“Why would someone move back from making big bucks overseas to live here and work more and make less?” I’ve been asked this question once, and kinda-nearly-but-not-outright asked this question several more times. And the answer is basically: we love New Zealand. But from the way it was asked, that wasn’t quite what they meant. To get more specific, yes, this change involved a pretty decent drop in income. But even if we just focus on money (which ignores the multitude of reasons we made this choice) it’s not really that simple. Our overall household income is less, even with both of us working now, we pay more tax than we did in Brunei, and we work many more hours for less pay. At the same time, we pay less in household bills (rent, power, phone etc.), we still don’t have to pay much in the way of childcare, and we have less free time to spend money.
But the biggest reason that the income drop hasn’t been so bad is that it’s so much easier to be frugal in New Zealand (for us, anyway). We’ve definitely had an adjustment period as we get back into the rhythm of frugality, and there are still plenty of things I’d like to change, but our lifestyle here lets us do several things that help us save money compared to our lifestyle in Brunei:
- Shopping at op shops. We LOVE op shops. You may call them thrift shops or secondhand stores or junk shops or something else entirely. But whatever you call them, we think they’re great. The Campground Kid doesn’t get any new toys except at Christmas and birthdays, but she occasionally gets a book or a toy from the op shop; I have found some of my favourite clothes in op shops (though it’s a lot harder now that I’m fat!); and there’s no better place for cheap craft supplies. Plus, it’s really satisfying to find a great bargain.
- Having a vegetable garden. In Brunei we pretty much just had concrete around our flat. It was a bit miserable, and it made it impossible to garden. Now we have lots of space, and big raised vegetable garden. We learned from previous mistakes and kept it pretty low maintenance, but we’ve had a near endless supply of silverbeet, spinach, zucchini, lettuce, and herbs. And we’re pretty excited to see capsicums growing on our plants and passionfruit and feijoas coming through on the vine/trees that were planted before we arrived. It takes a bit of work, but we have so many fresh veges, and have even managed to stock up our freezer a bit. Speaking of which, next on the list is…
- Having a deep freeze. Our tiny little freezer in Brunei was always crammed full, just from our weekly shop. Now we have a big chest freezer, so we can buy meat and veges and bread and other staples in bulk when they’re a good price and freeze them until we need them. We always have food available, and can keep a decent stock of easy-to-prepare meals on hand, which saves money on takeaways. I didn’t realise how much I had missed having a big freezer until we had one again.
- Driving less. In our new job, we almost never drive during our work week (except driving 3 min down the road on the days The Campground Kid goes to hang out with a child minder). I drove a lot in Brunei, so this is a nice change. It probably doesn’t save us much actual money, though, because petrol is more than three times the price here 😬😳😮. I do miss 53c petrol!
- Wearing a uniform. We both wear a uniform five days a week now, which a) makes it very easy to get dressed in the morning and b) means I hardly need any clothes. I tend to be someone who has too many clothes (waaay too many), so this probably hasn’t even reduced my wardrobe to normal, but it’s definitely reduced it from totally over the top. Baby steps, right?!
- Taking fewer holidays. We were in Brunei for a limited time, so very much felt like we needed to see as much of the area as possible. This meant lots of international holidays (and we still didn’t manage to see even close to everything we wanted to!). And even though Southeast Asia is cheap, international holidays still put a dent in the budget. We have less time and less drive for holidays now – we’re homebodies at heart – which saves us a lot. We also have a caravan now, so we anticipate most of our holidays being campgrounds, which are a little easier on the pocket. It will definitely be a change from the fancy hotels we quite often stayed at in Asia, but it’s a good change.
Coming home and making this change was NEVER about the money. At the same time, we didn’t want to be constantly scrimping and saving and worrying about money. Before we moved, I did worry that this would be the case. But, so far, it’s not at all. I think if we’d gone from similar job/lifestyle to similar job/lifestyle and had this same pay cut, it would have been quite a shock (we would still have done it, but it would have been hard). But because we changed EVERYTHING, the change in budget has been pretty low on the list of changes. By living a little more frugally, saving in some important areas (RENT), and staying at home more often, it just hasn’t been a big deal. PHEW.