An ideal day

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

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

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

Elements of an ideal day

  • Wake up without an alarm

  • Unhurried breakfast and coffee

  • Write something

  • Read something

  • Create something

  • Learn something

  • Practice yoga

  • Walk and/or do something outdoors

  • Prepare and eat healthy meals from whole ingredients

  • Interact with people I care about

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

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

Tiny apartment tour

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

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

*Not my apartment building

Current location

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

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

Without further ado, here’s the grand tour:

Entrez-vous

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

 

Living space

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

 

Seating area

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

Kitchen

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

 

Kitchen stuff

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

 

Bathroom

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

 

Bedroom

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

 

Wardrobe/”vanity”

 

Tiny wardrobe

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

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

Trade offs

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

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

Would you give small space living a try?

Housing can make or break you

Housing is a hot topic for everyone, especially millennials. In many cities around the world, prices are rising faster than wages, home ownership feels out of reach for many, and even renting is becoming unsustainable. As though that weren’t stressful enough, it’s also the single biggest line item on most people’s budgets. That’s why it’s such a huge opportunity. Yeah, yeah, I know. But stick with me.

No matter your situation, I think that optimising your housing choices is the single most powerful tool in your arsenal to improve your finances and your life. There are a number of variables you can play with, depending on what matters most to you. More flexibility will result in more options, so I think with the right mindset, anyone can improve their situation by carefully examining this one, crucial choice. We tend to have a lot of emotions and preconceived notions wrapped up in our housing choices, but taking a step back and approaching it intentionally, as a deliberate choice, will dramatically impact your life and your goals.

Church ruins are an adventurous, if unconventional, choice

When you are location independent, a lot of the standard personal finance advice may not apply to you. I’m thinking of things like debates over whether to pay off your mortgage early, etc. Depending on your personal circumstances, it may not make sense for you to buy a property at all. And, don’t despair, because there are plenty of smart people with good reasons why that may not be a bad thing. However, when you don’t own your home, you constantly have to (aka: get to!) reconsider and reevaluate your housing situation.

Broadly, I think of housing consumers (that’s all of us, for the most part!) as fitting into three main categories, depending on how long we’re going to be staying in a given location. Most personal finance advice I’ve seen tends to be tailored to those who will be staying put for the long(ish) term. In my mind, that’s more than around 5 years, which might not seem very long to some! For the location independent or digital nomad communities, we may find ourselves looking at more the medium term (say, 1-5 years) or more often shorter term (1-12 months). Thusly, I’ll focus more on the latter two of the below categories:

  1. Long term: when you’re staying put for a long time (5+ years)

  1. Medium term: when you’re staying for the time being (1-5 years)

  1. Short term: when you’re testing the waters or just passing through (1-12 months)

In any of these situations, however, I think the main competing variables to consider are as follows:

Variables:
  • location

  • cost

  • size/privacy

  • fanciness/amenities

  • specifics (i.e. large kitchen, outdoor space)

  • commitment

Generally, the more flexible you can be with each of these variables, the more options you’ll have. One of the advantages of being location independent is the freedom to play with the first variable as much as you like. It’s the factor that I think is the single most powerful, and gives you the most choice within each of the others.

Beyond location dependence

A large part of why housing markets can suck so badly is that they traditionally have you as a fairly captive consumer. You have to live in a particular area because of where your job is, so you’re stuck with very little latitude on perhaps the most important variable. By becoming location independent, we remove that condition. Instead we can come to view it as a competition of where can offer us the best combination of variables based on our particular values and needs.

Looking at each of the above variables in turn, I think we can make some deliberate and intentional choices about what really matters to us, and what will ultimately make our lives better. Then, we can apply some creative thinking and find housing solutions that work for us rather than against us.

Location

This is a real estate cliche for a reason. But as digital nomads we can think about this beyond neighbourhood and commute time. Considering location, we can expand our search across cities and countries, and then narrow it down to our ideal neighbourhoods. Looking beyond the area you’re in can dramatically improve your options. You can choose less expensive cities and countries for part of the year. You can choose areas outside those adjacent to the CBD of a particular city, if you won’t need to be commuting into city centre every day. However, you may be more concerned with finding a walkable neighbourhood, or somewhere within easy reach of the nearest major airport.

