Frugality and flexibility are freedom

 

What if there were a tool that could enhance your freedom and improve your life more powerfully than mere monetary wealth? I read, write, and think about money and personal finance a lot but I’m a firm believer that money is far from the most important thing in life. Certainly, if used wisely, money can be a tool that increases access to the most important things. But there are other tools in our arsenal that can be even more impactful, when wielded intentionally.

I find a lot of value in the principles of minimalism, but I’m aware it doesn’t appeal to everyone. While many aspects of minimalism might in fact be more broadly applicable than is sometimes assumed, there are two related concepts that I do think can be employed by everyone, regardless of their position or circumstances. These are the complementary practices of frugality and flexibility. If taken as practices, to engage with repeatedly and continually, these two ideas can transform the way you live, travel, and move throughout the world and towards your goals.

Frugality

Thanks to excellent bloggers such as the Frugalwoods, the concept of frugality is enjoying something of a revival. The word used to carry a sort of dour, joyless undertone, but that’s an unnecessary association that’s quickly dissipating. I consider the concept of frugality to be centred around appreciation and mindfulness of value. And that definition of value should be expansive enough to include value as measured not just in money, but also in time, focus, energy, and attention. No matter how much or how little material wealth we may have (and that itself is always a relative matter), we can all practice avoidance of wastefulness and excess. In fact, the practice of frugality is one of the most freeing aspects of minimalism. Best yet, one needn’t identify as a minimalist to enjoy the freedom-enhancing benefits of frugality.

For me, one of the most important elements in a practice of frugality is an honest assessment of value, and of one’s needs. This assessment is uniquely personal to each individual, but it does require a high level of self-honesty to be used to its full effect. For example, should the frugal traveller, be she a vacationer, an expat, or a digital nomad, take a taxi or the local public transport to and from the airport? My personal vote will almost always be to go for public transport, but someone who suffers from severe motion sickness might make another value assessment. I’d caution, however, that if the full benefits of frugality are sought, enduring or even seeking out some level of discomfort could become an occasional practice. I genuinely enjoy discovering both how resilient I can be, and, much more frequently if I’m honest, how little discomfort is really involved in making the more frugal choice.

But how, specifically, does this practice translate into greater freedom? It’s simple: the fewer resources you need to consume, the freer you are. This is especially true for the nomadic. This means you’re free to go more places, do more, experience more, without the shackles of many expensive (in terms of money, time, or otherwise) self-imposed ‘requirements’. If you build up your frugality muscles, you’ll simply need fewer resources to sustain your travels. You may find you are just as happy in a small, modest accommodation as in an expensive hotel, just as satisfied by local fare, stumbled upon while walking around the neighbourhood, as in a pricey, top-rated restaurant. It’s not that those experiences don’t have their place, but with no baseline concept of frugality, it’s all too easy to allow them to greedily take over, and subsume the other experiences. Too much luxury is an expensive prison. Frugality unshackles us from that prison, and opens up ever more of the world for us to explore.

Flexibility

Closely related to frugality is the practice of flexibility. Not necessarily in the yoga sense of the word (although that can be a good metaphor), I see flexibility simply as openness and adaptability to a variety of circumstances. It means not clinging to preconceived notions of how we think things are or should be. It means adapting to change or to the conditions we find ourselves in with grace and good humour. And it means practicing putting things in perspective. With a little effort and intention, it can be an incredibly powerful tool in your freedom toolkit.

Firstly, the more flexible and adaptable you are, the easier your practice of frugality will become. But perhaps even more important is how it improves your experience of the world in general. When you practice dealing with delays, setbacks, unexpected challenges, and disappointments with a positive attitude and a sense of humour, you are building up an incredibly valuable skill. It allows you to move through the world much more freely and confidently. You can start to see everything as simply another interesting experience, when you know you’re adaptable enough to make the best of it.

How do frugality and flexibility improve location independence and financial independence?

Both frugality and flexibility are tools that serve those pursuing location independence and/or financial independence especially well. For one, travel requires both, and provides plenty of opportunities to put both concepts into practice. And so does being mindful with money. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that those who want to enhance their location and financial freedom could find no tools more powerful than frugality and flexibility combined.

It makes sense to approach both frugality and flexibility as practices to continually incorporate into our lives, as opposed to unreachable ideals that are met with either success or failure. When we cultivate a practice mindset, then success is simply defined as returning to the practice. Then, all the results that come with the practice are just more interesting bits of data. In that way, we can avoid both judging ourselves to harshly, or being too self-congratulatory. And, as with a yoga practice, for example, there won’t always be linear progress, and that’s OK.

