No Shopping Challenge Week 12 & 13

Time certainly does fly! I’ve been so busy at work this week that I didn’t realise the date. One of my very good friends is getting married on Sunday and I’m lucky enough to be able to go. I didn’t end up packing until today (Friday), and I’m flying now! It was all fine though, and I even ended up getting to HK airport ridiculously early. I’m currently on the first plane waiting for take-off from HK to Seoul.

I had a very big (in shopping terms) dilemma earlier. I’m not usually one for brand names, however I love Kipling bags. They’re sturdy, long-lasting, functional and classy/fun. The first one I ever bought lasted me more than ten years before one of the zips went funny, so they may be a little more than I’d usually pay for things but the quality is definitely worth it. Anyway, there’s a Kipling shop in HK airport, before you go through to departures, and they had certain items on sale with 30% off. One of my bags is starting to fall apart so I’ve been thinking for a while about replacing it. I always said with this challenge that it’s fine for me to replace items that have worn out as long as I get rid of said items and don’t keep both. Of course there was a really lovely bag with 30% off and a very helpful sales assistant who let me check that my tablet fit in the bag, and I very nearly said yes, I’ll take it.

But then I thought about this challenge I’ve set myself and how the whole point is to downsize and reduce the amount I spend on things that I actually don’t really need. I really liked that bag, and I would have used it and got rid of my old bag, but I don’t really need it. So I walked away. And – much as I still really like that bag – I know that I made the right choice because my old bag still has a bit of life left in it, plus I have other bags of different sizes that I can make do with.

Now I’m sitting on a plane heading to the US for what I’m sure will be a fantastic wedding, and I have lost nothing by not buying that bag. So many times we give in to impulses – not that that’s always bad, mind you! – for things we don’t need, we just crave in the moment. If you can get past that moment you will find there’s very few things you regret buying; more often people regret what they haven’t done, not what they didn’t buy.

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Now it’s a few days later and I need to catch up on posting this so I can start on this week’s post!

Spending for week 12 consisted of food, drinks, transport, a trip to the cinema to see Pacific Uprising (not bad, bit of light entertainment), plus playing football (along with hiring the pitch) and a night out for a friend’s birthday. Yes, people who know me, I played football. Willingly. And it was the most fun I’ve ever had playing football! Total costs for week 12: 2,349rmb / £265.

Week 13 ended up being almost the same amount: 1498.6rmb + HK$604 (483rmb) + US$43.50 (274rmb) = 2255.6rmb / £255. This included a food shop, dinner out, getting my hair cut and dyed, drinks, transport, getting to HK airport, dinner at Pizza Express in HK airport, and transport from Atlanta airport. I’ve been staying in a shared house with friends and my friend’s family, which has been really lovely. This means we’ve shared the cost of groceries for the house, transport around and days out. My share of the house I paid for quite a while ago, and it was only £122 for 6 nights. I’ll write more in my next post about where we’ve been and what we’ve done as week 13 ended the day after I arrived.

Over a quarter of the year has flown by already and I’ve pretty much kept to my original challenge rules, with only one or two tweaks where necessary to ensure I could stick to it without compromising my social life. I’ve not bought any ‘stuff’, although I’ve been quite tempted on occasion, and I’ve only had takeaway once (McDonald’s when I was drunk!).

Anyone else want to take up the challenge?

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No Shopping Challenge Week 11

Another week has been and gone. Time certainly flies when you’re running around at work and hanging out with your friends!

Last week was a bit of an expensive one for Shenzhen (although still cheaper than most of my recent holiday! You can check out my musings on New Orleans here, Miami here and Costa Rica here.). This was mostly due to it being a good friend’s birthday and St Patrick’s Day all rolled into one. My spending for Saturday ended up being 963rmb (£110), although this included laser tag, food, taxis to Shekou and back (about 70rmb/£8 each way), a food shop which I haven’t done for ages (muesli, yoghurt, veg and the like), and of course, lots of drinks on the pub crawl in the evening!

My total spending for the week including that was 2419rmb (£275), so 1456rmb (£165) on all food and transport the rest of the week, including eating out with friends three out of five nights (one meal, mala tang, was only 20rmb/£2.30 including a soft drink!).

One other item that hiked up my spending for the week was medication. Something I don’t talk about very often is that I suffer from depression and have done on and off for years. Currently I’m all good, which I expect is to do with the medication I’m on as much as how great my life is at the moment. This means I want to keep taking the antidepressants in order to maintain that oft-precarious balance. Of course, China doesn’t have the amazing NHS, so my work pays for health insurance for all staff. Luckily my medication is covered, but we’ve just changed insurance companies due to increased fees. Whereas before the full cost of visits to the doctor and medication were covered, now there’s a 20% co-pay, meaning I have to pay for 20% of the cost. For a one month supply of antidepressants I had to pay 399rmb (£45). Yes, £45 for 20%, meaning (in case you can’t be bothered to do the maths) £225 for the whole amount. For one month. That included seeing the doctor for about 2 minutes to get a repeat prescription, with a consultation fee of 300rmb (£34).

