Reader Case Study: Moving To Europe From South Africa, Trying To Make Ends Meet

Welcome to this month’s Reader Case Study in which we’ll address Clara’s questions on where to move her family and how to make ends meet every month. I’m particularly excited about Clara’s story as it’s a unique angle we haven’t addressed before: she currently lives in South Africa with her family but plans to move to Europe in the near future.

A protea flower at Clara’s local botanical gardens

Case studies are financial dilemmas that a reader of Frugalwoods sends to me requesting that Frugalwoods nation weigh in. Then, Frugalwoods nation (that’s you!), reads through their situation and provides advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. For an example, check out last month’s case study.

P.S. Another way to get support on your financial journey is to participate in my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge! You can sign-up at any time to join the over 19,800 fellow frugal sojourners who’ve taken the Challenge and saved thousands of dollars.

I probably don’t need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but, please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not to condemn.

With that I’ll let Clara, this month’s case study subject, take it from here!

Clara’s Story

Greetings, Frugalwoods nation! I’m Clara (age 41), my husband is Ben (age 45), and we have three children ages 4, 6, and 9. We also have three cats and three dogs! I’m a dual national–American and British–and my husband is as also a dual national–French and South African. Before having children, we lived in the US and the UK. For the last 12 years, we’ve lived near Cape Town in South Africa

I want to offer a “Privilege and Gratitude Disclaimer” before I go any further: We live in a beautiful town that has extreme wealth and extreme poverty side by side. I’m reminded every day of how fortunate we are to have a roof over our heads, food on the table, and the luxury of choices. I am writing this with a grateful heart, knowing how very, very fortunate I am and with deep respect for our neighbors who had a different start in life and face hardships daily. Africa never lets us forget that.

Clara and Ben’s Background

One of Clara and Ben’s pups

I have an M.A. and used to work with a graphic design company back when we lived in the US and also did portrait work on commission as a side hustle. Now I’m a stay-at-home homeschooling mom and I manage our finances and two rental properties. Ben has a B.Sc. in Computer Science, and after a few jobs for small and medium-sized companies, he struck out on his own and is self-employed doing systems administration and IT support for several clients. He loves having the flexibility of working for himself so that he can spend a lot of time with our children.

We love the outdoorsy lifestyle here as well as the joyful, optimistic and creative cultural mix that somehow survives despite our enormous wealth divide and political strife. I value the natural beauty of living between the mountains and the sea as well as our low cost of living! I can share amazing experiences with our kids through just a few annual memberships: trips to our world-class aquarium, an enormous bird park, and the botanical gardens. There are beautiful hikes in the mountains as well as sunny beaches. Having said all that, we’re planning to move to another country… more on that later!

Clara and Ben’s Homeschooling Decision

We’ve been frugal parents from the start with cloth diapers, thrift-store toys and hand-me-down clothes. When our oldest son was two-ish, we researched the fees to send him to the local government school and realized that, in order to afford it, either I’d have to be a working mom, or, we could homeschool. If our oldest two kids were in school now, the monthly cost (excluding after-care, books, uniforms and extra-murals) would be $286.90, and that would go up to $430.43 when our youngest starts school in 2019. We opted for homeschooling and are now part of a large, diverse community of families who have also decided to sacrifice one parent’s salary in order to DIY their kids’ education. Four years into it and the kids’ social lives are full and this choice is working very well for our family

Hobbies and Community Involvement

Before we had children, I didn’t have a work visa and so I did volunteer work for two organizations. The first was for destitute mothers with babies and toddlers who had traveled to the city to find work. The second was our local animal rescue society, which is how we ended up with 6 rescue ‘children’ before we had our human kids!

My volunteer work is now online: I edit a journal for an association I belong to in the UK, which supports people who raise funds for many different charities – cancer research, youth and sports charities, animal welfare, etc. It’s published three times a year and I spend about 100 hours on each issue. I love editing and I plan to do paid freelance work in the future.

A frugal craft by Clara and Ben’s kiddos

I don’t have a lot of spare time in this life season of caring for three small children. My priority is my family and I spend most of my time with them: reading, chatting, walking, teaching, doing craft projects, arranging dates with their friends, washing dishes, doing laundry… and just being present. That means I feel a little frustration about not earning an income, but I see these as their precious years of childhood that I don’t want to miss. I do go running and we love hiking in the Cape mountains and walking the dogs. I enjoy sewing and quilting although that’s mostly manifest in putting patches on the knees of kid clothing! We are big readers and visit our local libraries often.

