Earning Money in the Peace Corps
“How much do you get paid working for the Peace Corps?” This is a question I have been asked many times since I arrived in my country. It is a complicated question because volunteers gets paid differently depending on the country where they serve. I can explain, however, how my money and expenses are broken down here in Namibia. I will try my best to convert to American dollars when possible. As I write this post, the exchange rate is hovering around US$1 = N$16. The rate has been fluctuating quite a lot lately, so my dollar amounts are mainly a “ballpark figure.” After I describe how my paycheck and allowances are divided, I’ll try to explain how I plan a monthly budget and what kinds of expenses I have on a regular basis.
Different Allowances and Earnings
Let’s start with the total I get every month. The total allowance I receive is broken down into sections. First is my living allowance. I receive N$2200 every month which converts to around US$140. This is the money I receive to pay for all my day-to-day living expenses. My total allowance will not change no matter how long I serve or where I am located in the country. It is a flat rate for all volunteers. After this allowance, I also receive what is called my “leave allowance.” This is another set amount of money. It is calculated somewhat differently. Each month the Peace Corps provides volunteers money for travel in the country or out of the country. This is US$35 a month and is converted based on the exchange rate at the time. In February, I also received a paycheck for teaching at my school. I earned N$554.05. Together with my other living allowance, this totals N$2754.05 or about US$175 a month! The only other type of payment volunteers comes every quarter when we are given money for in-country travel for Peace Corps related business. This could be a workshop or medical checkups required by Peace Corps. This payment may be slightly different for each volunteer as it is based on where he or she is located in the country. The Peace Corps calculates what it would cost for two round trips to Windhoek, and that will vary depending on where the volunteer lives. My payment came in February, and I received N$1250 for in-country travel.
Breaking it Down
Many of you are probably wondering if you could possibly live on $175 a month in America. I was thinking the same thing when they broke down our pay during training. After moving to my site and understanding what I needed to buy, it turned out to be not as bad as you might think. Here is a list of what I buy every month and how much it costs. You’ll see what I mean.
- Phone Plan: N$27.20 a week = N$108.80 monthly (US$6.94)
- Food: N$200 every other week = N$400 monthly (US$25.49)
- This includes bread, peppers, lettuce, kiwis, zucchini, peas, eggs, peanut butter, applesauce, peanuts & raisins mix, and tea.
- Travel to Rundu and back to my village: N$50 each way = N$150 (US$9.56)
- I travel to buy food, use WiFi, and to see other volunteers. Most months I go twice, and most months I can get at least one free ride into town with a teacher.
- Activities in town: $100 every other weekend = N$200 (US$12.73)
- This includes going out to eat, going to a lodge, or playing pool/snooker.
- Most importantly two fat cakes every day of the week at school: N$1 = N$25 monthly (US$1.59)
- Fat cakes are my breakfast at school every day. They are basically fried bread, and they are delicious!!!!!
This is what I spend my money on each month. It totals N$883.80 (US$56.22) a month. The amount can change depending on how many groceries I need. Some weeks I need to pick up cleaning supplies. Some weeks I need to buy a new book, and sometimes I like to treat myself to a chocolate bar because I had an exceptional week. So far I have not spent more than N$1000 a month since I moved in, and I still bought everything I needed.
There are some things you do not see on the list that you may be wondering about. Electricity: Since I live on a homestead, my electricity is shared with my host family. Most of the time they will purchase it and we just share, but sometimes they ask me to buy it if I am in town. As a family, we can get by most months on N$100 of electricity which is about $6.51.
Water: The only cost for water is the time commitment required to walk and fetch it from the tap. The water tap is about a 25 to 30 minute adventure away.
So what do I do with all my leftover money? I save it for trips like my winter adventure across Namibia. I also want to save money for trips outside the country. Having some extra cash around is always a benefit just in case I need it.
When you read this blog, remember that I live in a village on a homestead. My expenses and spending would be much different if I lived in town or by myself. One of the benefits of living with a host family is that I get to share many of the meals. Therefore, I don’t have to buy rice, macaroni or maize when I go into town because my family provides it for me. This significantly cuts down on food costs for me. I know many of the volunteers that live alone spend twice as much as I do on food.
Hope You are Well!!
If you have any questions on specific food prices or other things you can buy in Namibia, feel free to leave a comment. I can tell you exactly how much things cost here. I hope all of you in the states are fine and anxiously awaiting warm weather. It’s getting cooler here!!!