Cost of Living and Expat Spending in India – Where One Meal Equals a Maid’s Monthly Salary

Is it possible to blow one month’s salary in one night?  Hell yes it is.  I’ve seen it in Las Vegas more than once and it is never a pretty sight.  Whenever I saw the Vegas ‘blow’ amongst my friends the loss was around Rs. 2.5 – 5 Lakh ($5,000–10,000) in one night of passionate gambling.  It’s insane and you never really want to be with that particular friend on their return trip to reality.  I’ve seen it here in Bangalore at private parties, too.  A couple of my friends really love to play poker and on several occasions I’ve seen them win and/or lose around Rs. 80,000 ($1,600) over the course of a couple of hours.  This is a pretty frequent thing at after-parties all around India, I’m sure.

Champagne, Champagne, Champagne…. unfortunately out of reach for so many people in India 🙁

Money isn’t something that pre-occupies the majority of my friends in India and truth be told I’m rather jealous of that.  It flows in excess rather freely in my day-to-day life here in Bangalore – more so than it did in Spain, that’s for sure.  Yet as I say that I am also surrounded by hundreds or thousands of daily reminders that money IS indeed an all-consuming preoccupation and issue for a tremendous amount of people in my new home country.

The fact is that this is the first time I’ve ever resided in a country where the divide between rich and poor is so vast and so openly obvious.  The disparity in salaries and income levels between people is shocking and horrific at times, given how hard working people are here in India.  Dishwashers, street sweepers and housekeepers who sweat and toil all day in extreme conditions earn on average around Rs. 3,000 per month ($60) whereas top-level executives at tech and FMCG companies earn various Lakh per month ($5,000-10,000), not to mention the oodles and oodles of millionaire and billionaire entrepreneurs and industrialists who India has bred so successfully and who need never worry for money ever again.

Lately when I’m out and about in Bangalore with friends I have grown increasingly aware of the fact that – although we are not blowing our monthly salary in a night – that we are blowing the monthly earnings of say, for example, a fresher at a BPO company.  It’s tremendously easy for two people to spend over Rs. 5,000 ($100) on dinner if wine is ordered with the meal.  Romantic dinners for two with Champagne and aperitif cocktails at the 5 star hotel restaurants in Bangalore can easily run upwards of Rs. 10,000-15,000 ($200-300).  It is what it is.  And regardless of what some people think or want to believe, this IS real life for a certain percentage of the population here in India.

angela-carson-bangalore-blog-cost-of-living-salary-in-india Company owners and entrepreneurs, politicians, executives and expats working in India – not always but quite often – have the advantage of earning a tremendous amount of money in comparison to the standard monthly earnings of an entry-level corporate position or BPO job, someone who works in construction or tourism, or a domestic worker.  I speak from experience when I say that expats live in buildings with amazing amenities and have full-time drivers and housekeepers on staff.  For me personally, this is something I couldn’t have afforded back in Spain or California.

And why?  Again speaking only from my experience as an expat marketing executive living in Bangalore, one of the primary reasons is because we bring international market experience to India that most companies need in order to grow across new territories.  It’s impossible to understand the marketing and business development mentality of the EU, US or LATAM countries without having worked there, so in one respect we do hold an equitable appeal for companies breaking out into international waters.  It’s the same as for EU, US or LATAM companies who are trying to break into the Indian market.  They really need an experienced Indian professional to help with the idiosyncrasies of the market in order to succeed sooner in unchartered waters.

So expats arrive in India.  And Indian industrialists and executives continue to prosper.  And more frequently than not, they’ll drop the equivalent of domestic staff worker’s monthly salary in one night on food and drinks.  And personally I am feeling a bit guilty.

The divide between the lower- and middle-class income segments and the rich or even just simply the expat group is like night and day.  I know that I can’t change things here in India but it doesn’t stop me from realizing just how unfair it is.  Maybe unfair isn’t the right word.  I worked my ass off to get where I am today.  But I had advantages.  Some were obvious advantages but one of the main reasons that I am who I am and that I have what I have today is because I have a Mom who is a real go-getter and an original ‘power girl’ who told me I could do whatever I wanted in life and who picked me up when I fell and then always encouraged me to dream higher.