Some of the high cost of living cities around the world don’t offer great value for money. Dublin, where I’m currently based, is in a full blown housing crisis. If I don’t need to compete with thousands of others for overpriced, substandard options, why would I? Then, when I am evaluating a location, I can narrow my search to locations that offer the lifestyle I’m looking for, and be a bit more stringent with the next, and next most important, variable.

Cost

As cost of housing rises, we have to either earn more to keep up, or accept that a higher percentage of our current income gets eaten up by this greedy line item. I prefer to set a maximum percentage of my take-home income that I’m willing to spend on housing. I think 30% of take home is a reasonable maximum. And yes, I’d want to be firm on making that 30% after taxes and retirement contributions, or in other words, 30% of spendable income. If that’s not possible in a given location, I’d have to concede that that location may be temporarily off the short-list. Or maybe it’s a location to work into your plans in shorter increments, or by utilising some unconventional options (some examples of which are briefly noted below).

Location and cost are of course very closely linked, and are the most important variables. If you’re going to be very picky on either of those, you’ll want to be quite flexible indeed on the below, secondary variables.

Size/privacy

In many desirable locations, having housemates is a very common solution to rising costs. If you’d rather more privacy, you’ll likely want to be very flexible on the size of your accommodations. I’m quite happy in small spaces, so that’s an easy one for me to concede. I’d happily accept less space for a location and cost I was happy with.

Fanciness/amenities

If you’re going to be a digital nomad, and sampling the housing offerings of many different locales around the world, being quite flexible on this will serve you well. I personally don’t derive much life satisfaction from expensive finishings or lots of fancy features. Sure, those things are nice to have, but if they become deal-breakers, you will find your options severely limited. Clean, safe, and functional are about as fancy as I personally need. Plus, if you’re looking for somewhere for a shorter term stay, it can be an interesting quirk to practice living without certain things you may have become accustomed to. You may find they’re less essential to your happiness than you thought!

Specifics

This is where you can tailor your search to the things that really do provide you with life satisfaction. I’d want a place I could cook in, in most places if I was staying for longer than about a month. Reliable wifi is probably another must-have. But what makes you happy? Do you crave outdoor space? A quiet street? Enough floor space to bust out a few yoga moves? Or space to host friends and family when they come through town? For me, once I’ve been sufficiently flexible with the categories that matter less, I find I can devote the appropriate level of attention to those few areas that matter most. And then keep experimenting, because they can and will fluctuate over time.

Commitment

As a shorter term housing consumer, you may wish to avoid signing year-long leases. This is easier to pull off if you don’t have a lot of stuff you need to move around with you. I think the default assumption is you’ll need to pay a lot more for the luxury of less commitment, and this is very likely true in many expensive cities in the West. A cursory search on Airbnb reveals at least a dozen attractive cities where a month-long rental is far less than I pay now on my year-long lease in Dublin. And that’s including wifi, heat, electricity, etc. If the conditions are right, I think this is another variable that can work in favour of the location independent.

Unconventional ideas

I’m going to be experimenting with a few untraditional options, such as month-long Airbnb rentals, coliving spaces, and some newer sites that appear intriguing, such as GoGo Places. I  think the options will only continue to increase as more and more people adopt a location independent lifestyle. I’m excited to see this space develop and what other creative solutions people come up with.

 

What does housing mean to you?

Ultimately we each need to decide what really matters to us. Is housing just a place to rest your head, or do you need your home to be your refuge, your nest, a reflection of your taste and personality? I don’t think there are any wrong answers, but examining our answers honestly can help hone our housing choices. And those choices will drastically impact our ability to progress towards our other goals, like financial independence, contribution, and travel.

What does it take to be happy? I believe that the fewer “must-haves” on our list, the greater our access to contentment. And the more flexibility we allow into the most expensive line items on our budget, the better. When approached as an opportunity to be flexible and creative, you can avoid being a victim of the housing market and instead continue to advance towards your goals.

