We are often amazed when we look at the income levels of people in developing countries. How can they can make it? Where do they spend their money? It would be challenging for us to survive on such a small amount. The Biblical injunction to stewardship applies to the wealthy as well as the poor. Each of us must consider how we are using God’s resources.

The first step in creating a balanced budget is to evaluate where our money is going. Then, we can dissect each category for savings, rainy day funds, etc. We often walk through this evaluation exercise when we are starting a SALT savings group. People in developing countries often think they have no extra income. Careful evaluation and questioning the necessity of expenses often reveals potential savings. Let’s take a look at where people in developing countries spend their money.

Housing, food, transportation, and other expenses

The expenses of those in developing countries are much like ours—housing, food, clothing, and transportation. The form that these may take looks different, though. For example, we think of jumping in a car to go somewhere. They may ride on the back of a pickup with 20 others or pay a motorcycle taxi for a lift. Housing may be considerably more crowded than we are used to. Extended family members might share the same small rooms. Special rooms are not designated for eating, sleeping, or entertaining. The bed rolls are simply moved to the side when guests come.

Relatives and friends who ask for money

People who manage well and have money saved for emergencies are under a lot of pressure. Borrowing from someone who is wealthier is expected. However, this borrowing is not accounted for very well and will most likely be forgotten and forgiven. In some situations, nationals are inclined to spend extra income as quickly as possible, before somebody asks for a loan.

Today’s pressing needs

Another challenge to accumulating any sum of money is a sense of urgency. Today’s issue is more important than saving for the future, even if it’s neighbors or associates who have a need.

Many cultures look at loans to others as investments in the future. Even though they have no hope or plans to be repaid. They like the obligation created in the recipient to return the favor. There may be a time when the lender needs help during their own lean time. There is also a sense of social status earned by being the lender, not the borrower. At times this social status is so desired that lenders say yes when they really ought to say no.

Many times borrowers are not discouraged when the person declines or gives them only a portion of what they asked for. Many small gifts can be accumulated to meet a larger need.

Does SALT Microfinance Solutions have any hope of overcoming these cultural barriers?

Yes, but change will not happen overnight. It may take years of walking alongside people in the developing world to understand their perceptions and cultural norms. Even in these cultures, the people desire to be more self-sufficient. They are open to the teaching about how even a small amount consistently saved can add up over time.

Earmarking and saving money in a developing country is difficult. But the Biblical teaching of stewardship transcends cultural barriers. The joy that is expressed when accumulated savings are distributed in SALT savings groups makes all the challenges worthwhile.

—Dave Swearingen, SALT Microfinance Solutions staff member

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