Tag Archives: Italy

Money Books: YMOYL vs. All The Money In The World

There is no real “battle” between the much-acclaimed “Your Money or Your Life (YMoYL)” and the recently published “All The Money In The World (ATM)”.  In fact, they probably spring from the much of the same philosophy and focus on our relationship with money.  However, I think reading these back-to-back inspired me in completely different ways.

First some background…My natural frugal tendencies is often in conflict with some entreprenuerial impulses.  In general, frugality wins.  It’s not to say I  haven’t ventured out into more entreprenuerial territory but it’s definitely outside my comfort zone.   I have enough on my plate with my full-time job, commute, family, and other priorities in life.  Excuses aside, I sometimes wish I devoted more energy and money to earning more instead of just saving money via sales, negotiating and couponing.

“Your Money or Your Life” resonated with me because it largely supports an ‘alternative’ view of living, one  that is miles away from the rat race.  After finishing this book, I felt strongly that we should move to Italy with our kids.  I am ready for the next phase of my life, whatever that may be.  My husband is tired of life in the U.S. and we have always wanted to raise our kids in Europe, with Italy being the logical location.  While there are many cons, from economic woes to healthcare crisis, we felt that our kids would benefit from Italian culture and heritage.  

“All the Money in the World” appealed to my long dormant entrepreneurial side.   It made me question my choices and wonder if I should have been or become more focus on earning more, even if that means staying in the rat race.  That’s not to say ATM is the opposite of YMoYL.  In fact, ATM’s author is very entrepreneurial and has found her dream career, one that is lucrative enough and flexible for her and her family.  Much like YMoYL, she asks us to re-examine our choices in spending and questions whether our spending is aligned with our values.   The difference, is in the details.  While she cites examples from readers and other sources, I was most struck by examples from her own life.  In the chapter “Ode to a Ziploc bag”, she talks about our tendency to spend more as we get used to higher standards of living.  In one example, she recounts splurging on a $21.99 toy train for her son.  He has more than enough trains just as so many of us have enough shoes, clothes, electronics and other “toys”.   At what point is it enough?  However, what struck me more most about this example was that she could afford to spend that amount.  I want to spend on my kids without worry.  Would we be able to do that if we move to Italy and essentially start over?

My conflicting responses to these two books is probably more indicative of my state of mind than the intended messages.  I think both books have value and will make you examine your own money beliefs.

Wait, I Do Have Dreams…

When I was reading Chapter 4 of Your Money Or Your Life, I could not come up with good answers related to questions about goals/dreams.  What kind of life did I imagine for myself and my family?  What did I still want to achieve? I had no answers.  Although it was a sad realization, I didn’t really think much more about it until recently.

At a certain age, you know that you won’t achieve “bigger” goals and dreams.  Hell, there’s a high probability that you won’t achieve any big dreams!  To be fair, dreams also change once you reach the real world.  For a while I thought I wanted to work in the movie business but once I found out more about it, I  knew it wasn’t for me.  While I’ve come to terms with abandoning certain dreams, I couldn’t go forward in life without any hopes and dreams.   That’s when I realized that two of my biggest goals/dreams are still within reach and that I already talked about one of these on this very blog.

Here are the Big Two:

Moving Abroad:  I’ve dreamed of moving abroad since my college days.   I don’t remember if I pinpointed a location but Europe was definitely the target. I blame Hemingway or Scott Fitzgerald for this obsession.  Of course now that I’m older, wiser and with a family, I know that the unencumbered starving artist lifestyle is not at all glamorous and not for me at all.  I’ve seen the struggles of immigrants (I won’t glamorize the move by using the term “expat”…) and it’s tough to transplant yourself to another culture, no matter how much you think you’ll love it. 

Speaking Italian (or a romance language) like a native:  I read a very helpful magazine article about how to define your 5 year plan.  A five-year plan is a daunting prospect for  most, so rather than just asking yourself the question and drawing a blank, the article writer took you through steps to get there, starting with listing five past achievements that make you most proud and why.  I came up with more than five but noticed one common thread: I was most proud of challenging projects especially if it involved overcoming fears.  Learning new languages has always been a challenge for me.  While this is a newer life goal, I would love to be as fluent as possible in Italian and I know that I would be very proud of this achievement. 