Even once we become location independent or financially independent, we can continue these practices. The person who has meticulously planned their 4% withdrawal rate might incorporate a bit of frugality and flexibility should they encounter a market downturn in their early years of retirement, for example. And if they’ve spent some time getting accustomed to the practice, they may be able to flex their plans, and to be a bit more frugal, and avoid too much unnecessary stress and worry in what might otherwise be a rather stressful time. The person who’s planned a few stops ahead as a digital nomad might reassess based on changing personal needs, or changing conditions in their current or future locations. The key is being willing to re-evaluate and adapt, ideally with a smile.

Even those who don’t identify as minimalists can benefit from incorporating more frugality and flexibility into their lives. It will continue to open up more doors and enhance your freedom, and your overall experience and enjoyment of life.

Tiny wardrobe tour

In advance of moving out of my flat here in Dublin to become more nomadic for a time, I’ve been taking inventory of my physical possessions. They’re quite limited, in fairness, but when faced with the prospect of taking everything you own with you in a few bags, each individual item really needs to deserve its place. One of the biggest and weightiest categories is clothing and shoes. As I take inventory and interrogate each item to assess its worth, I thought I’d offer a glimpse into one example of how a minimalist, travelling wardrobe could look.

I love when other bloggers offer this kind of voyeuristic view, although I’m sure my contribution to the genre will be underwhelming. I keep things pretty basic by nature, both out of personal preference and laziness, so I mightn’t have much more even if I was going to be in one place for a long time. As it is, I know this can and should be cut down significantly, and I’m hoping the exercise of photographing and cataloguing everything will help weed out the unnecessary items.

I’ll go through the categories as follows:

  • Shoes
  • Coats
  • Real clothes
  • Yoga clothes/lounge clothes
  • Underwear and socks
  • Accessories (scarves, gloves, hats)
  • Bags

 

Shoes

I have a grand total of 10 pairs of shoes, including a pair of flip flops. This is too many and is more than I use on a regular basis.

  1. Short black boots: versatile and comfortable, keep.
  2. Tall black boots (slight heel): I could probably get rid of these but they’re handy for being slightly dressier. They’re also really comfortable. Similar here.
  3. Tall black boots (waterproof): I don’t wear these often but they’re useful for lots of rain or snowy conditions. Similar here.
  4. Tall brown boots: I wear these all the time and love them. Keep.
  5. Tan flats: These are my everyday shoes for non-rainy conditions. Keep.
  6. Black flats: These are excessive and I should sell them.
  7. Runners: These are Merrell barefoot runners, which I really like. Similar hereKeep.
  8. Nude patent heels: I don’t really wear heels unless under duress. I’ll probably get rid of these, or maybe leave them in the location I’m most likely to need to attend a wedding in next.
  9. Sandals: Keep.
  10. Flip flops: Keep.

That’s down to 6 pairs of essentials, which still seems like a lot to bring from country to country. Ideally it seems like boots/flats/runners/sandals would be an essential core of 4, but I’ll see how it goes on the road.

 

Coats

I tend to live in places that require a lot of coats, so this is a major category. Also, it’s something you wear every day for most of the year, so it’s best not to hate your options. I like these options well enough, but I could cut down one or two.

  1. Leather jacket: This is real leather, so it keeps out wind out really well, and I like how it looks. I’ve probably had it for close to 10 years. Keep.
  2. Navy trench coat: This is a nice coat but it’s a bit too big on me. I might replace it or see about getting it taken in. Keep for now.
  3. Black trench coat: This is lighter than the navy one, so it was functioning more as a summer commuting coat in Dublin. I probably don’t need both it and the blue one.
  4. Black puffer jacket: This is packable, and yet it’s sufficient to ski in, and it packs into its own little zipper pouch which can double as a pillow. Keep.
  5. Black rain shell: This is a little too sporty/tech-y looking for me to really feel comfortable in, but it packs down to nothing and is super waterproof. That said, I’ve worn it approximately twice in two years. I’ll probably get rid of it.

That’s 3 definite keepers. I can see that being perfectly adequate.