But, again, like the skewed Rupee dilemma, not all women have those advantages either.  Lots of women in India have absolutely loving and wonderful parents who basically opted to set them up for married life instead of nurturing their career ambitions.  From the outside looking in, this system does seem to limit a woman’s life options and definitely limits her earning potential later in life if needed to what equates to a night out at Skyye or dinner at Blue Ginger at the Taj West End.

I’m sure that salaries and wages will change eventually. But at the moment the equivalent to a month’s salary for many will still be blown all over town every night and it is a bit disturbing.   Maybe let’s just baby step it and first fix the salary of our housekeepers. That would be a huge step forward!!

XOXO Angela

© 2012 Angela Carson

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Angela Carson

At 21 I left uni, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler, and drove from my native California to live an adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I've explored 32 countries on 4 continents, residing in 7 of them (currently Kuala Lumpur is my home). By day I'm a digital nomad and by night I'm a passionate storyteller. I even have a private pilot's license and was shot at once by bandits!
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12 Comments on “Cost of Living and Expat Spending in India – Where One Meal Equals a Maid’s Monthly Salary

  1. Hi, thanks for commenting. Actually, I was looking at it from the point of view that some people earn so little and it is strange to me that in my world we spend their monthly salary a couple times a day. Doesn’t feel right to me… The references I made are specifically geared towards families who can NOT save because there isn’t enough left at the end of the month after feeding and taking care of their family. Especially if their family is non-veg.

    • Hi Angela

      I think you are still to understand about the Indian Market and Economy a lot

      The discrepancy that you see in this nation in between the have's and have nots has a lot to do with the Political Class of this country and the idiotic/brainless people of this country who have voted such corrupt and selfish people for the last so many years and let them exploit and plunder the country to the fullest

      On another note, the money spent by Indians on gaming etc is nothing but a reflection that some of the Indians who have the money have the desire to be like the rest of the people in the world. Well nothing wrong with that, the same is therer in the west

      The only place where India differs a lot from western world is the Type of Government and the fundamental societal structure that contributes to such problems for this country

      I hope you take it positively and take lessons before passing general altruistic comments that can be interpreted as being showig general Crocodile Tears  Sympathy

      Cheers!

      Nitin

      • Hi Nitin,

        Definitely no offense taken. It truly blows my mind that every Sunday me and my friends (and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of others) spend in 4 hours on brunch the equivalent of of someone’s entire monthly salary … people who work their ass off 6 days a week, all day long. I really make a point to try not to get into religion and politics here but appreciate your input on the matters so please keep coming back with it — absolutely adds to the conversation. Cheers, angela

  2. just an humble opinion, it may be wrong

    It all depends on the upbringing of the native.

    all across the word, especially in asia measure of a man/woman is considered amount of fame, respect… one is able to command from family, friends, soceity, world at large…

    growth, progress, prosperity, privileges… are considered an act of fate, not something which can be earned, acquired, accomplished… there is also a large population that contributes even livelihood to fate, consequently does not put any effort to earn, preserve, sustain… it.

    There is this wisdom that goes around in Asia and Arab world “If it’s written in destiny it will come, lets not think about it”, and people spend rest of their lives waiting for a miracle.
    And they attain fulfillment in
    humiliating, degrading… ones lower in the food chain, less privileged… creating move victims who cannot stand being judged any more and begin to hide from their own guilt, shame, incompetence, failures, cowardice… by themselves being cruel, offensive… and joining the crowd which has put their ambitions on hold, are living a life without pursuit of any destiny, leaving everything to fate, thus the cycle continues.

    Example of American upbringing:
    In Movie “A Civil Action” (1998), at bankruptcy hearing of Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta ) judge ask where did it all go… things with which a man measures himself.

    • “growth, progress, prosperity, privileges… are considered an act of fate, not something which can be earned, acquired, accomplished”
      Seriously ?? You leave your growth and progress to fate ?.. You have to write your own fate… You have to be a go-getter. U cant just fold your hands and sit all day expecting someone to help you. Pick up a job that you are good at, and start from there.

