As I reflect on my time here, which I have been doing a lot lately with only 40 days left (!!!), I have begun to notice that something has been missing from our time here. Well, lets be honest, a lot of things are missing (like peanut butter) but some are more noteworthy than others.
When we came here both Aaron and I took a pay cut. We figured that the experience would be worth it. Little did we know that we would actually save far more money in our two years here than we did in our four years in Chicago.
This isn’t because we have been living an overly frugal existence. As this blog, and the travels contained within it show it has been quite the opposite. We have visited both extremes of Japan, Okinawa and Hokkaido, and tons of things in between. We took two weeks in Indonesia and another international trip to visit home. In many ways I feel that our past two years have been more indulgent than all my adult years back home.
So, if we haven’t been intentionally frugal, what gives?
Well, I think there are a lot of factors in play here. First of all, our living expenses are quite a bit cheaper.
Our rent is about $300 less per month than it was in Chicago. Granted, we have half the space.
We have no car, a change we intend to continue upon our return.
Our energy costs are low. We don’t central heat or cool our home. We don’t have a dryer for our clothes. We have an on-demand hot water heater.
We have made minimal purchases for our home. Knowing that we would only be here for a limited time, we chose not to upgrade many of our old (but still working) stuff. We lived with an ugly green pleather sofa. We made do with mismatched dishes. We kept our clothes in plastic drawers.
We both are not sized to fit into Japanese clothes and therefore, aside from a few packages shipped from home containing essentials and a small shopping spree in the Fall when we visited, our clothing purchases have been very close to zero for the past two years. Yes, upon return our wardrobes definitely need some refreshing, but I think we also learned a good lesson in making do with what we have.
The majority of the money that we have spent has been spent on food and travel. Instead of filling our home and life with new material things we have splurged on weekends away. Instead of new shoes, which I can’t fit into anyways, we have gone to nice dinners.
And, I think, all of this was pretty easy given that we aren’t marketed to. My Japanese is pretty crappy, so I still can’t really read or understand the various advertisements around here and we don’t keep up with much American media, so we miss out on that marketing as well. We don’t watch any TV, so we don’t see any commercials. The only radio we listen to is streaming public radio. The only new movie we have seen in the past year was Wall-E.
While missing out on so much marketing has made it really easy to remove ourselves from a consumerist/materialist lifestyle, it does make it rather awkward to come back.
I don’t know what’s hot anymore. I don’t know what’s cool. I don’t know which celebrity is popular or what’s playing on the radio. I don’t know what movies are in the theaters. I don’t know what restaurants are new. I don’t know what interesting new food products grace the grocery store shelves. I don’t know what people are talking about. I don’t know the new slang, hell I don’t even always remember how to talk English well.
I’ve been gone for two years, and sometimes when I think of all the things I don’t know, it feels like so much longer. I’m as out of touch as the parent of a teenager, so help me out. I’m coming back in 40 days, worried about the reverse culture shock that comes from feeling like a stranger in your own home country. So, what are some things that I need to know about America before I come back? How have things changed?