Get your money right

 

Money isn’t the most important thing. I think most of us can agree on this. And each of our personal definitions of what is the most important thing can and will evolve throughout our lives. Maybe now it’s freedom, maybe one day it will be stability. Family and friends and loved ones will always be a part of the equation. Hopefully good health. Perhaps some level of comfort, too. But not too much (might I direct your attention to another, far more badass, Canadian emigrant: Mr. Money Mustache, a hero and pioneer of living an unconventional life of financial freedom). Something that will serve any of these values is having your financial house in order. And there’s no reason why you should sacrifice this as you move from country to country. You just have to be a bit more on the ball.

There are many interrelated facets to getting your money right and all of them can be incorporated into your expat experience. We’ll dive more deeply into taxes and investing and thinking about retirement in future posts. This is to set the stage and to introduce some of the people who have influenced my thinking on this subject.

Fear not.

Perhaps the first hurdle I see in the path of many people is general lack of knowledge, which can often translate into fear. Fear of the unknown makes you paralysed and even less likely to seek out knowledge. Rinse, repeat. This is a vicious cycle and one that even smart people fall into when it comes to their finances. So don’t feel bad if that’s you! But do take action. If people who never leave their home town can skate by in un-blissful ignorance about their finances (spoiler alert: they can’t), we globally mobile nomads really can afford no such unsavoury indulgence.

So the first step is awareness. Educate yourself about your take-home pay, your tax rate, your savings rate, your net worth. You will want to have savings built up when you’re moving countries. There are eventualities that will crop up, and they will be so much smoother if you’re not living pay cheque to pay cheque. Do you want to miss out on a great apartment because they require 2 months’ rent as a deposit (because you’re a foreigner with no local rental history), only you haven’t been paid in your new country yet? No, no you do not. But I digress. You first need to know how much you’re currently saving, if you’re going to figure out how to save more, or how to analyse your ability to save in your new location. Dive in, get down and spreadsheet-y. Do it now.

You’ll find that the more you know and understand about where your money is coming from and going to, the less scary a subject it becomes. And the more you can optimise your financial life.

Fun with fx.

People aren’t the best at dealing in multiple currencies. It’s understandable, especially if most of your life you’ve only dealt with one. But you, my globe-trotting friend, must become nimble ninja, navigating in different currencies with ease (or, if not ease, some level of competence).

You will most likely have accounts in different countries, which is fine and can often work to your advantage. Just use them with intention. We’ll discuss more in a future post how you can think about dealing with having accounts in different countries, and how best to optimise them. That aside, when you are analysing your new country’s financial landscape, you’ve got to switch into the new currency. Or another way of thinking about it is to approach from currency-neutral perspective. Allow me to explain.

When you’re earning and spending, say, euros, it doesn’t matter to you (at least on a day to day basis) what the euro is doing against your home country currency. So the first thing you need to do is stop converting everything back into your home currency.

That’s simple enough. The next step, then, is to understand that when you’re in a different tax system, in a place with a different cost of living, it really, really doesn’t matter what your new rent in euros would have been in, say US dollars. Or pounds sterling. Or Japanese yen. Even smart people make this mistake, but you’re really comparing apples to oranges and you should stop. Here’s what to do instead.

Ratios are your friend.

If you think in terms of ratios, you can make intelligent analyses and assess your new situation in an apples-to-apples comparison. That’s much more useful, so let’s do that.

For example, when you are thinking about your ability to save in your new location, one way to look at that is as a percentage of your take-home pay. This takes differing tax rates out of the equation. We’ll talk more in future posts about how to think about taxes, but for now we will accept them as immutable facts of the universe, and that they differ from country to country is of little interest to us at the moment.

Monthly savings / monthly take-home pay = X%

If you used to save $500 of your take-home pay of $5,000, you had a savings rate of 10%. (Pro-tip: You should probably definitely be saving a lot more than that.)

In your new location, your take-home pay after taxes and whatever other payroll shenanigans may be going on (health insurance, etc.) is £2,500, and you find after few months that you’re consistently able to save £300. 12%! Still pretty minimal, but no worse off than before. If you think about it that way, the tax rates and annual salary amounts cease to matter so much in relative terms.

Housing is another area where this type of comparison is useful. For example, Dublin is an expensive city to rent in. However, the same can be said of Seattle and Vancouver. So when I realised I could find a place in Dublin that would be about the same percentage of my take home pay as I was spending in Seattle, I was somewhat comforted. And depressed. But knowledge is power. And I’ll devote an upcoming post to how to hack a new housing market to minimise the financial stress of living in expensive cities.

Suggested reading

There are a few really excellent bloggers who have inspired and influenced me on the subject of personal finance and how it intersects with living intentional lives. The below blogs all offer unique and valuable insight into how figuring out your finances can further your dreams. Check them out:

Millennial Revolution

Mr. Money Mustache

Frugalwoods

Cait Flanders

Give me back my 5 bucks

The end-game for each of us will differ, and that’s fantastic. But the common thread is that intelligently making our money work for us will ultimately serve our values. And that’s what I’d like to help people do in the context of building globally mobile, location independent lives.