Minimalism is freedom

 

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

 

Tailor your choices to your goals

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

 

Fewer burdens, more freedom

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

 

The easy way or the hard way

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

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

 

The less you own, the freer you are

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

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

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

Don’t own stuff, own yourself

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

 

Planning an international move: a checklist for minimalists

Making your move as a minimalist

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

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

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

Various types of stuff and what to do With it:

Physical stuff:

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

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

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

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

Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30, my ride or die

Bring like this amount of stuff, if you can

Money stuff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Practical stuff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else?

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Planning meals in advance.

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

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

2. Walking before and after work. 

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

3. A long walk at lunchtime.

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

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

No-Spend Work Week: Status update

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

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

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

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

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

Veggie-heavy meal prep

The Challenge

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

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

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

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

 

Minimalism for Expats

Minimalism has become a full-blown cultural movement. The Minimalists have a hugely popular podcast, and film that has recently come to Netflix. When I encountered the concept a few years ago, it was immediately a good fit for my personality and preferences. I’ve been naturally inclined in that direction for most of my life, and I loved reading about how others interpreted the idea of living with less and reducing excess. I eagerly delved into accounts of capsule wardrobes, tiny houses, and living with 100 things or less. It makes for compelling reading.

However, for many people, it’s understandable how minimalism could remain a casual Pinterest fascination. They might sense that applying some of the ideas could benefit their lives, but lack that motivating factor. One group of people I think can benefit from minimalism in very real, tangible ways is the globally mobile: the expats, the digital nomads, those of us who try out new countries as readily as some people try out new neighbourhoods. I believe our ranks will only continue to increase, and that one of the best ways to prepare for a successful move is to embrace minimalism.

Here are some ways embracing minimalism will make your life easier, freer, and better, whether you are making an international move or not:

1. Travel light: Whether you are travelling for a weekend, a few weeks, indefinitely, or picking up and transplanting your life to a new location, the concept of travelling lightly will serve you well. “Stuff” weighs you down, physically, mentally, financially, spiritually. You’ll find you can make your move(s) so much easier and simpler if you can cut down your physical possessions to only the essentials.

This is an iterative process and it helps if you minimise early, and minimise often. If you only have a few pairs of shoes, because you’ve been diligently minimising for months prior to your move, it’s not hard to decide which to bring with you. And better yet, if you’re not that attached to any of them, it’s not hard to leave some behind. There will be shoes in your new country, trust and believe this.

I thought I had made a fairly minimal move, and even still I found myself donating various items a few months after I’d arrived in Ireland. Bring less than you think, it’s almost never a mistake.

still too much

What I brought with me to Ireland (aka all my worldly possessions).

2. Simplify your finances: When you move to a new country, or hop around the globe, it’s really helpful if you can keep your financial life as streamlined as possible. The last thing you need is to have 20 different passwords for 20 different financial institutions, and then to have to remember which card charges you foreign transaction fees, and which accounts you have linked, etc.

I suggest keeping a bank account open in your home country, and best yet if you have a no- foreign transaction fee credit card that’s with the same provider. Extra bonus points if you don’t pay an annual fee for either the account or the card. Banking is annoyingly expensive in Ireland, but from what I can tell there’s not much that can be done about that. I kept my US bank account, and a Visa associated with that account. For investments, I’m all Vanguard. I have a Paypal linked to my US bank, and another linked to my Irish bank.

I haven’t found anything like Mint or Personal Capital that works with non-US accounts, but at least I can log into Mint and it only needs to check two financial institutions to give me a snapshot of everything on the US side. I’ve been keeping the Irish side low key for now, so there’s only a few places I need to look there, too.

3. Minimalist home: Let’s assume you adhered to Minimalist Expat Commandment #1 and didn’t lug a bunch of heavy home furnishings and decor half way around the globe with you. Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. Now that you’re in your new country, for however long that may be, see if you can keep your home-related acquisitions to a minimum.

My flat when I moved in. (I added the Bay blanket. And the wine.)

