Living Simply

Annie here, checking in from Europe! Right now I’m sitting on a train headed to Vienna from Prague and loving it. As a side note, one of the ways we save on vacations is that I piggy-back on my husband’s work trips. We only have to buy one airfare, one person’s food, and any additional lodging outside of the work week. So he spent last week working, and now we’re touristing for one week.

Anyhow, we were sitting at a pub last night with one of my husband’s co-workers from the Prague office, and he was discussing his desire to move to the States for a few years. Other than the adventure and the fun of it, his primary goal is to save a little nest egg. You see, a lot of companies outsource to Prague for their top-notch employees at a discounted rate, so it’s possible that he could make much more in the States.

On top of that, the Czech taxes and cost of living are higher. It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the way it turns out. The result, however, is that many Czechs (and Europeans in general) have really succeeded at something that many Americans struggle with: living simply. In very broad and general terms, they have smaller everything; they rely heavily on public transportation; they conserve energy. And there is not as much of a culture of acquisition and consumerism as there is in the States. (Like I said, I’m just generalizing, of course.)

But a funny thing happens sometimes, and I made sure to warn our friends of this. You see, we have seen other people from the Prague office come over to the States in the name of making more to save more, but what do you think happens? Well, they fall into the trap of living like Americans and don’t end up saving much. One of them told me, “We thought everything was cheaper in America, but we’re spending the same if not more.”

It’s a trap, though, because the standards are different, and when you’re freaking out about turning your life upside down by moving around the world, you tend to throw money at the problem. You tend to see what everyone else is doing and do that.

She wasn’t spending more on the equivalent lifestyle. She was spending more because she felt compelled (and saw no other obvious alternative) to live the big-time, suburban-American lifestyle – two new cars, nice house, no public transportation, private school, etc.

If they would have known how to hack the system, they could have chosen cheaper digs near the office, put their kids in public school, bought one used car and one bike, and bought used furniture, then they’d be in more of the position that they imagined they’d be in before they left. But it’s hard! There’s a reason people live in the mainstream – because going against the flow is HARD.

But why does that happen? Is it just too enticing to live the big-time American life? Can we humans not handle people seeming like they have more than us? Do we think we deserve it if they do? I don’t know. I just know that it’s an issue.

I’m constantly questioning my motives on financial decisions because I don’t want to decide something based on what the mainstream is doing. The mainstream is most likely dog-paddling in debt, and that’s not exactly where I want to be. 

19 Responses to “Living Simply”

  1. Kenny

    I’m weird like that : before YNAB, I would by hyper-frugal about the things I needed, and at the same time buy stuff I really didn’t need.

    YNAB forced me to do a mental exercise, where I had to figure out what I really needed, versus what I thought I wanted.

    It’s not just made me healthier financially, but also more balanced overall.
    Just wanted you to know that.


  2. Kenneth

    Just googled that the average american watches 5 hours of TV a day. In those 5 hours are perhaps 200 30 second commercial spots. That’s a lot of brain washing, and you don’t even know it. But you are led to desire the new car, the new phone, the gigabytes of data family plan, the drugs, the food, the restaurants, the furniture, in short, “all the stuff”. Advertising works, otherwise they wouldn’t spend $139 BILLION a year. “US ad spending increased by 2% year-over-year in Q4 2012, and by 3% for the full year to reach $139.5 billion, per the latest figures from Kantar Media”

    Mr. Money Mustache suggests that we give up TV, partly to avoid the advertising, and partly to do more productive things (even if just connecting with family/firends).

    • Kate

      I agree that a lot of the pressure comes from ads. It’s no accident that we want expensive things. The less tv and magazines you see the less you feel compelled to buy things. Our family cut our cable and I always use adblocks when I’m online and I find the temptation to buy things has subsided! Out of site out of mind.

    • annie

      Agreed! I’m kind of in the trap of the TV just being for my kids, but that’s just as bad. They’re into Ninjago, and that’s all they want to buy! They don’t even have commercials, but Lego is a pretty smart company. Haha.

  3. Molly L

    My issue isn’t really that I want what thy have because I deserve it or aimu because they have it then I need it too. It’s usually that I just didn’t know something existed until I see a friend with it. Like the way she has her house decorated, the kids’ toys organized, that cool kitchen gadget that will make cooking/cutting so much easier, or even the way that cute outfit is put together. I’m convinced it’ll make my life easier in some way or another. And most likely it will, but at the sacrifice of what? That’s the main question I need to ask myself when these things come up.

