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.

A leafy path... to freedom

Financial independence as a radical act

I am continually inspired and impressed by the quality of the content that is produced by the personal finance bloggers and podcasts I follow. It’s especially cool seeing so many women in this space, as historically the world of finance and investing hasn’t been particularly female-friendly. That’s changing now, because badass women are making that change. No one invited us to the party, but we’re showing up anyways, and we’re bringing our friends.

Thankfully, we live in the age of almost unlimited access to information, and therefore to self-education. We can decide we’re going to become financially literate, regardless of where we come from or how “the industry” or the education system or anyone else may perceive us. To me, that’s incredibly empowering. I love that no one can close those doors on us. The information is available, and where it used to suck, and be unnecessarily (and perhaps even intentionally) confusing and exclusionary, we’re out there making it increasingly accessible for anyone who wants it. I aspirationally include myself in that “we,” but really it’s rockstars like Frugalwoods and Broke Millennial, as evidenced by this recent post, regarding Broke Millennial’s new book (which looks awesome). 

Empowerment over despair

I found the above post incredibly inspiring, and it also happened to be a stark contrast to something else I came across this week. I stumbled upon a podcast that sounded like it would be a fun, fresh take on personal finance. The tone of it, unfortunately, was one of repeated despair and helplessness. As though the fact that we exist in an imperfect, unequal system is a valid reason to give up and stop trying. That’s crazy! The fact that the system sucks, and that it extra-sucks for women, people of colour, marginalised communities, etc, makes it extra important for us to arm ourselves with knowledge, and resist by lifting each other up instead of reinforcing the status quo.

I’m aware that I exist in a space filled with all kinds of privilege, but it just so happens that I do not come from a wealthy background at all. No one taught me about how to manage money (and in particular, no one teaches you how to handle money in a new country! I’m working on that…), and for a long time I was too intimidated to try to learn how for myself. But now that I do have a modicum of knowledge, I echo Mrs. Frugalwoods’ sentiment that we as women need to declare our financial independence. We owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to others still stuck in despair.

I feel that as women, we especially benefit from having our “fuck-you” money sorted. This can take many forms. It doesn’t have to amount to full financial independence (but it will be oh so sweet when it does), to be incredibly impactful on our lives.

When one of my beloved younger sisters was planning a big, bold move last year, that was my one bit of serious older-sister advice to her, and it’s my advice to all women:

Make sure you have your fuck-you money ready.

At a base level, to me that means money that allows you to say goodbye to any immediate situation that you’re uncomfortable with. From there, you can build on that. But having that baseline of self-sufficiency is powerful. We women need that irrespective of our marital or relationship status, age, orientation, geographic location, employment status or lack thereof. And we shouldn’t compromise it for anyone.

No matter where you’re at, commit to do better, and to lift others up along your way. Here are some things you can action, now, today, to get freer. Make it an act of joyful rebellion. (Points if you were like, was that a reference to a great mid-00’s hip hop album from Canadian artist K-os? Because yes.)

  1. Beginner: Get your baseline fuck-you money together, be it only a few hundred dollars/euros to start. You do that by reducing unnecessary spending and treating that money as sacred. It will grow, but you have to start!
  2.  Intermediate: Amp up your savings rate. If you’re currently saving 10%, that’s something. But what would it take to save 20%? 30%? Look at your spending line by line, and say a big, happy “fuck-you” to the forces that work to keep us down with every additional percentage point you take back.
  3. Advanced: Work on your side hustle and/or spread the knowledge. One of the ways the system works against us is by keeping us silent, under the taboo that you don’t talk about money. So get after it, and talk about it. Share something on your social media. And keep hustling. As passionate as many of us millennials are about injustice, we are also steady on our side hustles. I see these two as working perfectly in sync. Get free and help others get free.

Just because the gender, racial, or generational deck may be stacked against us, doesn’t mean we need to admit defeat. As for me, I unsubscribed to the whiny podcast of woe, and will continue to follow those who provide a more uplifting example. And hope to pay it forward myself in some small way.

freedom is a cheap ryanair flight

Location independent vs. financially independent

I have two internet obsessions. One is the roaming, globe-trotting nomads of Instagram (some of my favourites are Divergent Travelers,  How Far From Home, Goats on the Road). I love gawking at their adventures and planning more of my own. Being free to explore the world has always been one of my main goals and passions. And I’ve never been satisfied with the idea of doing so in traditional “vacations”, the frequency and length of which being limited by virtue of being an employee. This yearning for freedom by way of being location independent seems fairly common amongst my fellow millennials.

