Mindful Consumerism

I've written about our small house and how we've sorted and downsized our stuff through the years (leaving the USA in 2008, leaving Uruguay in 2010, moving within Córdoba in 2015) with the most recent downsizing thanks to Marie Kondo and her amazing book

But what I haven't said is...

we really don't buy stuff.

This isn't easy. It's not something that comes naturally. We work on it and struggle with it all the time. We WANT stuff. It's ingrained, taught from and early age. Now we're fighting against it. Every. Day.

We recently made our first clothing purchases in over a year. We bought 2 pair of pants & 2 shirts for our 7-year-old (she is 56"/142 cm tall and is going to be a giant like her parents) and two simple tops for me. That's it. 

Thankfully we have two girls. Everything from daughter #1 gets packed away according to size & season and saved for her younger sister. The girls wear uniforms to school and don't need many other things. As adults who work from home, we don't need work clothes like if we went into an office every day.  

When we do make purchases, we create lists for what we have versus what we need (I am a little obsessed with spreadsheets), including where we could get that item for the best quality, then watch for sales and strike when we can get a great deal. If possible, we prefer to wait until we're in the USA to make purchases, so sometimes that means delaying purchases for 6-12 months (or purchasing ahead of time, in anticipation). We find the quality is much better and the prices lower in the USA than purchasing in Argentina. 

We all still have too many clothes, among our too-much-stuff in general.  But we're working on that. 

Yes, there are things that we want, but nothing that we really NEED. That is the difference. 

We've switched from focusing on needs and wants, to focus on ENOUGH. We have more than enough to make us happy and comfortable. We do not NEED anything more in our lives

With our new, small house, we had to buy a bed for the girls (our previous house was furnished and their bed stayed with the house) but we've not purchased any new furniture. We have two desks, a kitchen table with chairs, a rocking chair and two beds. Thats basically it. In a small house, you don't need (and can't fit) much more. 

Here are a few of our questions about use, sustainability and function that influence our purchases: 

Can we repair or replace items when worn out? 

  • I have Birkenstocks (love them or hate them. I think they're amazing) that I purchased in Germany in 1996. Seriously. They have been re-soled 3 or 4 times, with footbeds replaced twice but these things are nearly indestructible and will be with me until I die. They've been well worth the expense nearly 20 years ago. Now the Vibram replacement soles are better than ever and will last even longer between re-soling. Bonus. 

Quality (and careful consideration) will outlast cheaper alternatives.

  • We will always spend more to buy quality items. They are usually a better design, long-lasting and sustainable/repairable. 
  • When our oldest was a baby, we bought an expensive, foreign-made, wooden highchair, the Stokke Tripp Trapp. We were already planning our move abroad, so we purchased with the consideration that this seat is not only beautiful, it packs flat for easy shipping/moving and thanks to adjustments & accessories, the seat can "grow" with the child(ren). We love this chair, our kids fight over it and we anticipate it'll be with us for many years to come, long after a typical high-chair would have been relegated to a yard sale. 

Can it serve more than one Purpose? Is it Multi-function?  

  • Because space is at a premium, both in our home and our luggage, we search for items that can be used in more than one way. 
  • One appliance that is the epitome of multi-function is our 14-year-old Braun MultiMix (a wedding present that is, unfortunately, no longer made). It's a standard hand mixer with interchangeable immersion blender attachment and mini food-processor. 
  • We practice the concept of "capsule wardrobes" where your closet is built from a certain color or colors, with almost everything being able to mix and match to make different combinations. My capsule consists of 20 main pieces for summer and another 15 for winter, with some overlap (this does not count accessories or athletic gear). It makes packing and travel much easier, too. 
  • I specifically buy products that can be re-used, repurposed or recycled. At the grocery store, I'll spend more for a product that comes in a jar that can be re-used for spices or dry goods, rather than a different packaging. (I avoid styrofoam and canned goods whenever possible).  

(I know I was just mentioning multi-purpose items, but...) 

Is the Simple Solution Better?

