6 months in: seeing the trees, not just the forest

Then:

  • Not creating
  • Feeling stuck
  • Stressed out
  • Unclear on future goals
  • Unable to find time for both family as well as personal travel

 

Now:

  • Actively learning and creating
  • Feeling inspired
  • Less stressed (but slightly more apprehensive!)
  • Developing future goals and plans that excite me
  • Prioritising what matters most to me: health, family & loved ones, travel

 

As of 8 October, I’ve been blogging for 6 months. In that time, I’ve quit my corporate job, given notice on my apartment, and had a few exciting adventures along the way. It’s amazing how much can happen in the span of 6 months.

 

I’m only just beginning, both in terms of my blogging journey, and in self-employment. I think it’s often easy to compare ourselves to those around us who are much further ahead on their journeys, and feel it’s too late, or that it will be too hard to catch up. Those thoughts do still surface, but ultimately I remind myself I’m grateful that I started when I did.

 

The old saying is true, whether we’re talking about investing, creating something, pursuing your dreams, or making a big change in your life:

 

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese proverb

 

I could have spent the last 6 months still unhappy in my job, still feeling like I wasn’t progressing towards anything. Yes, still collecting a steady paycheque. But still no closer to the others out there, doing what I wished I could be doing.

 

And, much more importantly, still no closer to my dreams for the life I wanted to create for myself.

 

Because ultimately, my dreams and goals aren’t comprised of metrics like money, or pageviews, or anything that can be externally measured. But even if it’s not measured out in numbers that can be reassuringly analysed, making progress towards goals requires action. Taking a first step, and then taking another. And then another. 

 

It’s so often repeated as to become trite, but I find I need to remind myself of it on a regular basis, now that I’m working towards creating something for myself. Taking action is always, always, always, better than the alternative. Trying something, anything, is going to be better than staying stagnant. And it’s never possible to be fully optimised, so it’s best to just jump in.

 

Seeing the trees, not just the forest

It’s easy to get distracted by all the noise out there, by all the possibilities. We all want to succeed (whatever that means), to offer something of value, and, perhaps most dangerous of all, to not be left behind. The more time I spend in the entrepreneurial sphere, I notice a kind of business FOMO out there. If you’re not careful, it can make you feel like it’s a HUGE CRISIS that you’re not simultaneously building an FBA empire, and mastering Pinterest, and growing your email list, and dabbling in crypto currency, and, and, and…

All of those things are great, and have been paths to incredible success for many people. But we can’t properly focus on all of them, all at once. And for many people, that sense of overwhelm could stop them from even starting something new.

Whether it’s starting a business, or embarking on a creative endeavour, or travelling, or starting to invest and get your finances in order, I think all of these worthy pursuits can seem out of reach when we all we see is forest.

Just to continue on with tree-related cliches for a moment, the old admonishment that it’s a problem when you can’t see the forest for the trees certainly has its place. But how do you know where to start, when staring at the vastness of an impenetrable forest? What if instead you chose to focus on one perfectly manageable tree at a time?

This approach keeps me moving forward, which is the best cure for overwhelm. And each step taken, each action, each tree planted (or climbed, or hell, even hugged) builds on the last, until you may find yourself in the midst of a far more beautiful and interesting landscape than when you started.

I’d love it if you’d comment and share one step you’re taking, whether it’s in business, personal finance, travel, your personal life, or anything else!

Happy autumn, and here’s to your next 6 months. 

 

Staying and going

Change tend to provoke strong reactions in people. Those strong reactions can come not only from ourselves, but also from those around us who may experience some of the impact from a change we initiate. But when it comes to changes in our physical location, do we need to justify moving any more than we need to justify staying?

Recently, a few examples have come up that have got me thinking about the typical responses to moving. One of my favourite podcasts is The Minimalists, and on a recent episode they announced they’d be moving cities, from Missoula, Montana to Los Angeles, California. It’s a few states away, which is a fairly large physical distance (because America is so huge) and a significant cultural change from a smaller city to a large, sprawling coastal metropolis. They had sensibly predicted the questions that would arise from their listeners, and had a list of sensible reasons for the move. And of course, making a change involves some motivation to do so, and people will naturally be curious as to what prompted it. But one of the questions was simply: “why?” Which left me wondering, why don’t we tend to ask why people stay, but expect a carefully thought-out answer at the ready when asking why they’re going?

