I’ve had an interesting experience for the last few weeks.
To understand this, you need to know a little about how our finances typically work here. When we get paid, we direct a certain percentage of our paychecks deposited as leva into our Bulgarian bank accounts, and the rest gets deposited automatically as dollars into our American bank account. Normally, we get paid at the end of the month, but we can also opt for salary advances in the middle of the month, and the rest paid out at the end of the month. Typically, I use my Bulgarian bank account to withdraw cash to use here (obviously), but I also use it to withdraw euros and local currency when I travel. I generally use credit cards linked to my U.S. bank account to purchase airline tickets, book accommodations online, etc. I almost never use my American debit card at European ATMs, unless my Bulgarian bank card has been rejected for some reason (it happens sometimes).
Last year, I never came close to using up the money in my Bulgarian bank account, so I decided this year to decrease the percentage that was deposited locally so that I would be, in theory, saving more in my American account and being less wasteful with my Bulgarian account. Given that I still had a surplus from last year, I had again never come close to using it all up, even with the decreased deposit amount…until this past month.
Turns out that 10 days in Italy and Malta for Christmas/New Year’s gets pretty expensive. Also, because I was traveling with 2 other people and because of the way that we had divided booking/reservation responsibilities, I ended up owing my traveling companions for some airfare and hotel costs; these expenses, which I normally would’ve booked by card if I’d been traveling alone, I paid back in cash, which contributed even more to the depletion of my Bulgarian bank account.
All this basically amounts to the fact that I had not a lot of money left in my Bulgarian bank account by the time I got back to Sofia at the beginning of this month and settled all my travel debts. I had something like 30 leva left in the bank, but then with the help of my mid-month salary advance, I was able to go on one last big shopping spree for groceries for my Chinese New Year dinner (tofu, for example, is really expensive and hard to find here). After that, though, I found myself with much less spending money at hand than I normally have. Since Chinese New Year last Monday, I think I spent 10 leva (about $6.70) all week – most of it in the first 2 days – until today, when I finally withdrew the last 20 leva from my Bulgarian bank account to cover the expenses for our trip to Pernik today for the Kukeri festivities (separate entry on that later). And I managed to stay under budget: 7.50 leva on lunch and a beer (an extravagance, but it was so cold I really needed to be inside for a while, not just eating food on a stick outside, which would’ve been much cheaper), 7 leva for my share of gas money, then 4.50 leva for a liter of milk, 6 eggs, and a loaf of bread at the grocery store on the way home – the first new groceries I’d purchased all week.
I now have nothing but change rattling around in my wallet (and not even good change, it’s all like 5- and 2-stotinki coins), and exactly 74 stotinki left in the bank, which basically amounts to 0 because you can’t withdraw 74 stotinki from an ATM. Continue reading