I still remember the mixed feeling of excitement and hesitation when my husband told me the possibility of moving to Paris almost five years ago. We both have always loved Paris as tourists. The idea of actually living in the City of Light seemed romantic, yet daunting. What about my career as a Personal Finance and Mortgage Advisor, which I had spent almost 10 years building? In our case, my husband wasn’t required to move for his work, but had the option if he wanted to, thus, the even bigger dilemma. To move or not to move, that was the question!
As I pondered and struggled to make our final decision, I suddenly had this thought: “50 years down the road as I lay on my deathbed, looking back at my life, will I wish that I had achieved more business success managing more assets and doing more loans, or will I wish I took the chance to live and experience a life in Paris?”
Once I framed my question that way, Voilà, the answer was clear and simple! Up, we packed and moved.
Moving to a different country means a lot of things. It means a new environment, potentially a new language, and new routines. It can also mean a very different financial picture and arrangement for the family. These changes can potentially have a long-term impact on the family’s overall financial well-being and retirement planning.
The chaotic nature of these lifestyle transitions creates the perfect backdrop for us to take our eyes off the money and finance piece. As an expat wife, speaking from my own experiences and with my professional insights, I would like to offer a few tips in the hope that they will be useful for you to live an adventurous and fulfilling expat life without sacrificing your financial future.
Establish and maintain a working budget
Whether you had a working budget or not, it is a good idea to start one after moving to a new country. It helps you track and get a better handle on your new household expenses. I have found the easiest way is to use an expense tracker on my smartphone. There are many apps available, and the one I use is called CashTrails. You can create your own expense categories and it provides monthly and yearly reports. It also allows you to export to Excel should you need to. One thing to note, I only track our variable expenses, meaning I don’t record fixed expenses such as rent and utilities. My husband does the same, and at year end, we both export to Excel and merge our data to get an annual picture of where our money went.
Retirement savings & long-term investing
You may have had some sort of retirement savings plan and investment practices in your own country, but there may or may not be the equivalent in France. Be sure to look into this, and if there is no retirement savings plan through work, do something on your own and keep investing as you did before. The goal is to never take your eyes off your retirement savings and investments, no matter how adventurous and exciting your current life may be.
Health insurance aside, another type of insurance that’s important to consider is life insurance. The main consideration here is to think in terms of income replacement. For most expat families, there is only one source of income. If something were to happen to the income earner, there needs to be a clear plan for how to replace the missing income for at least a few years. This is especially important for families with children.
Your own financial independence as a trailing wife
The biggest challenge for trailing wives is to maintain our own identities. We often have to give up our own career, which means our ability to generate income. As a Personal Finance Coach, my mantra to all my clients is to never lose your own financial independence. This means staying engaged in the family financial affairs, being creative with what you may be able to do in the new environment using your existing skill sets and knowledge, and taking this opportunity to create new ways of building a lifelong career that is not dependent on your physical location.
Looking back, I had the best four years of my life living in Paris! It not only gave me the opportunity to experience a different life, it also gave me the time and space to reflect and create a new way of building a business which I’m passionate about and allows me to be anywhere in the world! We CAN have it all, it just takes some soul searching, planning and executing.