The Secret Superpower of a (Relatively*) Low Salary

When I accepted the job that allowed me to move to Ireland, I was acutely aware I was taking a pay cut. Cue the shock and disbelief! How could someone who prides herself on being financially responsible, on the path to financial independence, voluntarily accept less money?

One of the common threads I note in the financial independence community is that, for basically all of us, money is far from the most important thing in our lives. Instead, we simply agree that mastery of money is one of the best ways to give those things that are the most important to us the time and attention they deserve.

Thus, when I was offered the opportunity to have another expat experience, which has always been one of my goals, I took it, and decided not to worry (at least not too much) about the lost savings potential. Life’s too short, #YOLO, and all that. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and here’s why:

The Secret Superpower of a Low Salary

  1. Keeping expenses low is a superpower

If you can live within your means on a low salary, it means you can budget, find the best deals, and eliminate the unnecessary. That makes you a badass who can demonstrate immigrant hustle when called upon. This is a good muscle to develop no matter your income, but it really shines in situations where income is limited, or taxes/cost of living is higher than what you might be used to. You’re proving to yourself that you can survive, thrive, and be happy, while spending very little. This is a necessary precondition for the next step.

  1. Determination to save, no mater what, is a superpower

I consider saving money a non-negotiable. When you are living far from home, it’s especially important to not be spending every cent you earn and thus have a cushion to fall back on. It’s just a good practice that will serve people at any income and with any lifestyle goals. But when you can take a relatively modest take-home salary and decide how much of it absolutely must be saved, no matter what, you’ve just levelled up your superpowers and are ready for the next, most crucial phase of this process.

  1. Low salaries aren’t that difficult to walk away from (or replace)

And here’s the kicker, the biggest secret superpower of a low salary: no golden handcuffs here! You’ve proven to yourself that you can be happy, and save, on a fairly modest amount. Now you can start doing the math, and figure out exactly how much you’d need to replicate that lifestyle. Playing around with the numbers in lower cost of living areas is particularly fun, for example. But the important thing is now you know the income amount on which you can continue your totally satisfactory and financially responsible lifestyle without changing a thing. And you may find that it’s not that daunting to try and replace it.

If you’ve mastered these superpowers, the real secret is you’re already free. You can take the leap into self employment, entrepreneurship, alternative income streams, or side hustle work. You can happily walk away from the salaried job, with its stress and demands on your time.

Being debt free is the foundation that makes it all possible

It’s really much easier than perhaps many people think to keep expenses low, but I feel the need to caveat that it’s made possible by having no monthly non-negotiable expenses. Yeah, none. Most notably, no debt payments. Everything else can be optimised and adjusted, everything else is just a fun variable to plug into our calculators (what does it look like if I spend €50 less on food? What about €100 less on housing?). Debt sucks, I’m extremely grateful I don’t have any, and I’m vigilant about guarding against acquiring any debt in future. Being debt free, combined with being even a little flexible or creative in your other must-haves opens up the entire world to you. Quite literally, as I’m about to find out.

*One important note. I’m being a bit flippant about the comparatively lower salaries on offer in Ireland vis-a-vis the US, combined with high cost of living and high taxes. I’m very, very aware that my salary here is above the local average and is certainly enough to live comfortably while making very few real sacrifices. I’m very grateful for that and am conscious that being in a position to walk away from any salary is a huge privilege. But, with that being said, it is a privilege I think more people could get closer to, if they wanted, with just a few changes in mindset and habits.

Five things I WILL miss about my 9-5, and why I gave my notice anyway

In the interest of being balanced, I’ve been thinking about what I will miss about my job when I switch over into the world of self-employment. Or will I say I’m a freelancer? Or an entrepreneur? Oh dear, let’s hope this isn’t another case of expat/immigrant/digital nomad. (Although, it appears it’s about to lean more towards the nomadic in the near future.) But, I digress. Onto a list, and then, an announcement.

