A few years ago, I visited my sister in Costa Rica, where she lives.* While I was there, she did something super weird; she put all of her wet laundry out to dry on racks, on the back of chairs and on hangers, even though she had a perfectly fine clothes dryer. I opened my big mouth – preparing to make fun of her – when it dawned on me that she might be onto something. I shut my fat mouth fast.
I’ve thought about her “cheapness” a lot since then. Perhaps my sister’s cost-saving ways are the reason why she is in a much better financial position than I am? So instead of talking behind her back (like I usually do), I asked her to write about it for me.
This is what she said:
The five years prior to making the move to Costa Rica, I worked and lived in Calgary. I had a car, a downtown apartment and enough cash to drop all along 17th Avenue in its clubs and restaraunts, where I easily spent $100 in a night without thinking much of it. I took a few trips a year to Phoenix or Florida or Chicago to shop and pack my closet with more clothes than I probably needed.
When I moved to Costa Rica, I decided to start from zero and pretended I didn’t have any money saved. Here’s the thing: because I lived modestly and completely different from the lifestyle that I was accustomed to, I learned that sacrificing a little can give back big rewards.
For example, instead of immediately buying a car to replace the one I had given up in Canada, I realized I had two legs that could transport me from A to B without costing a dime. I took the occasional taxi, and I became quaintly familiar with the local bus system which only cost me about 50 cents CND per trip. I had a few adventures along the way – like the time I walked to the grocery store without a plan to get back with an armload full of grocery bags. As I stepped out onto the parking lot, I assessed my options:
1) Walk back to my house in the dark, risking circulation loss to my forearms and a possible petty theft robbery of my wallet. (Let’s just say Costa Rica is a little different than Canada.)
2) Call a taxi and pray the dispatcher could understand my broken Spanglish well enough to know where I was.
3) Hop into the beat-up little truck of an old man who was offering me his “private taxi” services.
Naturally I chose option #3 because it seemed the least of all these evils. The little old man safely took me home for double the price of a regular taxi, but hey, what did it matter, I just needed to get home. I learned from that experience and many others that I didn’t really need a car. Owing one is just more convenient. And yes – I’ll be honest with you – I eventually bought a car, in part to reward myself for my year-long penny pinching.
Choosing the cheaper options during that first year paid off in a big way. Not only did I buy my car, but I also bought a house and have afforded a few trips back home to Canada. So sacrificing the things that you perceive to be essential (a car, a big apartment, eating out, etc.) even if it is for a short (or long) period of time can definitely pay off in some way or another. One day.
Well, isn’t that so nicey-nice. Little brat. Thinks she knows everything. I’m totally gonna’ karate chop her in the arm when I see her again.
But she does have a point. I’m curious to read about what other people have given up, and what they got in return. I’m still new at this delayed gratification thing, especially when it comes to finances.
Apparently, I have a lot to learn from my little sis.
* FYI: the two weeks you spent in Tamarindo in 2001 are NOT in any way indicative of how people in Costa Rica actually live. Despite what the above photographic depiction might suggest, my sister’s life is NOT a perpetual vacation. She goes to an office, has a mortgage, doesn’t spend hours a day sipping Margaritas, etc. And BTW: every vacation you’ve ever been on is probably not indicative of how people actually live in that particular country. That is unless you went to an all-inclusive resort, where you likely saw tons of people faking smiles while they catered to spoiled tourists. In that case, you witnessed those people’s real lives up close.