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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Australiana #9: The Zero-dollar Day

Moving countries is expensive business. The older you are, the more difficult it gets. When you are a student in your early or mid-20s, you are more adaptable, willing to share a two bedroom space with four other flatmates, juggling lectures at the university with evening work-shifts at the local cafeteria and probably even skipping a meal or two to save some money. By the time you are in your 30s, you're well-settled as a professional or in business and have developed a strong liking for the comforts you can afford – the weekly movies, books, expensive showpieces, shopping trips, weekend getaways and meeting people over coffees. Inertia has seeped into your life.

Then you get a jolt. You move miles away to a land far, far away, very different from the one you have known. At first, you soak it all up – the pristine beaches, the clean air, the freedom to dress the way you want to without anyone staring at you, the silence. It is far-removed from the densely-populated, heavily polluted and congested country you have just left. But then you start hankering for that old lifestyle – the comforts of a home, finding new friends you can meet over coffees, shopping for people back home and yourself and watching Indian news channels on YouTube. The more you want it, the more it costs.

Australia is one of the most expensive countries in the world mainly because its population of only 22.68 million is hardly the market most global brands would vie for. Less population, controlled immigration and severe quarantine means few goods in the market. Almost all of them are imported from China, adding to their cost. Then there is the remoteness of the country and how far you are from Sydney or Melbourne. Unlike other countries, where costs reduce when you move away from the metros, here they build up. The most isolated city in the world, Perth, is also the most expensive city in Australia.

In the first month we moved to Brisbane, we found our good reserve of Indian rupees dwindling as we kept converting more and more of them to the strong and stable Australian dollars. We had to pay weekly rent for the apartment, needed basic furniture and groceries. Frequent rides on the public transport were ruled out because they are expensive. Our main form of commute to office and shops, for sightseeing or anything else would be our legs. Once in a while, we would take a bus, train or ferry. But to any place in the range of a couple of kilometres, we preferred to walk. It saved some money and made us a lot stronger. At times, though, we were miserable. “Did we really move out of our comfortable home in India to live like this?” 

Then one day, at the free local library, I picked up a magazine. It had an article about zero-dollar days. It stressed on the importance of savings. You did not have to spend money each day of the week unless you wanted to. There could be a couple of days in the week where, if you planned well in advance, you would not have to spend a cent.

I liked the idea and decided to give it a shot for a month. Wednesdays and Thursdays would be my zero-dollar days. I could do grocery shopping on Mondays and travel by public transport on other days to places I wanted to explore. There was a limit to the number of things I could carry while walking so I didn't go on a spree while shopping on non-zero-dollar days. Wednesdays and Thursdays were for cleaning, eating only home-cooked meals, library visits (free), walks, reading, conversations without coffees and finishing off pending writing or accounting (I am moonlighting here) assignments. It has been over a month and so far it has worked. My spending is structured and we now have some savings. Sometimes, I overspend but feel less guilty with the knowledge that two zero-dollar days are round the curb. What started as a bit of an experiment may gradually become a lifestyle.  


Marissa Joanna Doshi said...

I do this too! Have found it very helpful. I started it because I was appalled at how easily I was being seduced into American consumerism.

Eisha said...

America's about too much of choice, Australia's about too little

Marissa Joanna Doshi said...

^good point!