 

real clothes

The category can be broken down into subcategories of tops, bottoms (hee hee, bottoms), and jackets/dresses:

  • Tops:
    1. Sweaters: two knit jumpers and one zip yoga jacket, plus 2 cardigans: 1 black, 1 blue.
    2. Blouses: What a weird word. Two long sleeve, two short sleeve, two button-downs which I don’t really love and will probably get rid of.
    3. Tank tops: a smattering (I think 6) which can be dressed up or down and don’t take up much space.
    4. T-shirts: These are questionable in terms of being “real clothes” and are proof that my mum loves shopping at The Bay. But I do love throwing in a little Canadian pride.

  • Bottoms:
    1. Jeans: 1 blue, 1 black.
    2. Non-jeans trousers: 1 black.
    3. Skirts: I like skirts. I usually wear skirts and tights for about 75% of the year. Still, 6 is too many. I’ll cut this down to 3-4, max.
    4. Shorts: I don’t really wear shorts in Ireland, but I try to remind myself that there are places where people do wear them. 2 pairs, which I may cut down to 1.

  • Other:
    1. Blazers: 1 black, 1 blue. This should be limited to 1 at the most.
    2. Dresses: 3: 1 black long sleeve, 1 red cocktail dress, 1 printed summer dress. This seems adequate for a full year’s worth of dress-worthy occasions.

 

Yoga/Lounge clothes

I don’t really wear pyjamas so this category includes whatever t-shirts and shorts I sleep in. The yoga side consists of two pairs of yoga pants, 4 pairs of yoga shorts, 4 yoga tops, 2 regular tank tops, and a sports bra. All my yoga stuff is from Lululemon because it lasts for ages and looks great after many repeat washings. The sleep stuff is usually just downgraded yoga stuff, so it’s a pair of shorts and a few t-shirts.

 

underwear and socks

Exactly what it says on the tin. I just keep what I use in a week or so, and replace as needed. No picture needed, I think.

 

Accessories

I do like scarves, and they’re small and useful, so I have a few of them. 9 is probably too many, though. I also keep 2 toques and some mittens/gloves on hand for colder weather. I guess jewellery counts as part of this category too. I have a little collection of necklaces etc, which goes in a small pouch. Oh, and I have a couple of bikinis too.

 

Bags

Bags, from smallest to largest:

  1. Small bag for going out: doubles as a wallet in a pinch, small enough to justify the rare usage. Keep.
  2. Tan cross body bag: Every bag and travel day bag of choice. Keep.
  3. Black cross body bag: Excessive and I don’t use it much, although I do like it.
  4. Longchamp Le Pliage: Weekend bag of choice, and it’s packable. Keep.
  5. Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30: Best bag ever. This would be the single bag I’d keep if I only kept one. Love. Keep.
  6. Rolling carry-on suitcase: I might keep this for making medium-term moves. This plus the Tom Bihn could probably be carried on most airlines, or it could be (ugh, shudder) checked in a pinch. Maybe keep.
  7. Big rolling duffle (not pictured): I bought this used to move to Ireland. If I’m not using it for storage somewhere I’ll ditch it.

 

I combined this with packing for my next trip (Nomad City in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria! Where I’ll actually be speaking about tax issues for digital nomads. Craziness).  So it was useful in terms of identifying what I did and didn’t want to bring for just a 1 week trip. Based on that I’ve a few items in mind for the next charity shop run.

So that’s all the things I own, in terms of the things you put on your body, head, or feet, or use to carry those things. Even being a semi-minimalist, it’s amazing how quickly those things can pile up. Any suggestions for what I should get rid of? It’s certainly nice to remind myself that I absolutely do not need to acquire anything additional at this juncture, and donating stuff is fun, so suggestions are very welcome.

 

 

An ideal day

Since quitting my corporate job to claim back some time, space, energy… life for myself, I’ve been considering what constitutes an ideal day. Historically, I’ve tended to think about time in terms of larger chunks: months, seasons, years. I’d typically have an answer at the ready when asked what I’d like to accomplish or experience in the next few months, or in the next year. But what about in a single day?

Part of living, working, and travelling intentionally means being the authors and architects of our own time. It’s a responsibility I relish. I think some people experience a degree of trepidation at the thought of designing their own schedules and being fully responsible for their own time. I can understand that, but I haven’t felt that way myself. Instead, it’s more like returning to sanity and civility after far too much time spent in the opposite conditions.

So I’ve given a bit of thought as to what an ideal day would include. Obviously not every day incorporates all of these elements, but when many or most of them are present, I consider it a day well spent. Interestingly, if unsurprisingly, none of these are expensive as such, and all can be done from anywhere in the world.

