For the Money Mic series, we let people with passionate opinions on money take the floor. It’s important to note that these are their views, not ours. Nonetheless, we would love to hear your input! Today a woman reveals how relocating abroad and living modestly allowed her household business to flourish—and changed their view of money for good.
It was 2013, and to the general public, William and I were living our best life in beautiful St. Louis.
Having recently acquired his MBA, he was doing an internship at a prestigious consumer-products firm that promised to launch him into the corporate world. In addition, he ran his own highly successful tutoring and test-prep business on the side.
While trying to balance finishing my Ph.D. in reproductive epidemiology with the joys of motherhood, I was blessed with our beloved Desmond who was two at the time.
In the final semester of his MBA program, our family embarked on an eye-opening journey to Spain for William’s study abroad. We thought it would be a three-month stay overseas but little did we know it was going to become two years and counting!
Ever since we have been able to experience the beauty of life in five different countries from Hungary to Peru and even welcomed new additions to our family during our journey.
Our nomadic lifestyle may appear to be quite unusual to some – it certainly came as a shock when we announced our plan of getting rid of all possessions and setting off for faraway places. But at the same time, this is exactly how we want to live our lives!
The most fantastic part? It has completely transformed our financial situation.
As it turns out, the career paths and lifestyles we had dreamed of weren’t quite materializing.
Although most business students would have been envious of William’s internship, he found himself discouraged by corporate life.
The unvaried nature of his daily obligations, compounded by having to labor for someone else, caused him a deep sense of discontentment. He desired something greater.
I experienced the same despondency. After five long years of doctoral research, striving to manage both my studies and caring for a baby began to take its toll on me. I was losing confidence in academia at an alarming rate.
This newfound wonder of the world piqued William’s interest, prompting him to ask an intriguing question before our departure for his study abroad program in Spain: What would happen if we chose not to come back home at the semester’s end?
Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could spend a few more months in Europe—one final adventure before settling down?
“We had a toddler and a mountain of debt—and couldn’t go gallivanting around Europe like carefree college students.”
I thought he was crazy.
We had a little one, and to top it off, more than $100k of student loans between us, an additional business loan worth $25K plus our credit card debt amounted to around $6K. Europe wasn’t on the cards for us right now like those free-spirited college students!
When I realized he was serious, something inside me awoke. It seemed that this could be a grand journey for our family!
Thus, we terminated our lease and put all of our belongings in storage. We discovered a room through Airbnb for $1,200 monthly in Barcelona – quite pricy but less than the total rental fee of $1,500 that was due back at home in St. Louis.
After settling in Spain, William had a radical thought: Why not remain and establish his tutoring business overseas?
When the opportunity presented itself, his entrepreneurial spirit drove him to take out a business loan and acquire the firm from its previous owners–a company we had both worked for in Salt Lake City.
When we shifted to St. Louis for William’s MBA program, he continued managing the business remotely while hiring two codirectors to manage our 15 tutors left in Salt Lake City. His salary was around $35,000 but staying overseas made us recognize an even bigger potential for making money.
William has the opportunity to collaborate with global schools in Europe, introducing our services that assign tutors to their campuses for a few weeks at a time for SAT/ACT preparation. This serves as an invaluable resource for students aspiring to study in America and access higher education.
Although I was confident in the plan, the thought of actually living in numerous countries rather than simply visiting them filled me with fear. But if we were ever going to make this work, there was no better time to start than now.
Thus, I paused my Ph.D. studies and became our family’s definitive Travel Officer.
5 Countries, $300 Rent, $0 Credit Card Debt
We savored every moment of our five-month stay in Barcelona, basking in the bustling culture while simultaneously creating plans for our future excursions based on areas with international schools nearby, as well as our curiosity and budgeting.
For the next three months, we ventured to Budapest, Hungary, and were thrilled with the affordability of living there. We managed to find a sizable apartment for only $300 monthly – all by avoiding tourist traps!
At that point, I understood the potential of living abroad to positively affect our finances. By devising a well-thought-out plan, we could drastically reduce costs and make life much less expensive.
As the holidays arrived, we journeyed back to St. Louis with a single purpose: to bid farewell to our U.S. lifestyle by selling off all of our possessions. But on one detour in Rome, a surprise was revealed – a second baby was joining us!