Another example was a friend who, like me, had also left her job recently. Because she’s amazing, she was offered a great job in another, very high profile city. What a rock star! And yet she said that instantly the well-meaning yet apprehensive comments and questions started flowing. If she’d stayed in her previous job, as unhappy and discontented as it was making her, no such flurry of questions would’ve been prompted. Of course, the people in our lives, or sometimes just interested observers, want to know our rationale behind a big change. They want to know that we’ll be ok, that we’ve thought it through. Even though rationally, there’s no inherent safety in staying the same, and both staying and going are choices we make, whether we actively acknowledge them as such or not.  

Loss aversion

Fear of change and loss aversion are powerful motivators. Loss aversion is the concept in behavioural economics that predicts that avoiding losses is a more powerful psychological motivator than pursuing gains. This isn’t entirely rational, especially if we risk too much in our attempt to avoid or recoup losses. I think this can go some way towards explaining why we might stay in a job, or a relationship, or a place, longer than we perhaps should. We’re hesitant to cut our losses, and afraid of losing what we already have. I’ve experienced this many times myself.

But what if we evaluated both staying and going as equally possible choices? And invited them to convince us of their merits a little more dispassionately? Well, for one thing, we might look at the cost/benefit analysis of each choice more honestly, rather than doing what I suspect comes more naturally: that is, to nitpick the perceived costs of change, and inflate the perceived benefits of inaction. In other words, maybe we should stop grasping to avoid losses when we may be missing out on potential gains slipping through our tightly closed fingers.

Opportunity costs exist either way

Another lens through which to examine the choice to stay or to go is to think in terms of opportunity cost. This is simply the concept that when one choice is made, the benefit of the choice not taken is the “cost” of that decision. But as we can never have both the choice we make and the forsaken alternative at once, opportunity cost is a fact of life, and we can’t let it paralyse us. And I think it’s helpful to remember that choosing to stay static carries its own opportunity cost. We don’t get to escape the unavoidable reality of opportunity cost by pretending we’re not actively making a choice.

Everything is a choice

I like to remind myself that everything is a choice. I chose to stay in Seattle perhaps longer than I really needed to be there, and it was in part because I’d convinced myself that change was too big, too difficult, too scary. But as individuals with agency, we are making choices every day. My goal is to be more intentional with my choices, and to fully own the risks and rewards of them. I chose to stay static when my heart was calling me to make a change. And now I’m choosing to work on creating a life that’s more in line with my values and how I want to spend my time.

 

I think being intentional about our choice of location is one of the most powerful tools available to us, but it comes with a lot of questioning and trepidation, both from within ourselves, and from those around us. One of the ways to soothe these fears is the stories we tell ourselves and each other; the ones that sound obvious when stated aloud, and yet are both necessary and true. We can always move back/go home/start over if we hate it/fall flat on our face/*insert other worst-case here. All of those things remain both necessary and true if we stay in one place as well, of course. We’ll face moving/changing/starting over in one guise or another, whether we embrace it or run from it. But it still feels good to say it before making a change, even one we sought and crafted intentionally.

 

So that’s what I’d say to The Minimalists in advance of their move, and what I remind myself before making big moves of my own. And yes, we’ll still need those carefully crafted answers to the inevitable questions that will arise. But perhaps we can comfort ourselves, at least, with the help of some behavioural economics.

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?

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.

 

Where would you go? Choosing a location as a digital nomad

Where would you go, if you could go anywhere?

It’s a delicious question, and perhaps a daunting one. For the longest time, my answer would have been a very thirsty “everywhere.” First I was lacking money, then time. When both barriers can be satisfactorily addressed, what next?

In many ways it’s the epitome of a first world problem. It’s certainly one that very few people in the history of the world have had the luxury of facing. Those of us who are privileged enough to live in the developed world, however, are probably familiar with the concept of too much choice being perceived as stressful or overwhelming. We are now also well acquainted with the concept of FOMO, as cringe-worthy an acronym as that may be. Choosing one thing means missing out on something else, right?