  • Why do I need a toaster when we rarely ever have bread in the house? A stovetop, oven or one of these nifty gadgets work great for warming up a tortilla or defrosting Low-carb Ricotta Pancakes (my favorite!!)  
  •  Although a huge pot of steaming hot coffee is appealing, it really is mediocre coffee (and our old drip coffeemaker broke. Twice). An old-fashioned percolator, press pot or our trusty AeroPress have few moving parts and less to break. (Okay, I must admit, I've broken a couple of press-pots in my day.) The routine of boiling water over the stove and physically going through the steps to make a cup of coffee is really simple but beautiful. 

Do we want to move it or sell it when it comes time to leave? 

  • We evaluate everything that comes into our life (even more with the small house) by asking ourselves, "Is this worth buying just to sell it or move it (internationally) within the not-so-distant-future?" Very often, that stops us in our recovering-from rampant-consumerism tracks. 
  • Since we are not in a "forever" home, city or country, we are okay with not having the perfect "thing" for every corner of the house. 

It is hard though, because while we're comfortable where we are in life and how we're living, I do want to feel settled somewhere, and that hasn't really happened in the last 7 years. We're not living out of suitcases, but we are keeping our eyes open for the next opportunity. A semi-nomadic lifestyle leads to (and alternatively is caused by) a restless spirit. Itchy feet. The travel bug. 

We're also a little jaded because we started off in our 20's with the American Dream that we're all indoctrinated with as kids in the US---

"Grow up, find a good job, get married, buy a house, fill it with stuff, have kids. That's what life is all about!"

Blah, blah, blah. 

We had all of that. For a time, we REALLY wanted to be like the Joneses. Then we decided that the house full of stuff, two new Euro-imports in the garage and our full-time jobs that we needed to afford all the stuff were not worth it.

And I guess our story really began there. 

We've grown to look at frugality in a completely different light. This is not austerity. It gives us the flexibility to decide how we want to live our lives. It gives us options to work part time, spend more time with our kids and travel for 2-3 months every year. 

It isn't easy. We struggle with the burning WANT (and keeping up with the Joneses) but we always come back around to the fact that those material wants do not get us to our life goals. We have what we need to be happy and comfortable. We want to spend our money and time elsewhere. 


So, in reference to the first photo:

No, I DON'T want to go shopping. I won't buy a new pair of jeans, because I already have one and I really don't need another (at least not until my current pair of jeans wear out.) How about coming over to our little house for a great cup of coffee and conversation instead?? 




Renewing our Temporary Visitor Permits

Uruguay Coat of ArmsThe time had come to renew our temporary visitor's permits for Uruguay.  Some people call these a visitor's visa, but they are not technically visas. Uruguay gives you 90 days and then you have to leave the country and re-enter to extend your permit. We knew about this and were planning a weekend trip to Buenos Aires with the extension in mind. We didn't want to go to Buenos Aires quite yet and had heard a mention of extending your permit for the first time at the Uruguayan immigration office in the Ciudad Vieja barrio of Montevideo. We looked at the forums for information about this and found very little. Well, it was either the immigration office or an impromptu trip to BsAs for the weekend, so we thought we'd try here in Montevideo first.

The Dirección Nacional de Migración office is located at Misiones 1513, esq. 25 de Mayo in Ciudad Vieja. When you walk in, take a number which is on a large column and wait in the main area. Even though the place was packed with people, the numbers flew by. Pay attention as it is not posted anywhere what number they are on.

Our number was called, we went up to one of the desks, sat down and told the clerk that we need "Prorroga de permanencia temporaria" (temporary extension of stay). After they typed our information into the computer, out came official looking forms with our names/passport numbers, etc.  We brought the forms to the caja (register), paid UY$356 each (about US$15), then took our papers and passports to a third desk where we received stamps all over the sheets (but strangely not in our passports) which will extend our stay for another 90 days.  All done in about a half an hour. I bet immigration in the USA isn't nearly this easy!

