Money speaks the same language, but with different accents

I'm ba-ack. While you probably didn't miss me, my family and I just got back to the U.S. after spending almost two months in Europe.

Our trip was unique: While we did a few of the normal touristy things, most of our time was spent in a city not frequented by tourists. We lived kind of like the locals and very little like we lived at home. And that is what I want to share with you.

Our permanent home is a tiny farm, in the middle of rural America. We have a well (so we don't “pay” for water), a 2,000+ square foot, well-loved farmhouse, room to run, as well as all the American-sized comforts of life. We go grocery shopping as little as possible and drive our cars a lot. That, my friends, was about to change…

When we arrived in the city where we were to be united with our children (the adoption was successful, by the way!), we were introduced to our apartment. It was smaller than what we were used to. And that would be a common theme during our trip that applied to the washing machine, the refrigerator, the cars (and parking spots), the groceries and the McDonald's menu.

Car-less in Europe

After spending over $500 per month in gas alone in 2012, I relished the opportunity to walk or use public transportation all the time. Here is what I learned: walking everywhere isn't hard (and I didn't gain a pound even though I ate more bread than I am used to), but it does require more planning than I am used to. For instance, I rarely use umbrellas at home because dashing from store to car or car to my building at work is such a short distance. And my husband claims he had never used an umbrella before our trip. But when you don't have a car and you have a one mile walk to the grocery store, you should carry an umbrella. Walking one mile in the rain with our hands full of groceries and 0.5 umbrellas per person was…wet.

I missed having a car, but not very often. I liked seeing our neighborhood by foot and since we had to walk almost everywhere, we tried to batch our errands and plan around the weather. I've also tried to batch our errands at home, too, but it's easier to cheat when I can jump in the car and drive somewhere.

Food

Grocery shopping is one of my least favorite activities, so I try to do it as little as possible at home. But on our trip, we did not have the luxury of a large refrigerator and stand-alone freezer. The size of the food packages reflected the smaller amount of storage. Whether we wanted to or not, we needed to buy food every two or three days.

We found lots of shops within walking distance of our apartment. There were Walmart-style superstores, smaller grocery stores, and very small mom and pop stores in random locations along the street.

“It's a very nice shop,” one friend said of the first store we went to, “but it's expensive. Most younger people go to the superstores.”

The big stores were very similar to my shopping experience at home. But the mid- and small-sized stores felt more foreign in flavor. In the meat department, I could have purchased chicken backs, chicken hearts and livers, and other things that don't make it into my neighborhood meat case, adding further support to my thoughts that we probably waste a lot of meat in the U.S.

The first time we went to a restaurant, we didn't order drinks. “We don't usually order drinks in a restaurant,” my friend said, apologetically. “The drinks are small and expensive, and they don't give free refills like you get in the States.” When I did order a drink, my 0.2 liter Coke didn't last long. Amazing how easily I consume extra calories in beverages.

And speaking of restaurants, there were far fewer than there are at home. Based on my observations, a smaller percentage of my adopted city's budget was spent on eating out.

Water

With the addition of kids to our family (and the smaller washing machine), we did one load of laundry each day. We also showered every day, of course. About halfway through our stay in our apartment, our landlady hit us with a surcharge because we were using too much water. Even though I don't think we're waterhogs at home, I'm sure the absence of a water bill influences us to use more water.

After paying an extra fee for water usage, we were very careful. We made sure all loads of laundry were full, we turned off the water while we were lathering up in the shower, and some of us may have even skipped a shower or two.

Money is universal

Whenever I could, I tried to engage our new friends in financial conversations to get a feel for how things really were for them.

“Our economy isn't good,” one woman admitted. “Our unemployment rate is around 20 percent, and no one is doing anything about it. Students coming out of college can't find jobs. Businesses have no incentive to employ people. I used to employ people, but it's easier to just be on my own.”

“What do you think about the cost of living here?” I asked another woman who frequently visits her daughter here in the U.S.

“It's higher than the States, for sure,” she shrugged. “I think clothes, shoes, food, and cars — probably everything — are more expensive here.”

My other friend had more to say. “You know, in the city, it's not too bad. But I have family in the country. They own a bakery, and they have people who can't pay for their bread right away. So they give my aunt an IOU and pay later. It's hard for them.”

Living in another country was an interesting experiment in the culture of money. I see how many factors (costs of water, standards of living, and food consumption) influence how we spend our money at home. The experience, however, was priceless.

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Louisa
Louisa

I always like hearing of experiences living abroad. Your story would be more helpful if you identified the country and city. Where exactly were you?