Gratitude (or: an aversion to printers and printed things)

I’m incredibly grateful for the way my career has gone thus far. I’ve had a chance to work with amazing professionals and clients, and to develop a niche skill (namely, US expat tax) along the way. When I started out, I certainly didn’t have the foresight to plan how nicely that would dovetail with my eventual expat inclinations, so that’s down to luck. Or my subconscious directing me towards anything with the magical, life-giving word “international” in it. Anyways, it’s pretty neat that it’s brought me here.

While I’m 100% excited about my upcoming move into self-employment, there are certainly things I’ll miss after my last day in the office. Here they are, in very specific order:

  1. The people: Is it just so cliched to say this? None of my coworkers even know about this blog so I’m not even trying to flatter them, but real talk, I’ve worked with some terrific people over the years. I’ll miss having great people in an office next door to bounce ideas off of, or to commiserate with. I know I’ll encounter more great people as I move forward, but honestly? It’s been really nice having such easy access to a collection of them, all handily gathered in one place. Global mobility tax being a small, small, tiny world that it is, I hope and expect that many of our paths will cross again in future.
  2. The resources: Working for a big company has many perks, not the least of which includes access to high quality and expensive resources at your fingertips. I know I am facing a learning curve when it comes to finding the resources and tools that will work for me, everything from research tools, to software, to things I probably haven’t thought of yet. I think that now more than ever, there’s increasing ability for individuals or small companies to access world-class tools, but I admit it’s been nice having it all on a silver platter. But hopefully it will be even more rewarding to seek out and implement the right tools and resources that will work for me.
  3. The structure: This is probably a blessing and a curse. Having a rigid structure is one of the main things I’m looking to move away from, and yet there is something to be said for a bit of routine. Having a set schedule means I know exactly which yoga class I’ll be going to, for example. And forces me to plan my meals each week. Being aware of that will hopefully allow me to implement the elements of routine that work well and add value to my productivity, and jettison the pointless rituals.
  4. The free food (sometimes): Free food is great, and big companies are often very generous with it, which is lovely of them. There will be no more boxes of chocolate sitting out by the printers when I’m working for myself, for example. Although, time will tell if that actually turns out to be a good thing for my fitness goals…
  5. The ability to print things (sometimes): In my ideal future state, I’ll never need to print anything, ever again. Printers are hideous relics from a backwards, brutish time that can’t be too soon forgotten. I used to feel like quitting my job* every time I had printer drama, which was every time someone cruelly and sadistically compelled me to waste paper on what could so much more sensibly be conveyed on a screen. And yet. As long as Ryanair continue to add insult to injury, and taunt those of us who are EU-passport-deficient by forcing us to print our tickets and have them stamped, it’s been handy having a place to do that. I’ll have to print my Ryanair tickets elsewhere someday soon. (But seriously, Ryanair, do you think we sad, wretched non-Europeans haven’t suffered enough? Have you seen the non-EU passport queue? Take pity on us.)

*…So I quit my job

With all that in mind, I gave my 1 month notice this week anyways. I’m so excited for this next chapter to unfold. After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided to try combining a lot more location independence into this experimental alchemy of lifestyle design. I’m still going to make financial independence a priority, but no longer at the expense of being free to roam, and to see all the amazing people and places I love around the world.

As I told different people the news this week, I got an interesting variety of responses. People are lovely and they want to know you’ll be alright, is my main takeaway point, I suppose. And making a slightly unconventional choice makes some people uncomfortable. But for the most part, there was a lot of support and excitement, even if I had to answer some version of “but what will you do???” at least 6 different ways.

I wonder if in the not-too-distant future, making this kind of choice will be so commonplace, that concern or outright skepticism will have gone the way of my nemesis, the printer. My hope is that my small example will add to the growing chorus of people living lives on their own terms, smashing printers and doubts (and the patriarchy, because obviously) wherever we go.

And yet I haven't aged a day

How is this movie 18 years old, and printers still suck?