So what happens when you’ve conquered the barriers of both time and money, and can choose your own adventure? I’ve compiled lists upon lists of places I’d like to go, but when it comes to actually deciding where to go next, I find myself facing analysis paralysis. Maybe you do too. Here are some ideas on how to refine your thinking.

Identify (and conquer) the barriers:

What’s currently holding you back? If location independence is your dream, identify what’s currently standing in your way. For me, growing up I longingly pored over maps and memorised world capitals, to recite like mantras, from Addis Ababa to Zagreb. They all sounded like magic. But I had to sort the money barrier out first. Beyond simple survival, travel pretty much seemed like the main purpose of money to me. It still does.

Then, once I had an education, and a profession, and my finances more or less in order, I found my time wasn’t nearly as free as I needed it to be. So that became the next, much trickier challenge. I’m still working on the balance between cultivating an income stream, and being fully location independent. But for me, once I found satisfactory solutions to both the money and time barriers, I decided to just go for it.

For others, the barriers could be more specific, or more complex. You might have to get key loved ones on board, for example. Beyond that, most of it comes down to logistics, and a bit of boldness. I think both of those are within the grasp of most people who want it badly enough.

How to choose your next location when you’re newly location independent:

Perhaps a lot of time and planning went into getting you to the point of being able to choose your location at will. Or maybe you’re very brave, or very lucky. However you got here, the world is now essentially your oyster… or is it?

There are a few areas that I’ve identified as being key considerations when choosing my next location, even if it’s a temporary one. They seem to broadly fall into two categories, Practical Concerns, and Lifestyle Questions:

Practical Concerns:
  • Will you need a visa to go there? How long can you stay? This varies tremendously depending on how you fared in the lottery of where you happened to be born, and to whom. It’s a variable that’s totally out of your control, and it significantly impacts your choice of location, or at least the array of easy choices open to you. In Europe, for example, I’m including a combination of both Schengen and non-Schengen countries, because as a Canadian, counting my Schengen days is something I’ll need to keep on top of.

  • Amenities. For many of us, reliable wifi would be a must-have to maintain our income streams. Beyond that, my personal list of must-have amenities is pretty minimal. Consider what your list includes, but be honest and avoid being overly restrictive. Not having a Sephora should not be considered a deal-breaker, for example.

  • Cost of living. This is a key consideration especially if your income stream is variable and/or if your budget is tight. In building my list, I’m including a selection of places where cost of living is very low, in case I ever need to cut expenses to the bare minimum for a while.

  • Types of accommodation: In doing my initial research, my first port of call has been Airbnb but I know that in many locations, that’s not the best place to ultimately book. But I like that it allows you to get a quick overview of what’s on offer, and even if better prices are to be found elsewhere, it’s informative to know what the “worst case”* would look like. (*It’s hard to define choosing comfortable lodging to one’s taste and specifications, in any city, anywhere in the world, as the “worst” anything, but you know what I mean.)

  • Access to international airport: If you’ll be moving around a lot, even while you’re based in a particular place, then perhaps airport accessibility will be a concern. It’s a good idea to consider transport costs in general, as a low cost of living otherwise could easily be undone by excessively pricey flights or local transport costs.

Lifestyle Questions:
  • Nearness to family/loved ones: I now have two places that will perpetually call to me, Vancouver, which is where most of my family are, and will always be home, and Dublin, where someone very dear to me happens to be from. So I have been testing out sample flights for both locations, when I’m thinking about cities. Europe is especially appealing, with the many short, cheap flights back to Dublin. But it does make some locations more appealing than others. For example, Tbilisi sounds great, and appears to be super affordable, but there are no direct flights to Dublin, and they’re mostly fairly long and expensive. Not ideal.

  • Day to day lifestyle: This comes down to the type of day to day living that you want to achieve. I prefer cities that are walkable, or at least have good public transport. I’d also be thrilled if there were a yoga studio nearby. For now, I’ll safely rule out anywhere too rural, or too car-centric.

