Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Spend lots of money at Christmas? No way Jose

I'd like to meet the President of Uruguay. Not a sentence I ever thought I'd hear myself utter, but there y'go, life is full of surprises.

Pause a second and picture the President of Uruguay in your mind's eye. I'm sure you're seeing a short, dark man in a ridiculously large white uniform and cap, with a chest full of ribbons and self-awarded medals of honour.

So far, so cartoon Latin American Dictator.

But no, think again. President Jose Mujica of Uruguay wears a pair of dirty trousers and a v-necked jumper under a fairly old beige anorak type jacket. He lives with his wife on a farm. He gives 90% of his presidential income (about £7,500 per month) away to those who are less well off and his only material assets are his house and a veteran Volkswagen Beetle sitting in the shed.

He's poor by our standards. He lives on an income equivalent to the Uruguayan average of £485 per month. But he chooses to live without material riches. So he's rich, by anyone's standards.

"I'm called 'the poorest president', but I don't feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more," he says.

"This is a matter of freedom. If you don't have many possessions then you don't need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself," he says.

At the Rio+20 summit in June this year Mr Mujica told world leaders: "We've been talking all afternoon about sustainable development. To get the masses out of poverty. But what are we thinking? Do we want the model of development and consumption of the rich countries?

"I ask you now: what would happen to this planet if Indians would have the same proportion of cars per household as Germans? How much oxygen would we have left? It is this level of hyper-consumption that is harming our planet."

Mujica accuses most world leaders of having a "blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world".

I love this man! He's so spot on. We are constantly being told that only constant growth with consumption is progress. But it's not. We create a rod for our own backs when we equate success with having more stuff.

As we approach Christmas this year, thousands of people right here in Northern Ireland just don't have as much money as they did before. Even big supermarket ads are reflecting this, urging us to make Christmas family orientated and less about spending. But they still want us to spend.

But how about spending less by choice? Even if you have money, how about simply spending less and giving more? More time, more help to others, more imagination. There's a campaign online urging us to spend locally this year, rather than giving profit to large multinationals. Great idea. Go to an independent bookshop and if they don't have what you want, they can order it. Buy gifts from real people at the markets. Make at least some of your food purchases from small local retailers who'll benefit and then benefit all of us by spending locally too.

We live in a global village. Let's support our local village too.

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