How much did you think about money when you were 20?
Unlike the pop song by Sam Smith, money was not on my mind.
At the time, I was living in Brazil and made enough to rent a room in a shared apartment, eat adequately, get from point A to point B with no hassle, and have plenty of fun. I even saved 10% of my income, effortlessly.
As I only lived an hour away from my parents, visiting them on weekends became the norm. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy being spoiled by my favorite foods (lovingly prepared by my mom) and the leftovers to bring back to my humble abode.
Money wasn’t ever a cause for concern, and I didn’t understand why other folks always get stressed out about it.
I naively thought that all you have to do is work hard, save, and the rest would take care of itself.
I should’ve known better, but I didn’t. And what happened next didn’t help to adjust my perspective.
At 23, I moved to London on a combination of scholarships and grants.
My misinformed self assumed that I’d finally be facing real-life challenges.
I couldn’t be more wrong.
You see, my rent was paid for by my scholarship, and I could more than support myself on my grant money alone. I had zero money worries. None. All I needed to do was focus on my MA studies.
If it weren’t for my college buddies, who never shied away from vocalizing their dismay towards London’s insanely high cost of living, I’d be completely out of touch with the expensive reality.
I knew that a pack of cigarettes was £10 ($12), a pint of beer at the pub was around £5 ($6), and a meal at our usual hangout spot would cost no less than £15 ($19).
But I had no clue what those numbers actually meant.
Did those prices seem reasonable to the average Londoner? I wouldn’t be able to tell you. There was no measuring stick with which to judge how affordable something is, because everything I wanted seemed inexpensive to me.
I allowed myself to curate a lifestyle that wasn’t who I was at the core – one that impressed others and silenced the self-deprecating voices in my head.
If you tuned in to my inner dialogue, it would sound a lot like that song by Ariana Grande.
£12 ($15) chocolate truffles? Why not.
Fortnum & Mason’s lavender honey? Need to have it.
The new Burberry lipstick? Let’s buy it.
And while we’re at it, let’s grab this Tom Ford lipstick too.
I mean, I knew this extravagance was unnecessary, but I couldn’t stop. Like a train conductor hitting the emergency brakes, the inertia was too strong to overcome.
Meanwhile, my friends – many of whom were foreigners to London – faced the harshness of trying to make it in a big city that I was sheltered from. Unlike born and bred Londoners, they had no social safety net to catch them if they fell, so they had to tough it out and find creative ways to scrimp and save. A few had no choice but to go into debt just to survive long enough to finish their studies.
If I were to be honest, I looked up to these friends. They were incredibly brave and resilient, and their self-esteem didn’t depend on whether they purchased the latest Chanel bag or not. They valued life experiences above all.
This window into their lives marked the beginning of the unraveling of my old views on money.
When my MA studies came to an end, I, too, placed my bet on staying in London.
My reality changed a lot, and quickly.
While trying to launch a career as a writer, I took a part-time job in a department store that paid £10 ($12) per hour – £3 ($4) more than UK’s minimum wage in 2015.
It allowed my then-partner and I to live modestly in a £750 ($928) 2-bedroom flat, but the real prices of the city began to take their toll on my bank account.
It was the first time I had to put myself on a shoestring budget, stretch every dollar and wait for the next paycheck to arrive.
Those £15 meals out happened less and less frequently. Wild parties at the pub became house parties. And my gourmet and designer make-up indulging days were officially over.
I knew pursuing a writing career meant that my life would never be filled with champagne and caviar, but I didn’t anticipate that it would be this hard.
To cope with the disappointment and the thankless grind, I started to romanticize my lack of financial prosperity.
I told myself that money makes you a bad person.
Worse than that, money makes you a bad artist.
Sick of living paycheck to paycheck with no end in sight, my then-partner and I moved to Liverpool where his family lived, and where the rent we paid in London would get us a 3-bedroom house, garden included.
This move was meant to be temporary, until we figured out where we wanted to live.
Once again, my carefree attitude toward money bit me in the rear.
I thought it would be easy to find a decent job in Liverpool, so I didn’t even bother sending resumes prior to our relocation.
It took me 6 months to land a barista gig at a local coffee shop. Apparently, I was overqualified.
Still, that job wasn’t enough to keep me afloat.
I watched my £3,000 ($3,713) savings slowly evaporate with a growing sense of desperation.
Asking my parents for money was out of the question. I was too proud. So I took a small personal loan to try to avoid the impending financial crash.
It was the lowest point in my life, and I vowed to never go into debt ever again.
Fast forward to 2018, my partner and I broke up.
He moved to Japan, and I chose not to follow.
Spontaneously packing up and moving to Liverpool was fun when I was 23, but at 28, I couldn’t uproot my entire life for a man and cross my fingers that it would work out in my favor anymore.
It was time to take life by the horns and chase after my own dreams.
Remember, this was during the height of the Brexit conundrum.
The uncertainty of that situation and my yearning for a new city to hone my craft in brought me to Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, where the people are friendly and the cost of living is low.
Also, the weather is much better.
Between freelance writing and teaching English at various schools that paid me €12 ($13) to €17 ($18) per hour, I managed to build my savings back up again even while experiencing all that Lisbon had to offer.
Before long, I set my eyes on my next target, Berlin, where I’ve always wanted to live.
This time I didn’t bolt. I had a plan.
By that point, I had built a sustainable career working remotely, which meant I could easily move to another country without restarting a job search.
So here I am, 30 years old, with my roots firmly planted in Germany.
If my nomadic adventure taught me anything, it’s that being a writer doesn’t doom you to a life of perpetual scarcity.
It’s okay to want money – it doesn’t make you uncool or less of an artist.
It’s okay to enjoy money – as long as you don’t go overboard and let it dictate your sense of self.
More than anything, I’m just happy that my struggling days are behind me.
Nice article. I think that most people can relate to your story. I think back to my college years and really money was no problem because I had scholarships and parental support. On the other hand, maturing into an adult with a job and then family changed things.
I had a similar experience. Well, kind of. I had college paid for by the GI Bill and my relocations were based on a husband. I experienced various “unique” professional positions that occurred in the meantime! Kudos to you for sticking it out, learning some lessons, and achieving your dreams!