If you're late in renewing your temporary status here, don't fret.  You won't be kicked out of the country but you will pay a fine.  According to the Dirección Nacional de Migración website price list, it looks like the extension of an expired stamp is only US$8 more than the valid extension.

You can make this trip to the Immigration office every other time you need to extend your visitor's status here in Uruguay. The original stamp in your passport is good for 90 days. At the end of 90 days, go to the immigration office as described previously. At the end of the next 90 day period, you MUST exit and re-enter the country to renew your temporary status in Uruguay.

The visit to the immigration office is a great alternative to those who do not want to travel often, cannot afford it or simply don't have the time to travel when they need to renew their visitor status. Compared to other governmental services here, we found this process to be quick, inexpensive and efficient.

Feria Vegetables

There's been recent talk in the Uruguay blog community about cost of food and I agree wholeheartedly with everything that has been said. Go to the many the ferias around town for great, inexpensive produce, fish, eggs and cheese.  I might add, go to any of the ferias outside of Pocitos, Punta Carretas or other "upscale areas" of Montevideo for even cheaper prices. I found what I believe to be the ultimate frugal feria score: approx 2 kilos of Soup starter vegetables for just over $1 US.

Feria vegetables for 25 pesos, or just over $1 US

It included:

"Preferimos Visa"

While there are many places that accept credit cards here in Montevideo, you will often see signs like this one: 


Visa  pretty much has the market  cornered.  All of the locations that take credit cards accept Visa.  Probably about half of those also accept Mastercard.  I was at the hardware store yesterday buying a few things and as I pulled out my Mastercard, I got the response of  "No.  Solo Visa, por favor" (Only Visa, please).  So I paid cash.  

Before you just grab any Visa from your wallet, make sure you know what your bank charges for foreign transaction fees. Some banks are as high as 3%, others are 1% or even 0%.  Make your money stretch a bit further.

A Trip to the Supermercado

Disco Supermercado I just went to the grocery store this afternoon. We're always walking so I can't buy too much each time I go to the store. I tend to go there almost every day for a little something but it's two blocks away from us, so not a big deal. Today I wanted to have a "Te Completa"  (tea or coffee with croissants, cakes and little sandwiches) at home and needed some little bakery goodies to do that. I thought I'd share my shopping list with you to give you an idea of some food costs here. Granted this was a trip of little items, including some frivolous items, but still should be worthwhile to see. Prices are based on an exchange rate of 24.5 UY pesos to $1 US and rounded up to the nearest cent. Price in pesos is listed first with no symbol (although they use both the $ and U$ here for pesos) and dollars listed second in parenthesis.

  • Olives- pitted in a clear plastic pack 360 g - 44.50 ($1.82)
  • Empanadas- Cheese and Onion, pack of 6 premade - 68.00 ($2.78)
  • 12 medialunas (mini croissants)- from the bakery sold by weight - 46.96 ($1.92)
  • Frozen Pizza- 3 cheese, onion and olive - 104.00 ($4.24)
  • Whole Milk- premium baby formula (nearly double the price of regular milk), two one-liter bags - $72.80 ($2.97)
  • Pilsen Stout Beer, large 960 mL size - 45.00 ($1.84)
  • Beer bottle deposit - 9.90 ($0.40)
  • Plastic food storage container, large 1.3 liter size - 69.90 ($2.83)
  • Plastic food storage container, small 0.6 liter size - 41.90 ($1.71)
  • Paper towels- 2 small rolls which are standard here, medium grade- 49.90 ($2.04)
  • Pepper- whole peppercorns with bottle grinder- 134.00 ($5.47)
  • Salt- 500 g box - 18.50 ($0.75)
  • Wheat crackers 200 g bag - $26.50 ($1.08)
  • Dozen Eggs - brown (side note: eggs are kept out on the shelf here. Really freaks me out.) - 42.50 ($1.74)
  • Refund of 19.80 for return of 2 beer bottles (- $0.81)

Total UY pesos 754.56 (or $30.79)

You can live inexpensively here but that really depends on how and what you eat, among other things of course. I bought no fresh fruit or veggies from the grocery store today because we purchased a few things yesterday at the Villa Biarritz feria market (not sure if this is really what it's called) and we still have bananas, peppers, onions, sweet potatoes and tomatoes left from earlier in the week. I find the feria prices are less than the grocery stores and it's so much more fun to go to the big open air markets!