Elements of an ideal day

  • Wake up without an alarm

  • Unhurried breakfast and coffee

  • Write something

  • Read something

  • Create something

  • Learn something

  • Practice yoga

  • Walk and/or do something outdoors

  • Prepare and eat healthy meals from whole ingredients

  • Interact with people I care about

It’s reassuring to observe how simple this list is, and how much of it is entirely possible and within my control most days. I won’t beat myself up on days that don’t contain as many of the ideal elements, but I know I can continually come back to the things that bring me joy and satisfaction, no matter where I am. I suspect many people’s lists are also filled with simple, mindful endeavors. Things that probably don’t cost much money, and are best savoured slowly.

No matter where you are on your journey, I hope you incorporate some of your own personal elements of an ideal day, into your day today. What are some of the elements on your list?

Tiny apartment tour

I’ve been thinking about housing options lately. Becoming location independent can give us beleaguered millennials a much-needed leg up in a housing game that can feel rigged against us.

Refusing to play by rules that aren’t fair is a perfectly rational response. But what does that actually look like? In the interest of transparency, I thought I’d give a glimpse into my current housing solution. As I transition into alternatives, I’ll continue to share how those options look and evolve over time. It is and will continue to be an exercise in compromise and is but one possible path among many.

*Not my apartment building

Current location

I’m presently in my apartment in Dublin. I chose it for its proximity to my former office and it’s served its purpose well. It’s the smallest space I’ve lived in to date, and I have very few complaints in that regard. I wasn’t given the exact floor space when I moved in, but I’d say it has to be less than 300 square feet. It was mostly fully furnished, but I had to buy all the kitchen stuff myself.

I’ve had overnight guests stay on an air mattress twice now, for multiple nights each time. It worked fine, and that’s about as often as I hosted overnight guests in a year even when I had much more space.

Without further ado, here’s the grand tour:

Entrez-vous

The entry, as seen from the front door. To the left is the bathroom, to the right is the bedroom.

 

Living space

The living space, comprised of the kitchen to the left, and the seating area to the right. That vast expanse of floor space in the middle is exactly big enough for a queen size air mattress… if you move the storage ottoman/coffee table aside, that is.

 

Seating area

Desk and chair to the left. The set of drawers on the right contains the wifi modem, my yoga clothes, and a few extra pairs of shoes. A large canvas duffle bag is stored under the loveseat, containing some extra winter clothes.

Kitchen

This actually functions really well! I’ve been able to cook everything I’ve wanted to here. There’s enough counter space for chopping, and the dish drying rack doesn’t take up too much of the more useable space. Sometimes North Americans balk at the under-counter fridge. But I’d say for a household of 1 or 2, it’s perfectly sufficient.

 

Kitchen stuff

Here’s all my kitchen stuff. The more eagle-eyed may note there are no drawers in this kitchen. I just keep my cutlery in that orange rack, and other utensils in the bamboo holder to the right of the sink. No junk drawers here! The cabinets contain all crockery, glasses, pots & pans, and miscellany. There’s plenty of space.

 

Bathroom

This is really just to show the very limited footprint of the bathroom! It’s entirely possible to brush your teeth from the hallway. No space to keep many toiletries in here so it’s a good thing I have a pretty minimal routine.

 

Bedroom

Bed is tucked away in the corner, but it’s nice having it separate from the living area. That’s a luxury in the Dublin rental market!

 

Wardrobe/”vanity”

 

Tiny wardrobe

Inside the wardrobe, a minimalist amount of clothes. That black tote bag functions as the laundry bag. Yes, that’s Estonian on the canvas tote on the shelf. I’m delighted you noticed.

Because I enjoy being a voyeur on other people’s tiny wardrobes, I’ll do a tiny wardrobe post soon. It’s really more clothes than I need and I’ll probably pare it down before I move out of this flat.

Trade offs

It’s not fancy or terribly modern, but I pay €300-400 less per month than many people I know, even people who have flatmates. That’s €3,600-4,800 less per year. That’s a lot of travel and/or savings. For that, I don’t mind doing my laundry in a weird, dark, spider-webby shed. Yeah, that’s why you don’t see a washing machine anywhere.

I’m very glad I’ve had this experiment in small space living. I’ll definitely seek out a small, minimalist living space again in future. And I’m really exited to see what other, lower cost options await in the rest of Europe.

Would you give small space living a try?

Minimalism is freedom

 

There are a lot of advantages to taking a minimalist approach when making international moves. I’ve mentioned some of these in a previous post. But minimalism can have an impact that goes beyond the practical, and if fully embraced, can help us reach our goals of financial freedom and location freedom. In fact, I find that both goals become far more likely, and require far less effort and fewer resources, when a minimalist approach is taken.

