Living abroad in a tiny Spanish apartment taught me 5 financial lessons

  • I lived in Rota, Spain for a while on assignment with the Navy. My little apartment taught me a lot.
  • I grew up in Texas and used to drive everywhere and turn on the AC, but that changed in Spain.
  • I walked, biked, and drove to save money, eat locally, and learned to keep quiet on the cheap.

I wish I could say it didn’t take moving to another continent on an overseas naval mission in my early twenties to come to terms with my financial mind. But: I did.

Now that I’m back in the States, I’ve taken the lessons I learned while working in Rota, Spain, and used them to save thousands through the use of a few simple lifestyle modifications.

1. I started spending less on food

In Rota, I spent much less money on food than I did in the States. This was partly because I lived on the south coast of the peninsula where there is plenty of reasonably priced fresh fish, olives, olive oil and other staples that are usually very expensive in the US.

Many common Southern Spanish dishes, such as gazpacho and tortilla de patata, are made with inexpensive ingredients that are on the verge of spoilage (for example, gazpacho tomatoes are best once they’re overripe, mushy, and almost spoiled).

Gazpacho isn’t for everyone, but anyone can benefit from buying local foods in season and planning meals around recipes that make grocery transfers last as long as possible. I save hundreds of dollars a month this way.

2. I discovered cheap alternatives to air conditioners

I’ve lived most of my life in Texas, so I kept my air conditioner running at maximum power almost 24/7. When I moved to Spain, I had a small AC unit in my apartment that stopped working a month after my first night there.

Central air conditioning is a rare luxury in southern Spain, and it was August, so I improvised leaving the windows of my third floor apartment open during the day to let in the breeze and keep cool towels and water in the fridge on particularly hot days.

I spent very little on my energy bill there and am now much more conscious of my energy use in the US despite living in Florida. These days, the air conditioner only turns on in the afternoons when I’m home, saving me about $37 a month.

3. I switched to walking, biking and using cars

In the United States, I was used to having my own car and the freedom to go anywhere, anytime without stopping. This resulted in tons of unnecessary cash being burned on gas. In Rota, I used various ways to get around, since there is very little public transportation there. I rode the bike, got in the car, and walked as far as I could.

After I met my husband, we drove his Honda CRV 2000 infrequently because we were used to walking and cycling everywhere. Now that we’re back in the States, we’re more conservative with using gas and carpools to work as much as possible, saving anywhere from $116 to $230 a week.

4. I learned standard driving

My husband’s Honda had a standard transmission. I had no idea how to drive standard, but had to learn if I wanted to pay less for it rented car When we went on trips, because automatic cars are not the norm in Europe. As soon as I learned, we were able to rent cars for much less and save hundreds of dollars on travel.

Now I love the joystick, and in the States, I saved over $1,000 by buying the Standard Edition of my car. In the long run, I’ve paid the time to learn that relatively simple skill and it has pushed me (pun intended) to be more resourceful when it comes to managing my money.

5. I stopped spending on things and chose experiences instead

In that little Spanish apartment, I had very little space for things. I had a few clothes, some books, a uniform, and my bike. I was constantly working on the ship, so I didn’t have time to assemble things even if I wanted to cram them into that small space.

I also realized that the experience of being on a mission abroad refined the feeling of being “unsettled” or disconnected from one place. I didn’t buy the things I wanted just because I knew I would have to send them back to the US in a time. Instead, I chose it I spend my money on travelwhich was (in my experience) more satisfying than housing a bunch of things.

Although I only lived abroad for a short time, the experience changed my approach to money and still affected my spending and saving habits. I’ve learned that saving a lot of money doesn’t have to be complicated: sometimes it’s as easy as incorporating a little economy and resourcefulness into budget plan.