From Self-Care Challenge to Well-Being Days

Hi everyone! Hope you are all preparing for a lovely Easter! I’m going to have a relaxing Easter and do one of what I call my Well-Being Days. My Well-Being Days started as a Self-Care Challenge and have flourished into something amazing. Read on to find out the process!

My Initial Self-Care Challenge:

I want to go back to when I first moved to Canada. Little did I know that I would start a habit that would change my well-being. It’s hard to do self-care when moving to another country because too many things can happen at once. If there is one thing life has taught me it’s to prioritize my well-being when times are good and slow-paced. Then, when times get hard, or even fast-paced, I have the resilience to see it through.

My nerves were frayed for the first month I was in Canada. When we first arrived, Mum and I were heavily dependent on my cell phone. I had to use it far more than I normally do. I was exhausted, which meant it took a while to get things organized. The only escape I could find was in reading and writing. In my first full month (November 2020), I decided that I would take a few days for a self-care challenge. I chose one day to devote to finances, one day to just organize all the crap that had accumulated, one day off from my phone, and one day to just rest (and I mean REST!). I ran those days by Mum and she thought it was a great idea and wanted to do them as well.

The Results of the Self-Care Challenge:

After each of the days, I found myself thinking, “Wow! These kinds of days should not just be a luxury! We should do them every month!” Do you know what was REALLY funny? Mum was thinking the same thing! I find self-care challenges overrated and words like well-being overused. This time, it worked like a charm! I guess desperation was the motivator to kick-start something lasting.

Our Well-Being days were born! We learned the first time we did them that the days should have guidelines and few if any, hard and fast rules. Over time, we added more days to our Well-Being Days. Will I continue my Well-Being Days once I start my own business? Heck yes! I am not a fan of working myself to death. Been there, done that and it’s not happening again! I’m going to whip a dead horse here. Brutally. These kinds of days should NOT be a luxury! I have found they are an effective burnout prevention tool. Okay, it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough. Anyway, here are my Well-Being Days and what they entail!

Well-Being Days
Well-Being Days

Money Day:

Do you know how people in finance say that you should set aside some time every month for your finances? Well, this is the day I do the majority of my finances! If I can, I save all the heavy-duty stuff for this day. I am fortunate that Mum and I have worked out a mutually beneficial system. My Dad is still currently in California, but I feel like he’s grateful that Mum and I have this Money Day. I can’t wait to introduce this to him as well as our other Well-Being Days!

Deep-Cleaning Day:

This one has been a newer edition to our Well-Being Days. Here’s the story behind this one. Last October, Mum and I were planning to clean our place thoroughly before winter, but then she got sick. For a few months, we completely forgot about cleaning the apartment and just let things gather dust. I have heard stories from people I know who have taken care of parents and they completely forget about their living space. Sometimes, their house will literally crumble around them.

In March, we got the urge to clean one room at a time and we got through it! We decided to do a Deep-Cleaning Day every month while also making a point of staying on top of the little chores when it’s not Deep-Cleaning Day. The little chores make Deep-Cleaning Days easier because our place collects a LOT of dust!

Organizing Day:

There is some overlap between an Organizing Day and a Deep-Cleaning Day. At first, we did some deep-cleaning on an Organizing Day. Then we realized there are some things that need to be done separately from a Deep-Cleaning Day. The things that are prioritized for an Organizing Day are papers, emails and digital files, or anything else that needs some straightening up.

It’s amazing how much useless paper, emails and digital files accumulate in a month! When I first started the Organizing Days, getting rid of the useless crap was quite tedious! Now, it’s just a matter of cleaning out what accumulated in a month! Additionally, it helps to have a temporary filing system, so that when the Organizing Day comes around, the files can be moved to our permanent filing system with relative ease.

The best source I have ever encountered about filing systems is Randy Pauch’s video on Time Management. Mum and I agreed early on from sharing an apartment that, to quote Randy Pausch, “A filing system is absolutely essential”. The part on filing systems starts at 25:34

A filing system is absolutely essential! Starting at 25:34

No/Limited Tech Day:

This is one of my most important Well-Being Days! I have become increasingly aware of just how much technology stresses me out. It took a while after starting a No Tech Day to realize that I need boundaries on tech in general. I have also discovered differences between essential and optional tech use. The reason why I say it’s a No/Limited Tech Day is that sometimes things come up on that day that I absolutely need to take care of and it’s necessary to use tech to solve them.