Some people complain about the 20p rise to £8.80 for a prescription charge on the NHS, with a free visit to the doctor included. If you didn’t appreciate the NHS before, you certainly do when living abroad! My advice would be to treasure the NHS and do whatever you can to make sure it doesn’t get privatised. Otherwise you might end up paying £225 every time you go to the doctors.

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Whilst I may have spent more than intended this week, I’ve still not bought any ‘stuff’, and my birthday presents to people are staying as treats, meals or activities, so I count that as a successful week.

If you have any thoughts or comments about anything I talk about, please let me know!

No Shopping Challenge Week 10

Back in Shenzhen and back to work after a fantastic three week holiday for Chinese New Year.

Which of course meant I was wiped out after work on Monday so the only money I spent was 2.4rmb on the bus home. Tuesday I had a bit more energy and time so I used these to catch up with friends over dinner (363rmb/£41 – more expensive than we thought it would be!) at as little Spanish place called Mambo. I also used some of my time to pay for the deposit and book accommodation for Summer School, where I will be studying for my MA Education which I’ve just started. I’m not counting the cost of the MA in my ‘no shopping challenge’ as this was already arranged before I came up with the challenge idea. I am, however, going to buy as few books as possible and instead read them online through the university library.

Wednesday was another catch-up dinner followed by the local pub quiz, which we actually won! We won 1000rmb of vouchers for The Brew between 7 of us, so 100rmb each plus a drink each next time. Not bad, even if I do say so myself! Total spending for all drinks and dinner for both of us that night was 548rmb (£62).

Usually on Thursday I go to D&D, but unfortunately I ended up going home early from work with a migraine. I guess the plus side to this was that I didn’t spend any money on dinner, instead sleeping for most of the rest of the day and then just managing toast. My only outgoings were the taxi to and from work (37.5rmb/£4.25 both ways) and 100rmb (£11.30) to top up my phone.

On Friday I had to stock up on muesli and yoghurt (67.4rmb/£7.65) as I finished the last of it for breakfast. A small group of us decided to go and see ‘Black Panther’ at the cinema after work as it was the first day of its release in China – and for 35rmb (£4) it was definitely worth it! This time I even remembered to bring my 3D glasses so I didn’t have to buy a new pair! Of course, we had to have dinner before the movie as well: shrimp quesadillas, chips and bogof cocktails for 153.6rmb (£17.45) at Blue Frog was pretty good.

My final night out for the week was on Saturday, and this time there was no alcohol involved! A friend had arranged a movie night at a private cinema for a group of us – 63rmb/£7 for 4 hours in a comfy room with a group of friends watching movies – it was great, and really nice to do something a bit different. I would definitely recommend it.

Sunday came round much too quickly as usual. I woke up quite early but stayed in bed reading for a few hours before finally deciding I was too hungry to stay in bed any longer. Once again I resisted the urge to order takeout, and raided the freezer instead for my last frozen meal from previous cooking escapades. I spent the rest of the day alternating between studying and watching ‘Legends of Tomorrow’, which meant I spent no money at all (and stayed in my pyjamas all day).

My total spending for week 10 was 1442.4rmb (£164.50) plus the accommodation and deposit for Summer School. Still no takeaway or stuff!

No Shopping Challenge Week 9

Note: This is a week late as I completely forgot to post last weekend in my jetlagged state! Week 10 will follow soon.

For most of this week I’m in Bolinas, California, staying with my aunt and uncle for the last part of my Chinese New Year holiday. Once again I’m not limiting the amount I spend on food and eating out, but I’m still sticking to not buying ‘stuff’.

Monday was a gorgeous day with bright blue skies and a cold wind. I went into San Francisco with my uncle where – after my uncle making a trip to the bank while I had a cuppa ($2.55/£1.80) in Peet’s coffee shop next door – we went to the SF Museum of Modern Art. Uncle H paid for our entry saying I could get lunch instead! We had lunch in the museum cafe ($55/£40 for both of us to have carrot and ginger soup, a pastry and a drink) then looked at the exhibits – mainly Robert Rauschenberg plus a few other artists such as Matisse, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Dali and Zammit. SFMoMA is a fantastic place and well worth a look if you’re in SF. Once we’d finished we drove back to Bolinas over Mount Tamalpais and made dinner from bits and pieces in the kitchen, so no further spending there.

Tuesday I asked Uncle H to drop me into town on his way to work, where I went to the Coast Cafe for lunch ($57/£41 for three courses and two glasses of wine, including tip – not cheap, but it’s the only restaurant in town and the food is pretty good) and did a bit of reading and writing. I then took a lovely walk along the beach and circled back around into town to meet my uncle, where I found him next to the wood-fired oven that is brought out twice a week by a guy who makes great pizza, waiting for a pizza he’d ordered for us for dinner. Topped with goat’s cheese, kalamata olives, mushrooms and sundried tomatoes, it was delicious.