 

Tailor your choices to your goals

Being location independent and financially independent both seem to be goals to which many people say they aspire. But when faced with making some unconventional choices in order to attain these unconventional goals, they may protest that they could never do X, Y, or Z. There’s nothing wrong with that. One choice is not a rebuke of all other possible choices. However, it’s only fair to take a clear-eyed view when examining the trade-offs. Whether a life of location independence, financial independence, or both, is something you’re interested in, you should consider what you’d be willing to do differently to get there. After all, doing things the way everyone else does will logically only lead to the results everyone else has. And again, that’s perfectly fine. No one should be made to feel badly for living life the way that suits them best. But if having more control over your time and physical location are important to you, some lifestyle tweaks will serve you better than others. Minimalism is one of the most useful.

 

Fewer burdens, more freedom

There are a few statements that are seemingly obvious in their simplicity, but nonetheless must be clearly stated and fully understood: Financial independence is easier the lower your expenses are. Location independence is easier the less stuff you have. Being flexible with both categories (expenses and stuff) makes both even easier. Easy is good.

 

The easy way or the hard way

The hard way to pursue location independence or financial independence would be to have lots and lots of rigid expenses that you’re not willing to adjust, and to have loads of physical possessions that you absolutely cannot live without, and then carry those expenses and possessions around the world with you. That doesn’t sound fun or productive to me, so I’ll stick with the easy way. It’s eminently possible to do things the harder way, of course, but to be perfectly honest, that’s never been my style. Maybe it’s a sign of a deep commitment to minimalism, this inclination to avoid wasted resources, including time and energy. Maybe it’s laziness. Maybe they’re one and the same. I don’t really mind which. I’ll assume that most people are like me and, quite sensibly I must say, prefer to do things the easier way.

There is a lens through which even making an unconventional life choice like pursuing location independence or financial independence (or both) is actually easier than the more conventional alternative. Living in the same place for too long, or working a standard job for 40 years, sounds really hard to me. Accumulating lots of stuff and lots of debt sounds hard also.

 

The less you own, the freer you are

Here’s where minimalism shines. The less you own, the freer you are. The more basic your needs are, the lower your expenses. The process only refines and clarifies even further with repeated iterations. Over time, you realise you need less to be happy, and naturally, the right level of minimalism emerges. It will ultimately serve to advance your freedom in any areas that matter to you.

In yoga there is a concept of aparigraha, my favourite translation of which is non-grasping. This dovetails perfectly with minimalism, in that it reminds us to work on being less dependent on any particular thing, be it a material possession, a habit, or a particular outcome. Keeping this in mind as a virtue to strive for, we can move lightly through the world with fewer encumbrances.

Be minimalist with everything except pictures of succulents and cacti against white backgrounds

Don’t own stuff, own yourself

Don’t own stuff, own yourself. Self-ownership is the clearest definition of freedom I can come up with. It’s the simplest, most minimalist, yes, even the laziest way of explaining what it is I’m seeking. If you’re seeking that too, in whatever shape or form that looks like in your life, consider how minimalism can serve to further that goal.

 

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.

Frugal expat tip #2: have a no-spend work week

When you’ve really settled into a place, you eventually find the rhythms and routines that work for you. It’s part of what makes a new location feel like home, instead of like an extended business trip (or, depending on your mindset, vacation).

One of the things that I’ve been doing lately is getting my weekly grocery shopping and most of my batch cooking done on the weekends, such that my meals are more or less ready for the entire week. It occurred to me that on workdays, where I walk to work, bring my own lunch, and go to yoga after work, I wouldn’t need to make any purchases at all.

Veggie-heavy meal prep

The Challenge

So I thought, why not make it into a challenge? I’m going to see how many weeks I can go without spending anything at all from Monday-Friday. It’s really not that different from usual, but it will cause me to be more mindful about just stopping in at the supermarket to pick up one or two things, and walking out having spent €15 on random items. Or getting coffee during my lunchtime walk, just because I feel like it.

My intention with this challenge is to be more mindful of my day to day spending, to plan my food shopping more carefully, and to practice being extra frugal in anticipation of some big changes I hope to implement soon. And I also just want to engender not spending money as the default modus operandi. Making a purchase should be a considered and mindful occasion.