One exception to the day is if there is something good to watch on CBC Gem. You have probably figured out by now that I’m obsessed with CBC Gem! It is an affirmation that tech can be genuinely fun!

Overall, having this day from the get-go has made me more mindful of tech. My life changed for the better when I gave up my personal social media accounts. I use IG and Twitter for this blog on my own terms.

Another thing I have noticed is that when someone sends me a message with a certain tone to it, I think to myself, “Were they just doomscrolling on (insert social media site here)?” Each social media site has its own flavour of doomscrolling and I can see it more now that I don’t have personal social media accounts. That’s not to say I don’t fall down a doomscrolling rabbit hole, but I do something that does not involve tech to cool off. Plus, when I get messages like that, I don’t answer immediately. I wait for that person to cool off. Of course, I cringe to think that I did the same thing. It’s not at all intuitive.

To the people who were also affected by my doomscrolling, I apologize!

Rest Day:

This is another Well-Being Day of great importance. Naps are non-negotiable. Plus, I tend to lie in bed and read A LOT! I think one reason why Rest Days are important to me is because of living so far north and the sunrise and sunset times really messing with my body clock, even with SAD lights. Time changes are the weirdest thing. If it’s not the sun rising at 8 am in the winter that’s messing with me, it’s the birds singing their dawn chorus happening between 5 and 6 am in the summer.

It’s amazing how in this day and age that you literally have to force yourself to SLOW. THE. FUCK. DOWN!!

Pampering Day:

Sometimes, I’m not able to do everything I want to on my Rest Day, so this day is for things like footbaths, face masks, bubble baths, OR even MORE reading! I also like to treat myself and Mum to something special from our favourite patisserie. I could do a whole photo album of the pics I have taken of their food. Sometimes, I get us a treat on the other Well-Being Days too, like the Money Day or Cleanup Day or Organizing Day. After all, those days are more hardcore and it’s nice to have a treat at the end.

Fun Day:

My next Fun Day is Easter Monday! On that day, anything goes! Sometimes, I try something new. Sometimes, I devote myself to my other hobbies. My favourite thing to do is go outside. If I can go to a park, even better. This makes me think of the Big Bang Theory when they have Anything Can Happen Thursday.

One thing I have learned from this day is even when it’s not a Fun Day, it’s wonderful to be so close to nature. Sometimes, I need to go to the river and just discharge from something that’s stressing me out.

Creative/Arts Day:

I make a point of eliminating unnecessary tech use on this day! As Steve Jobs discovered, tech kills creativity. Have you ever wondered why he and Bill Gates and tech executives won’t let their kids use technology? Exactly. Creativity is best when your mind is quiet and clear, so I make sure mine is before this day happens.

I do like doing stuff for my blog on a Creative/Arts Day, so I make an exception for that. Otherwise, I like doing stencil drawings and listening to music a lot. Sometimes, I find new ways to be creative.

When Well-Being Days Don’t Work:

The one time Well-Being Days don’t work is when emergencies happen. There is too much going on that has to be dealt with on the spot, and there is a period of time afterwards dealing with the fallout. When Mum got sick last October, we didn’t get back to our Well-Being Days until the New Year. If we needed to rest or have a few hours of no technology, we did it. If we had to organize our stuff related to the emergency, we just got it over and done with! When you think you’re done with one thing, another thing comes up and you just have to zip it and then savour the serenity when it’s done!

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to take care of yourself during an emergency, or for a while afterwards. It’s important to understand what is possible at times like that. When you can take a moment for yourself, be grateful! Remember, self-care is a necessity, not a privilege!

For the Future:

I had originally started doing a Dutch Immersion Day. Then some changes happened. We found another way that we can possibly stay in Canada. It could still fall through, but the plan is that we will move to the Netherlands if it does. Plus, we don’t feel like it’s a good time to move to Europe with the refugee crisis happening and the higher cost of living. Now, learning Dutch is more lowkey.

