The ex-expat, a crazy-cheap budget, and my lazy a**

Living abroad and coming home has presented fascinating challenges.  Since I made the choice impulsively, with all the chutzpah of a heroine’s epiphany in a romantic comedy–Yes, I must quit my job and fly somewhere spontaneously for a subjective personal reason that makes sense only to me!–my carefully crafted budget, which had been established for 18 months out, was ripped to shreds. After paying bills while I returned to school online and spent time with family, I had no savings when the time for my own place arrived around Christmas.  Still, when I realized I might be able to furnish my new home for less than a thousand bucks, I jumped in with glee.  While I’ve committed some faux pas such as financing a car (forgive me, frugal friends!), I have also stayed true to my live free, move on easy side as well.  In the process, I’ve discovered some embarrassingly lazy parts of my personal ethos.  And I love it.

Spoiled in China by the many “pay as you go,” quick, free delivery and cash-based economy options, I found myself wrinkling my nose at the credit checks and snooty requirements of many rental places (3.5 times the rent to live by the beach!  Letters of recommendation from your last three landlords!  A driver’s license that matches your current address!).  Rather, I found my dream home–a casita/mini house/cottage–via Craigslist. The home, owned by a lawyer in an impressive Tudor next door, is in my new home’s trendiest area and just 15 minutes from work.  Praise Jesus for the new commute, ’cause I’ve been maneuvering 30+ miles of downtown traffic, cutting it scandalously close to being late at a spanking new job where I’d really prefer kids not be waiting at the door for their harried new teacher to arrive.  (Why?  Because my sister let me live with her rent-free for a month, of course!)

My friend said that I live like a hobbit.  ❤

To further ameliorate the transition, the rental includes all utilities, helping me to work on building my credit and savings before I jump back into the fray of electric bills, Internet and any possible deposits.  It turns out that when you return from living abroad or move to a new state and have no record with a particular place, they want you to pay more up front to prove you’re not a crook.  Good to know.

To further ease the move/maintain my chill lifestyle with as little work as possible, I discovered some fun ways to make it easier.  To avoid any mattress- or couch-lugging/delivery fees/asking family to help with the lugging, I bought a duffel-bag mattress from Amazon (see video with a demonstration here).  The 6″ version I bought cost under $200, and I was able to avoid a cumbersome procedure to somehow get it over the small banister at the top of the landing in my tiny home, which would have involved ladders, sweat and tears on the way up.  (When I leave one day, I can let gravity do the work without any of that.)

I looked at local places with 100-dollar deals, but they all seemed sketch, required lugging or money for delivery, and would have still required me to use contraptions and family to get it to my place and upstairs.  Why bother, when I could have it delivered for free?  Sites like Mattress One’s offered comparable deals, and would even throw in a bed frame, but meant you had to wait upwards of 3-5 weeks.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Once I had a place to sleep, I looked into a couch.  I found a pricey chaise lounge design at American Signature Furniture, but their site wouldn’t work when I tried to get it over Black Friday with free shipping and no tax.  I also realized, once I saw the place again (I put down my deposit a month or two in advance), that it was really too small for the extended-chaise version anyhow.  Then I stumbled inexplicably onto a $250 couch in my favored hue on Target’s site, with–you guessed it–free delivery, far quicker than other sites or options.  Done!


My impatience having saved me money, plus a couple of other great deals and some contrasting moments of “wait-and see,” kept me to my bad-ass budget.  Black Friday delights included a brand-new, good-sized, modern microwave and a basic (but still cute!) toaster oven for $60 total.  After perusing Target,, HomeGoods, Overstock and Hayneedle sites, as well as Amazon, I found my dream rug for (count it) forty dollah.

super awesome rug
See it and weep. This sucker costs $140 minimum usually, even at places like Target.

Finally, after waiting-and-seeing for my first few checks to accrue, I also obtained a lift-top coffee table for $80 (free dining table while I watch shows, which is my evening routine).  Next, an end table and a low-ish desk/possible TV stand or table came along at $50 each.  And this was buying it online, no Craigslist scavaging, though I am not above them.

Actually, I was pretty disappointed with Craigslist, as well as the new app 5miles, which is like a mobile version of CL.  I had a no-show and even more no-replies to several promising items, which is part of why I just went with what I saw online.  In addition, people who make truly cute stuff on their own also expect more for them than people getting rid of junk, so I was restricted by my desire for something that looks appealing without the words “do-it-yourself” involved.  Imagine that!

In total, now, with a bed, couch, side table, coffee table/dining table (lift-top), memory foam rug on clearance, and desk, plus a few appliances, we’re at around $900.  Included in this number is the $40 5×7 shag rug I stumbled onto at Target to put under my bed upstairs in the loft, since the upstairs is the only place whose floors I don’t like (the carpet is a skeevy dark teal).