  • Language: I’ve heard people talk about this as a limiting factor, as though anywhere that doesn’t speak your native language is somehow off limits. To each their own, but I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to learn a new language and to have more than a few days to practice it. Is there a language you want to learn? Or have you some language skills you’d like to put to use? I personally plan to learn as much as I can of whatever the local language happens to be, and if it’s available on Duolingo or another similar app, all the better!

  • Experiences/food/culture: It’s hard to go too far wrong in this regard, as it seems like interesting experiences, food, and culture are to be found literally everywhere on this amazing planet of ours. It’s worth thinking about what it is you hope to experience in the location you choose.

My list:

With that being said, here’s my initial list of potential locations I’d like to try in the next few years.

Europe:

Prague

In Schengen zone (limited to combined 90 days in 180 day period)

  • Prague

  • Budapest

  • Tallinn

  • Barcelona

Non-Schengen

  • Bucharest

  • Sofia

  • Belgrade

  • Zadar

  • Sarajevo

Asia:

Bali

  • Chiang Mai
  • Bali
  • Hong Kong
  • Seoul
Central/South America:

Buenos Aires

  • Buenos Aires
  • Medellin
  • Oaxaca
  • Panama City
Africa:

Cape Town

  • Cape Town
  • Nairobi
  • Lagos
  • Kigali

It sounds like a lot, and it is! I’m going to start out in Europe, both to be close to Dublin, and also because I like it here a lot, and there’s so much I still haven’t seen.

What about you? Even if it’s just for fun:

where would you go, if you could go anywhere?

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?

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.

Damn the man. Start investing.

When you hear the word “investing”, what comes to mind? Do you think about old, rich, white guys talking about mysterious (and possibly shady) things involving acronyms? Or does it start to sound like the grownups on Charlie Brown are droning on again? Hold that thought.

Now, what happens when you think about socially aware, even radical, ideas and causes? Does an image of the noble, penniless activist pop into your head? The idealistic dreamer who has far loftier things to think about than something as unpleasant as money?

Money occupies an uneasy place in our culture. The oft-cited cliché that money isn’t the most important thing is, of course, true. But it’s still a major factor in how our lives play out. It dictates, to a large extent, the amount of time we have to dedicate to the areas that truly are the most important things to each of us. Things like family, travel, community service, political activism, art, creativity, and personal development. All of these are best served when we have the bandwidth to focus on them, both financially and in terms of our most valuable resource: our time.

Money is something we all grapple with; it flows around us and weaves its way through our lives. And I’m going to make the case that one of the most radical, woke things you can do, dear reader, is more than just get your finances together. And no, it’s not only to get out of debt and start saving, which everyone (correctly) advises we all do. But instead, it’s to start investing, doggedly and with determination, both for your freedom and to advance the freedom of others. And in dedication of your loftiest ideals. Here’s why.

Breaking down mental barriers:

To many people, perhaps especially millennials, investing can seem not only out of reach, but somehow perhaps even incongruent with our values and beliefs. But the image we may have of being broke as some kind of noble condition is unnecessary and outdated. A more accurate picture would be to conceptualize that the forces that many of us oppose want us to stay broke, stay in debt, stay mindlessly consuming. And that our act of educating ourselves and taking control of our financial future is an act of rebellion against the status quo.

Getting rid of the taboos and breaking down our limiting beliefs about money is a necessary first step. Not talking about money doesn’t serve us. And buying into the false belief that investing is for the elite and the privileged, doesn’t make us any freer. Depending on the backgrounds we come from, we’re all carrying around different inherited and received ideas about money. And for those of us coming from less economically privileged backgrounds, the very idea of increasing our wealth can make us feel like class traitors. We need to validate and acknowledge that feeling as normal, and then systematically dismantle it.

Self-education:

Historically, one of the biggest barriers to financial literacy would have been access to information. But we no longer need to belong to a wealthy family in order to learn about investing, nor do we need an expensive financial advisor to get us started. There’s more and better information online, and a plethora of low-cost options out there. The barriers to entry have become all but nonexistent, with the exception of our own (totally normal and understandable) fear of getting started.

