This post is part of my 200 words per day challenge that I am sharing publicly on Twitter in order to improve my writing and develop a writing routine. Feel free to join and comment.
Back in 2017 I spent 6 months interning in Geneva as a business intelligence engineer.
I already knew that the first step toward a life of continuous adventure and learning and intellectual freedom was to stop being scared of the future. Most bad decisions in life are taken out of fear and I know I do not want that for me.
So I set out to learn how to take control of how I am spending my own money, because money is one of the main criteria when you ponder your future.
Elon Musk tried to live off a dollar a day and it convinced him he could do anything. Without going as far as endangering my health by living as he did, I started simplifying.
“Simplify, simplify” says Thoreau. “Less is more” minimalists say.
Simplicity is key in many things people are craving for — food, friendship, comfort, happiness, love. Learning to simplify is learning to put what really matters first and ditch the rest. Life is short and there is no need to make it busy. Busyness is absurd, I should strive to make my short time on earth productive and enjoyable instead.
However, simplicity is not just about myself: I believe that if everyone was living a simpler life maybe we could tackle huge problems such as over-consumption or pollution. It is not only an individual obligation, but also a societal responsibility. Living a simple life is, I think, also a much more powerful philosophy than commoditized ecological practices that you can read about in simplistic fashion magazines.
Thus, how did I proceed ?
What are the most important categories of cost when you take a hard look at your personal finances ? Rent, food and transportation. Then mobile subscriptions, bank fees and health insurance. Then hobbies and leisure activities.
If you mix up this order, maybe your life is not as balanced as you think.
- Rent: I could choose between living at the French border or living in Geneva. I opted for the former as I had the opportunity to be housed in a “home for young workers” (foyer de jeunes travailleurs), a french program allowing fresh graduates to access affordable housing. The apartment was pretty small but it was enough to sleep and cook, and the rent was amazingly low at 260$ per month.
- Food: I spent all my food budget on grocery lists and home cooking, rarely eating out except for a few times to hangout with friends and coworkers. Meat being very expensive, I investigated ways around it. Ho boy the wonders you can do with rice and beans. At the office I was always bringing my own lunch, much to the amusement of my coworkers who were spending 20+$ on take-out. Took me around 300$ per month.
- Transportation: for 4 months I did not use public transportation (80$ per month) and bought a running bike for 300$. 20km per day / 2 hours. This way I avoided buying both a gym membership and a transportation card.
- Mobile subscription: ditched it. Relied on internet services. It’s actually a productivity tip as well: when you are not constantly hooked on a phone, you can start deep meditations and improve your focus.
- Bank fees: a necessary cost when you are a french worker in Switzerland (25$ per month)
- Health insurance: covered by my student status (thank you France)
- Hobbies: I spent 90% of my free time either hustling on Justinien – the company I cofounded with two partners – or learning new things. The good thing about that is that it doesn’t cost a penny to acquire knowledge available for free on the internet. I also bought a a pull up bar and a yoga mat to exercise a bit more.
- Leisure: Except for the few times I really felt like socializing (maybe once a week ?), I can’t say I spent much on parties or booze. Most of the social interactions I had were with my coworkers or at the home for youth workers.
My revenues were around 2700$: 2/3 from my wage and 1/3 from my scholarships (I was still a student). I ended up with a saving rate of 70% in average over the 6 months I spent in Switzerland.
As I just demonstrated, even by spending so little I was still enjoying a balanced and healthy lifestyle, and those 6 months were among the most productive time periods.
I was not depriving myself either, I just had the courage to do what was right to fullfil my ideals and execute on them.
This experiment was also the main reason why I was not afraid anymore to take on an entrepreneurial venture straight out of college.