Why things have stopped seeming expensive in London
20.10.2008 - 22.10.2008 15 °C
Back in June I wrote an entry in my blog entitled A £ of Flesh (Part 01): The Price of Clean about how much it cost to do laundry. As you can guess from both the fancy title with a colon and the use of Part 01 in the title, I was expecting that entry to be the first in series. In addition, given that I used 01 instead of just 1, apparently I was expecting it to be the first in at least 10 entries.
In fact, I was expecting to write a bunch about how much stuff cost here, and I thought the whole "pound of flesh" thing was a clever way to group them together.
Here we are at the end of October, 4 months later, and I haven't written about the subject again (until now). It is not because things in London have gotten cheaper. They haven't, other than housing prices, but thanks to having no job, no credit and no banks in London lending money to anyone, lower housing prices don't do anything for me.
No, it happens that I stumbled on the secret of not being bothered about prices. I stopped converting.
When I travel as a tourist, I tend to be constantly exchanging money. Not physically exchanging it, just in my head. Every time I walk up to a shop, talk to a taxi driver, walk up to an ATM or pull out a bunch of Canadian dollars at a exchange booth, I am figuring out how much the local currency being requested is equal to in Canadian dollars.
I think most people probably do this. "Let's see, 34,000 pesos, at about 500 peso per dollar, that works out to... ummm.... 34 times 2 is... sixty-something... 2 times 4 is 8. So, 68 Canadian. Hmmm, that seems like a lot for a cheese sandwich."
(An aside, as you can see my basic math skills are not that great. However, this tends to work in my favour, as all this mental work is usually accompanied by a frown and a furrowed brow. This is mistaken by shopkeepers as a sign of displeasure at the price, some sort of non-verbal haggling tactic, so usually they counter offer. "Okay, okay, Mr. Big-Man. 30,000 pesos, but you are taking food out of my family's mouth at that price!")
Anyway, sometime shortly after I posted the first £ of Flesh entry, I stopped doing that mental exchange rate shuffle in my head. I just started looking at prices in pounds and pence.
That's not to say that I just buy anything thrust in front of me. I am still unemployed and thus on a tight budget (international jet-setter trips to France, Belgium, Canada and the USA notwithstanding), and thus am careful with my money. I do still compare prices, but now it is between shops in London, and not between Canadian and UK prices.
I didn't even realize that this shift happened until I recently was re-doing my budget and made note that I will soon need to move some more money into my UK bank account ("Jeeves, can you get my Swiss banker on the phone, I think we will need to move some Franks from off-shore to here in London. Oh, and have James pull the Bentley around, I need to go to Asda. They have chicken breasts on for 50p!")
In figuring out how much money to transfer to the UK, I had to convert my monthly UK budget from pounds to Canadian dollars. "Damn, that's a lot of money," I thought. "How come I haven't realized that before?"
That's when the light came on. I hadn't realized it because I never bothered to convert it.
I am living cheaply by London standards. It's just that London standards aren't cheap.