To dress up my furnished flat, I purchased a few things to hang on the walls, a few throw pillows, a charity shop chair, and a storage ottoman/coffee table. Plus the necessary kitchen stuff. All of this will probably stay in the flat when I leave, or get donated. And I’m none to precious about any of it, which helps when I’m letting the place on Airbnb when I travel. I don’t mind if they break a plate or two (although this hasn’t happened, but it seems to be a concern for some people, who ask me: “What about your STUFF?” in anxious tones when I tell them I host Airbnb guests when I’m out of town).

4. Daily routines: By this I mean your day to day cooking and grooming and whatnot. Have you encountered people who feel as though they require a lot of complicated accessories just to get ready for a normal day? Simplifying this, to the extent possible, makes travel and relocation a lot easier. I don’t feel I need 15 different hair products to be a valuable member of society or to enjoy my life. And I really enjoy the ease of packing, since all my normal personal care products easily fit into the 1L bag limit. Being flexible and adaptable is something to continually practice, and is a skill that would serve any expat well.

I’ve come across expats who complained that the posh nail salon in our exclusive, wealthy suburb of northern Johannesburg (Sandton, just to name-drop for those in the know), didn’t stock the right kind of gel nail polish. I don’t know, but it seemed like they might have been missing the point? Try to make peace with an alternate brand of gel nail polish, is all I’m saying.

5. Technology and digital life: This is one area I’m working on. I sometimes bring more devices than is strictly necessary, but the setup I currently have is:

      • laptop

      • iPad

      • iPhone

      • Kindle Paperwhite

      • associated chargers

      • external battery pack

I don’t bring all my devices on every trip, but if I were moving longer term again, or if I were transitioning to full digital nomad, I think I’d keep more or less this roster. The iPad is a few years old and probably the most redundant, but I like it for reading free magazines from the library (shoutout to the Zinio app! Don’t buy expensive magazines, fam). In reality, I probably won’t replace it when it dies, especially now that my laptop is a lovely, lovely Macbook.

Technology setup, on the multi-use ottoman.

I also have a portable bluetooth speaker that sorts out my music needs, usually via Spotify. With Spotify and Netflix, I’m well covered from an entertainment perspective, and the only thing I need in a new country is wifi. No TV or stereo required, either in a shipping container, or in a rented flat.

So there you have it. There are surely countless more benefits to minimalism when you are undertaking something as major as moving countries, but with simple, streamlined, and thoughtful possessions, finances, homes, habits, and technology, you’ll be well ahead of the curve. Go forth and become location independent with intention!

Little expat wins: my €0.02 on car ownership

 

I recently listened to a great podcast by the amazingly informative and thorough lads over at www.ChooseFI.com. I’ve enjoyed all their podcasts so far, but the topic of their most recent episode was interesting to me mainly because it didn’t apply to me at all. Let me explain.

The True Cost of Car Ownership

Jonathan and Brad do a terrific job of breaking down the cost of car ownership, and their comprehensive and satisfyingly math-y approach will serve as a really useful resource for a lot of people. They come at the issue from the entirely reasonable assumption that most Americans can’t or won’t give up car ownership altogether. That cars are an expensive, necessary evil. And for the most part, they’re right. But it made me appreciate how my particular life journey has allowed me to bypass car ownership altogether. And it made me wonder how much that choice has saved me over the years.

I have lived without a car for most of my adult life. I couldn’t afford one in high school or university, and then didn’t want the hassle of paying for parking when I lived in a city. I grew up in a remote, rural area and spent many, many boring hours in cars as a child. I think that experience influenced my decision to live car-free once I had the choice to do so.

I haven’t always been naturally inclined towards what might be called Mustachian lifestyle choices, but one thing that’s always been a priority for me has been living close to where I work. That made me something of an outlier in the US (even in dense, walkable Seattle most people I knew had cars), but I was perfectly content with that. When I was ready to leave Seattle and pondering my next move, one of my top criteria was that my next city had to be walkable or otherwise conducive to a car-free lifestyle. I first cast a glance around the US and didn’t find many places that seemed to fit the bill.