However, my second obsession is far nerdier and perhaps less glamorous, at least on its face. It’s the world not of the location independent, but of the financially independent. A small (but growing), weird and wonderful corner of the internet where acronyms like FIRE (Financially Independent, Retire Early, of course) need no explanation, and heated discussions about savings rates and the 4% rule and low cost index funds abound. These amazing and dedicated individuals save early and save often, so they can be free to leave full-time employment and live life on their own terms. The “retire early” part of FIRE is something of a misnomer, as most people I follow stay very active and in many cases even in income-generating activities. The key is they’re free to do so, or not, as and when they like. And perhaps most importantly of all, they’re free to spend their most valuable resource, namely their time, as they see fit.

I find inspiration from both camps, but not always as much overlap. It makes sense. The people that are dedicated to achieving financial independence aren’t spending all their money gallivanting around the world. They’re steady on the grind, paying off their mortgages and accumulating wealth in their various countries’ tax-deferred savings vehicles. And the people who are most mobile might struggle to find consistent ways to save. But it’s left me wondering if there isn’t a third way.

I got clued into the financial independence concept later than I might have liked. In 2015 I first got hooked on minimalism and downsizing my personal possessions. From there, one thing lead to another, I devoured Mr. Money Mustache’s entire oeuvre, and decided to see where I might land if I were just a little bit more badass.

I was a good few years into my career so it was long past time. I was also living in the US where a lot of the relevant literature is from and tailored to. So it was easy to follow the formula others had laid out. Max 401k, max IRA, throw the rest into Vanguard index funds, rinse, repeat. And I had that routine pretty well down. Salaries are decent in much of the US, including Seattle, and living even moderately sensibly (I could hardly call myself frugal!) allowed for all of this to happen pretty painlessly.

There was one problem. I wasn’t happy living in the US and I had known for a long time that I wanted out. But could I walk away from a path that seemed to be all but guaranteed to lead to financial independence in a reasonable time frame? Fear of the unknown could’ve kept me stagnant, but I chose something different. Ultimately, money wasn’t and isn’t the most important thing, and I chose a new adventure here in Ireland instead, accepting the pay cut and higher taxes that came along with it. I knew I was taking a fork in the road to FI, but I did so with eyes open.

But now I’m living in Europe, travelling as much as I can on the weekends, and finally taking stock of how my two duelling obsessions might intersect. I don’t want to give up the freedom of movement, but I do want to feel like I’m moving towards my financial goals as well. I think it’s possible, even if it’s not easy.

I’m still exploring how best to optimise this particular fork in the road, and I’m open to the possibility of taking a few more unconventional turns along the way. A few things are working in my favour, that many others could avail of, if they chose to. As I see it, here are the secret (totally not secret) tips to buoy your financial confidence and embolden you to take your own adventurous fork in the road:

  1. Be debt free. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But if you’re not currently debt-free, make every effort you can to move in that direction. It gives me a lot of confidence to take (calculated, considered) risks, knowing that I have no fixed monthly debt payments to factor in. Essentially, if I can cover my monthly living expenses, and sock a little extra away, I won’t feel like I’ve moved backwards, at least. I can move around the world without any debt following me around, and it’s incredibly freeing.
  2. Keep your monthly expenses low. Again, it’s not rocket science. But when you know you can live comfortably on a relatively modest sum, you keep your options far more open. And when you’re more location independent, you can make choices to live in lower cost locations when you need or want to. But the first step towards making this work for you is being flexible. If you aren’t too picky about having the shiniest, fanciest stuff, and if you’re willing to do the harder, better things like walking instead of taking taxis, and cooking for yourself, you free yourself doubly. Firstly, and immediately, you stop wasting so much money right now. Secondly, and forever, you stop being dependent on paying other people to meet your basic needs. I have a lot more to say about this, but as a basic principle, it’s essential. It underpins the concept of being independent in every sense of the word, and makes you a better, more useful, more interesting person.
  3. Pay attention to taxes. People don’t like doing this, but they should suck it up and learn. If your money can keep growing tax-deferred while you are off taking a few adventurous detours, or if you can maintain a few longer-term tax strategies, like the oft-cited Roth IRA ladder, or carefully managing your tax residency status (more on this to come), you can make strides towards financial goals even in times of potentially reduced income. I’m still exploring the tax efficient options available in Europe, but as a tax person, it’s something that is always factored into my analysis, and I’d like to help others do the same. 
  4. Remember that money isn’t the most important thing. I love personal finance and financial independence bloggers, but if you read enough of them you risk tunnel vision. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t got it all figured out by a particular age or life milestone. Don’t measure your worth by your net worth. But do get educated and empowered, because making your money work for you is a great way to get to focus on the really important things.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out yet, and that’s OK. The more of us that are out there, exploring unique and unconventional paths, the better.

Expat, immigrant, or digital nomad?

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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