      “Example of American upbringing”
      What do you even know about American upbringing. I have many American friends, who enjoy their life, party hard, but at the same time are honest, down to earth, respect their parents, live independently…basically simple people.
      Summary – Please do not stereotype Americans by watching movies.

      “just an humble opinion, it may be wrong” –
      U certainly need a reality check…just my humble opinion, and I am not wrong.

  3. Hi Angela…

    I have been reading your blog, and found your posts to be honest, thoughtful and humorous at times. I agree with you regarding the divide between the rich and poor.

    Please dont feel guilty about blowing money in one night, which might be someone else’s monthly salary. It happens not only in India, but all over the world. The reason its so apparent is because of the vast difference. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer.

    All I can say is – you know you worked hard, and you deserve the position that you are in right now. There is nothing wrong in blowing money sometimes. We just have one life, I guess we should enjoy it !!

  4. I disagree with gambhir when he says- “Please dont feel guilty about blowing money in one night…”

    I believe we should only spend for what we need and not what we want. Won’t helping people bring you more happiness than a bottle of champagne? I don’t know about you, but for me, it does. Poor people can be very loyal and thankful to you for helping them out. The cost of a bottle of champage can buy a lot in India… why can’t you spend it on your house staff’s children’s education? Why can’t you buy him some textbooks or notebooks?

    Going out to expensive clubs has never given me happiness, everybody there puts on a show, trying to act superior. They are the worst bunch of people I have ever met. The only thing they judge you on is how much money you have. They are shallow and selfish people. They are trying to ape the party lifestyle of the west. Life is not all about partying.

    The same people who go to posh clubs will bargain with a house staff to reduce her salary by a few hundred rupess a month. They will bargain with poor people, but won’t mind paying lots more for booze. The same people will negotiate with their chauffer/driver to reduce their monthly salary. There are better ways to spend time and money.

    • Hi Nikhil, I appreciate your comment and do actually agree with some of your opinions and thoughts. Primarily that giving is a wonderful way to enrich the soul and that acting charitable is better than partying. HOWEVER, I 100% disagree that it should be one or the other. Life is about balance and not many of us are Mother Teresa and stepping out on the town is simply a part of life for many people.

      More importantly, calling me and the majority of my friends and most of my family “the worst bunch of people” does rub me wrong. I party and go to upscale establishments, as do my friends and family, and the majority of us here in India are or have been very actively involved in NGOs across the world. In fact, several of my Indian and expat friends here have created their own NGOs and dedicate a huge part of their life to better the lives of others. One dear friend here in Bangalore is very active with Round Table, which builds schools in areas of need and proudly boasts that the India chapter is working on their 2,000th school (i think that is correct). As for me, I have sat on the board of directors for one NGO and was very active with another in Mexico. Granted here I am not active, that will change eventually.

      I have been told many times that I shouldn’t generalise about certain things associated to India or Indians and each time the reader was correct… just as you should also take a step back from your radical assumptions because the same people you are trash-talking are the same people in my life who I see give more time and money than anyone else I know to help and support the underprivileged. –angela

  5. Angela,

    i believe your friends are mostly rich(not just upper middle class) so they will have all the money to spare. but, for most of the Indians life is about saving money, living frugally, taking loans and working hard to pay off those loans.

    for an average, middle-class Indian, eating out is an occasional luxury.

    Pomita.

    • Hi Pomita, sorry for such a delayed response, this comment slipped by me. You are right, my friends have money which is essentially freedom in India. –A

  6. I have been living in London for 4 years now. Now when I visit India and buy a pair of shoes that cost Rs 2000, I do feel guilty. I am unable to justify spending Rs 2000 on a pair of shoes with money that can actually support my maids family for a month.

    • Hey Manpreet, I have Prada boots that cost Rs. 35,000, Tod’s and Miu Miu heels that cost just over Rs. 25,000 … and I can’t wait to have a normal salary again and go shopping. Sorry, but shoes and handbags are my weakness. But I do understand what you are saying and more of us should have your attitude. Please don’t hate me for my honestly 🙁 –ange

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