Goodbye, corporate job

Today was my last day in my corporate job.

It felt as freeing as I’d expected to turn in the clunky old laptop and walk away, sans security badge, sans security blanket (but with a happy goodbye to the nice security guard). I ran into a colleague on my way out, and he said he envied me. I knew exactly what he meant. I’ve felt that way countless times, watching other colleagues move on. There’s obviously a lot to be said for what the big employers can offer, and I’m very grateful for the time I’ve spent at mine. But it’s exciting to be on the precipice of something new, and I think that’s what we all tend to vicariously feel when we see our friends and colleagues making moves.

My intention now is to be so tuned in and present that I don’t feel that twinge of envy when I see other people making big, bold moves. Because I’ll be making my own, and I won’t have any reason or excuse as to why I can’t. My time, my energy, my focus, my results, are all my own now. It could be terrifying, but we’re made for this. Smarter people than me have said, repeatedly, that safety is an illusion, but I like the way Helen Keller said it:

It can feel like a big risk, venturing out into previously uncharted territory. Both the potential upside and downside are much greater, and both are entirely possible. And will both be felt by the risk-taker alone. I’m OK with that. I’ve done the math and the equation balances, especially when freedom is given such a heavily weighted average, as it is in my calculations.

So farewell to the illusory security of my old job. I’m excited for all that lies ahead.

 

 

Planning an international move: a checklist for minimalists

Making your move as a minimalist

When you’re getting ready to make a big move, the to-do list can start to feel overwhelming.
You can get caught up in minutiae that isn’t worth your time, and that can distract you from
fully being in the moment and really living those last few weeks or months before you start
the next chapter.

In my most recent international move, from the US to Ireland, I had fortunately been in the
process of decluttering and moving towards minimalism for about a year prior, so it was
about as stress-free as an international move can be. I realise not everyone making an
international move will have such a spartan amount of personal possessions. But I think anyone can encourage a shift of focus off of the physical possessions that can loom so large, and
onto some of the less obvious things that future-you will really thank you for getting figured
out.

Plus it’s just fun being a minimalist and making lists.

Various types of stuff and what to do With it:

Physical stuff:

General rule: Decide what you’re bringing, and then bring less. This is a good
time to get rid of old stuff: donate/give away most, sell some if you have time,
store an absolute minimum. I stored a box of sentimental stuff with my parents,
and got rid of the rest. Any clothes you have that you’re not bringing, you
probably don’t need. Donate, donate, donate. (Bonus tip for future-you: remember those trips to the charity shop before your re-accumulate more stuff.)

Kitchen stuff: I love to cook, and even as a minimalist, I briefly considered
whether I should try to bring some of my kitchen stuff with me to Ireland. NO! I
happened to mention this insane notion to my cousin who’s much smarter than
me, and her response was: “Um, no. Definitely don’t do that. I thought you’d done
this before?” Touche. Kitchen stuff was donated and zero fucks were given that
day.

Furniture: This is one of the worst categories of stuff. It’s big and heavy and hard
to get rid of. Get rid of as much as you can, ideally by selling it. I’ve had good luck
with Craigslist in Canada and the US, other countries have similar sites.

Clothing/personal effects: Keep these to one or two suitcases, max. Yes,
including shoes and accessories. You’ll replace a good bit of it once you settle
into your new location, anyways. I try to keep only what I’m currently using, plus
what I’ll definitely use in the next 3-6 months. Even doing this, and even with an already minimal wardrobe, I still got rid of yet more stuff within a few months of arriving in Ireland. Bring less than you think.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30, my ride or die

Bring like this amount of stuff, if you can

Money stuff:

Banking: This comes up surprisingly often on various expat subreddits etc., especially
given how simple the best approach is: Keep your bank account in your home
country, and open a new one in your new country. Done and done. There’s usually no downside to this and it will make your day to day life so much easier.

  • Americans will need to remember file an FBAR to report any non-US bank
    accounts, to the extent their total foreign accounts exceed $10,000 USD in a given
    year. Talk to an expat tax pro (such as yours truly!) about this if you don’t
    know how to file it!