Having a secure place to bring my newborn into the world was essential for me, and that is why we chose Colombia as our next home. Being born there myself, I had family nearby who could provide us with both assistance and comfort during this time of need.
In February 2014, we moved to Bogota after finding a fully furnished apartment for an amazing $900—and soon welcomed our second son into the world! We named him Roman in honor of Italy.
When I was pregnant, we weren’t covered by international health insurance, and could still manage to afford my prenatal visits and the birth itself for a mere $1800. To make sure that this doesn’t happen again, we have recently acquired family insurance coverage which costs us only $200 per month – an incredibly reasonable cost!
During our eight-month stay in Bogota, William was quite successful and due to his hard work and dedication, he received a salary raise of up to $45,000 per year. Thanks to the company’s generosity they subsidized expenses such as flights for business meetings along with rent. Furthermore, I added additional income by doing freelance research and public-health data analysis in my free time.
Although there are no tax exemptions for citizens residing abroad, the United States has allowed the write-off of business travel expenses to provide some financial relief.
“Our nomadic life has taught us that we won’t need a big house with a fancy car to be happy. You don’t need a permanent address to feel like you have a home.”
This newfound life has allowed us to pay off our $6,000 credit card balance and even reduce a whopping $25,000 business loan down to zero last year!
Even though reducing our student debt may take an extended period, we have been able to set up a 529 college savings account for Desmond and create a trust fund for Roman. Through all this effort, we’ve been able to also save approximately $2,000 towards emergency costs.
Our upcoming objective is to start funding a Roth IRA once again, something we paused during our graduate school program.
[Related: 38 Ways To Save Money Without Trying (Much)]
Saving money is always a plus, and we make sure to do just that when it comes to finding housing. Instead of settling for prime neighborhoods with higher rent rates, our typical move-in cost including utilities has been around $1,000—saving us about half the amount we used to pay back in St. Louis! Living frugally helps us travel more frequently both domestically and internationally without breaking the bank.
Certainly, our largest savings have been the elimination of two car’s gas, insurance and repair costs. This has allowed us to become acquainted with public transportation in each new city we visit—an immense cost saver! I also make sure to take advantage of seasonal local ingredients when cooking at home; this helps save money as well.
With the elevated cost of living in cities, we must be much more aware of our spending habits. Thanks to our lifestyle of traveling with suitcases instead accumulating belongings, there is no room for costly shopping excursions – which keeps us within budget!
Our thrifty practices have been with us in the five nations and numerous locales we’ve called home—Spain, Hungary, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico—and during our many visits abroad. We’re currently back in Bogota but will soon be heading to Japan for yet another business venture: building an East Asian client base.
The Intangible Perks of Our International Life
My primary issue when we first moved abroad was how the children would handle our new lifestyle, yet they have adapted to living a nomadic life with incredible ease.
In just a few months, Desmond will begin his all-Japanese kindergarten education in addition to the four preschools he has already attended. Though international schools can be expensive, once Desmond reaches 1st or 2nd grade we intend on homeschooling him as an alternative.
By exposing Desmond to novel experiences, we have watched him blossom into a confident and courageous individual. Additionally, he has become fluent in Spanish due to his time abroad!
People regularly inquire about how long our nomadic lifestyle will last. The truth is I don’t know for sure. There are moments when settling into a permanent home sounds inviting, but then I take in my surroundings and acknowledge that we’re experiencing something truly special that not many people get to enjoy.
For the past few years, we’ve had the privilege of being enraptured by Machu Picchu’s beauty, experiencing an overnight rail journey through Transylvania, and conquering Santiago’s renowned outdoor markets.
Despite us not being millionaires, we are doing quite well. When this journey began, there was only one international class available; however, starting in the fall semester of this year, a total of 11 classes will be offered and even more for the upcoming spring semester—tripling our overall profits!
For the last several years, some of my most cherished moments have been witnessing my children interact and engage with kids from different backgrounds: diverse cultures, languages, and beliefs. I’ve also come to comprehend that perhaps the greatest experiences occur when you surrender a bit of your control to relish spontaneous surprises!
Our nomadic lifestyle has taught us that great wealth and luxurious possessions are not essential for happiness. We have discovered that a lasting feeling of home does not necessitate having an official address. When we eventually put down roots, our contentment won’t rely on the size of our residence or the brand-name vehicles in our driveway.
This article was written by Scarlett Thomas and originally published on LearnVest.