Now that we’re contemplating a move to Italy, those dreams could become reality (although not without hard work).  So in a nutshell: Two of my biggest dreams are also two of my biggest fears. 

Do you have a five-year plan? 

November 16: From the Land of Bikinis to the Land of Missoni

Chiara of the Blonde Salad blog, wearing Missoni

Part of the reason for my new interest in shopping has to do with our move to Italy (still in the “someday” stage).  While California appears to be fashion-conscious, it really does have a casual anything goes vibe that makes it easy to ignore trends.  That’s why I am a little obsess about upgrading my wardrobe right now.  I aspire to land in Italy with a preppie, casual California style that is unique yet not horribly off-trend in the land of Missoni, Marni and Armani.   Yes, my plan for moving right now consists of shopping for clothing…I do plan to hold off on shoe-shopping til I cross the pond. I’m not that insane.

While I have visited Italy many times, my perception of Italian style is limited. It will be interesting to see if my ideas change once I actually live there.  Right now, I am inclined to think that Italian style does not come cheap.  However, there are ways to mimic Italian style on a budget.

Real-life Italian style is also about the elegant, finishing touches and how you put it together.  Even if you don’t have a huge bank account, you can mimic Italian style with smart choices, creativity and attention to detail.  When I think of quintessential Italian style, I remember a woman I saw in Parma — she was riding her bike along the cobblestone streets, her long brown hair waving behind her.  Her outfit was simple and elegant — elegant slim black pants, black flats, and a crisp white buttoned shirt — what caught my eye and made the outfit was the finishing touch:  a long double/triple strands of pearls that carelessly caressed her neck.  It’s the small touches that complete an outfit.

Tailoring is key.  This is common advice in any fashion magazine.  However, Italians seem to take this seriously and you see the evidence of it especially among the well-dressed men.  Overall, tailoring is an inexpensive way to take your style to a higher level.  Note: If you’re new to my site, I’m referring to native Italians, not the Jersey Shore stereotype of Italians.

Spend more on a few classic pieces and spend less on trendy items.   In general,  Italians are more trend-conscious than Americans.   That’s because when something becomes popular in Italy, everyone from young to old (male and female) seem to be aware of it.  If a trend isn’t gender-specific (say, a certain way to tie your scarf or a certain color), it really appears to be EVERYWHERE.  Obviously if you are following trends, it can get hard on the budget.  However, a good rule of thumb is to never spend too much on popular trends.  As much as you love the current trend, it somehow always look outdated the next year.  For example, a few years ago the color lavendar was super trendy in Italy.  A budget-conscious Italian friend bought a pretty lavendar scarf and wore it all season. Fashionable and smart!

Appearances are important.  In L.A., you can get away with going out in your sweatpants. Hey, it’s even a badge of honor to wear fashionable yoga outfits around town.  In Italy, attire is definitely more formal.  In other words, even if you’re picking up cigarettes at the corner tabacchi, you don’t want to look like a bum.  This isn’t cheap because it means you have to have nice casual clothes along with work clothes.

My husband reminds me that it’s better to maintain your individual style rather than follow the herd.  I completely agree.  Even if I adapt my style somewhat to Italian trends, I think that no matter where I end up, I’ll always have my own California style.

10 Years From Now…

A Sweet Fine Day had an interesting post about her 10-year plan, some of which involved her business and some that were personal.  This was a planning exercise for her small business group but something that we should all do in our personal lives.

I used to be a planner (although in 2-3 year increments) but the past few years have been about the here and now, and survival.  No, we’re not broke and struggling but I also don’t feel like we’re moving ahead. I suppose that this isn’t an unusual feeling. It’s common to reach a plateau when you hit your 40s; in fact, I read an interesting post on Brazen Careerist about hitting your peak earning power in your 40s.  That’s a scary thought but also comforting if you’re where you mostly want to be and are tired of endless striving.

