It takes time to learn something new. It is a cliché, yes, yet we forget it and curse ourselves for failing to run immediately upon learning to walk.
Today I was looking at the health insurance plans. I had to change mine because now we will not get discount for being the university employees and also because the prices are going to increase from the next year. I wanted to do some market research to save money. It was a very good idea. I am definitely going to save some money next year because of this change. But while going through the details I realised that in addition to saving a few hundred euros by tweaking my insurance plan, I can also almost save almost 1,500 euros per year by telling the government that I am poor. That’s a pleasant surprise.
I became proactive about saving money recently when I thought of buying an apartment. That’s why I took the health insurance so seriously, and that’s how my eyes spotted “health care allowance” on the government websites. This is something I had completely overlooked until now even though I knew that rent allowance and child care allowance existed. I had accepted that these costs are a part of life. My salary was enough to give me a comfortable life. I made peace with having high living expenses a long time ago. I thought high rent and high cost of living are a part of life here. Moreover, I did not spend enough time to learn about this before because I never spent this much time on the government websites. I had so many other things on my plate. Work, life, socialisation, family, my health, survival… There was so much on my mind all the time.
My colleague told me last year about using rent allowance. He lives just across the border in Germany with his wife. At that time only he was earning, so they really needed to save money. He got a house in Germany instead of Nijmegen because the rent is a lot cheaper there. He looked for allowances here and there and applied for them. He found out many ways of securing benefits from the university for which every employee is entitled to but only a few actually use them. He looked because he needed it and also because he had other things sorted out. He did not find out about rent allowance right when he started. It took him almost two years. I was in the second half of my first year when he told me about rent allowance, but at that time I was still too new to this country to understand my salary slip and how the government functions.
The first time I got money back from the government was in summer this year when I filed for income tax. I didn’t have to, but in those days I was quite relaxed, so one day I just sat down to see what’s to be done when I actually have to do it. That’s when I spotted “you might get money back”, and it worked! I actually got about 500 euros back. That was maybe the first time I really took part in my own civil life here in this country.
Fast-forward to now when I am acting almost like a father of 6 kids who needs to save every penny, today I checked everything there was to be checked on the government’s website. I checked rent, health care, child care allowance, additional child benefits, regular pension, state pension, unployment benefits, everything! I spent many hours reading that website. Not just that, I also checked so many health insurance providers, compared their plans and eventually picked one. Again, it’s because of two reasons: I want to save money and I have the bandwidth to think about that.
I want to save money partly because I know I can, and this knowledge comes from living here long enough to have a sense of the society. I am not settled enough compared to people who have been living here for 5 years and have their own house but I am certainly more comfortable than those who just came here. These things take time partly because they are not high priority. Now that I am feeling like home in this country, I also have the bandwidth to think about such home-ly things. And when we call something home, it means we are meant to stay there.
I put so much time into checking government schemes today because I am thinking about staying here. I wanted to see what the government does for a family, for the old people, what is the pension like. Then I went on to check so many health care providers to buy the best insurance for me. All this shows that I am thinking like a local. It’s like staying in a hostel instead of a hotel. In a hotel you spend money on comfort but spend only a night or two. In a hostel you trade comfort with money. You save by staying in a dorm and by cooking yourself, so you can stay for longer in a hostel.
With this analogy, I basically lived in a hotel in the last two years. I paid for everything, oftentimes overpaid. Now I am starting to checkout hostels and I am enjoying it. I am being more involved in my own life. It took me a lot of time to reach this stage. At times I feel so much like a fish out of water but it’s getting better every day. It has already gotten so much better than my first day in this country. Memories…
While writing this last paragraph I had the thought that I don’t want to move anymore. The thought is not new but I recalled it so I felt like talking about it.
I don’t want to move anymore because it takes so much time and energy to do all this all over again. It’s hard. I never realised how hard it is to move to a different place while I was in India because I was living as a student. I did not have much responsibilities. I did not have so much money that I would need to handle it. I was younger, so I was basically living in present plus minus 2 years of my life. :D Now things have changed. I am not a student anymore (I am so glad). I have money to settle down. I have opportunities to keep the money flowing in. Now I am thinking present plus 10 years minus 2 years. In these plus 10 years I see myself being comfortable at one place but kicking ass in other areas of my life. I see myself putting my focus in very interesting work, in myself, in my family, rather than in moving again, learning a new language, dealing with a new society. All that is just going to slow me down and tire me. I am done. I don’t want to move again.