The TV, should I choose to purchase it new instead of via Craigslist or somewhere like Goodwill, remains the possible deal-breaker.  Still, I think I’m pretty bad-ass.  I learned a few things through the process:

1.  Time & attention are luxuries can save a LOT of cash.

I saw a lot of items vacillate in price from October, when I first started looking, to December and January, when I finally purchased them.  I’m not saying you need to take two months to put your places together, but pay attention to costs across sites, and hang tight.  The TV I am hoping to pay for in part with a gift-card has gone up and down by as much as $80.  The mattresses changed a lot in price, too.

I also had to look a LOT for the $40 price point for that rug.  I was stuck: really wanted that pattern, yet unable to cough up the requisite $100+ for the size and design I coveted.  It just didn’t seem worth it.  Then, suddenly, there it was–online–and I got it.

2.  Starting looking 1-2 weeks before you plan to buy.

Any sooner, and you feel tortured as prices increase and you can’t do anything about it.  On the other hand, if you’re saving up cash after a big life change, you will be far more informed if that does occur.  The lift-top gray coffee table I was eyeing on wayfair or Hayneedle went up by nearly $50 when I was ready to purchase.  Thankfully, I knew I could get it from Walmart’s site for $80 because I’d been keeping track of different versions and offers.

It wasn’t just about money for me; I was living with family, and I didn’t want furniture delivered that I would have to move again to my new place.  I also didn’t want to bother my new landlord with a bunch of packages when I hadn’t technically started renting yet.  He let me keep a few things there, though, which is nice.

3.  Family is pretty cool to have around, even if you’re super-independent.

I’ve lived most of my adult life at least 2,000 miles away from people related to me, so to have somewhere to stay for 3 months, be able to borrow things like sheets or chairs while I gather/ed the cash to buy them myself, and have people to bounce ideas off and to transport things if I did need it, was remarkably convenient.  I had a definite “feelings” moment in my first night at my new place.  The couch actually arrived before the bed, so I borrowed a sleeping bag, mattress cover, and sheets for my first night.  As I threw the final layer over the top, I felt incredibly lucky to know that across town, there was a small family waiting to help if I needed it. Also, my brother-in-law did have the awkward task of putting a few items of furniture in my car, which was much appreciated.  I scooted them across the ground on the other end!

In addition, my mom told me about Ebates, a way to get money back on stuff you buy online, and my sister suggested the lift-top coffee table. All good things.

4.  Still, buy what YOU want and value–not what other people think you should have.

I do have slightly different preferences when it comes to spending than my family.  At first, I wanted the huge, $700-900 couch with the chaise lounge or a sleeper sofa so that visiting family could have a bed.  Eventually, after being drawn back repeatedly to the Target sofa (I loved the buttons and color, which mimicked the style of more expensive versions), I realized that there was no reason to spend an extra $500 when what I wanted was a fraction of the price.  Not to mention the fact that, um, I hadn’t even bought my own bed yet.

I also still haven’t bought the TV, which is an anathema to people who adore evenings in front of it.  While I totally relate, I also want to travel abroad again soon–not to mention pay off some of the debt that has been holding steady, rather than plummeting, in recent years.

On the other hand, I’ve resisted buying the plastic, dorm-style accoutrements that I would have enjoyed just a few years ago.  I tried to buy stuff this go-round that will actually stay nice for awhile, with the possible exception of the couch.  I also bought a very shallow mattress instead of a nicer-reviewed brand for more mobility.  I figured it would be easier to buy a thick memory foam mattress pad that can be rolled up and moved easily than a 10-12 inch mattress that I would struggle to push around, over the railing, and into future homes.

I don’t have a laundry room or my own address, so someone more used to paying bills through snail mail might be bothered by that lack of privacy.  Most personal items for me are online, though–even the magazines and books that I read are digital–so it doesn’t bother me much.

Finally, I don’t think I even need a bed frame, but some people would freak out and really need that before moving, no matter how shallow the loft space. I might get one, but I (recall) am lazy, and the idea of putting a frame together bothers me only a bit less than the hassle of getting a box spring up those stairs.  For now, I am quite comfy and cozy on top of my white shag rug under my bed, and the memory foam liner on top.  Most family members, however, find this odd.

5.  Be flexible & willing to change expectations.

My $12 would-be wonder-chair.

I LOVED these chairs in light blue and yellow for $11.98 each, but they simply aren’t in any stores within about 500 miles of me.  I know, because I have visited, called or had family members visit all the ones marked “low stock” or “in stock,” and evidently the colors I wanted, which also happened to be ridiculously cheap, have been “zeroed out” and removed from the floor.  The $39 options just aren’t the colors I want.

I also bought and sent back a few things when my preferences changed or I realized that certain items didn’t fit like I thought they would.  For Target, this is easy in person; for Amazon, it’s reasonably easy, too.


While the transition wasn’t easy, I’m thrilled with how things turned out.  I’ll return to more sassy posts soon, but for now, I’m just enjoying my own place.  Cheers to  convenience, free shipping, and the advent of 2016!

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