We bought a few small zucchini at the feria yesterday, along with a kilo and a half of both apples and oranges (3.3 lbs each) for a total of about 85.00 ($3.47).  Fruits and vegetables are plentiful and can be quite inexpensive. Purchase locally produced and in season produce and it's even better.  This is perfect since we are a strictly veggie family at home.

Now off to crack open that big bottle of beer!

One hint: Bring a few of your own reusable shopping bags.  We have two that fold up when not in use and they are used every day.  All of the grocery stores and markets use small plastic bags, and many multiple plastic bags for each trip there.  We have tried to avoid plastic bags as much as possible ("Sin bolsa, por favor"), but still have them all over from when we forgot the reusable ones. Kudos to the Disco chain of grocery stores that has "Bio Bolsas" that are still plastic, but are supposed to decompose in 2-3 years. 

Our Little House

So today was the big day. We got the keys to the house. Easy enough. Sign some papers hand over the money and in return, a set a keys. Well, it's a bit more complicated than that in Uruguay. All in all, really it's not that hard, just very time consuming. The papers are very similar to the contracts that you might see in the States as a rental agreement. We also received a six page inventory addendum detailing absolutely every little thing included in the rental (since it is furnished and equipped) down the color and number of forks in the kitchen. In our case, we received this list in advance via email so we were able to review ahead of time.

The detailed addendum contained too many household items to know all of them in Spanish, even if your Spanish is quite good. We just pasted the text of the Word doc text into Google Translate. This site is a fantasitic tool. It will translate a word or entire websites while keeping you on the site. Want to read the local paper El Pais? Just pop the URL into Translate and it will almost comes across as though it were written in English. It's not perfect, but if you know some Spanish you can clean up the translation afterward. Anyway, fantastic tool. Use it for all of your translating needs.

Armed with this inventory list, we were picked up by Jorge at the aparthotel at 12:40. An odd time you say? Not exactly. The banks in Uruguay open to the public at 1pm and most close at 5pm. (You thought bankers' hours were nice in the States and elsewhere!) This gave us enough time to stop at the house where we were given the keys by the other rental agent, Andrea  and received a few additional details. Then off I went to the bank (Itaú) with Jorge while Lisa and Geneva stayed at the new house to review the checklist.  Andrea went to the Banco Hipotecario del Uruguay (BHU), where we'd be meeting her later.

The Banking:

Half the keys we received


Lisa detailed this the other day. We had wired money from our Credit Union in MN that posted to Jorge's business account in 1 day. We're were told it would take two or three days, but expected four or five. We expected the worst, but in the end very simple very easy.  Now it gets complicated. The process is well defined, but certainly different.  Try to keep up.

We had to withdraw a ridiculous sum of money for all of the different payments we had to make today, which of course had to be approved by several people at the bank. Thankfully, I was wearing my jeans (jeans = lots of good pockets). I ended up with a pocket for each sum. One pocket for the deposit (the equivalent of five months rent...again weird laws thus the strange practice.  I think we put down less when we closed on our house in MN!) to be held in escrow at the one bank in town that does this...BHU where Andrea was already waiting with the number that held our place in line (otherwise it would really take all day to complete the transaction). This main sum for the deposit had to be in pesos. Jorge had already called his friend at the bank while we were driving there. We were given a rate nearly a point better than that posted. Not bad. It pays to know someone.  In such a small country, everyone knows someone. So deposit money one pocket in Pesos. Second pocket the 1st month rent in US Dollars for Andrea. Third pocket the equivalent of 1 month's rent plus the taxes of 22% for Jorge and all his work....and he deserves every penny. Then the little extra so I could buy a pack of gum in the final pocket. It was more than that but I was feeling a little house poor at that point.