Credit cards: If you have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction
fees, and has a low (or no) annual fee, keep it. I’ve learned the hard way that
credit cards are expensive and sucky in some countries (hi, Ireland!), so I like having my
US credit card as a fallback for any time I’m in a country with a currency I don’t
normally deal with.

Retirement/savings: Consider what you’ll do with your retirement/long term
savings accounts in both your departure and destination locations. I rolled my old
401k into an IRA, and I’m planning on maintaining that for the time being. I have
some specific ideas on what to do with US retirement accounts when leaving the
US, both as a US citizen, and as someone who will become a US non-resident,
but that’s for a future tax-nerdy post.

Transferring money: I like Transferwise for quickly moving money between
currencies, for a good exchange rate and with low, easy to understand fees. Don’t do anything silly and complicated like old fashioned wire transfers, unless there’s really no way around it.

Taxes: Just adding this to the checklist, as you’ll want to consider your residency
status in both locations, as well as arrival and departure filing requirements.
These really vary a great deal depending on your personal circumstances, so,
again, find a friendly expat tax expert for all the countries you deal with!

Simplify: I got rid of any excess cards and accounts that I wasn’t using, and
continually re-examine this to see if there’s anything further I can minimise or
simplify. I like having as few accounts as possible to get the job done. Right now that tends to average two per country I deal in, one for everyday banking, and another for long term savings/investing.

 

Practical stuff:

Communication: Everywhere else in the world uses Whatsapp, but I had to get a
few of my American pals on board with it. Yes, you may be used to texting me.
Now you can text me on Whatsapp and then the evil empire (aka the cell phone
company) doesn’t triumph over the downtrodden.

Free your phone: I happened to own my phone outright, so I was able to ask my
previous phone company to unlock it before I left. This made getting a new SIM a
snap. I’d suggest this where possible. Using a foreign SIM sucks for a number of
reasons, not least being extortionate roaming charges, and not being able to easily give your number to cute people you meet. Trying to explain your weird foreign phone number with its country code and plus signs and leading zeroes will really kill your flirtation game. Kidding! Sort of! It’s good for giving your number to local services too. Just get on a local SIM as soon as you can, and start living your life.

Mailing address: This one doesn’t come with any easy, pithy answers. Physical,
paper mail is the sucks and there’s no really satisfactory way of transporting those
horrible bits of paper around the world. Minimise the amount of physical mail
you’ll need to the extent possible, and then ask a friend if they can forward you
the really essential stuff.

  • For me this basically amounted to my W-2, as my previous employer wouldn’t email
    it to an external email address. And even this managed to suck! They
    ended up sending it to my old apartment, despite my best attempts to update my forwarding address to my friend’s address before I left. Ugh, fine. Fortunately, I had set myself a reminder to follow up on the W-2 if it hadn’t arrived by a certain date, so they would have time to resend it to the correct forwarding address. Doing this one time was fine, but doing this monthly would be unpleasant. Avoid paper mail to the extent possible.

Passport: If it will be expiring anytime soon, you might want to renew before you
leave. I have a gorgeous 10 year passport and it’s my most prized physical
possession.

Driver’s licence: In my experience you really don’t need that “international driver’s
licence” thing people sometimes mention. But it will be handy if your current
driver’s licence has as much time left before it expires as possible. Fortunately, I had just renewed mine before I moved, so I’m using this
to buy time and decide if I want to get an Irish driver’s licence. They make you
take the test, so I’m leaning towards no. I haven’t had any difficulty renting a car here on my old licence.

Anything else?

I’ll be making another move soon, this time to become semi-nomadic and
location independent. I envision having a few mini-bases in a few important locations where
my most beloved people are. But I’ll still rely on the above concepts of minimising and
simplifying, as they have served me well. What would you add to this list?

