This article originally featured in the January 2020 issue of Connect.
Learning to Slow Down and Embrace a Frugal Holiday
Culture Editor: Tayler Skultety (Nara)
Traveling used to be the most important thing to me during my time in Japan. I spent my winter vacations seeing the illuminations of Osaka, snorkeling with sea turtles in Okinawa, and most recently, onsen hunting in Nagano. This year, though, I haven’t found the motivation to book a single flight or hotel room. Lately traveling had lost a bit of its meaning, feeling more like another task to complete rather than a vacation. It took a while, but I have become more comfortable with the urge to stay put—inviting it in and having a good talk with it.
I needed a change of pace. I decided that I would take this year to downsize my lifestyle and figure out which practices and habits I wanted to keep, boosting my savings along the way. But a saving-oriented lifestyle is difficult to pursue. Travel has become more accessible than ever and why do I feel I must buy the latest flavor of Strong Zero even though I already know they all taste bad? Consuming less can really force you to make the tough decisions.
Some may already have encountered the kakeibo, a Japanese personal finance journal that was invented by the first female Japanese journalist, Hani Matoko, in the early 20th century. The first English version of which was recently published by writer Fumiko Chiba. Perhaps riding on the coattails of the Marie Kondo craze, Chiba discusses how the kakeibo is meant to be a tool for the user to think more deeply about spending in a recent article in Refinery 29. The kakeibo should reveal what clutter can be eliminated from daily life in order to save up for something meaningful in the future. While I am not about to run out and buy a kakeibo (1200 yen? puh-lease), I have adopted the basic financial management routine of logging all of my purchases into spreadsheets. Seeing my purchases on ‘paper’ has helped me gain perspective on where my money is actually going.
With travel gone, food became my biggest area where I could increase my daily microsavings. The chore of inputting all my purchases immediately caused me to spend less and more economically. Not surprising, I was prompted to mostly eschew eating at restaurants and consuming alcohol. I realized, due to lifestyle inflation, even eating at home needed some tweaking. Do I really need the 400 yen almond milk? No, the 200 yen soy milk is probably fine. Cooking has always been a hobby of mine. Eating simpler meals and repeating meals throughout the week took some relearning. Another triumph; I have found what might be the cheapest produce vendor in my town. A cooperative of local farmers selling produce out of a corrugated iron warehouse for 100 yen or less. Good-bye Aeon. Small changes have really started to add up.
As December rolls around and I still have nothing on my calendar for winter break, I can feel the FOMO creeping in. At this point, there are definitely no affordable hotel rooms left in Sapporo or Kinosaki. Is this a mistake? Am I squandering my youth? The other day while folding exam papers with my supervisor, I floated my imaginary plans for a trip to Kinosaki past him. “Japanese people don’t like Kinosaki, too many tourists, I suggest you go somewhere else’’ was the response I got. A reminder of why I needed a break in the first place.
This is less of a resolution and more of an experiment to provide clarity regarding my evolving goals and values. So far, it’s been the refresher I needed. Eating out feels like a treat again and a day-trip to Osaka produces excitement. After my experiment is done, I wonder what fantastic things will be deemed worthy of my hard-earned savings? So, this year rather than traveling during winter vacation, I will be at home enjoying the more modest Christmas tradition of watching “Nailed it! Holiday!’’ on my mother’s Netflix account FOMO free!
Photo: Fabian Blank (Unsplash.com)
Originally from Victoria, B.C., Canada, Tayler has been living in Japan for three years. She is looking forward to finding new and creative ways to prepare New Year’s mochi.