On Wednesday it was my uncle’s weekly trip into the city (San Francisco) to look after his goddaughter’s two children, so of course I went too. The last time I was here, the oldest was four years old and the youngest was a baby; now they’re seven and four-and-a-half – such a difference! After picking them up from school and nursery, and meeting mum back at the house, we went to the California Academy of Sciences. The first thing we did was have lunch in the cafe ($13.71/£10 for mine) as it was gone 2.30pm by then and although the oldest boy had had lunch at school the rest of us were starving. The rest of the afternoon was spent looking at the penguins in the Africa gallery, playing tag and watching all the different fish in the aquarium section. Great fun! Plus free entry because mum is a member. Once we’d had enough fun we all piled back into the car to take the boys and mum to their home, where Uncle H and I were invited for dinner. We spent a lovely evening chatting and the oldest boy drew me a picture of his favourite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants. On the way back to Bolinas we had a fantastic conversation (well, mostly Uncle H talking and me listening) about my grandparents (his parents), he and my dad (his brother) as children and various things about the rest of the family. We carried on talking about this for the rest of the evening and H showed me a few old family photos as well. To top off a really lovely evening, my Aunt C then arrived home with a delicious persimmon pudding, and I finally had a chance to have a catch up with her as she’d been working lots all week.

My last day in Bolinas came around much too quickly. After breakfast with my uncle, he went to do some jobs while I stayed in, repacked and chilled out. The afternoon was spent in Point Reyes at KWMR radio station where my uncle interviewed me on his radio show ‘Teatime Books’. It was great fun and you can listen to the archived show here. Let me know what you think!

After the show we picked up pizza and salad ($33/£24 for both) from the new restaurant in town, Eleven, and took it back to the house to enjoy with a glass of wine (for me) and a cup of tea (for H). My aunt came home early from work so we had a bit of a chat and all too soon it was time to say goodbye and drive to the airport for my flight back to HK.

I spent my last $22 (£16) on a drink for the flight and chocolate to take back with me – Ghirardelli sea salt almond chocolate is heavenly.

Friday I spent nothing as the day pretty much didn’t exist for me. I went back in time 16 hours and the little part of Friday I did get was spent on a plane, so I went straight from Thursday night to Saturday morning. The quickest and easiest way from HK airport to where I live in Shenzhen is by Skylimo – various companies run minivans between the airport and the various borders, and if you pay a little extra they’ll take you all the way to your apartment (total 200HKD/£18).

After a nap which ended up lasting most of the day I made it out for dinner with my flatmate E and another friend T. Lovely Italian food and a cocktail later (306rmb/£35) they went home and I went for a few drinks (210rmb/£24) with some other friends who I hadn’t seen for ages even before the holiday.

Sunday was mostly spent hungover and jetlagged in bed or watching tv and chilling out! The only money spent was on bread and fruit juice (52rmb/£6), both very much needed.

My total spending for week 9 was US$195.26 + 598rmb + HK$200 which equals (to put it into one currency) £227.50 – not bad for most of a week in the States on holiday and a night out catching up with friends. I also didn’t buy any ‘stuff’ or takeaway, even though it was very tempting to when I got back.

Week 10: Back in Shenzhen.

No Shopping Challenge Week 8

Costa Rica!

Although I’ve relaxed my budget for food while I’m travelling, I’m still trying to stick to the ‘no buying stuff’ aspect of my challenge. So far the only things I’ve spent money on in Costa Rica have been food, accommodation and transport, and I’m going to try and keep it that way.

I’ve been here almost a week with my best friend from home, E, and it’s been fantastic. Although it’s less expensive than the US was, I’ve still spent a fair amount as we’ve been eating out for almost every meal and doing lots of fun stuff.

We began the week, having just arrived in Playa Chiquita near Puerto Viejo, Limón, heading to the nearest beach with the best reviews – Punta Uva. One of the staff at the lodge we were staying at persuaded one of his friends to drive us there when there were no taxis available. This turned out to be a fortunate turn of events for us as he was a font of information about Puerto Viejo. He recommended places with the best coffee, the best Asian food, the atm with the shortest queue and various other useful titbits. The journey from where we were staying to one of only three ATMs in Puerto Viejo, back past where we were staying to Punta Uva and Arrecife Beach (definitely the best beach in the area) cost 10,000 Colones or $17.50 between us. Not bad for a 30-odd minute journey with free advice.

We then spent some time at the most stunning beach with warm, clear water, which was just perfect.

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Since I wrote the first part of this post I’ve been busy doing holiday stuff, so I’m going to summarise my spending for the rest of this week. Otherwise it’s going to take a long, long time and I’ll just end up repeating what I’m writing on my post about my travels. If you’d like to find out more about what I did in Costa Rica, please have a look at my other blog posts here and here!

To summarise, all my money this week was spent on: taxis and tuktuks to and from the beach, restaurants and various places we explored; food and drink; cocktails; entry to the Jaguar Rescue Centre; horse riding along the beach and through the jungle with Caribe Horse Riding Club; transport from one side of Costa Rica to the other and back to the airport; accommodation; and tattoos.

I managed to resist the urge to buy things by telling myself they were all things I didn’t actually need, which is true, so almost all my spending was on food or transport apart from my various holiday activities.

