Category: Pearl

April Budget Challenge

Let’s talk money.  Money!  We all need money to do the things we want to do or have the things we want, I know I do.  Traveling is such an important part of my life and something I love doing, but as we all know, it costs money.  Lately, Mark and I have been planning our big trip at the end of the year and while I’m super excited to plan and finally visit those countries, I know that a lot of money saving is coming up in the near future.

I went a little off my budget path in March… Okay, I went off it a lot.  When I look at my budget app, almost everything is in the red, ah!  Maybe it was partly because I was trying to get out of a rut, but every now and then I want to shop and eat really good food!  I was going to take a picture of my money to add some excitement to this post, buuuuuuut, I’ve pretty much spent all my cash…  Anyway, I was scanning Pinterest for budget tips and came across this challenge: Focus on Finances on Fun, Cheap, or Free.  I was inspired by this clever way to budget and since it’s past January, I though, Why not create my own?

So now I’m blogging about it, so people out there in the internet world know what I’m doing.  If it’s blog official, I have to stick to it, right?

April Budget Challenge
From previous months, I have determined how much is a good overall spending goal for the month.  A part of this challenge is to withdraw all the money I need for the month, to decrease the amount of times I go to the ATM.  It also motivates me to save as much money as I can, because the unspent, excess money will go into my savings (yes!).  Another main part of the challenge is a spending freeze, a day/week when you don’t spend any money (bills excluded).

Why all this budgeting? An important part about budgeting is having a specific goal in site.  “I want to save 5 million dollars by June.”  Okay, that’s a great goal, but is it attainable?  Maybe if you’re Bill Gates, but if you’re a English teacher in Japan, you will never see that kind of money.  Make realistic, attainable goals for yourself, so you’re not stressed out about saving an amount of money that isn’t feasible.  Sooooo…

Let’s make a goal!  (This is how I talk to my students: Let’s (insert verb here)!  I’m all about ‘Let’s do such and such’ now) By December, I want to send $6000 back home to build my savings for grad school and a new car.  I also want to save $1,500 for my winter trip in December.

Why?  I want/need a new car, because once I go home, I will have no means of transportation.  I also need to go to back to school in order to be able to work in the field I want to go into.  Lastly, I love traveling and think it’s very important to experience different cultures because it broadens your understanding about yourself and the world.  There are so many places I want to travel to!  I would like to cross off my two top countries off my list of travel destinations in December.

Feel free to join along!  It’s always nice to know that you’re not the only person doing a challenge alone.  Let me know if you are because I would love to hear about your experiences and different kinds of saving methods you use.

How do you budget?  What methods have worked really well for you?  What are you saving up for?

A Response to an Almost Expat

I’m in no way an expert on being an expat.  I’ve only lived abroad for almost 8 months (holy cow!  8 months already?!) but in that short time, I’ve had so many new experiences and had to figure my way through situations that would never happen back at home.  Last time, I asked Mark a few questions about his worries and excitements about moving here.  I was so really happy to see everyone’s responses.  They made Mark feel a lot better about moving!  Thank you so much!

Today, it’s my turn to bestow my wisdom for him (okay, I’m not that wise and my advice isn’t that great) from my experiences from living in Japan, so far.  Even though I do this almost everyday…

JapanI’m not sure what this has to do with the post, but you can see this if you move to Japan!

Worries about abiding by the culture
Watch people.  Maybe that’s my anthropology background speaking, but really, watch people.  You can learn so much from just watching what other people are doing, whether it’s at a restaurant or at work.  It is important to read up about certain cultural practices before moving, so you’re not seen as completely rude and ignorant, but many times, you can’t learn everything from a book or a web page.  Like, I didn’t know that you’re supposed to flatten out your milk cartons after eating school lunch.  How exactly am I supposed to do that?  I watched the kids and a lot of them helped me.  (Fun fact: they recycle the milk cartons and they are made into toilet paper!).

Another random thing that it is really confusing is separating your trash.  Japan, I still don’t understand your trash separating!  If you’ve never lived in Japan, let me give you an example of something I thought was crazy: when you recycle a plastic bottle, you have to separate the cap, the plastic wrapper on the bottle, and the bottle itself.  That’s three different piles of recycles for one tiny bottle.  Isn’t it all plastic, you say?  Yeah, I don’t understand either.  Watch how people throw their trash away.  There are literally 2-3 different trashcans and sometimes they’re only written in Japanese.

Be excited!  Be be excited!
This is an amazing opportunity, but of course there will be ups and downs.  As I recently learned, the expat life isn’t all travel and fun.  There are times when your life will be monotonous and boring.  Once you get into a routine, your expat life just feels like normal, everyday life.  Remember to remind yourself that you’re living abroad, that there’s always adventure out there, new places to go, new things to eat, new things to learn.  When you feel like you’re in a rut, remember why you came here and take a trip (big or small) and explore.

Take a risk, take a leap, and breakawayyy (I don’t think that’s how that Kelly Clarkson song goes…)
Moving abroad, in general, is a HUGE leap of faith.  You never know what’s on the other side, what kinds of situations you’ll encounter or how you’ll react to living in a new culture.  I think an important thing is to remain positive and open minded.  Each day is a new day and a new adventure.  You’ll learn so much about yourself and your new country.  There will be times when you’re frustrated because you don’t understand people or they don’t understand you or you don’t get why they do this and the list goes on and on.  Take a deep breath.  Everything will be okay.  You can get out of situations more easily if you keep your cool.