Will I add more Well-Being Days in the future? It’s hard to say. I don’t want too many, then I won’t have some good ones to look forward to. I can tell when I’m about to have one of my Well-Being Days because my body responds in such a way that it cries out for them.

Sometimes, things don’t last an entire day, or I’m not able to follow through for an entire day, but that’s okay. Even devoting a few hours to one of these days makes a difference. That affirms to me that these days are a necessity.

Happy Easter to you all. Have fun or rest, but enjoy whatever it is you are planning to do!

Finances: Part II- In Transition

Hey everyone! I just wanted to say before starting this post that I have had trouble with my self-hosted website system. So, thanks to those who have notified me about not being able to interact on my blog. I will be switching to a new host soon, so bear with me! Fingers crossed it works out this time!

This is a continuation of my posts on expat finances. I am learning a lot as I go, especially now that I’m an adult and have more financial responsibility than I did when I previously moved to another country. See my previous post Finances: Part I- The Basics for my first post on this subject. Now, without further ado, let’s bust these money taboos!

Previous Experiences:

I was really young with my first two international moves. However, when I was old enough, my parents told me stories of their money experiences while transitioning and adjusting to a new culture.

When I repatriated to the US, things were relatively easy for me. I didn’t have assets in the UK, so I decided to move all my money to the US. Additionally, the exchange rates were favourable between the US Dollar and the Pound Sterling at that time.Β 

Financially Transitioning to A New Country:

There is a common misconception that Third Culture Kids are wealthy because of their mobile lifestyle. Family wealth is not always a factor in being able to move overseas. There are a variety of factors that make a mobile lifestyle possible. Companies can pay expenses for transitioning overseas, and include other perks for expats, so that’s a big deal. Additionally, it depends on where you are moving and how you move. Believe me, moving across an ocean and most, or all of another country can really compound the costs of moving. Plus, everyone’s situation is different, and people handle money differently.

As an example, I had to cancel my cell phone number in England before I moved. So far, I have been able to keep my US number while living in Canada. I had to upgrade my cell phone plan to allow calls within Canada and also be able to call the US when I have needed to do so. My initial plan was to change to a Canadian cell phone number after a month. However, Canada has some of the most expensive cell phone plans of any country, and I still have to make calls to the US now and then. I decided to keep my US cell phone number for a little while until I feel more financially stable.

Open A Bank Account Before or After Moving?

That’s a critical decision. When I moved to the US, there was no urgent need for me to have money there, so I waited until after I moved to open a bank account. However, with moving to Canada during the pandemic, I knew that I would have to quarantine for two weeks and I needed to be sure I had a bank account there. My Mum decided to wait to open one until after we arrived.

I bank with HSBC, so I was able to set up a bank account in Canada to be ready for when I got there. I had to go through an application and setup process that took some time, but it was worth it. Plus, I was able to sort out any problems before I moved! On the other hand, I couldn’t get a debit card for the account until I had arrived in Canada. After quarantine, I had to go to my branch to sign a couple more papers, and then I could get a debit card.

We realized later that I had the right idea all along. Additionally, we learned that the finances with moving to another country never really end, and it’s too much for one person to bear. Mum decided to take on extra tasks with moving so that I would have more bandwidth to deal with the finances. The reason why the situation ultimately worked out was that my Mum and I communicate well.Β 

Striking A Balance:

When you’re in transition, it’s not a time to cut corners. If you need to pay for something, suck it up and do it! I’ve had to pay more for my US cell phone plan, but so what? It works here in Canada and that’s all I ask! Plus, in my Quarantine Diaries Week 1 and Week 2, I talked about my Mum and I not getting our mattresses from Overstock. I caved and ordered them from Amazon because we had been sleeping on the floor for NINE days! We needed mattresses so badly we didn’t care about buying them again. Overstock delivered the mattresses a month later.

At the same time, unimportant costs can add up. As I said in my Finances Part I post, you are one decision away from making a financial mistake. I learned over the years to save any potential discounts for a time when I might really need them. There is no better time to use discounts than doing an international move.Β 

Want to know how much it cost me and my Mum to fly from San Francisco to Calgary via Vancouver? Nothing. We saved our credit card points for a time we really needed them. Of course, I offset our carbon emissions, and I was happy to put a little money towards it. My attitude was, “Sorry Mother Earth! I know you’re hurting, but my Mum and I need to get out of a crappy situation! Here’s a little something for you to say thanks.”

