Living abroad is an exciting and challenging experience, especially if you're on a budget. Nine years ago, I moved from Seattle to Amsterdam, and over time, I have discovered cheaper and more environmentally friendly ways of doing things. For example, I use my bicycle or public transport to get around. Instead of buying magazines or newspapers, I go to the library or a cafe that features a reading table. I also borrow reading material from friends. I buy fresh produce at outside markets and ethnic stores. The quality is fine and the prices are much lower. For entertainment, I go to free concerts, visit a museum (I have an annual pass), or take a walk in the park. I think it's a lot of fun to see how far I can make my money stretch.
Here are a few other helpful hints:
String Me a Line
Many people here don't have clothes dryers. They use a clothesline or a drying rack instead. Electric dryers are comparably expensive to use, so these methods are a thrifty alternative. I have also found that my clothes stay in better condition longer if I let them air dry. However, this method does require occasional ironing.
BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags)
Supermarkets here don't provide bags to put your groceries in. You have to buy them. So I bring my own bags--cotton or canvas totes or plastic bags with sturdy handles. I also always have a folded-up plastic bag in my purse in case I run across any great bargains. Bringing your own bags is also good for the environment. Some grocery stores in the U.S. give you a discount (often five cents) if you bring your own bags.
Plan for Presents
When I make my annual trip (off-season, if possible) to the U.S. to see my family, I bring Christmas and birthday presents with me. Of course, this requires advance planning, but it also saves a lot of money on postage costs. The year I gave everyone souvenir coffee mugs was good for a laugh. I got a very strange look from the x-ray machine operator at the airport when he saw the eight coffee mugs packed in my suitcase.
This is also a good tip for those who have relatives who live across the country. Just make sure they don't open their presents until they are supposed to!
Two Simple Money Savers: The Hot Water Bottle and the Thermos
My apartment does not have central heating (the place is old), and my bedroom is not heated. I just about froze to death my first winter here. I was overjoyed when I rediscovered the hot water bottle, which is a simple and cheap alternative to an electric blanket. I just put one (or two, if it's really cold) in my bed on winter evenings about an hour before retiring. They are also great to curl up with on the couch with a blanket while watching a movie. Saves on heating costs too!
The thermos is another old-fashioned money saver. I take it with me on long train trips instead of buying expensive coffee in the train. It's also great for a picnic in the park or a day out. I've also used it to bring soup to a sick friend in the hospital. Before filling the thermos, I pour in boiling water to heat it up. The contents stay hot longer.
My life is very simple, which allows me to work part time and spend time with friends and do more of the things I enjoy. I also try to make choices that are good for the environment. For me, that's the point. Enjoy life and be kind to each other and the earth.
"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money please send it to MyStory@stretcher.com
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