The Reality Lifestyle in California

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Behind: It is the famous bridge called San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

November 6th 2009 was my first time moving to the States. I was given the golden opportunity to work with a large company called Intuit. At the beginning, we did not know much about the United States except we had the perception that Americans are rich since they could afford to stay in big houses, drive brand new cars, be fashionable, etc. That was the perception we had from the American t.v. series. Unfortunately, everything was different when we arrived at San Francisco International Airport. Michelle had her first dramatic experience as she bumped into a homeless man at the airport. Can you believe it? You don’t normally meet the homeless people at an airport because this will tarnish the country’s image. Michelle was waiting for me to pick up the car rental while the homeless guy was being friendly, asking about our dogs. After they had exchanged some conversation, he told her that he hadn’t eaten for days. He asked her if she could give him some money. Hence, Michelle gave away the only dollar she had and he walked away happily.

During my 4 months spent in California, I began to see the true perspective. The majority of the residents are not as rich as what we had seen on the television. I don’t see many beautiful houses and expensive cars on the streets. Most of the vehicles are either compact cars or MPVs which are at least 5-10 years old. So far, I don’t see many sports cars and new models of BMWs or Mercedes, unlike in Malaysia and Singapore.

Most of the houses are old and worn-off. The property is very expensive here. A rented small apartment with one bedroom in Silicon Valley, with the size of 600sq ft., costs us $1,500 USD per month without even being fully furnished at all. There are cheaper houses which are located far away from my workplace. It takes about 2-3 hours drive to the office though. Most Americans do not have much savings since their take home pay (after an average of 38% Tax deduction) might be sufficient to pay their rent/home loan, furniture installments and food expenses for the families. They do not have extra money to travel to the other states. The majority of the furniture is paid for by credit cards or installment plans. To my surprise, a queen sized mattress at the promotional cost of $495 USD can be paid by installment too. That’s why many of them are unable to pay debts/installments once they lose their jobs.

Medical Insurance is not affordable too. Those who are categorized from the average income group onwards and working for big corporations, will be able to afford to buy medical insurance. Without the medical insurance, we are not allowed to see doctors at all. I am lucky since Intuit partially covers our medical insurance. I need to pay 20% of the monthly medical insurance.

The living standard in California is also high. One of the main reasons is the GST. California incurs higher GST than the rest of the states. We have to pay 9.25% GST for everything EXCEPT purchasing raw food from supermarkets. However, the raw food such as meat and seafood are not cheap compared to Malaysia and Singapore. These are the estimated costs in USD offered in a supermarket:

· Chicken Quarters: $1.50 per pound

· Chicken Drumsticks: $2 per pound

· Pork Sirloin/Pork Chop: between $3 to $4 per pound

· Steak : between $6 to $7 per pound

· Salmon Fish : $6 per pound

· Tiger Prawn: $9 per pound

· Small Prawn: $4 per pound

I don’t enjoy a luxurious lifestyle here like in Singapore. In order to keep my expenses low, I have my home cooked food for three meals daily and rarely join my colleagues for lunch. We also cut down on food cost portion by having more veggies than meat and seafood so that we can keep our body healthy and save more on groceries budget. That’s where Michelle gets the concept from Rachel Ray’s show.

Apart from the higher living standard, the electricity and gas consumption in a house is also expensive too. In Malaysia and Singapore, the more usage on air-conditioning will increase the electricity bill, however, the higher electricity consumption is the heater and cooking in our apartment here. On the first month, we received a bill for $50 which gave us a shock. We don’t have a television set at home. Moreover, we hardly turned on the heater. Then, we realized it was the stove and baking because it generated electricity. Subsequently after 2 months, we managed to bring down the electricity bill to $20. The secret is that Michelle will bake only once a week. When she bakes cake, she will bake the whole chicken/all chicken drumsticks at the same time. On top of that, when she cooks meals for dinner, she will cook meals for the next day’s lunch too. That’s how we managed to reduce our electricity consumption by 50%.

Social Security and a Credit Score are commonly required to apply for loans, rent a property or open a bank account. Being the new foreign residents, we do not have the history of a Credit Score thus, we need to pay a higher deposit for our home rental and utilities account. In order to maintain a good Credit Score, the Americans have to pay their loans, credit cards (with minimum/full payment) and any kinds of installment on time each month. If they miss it once, their credit score would reflect as a bad payment and this would affect loan applications in the future by incurring higher interest rates.

Tipping is a custom in the States. We need to tip between 10%-15% to waiter/waitress, the bellboy, parking attendant, valet parking, taxi driver, barber, hairstylist, car washer, etc. However, fast food chains do not require tipping. That’s why most people prefer to have meals there, not because the food is cheap but because it is fast and easy and they don’t have to tip at all.

Apart from all the disadvantages mentioned above, we realize it is a dogs’ heaven here. When we were in Malaysia and Singapore, Baby and Max were not allowed to be at the parks, shopping malls and hotels. It became troublesome for us when we needed to be away from home once in a while. We were worried about their stress and torture when they were at the boarding center. Fortunately, it never becomes an issue here. When we go to parks and beaches, we bring them along. It is very convenient as long as they are on the leash and we pick up their ‘poo’. Baby and Max love this new place because they are respected and greeted by the locals here. They even have dog parks where all the dogs can run free together without leashes.

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Max (in an orange jacket) was happily playing with his friend at a dog park

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Baby had a rest after a long walk at a park

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