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Expat, immigrant, or digital nomad?

 

I’ve moved countries a few times now, and I’m not sure that I’ve come across a label that truly suits me. I don’t think I’m alone, and I think that a new, blended approach is one that’s overdue. As I’ve worked in the global mobility space for most of my career, I’m familiar with the terminology people use and the implied meanings of the various labels. None of them quite does the job for me. Here’s why I think the future of globally mobile individuals is at the intersection of expat, immigrant, and digital nomad. And why I think you can leverage this combination to design the life you want.

Expat, or expatriate, is a word that can have some uncomfortable implications. Why is one person described as an expat while another is an immigrant? Given the current political climate, it’s a question worth considering. Sometimes I deliberately describe myself as an immigrant, in part to see what the reaction is, but also to intentionally align myself with immigrants in general. I’m fully aware of the unearned privilege I have that allows me to adopt either label at will. And yet ultimately I firmly believe that “immigrant” is a description deserving of huge respect and worthy of pride. 

 

Traditionally, expats would be seen as moving country typically for work, and often at the behest of their company. In the global mobility sphere, they’re usually on full-service company benefits packages, with potentially everything from housing to taxes in their host country taken care of. The assumption tends to be that they’re going to move back “home” upon the conclusion of their assignment.

An immigrant, on the other hand, is often assumed that they might not return to their home country. They are thought to be seeking something their home country can’t currently offer. Well, aren’t we all?

Ireland, for example, has a long history of emigration. Irish people are well accustomed to their young people seeking adventure and building livelihoods abroad, perhaps to return home, perhaps not. Check out the excellent Generation Emigration series in the Irish Times for a good overview of the current thinking on this. Irish people moving to Canada, Australia, or the US is nothing new or surprising.

In what I can only believe is a combination of Generation Emigration being top of mind, as well as the characteristically charming Irish tendency towards self-deprecation, I’ve been asked numerous times, in all good humour, what the hell I was thinking moving to Ireland as a Canadian. What, seems to be the subtext, could I possibly be seeking here?

But this is precisely where things get interesting. I think it’s becoming less and less uncommon to be seeking new experiences purely for new experience’s sake. Being open to new possibilities and new opportunities, and being sufficiently portable to take full advantage of them, is something to which a lot of us aspire. There are very few places I’d turn down, if the opportunity arose. And I know I’ll be actively seeking out new expat-esque experiences again throughout my life.

In fact, working towards a sustainable way to be even more portable is a long-term goal of mine. Something like the digital nomads we all love to follow on Instagram, but maybe not quite that. I’m going to figure it out as I go. And that’s really why I’m here (here in Ireland, and here on this blog, actually); to try something new and to see where it leads me. 

So where does that leave me, and perhaps you? We’re expats, but we might not be tied to fixed-term assignments, and we aren’t necessarily heading “home” (at least not directly, anyways). We’re immigrants, in that we get shit done and figure out taxes and banking and housing for ourselves (more on each of these in future posts!). But we might not be “here” indefinitely, either. And we might have a touch of digital nomad wanderlust and entrepreneurial spirit mixed in. I say, let’s feel free to borrow liberally from each approach as and when we see fit. Let’s forge new paths for ourselves that are more global, more creative, and more free.

There are some voices and forces in the world right now that are trying to scare us into shrinking our worldview, to keep us narrowly boxed in within national or even racial boundaries. Fuck that. I don’t need to name names, but these small-minded attitudes and the people that espouse them are on the wrong side of history. Greater freedom, greater mobility, and a wider array of possibilities available to all individuals is the future I want to be part of. I think that now more than ever, it’s within the grasp of many of us. I want to use whatever privilege I have to help make that more accessible to more people. 

Packing for Paris in a purse

People who know me well would agree I’m something of a minimalist. The concept of minimalism as a lifestyle has become extremely popular in recent years, and it’s an idea that deeply resonates with me and has served me well. If you haven’t come across it before, www.theminimalists.com is a great place to start. In fact, a lot of my inspiration comes from various minimalist-leaning voices; some of my favourites are listed in the Stuff I Love section. I’ll also be discussing how minimalist principles have influenced my dwelling choices (tiny apartment tour is forthcoming!), finances, personal possessions, and more.

It’s an ongoing process, but one area where I’m pleased with my progress is packing. It’s something we all have to do at some point or another, and as expats and nomads we find ourselves facing that empty bag or suitcase perhaps more often than most. I believe changing how you pack will transform how you travel and engage with the world. It also tends to have knock-on effects that impact and improve other areas of your life.

