What I learned about personal finance and “True Wealth” living in Southern Italy for several years.
Many years ago I had an opportunity to live and work overseas. I was about four years into my career in my current profession and my company offered an extended opportunity to go work and live in southern Italy. I had proven to be responsible and had the technical skills to do the work that was required. I also happend to have southern Italian heritage on my mother’s side, so for several reasons I took the leap and went for it. It also propelled me into learning how to be a landlord because I was forced to rent out my condo prior to leaving. This lead to several mistakes I made the first time renting out my property, which I discussed in an earlier post. Learn from my pain and read that post. 😀
After a few months of obtaining my visa and other logistical preparations, I arrived in Naples, Italy. Naples can be a “rough around the edges” and gritty part of Italy that I grew to love. It was not the overly romanticized image we have of Italy. My work proved to be very challenging on a daily basis, but I hung in there through my tour. The city itself can be a strange blend of beautiful yet dirty, chaotic yet organized, passionate for life and depressing, it can be like living in a drama. In fact the people would say the whole Bay of Naples, with Mt. Vesuvius standing proud in the background, is like a giant stage for life. I have had over a decade to reflect on the experience and what it taught me. I learned many valuable personal finance and life lessons over the course of my several years working and living in southern Italy. It is an exciting and at times scary adventure to insert yourself into a completely new culture. I left with a greater understand of the Italian culture and some important life lessons:
One day I was having a pretty challenging time at work. My Italian colleagues worked hard, but they seemed to handle stress differently. My colleague and friend said to me, “you see, you Americans have different priorities than Italians. American priorities are Work, Family, and Health in that order. Italians priorities are Health, Family then Work. Without your health you cannot be effective for your family or your work. And you should not put work over Family, because at the end of your life, Family is all you will have.” I think overall having our priorities straight will lead to wealth. And this goes for many aspects in life. You are one person bound by physics and time and space. You cannot do it all and you never will. Decide at home, at work and in your personal life what the priorities are and stick to them.
I personally do not think Americans negotiate very well as a whole. In Italy I felt that negotiating was a natural way of life. Americans seem much more prone to settling. We seem to feel we are offending someone if we negotiate. In Italy, especially in my line of work, it seemed a natural part of the culture. I do not know who invented the quote, but I love the saying “Life is a lease, negotiate well.” In other words, nothing material in life will be “yours” forever. You can’t load it up in a pharoh’s tomb to take with you to the afterlife. So, start to push your comfort zone on negotiating. Justify in writing and ask for that raise. Bargain with someone the next time you buy something, it’s not personal, it should be normal. Make the price right for you, you aren’t forcing the other party to agree. So, please America, improve your negotiating capabilities and save thousands of dollars and live a more fulfilling life on your terms.
THREE: LIVE A GOOD LIFE ON LESS
In my view the Italians respected and enhanced what is called the “simple” pleasures in life. Like good food, nature, Family, art…But when you really think about it, what else is there? We think more and more will make us happier, but it probably will not. So why not be like the Italians and savior the things in life that are awesome and we have access to them each day. Quality food, quality time with people we love, etc.
FOUR: BUY QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY
One thing I noticed about my Italian friends is that they did not actually have that much stuff compared to Americans. In America, I am used to people having a lot of material stuff, in fact so much that they have storage units. Do not get me started on paying rent for your stuff on a storage unit! That is a major Money Viking pet peeve and completely stupid under most situations. I did notice that the Italians preferred quality over quantity. I really liked the look of those expensive Lacoste shirts, but they were darn expensive. I noticed an Italian man with many of them and I remarked on how pricey they were. He said to me, I take care of them and they last me forever. He made a great point and opened my eyes, the cheapest price is not always the best value. Buy quality over quantity and take care of it, it could last you a long time and provide much more pleasure. Food quality is important, clothes quality, etc.
FIVE: TAKE AN ESPRESSO BREAK WITH FRIENDS (AMICI)
There is a stupid stereotype of Italian and Spanish cultures that they have espresso breaks and do not work hard, wrong! They work hard and efficiently, yet they also understand the need for balance. Take an espresso break with friends. It may actually enhance creativity, happiness and productivity.
SIX: SAY YES SOMETIMES, EVEN WHEN IT SEEMS DAUNTING
The idea of moving to another country to work is at first very daunting. And it certainly has its challenges. But once you get settled in, it is well worth it in my opinion. This is a big example, but even with small things in our life, sometimes saying yes to something we want but is a little scary can be well worth it.