Lisa A
Lisa A

Louisa, I didn’t include it originally because I wanted to protect my children’s privacy. But let me think about it for a couple of hours and maybe I will include the country at least.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski

If these were your own children born here would you feel it a violation of their privacy to reveal that they were in fact born in the US? Seems a bit silly to me, there are millions and millions of people from that (whichever) country, it’s hardly “personal information”.

Riley
Riley

Lisa, I applaud and support your sense of privacy about naming the adoptee’s country. Adoption is sensitive. Hundreds of readers do not need to know details, and the theme of your article doesn’t really require country identification anyway. The issues you discuss are generic and apply to many parts of the world. As you and your partner deepen your family bonds with the children, you may wish to share more. But the curiosity of others should not determine your decision. I don’t think there’s anything “silly” about your discretion. Good for you!

Michele
Michele

What Riley said.

Will
Will

Must be one of those very small European countries. Probably not Vatican City (not really any kids to adopt, unemployment not so high). Maybe San Marino, or Monaco, or Liechtenstein? Andorra? Iceland? Malta? Luxembourg?

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

Congratulations on your successful adoption!

It’s interesting to hear about your experiences abroad. I’d love to hear more about how it influences/changes your habits at home.

Lisa A
Lisa A

It’s hard to know if it really changed our habits, since we’re still adjusting. But I will definitely share something if it has affected us long term.

Derek @ MoneyAhoy.com
Derek @ MoneyAhoy.com

Sounds like a great and enlightening experience.

I’m currently experimenting with “military” type showers, and they aren’t bad at all. I only use about 25% of the water, and finish faster!

Holly@ClubThrifty

Congrats on your adoption! So happy for you!

Lisa A
Lisa A

Thanks, Holly!

Anna
Anna

I dont get it, what country did you visit? Europe is huge with totally different countries and cultures.

John S @ Frugal Rules
John S @ Frugal Rules

Congrats on the adoption, that’s awesome! We have been to Europe three times and have always loved it. We’ve always wondered what it would be like to live there and sure we’d find ways to make it work just like you did.

Debi
Debi

My parents were depression era children and much of the frugal living style that was normal for them as children is still normal for them 80 years later. Even though we were brought up with “free” well water we were still expected to turn off the water in the shower while lathering up and to turn off the water while we were brushing our teeth. My mom was quick to point out that pumping the “free” water was not free. We still had to pay for the electricity to run the pump. It seemed crazy to me as a child.… Read more »

Marni
Marni

Just wondering why the city/country was not published? Seems strange not to reveal it? It would be so much more relevant as an article and for comparison purposes. Thanks.

Lisa A
Lisa A

See my comment above to Louisa…

mike
mike

The water thing is a joke. I live in a suburb 36 miles from Philly and 17 miles from Wilmington, DE. The charge us $178 a qtr for a min. of 7k gallons water and sewage costs together. They tie your sewage costs directly to your water costs, so even if 3k went into watering flowers you get billed as it went down the drain. That only matters if you go over the min. of 7k a month then they charge for every 1k over the min for both water and sewer sep and it can add up quickly. Its… Read more »

Kayro
Kayro

This would have been a better article if the country at least had been identified. Been all over Europe — every country/culture is
different.

Lisa A
Lisa A

I agree with you that it would have been better to include the country/city :). However, I am trying to decide whether it’s in the best interests of my children to do so. Thinking about it and may be back later to reveal the country…

Daniel
Daniel

This sounds like some part of southern Europe. Most likely Spain or Greece with the unemployment figure quoted. If I’m right, it’s not a major city like Madrid, because you wouldn’t walk a mile to find a grocery store in a city like Madrid. It could be a semi rural northern European city, but the unemployment sounds like Spain.

partgypsy
partgypsy

I’m guessing not Greece, because unless you are in a very remote area the taverna/coffee shop culture is a big part of culture there.

Saskia
Saskia

I live in Western Europe and it’s impossible to adopt children from here, People in my country adopt children from Brazil, China and sometimes US. Perhaps Eastern Europe, Poland?

Maria
Maria

Yes, congratulations on the successful adoption! I agree that it would make your experiences so much more relevant if the country were mentioned.

Jake @ Common Cents Wealth
Jake @ Common Cents Wealth

Wow, sounds like a really neat experience. I’m more of a country boy at heart, so I don’t think I’d enjoy that type of city living too much. It’s pretty crazy how different life can be depending on where you’re living. Congrats on the adoption, by the way!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong

Congrats on your adoption, Lisa! I enjoyed reading about your experiences 🙂 Welcome back!

