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Going Abroad Part II: Money

Money. The curse of living. You need it. You have to buy food. You need a roof over your head. But you have to work to get it. Who likes working.

I study English. I already have a Conservatory degree. That makes English my second Bachelor degree. Meaning I have to pay the institutional fee for studying in Leiden. That’s 5000 euro a year. Moreover, I don’t get money from the government anymore. I have to pay for public transport. And then I haven’t eaten a single meal yet. Nor have I bought a book. But don’t think I’m complaining. It was my own choice.

I work hard for my money. I have three jobs. It costs me 20 hours a week. Some of these jobs are nice enough. But it’s not enough to pay for Australia. Rent there is 200 euros a week. There’s the ticket. The visa. You must have Australian health insurance. I need a bike. They require you to wear a fucking helmet. Do you know what an average helmet costs? 40 euros! The cost of living is also a lot more expensive than here.

You don’t know how lucky you are. Good food is everywhere. We complain about Albert Heijn. We shouldn’t. Not too much anyway. It’s much harder to find proper food abroad. Contrast is everything. You only appreciate what you have by contrast. That’s why I think everyone should try a spell abroad.

I have to get more money. So I devised other ways of making petty cash. More importantly, I devised ways to save money. Petty is really the word to focus on here. There’s loads of ways of saving money. Most have to do with planning. Go to the supermarket twice a week. Buy stuff for several days. Just buy what you need. No snacks. I’m even losing weight. It has other advantages. I used to shop groceries every day. You stand in line for ages. Now I save a shit-load of time. I also only cook two times a week. Make enough for three days. Save more time.

I don’t buy new stuff anymore. This afternoon, I gave myself a rare treat. I bought a book. Hadn’t bought one in two months. Very unlike me. Very hard not to give in. But it was exquisite. When you crave something but don’t give in, the occasional treat is orgasmic in scope. In the mind though. Not in the flesh. I’m sure the people at De Slegte wouldn’t have appreciated me orgasming all over their books.

Being a musician helps. I still know people. Some people still know me. Despite being busy, I play what I can. Anything will do. A book-presentation. The opening of a home for the elderly. A festival for free improvisation. Lunch concerts. A workshop about what music is. I do feel slightly abused from time to time. I’m really at the bottom of the food chain. I take the jobs no-one else wants. But it pays a lot better than a paper round. It may be small potatoes. Still, it’s money.

I started selling books. I have way too many anyway. It’s more work than you think, selling books. Do it on the internet and you have to make entries. You have to send all the books yourself. Bring your books to a second-hand bookstore, and you get rubbish prices. Still, it’s money.

How much do you pay for insurances? I pay less than I did a year ago. I cranked down my phone-bill. Who needs texting when you have Facebook. Who needs phone calls when you have Skype. I looked into subscriptions. Turned out I was paying all kind of things I didn’t need. Magazines. Land line telephone.

Then there’s cheap outings. These are my favourite. Leiden is heaven for free events. Annual lectures. PhD ceremonies. Visiting scholars. And all with free drinks after.

It’s interesting. The less you take, the less you need. Think about it. Why do you always buy new clothes. New books. New stuff. Does it make you feel better. Maybe. But do you know what makes me feel good? Self-discipline. Every time I don’t buy a new suit I feel great. I seem to be turning in some kind of crazy hippie-Buddha. Without the fat, mind you.

I still have a lot of stuff though. When did all that stuff accumulate? And why do I have all those things? Clothes I don’t wear. Books I don’t read. Candles I don’t burn. Board games I don’t play. It’s insane. But just try to get rid of it. You can’t. This stuff has emotional value. Yuk. Still, I’ve given away a lot of things. Brought some stuff to the second-hand store. Gave clothes to Africa or whereever. Good for the karma I guess. Sometimes I give visitors stuff. I don’t need it, they want it. They’re always surprised. Embarrassed even. Gift giving is felt to be reciprocal. People have trouble dealing with gifts seemingly given without compensation. But there is compensation: I get space. Both physically as mentally.

There is good news. It seems to be working. I break even. At the end of the month I have a little more money than what I started with. And anyway, I’ll get a job in Oz. Apparently there’s a lot of work in construction there. That should be interesting. I’ve been a professional mover, but never a construction worker. Anything for a story.

by Marten van der Meulen