What You Need to Get Settled:

Again, it depends on your personal circumstances. You need to decide how much furniture you need to get and whether you actually need it. If your place is already furnished, great!

Sometimes, you can’t know what you need until you actually get there. My Mum and I had to buy PROPER winter clothes when we arrived. When my Mum was talking about getting winter clothes in California, I said, “You don’t go to California to get winter clothes.” Get what I mean?

Additionally, you have to get used to what shops are around when you move to a new country. I had to ask a Canadian friend what the difference is between Canadian Tire and Home Depot. Plus, when I discovered Co-ops in Calgary, I felt like a kid in a candy store! It was the best Co-op I had ever seen! Your general daily expenses are not going to settle until you decide where you like to shop and for what.

A Note on Healthcare:

Getting used to a new country’s medical system is something you need to budget for! Different countries have different rules for when new immigrants qualify for healthcare. That is if they have a government healthcare system.

In the UK, it took about a year to qualify for healthcare. Although, from what I saw with my family and friends, they don’t give quality healthcare to new immigrants until they have paid taxes for a while. In the US, you have to pay ALL medical bills until you get insurance! You absolutely MUST read the fine print of what your insurance covers! Plus, medical costs there are sneaky! You learn a lot of soft skills to save money on healthcare costs. For example, I decided early on what hospital I would want to go to if I had an emergency. I was certain of their quality care, but they didn’t charge me any out-of-pocket costs for using their resources like a hospital gown, or soap. It pisses me off that hospitals charge unreasonable costs that your insurance doesn’t cover!

How I feel when I hear about being absurdly overcharged for out-of-pocket costs:

Canada has a law that you cannot enter without health insurance. Plus, you have to live there a minimum of six months and one day to qualify for their government healthcare. That system works well because it’s a good time to get acquainted with a healthcare system before you qualify for care.

There are Cultural Ways of Dealing with M0ney:

You CANNOT ignore this! Countries will have different ways of banking, managing and transferring money and you have to work with it. It can feel overwhelming at times.Β 

Before my Mum and I moved to Canada, we had to put a deposit on our new apartment. The landlord told us how to send the money, but at first, I didn’t understand the instructions. I thought it was a simple wire transfer and the instructions didn’t make sense. Google didn’t help too much when I tried to find “what does ______ mean??” I figured because my ISP was in the US, I couldn’t access it.Β 

Eventually, I figured out the banking feature I had to use was called Interac eTransfer. Even though I had my Canadian bank account, I hadn’t really explored the features since I was busy moving. Then, I suddenly had to do a rent deposit and I was FREAKING OUT!!!! Plus, it seemed counterintuitive to me that there is actually a banking feature that doesn’t charge you fees for using it?! What kind of a country IS this where they don’t charge you for every banking service you use?! After a failed attempt at the Interac eTransfer the first time, I was going to blow like a volcano! Finally, I found a page on HSBC Canada about Interac eTransfer that explained it.Β 

Mum said, “you’re going to love this service someday!” She was right. There was so much stress the first time, but now I love it! Now, I look back on this story and laugh. That story is another reason why I was glad to open a Canadian bank account before I moved there. I don’t know what I would have done about the deposit if I didn’t have a Canadian bank account!

Final Notes:

Bottom line: It takes a MINIMUM of a few grand per person to get settled in a new country. The more you move to a new country, the better you get at making financial decisions. Mistakes don’t completely go away, but you’re less likely to make a serious one if you go by past precedent.

Additionally, it was a lovely surprise to find the best French patisserie in Calgary. Whenever someone does something nice for me or my Mum we get a box of macarons. When you’re an expat, you need a lot of help, and it’s really touching when people come through for you. There’s no better reward than seeing their faces light up when we give them macarons. You’re probably asking, “You have money for that?” The answer, “Yes, I have money for that.” I’m new here, and I’m building connections. Sometimes, I have moved and really been thrown into the deep end because people weren’t willing to help. Canadians are among the most generous people I have had the pleasure of living with, and I have given out a lot of boxes of macarons to say thank you!

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with what I have to say about finances as an expat?