I think I’m still working out my 10-year plan but I do see living in a foreign country in my future and hopefully more time with my kids and some sort of career.  If I get braver, I’ll post up my Italy in 2012 (or 2013? 2014?) plan…

The High-Low Cost Of Travel

A while ago, I wrote a post that that mentioned the travel habits of Europeans versus Americans.  With our lack of vacation time and isolationist tendencies, it’s no wonder many Americans have never left the country. One commenter added that another major reason for this disparity is costs.  There’s a huge difference between a trans-Atlantic flight and inter-European flights. 

The comment inspired me to go back and tally up my travel costs.  Since I didn’t really keep tabs in my 20s or early 30s, it’s impossible to know how much I spent back then but I’ll try:

1 ) First Trip to Europe –  the poor college student with a giant backpack days (when the Euro didn’t exist and the dollar was strong!)

I think the plane ticket costed at least $1,000+.  I didn’t shop around at all. I just went to the Student Travel center and purchased my ticket.  Since I was backpacking for 3 months, I think it was worth it.  I believe I had at least $2,000 saved up for the entire trip.  I stayed at youth hostels most of the time, ate a lot of picnic-like lunches, and never went inside a discoteque.  I was more of the museum-going, cafe-people watching type of traveler.  I had a credit card but only planned to use it for emergencies.  Estimate: 3 months for approximately $3,500 including airfare — I really had no idea though and a favorable exchange rate made it possible.

2 ) 2nd trip to Europe

I’m sure I spent a lot more. I can’t remember how much more.  I was just happy that I could now afford a nice, budget hotel.   Although I didn’t really pay attention to finances at that point, the best thing I ever did was NOT charging vacations on my credit card.  Yes, I worked hard and deserved fun.  No, I did not want to pay for it months or years after the tan has faded.  Estimated cost:  3 weeks for $2,000 (?)

3 ) Subsequent Trips to Italy  – the “having an Italian husband has lots of perks” days

Other than plane tickets, we don’t have to spend much to visit Italy.  Some people spend more on domestic trips than we do on international travel.  I do use kayak.com, farecompare.com and a host of other sites to find the lowest possible airfare. One year, I got two r/t tickets for $650 each, including taxes and fees, during high season.   I have no idea why this particular flight was selling for $200-300 less than other flights that pulled up on the same search. It was on a major airline, not unusually long nor with extra connecting flights.  Needless to say, I jumped on it. 

Of course, traveling still adds up.  We often want to do side trips.  We have to pay dogsitting costs.  We always want to eat well.  However, in Italy, it’s very possible to eat well at small affordable trattorias rather than five-star restaurants.  You just have to know where to go!  And of course, we eat many delicious meals at home.  Total: 2 weeks at $2,000 for 2 people (including airfare)

During my late 20s and 30s, I also travelled to China, Argentina, and Mexico.  We have relatives in China so we don’t have to pay for much other than airfare. It’s not cheap but I think you can find deals also.   Argentina flights are not cheap.  Right now, airfare to Buenos Aires is hovering around the $900 mark (not including taxes and fees).  Last time, I paid closer to $700 per ticket total.  I’m hoping that wasn’t a fluke.  We had a great time there and would love to go back.   You can eat very well for little and you can stretch your budget by staying at bed & breakfasts or apartment rentals.  As for Mexico, it’s just a hop and skip away from Los Angeles, so almost every Angeleno can visit for very little money.   To keep it budget-friendly and more authentic, we avoid mega-luxury resorts in favor of smaller towns and hotels.

Among Americans, I do consider myself well-traveled.  (I’m not counting Europeans and others with many more vacation days than I’ll ever get!)  I know people who have traveled more but many more that have traveled much less.  However, now that I’ve looked back, I realize that luck and sacrifice have played a big part in my ability to travel.  Most people don’t have relatives with guest bedrooms in far-flung places.  While my friends complain about visting in-laws in [insert domestic suburb here], I complain about visiting Italy yet again.  

We have also made sacrifices that allow us to travel.  We don’t own fancy cars or a flat screen TV.  We try not buy into the consumerist culture.  We also don’t own a home.  Of course we’re not renting  just so that we can travel!   However, a house in Los Angeles is very out of reach at this point and we don’t want to be house-rich and cash-poor.  I do understand that for most people, owning a home takes priority over everything else.