Saturday we had half a day in Miami. Since we’d met up, we’d been talking about getting tattoos together (E’s idea!): as a memento of our trip, our friendship and a significant birthday this year for both of us. It would be E’s first tattoo and my 12th. After trying – and failing – to find somewhere to get the tattoos in Puerto Viejo where we were staying, I looked into tattoo artists in Miami. I found an article about the top ten artists in Miami and emailed a couple of places on the list who weren’t too far out of our way, to find out whether they’d be able to do what we wanted in the time we had available. Only one place came through, and it just so happened to be Love Hate Tattoo, where Miami Ink was filmed a few years ago! This made the tattoos even more special and everything went according to plan (even if that meant getting very little sleep. Stupid flight times). This, of course, has added a significant amount to my spending this week ($262.50/£190), however, I’m much happier spending that money on a beautiful tattoo with a beautiful person than on more stuff that I don’t really need.

My last stop this week was Bolinas, California, a lovely little town where my aunt and uncle live. My uncle picked me up from the airport on Saturday evening then treated me to entry to see a reggae band at the local community centre and a glass (well, tin cup) of wine.

Sunday was very chilled out. After breakfast I took a stroll into town taking a few photos on the way. I had lunch ($37) at the Coast Cafe – the only restaurant in town – bumped into my aunt by the People’s Store, met up with my uncle, bought a few food items (my uncle paid) and went back to the house for the evening.

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My total spending for the week was $579.62 (£415) plus $222 (£160 between us) on our accommodation for the week, plus the tattoos. Not too bad for a week full of fantastic food, awesome adventures and gorgeous scenery!

No Shopping Challenge Week 7

A little different this week as I’m in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and on Thursday I’m going to Miami for a quick stopover then Costa Rica! I’m still planning to stick to my not buying ‘stuff’, and keeping track of what I’m spending, however, I’m not giving myself a budget for food, drinks or experiences while I’m travelling. Travel was one of the only things I didn’t restrict myself on when I was first deciding my criteria for my no shopping challenge. The idea is to reduce the number of physical items I have, not to reduce the number of experiences I have; if anything to increase them as an alternative to buying stuff.

The first day of this week ended in my spending US$147.96 (£106.80), the vast majority of which was on food and drink. In fact the only money which was not spent on food or drink was $16.49 (£11.90) on a pair of leggings – because I completely didn’t think of bringing any with me and now I’m wearing a skirt in the Mardi Gras parade tomorrow (Tuesday) (lent to me by friends who live here/lived here and are visiting for Mardi Gras) and it’s going to be much too cold not to have leggings on as well (it’s predicted to be around 12°C in the morning) – and $22.04 (£15.90) on a New Orleans Mardi Gras Tricentennial anniversary t-shirt. I knew I’d find it difficult not to buy anything when travelling as I always like to get a souvenir of some sort. Usually I get something small like a keyring or a fridge magnet, but I thought it would make more sense to get something a little more practical, and this I will actually wear. Plus I have about a million fridge magnets and keyrings already; I really don’t need any more! To counter these purchases I will get rid of/donate more clothes when I get back to China, to add to the four bags I’ve already given away.

This makes it $109.43 (£79) on food and drink, and $38.53 (£27.80) on clothes. I knew I’d probably spend a fair amount on food and drink here, but I think that amount is not going to be feasible every day! Mind you, $73 (£52.70) of that was on dinner alone at Pere Antoine: Shrimp Creole, 2 Sex in the Quarter cocktails, and Bananas Foster Beignet Fries for dessert. All delicious and very filling, and definitely worth it – especially because of the great service. Our waiter seemed really tickled by us and kept saying he was going to record our banter!

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Mardi Gras!

Such an awesome day! And yet I managed to spend $40 (£29) less than yesterday. This was due to being bought some drinks by lively people; having a really late lunch of crepes with cheddar, goat’s cheese, mushroom and onion (delicious); getting a bit of an iffy tummy after dinner and drinks at the Hard Rock Cafe (thanks IBS!); and being a little tired after walking over 20,000 steps since 8am so only staying out until about 11.30pm.

Still, much fun was had by all! Money isn’t necessary to have a good time, especially when you’re with great people in a place with a fantastic atmosphere.

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Our last full day in New Orleans I spent even less money with almost all of it being on food, apart from $1.25 on the street car from near Lafayette Cemetery back to Canal Street and the edge of the French Quarter. What ended up being even better (although it was really annoying at the time) was that our dinner at Carmo took absolutely ages and the service was really bad, but after complaining they comp’d the whole meal! Because of that we did give them a tip of $10 in the end, although we hadn’t been going to give them any tip until then (tipping 15-20% is standard and expected in the US, and where most wait staff make their money as the minimum wage is so low). This made my total spending for the day only $57.73 (£41). Much better than the previous days!

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Sadly we said goodbye to New Orleans this morning (Thursday), but then hello to Miami!

The airport shuttle had been paid for on the way to our hotel, so there was no extra cost there. We took an Uber from the airport to South Beach ($22.49/£16) as it was the quickest and easiest way, then left our luggage at the Luggage Locker on 9th Street between Washington and Collins Streets for $10 (£7) each so we could enjoy the day without dragging our suitcases with us.

