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4 Big Tips to Break the Consumerism Cycle When Living Abroad

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Kiersten Brown
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Moving abroad was life-changing for me. It felt like I had broken out of the shell of who I once was, sprouted wings, and learned to fly as this new person. I learned to live with less and was happy. I learned to be resourceful and adaptable.

I picked up an array of new skills, left behind 80 % of what I owned, and crammed my life into two suitcases and a backpack. However, there was one piece of unintentional baggage I carried along. This was the heavyweight of the consumerism mindset.

Some people move abroad and realize they are happy living out of a backpack, with flip flops, a bathing suit, and not much more. For many, they just need the minimal to be happy. They are completely cured of the consumerism culture.

However, there are others, like myself, who although we have escaped the clutches of capitalism, struggle with breaking free from that mentality.

When living in a new country there’s often the challenges of:

  • Buying unnecessary items
  • Buying things for emotional satisfaction
  • Overspending
  • Avoiding any type of budgeting
  • Feeling some sort of guilt over purchases
A Black American women enjoying smiling over a railing on the rocky coast of Spain
Spending my money on experiences, rather than things

My ex-pat journey involved staying in places for longer periods of time. And the longer I stayed in one place the more I tended to accumulate.

For me, consumerism was a habit. A habit that was hard to kick when I moved abroad. I found myself re-cluttering my life. Shopping was often a coping mechanism for loneliness or feeling some sense of control. 

I decided to break the cycle by asking myself the following:

  • Do I know where my money is going every month?
  • Am I emotionally spending and why?
  • Do I feel financially free?
  • Why do I obsess over things I should or shouldn’t buy?
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From there I started to look at my spending differently. Here is how I experienced financial freedom while living abroad and 4 big tips you can use to break the consumerism cycle when living abroad.

Tip 1. Look at purchases as wants or needs

There’s nothing wrong with buying new things. New things make us feel good. And if you’ve worn the same pair of jeans until there are holes in the crouches yes, go buy yourself a new pair.

But, when you are shopping ask yourself: what things do I want, and what things do I need.

It’s important to put your money towards actual necessities.

Do you need that awkward souvenir or will buying it make you feel good in the moment?

When you want to buy something for yourself, try purchasing something with value. This could be something like a scented candle that makes your new place feel like home. A piece of art done by a local artist.

When we think about the value behind our purchases, we can ask ourselves if it'll be beneficial in the long run.
A Black American Woman expat smiling to the camera in Spain wearing fall weather bright clothingi
All smiles now that I've broken the cycle of consumerism

Tip 2.  Don’t romanticize the price

A wonderful advantage of living abroad is that the cost of living is often lower than in one’s home country. It’s like 3 for the price of one deal everywhere. But we can get caught up in the low cost of things.

For example, when I taught English in Panama, taxi rides to most places were only $5. Coming from California where it felt like crossing the street cost me $5, I didn't think twice about paying. But that $5 snowballed into $20 then $30. The next thing I knew, I was paying a high price to be driven to a place I could walk to.

Because here’s the secret, just because it’s a low price doesn’t mean you have to buy.

The low cost of something can go towards savings for something you want in the future.


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Tip 3. Create a Fun budget

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of budgets.

I thought they were restricting. Yet, budgets can be more than the number of police for your money.

It’s about being in a relationship with your money. Knowing where it’s going every month, and knowing how you're spending it. When you have that knowledge, you have more freedom.

So you’re not waking up every day saying, I don’t have enough money for that. You’re waking up saying I know exactly how much money I have.

Fun budgets can look like the following:

  • creating a colorful format for your budget
  • keeping a handwritten budget
  • giving yourself non-monetary rewards for following your budget
  • making room in your budget to guiltlessly buy certain things

Tip 4. Use Cash When Possible

Many countries have completely moved away from the cash system and gone digital. But, as convenient as it can be to swipe or use your phone to pay, cash is tangible.

Using cash can be an easier way to be more mindful of your spending.

If you live in a non-cash society, make it a habit to track your expenses daily. Make sure you know every purchase you’ve made and why you’ve made it.

It’s important to remember that buying things is not the enemy. Healthy spending habits can contribute to a more stable economy.

The thing to keep in mind is how money is valued in different countries and cultures. And compare those values to your own views of money. By aligning your values to your spending you can see your money and your experiences grow in a richer and fulfilling way.


By incorporating 1, or better yet all, of the tips above you'll be ready to break free of consumerism and live a more balanced, debt-free life abroad.

xx,
Kiersten

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