What life in Japan like?
I think the hardest thing for me is communicating with people, since my Japanese is very elementary.  The worst people to talk to with elementary Japanese are the post office people and the train people.  Most of the time, I can understand 60-75% of what people are saying, but with at the post office and the train station… 0-5%.  I think it’s because they use a really formal language there, which in Japanese, is completely different from everyday speaking.  I’ve had most of my panic moments talking to these people.

As for teaching, since we weren’t technically trained, I found it a “learn as you go” process.  I had an idea of the kinds of activities I wanted to do, but as the months went on, I found out what works and what doesn’t.  I found new activities I wanted to try to make my lessons more exciting.  I still have a lot more to learn, because there are days when I think my lesson is completely boring, but as for now, I will continue to look for new activities and learn from the teachers I work with.


Those are some of the things I’ve learned and experienced in the past 8 months living as an expat.  Everyone’s experiences are different, so I can’t speak for all people.  I’m sure you (Mark) will have a different experience than me and will eventually have you’re own advice for new expats.  My closing words would be:

Go out there and enjoy this opportunity!  Soooo many people out there would love to have an experience like this and aren’t able to and remember why you came here! 

The Worries of an Almost Expat

It’s mid March, which means I can count the number of days until Mark moves here on my fingers!  I get more and more excited as that day gets closer and closer and he can start his new adult-y, expat-y life.  Of course, I’m super excited that I will be able to a bit more often, but we do have some obstacles to overcome being that he will live about 3-5 hours away (depending on what kind of train I take).  I will cherish every second that we’re able to spend with each other since we’ll be living quite a distance from each other, but at least we will be in the same country and time zone.  There will be more opportunities for us to spend time together.


Mark has a wave of emotions running through right now, as do most people who move abroad.  I thought about all the things I wish I knew before moving here, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to ask.  Sometimes you have an image of what life will be like once you get there or you believe that it will be similar to life back at home.  It’s not until you’re actually in your new country when you realize and think, hey, maybe I should have asked about this or read about that before moving here.  It’s hard to know what to prepare for.

This is what we do when we video chat.

I “interviewed” Mark about moving abroad, since I could definitely relate to that feeling before moving to the other side of the world and was curious about what was on his mind.  When I moved here, everything seemed like a blur.  Looking back on it, I barely remember my first week or two here.  I told Mark to brace himself for that, but it only made him more nervous.  Ganbatte!  がんばってマーク! I’m sure many of us have been in the same position, even if you’re not an expat.  Moving to anywhere new is daunting and exciting.  Read on for Mark’s thoughts about moving to Japan!

An Interview with an Almost Expat

So Mark, you’re moving to Japan soon…

1.       What are you most worried about in moving to Japan?

I’m most worried about Japan is being able to abide by their culture, whether it’s to remember to bow or be respectful in a certain manner.  Also being able to communicate with others is one of my biggest worries.

 2.       What are you most excited for?

I’m most excited about living in a different country and experiencing an amazing culture.  Even though I am scared, I know being in another country will help me build my character, whether it’s patience or understanding.  I guess also to break out of the life I’m used to.

 3.       What kind of advice/pep talks are you giving yourself in preparation?

If I can give one advice to help prep myself, it would be to think positively, as simple as that, even though it may be difficult to do.  For example, I am really sad that I am going to leave my friends and family, but I want to say WHO GETS A CHANCE TO LIVE IN JAPAN or this is a great opportunity for your career.  I’ll always have my friends here in California but it’s time to make new friends.  I wish I can give myself more advice but right now I am still nervous.  But I still cling on that positive attitude.

 4.       What are some things do you want to know about life in Japan as an expat or being an English teacher? 

Life in Japan – I want to know how to use the different services in Japan, like the postal service, transportation, and other government services.  The types of services we take for granted back in the US.  What if I want to go to the electronic store and buy a TV?  I need to be able to communicate effectively.

Teaching – I feel confident about knowing the material, but I’m not confident in being able to get it through to the students and have them learn the material.  That’s the biggest worry that I have.  I’m reading these manuals about the definitions of what it means to be an ALT, but I worry about whether my students will learn from the way I teach.  I want to know how to communicate at all levels, what I’m teaching.

 5.       What is something you want to know about moving to Japan?

How will I budget myself in a new environment?  It’s my first job so I would like to learn how to budget accordingly.  Also at the same time I want to learn how to spend my own money wisely.  I want to know how to live independently and to be able to afford nice things.

I also want to know different holidays and cultural days and be able to celebrate accordingly.  Pretend that day is some sort of sacred or religious holiday, it would be interesting for me to be engaged with it as much as possible.  I want to enjoy the moment to its fullest.



Mark’s first international trip was when he came to visit me back in January, so this will be a very big change for him, but I know he’ll be okay.  We talk about his move every time we video chat and I reassure him that everything will be okay.  I’m always there for him.  It’s important to remember to be patient and understanding, things will be different and people won’t be able to understand you, but those are just some of the hurdles you’ll face when you move to another country.  I know that Mark will have an amazing time teaching English and living in Japan.

If you’re an expat, do you remember what you were worried about?  What advice would you give to Mark and first time expats?