Three things I’ll keep doing after I’ve left my 9-5

I’ve considered the pros and cons about quitting my 9-5, and I’ve given my 1 month notice. Now, besides counting down the days, I’m thinking about what habits I’ll keep once I’ve embarked on my journey into self employment.

For a long time, I didn’t have very good habits regarding structuring my workday/week. I was constantly reacting, and thus constantly felt overwhelmed and out of control. Over time, I’ve tried to address the primary pain points as much as possible, and while I haven’t always been 100% successful, there are a few habits I’ve developed as a longtime cubicle dweller that I plan to carry over into my new work scenario.

Three habits I’ll keep up after I’ve left my 9-5

  1. Planning meals in advance.

This is one area that does get talked about a fair bit, especially in frugal circles. But I really do find it such a good discipline that has a profound knock-on effect into other areas besides merely saving money. Of course, by planning my work lunches in advance, I’ve saved many, many thousands of dollars/euros over the years. It’s also far healthier, encourages fun and exploratory grocery shopping excursions, and provides a nice weekly discipline. It also means I know what I’m going to be eating, and thus don’t mindlessly snack, or succumb to impulse buying of “convenience foods.” (Scare quotes are intended on both the “convenience” and “food” claims.)

I anticipate with having more time and mental bandwidth, I’ll be able to branch into even more interesting recipes and ingredients. And if I happen to be based in a new place for a while, it should provide just the sort of steadying routine to help me feel settled. 10/10, will keep doing post- 9-5.

2. Walking before and after work. 

This is also something I’ve been consistently doing for years, both when I lived in Seattle as well as here in Ireland. It goes with the territory of car-free living, that the daily commute involves moving around outdoors for a little while before and after work each day. I reserve the right to minimise this on the days where the weather is truly dreadful, but honestly, it’s a good discipline too, and a little rain never killed anyone. Getting outside for a little walk is a nice way to signify that the workday has begun and ended. I’ll continue doing this both to bookend my day, as well as to keep that bit of daily activity when I no longer have a walking commute.

3. A long walk at lunchtime.

This is a new habit. I’ve only been doing this ever since I realised the 1 hour lunch break is a non-negotiable at my current company, and my tendency to work through it was neither helping me stay on top of email, nor being valued especially. It’s just not in the culture here, which is fine. I’m an adaptable gal, but I also cannot fathom a universe in which it takes me 60 minutes to each my little packed lunch, and I also get hungry well before the designated lunch hour of 1-2pm.  So I started taking a 1 hour walk each day, usually listening to podcasts.

This habit has become one of my favourite parts of the day. It’s nice, gentle exercise (great for keeping that step count up!), it’s a lovely way to explore the adjacent neighbourhoods, and to take a little mental break in the middle of the workday. I’m also keeping up with more podcasts than ever before, which I really enjoy. I find I come back less stressed, more creative, and more productive. In a perfect world, if it were up to me, I’d still allow people to forego the rigidity of the forced lunch hour, and arrive later/leave earlier if they preferred. But I’m grateful that the policy caused me to develop this beneficial habit. I’ll definitely keep this up in one form or another. It just may not be at exactly 13:00 on the dot every day. 😉

No-Spend Work Week: Status update

As a follow-up to my previous post, my no-spend work week challenge has been going brilliantly. I love setting out on my daily walk with no cash or cards on me, and I love coming straight home from work, or post-work yoga, without having to consider whether I’ll pop into the shops. My bank statement reflects this simplicity. There are far fewer transactions and they’re all deliberate, mindful ones, that I don’t regret. I even find I have less food waste, because I know I’m only buying it once a week, so I buy only what I’ll eat that week. My fridge is all but empty by the following weekend. I take that as a good sign of both a lack of processed foods, and a lack of food waste, both things that are important to me.

What habits have you developed that you’d continue, even if the structure of your work week changed?

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?

 

Taking the leap into self employment: 5 things I won’t miss about my 9-5

One of my goals is to transition away from my current 9-5, salaried employment into freelancing and self-employment.