Rather than take it as a given that owning a particular item, or even living in a particular country, was non-negotiable, I decided to think outside those perceived constraints:

 What would happen if I resolved to find a location that suited my preferred lifestyle, instead of adjusting my lifestyle to fit into a particular location?

Most cities in Europe are extremely supportive of a car-free lifestyle, and since moving to Dublin, I haven’t given any thought to getting a car here. I walk everywhere 95% of the time, and take public transit otherwise (and that’s mostly just to and from the airport!). It’s such a natural fit for me that, until I listened to the excellent podcast from the ChooseFI gents, I had genuinely forgotten that so many people consider a car an essential possession.

It occurred to me that it’s a good example of how thinking just a little differently can align with FI principles in so many ways. In my case, being willing to eschew car ownership supports not only a form of minimalism, but also health, geo-arbitrage, participating in the sharing economy, concern for the environment, and just generally living in a way that supports my values. The fact that it’s saved me many thousands of dollars(/euros) over the years is really just icing on the cake. I’d choose to live this way regardless of the cost.

But, just for fun, let’s break down the theoretical savings, using the ChooseFI guys’ methodology:

Based on their assumption that the true annual cost of owning a 10 year old fuel efficient vehicle was $2,605, and using their example of compounding annually (calculator is from MoneyChimp) at an average return of 8% over 20 years, my decision will have made me more than $140,000 richer than if I’d owned even the most efficient and least silly car possible.

And if I’d somehow undergone a personality transplant and bought a brand new SUV, I’d be $420,000 poorer than I’m going to be.

There aren’t always clear wins when it comes to expat life and finances, but this seems like one of them. When we are willing to look outside the bounds of both conventional wisdom and geography, we can find ways to live that align with our goals, values, and beliefs. For me personally, I don’t foresee a time when I will want to live in a place where I’d need a car. Fortunately, there are so many exciting places around the world that aren’t car-dependent that I’m confident I’ll be able to find locations and ways to live that work for me.

Ultimately, that’s the goal of becoming location independent with intention, no matter one’s personal transportation or other lifestyle preferences. As millennials in particular, we don’t want to be tied down by rules we didn’t choose, or values we don’t subscribe to. And I see the amazing and inspiring diversity of the FI community, the minimalism movement, and the location independent/expat community as being a sumptuous array of experiments in lifestyle design. The more that we all think critically about our choices, and think for ourselves, the richer (in every sense of the word) all of our lives will be.

Purse packing, Prague edition

I went to Prague for the May Day bank holiday weekend. It’s a stunning city and I can’t wait to go back. Super affordable, really easy to get around, great food, chilled out people, amazing architecture and loads of charm. It was so much fun that I didn’t take any pictures of what I packed, but it was basically a slightly pared-down version of what I packed for Paris. Just my Longchamp bag with the essentials, and I didn’t even use all of what I brought, so clearly I can keep minimising my packing even further.

It’s nice knowing that the formula for packing for long weekends is now pretty firmly established as tote-bag-only. The more I practice it, the more comfortable I feel throwing my stuff together at the last minute, confident in the knowledge that I’ll have what I need and that will be enough. And I really love being able to happily check out of my Airbnb at any time, throw my bag over my shoulder, and freely roam the city in the hours before my flight. And then to easily hop on public transport to the airport without having to deal with a big, unwieldy suitcase. The fun of being able to scamper up and down the always-empty stairs at the airport, while all the wheelie bags wait on the crowded escalator, is another perk. That’s how I usually end up at the front of the queue at immigration when I get back to Dublin. And from there it’s straight onto the trusty Aircoach or Dublin Bus Airport Express, where I can tally up how much I’ve saved by travelling this way. If you just look at taxis to/from the airport, both in Dublin and in whatever city I’m travelling to, it’s over €100 per trip, easily.

For as long as I live in Europe, I plan to have a lot more weekends like this, so I’m pretty happy to have found a formula that works. Since it would be boring to post more pictures of my very basic packing, here are some pretty pictures of Prague. Pack light and be happy!