Tag Archives: paying bills

The Mailman Rides at Dawn

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We once lived in a neighborhood where our mailman was mugged.  Someone held him up at gun point in broad daylight and stole his mail bag.  That happened in America, in a middle class neighborhood on the East side of St. Paul, Minnesota.  It was shocking and sad that someone was so desperate to steal that they would commit a Federal crime right on our block.  Personally I couldn’t imagine that he would have gotten much out of that crime considering the volume of junk mail we received each day.

When we are overseas, we have our family members fielding our mail.  I feel bad that we have doubled their junk mail load.  Somehow we got on a bunch of political mailing lists.  Finally, my exasperated mother called and asked if we would track down the source of all this junk mail and take our names off the list.  We didn’t even know we were on a list!

Junk mail should be illegal for the only reason that it is a waste of trees.  It should be illegal like solicitor’s phone calls at dinner time at your house should be illegal.  Those people should be ashamed of themselves, interrupting a family’s dinner with a 45-minute phone survey about magazines subscriptions or credit unions.

When we live overseas, we don’t get mail at our house.  Sometimes a bill will be stuck in our front gate, hand delivered from the water company or the electric company.  But on a windy day or a rainy day those bills are easily lost.  We have to go in to the Pharmacy to pay our bills on a regular basis whether we actually see the monthly statement or not.  We’ve forgotten to pay our phone bill and water bill more than once.  It’s a pain in the neck when we are shut off for a day or two.  But we don’t get junk mail like we do in the States.

I kind of forgot about how much mail we receive and how long it takes to go through it each day.  When we came home on furlough the last time I would go for days without checking the mail box.  I would just forget about it.  Then I would be overwhelmed by the amount of junk I had to sort through!   Just when I arrived at the bottom of the pile with a grand sense of accomplishment, another day would dawn with another mailbox full of shoppers coupons and advertisements and sweepstakes entries and neighborhood newsletters and bills and bank statements and magazines I didn’t ask for.  Then I would be buried again under the mindless mountain of mundane messages in the mail.  It made me long for the anonymity of living in a third world country where there is no mail service.

Pace Yourself! Life in the slow lane.

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If you’ve ever travelled overseas you probably have noticed that in many places the pace of life is a lot slower than in the USA, sometimes infuriatingly so.  When we first moved overseas it took us a few months to adjust to this slower pace.  We found that by adjusting our expectations we could slip into life in the slow lane.  Our “To Do” list went from 5-10 things per day to 3-4 things per week in the slow lane.  On a good day in the slow lane, if I can check off even one item from the ToDo list, I feel productive and successful.  We had to adjust our expectations or be frustrated and discouraged.  We chose to adjust.

There are several reasons that life is slower overseas.  First of all, for our first year overseas we didn’t have a car.  This meant planning extra time for walking places.  It also meant thinking twice before I bought a second gallon of milk at the grocery store, “Would I rather lug two gallons of milk home now or come back to the store for more milk in 3 days?”  Because we had to carry our groceries home without a car, we made many smaller trips to the store throughout the week.  Decreased mobility slowed us down.

Another reason for a slower pace of life is that we have to shop in many different stores to get what we need. One-stop-shopping is an American thing.  Currently, I shop at 5 different stores each week just to meet our family’s grocery needs.  I call it “hunting and gathering” because no single store has all that we need, all the time.  Sometimes I find a product one week and the next week the store shelf is empty.  (I don’t think inventory is taught in business schools here.)  Some days I feel like all I do is drive from store to store searching for one thing.

A wide range of prices also slows me down.  Sometimes I can find better prices by shopping at another store.  For example, there is a store where I buy our shampoo.  It is a crazy catch-all, you-never-know-what-you-will-find kind of store.  But they usually carry one American brand of shampoo for just a couple of dollars.  It saves me about $8-$10 in shampoo if I buy it there.  So in my mind, it’s worth a trip to the shampoo store every couple of weeks.  The hunting and gathering method of shopping means that it takes me all week to find all the items on our grocery list.  By the time I find everything, it’s a new week and I get to do it all over again!  Grocery shopping can be a full time job overseas!

Paying bills can also eat up an enormous chunk of your day in Life’s slow lane.  In both Mexico and Costa Rica no one sends bills or money through the mail.  In Mexico we would go to the phone company to pay the phone bill, and the electric company to pay the electric bill, and so on. Here in Costa Rica, we can pay our bills at the grocery store, the pharmacy, or the bank.  But in both countries, bill paying means going somewhere and standing in line.  I remember in Mexico standing in line all morning to pay a bill, then just when we got close to the front, the window closed and the teller went to lunch!  We had to come back the next day and do it all over again.  I have learned such great patience from standing in line.  I can now stand in line for hours without complaining!  It’s a wonderful skill to acquire.

We have adjusted pretty well to life in the slow lane, so every time we return to America I marvel at how we used to move so fast for so long!  When we first returned after 3 years away, we had to pace ourselves or the American Way would burn us out.  We found that in America we could complete an entire week’s worth of chores in a single morning!  “Yahoo!”  But rather than enjoying our extra time, we felt like we should take on more tasks to fill the rest of the day.  Within a few weeks we were feeling stressed and burned out.  We made a deliberate attempt to slow it down again.  Life in the slow lane was looking really nice to us, at that point.

Slowing down sometimes feels like an impossible dream.  I hear it from other people all the time when we go home, “I wish we could slow down and simplify our lives!”  You can!  Just sell your car.  That will require you to say NO to a lot of extra commitments and will reduce your radius of mobility to whatever is between your house and the grocery store.  And when you are considerably relaxed in your new slow pace of life, you can send me a thank you card… I’ll pick it up at the post office next time I go.