After grabbing a quick slice of pizza and a drink for lunch ($11/£7.80), we headed for the beach! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a wide sandy beach before. It went on for miles! With practically no shade anywhere other than beach umbrellas and loungers you had to pay for, of course. We ate our pizza lunch in a small bit of shade we found next to a cabin-type construction then I went for a paddle while E changed into her swimwear. As I burn something chronic in the sun, even when I use copious amounts of sun block, I decided that a paddle was enough for me, and headed along the main road next to the beach to find somewhere I could sit and chill while E went for a swim. Eventually we found somewhere that wasn’t blasting out party music at full volume, and I set up camp there.

Of course, I had to order a drink while I was there and decided on a South Beach Vice cocktail, which was half mango and half strawberry frozen margarita. It was the most enormous cocktail I’ve ever seen! Just ridiculous!

But very tasty. E returned about an hour and a half later, by which time I was just about finishing my huge cocktail, which we then replaced with a free one of the same and shared. Once we’d finished that and got our bill, the waiter brought over two large glasses of tequila with salt and lime on the edge for us, for free! That definitely sent us over the edge and into fits of giggles, and all for the princely sum of $50 (£35).

Dinner was in a lovely vegetarian restaurant down the street called Plant Therapy, after retrieving our luggage as the storage place closed at 6pm. I had an artichoke ‘burger’, which was delicious, and we both had a couple more (regular-sized) cocktails (total $46.68/£33 each).

Finally we got an Uber to Fort Lauderdale Airport for $44.44 (£31.65) to catch our flight from Miami to Costa Rica and the next leg of our holiday.

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Costa Rica!

Our flight arrived at 1am on Friday 16th February. Not the best time to arrive anywhere really. After a lot of checking information and considering options, we decided it would be best to go straight to the place we were staying Friday night. This was a three hour drive away from San José Airport in La Fortuna. I had arranged for a driver from our hotel to pick us up from the airport at 1.30am, with the plan that we’d sleep on the plane and in the car, and the money we saved from not paying for a hotel that night would go towards the cost of the airport pick-up ($140/£99). Unfortunately I didn’t sleep well on the plane and the road was so twisty and foggy on the drive to the hotel that I felt really ill and couldn’t sleep then either.

Luckily, the people in Costa Rica are super friendly, and even though our room wasn’t ready when we arrived at Hotel Las Orquideas at around 4am ish, the driver showed us to a tiny room with a small double bed and got us a duvet and pillow each so we could get some sleep. In the morning, the owner let us check in as soon as the room was ready about 11am, instead of waiting for the standard check-in time of 2pm. We decided to give him a good tip (C10,000/$17.50/£12.50) and a great review as he was so friendly and really helpful during our whole stay, not just at the beginning.

We were both fairly shattered from the overnight journey so decided to spend our first day at one of the hot springs resorts. We got a good deal through Gustavo, our hotel owner, of entry to Hotel Los Lagos thermal pools plus dinner for $35 (£25) each. It was really lovely there and the perfect thing to do, especially with the intermittent rain.

Saturday we had brunch at Red Frog (delicious Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto, vegetables and fetid eggs with a cup of tea for $11/£8) and then spent the afternoon hiking around Arenal National Park and admiring the still-active volcano, the surrounding rainforest and the many different birds (C13,000/$22/£16 entrance fee for 2 people to the park, plus C12,000/$21/£15 taxi there and back).

The day ended with dinner and cocktails in La Fortuna: Cocktails at restaurant Nene C10,500/$19/£13; Dinner at Veggie Sub C10,000/$17.50/£12.50; after dinner cocktails C11,100/$20/£14; taxi home C1750/$3/£2.20). As you can see, food and taxis are pretty cheap, alcohol not as cheap but still better than in the UK.

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Sunday has come around much too quickly.

After brunch at Red Frog again (it really was tasty), we had a little while to go and see the free natural hot springs (definitely worth checking out for the price of a taxi there and back C17,500/$30/£22) before our shuttle picked us up from Hotel La Orquideas at 1pm and we said goodbye to Gustavos and Arenal Volcano.

The shuttle took about 5 hours 30 minutes to get from La Fortuna to Puerto Viejo, Limon, on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and cost $62 (£44) each with Caribeshuttle.com. By far the cheapest and best way to get from one side of the country to the other.

Once we’d checked in, we left our luggage in our room, went for a quick walk down to the beach and then went to find food for dinner. The first place we found was closed, but outside was an older couple who we started talking to and they invited us to join them in finding a restaurant for dinner. It turned out they’re American and have lived here for six years since retiring. We accompanied them to a gorgeous Italian restaurant called La Pecora Nera, which we would never have found ourselves, and we had a really lovely evening with them (C24,750/$43/£31 each for dinner and wine, plus C4,000/$7/£5 for the taxi back to Playa Chiquita Lodge where we’re staying).

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Week 7 has been much more expensive than any of the previous weeks so far, which I completely expected, totalling $866/£617 for the week. This does of course include lots of travelling, eating out and activities which I wouldn’t usually be doing. I’ve still pretty much stuck to not buying ‘stuff’, and it’s made me think much more carefully about what to buy for a souvenir that would actually be useful not just decorative.