So off  to the BHU to meet Andrea. Just a couple things to accomplish here. Sign the contracts which took about three minutes and place the deposit. This is the painful part....for everyone. It's a huge bank. I envisioned about 500 people standing outside the door ready to rush in like like a store the day after thanksgiving or worse Filene's Basement the day of the bridal dress sale.

I am pretty certain that each banker processes 4 to 5 transactions in the 4 hours that they are open to the public. We waited about 45 minutes to get from number 21 (the number we saw when Jorge and I arrived) to number 33--us. Mind you there are about 30 or 40 desks that--in theory--could help us. So we waited. Signed the papers and I gave Andrea the first month of rent. We chatted. We commiserated about this bank. It went fairly quickly. Andrea had already completed most of the form to create the deposit account. Yea! Finally 33! We go to one of the desks. They hand the banker the paperwork. Almost nothing is said. The gentleman types away while we chat. 20 minutes later. He's done and prints off a form with our new account number. That's wasn't so bad. Oh, we're not done?? We have to go to the teller (caja) to put in the money in the bank. 35 minutes in line and we're at the counter. We deposit our funds less 2% for the bank for the priviledge of them holding our money. Jorge tells me it used to be interest bearing account but that practice had ended. BHU does however pay back the money at the end of the term at the rate of inflation. So one's money is at least worth what it was when it went in. In pesos anyway. So money is in. Now we walk back over to the first desk where Andrea had been patiently waiting. They verifiy the details and we're done. In all, about two hours were spent at the bank. Good times. Then back to the house to see how Lisa and Geneva made out go over a few more details and discuss the urgent need to grab a drink and celebrate. Whew!

Oh that's right, we have to take care of Jorge. We give Jorge his agency's fee plus the taxes and we're set.

I'll let Lisa describe some of the "fun" and "interesting" features of the new house in an upcoming edition, like the grasera, tiny propane range and the 200-some keys we were handed (not quite, but close!).

Housing - Parte Dos

Well, our offer on the little house was accepted. We had a meeting a week ago with the owner and both Inmobiliarios (rental agents) to sign preliminary paperwork, sort of an agreement to agree/letter of intent with the basic terms and information spelled out. Now for the details to fall into place. One of the big coordination issues is the cash. As mentioned in the last housing entry, 5 months rent (in UY pesos) is required to go into an escrow account, one month to the rental agent and then the first month rent payable to the landlord. That is 7 months rent up front! We could take money out of our accounts via the cash machine but the quantity needed, along with our daily limits, would require a visit to the cash machine every day for weeks. We do not have a bank account in Uruguay yet, which makes wiring money from our MN accounts difficult. We could possible write a personal check, but it is not known how much time that might take to clear.  With so many unknowns, we discussed this with our wonderful rental agent who agreed to let us wire to his company account in order to expedite the process.  After a  few phone calls and emails to get account numbers, and a visit by Brad to the local bank in UY which the money will be going to, the wire request from our MN bank was made and the money is on its way.

Honestly, the whole "wire" process is a bit backwards to me. In this time of instantaneous transactions, wiring money (which can take up to a week or longer in some cases) is supposed to be the fast way to transfer money. Fast?  Maybe in 1950!!!! But I digress....

When the money gets to the Uruguayan bank, it will be withdrawn in dollars, we will exchange it for pesos at another location to get the best exchange rate and then take it to another bank, the Banco Hipotecario del Uruguay (BHU) which is the only one in the city that handles this type of rental escrow account.  Banks open at 1 PM and we are told to plan to be there for a while because the whole process may take up to 2 hours. At that time, both the landlord and the renter sign the account and the lease paperwork. Keys are given out and when it is done, we have a place to live and can move right in.

The whole bank process is scheduled to happen on Monday the 20th, barring any delays in the money wire from MN. It is possible that we will be moving into the house on Monday evening!!