I’m not a financial advisor, but low-cost index funds seem like a reasonable place to start, for example. We should all do our due diligence and read about why they’re a good option, and then actually take the steps to open the account and contribute to it. Once you do, you’ll be doing the same thing Warren Buffett has instructed be done with his own estate. What could be more democratic than your money sitting there alongside the money of one of the richest men in the world?

If you are living within your means and building up a surplus, you’ll eventually need to put it somewhere. Interest rates on savings accounts are essentially zero, and that’s no way to build real, life-changing wealth. To do that we need to invest, and whether that takes the form of simple index investing, real estate, or otherwise, we need to do more with our money to allow it the chance to really grow. Investing is for everyone. You deserve to benefit from economic growth as much as anyone else. Don’t shortchange yourself.

The benefits of financial freedom:

Once we’ve tackled our limiting beliefs, and taken the steps to educate ourselves and take action, how is investing going to impact us in a way that really matters? We all care about more than the bottom line, or on numbers on a spreadsheet. I think there are three ways that increased financial freedom benefits us as individuals, in ways that we can align with our values and beliefs.

Firstly, when we choose to save and invest our money, we are necessarily making a choice that involves less reliance on consumer culture. Every dollar we earn has potential and possibilities. It could be spent on consumer goods, and with that the attending questionable labour practices, environmental waste, and dodgy ad campaigns we may not subscribe to. Or it could be invested in our future wellbeing, and that of our loved ones and communities.

Secondly, increased financial freedom means less reliance on jobs that may not align with our beliefs, or at the very least take our time away from the things we truly value. If we’re going to be trading our time for money, as the vast majority of us do, we should demand a better return on investment. If we don’t invest a portion of our earnings, we’re not getting any closer to free with each passing year. No matter how much you may like your job, think about what an impact buying an extra year of your freedom could have.

Finally, when we are financially secure, we have increased ability to make a positive impact on our communities and spheres of influence. Similar to putting on your own air-mask first on a plane, the idea is to get ourselves right so we can more effectively help others. That doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about, talking about, and organising around the systemic issues contributing to inequality and injustice. Far from it. But as individuals, taking concrete, deliberate action towards our own financial freedom is powerful. Think about the positive impact it can have on generations when the first person in a family goes to college. I think the same can be true of opening the first investment account.

The knowledge and ability to invest no longer needs to be shrouded in mystery, or the province of elites. It can and should be for everyone, and is a powerful way to better serve our communities and our goals. We now have unprecedented access to information that allows us to democratize and de-mystify investing, to normalize it so it’s no longer solely the inherited, protected knowledge of the wealthy and privileged. So if you’re progressive and pissed off, take the radical, counter-cultural step towards freedom. Damn the man, start investing.

The Perks of Being an Outlier

I’ve recently started using Twitter. Re-started, rather. I was an early adopter but eventually found it a strange combination of information overload and dull, and gave it up. What I’ve come to realise is I just hadn’t found my tribe. I’ve partially done that now, by following a bunch of really smart, inspiring people in the financial independence community, as well as the expat community. It’s become one of the top sources of new content for me. I love reading content by, and interacting with, people who are so immersed in the subjects I care about.

On the financial independence side, one of the things I value is the diversity of the stories there, how people are all taking their own unique paths in pursuit of their goals, and how many of us share a common goal of greater freedom over our lives and our time. One recent post that spoke to that was this guest post on Millennial Money Man’s excellent blog.

I was delighted to read it, as it echoes many of my own thoughts on the subject of financial independence. It was so gratifying. Here was someone else who valued freedom as highly as I do, and was taking steps to get there! I wasn’t the only one!

Before I started following blogs like that, I didn’t know there was this big, supportive community of weirdos like me. What I did know was that the unspoken rule in our culture is: you don’t talk about money.  And I picked up on the fact that, understandably, many people wouldn’t want to talk about early retirement when they could be uncertain whether they’ll ever be able to retire at all, full stop. And so I added financial independence to the list of things that I was interested in, that most people just wouldn’t relate to. I was used to having such a list, was used to being a bit of an outlier.