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but had been stuck in the feeling of uncertainty. Much of that fear is understandable, such as wanting to ensure a steady income, and concerns about taxes, retirement savings, and health insurance. And, last but certainly not least, being an immigrant as I currently am: where in the world I’d be doing all this if (when) I’m no longer on an employer-sponsored work visa.

I can’t say that I’ve got all of those areas 100% figured out and optimised to my liking, but I’m working on it, and will write more about each area as I go. What I can say, however, is that when I allowed my focus to shift from what I’d be losing, to what I’d be gaining, I started to get really excited, instead of just scared. And for most of us, the amazing side benefit that comes with being excited about moving towards something, is that it inspires action. Fear breeds inaction, and it shuts down our minds to possibility and growth.

To laugh in the face of fear, here are 5 things I won’t miss about traditional, salaried employment:

 

  1. Asking for permission: This is far and away my number one reason for becoming a freelancer. I can no longer tolerate having to ask permission to go visit my family, or having a limited quota of days in which to fit travel to see family as well as travel to the rest of the world. There simply isn’t enough time, people!

  2. Silly rules: It’s the seemingly small things, so small they almost seem petty to complain about. And yet. For example, my current office doesn’t allow use of headphones at work. “Even if music really, really, honestly helps me focus and makes me more efficient on tough tasks?” I asked naively. Even then. I hate to say it, but failure to adapt to the needs of individuals is going to cause big companies to lose out on talent, especially in the millennial generation and those coming after us. The same is true of picky dress codes, and companies being unnecessarily inflexible on working hours and working locations. As it is, I look forward to optimising my efficiency by listening to music when I need to, once I’m working for myself.

  3. Interruptions: Now, I know interruptions will still happen once I’m working for myself. And I’ll have to be vigilant about my own productivity. But something I won’t miss is being in the middle of something requiring deep focus, and being interrupted by something less important, that will cause me to have to essentially start over. I’m really looking forward to seeing what I can accomplish when I can focus on and prioritise the work that truly adds value.

  4. Unhealthy habits: Health is one of the things I value and prioritise above most things. And I’m aware that it can sound ungrateful and tone-deaf to complain about the modern office environment, as compared to working conditions in much of the world and in most of human history. However, the fact remains that many offices today are not designed with health in mind. There’s too much sitting, and too much easy access to unhealthy convenience foods. I’ve gotten into a good habit of making my own lunches, but the hours of sitting are something I haven’t been able to successfully optimise my way out of in my current environment. When I am working for myself, I look forward to setting up a standing work area, or seeking one out if I’m working outside my home base.

  5. Limited income: When you’re on a salary, your level of work doesn’t really directly correlate to your income. Salaries are typically reviewed once a year, and individual employees might have relatively little say in their pay rises. In the face of that, many smart career ladder-climbers will of course job-hop. That’s never really appealed to me for some reason, even though I completely understand the benefits. But for now, after years of feeling like I had relatively little control over my income, I’m really excited about the fact that working more hours will equal more income. It all comes back to having a greater measure of freedom and control.

    Challenges and opportunities

I think in the near future, going freelance will be easier and smoother. I’m hopeful that the powers that be, on a global scale, will recognise that the gig economy is real, and will shift away from designing systems, from taxes to immigration to (most notably for Americans!) health insurance, solely with traditional employees in mind. The more of us that are out here, just doing it, will eventually have to shift the conversation.

Recently, a great piece on Levels.io made the all-too timely call for digital nomad work permits. Early retirement bloggers like Our Next Life write about the health care challenges for early retirees living in the US, and the exact same concerns are true for freelancers. Anecdotally, I have American friends who have specifically decided not to go into freelancing/self employment because of the difficulty and cost of finding non-employer provided health insurance. For now, the world simply isn’t set up for the solo-preneurs out there, and it certainly isn’t set up for digital nomads.

This is all to acknowledge that the challenges and uncertainties we face when choosing a path less travelled are real. But ultimately I’m optimistic about the possibilities and the freedom that will come with being self-employed. And I’m ready to take the leap of faith that I’ll be able to meet the challenges that come with it.