Ben co-teaches in our homeschool co-op and loves math puzzles. However, for all his mathematical talent, he isn’t remotely interested in money, doesn’t like discussing finances, and prefers to leave the investment decisions to me. I am new to investing (except for our rental properties), and still have a lot of homework to do to figure out how we can accomplish our goals.

Why Ben and Clara Have No Debt

Ben’s mother generously paid for his undergraduate degree and so he didn’t incur any student loan debt. He saved his earnings by living at home until he was 28 and then bought an apartment for cash, which is now one of our rental properties. I had $38,902 in student debt from my B.A and M.A degrees, and began paying this off aggressively with my first job after graduating.

While we were working in the UK, Ben’s aunt, who had no children, passed away and left her estate to her very fortunate nephews. This enabled us to pay off the remainder of my student debt, buy our home (which has a cottage on the grounds that’s our second rental property) for cash in 2004 for $219,450, and for Ben to start working for himself. I didn’t know Ben’s aunt well, but she has blessed our lives beyond measure.

Ben and I share a 2000 Nissan Sentra which we bought second-hand for cash. We have no mortgages, no credit cards, and no debt whatsoever. Hooray!

Clara and Ben’s Elephant In The Room

Clara’s frugal patching of her kid’s jeans

We’re not making ends meet. This year, our food costs went up dramatically due to a triple whammy of inflation, drought, and our children growing up and eating more. At the beginning of 2016 we spent $423.50 per month on food and 18 months later, we’re at $592.90!

Also, the kids are attending more extra-curricular classes as they get older, which all cost money. We know we need to sell our home and move to a smaller place – our biggest asset is this home and its in an expensive neighborhood. For these reasons, we’re thinking of moving abroad.

Why Clara and Ben Want To Move Abroad

1) Personal safety: Crime rates are high here in South Africa and we’d like to give our children more freedom to roam than we’re able to here. I’d love to let them ride their bikes down the road and walk to friends’ houses but we can’t conscientiously do that in our current location.

2) To be closer to family: My extended family is in the UK and the US, but flights are so expensive that we can’t travel to see them as much as we’d like. Since moving here, we’ve been back to the States only twice (and my brother generously paid for our tickets one of those times!)

3) Our future: Our kids’ tertiary education and future work prospects are limited here. I would also feel vulnerable living here as an elderly person in terms of personal safety. We’ve seen quite a few elderly folks get ‘trapped’ in South Africa with their children and grandchildren having moved abroad. Their retirement savings aren’t enough to support them in other countries with higher costs of living. We don’t want that to happen to us!

4) Changes for middle-income families in South Africa: The municipality is going to stop supplying a base amount of free water and electricity to properties above a value of $77,000, which includes us. I think this does need to happen (we’re in a severe drought), but since we’re already unable to cover our monthly expenses, this is going to hit us hard.

Where Clara and Ben Want To Be In 10 Years

Finances:

  • We’re not planning on having any more children. In ten years, we’ll be in our 50s, and have three teenagers – yikes! We’d like to have sold our home in South Africa, moved to Europe, and own a home there. I’d like to understand investing more concretely than my current newbie grasp and have the rest of our capital invested for our children’s tertiary education and our own retirement.
  • I’m not averse to sticking with rental properties for income as we’ve done in South Africa, but I don’t want it to be the bulk of our income and net worth. We’d like to have saved some money to help start our children out with tertiary education, apprenticeships or entrepreneurial ventures – whatever they choose to do!

Lifestyle:

  • We’d like to live in the country and enjoy an outdoorsy lifestyle with a veggie garden, plenty of hiking and walking paths, and live near places to go camping on weekends. I’d like to be somewhere safe enough that the kids can enjoy nature unsupervised and have freedom to roam.
  • Friendships are important to me so I’d like to live near enough to connect with a few good friends. I’m aiming to see my US family every two years. If they take turns on the traveling and come to see us too, we’d only need to purchase plane tickets every four years.

Career:

  • By 2027, we both aim to be self-employed, working part-time, and covering our living expenses with that work. I’d like to do freelance editing online, take portrait commissions, and make and sell arty sewing projects like quilts and bags.
  • Ben would like to continue with his freelance work, but switch to software support instead of hardware support, so that he can do more virtual work and not go see clients.