Next week more Costa Rica!

No Shopping Challenge Week 6

Six weeks in and still going strong!

I wrote that at the beginning of the week… Now it’s Thursday evening and I’ve gone over my 1000rmb budget already. This is for 3 reasons: I had to pay off my credit card from Christmas spending in Johannesburg (2766.96rmb/£315); putting money in the bank account to pay for bills for the next couple of months (1000rmb/£114); and taking a friend who’s leaving China out for dinner (483rmb/£55). If I take those costs off then I’m well within budget! (584.1rmb/£66.50 spent so far this week.)

The next three days are definitely going to start getting more expensive. Friday I finish work for the Chinese New Year holiday and catch my flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco, so that will include the cost of getting to the airport and dinner when I get there. Because of the time difference, I leave HK at 11.40pm on Friday and arrive at 7.40pm – on Friday. It’s a very weird experience to go back in time! I’ve done it once before. Flying to the States from HK means you gain a day on the way there and lose a day on the way back; when I fly back I’ll leave on Thursday, arrive on Saturday and miss Friday out completely – which really throws your knowledge of what day it is!

After one night in a hotel near the airport, I’ll be flying from SFO to New Orleans where I’ll meet my best friend who’s flying over from the UK for this holiday. I’m so excited to see her!

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Now it’s Friday evening and I’m waiting to board my flight from HK to San Francisco after a lovely meal and a couple of glasses of wine at Pizza Express (HK$432.20/348.3rmb/£40). Let the time travel begin!

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I’m in San Francisco! Still feeling really excited as this evening I meet up with my best friend from the UK, E. In this blog I’m going to focus on spending and my no shopping challenge. I’ll be writing other posts about my adventures in New Orleans and Costa Rica.

I ended up spending US$30 on a taxi to my hotel last night as I’d had no email confirmation from them about getting their airport shuttle. Slightly annoying as that would have been free, but ah well, I just wanted to get to the hotel by that point. The hotel cost $90.19 plus a $100 deposit; it’s lucky I got cash out at the atm in the airport as they wouldn’t accept my Chinese credit card because it doesn’t have a chip, it just swipes. I have a feeling that may become a problem here!

After being sat on a plane for 12 hours, and feeling a little peckish, I fancied a walk so I went for a stroll to the nearest store, which was a few blocks away. I picked up a drink, a chocolate bar and a large packet of salt & vinegar crisps (yay!) for just under $5.

A good night’s sleep (helped by a sleeping tablet to get me into the right time zone) was followed by a delicious breakfast of banana pancakes topped with strawberries with a hash brown on the side and a cup of tea (total $17.37). Free shuttle to the airport, a short wait chatting to my sister on WhatsApp, and now I’m boarding my flight to New Orleans. Can’t wait to see my best friend this evening!

***

My estimation of more expense this weekend was not without merit. Due to factors previously mentioned, plus the first couple of days of a new trip, I went way over my estimation, as follows:

Total Week 6: 760.5rmb + credit card + bills + Nat’s dinner + HK$432.30 / 348.3rmb / £40 + US$310.36 / 1957rmb / £224 = 3065.8rmb / £350.

Despite this, I have still not bought any ‘stuff’, despite other people trying to convince me otherwise!

The first couple of days in New Orleans have been amazing. Hopefully they will continue that way while I continue my no shopping challenge.

No Shopping Challenge Week 5

Once again the start of the week went well, and I managed to spend nothing on Monday. This was mostly because I stayed home from work with a bad stomach and only managed to eat a cheese toastie in the evening. All better now though! I think it must have been the street food scallops I had on Sunday.

My new aim is to try not to go over 1000rmb spending for the week, so I can eat out and see friends but only up to that amount. Let’s see if I can stick to that!

Tuesday friends came over and we watched Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, which we’d tried to watch the other weekend but the internet failed us miserably. Two friends ate before they came over and the two others ordered food. I resisted the urge to order pizza and instead and a portion of red pesto pasta that I’d frozen a couple of weeks ago. Point to me for will power!

On Wednesday I ended up having dinner with one friend then meeting some others for a few drinks and the local pub quiz at The Brew, one of whom I hadn’t seen since before Christmas. It was really nice to catch up and not worry too much about limiting the number of times I go out.

The only money I spent on Thursday was 4rmb for two vegetable baozi for breakfast plus the taxi home from work. This should have been just under 20rmb, but there was a car crash (only one car and the driver looked ok) which blocked the junction to where I live, so the taxi driver had to go a really long way round instead and it ended up taking twice as long and costing almost twice as much. After this I was tired and grumpy, and the last thing I felt like doing was cooking. However, after a bit of thought about what I have at home and could make quickly and easily so I wouldn’t order takeaway, I ended up cooking pasta with broccoli, sweetcorn and peas, and a mushroom sauce. I made enough for three portions so froze one and kept the other for lunch on the weekend.

Friday was drinks with one friend and dinner with another at a great Thai restaurant called Very Siam in OCT Loft. I got the metro there and back, so transport only cost me 5.7rmb rather than the 40-something-rmb it would have been to get a taxi both ways.