I suspect that most of us in the FIRE community learn to pick our audience carefully, around the sensitive topic of personal finance. Probably there are other aspects of our lives that we selectively share, not out of secrecy but more out of a desire not to bore (or worse, alienate) people with our sometimes nerdy pursuits. I suppose I’ve always been an outlier of sorts, even though I try to “pass” for normal in polite society… with varying degrees of success ;). But I think there are some perks to being an outlier, even if you sometimes feel as though you live a double life of sorts.

There are a few different, but overlapping and, I think, complementary, aspects to being an outlier that work in our favour.

Here are some things that make us weird, in a good way, and how I think that ultimately gets us closer to our goals, financial or otherwise.

 

Immigrant mindset – Put yourself in a place where you are the different one

One thing that will definitely make you aware of being different is being a foreigner. You’re weird by definition, and it’s so freeing. It’s a great, eye-opening experience that I have come to love. I recently watched a great TEDx talk by Tayo Rockson, who is a seriously inspiring thinker on the subject of global mindset (he also runs one of my favourite podcasts). His talk included the above line which really resonated with me. It’s what we as immigrants, expats, and digital nomads do regularly, and it’s so beneficial. We’re in places where we’re the different ones, in one way or another.

Having an immigrant mindset changes the way you look at the world and you ultimately become culturally bilingual, which is a huge asset. If you can understand not just the culture you grew up in, but another one as well, you’re at a massive advantage. That’s two (or more) sets of wisdom and “common sense” for you to draw from (and question, as we’ll see below). Part of what’s so powerful about this is you learn that conventional wisdom isn’t universal, and that there are diverse ways of knowing and being.

You also learn to code-switch, much in the same way those of us in the FIRE community learn how and when to talk about our goals for financial independence. There’s no better, faster, or harsher, lesson in the importance of picking your audience. Immigrants get this. Immigrants also hustle hard.

 

Self-experimentation – The Tim Ferriss Effect

It seems like there’s a significant overlap between the FIRE community and what I’ve come to think of as the “Tim Ferriss Effect.” I think Tim brought a lot of new ideas into the collective consciousness in a way that hadn’t been done before, or at least not as effectively. For those of us who had always been prone to being outliers, reading his work lit a spark and made us aware that self-experimentation, and thinking differently, wasn’t something to be ashamed of, but celebrated. And that it could be beneficial, even profitable. As I continue to learn from others in this space, I see his name pop up over and over as an early inspiration for a lot of people. I’d count myself in that group, in my own small way.

Looking back, it was kettlebells that proved to be my gateway drug. See, I’d believed the gospel of women’s magazines that long hours of steady-state cardio was the One True Path to the body I wanted, and yet strangely enough, all that time on the treadmill wasn’t getting me the results I sought. I genuinely hadn’t considered that there might be a better way, until I read Tim’s book, the 4 Hour Body.

Then, when I began to see results from trying something different, from doing a little independent research, from going against the conventional wisdom, it’s like it gave me permission to start questioning everything. I started reading up on lifestyle design, and while it took a few years for me to really action any of what I was reading so voraciously, that first step of shifting my mindset was crucial. The mindset shift that acknowledges it’s ok to do something different, even if it’s different from what the “experts” recommend.

If we can challenge the conventional wisdom of the literal treadmill, we can challenge the conventional wisdom of the figurative treadmill of high-spending/low-savings/40 year working life. We can challenge the idea that the place you were born is the place you should stay. We can demand something more, something better, something different.

 

Question everythingNot following the herd

Once you feel you have “permission” to question everything, and a good many badass people don’t require even that, you have the keys to the kingdom. From self-experimentation, the natural progression is self-education. We learn we don’t need to rely on authorities, we learn that conventional wisdom is often plain wrong. And we learn how to find the information we need. Or if it’s not out there, to create it ourselves.

The blogging community does this so incredibly well. There’s detailed information available now that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. One great example is the now-classic and oft-cited FIRE tax strategy known as the Roth Conversion Ladder. Thanks to outliers like the MadFIentist, it’s now out there for anyone to discover.

The way I see it, the future belongs to the outliers, to those who embrace being the different one, who get out in front of the herd. And I think we can all do this, not just in the realms of personal finance or global mobility, but in whatever areas we’re passionate about. And by doing so, we not only reach our goals faster, we bring others along on the journey.