It goes without saying, but of course anyone could avail of this frugal strategy. But I feel like especially expats and/or the globally mobile might not think to set up the same kinds of thoughtful, frugal routines as they would at “home,” and thereby mightn’t be as aware of their day to day spending habits. This will help push the reset button! Home is where you’re at right now, and being mindful with your money is one of the best things you can do to enhance your freedom and mobility even further.

I’ve now completed my 2nd week of this challenge and I plan on keeping it up for the rest of the summer! What ways are you saving money this summer?

 

Frugal Travel Tips

One of my primary intentions is to enjoy life to the fullest while still moving towards my financial goals. Location independence + financial independence is the ultimate dream, but until I get there I have no intention of cutting travel out of my life. I live simply in most ways so that I can experience the things that really matter to me, and travel is, and always has been, high on that list. And it doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive, if you’re thoughtful, creative, and adaptable.

Here are some ideas you can incorporate into your travel planning, to travel lighter, travel simpler, and travel more:

1. Pack light: This will save you in more ways than one. Firstly, don’t pay to check bags. Ever. (*Unless you are moving countries permanently, and even then, question each item ruthlessly.) This will save you up to €100/$100 per trip, since checked bags can range from €25 per bag, each way.

But the savings don’t stop there. When you travel carry-on only, you can easily avail of (fun, interesting, character-building!) public transport instead of needing to take boring, expensive taxis to fit your luggage. You can also happily stay in small Airbnb’s or hostels because you don’t have lots of stuff to store.

Are you travelling to admire your possessions, or to get out and experience something new?

2. Fly cheap(er): I avail of Ryanair whenever possible, but not everyone lives in an area that’s well served by low-cost carriers. (Ahem, I’m looking at you, basically all of the United States and Canada…) So here are a few ways to be sure you’re getting a good deal:

  • Google Flights: Are you using Google Flights yet? You should be. You can set up tracking for any flights you’re interested in, and it will let you know when it thinks the price is at its lowest. I really like the calendar feature as well, especially if you have flexible dates.

    Hopefully making a trip to gorgeous Cape Town later this year…

    I also like the Explore feature, where you can have a gander at where’s cheap to travel if you have specific dates in mind (like a long weekend, and you don’t mind where you go in a region with lots of great destinations, like Europe, or Southeast Asia, for example).

I wish they had a dedicated mobile app, but that’s my only quibble.

  • Hopper: I also like Hopper for helping me decide when to book or wait on a particular flight. It gives handy reminders from a mobile app telling you when it thinks you should book.

Savings: I’d say I average €100 savings on most round-trip flights I book, by following the sage advice of Google Flights and/or Hopper.

3. Airbnb: Airbnb is my first stop when booking accommodations. Rarely do I find a better/cheaper/overall more appealing option than on Airbnb. It’s great as a solo traveller, because you can book a room in a shared accommodation if you want the potential to interact with the host, or you can book the entire apartment if you rather have privacy. I’ve also had great experiences with Airbnb in groups, where we got lovely houses for a great price, and were able to cook/relax together either as a group of friends, or with family.

I was an early-ish adopter of Airbnb and have been using it since 2012, with almost entirely positive results.

If you still haven’t given it a try, here’s a code to get €20 off your first trip!

Get €20 off your first booking on Airbnb!

Savings: The places I stay tend to average €50 per night, and hotels can be up to €200 per night (!?! Or so I’m told! That sounds insane to me but okay…) So let’s say that’s an average savings of €450 per trip, since my weekend jaunts tend to be around 3 nights.

5. Ground transportation: Walk when you can, and public transport all other times, should be your default approach. Sometimes safety or practicality can make public transport untenable, but give it an honest consideration at least, and approach it from the perspective of being a bit adventurous and anti-fragile.

Savings: At my home airport, I save at least €50 per trip, just by taking the Dublin Bus Airlink, at €6 each way, or €10 round-trip, instead of taxis at ~€30 each way (or more in traffic). Then at my destination, I’d say it’s easily another €50 savings on average, as most European cities have even better airport-to-city-centre transit options than Dublin.

So, let’s estimate the total savings per short, weekend trip, of applying a few really basic principles:

TOTAL SAVINGS:

  • Pack light = €100

  • Fly cheap(er) = €100

  • Non-insane accommodations = €450

  • Ground transportation = €50-100 per trip

TOTAL= €700- €750 per trip!

Stick that chunk of change into your low cost index fund, or your fund for your next trip, and travel on, you frugal, personal finance whiz!

I’ve followed my own advice for my trip to Rome this past weekend. A roundup of the #pursepacking results and some pics to come!