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What Moving Halfway Around The World Taught Me About Money & My Mental Health

It’s on the bucket list, right? Pack up your bags, kiss your loved ones, watch Fleabag reruns on a one-way plane, before touching down into a new city, country, or continent.

The lure of living somewhere new is a powerful one, and there are so many opportunities that moving can bring you. Whether it’s a short term 6-month move, or you’re really putting down roots for years to come, time abroad is a must for many of us. My partner and I moved to Canada a month and a half ago from Scotland for a Big Impressive Contract that he’s working hard on, and I took the leap and made my side hustle a day job.  After six years of poorly paid roles that were largely due to me not fighting for my worth, I’m now in a position where income is never guaranteed — and living and working as a freelance writer in a foreign land has brought with it a serious financial reckoning.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the last six weeks about myself, my money, and my mental health:

1. Set your damn budget already!

How often do we waste time sleeping on things that are going to bring us better peace of mind? As someone who’s lived through it, I promise you that establishing a budget — wherever you are — will alleviate the panicked, back of mind feeling about swiping your card and hoping like hell that you’ve got the cash in the account as the supermarket queue backs up behind you.

And once you do have your budget set, bear in mind that it might need to change once you reach your new home to accommodate any hidden costs. Your budget is a living, breathing thing, and though you want to stick to it, it also needs to be realistic and appropriate to where you’re living. When you’re living abroad, it’s especially worth anticipating that things like health insurance, home insurance, travel costs, and your weekly grocery budget could be a little (or a lot) more expensive — so do your research accordingly, and then enjoy more empowered spending.

2. Tax, tax, tax…

At home in Scotland, tax is included in everything. So, coming to Toronto, I had a nasty shock when I discovered that whatever cute t-shirt I’d found on sale was actually more than I’d bargained for. Often, when we get to the checkout and the tax goes on, you find yourself in deep, and you’re ashamed to back out — even if it means spending beyond your budget. Not only is that a recipe for spending disaster (we all know how things can spiral), but you can feel pretty crappy for deciding to go against something you created to help you save your own money. There’s no shame in checking what tax costs are going to come to, and putting back that potential purchase if necessary — your wallet, and your self-esteem will thank you.

3. Check your habits.

Tempted in by the freelance lifestyle of coffee shop lattes and dates with my laptop, I blew a good $200 in my first two weeks here on frivolous spending alone – and was appalled when I checked my account to see my funds were dwindling fast – no coffee in the world tastes good enough to combat that feeling. I was hunting for company — not realizing that loneliness could be a big factor in my spending habits.

Now, I take my coffee from home in a thermos, and set myself up in a nearby park. The free java and the fresh air have made me more productive than any Starbucks could – and I get to enjoy making friends with ALL the dogs. There’s always room for indulgence though, so if it feels right for you, try budgeting for one really excellent cup of joe a week, and savor every last drop.

4. Beware the comparison trap

This is perhaps a personal one, but coming to Toronto, I found myself surrounded by some very beautiful, made-up people. A little more au-naturel myself, I found myself awash with jealousy. Shiny hair, tans, lashes, lips, and nails — you name it — it felt like everyone was Hollywood gorgeous, and I looked like Mia Thermopolis before her transformation to Genovian Princess.

Depressed, and sat firmly in my pit of self-loathing, I looked at my regular-length lashes and bemoaned the fact that they weren’t fluffy and Russian, before wasting 45 minutes looking at pricey treatments I’m not able to afford, becoming grumpy and self-pitying in the process. Now that’s unattractive. Did I want lashes back home? Hell no! And when I figured out that actually, the lashes wouldn’t fix the fact that freelancing is tough and it can be a struggle to make grown-up friends, the urge to have Russian mink fixed to my eyelids faded.

Now, I am all for everyone budgeting for whatever they damn well please — your desires are valid whether you’re saving for a mani-pedi or an MBA — but the point is that it’s vital to check where your spending impulses are coming from. Are they true to you? Why are you envious? Getting under the skin of what’s motivating your desire is a step towards self-awareness and personal empowerment. Comparing yourself to others is a recipe for discontent at the least, and disaster at the worst. Gratitude is your weapon here — make a tally of the good things in your life, however long or short, and make that your focus. When you’re in a position to drop the cash on whatever it is you want, you’ll know if you’re doing it for the right reasons.

5. Spendthrift self-care for champions

Once more for the people in the back — self-care does not have to involve spending!

There are so many ways to take care of yourself without having to break the bank. Is that $35 Anthropologie candle really going to make you feel like you have your stuff together, or would it be beneficial for you to get creative if cash is tight?

Make a list of all the low- or no-spend things you could do that help you feel a little stronger and safer in this world. It might be an encouraging podcast, or going to bed early for those essential 8 hours of sleep. It might be calling your best friend to check in, or cup of tea leaning on your windowsill, breathing some morning air. It could be browsing your local library, picking up a bodega bouquet, cooking a special meal just for you and eating it in fresh pajamas watching a Netflix series you’ve saved.

You don’t have time for self-care? Rubbish. You’re a grown-ass woman who’s got a budget and an internet connection – so put a recurring date in the diary and make sure you hold yourself accountable. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so by scheduling in some time for number one (that’s you, by the way), you’ll be refreshed and ready to give to others, healthier and happier in the process. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

A linguist, writer, and coffee-compulsive, Eloise is navigating Canada living as a nearly thirty Scottish native. Interested in living happier, copy that sounds like a human wrote it, and the perfect Margarita, Eloise founded Olim, a communications business that’s rooted in academic practice and a healthy sense of humor. Based in Toronto, she’s not yet made friends with a moose, but that’s not stopped her trying. 

Image via Unsplash

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