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Life In the United States Can Be Cheap, But Is It Fulfilling?

26 Apr
Image of a town on route 66. Neon signs in the foreground and mountains in the background

Life In the United States Can Be Cheap, But Is It Fulfilling?

Why Walk Away From The US$12.99 Olive Garden Special?

I’m just back from a cross-country road trip… followed by a few days in New York City.

I drove from Arizona to Illinois… then hopped a flight to the Big Apple.

I’m in the United States once, maybe twice a year. I don’t have much opportunity to reconnect with everyday American life. This trip was a good chance to see Middle America and then Manhattan up close.

My big takeaway?

Life in the United States can be really cheap.

Eating in restaurants along the old Route 66 in Oklahoma and Missouri, I understood why people from the center of the country think places like Panama City and Ambergris Caye are expensive. A 5-pound plate of Chinese food plus soup was offered as a US$5.85 lunch special.

Okay, I didn’t weigh the food, but it was enough for at least two people.

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a comparable quantity of food available for a comparable price anywhere outside the United States.

Gas was cheaper than in Panama and way cheaper compared with prices at Paris pumps.

Outlet malls tout wholesale prices for everything from clothes to cookware. I stopped at a knife shop and bought a high-end German kitchen knife set for a fraction the retail cost and slightly less than the same set can be purchased on Amazon.

Hotel prices weren’t much more than I remember them being from my last cross-country drive… which was more than 20 years ago.

The bottom line is that Middle America is a bargain.

Why would anyone want to move away from the US$12.99 Olive Garden special?

Americans complain about not making enough money, but the truth is that covering your basic needs in this country (other than health care) doesn’t cost much. It’s the extras that get you… that second or third TV… the NFL package so you can watch every single football game during regular season… then the Playoff package come January…

Plus all the things you bought on late-night TV that are now sitting in your garage or, worse, a storage unit costing you US$20 a month.

For many, the United States is a country of comfort and excess.

I don’t mean to pick on the United States. I’m just commenting on my recent experience on the ground.

Comparing Life In The U.S. With Life Overseas

One big difference between life in the United States and life elsewhere is space. In the States, there’s just a whole lot more of it available.

In Europe, for example, housing is much smaller. That four-bedroom ranch house on an acre in Iowa can hold a lot of stuff you don’t need or maybe even remember you own. A two-bedroom apartment in Paris with limited closet space makes you think about each and every item you purchase.

When we moved to Ireland 20 years ago, we found our cost of living fell compared with what it had been in the States. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to buy things…

It was that, at that time in Ireland, we couldn’t find much we wanted to buy… so we did without.

And, honestly, we adjusted quickly. It’s amazing all the things you think you need that you really don’t.

The things we did buy those years living in Ireland—antique furniture for our house for example—were cheaper than they would have been in the States.

Then we moved to Paris

Live in Paris as a tourist, and you need a big bank roll.

Live in Paris as a non-tourist, and you can have the time of your life even on a limited budget. I’d argue that Paris can be downright cheap if you know how to play life there. Baguette, cheese, and wine get you a long way and cost almost nothing if you shop right.

And who needs or wants a car in Paris… meaning the cost of gasoline is irrelevant.

The truth is you can spend as much or as little as you want living anywhere in the world.

So I say: Stop focusing on the cost of living (anywhere… including in the United States)…

And think instead about your qualify of life.

Internationalizing your life shouldn’t be about the cost of a gallon of gas or a pound of ground round.

It should be about your overall lifestyle.

The past week in the States has reminded me that diversity in your lifestyle is as important as diversification in your investments.

I’d get bored living full-time in the United States… whether in Oklahoma or even in New York City. Moving around suits me… and it allows me to take advantage of the best things each place where I choose to spend time has to offer.

Lief Simon


Featured image: Flickr/Sam Topping