The best thing this week with regards to my No Shopping Challenge and getting rid of stuff I don’t need was going to an exchange evening on Saturday. This was run by a local group called Green Foot International Group (you can find them on WeChat under that name), which organises events such as hikes with litter picking and beach cleaning. This is the third exchange evening they’ve done and it was very successful. I dragged two of my friends along, as they’re also doing a sort out, but none of us were sure what to expect. It was held at a restaurant not too far from where we live, and once we found the place it all went really well. We started the evening by all introducing ourselves, then we had dinner together. This consisted of delicious Chinese food such as grilled aubergine, egg fried rice with raisins and pistachios, string mushrooms with garlic butter, broccoli and cauliflower with cheese sauce, and rice cakes with beansprouts and fried egg. Split between us and new friends the total came to around 40rmb (£4.50) each. Once we’d finished eating and chatting, the exchange part of the evening began. The initial idea was for everyone to show what they’d brought individually, but me and my friends had brought so much that we thought it would take much too long (and be slightly embarrassing) to do it that way. In the end we spread everything that would fit out on the tables, the idea being that everyone could take what they wanted and whatever was leftover would be taken by volunteers to local people who could use it. I took four bags with me, mostly of clothes and some shoes plus a few random items like a feather boa, spare phone charger, jewellery I never ware and various other bits and pieces. We were all amazed at how much was taken by other people, and it’s so good to know that your unwanted things are going to be used by someone else rather than just thrown away. I will definitely go to the next one of these they organise, and now I know what to expect I’ll try to get more people to come too.

I also went out for a friend’s birthday after the exchange night but only bought one drink (mostly because they’d run out of wine (Oh the horror!), but still) and walked home (not far) instead of being lazy and getting a taxi.

The week ended with a chilled out day working on my secret project, catching up watching Will & Grace and trying out a new tv show called Altered Carbon, which I quite enjoyed. The evening was spent playing various board and card games with friends and drinking mulled wine (it’s really cold here at the moment!), which was great fun and we all were crying with laughter at one point. My only cost here was getting there and back.

My grand total for the week is 996.2rmb (£112)! I managed to stick to my budget but still go out and see all my friends who I wanted to, plus I didn’t buy any stuff or even get anything for free at the exchange evening. My No Shopping Challenge is going well so far. Things may well change when I go away next weekend, but we shall see. I’m still going to stick to my no buying stuff, although I’m going to relax my eating out and doing stuff budget while I’m away. Next time I post I’ll be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras! Can’t wait!

No Shopping Challenge Week 3

Monday started out pretty well. I usually have tai chi after school, which I had already paid for in advance and still have one lesson left after this. So I decided I would get a taxi to work with my flatmate (18.5rmb) and walk home instead.

I then met up with friends I hadn’t seen since way before Christmas for my once-a-week meal out, which was great. We went to a different place than usual and I got the metro rather than a taxi there, which made it 2.85rmb to get to Baishizhou instead of the 20 ish it would have been by taxi. It wasn’t too expensive a meal out either, with a total of 150rmb for all food and drinks I had. Another bonus was I got my Secret Santa present! I was away over Christmas in Johannesburg, so didn’t get to exchange gifts with my friends on Christmas Eve. Instead it was a pleasant surprise as I’d completely forgotten about it. I got a lovely watch, a proper fountain pen and ink set and an antique-style notebook. I know I said that I’d be getting rid of things this year, but as this was arranged a long time before I even thought of this challenge, I’m not counting this!

Tuesday I managed to only spend shared taxi fare from work to a friends’ apartment for games night, then another shared taxi fare to get home, totalling 12.5rmb.

Wednesday was more expensive as I bought 2 containers of protein shake because I’d almost run out. Unfortunately the shop I usually get it from on Taobao (the best website for shopping in China) had closed, which meant paying more than I was expecting – 408rmb. It seems like a lot I know, but that’s basically all my breakfasts and lunches for about 6 weeks, so it works out quite reasonable overall.

Thursday would have only been 10rmb for a glass of wine at our work social ‘sausage sizzle’ (I had jacket potatoes), except that as I was walking home I came across some friends at The Brew, which is one of our regular haunts. I ended up spending 90rmb on wine, mostly because my friend kept ordering another glass for me!

The only money I spent on Friday was the taxi to get to work, so I did pretty well then, and I cooked dinner for myself with food I had in the cupboard (noodles with peas, sweetcorn and leeks, and of course cheese on top).

Now you may be wondering what happened to my plan of walking to work every day. This week we’ve had really bad pollution; it was 234 AQI at the start of the week – very unhealthy. This is because the factories have all upped production to get their targets met before they close for the Chinese New Year holiday, and it’s the same every year. The pollution levels got better as each day went on throughout the week, so I walked home instead of to work instead, apart from Tuesday when we went straight to a friend’s and Wednesday when I walked part of the way with my Head teacher then she made me get the metro instead of walking as the pollution level was still too high. At least I managed 3 days of walking! Hopefully back to the mornings again next week, depending on the pollution levels.

