Almost two years ago, I took a giant leap into the unknown.
I went from having a secure job and a nice, normal life to living in a 270 sq. ft. apartment in the developing nation known as Grenada.
When my husband brought up the idea of applying to an international medical school, I thought pretty much exactly what you’re thinking right now, “Why not?”
After all, it’s hard to argue with someone who is asking you to live with them in the Caribbean.
As the weeks went by and my husband’s medical school interview went well, it started to sink in that this might actually be happening.
It wasn’t long before we were buying one-way international plane tickets and becoming expats.
I never imagined that I would live here. Moving to the Caribbean for a few years sounds like something someone else would do, not something two introverts who love to play it safe would do.
Yet, here we are, typing away at our small desks in our equally small apartment. Ultimately, I can say this: it’s been the experience of a lifetime, and it hasn’t been without its lessons.
Here’s what I learned about frugal living the past two years:
Poverty is Real
I knew that poverty was real, but in my 20+ years, I never truly saw it or interacted with those who were plagued by it until I moved here.
Every day, I drive to work, and I pass tons of people in the road. Some are walking to work; others are begging for help. Some are just dragging 12 goats and trying to cross the road.
My husband and I have helped the local population when we can, and we’ve been generous with our time, but you’ll never hear me tease about how “broke” I am ever again.
I’ve learned that, despite being in considerable student loan debt, we are wealthier beyond many people’s wildest dreams.
Smart Phones are Just an Accessory
Before I came to Grenada, I thought I had to have a smart phone. After all, how would I go from point A to point B without consulting my iPhone GPS?
Yet, when I got to Grenada, I didn’t have a job yet, so I bought the cheapest phone I could at $20 on a pre-paid plan.
I’ve kept that little phone for two years. It does the job, and when the people around you aren’t sporting fancy gadgets, there’s no external pressure to upgrade any part of your life.
You Can Live in 270 sq ft. Without Killing Your Spouse
We chose our apartment based on safety. It’s tucked away on a hill in Grenada inside its own little fortress. Many people wonder how we live in a place so small, but the truth is that it’s easy when you don’t have much.
Sure, we bump into each other. Actually, I mostly bump into my husband and bounce off (he has ~100 lbs on me), but it’s something we laugh about. Had you told me I’d be living in a hotel-sized apartment with my husband and dog a few years ago, I would have laughed.
Yet, here we are, and we like it just fine. It turns out that you don’t need a nice house to be happy. You just need to be around the people (and furry animals) that you love.
Food That Grows on Trees Makes for a Great Meal
One of the perks of living in such a tropical environment is the fruit trees. If I walk down my street, I can reach out and pick mangos, oranges, grapefruits, and limes any time I want.
I know that when I leave here, I’m desperately going to miss the mango tree that’s a few steps from my apartment door.
There’s truly nothing better than making a fresh fruit salad with fruit you’ve collected yourself. It’s free, it’s simple, and it’s one of the small joys of living in such a pretty place.
Minimalism = Happiness
However, the ultimate lesson that I’ve garnered from all of this is that minimalism does, in fact, equal happiness. The less I have, the happier I get, and the more money I save.
I would have never thought that I’d be the type of person who could go 10 months with only buying 1 article of clothing (a new bathing suit). I also never thought that I’d dye my hair back to its natural color, hang clothes on the line to dry, or only run the AC when it’s really hot.
Sure, the island has taught me how to be frugal, but it’s taught me more about myself, my life, and what I’m capable of than I ever imagined possible.
Catherine Alford is a personal finance freelance writer who lives in the Caribbean with her husband and spoiled pup, Julep. When she is not writing for other blogs on all topics frugal and fabulous, she enjoys sharing her adventures and misadventures on her blog, BudgetBlonde.com.
This post was originally published on April 30th, 2013.