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The “Ni Chicha Ni Limonade” budget

“Yes, I think it is a good idea,” Leo advised, “we all know you’re a writer, so write.” It was the needed affirmation I needed and on November 1st, 2010 I started to write full time

In Chile, “ni chicha, ni limonade” translates as “it isn’t homebrew, but it isn’t exactly lemonade either” which about sums up how I felt about teaching half-time and writing half-time.

Ah, yes, but could I support myself? Living in Santiago, where the cost of living is less than North America – but still not cheap – the bills still had to be paid.

The only way to describe my relationship with money is frivolous. If I have it, I spend it. The next six months, however, were going to test my skills to cut my expenses to the bone.

Having the mathematical acumen of a 5-year old I sat down with a calculator and figured out my monthly expenses and it worked out to $941USD a month. But life always costs more than we anticipate, so round it up to an even $1,100 USD, as that is about what I usually spend.

My bread-and-butter income required sending pieces to an American writing factory at $15 for a 400-word piece, so I had too crank out 74 pieces a month to eat. The second level of writing – when there was time — was magazine articles and the third was working on a book, which I never got to.

The first six months were a self-imposed exile of 12-hour days with carefully chosen sojourns with friends. It was possible to wax eloquently about the latest hilarious titles: “How to Crochet a Horse Sweater,” or “How to Dance with a Pig.” They were easy, but the more academic ones required extensive research.

The restaurants – unless you want to pay North American prices – in Chile are terrible, so I’d already become a purist about cooking my own food, so that cost stayed constant. An accurate assessment of my financial situation, however, is the quality of wine I’m drinking. The first six months it was plonk that came in big bottles, but since then I’ve been able to move up a notch. Why not give up wine and save money? It is cheaper – and more fun — than paying a psychologist.

For the first time in my life – my mother did try to teach me to budget, honestly—I actually started to pay attention to what things cost. Not that I’ve ever had a lot of money, but I was always able to squeak through, more through luck than planning.

So it became a challenge to see how little I could live on. Although I don’t have much money, I don’t have any debt, so I figure that puts me ahead of most people in the world.

The steep learning curve of living on a budget was a lesson in the difference between “want” and “need.” Fresh food is a “need” – can’t afford to be sick – while a new dress is a “want.” It was easy to separate the two.

So even when the book deal comes through and living on a budget ceases to be an issue, the lessons have been too invaluable to ignore. Further, meeting the challenge of knowing that I could live within my means gave me a certain sense of satisfaction.

If I was 20 and had it all to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Had I learned to budget at an earlier age I may have missed out on a lot of spontaneous adventures.

More by this author on her website.

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