Change your relationship with stuff and you can change your life. You’ll realise that you need less than you thought, and you’ll experience the ease and elegance of bringing only what you need, only what you can comfortably carry. This affords you the space and capacity to take on the unexpected, to help others, to be light and nimble. These are all things to which I aspire generally in life. Prosaic though it may be, packing with intention can feel like getting closer to those ideals.

And since I love a good packing list as much as the next person, let’s embrace our inner basic and have a nose through what I brought on a recent 3 day weekend in Paris. Since I pack carry-on only as a general rule, I wanted to see if I could go even more minimalist for this trip, and just bring a large purse. As it wasn’t a work trip, I wouldn’t need a bulky work laptop or any formal clothes. I decided to use my Longchamp Le Pliage tote as my one bag, just to double down on the #basic. These bags are ubiquitous for a reason! They’re extremely versatile. I’ve had mine for ages and it still looks…like every other girl’s Longchamp. Which is fine by me.

Here’s what I brought:

I wore a top, cardigan, and the grey skirt on the plane. I packed the jeans, 2 other tops, another cardigan, and sleeping clothes/tights/undergarments. One pair of shoes, the simple black ballet flats, was perfectly sufficient.

The smaller black crossbody bag fit in the Longchamp and served as my day bag, as well as helped keep my airport essentials like my phone, wallet, Kindle, and passport close at hand during travel.

The toiletry bag is from my favourite travel bag/accessory maker, Tom Bihn. The 3D Organiser Cube is airport security-compliant for your liquids, and I also use it at home as my everyday cosmetics case.

Another everyday/travel item I love is the Hydroflask, which is brilliant at keeping water cold. I just fill it up once I’m though security.

 

And the individual items I brought/wore were all I needed for a weekend of cafes, walking around the city, and exploring restaurants and bars at night.

I wore this straight from work to the airport:

  

Mixing in the below items provided all the variety I needed:

   

And here is the finished result, which was a breeze to take on the plane, train, bus, and Metro, as well as to walk to my Airbnb:

 

What are your thoughts on packing light? Would you give it a go for a short weekend trip? I’ll definitely pack this light again. It felt great to be so unfettered, and not to stand out immediately as an awkward tourist. Surely better to let my awkward touristing speak for itself. 

Beginning in Paris

 

We met up in Paris for the weekend. We were five women blown in from four cities in Europe, none of them the cities of our birth, and all of us former Seattleites. There were two newly minted Londoners by way of Seattle and Phoenix. There was someone newly living in Lausanne but meeting us in Paris direct from Tokyo. Yet another was living in Berlin with her husband and child. And myself, a Canadian living in Dublin.  

We talked about the challenges and excitement of building lives and livelihoods in new countries. We talked about the stuff no one tells you, the quirks of being a foreigner and figuring out things like banking or taxes or which phone plan to choose. I listened, and heard some of the same confusion and hearsay I’d also heard from clients throughout my career. There’s a lot of outdated, confusing, and incomplete information out there. And much of it relates to areas of life that busy, successful professionals might not have the bandwidth to focus on, but that have the potential to simplify and improve their lives if done correctly.


  

I believe that people, especially women, especially single women, can benefit hugely from understanding their finances, and there’s a dearth of good information out there on how to do that, especially when you don’t plan on living in the country of your birth for the rest of your life. But this won’t just be about the exciting world of taxes and personal finance. As globally mobile individuals, we have the unique privilege to create our own path in all areas of life. The best way to do that is to question everything, and to learn the rules so you can break them.

A sunny spring weekend in Paris with some seriously impressive women sparked an idea to share what’s working for me as I figure it out along the way. What areas of the globally mobile lifestyle are most confusing to you? Or if you’re considering making a move, what’s the most daunting item on your to-do list? I’d love to hear all about it.

About me

I’m a Canadian 3-time expat (well, maybe two and a half, unintentional references to terrible sitcoms aside). I also work in expat tax, primarily US but I’m giving Irish tax a whirl. Having worked in this field, and lived this life, for a decade, I realised I might have some things to share. 

This is a place to explore the middle ground between full digital nomad (which is a lifestyle that absolutely appeals but isn’t always practical for everyone), and traditional expat life, where a person might be wholly supported by (ahem, reliant on) their employer. I looked around and saw that my friends and I fit neither of those descriptions, but shared elements of both. We might work for companies, large or small, for parts of our lives, but there tends to be an independent, entrepreneurial streak in all of us. We don’t want to be shackled to any one place, be it a geographical location, or a desk.

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula, but that’s the fun. Let’s get out there and create lives that are free, productive, and creative. Let’s figure out how to tackle the practical (ok, ok: boring) stuff that no one likes dealing with, with a bit of verve. Let’s live like grownups and have some damn fun. 

My own journey has taken me from Vancouver, to Seattle, to Johannesburg, to Dublin, and it’s not over yet. Where will your journey lead?