I still think that the poor student backpacking through Europe is an important rite of passage. I’m just not sure how feasible it really is in this day and age.  If you can only go to Europe once, that is the time to go. You get a long summer break.  It’s fun to meet other young travelers at youth hostels. No matter how materialistic you are, you can probably live on less at that age than any other time.

Among your peers, do you consider yourself well-traveled?  Do you wish you could travel more?  How much have you spent on traveling?

Places To See…Places To Eat

A good friend and I were talking about places we’ve always wanted visit.   At the top of her list was Egypt. Spain was my top choice. We tried to think of a place that would interest both of us, if we ever got the opportunity to travel together, and could only agree on an African safari.

(Of course if time and money were not factors, we could have easily picked a spot or two!)

We realized two important things. All her top destinations had ruins or monuments of some sort, while most of my choices were known for good food!

So here’s my list (some I’ve been to, some not yet):
1 ) Italy – cappuccino, trippa, fresh porcini, pancetta, focaccia and more!
2 ) Spain – tapas, paella and jambon
3 )  France – crepes
4 ) Argentina – how can beef be so tender?
5 ) Greece – moussaka and more
6 ) China / Hong Kong – dumplings, noodles, dim sum and more
7) Africa (safari)
8 ) New Orleans – creole cooking, jambalaya
9 ) Thailand – I love Thai food
10 ) Mexico – carne asada, fresh fish, stews etc..

Other possibilities: Portugal (another exception: I don’t know what foods they’re known for), Japan, Quebec and New York (been there as a child; deserves a revisit).

We finally decided that Rome and Pompeii could be a good, more realistic meeting point than Africa.  Hopefully someday we’ll have one travel adventure together that involves food and monuments!

This seems like a timely post since there is a lot of discussion at several blogs (Brazen Careerist, Frugal Bachelor and Dog Ate My Finances) about the pros and cons of traveling. 

Obviously I believe that travel is worthwhile.  It is not life-changing or eye-opening for everybody, as it was for me, but stepping outside your routine and your own little corner of the world is important. From my personal standpoint, it always seems that the most open-minded people have done some traveling and not just the relax-on-the-beach kind of traveling.  We Americans are insular enough as it is. Our movies, TV and foods dominate. The English language dominates.  If you don’t travel to other countries, it’s easy to be self-righteous and pompous without reason. 

At the same time, I know that not all travel is equal. My experiences in Italy were vastly different because I studied the language (and now am married to an Italian).  I am able to participate in real conversations and get to know people. Contrast that to a tourist who can only exchange a few words with the waiter or taxi driver.  I know it’s different. I had a nice time in France but language limitations also limited my experience. So before traveling, I would recommend learning a foreign language. It will enrich and humble you.

Val d’Aosta

valdosta_maison_blogSurprisingly my husband and I did not eat ourselves sick during this last trip to Italy. Very surprising considering we spent a few days at the town of Arnad in Val d’Aosta, or the Italian alps.  That region is known for its heavier, hearty foods like lardo di Arnad, fontina, tomino cheese, fondue, meat and polenta.

Based upon a friend’s recommendation, we found a quaint trattoria that catered to workers, which means affordable prices and good food (and lots of it)!  Antipasti consisted of a fresh ricotta-type cheese, cipollini, boiled potatoes, cotechino, blood sausage, lardo and more. I thought this was the primi and proceeded to taste everything before my in-laws warned me that this was just the beginning…

After that, there were 2 primi. We skipped one and saved our appetites for “zuppa valtellinese”. Zuppa means soup in Italian but this was closer to baked pasta than soup. This delicious and hearty dish is usually made from dried bread, fontina and savoy cabbage, but this chef subsituted the cabbage with a wild local spinach that grew in nearby mountains for a few brief weeks in the summer.

They also served two secondi – roast goat and roast pork. Both were good but the goat was definitely the more exceptional of the two.

Then they served more cheese, gelato and coffee. By now we had polished off at least 2 bottles of water and 2 bottles of red wine!

Okay, maybe that day, we did eat ourselves sick.

There are no pictures of this meal.  We were too busy eating!