You can’t go home again II: The almighty dollar

That’s a lotta beers, you guys. Or, like, groceries?

Yesterday before work, I drove out to Belfast, a town about 45 minutes away on Maine’s mid-coast.

Of course, given my well-publicized feelings on being behind the wheel, there had to have been a good incentive for me to make that trip before going in to the office.

If you guessed “beer,” you’d be correct. I went to pick up some of Marshall Wharf‘s Deep Purple rauchbier – my Maine House boss’s favorite, since I’m a suck-up – for Thanksgiving dinner.

When I got to the tasting room, I ordered two half-gallon growlers of the stuff, and mentally prepared myself to hear the pricetag. Based on my experiences with growlers at home, I was expecting to hear somewhere upwards of $70, including the cost of the bottle itself.

“That’ll be $32.13.”

“…are you serious? Alright, give me two more then.”

And that’s basically the microcosm of why I may never return home on a permanent basis.

It would be silly of me to base the entire rest of my life on the fact that I can get two gallons of great beer for $65, of course. What I’m referring to is the general cost of living.

I’ve mentioned the day-to-day economics a few times over the past 11 months, and it’s something that comes up a great deal in conversation.

People will frequently ask me what Australia is like, or whether they should visit, or what’s so different between our two admittedly similar countries.

My answer to the second question is always “absolutely, but save up first.” From people who’ve traveled Down Under, be it for a study abroad program, a vacation or otherwise, I frequently hear about how expensive things are, favorable exchange rate be damned. They’re not wrong.

This is obviously less noticeable for locals, who are earning Australian dollars and wages commensurate to the cost of living. That’s part of the reason why a vacation in the U.S. was always so appealing to me: the Aussie dollar has been reasonably close to parity with the greenback for a handful of years, and since things are cheaper in general over here, you get plenty of bang for your buck. So to speak.

Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. I wrote a few months ago, when my dad got remarried, about the hurdles involved with me going back home for a visit (at this stage of my immigration, anyway.) Most of that had to do with time zones and my lack of vacation days, but airfare expenses were a factor as well.

Where I imagine things get real pricey, however, is when it comes to spending money. Whenever I next get back home to visit, I’d ideally like to spend a couple of weeks, so I could squeeze in visits with as many people as possible. I’m certain that my friends and family would offer up a couch or whatever piece of furniture the dog doesn’t want to sleep on, which would save me a pretty penny.

But then there’s dinners and drinks and drinks and dri…you get the point, and at $7.50 a pint instead of the $4 I’m accustomed to (and can afford on my salary), these things add up. I keep bringing it back to beer, which isn’t my intention, but it’s because that’s a fairly universal measure of currency. And I’m not really talking about vacations anyway, because they’re temporary by their very nature.

I’m more talking about living.

My salary lets me enjoy a solid lifestyle here. As I’ve mentioned at length, I can afford my own place (which is way too big for me), I can put gas in the car and eat three square meals a day, and still have enough left over to splash out on some boozing on the weekends. Every now and then I even put a few bucks away in savings.

That’s because, despite my paycheck being like 60 percent smaller than it was back home, that money goes a lot further. A tank of gas is now the equivalent of 75c a liter for unleaded. SEVENTY-FIVE CENTS, GUYS. I barely spend $50 a week on groceries, a six-pack is $8 (or less), I can eat a meal in a restaurant for $12, and my rent for a month is considerably less than I was spending to share with two others in Brisbane.

Yeah, healthcare sucks, and things like car insurance and gym memberships don’t appear to be all that much cheaper than I was paying at home. But the day-to-day expenses are minuscule in comparison.

It’s not all roses and cheap food though: the mildly intimidating thought is that the longer I live and work in the U.S., the less likely it is that I’ll ever be financially stable enough to move back to Australia if I wanted to. The media industry isn’t exactly flush with cash, and I’ll never make the bullshit money I earned back in Brisbane as long as I’m here (because let’s face it – I’m just not that good.)

As I found out last November, moving your whole life across the world mows through one’s savings pretty quickly, and if I were to go back the opposite way into a country with a higher cost of living, those savings could be gone before I knew it. Obviously there’s an element of “family safety net” there, but (hypothetically) if I made the move back at 35, living with my parents would be quite the ego check.

It’s a situation I read about every day on the Australians in America Facebook group I follow. Time and again, people talk about how they’re essentially trapped here because they don’t make enough money to return to Australia and start a life there again.

I don’t believe I’ll ever feel like I’m stranded in the U.S. with no way of affording the ability to go home if I ever need to, but it’s an interesting conundrum that I hadn’t really considered before I moved out here.

In any case, I don’t want all my loved ones back home to read this and think this is my way of breaking the bad news that I’m staying here forever. I certainly don’t think that far ahead, because I’ve got more worries in the present right now. Like the foot of snow we’re supposed to get, and whether I’ll manage to avoid massacring the sausage roll recipe I’m attempting to make for Thanksgiving.

But money talks, as they say, and unless you’re a millionaire (in which case, what the hell are you doing reading this blog for?), we’re all constrained by it in one way or another.


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