The only money I spent on Saturday was going to a friend’s surprise birthday party (and he was genuinely surprised!), which added up to 222.54rmb for taxis there, to KTV and home, paying for KTV and putting in for the fab birthday cake we got. Not too bad really for a night out!

Sunday was very chilled out. I spent most of the day in bed reading (Origin by Dan Brown) and just popped to the market across the road to buy some veg. A large head of broccoli, a large white onion, a bulb of garlic, a red pepper, a corn cob (with the corn cut off it), a leek and a courgette came to the grand total of 29rmb. Friends came round for dinner and a movie, and as I’d been going to cook for myself anyway I cooked for them too – pasta with pesto, pepper, courgette and leek. There was even enough left for my dinner tomorrow.

My total spending for this week came to 1094.79rmb, which is about £123. Better than last week but still not as good as my first week (when I didn’t go out at all). Although that’s with going out 3 times, and I resisted buying food I didn’t need, so not too bad overall.

I don’t think there’s any birthdays next week, so hopefully it’ll be cheaper again!

No Shopping Challenge Week 2

Today (Monday) started out really well. I walked to work, got stuff done at work and was all set to stay late and write reports when I found out my lodger in my apartment in the UK has moved out. Yes, moved out. Apparently she emailed me noticed on 1st December but I haven’t received anything. This is the first I’ve heard about it, and only because I texted her asking where the rent was. Gah!

My first instinct was to go out for food and drinks with friends in order to complain and bitch about the whole situation and what an awful lodger she’s been the entire time she’s lived there. However, I remembered my challenge and that I have a couple (or five) bottles of wine at home. Instead, I posted an ad for my apartment (which cost 324.6rmb), got a taxi home (much too cold and wet to walk, even from the bus station), then poured myself a nice large glass of merlot. It was tempting to just say ‘sod it’ and order pizza, as I really wasn’t in the mood for cooking, but instead I raided the cupboard, chucked out a few things that were way out of date (best before 2015!), and went for the good old classic tomato soup (from M&S in HK). 

A nice glass of wine and bowl of soup (with added cheese) soon warmed me up, and a few messages to my sister and a video call to my parents made me feel much better. 

It’s amazing how quickly we turn to material things to comfort us when angry, stressed or upset. I wonder where that comes from originally?

~~~

It’s now Sunday and this has turned out to be a very expensive week compared to last week! I still haven’t bought any ‘stuff’, so that’s good at least, but I have eaten out four times (twice today), and for some reason had to top my phone up again (200rmb).

The other two times were for my flatmate’s birthday: one on Thursday which was her actual birthday (144.4rmb), and one on Saturday which was the official night out with a group of us (237.7rmb). This was followed by a few drinks at one of the regular places we go to (120rmb) and of course a taxi home (23rmb).

I spent today in Hong Kong meeting two different friends, one for lunch and the other for dinner. My usual thing when I go to HK is to buy lots of lovely food from M&S. However, this time I didn’t buy anything, even though I went in the store not just once, but twice! Once with each friend – the first is American and hadn’t heard of M&S but is now a convert; the second is British and was trying to persuade me to buy something, but I managed to resist. 

The first expense of the day, other than getting to HK was lunch. After a bit of a detour to a restaurant that turned out to not have much choice of veggie food, we went to a really good Mexican in Wan Chai for lunch (Agave, not Coyote, which is almost opposite). Eating out at Western restaurants in HK is always expensive, and this was no exception at a total of HK$551 (about £51) for 2 main meals, 2 soft drinks and chips with salsa. I ended up paying only HK$190 though as my friend insisted she’d eaten all the chips and salsa so I had to pay less. 

After lunch we took a short metro ride to Admiralty station where we went to Hong Kong Park and the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware (free admission), which actually had some really interesting information about Chinese tea and the tea ware to go with it dating back to about 1100BC. We then had a wander around the park, which is really lovely if you haven’t been, then went and found a cafe in the nearby shopping mall for a short sit down and a cuppa (HK$38).

After this my friend headed to her hostel for an early night as she’d just flown in this morning ridiculously early, and is only in HK for two days. I went in the opposite direction to meet my other friend who lives in HK. As neither of us were particularly hungry we ended up deciding to have dessert for dinner at a place called ‘Sweetish’ by Honeymoon Cafe, a well-known dessert cafe in Asia. My friend recommended I try a specialty of the place, and I’m always willing to try new things (within reason!), so I had mango pomelo sago soup (which is cold). Strange sounding to us foreigners, I know, but it was actually really good. I’d never had a sweet soup before. It was kind of like eating melted mango ice cream. I would definitely have it again, and try other dessert soups. 

We wandered around the shopping mall chatting some more before I had to head back to the metro to catch the last-but-one train back to the border. My final spend of this week was for the taxi home, the reasonable sum of 19.5rmb.

The final total for this week is 1163.5rmb plus HK$536.1 (some of which I already had in cash left over from my last HK trip, the rest I got out of my HK account), which is a total of about £181 – almost six times what I spent last week! On the plus side, I didn’t buy any ‘stuff’ and I resisted the urge to buy really tasty but unnecessary food from M&S, which probably made it my cheapest trip to HK ever. Next week will hopefully be cheaper!