How I Learned To Save Money While Living Overseas

Before I moved overseas I assumed living abroad would mean watching my long-amassed savings diminish, and living perpetually close-to-broke while I toured North America. I’d accepted that fate and nestled into it like a comfortable old slipper. Yet it was in Vancouver, the city declared Canada’s most expensive, that I learned to get economical and save actual money. And no, I didn’t have to do laundry in the shower or cut my own hair. I even travelled regularly overseas.

Here are the simple tactics I implemented to save money while living overseas. The hot tip? They can and should be applied everywhere you live, to ensure your savings keep ticking over.

Commit To Thrift

Early on, I committed to shopping almost exclusively at second hand stores, havens for the financially stringent traveller.

From furniture to decorate our rental property, through to winter jackets and skis for the snow season, there was very little I couldn’t find in working condition at thrift or second-hand stores. I did however, draw the line at used undies and bathers.

Committing to thrifting means foregoing impromptu purchases or online sprees, but I quickly took great comfort in knowing my shopping was more economical and ethical than ever.

Additionally, when the time comes to move back home, there’ll be no hesitation or reluctance in sending items back to the thrift store for resale and reuse. And that, Simba, is the great circle of life.

Buy Groceries On Sale

This doesn’t mean you can’t have milk or bread if it’s not on sale, but it does mean using discounts to your advantage. Especially if they apply to non-perishables such as tinned food, which can be stored and used at a much later date.

If it’s fresh food on sale, conjure up a few recipes that use these ingredients and weave them into your weekly meal plan. Here are a few to get you started.

The same goes for beers, wines and other drinks. Where there’s a discount, it pays dividends to seize it ferociously. And if it’s not your preferred Pinot Noir or pale ale, why not be flexible and try the one on sale?

Pack Lunches, Snacks And Coffee

Not only does it avoid a descent into childlike irritability (we’ve all had a hangry tantrum), packing your own lunch is a tried and tested cash-saver. Whether it’s last night’s macaroni and cheese or a humble salad sandwich prepared in the morning, packing lunch saves good money.

I went one step further and often prepared a thermos of coffee for work or days out. If you’re like me and drink multiple cups a day, you’ll know it’s realistic to spend something in the realm of $10 to $15 daily on the stuff. And over a week or month that really adds up.

However, like buying groceries on sale, it’s not an all-out ban on buying meals, and you should dine out or enjoy a coffee with colleagues occasionally. Saving isn’t about deprivation or suffering, it’s about being smart and practical. And that’s precisely what packing lunches, snacks and coffee is.

Proud To Be Pedestrian

Like pledging to shop mostly second hand, I also decided that I wouldn’t buy a car. Despite the convenience of having a vehicle of your own, they do come with multiple maintenance costs – think petrol fill-ups, insurance, registration and regular servicing. Then there’s the less-frequent but vastly more expensive accidents or break-downs.

So, I decided to eliminate these expenses and opted to get around exclusively on foot and by public transport. As a result, I’ve seen more, I’m healthier, and public buses have carried me to all the mountains, beaches and forests I ever hoped to see.

Free (Or Low Cost) Activities Abound

When you live in a city for a long time, you get into a routine. You have your local bars, your gig venues, a convenient gym and favourite café. And that’s great, but it probably blinkers you to the wide range of free or heavily discounted activities your city has on offer.

For example, during the summer months, the Vancouver Public Library screens new and old movies each week for free. Writers festivals and film festivals usually host some complimentary events, and there’s no shortage of city venues that run free or low-cost gigs.

Community centres offer free yoga and group exercise classes, and most public swimming pools have discount dip hours, in which you can swim for a toonie (two-dollar coin) or less. Then there’s the absurd abundance of parkland and forest in which to walk, lounge, peruse or picnic. All this, and you’ve hardly opened your wallet.

Finding and embracing these activities was aided, at least initially, by being a tourist, and new to Vancouver. I picked up visitor guides and brochures for exploring the city long after I was settled as a resident. It’s a tip I’d recommend everyone try, whether in Australia or abroad. You’re sure to discover something wonderful about your city in the process.

Learning to save money overseas had its challenging moments, and was often about finding a silver lining in the cheaper course of action. For example, while I lamented the eight hours spent on a bus to Portland (instead of a swift hour and ten-minute flight), I embraced the opportunity to see the vast and changing landscape of the north-west coast of the US. It was magic, and you know what? I wouldn’t change it for anything.

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