”Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.”
The truth of the matter is, we live in a very expensive city. In fact, Basel, according to Business Insider was ranked number nine in their report of “The 20 Most Expensive Cities in the World. “ It is costly to live in Basel and for that matter, to reside anywhere in Switzerland. We are reminded of this each time we pass a gas station (see our post entitled, “Ditching the Cars,”) pay our grocery bills, go out for the occasional meal, board a train or pay our annual health insurance.
Life isn’t cheap in Switzerland, but for all the costs that we incur on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, this country gives us so much in return. The unemployment rate hovers consistently around 3%; wages are fair, meaning individuals can actually earn a living wage. Wages that can feed, house, insure and may even provide a bit extra if one is careful with spending. The streets are clean, bridges are built and promptly repaired, public transportation is vast and reliable, life is orderly (to the dismay of some who miss the occasional influx of chaos) and crime is relatively low, note I didn’t say non-existent.
We truly appreciate clean streets, work opportunities, being paid fairly with adequate time off to supply a healthy work/life balance. We enjoy walking through the city without witnessing scores of homeless people, knowing that individuals have a place to sleep (should they take it) and somewhere to get a warm meal.
We are grateful for solid public education programs for our two small children. Our quality of life is greatly enhanced by the factors listed above and believe me, after residing in a city that took more than its fair share, we are indebted to this country and blessed to call Switzerland home.
But we believe a misnomer is brewing. The idea that because individuals reside in a very expensive country, they must indeed be wealthy. This is the interesting thing about money…perception. The perception that because we hold a Swiss bank account (regardless of how much might be in that account), that we are somehow in a better financial situation than others who hold bank accounts in their country of residence. One cannot live and function easily without being part of a banking system, ours just so happens to be in Switzerland, the country we reside. And this is where perceptions become dangerous, as they change peoples expectations and impressions of us.
The reality of our actual lives, however, is quite different. When we moved to Switzerland, we donated most of what we owned and sold a few of our more pricey possessions (our home and our cars). We moved to this country with college loans, a mortgage and were, like most Americans at some point in their lives, financially treading water. We had worked extremely hard to educate ourselves beyond the undergraduate level; we often worked multiple jobs simultaneously to save money and complete degrees. We bought our first home in our 20’s, held stable jobs and tried our best to save money for our impending retirement.
In fact, the first several months after arriving in Switzerland, we often discussed how long we would be able to actually afford our new life abroad. Luckily for us, life eventually balanced out. That balance came when we were both in the workforce, a two-income family prior to having our children certainly helped. Living in a one bedroom flat, saving money frantically, living frugally and a multitude of other cost saving strategies certainly aided in our ability to pay down debt. Hence, once our children arrived, we went down to one income with two additional mouths to feed.
Finally, we have made radical lifestyle adjustments to live in Switzerland. By no means are we suffering, but we have made significant changes to our daily life that most cannot even fathom.
Money is a funny thing. We always think our lives will be enhanced by having more of that infamous green stuff, and I will be the first to tell you that struggling each month, is no way to live. I don’t know what it is like to go to bed hungry, or make decisions between feeding my family and paying my rent and for that, I will be forever grateful. As Oprah Winfrey once said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
But regardless of the money one makes, we all elect to spend our money differently out of personal choice. Some people value things, while others, like us, value experiences and conscious living. We said it on the “About Us” section of our blog, but I will say it once again, we would rather collect experiences and rich memories than possessions. We do our best to live the lives that resonate with our values, which often means living outside the cultural norm. But having that said, we live our lives in a state of perpetual awareness. We know where and how we spend our money, and by letting go of the extras (our home, cars and nagging debt) we are now living within our means. We have said “good-bye” to debt and “hello” to life.
So, if one feels compelled to classify us as “well- off,” may we at least be rich in experiences, love and life.