The first time you visit another country, especially if it is a country with a lower standard of living than the United States, you may be shocked.
I went to China in 1999, and I was both surprised and inspired. My friend and I stayed in tiny college dorms for a portion of the trip, and each room had one single, dim light bulb. Students washed their clothes by hand and hung them up to dry in their rooms. In fact, each room came with a clothes line that draped from one corner kiddie corner to the other corner.
Later, we had the chance to travel with a Chinese man my friend was good friends with. We took a 12 hour train ride to visit his family, and I was surprised to see his family of 6 living in a small two bedroom apartment. The home was cozy, and every item they had served a purpose, sometimes several purposes. There was no clutter or excess in their apartment. There simply wasn’t room (or money) for excess.
We stayed in China for 12 days, and when we got back, I was surprised by American excess from big cars to big houses to big appetites. Everything seemed excessive to me.
While I didn’t want to live impoverished as many of the Chinese we saw did, I didn’t want to live a life of excess either.
My experience isn’t unique, especially among people who spend several months or years in another country. Those people are often profoundly changed in both their consumer consumption and their habits.
If you’d like to save money or just be more environmentally and financially responsible, why not pretend that you live like those in other countries? Here are some ways you can start:
1. Line dry your clothes.
I’ve been to Japan, China, and Switzerland, and in each of those cases, the families that I stayed with had a washing machine, but they didn’t have a clothes dryer. They hung the clothes up somewhere within the home. Not only do you save money on electricity, but you also save wear and tear on your clothing. All of that lint at the end of the drying cycle is proof that the dryer is hard on your clothing.
2. Cloth diaper your baby.
Americans are a bit squeamish about cloth diapers, but there are so many great diapers available now that it really isn’t that bad. I cloth diapered my first exclusively, and the savings were significant.
3. Use meat as an accent to the meal, not the main part.
In China, many of our meals had meat, but the meat wasn’t the main part of the meal; the vegetables were. The meat added a nice flavor. In Switzerland, one of my favorite meals was a vegetable pizza with anchovies. I didn’t think I liked anchovies, but they added just the right amount of flavor.
Many citizens of other countries eat many more vegetables than Americans do. Not only are veggies better for your health, but they are also cheaper than meat, especially good quality meat.
4. Use alternative transportation.
In China, many, many people rode bikes to work and school. In Switzerland, they walked or took public transportation. Very few countries rely on cars more than Americans.
I hear you that the U.S. is not walking or public transportation friendly. However, there are ways around this. We live in a suburb outside Chicago, and within a 1/2 mile, there is a church, several grocery stores and a library as well as schools. I could get around nicely without a car, and I do walk a great deal of the time. My husband takes the train to downtown Chicago. If you pick the right place to live, you can decrease your reliance on cars and save on car payments, gas, insurance and repairs.
5. Buy only what you need.
We Americans simply buy too much. (I’m not judging; I have a basement full of clutter that I need to get rid of in our garage sale.) We are marketed to endlessly, and often we fall for it and buy a product we use only a few times or not at all. In Japan, Switzerland and China, I found much less clutter with the families I stayed with. There was no junk room. There weren’t garages that were so full the cars no longer fit in there (if there were garages at all). These families bought quality items that were durable and long lasting, but they didn’t buy more than they needed.
You can curb your expenses without sacrificing the quality of your life by learning from and following the examples of those who live in other countries.
Have you traveled abroad? What did you notice was different than the United States?