Lucille
Lucille

19Lucille says: 08 July 2013 at 10:00 am I thought the article was relevent enough without the actual country/city being revealed. She was giving us an indication of her experience as it compares to life in the US. I don’t think she meant this article to be a travelogue for future travel reference. I think it’s kind of rude for multiple people to keep asking again and again about the country/city. I’d sooner respect the writer’s privacy. She gave her reasons as a response to the VERY FIRST POST. No need to keep hounding after her…. What’s next? Asking her… Read more »

cathy
cathy

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around spending over $500. A. Month. on gas. It sounds like either you are really in the middle of nowhere and have to travel far to get to everything or you’re not very careful about batching your errands (or both?).

Thanks for your sharing story. I think it was relevant even without naming the city/country, though if you’d stated why you were leaving the info out upfront, perhaps some readers would have had an easier time concentrating on content.

Lisa A
Lisa A

Between my husband and me, we drive a combined 140 miles per working day. Yikes!

M
M

I wish I ONLY spent $500/month on gas. No haters, please… I live in a rural area in Ontario and distances and gas prices can exceed those found in the US. We do what we can to carpool and combine trips, but life has a way of complicating things. And we love rural life, so it’s a trade-off. On balance, recently I rode my bike to the closest small village for stamps/groceries and it was 18 km round trip. Whew! Maybe someday teleportation will be possible.

Kallin
Kallin

We would love to move to a country where accommodation, health care, transportation and food are much cheaper and easy access. Have visit Taiwan many times, We know we will go there when we retire because our saving will last for a long time as compare to United States. Thanks for sharing your experiment.

stellamarina
stellamarina

I would not worry about the US wasting meat. All those parts that Americans will not eat go into our hotdogs or are shipped off to poorer countries where people are happy to buy the cheaper meat. I have eaten a lot of chicken backs and turkey tails on little islands of the South Pacific that are shipped out frozen from the US. Also lots of mutton flaps from NZ and Australia. Now you know why the folks of the south Pacific have problems with high cholesterol.

Michele
Michele

Interesting! I always assumed they were made into sausages and bologna, pet food, that sort of thing.

LennStar
LennStar

Don’t forget that these “goods” often destroy local farmers. The USA and EU are the same at that…
The EU subsidizes exports of powdered milk and chicken parts, so that both are cheaper in Afrika then they can be produced there (and cheaper then in europe, too).
The taxpayer pays 1) for the farmers and 2) for the export just to devestate the production in another country so that we all can be angry about the people coming from there (because they have nothing left)and “taking our jobs”.

Think about it.

Alexandra @ Real Simple Finances
Alexandra @ Real Simple Finances

Congratulations on your successful adoption!

One thing I noticed when I visited Italy was that nobody showers every single day. That was a huge shock for me. In fact, I studied abroad in a 2-bathroom apartment with 8 girls, and the landlord couldn’t understand why we wanted the second shower to actually work!

Lucille
Lucille

I think that’s true for much (if not most) of the world, with regards to bathing. The US surely is tops in that regard—some people even showering several times a day! I suppose this will have to change when water resources become more expensive (or as expensive) for us as it is for other places around the world. I have to say, there’ve been many a time I’m enjoying a nice shower and it occurs to me that there are people in the world who have never enjoyed the bliss of such a thing, and may never in their entire… Read more »

Michael @ The Student Loan Sherpa
Michael @ The Student Loan Sherpa

Congratulations on your adoption! That is such exciting news for you and the new member of your family.

Tarun Sikri
Tarun Sikri

She went to Italy !
They have an unemployment of around 14-15% and this country is surviving on Chopper deals & Commissions from India (Augusta Westland) and tranfers from our corrupt ruling political party head – Sonia Gandhi aka Sonia Maino.
She became the head of this party after her mother-in-law and husband died. She is investing all her black money (running into billions of dollors) in Italy with her family.

Pauline @ Make Money Your Way
Pauline @ Make Money Your Way

Congratulations on a successful adoption. I am French and always interested in reading someone’s feedback when they travel over there. Last year I took my boyfriend to Europe for the first time and he was also shocked at the tiny size of our living quarters. I love the local shops and bakeries though, spending time choosing good products and preparing a nice meal is very important to me.

calliope
calliope

Being greek, living in Greece and having travelled all over Europe, it is always a huge surprise that 1) european countries share A LOT of similarities in everyday living, aside their cultural differences 2) my american friends are SHOCKED every.single.time. of the….size of things here! The small size, mind you. I spent a whole summer a few years ago answering questions like… why is your fridge/car/roads/apartment so small 😀 And why don’t I own a dryer for my clothes (I live in Greece for pete’s sake! I line dry every single time!) They seem to forget that all around the… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai

Congrats on the adoption!

Sounds like a wonderful time.

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