years old by helping to clean the house. Happily, though, my expenses at the moment are also about the same as they were then, when I would spend my small bills on new Hotwheels and put the rest away in a coffee can. Nowadays, I partition up my earnings in much the same way.

  • 200,000 shillings a month puts me at 6,666 shillings per day.
  • As per my travel savings plan, ten percent of that will be stashed away for future travel expenses (-666 UGX).
  • Since that amount of money is hardly twenty-five cents, I’ll go ahead and put another 1,000 shillings into the travel fund (-1,000 UGX).
  • Thus I’m left with 5,000 shillings (about two dollars) with which to paint the town red.

What can you do with 5,000 shillings in Kampala? Well, you can take one motorcycle ride across town, though you better be ready to walk back. You can buy almost thirty minutes of mobile phone credit, depending on your service provider. Two beers can be had for that amount, if you can find a really seedy, cheap bar; better luck drinking Kasese, a local moonshine, which is cheap enough that 5,000 shillings worth will probably kill you. You can buy almost a gallon and a half of good bottled water. Or you could really score at the right fruit market, buying five big mangoes or ten big avocados, or three big papayas. Heck, for 5,000 shillings you could eat two fairly satisfying meals at a local food restaurant, or one decent pile of pork fry.

Ultimately I spend much of my money on food in supplement to that which I get from the restaurant. Each morning, I buy myself a chapatti (like a tortilla) and some kind of fruit or vegetable. Later on, I’ll skip across the street for a couple bananas or a fried pancake or a mincemeat samosa if I’m feeling rich. Depending on what time I escape the bar each night, I’ll take on an egg roll (a boiled egg at the core of a fried ball of mashed potatoes) for a nice midnight snack.

The lower-middle class Ugandan lifestyle has become my own, and like them I’ve become a creature of my locale. My work is across the street from my residence, and the food market lies right in between. I use my bike to get anywhere I can’t easily reach by walking, and I’ve stopped using my phone outside of necessity.

While my employment situation is fun, condensed into one tiny corner of town, and allows for sufficient and reasonably healthy food, it’s plain that this is no way to save for plane tickets. Still, it’s liberating to lead such a simple life, and I am happily breaking even for the time being.

One response to “Kampala on Less than Two Dollars per Day

  1. Admire your frugality Peter. The site’s looking really good man: lots of insight, a touch of adventure and talented writing to boot. Happy to see you’re living well. Check out my travel blog as well and stay in touch, you never know when we could cross paths!

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