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.