    • annie

      Yeah, I’m convinced that so much of our financial issues are more like contentment issues. I’m right there with you. ;)

  4. Maiya

    I don’t think it’s harder to live simply, it’s just a matter of changing habits and refocusing what brings us joy and happiness. When I started focusing on my own personal growth, the quality of my relationships, and the simpler things in life like healthy home cooking, or taking a hike in nature, my life became simpler and I needed less ‘stuff’ to make me happy! I love this quote I read on a J.D. Roth blog: “Saving is the choice to spend on tomorrow instead of today and debt is the choice to spend on yesterday.”

    • annie

      I agree. I think that “living simply” is very subjective term.

  5. Eric

    I like that quote there, Maiya.

    I always am on the lookout (well, most of the time) for what I can enjoy just as much for less.

    We haven’t had cable or satellite TV in years. We have Netflix and love it.

    We don’t buy cds. We use Spotify.

    We have a large cell phone plan but we save on getting a new phone because of Verizon edge.

    I bought my 2007 Ford Fusion outright a few years ago.

    That’s just some of the things we do to live like we do. We don’t want nor need the latest and greatest things.

    • DLMartin

      Similar decisions here too! Spotify, Hulu plus, and own my 2006 Chevy. I’m moving in a few months, so I can walk to work. And I’ve learned to plan meals and utilize my freezer and slow cooker in ways I never imagined even a few years ago.

      I do purchase things I want, but not out of compulsion. I often find myself thinking, or saying, “Hmmm… I can afford that, but I choose not to spend my money that way.” I don’t feel at all deprived.

      Having my goals (short-term and long-term) spelled out in YNAB, and even saving $5 or $10 toward them, feels gratifying to me. I think that possession take on more meaning and value to us when we purchase them with forethought. That’s what I’m learning, anyway! Cheers!

  6. casner

    We’ve lived in the same 1320 sq foot house since 1980, raised two boys from birth until college there. We have a car and a moped and two bicycles. We have the very inexpensive cell plan from consumer cellular. We watch all the people in nearby neighborhoods in their McMansions where they hardly run into each other from day to day. I like our lifestyle better.

  7. Stepan

    Hi Annie, loved to read a post mentioning Prague as it is my home city :-).

    You mentioned taxes and i must agree, from over a year of experience with YNAB community there is something you gain by higher taxes (sounds ridiculous, and on opposite you also loose some). I found the main advantage in Czech the healthcare tax, everybody pays around 13.5% of gross mandatory from their pay and they are covered for anything (and you can’t be not covered). I see this as huge advantage, as i have read so many blog post about how people got indebted because they got cancer, or this and that. It is so sad that you beat the disease, but are left broke. Or that since you were i’ll you wont be insured again. People in U.S. :) you should do something about that :).

    And just for the consumerism :) it is also heavy in here, but it makes a difference if you want to buy a product that has 22% VAT on it :).

    Anyways, nice to hear a post related to europe/prague :) thanks for that

    • annie

      Thanks for the comment, Stephan! I considered having a YNAB meetup while I was there, but I didn’t get around to planning it. :( Yes, I can see a little bit of consumerism here, too (and Vienna), but fear not, you’re not as far into as we are. ;) I keep telling my Czech friends to beware or you’ll go down the same path as us. Haha. Stay strong!

      • Stepan

        Ha! YNAB meetup would be very interesting :). It makes me now wonder how many YNABers are there in Czech, or other neighboring countries :). Definitely if you would be coming here again, sign me in! :D

      • annie

        Stepan, do you recognize where I took the picture? We were in Český Krumlov. :) So beautiful there.

      • Stepan

        :-) not untill you mentioned it. Yes i must agree it is very awesome place to visit and enjoy:)

  8. Shannon

    This idea of a YNAB meetup should be explored further. Like a budgeting support group. Sign me up! :)

  9. Tatjana

    It’s really nice to see an article about Prague as I am living in this city too:)
    I was thinking myself to organise a YNAb meetup group where locals could share their ideas, opinions, experiences with using YNAB and support each other on their path to a lifestyle without bad debt.

    I have spoken so much about this software, but seems like people are freaking out when the topic changes to money. So I would love to meet YNABers from Prague!

    Thank you, Annie, for a great article!

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