Clara and Ben’s Finances

Note: currencies are converted from South African Rands to US Dollars

Annual Income

Item Annual Total Notes
Rental Cottage on our Property $14,340.48 This is before expenses, which are listed under “Monthly Expenses” below.
Rental Flat $5,959.80 This is before expenses, which are listed under “Monthly Expenses” below. We just sold this flat for $129,360 and it’s being transferred now. I sold it privately, so there were no agent fees!
Ben’s IT Income $2,671.75 This is net. Ben’s income is quite erratic – $0 one month, and a few hundred the next.
Annual Total Income: $22,972.03 We are under the tax threshold, so we don’t pay income tax.
Monthly Total Income: $1,914.34

Monthly Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Groceries $592.59 We’re vegetarian. Food costs have really gone up in the past year. We don’t eat out.
Kids $308.69 Educational materials, annual memberships, extra-murals, sports and birthday gifts for our kids’ friends.
Cats and Dogs $223.46 Good food, vaccines and vet care (averaged)
Medical $214.95 This amount is for Ben, who sees a counsellor twice monthly (non-negotiable). We don’t have medical insurance. There is national public health care for which one pays according to income. Most middle-income people prefer to buy insurance so they can go to private hospitals, but this is unaffordable for us. We go to a private GP when we need to and pay out of pocket.
Rates and water for our home and the rental cottage on our property $208.08 Our tenants pay for their own electricity. It’s fairly common for landlords to pay for tenants’ water in South Africa. In the rental cottage next to our house, we share the same water meter for our whole property because I can’t split it accurately. I have a really nice tenant in the cottage who is quite careful about saving water, and our bills haven’t been high at all, even with the council raising the price of water because of the drought.
Gas for car $158.83 There’s a nationalized road accident fund which covers accidents for uninsured people. We (legally) don’t have insurance.
Rates, levies and water for our rental flat $153.50 The tenant pays for electricity. These costs will be gone after the sale of this property is complete. “Rates” are the taxes we pay to the council (I think you might call it property tax in the US?). “Levies” are what we pay to the property management company who looks after the apartment complex. It covers building insurance, salaries for the gardeners, maintenance, and expenses such as repainting every few years. Water usage for all 33 flats in the complex is split among the owners.
Housecleaner $83.39 We’ve known her for 10 years. She comes and cleans the floors once a week, and has other jobs as well. We have talked about cutting this expense, but it would be hard on both her and me!
Internet and  landline (bundled) $49.01 There’s a monopoly on landlines here. Ben needs good internet for work and he thinks he has the best option available.
Clothing $42.42 Only necessities, mostly for the kids.
Electricity $42.35 We really conserve electricity. This cost is lower than anyone I know.
Household supplies $41.26 Things I don’t buy at the grocery store, such as: lightbulbs, vitamins, a new kettle (our old one broke recently), shampoo, soap, etc.
Property Insurance, structure only $36.63 We choose not to insure our household contents.
Two mobile phones $13.90 We use cheap phones for calls and texts only. There’s no contract and we buy prepaid airtime as we go.
Radio license fee (instead of a private security company) $0.48 Almost all of our neighbours pay a private security company as house robbery is so common here. We have a neighbourhood watch radio instead, and pay a $11.55 radio license fee once every 2 years.
Total $2,169.54 We’re spending an average of $255.20 over our income every month and not saving anything. Eek!

Assets

Item Amount Notes
Our home and rental cottage $385,000.00 This figure is the market value from three estate agent valuations I had done a year ago.
Rental flat, which we just sold $129,360.00 We haven’t received the payment for the flat yet. Transfer of property here takes 90 days, and our transfer was delayed. We are expecting the payment this week or next, and it will be put into our savings account with an interest rate of 5.35%. From there we will transfer it to wherever we decide to invest. Some Capital Gains Tax will be due on this, but I haven’t worked out how much yet.
Savings account in the US $4,192.34 Interest rate 0.75%
Emergency fund savings account in South Africa $1,868.69 Currently being depleted! I’d like to build this back up to 6 months’ of expenses. Interest rate is 5.35%
Savings account in the UK $799.09 Interest rate 0% – I need to move this!
Total $521,220.12

Car

Item Amount Notes
2000 Nissan Sentra $2,464.00 Blue book value

Debts: $0

Clara’s Questions For You:

1) Can you suggest any stop-gap measures to help us make ends meet today?

Clara and Ben’s kids visiting the aquarium

We are environmentalists and try to live frugally. Thanks to the Frugalwoods’ advice – and necessity – we’ve cut every bit of fat off our living expenses, apart from the kids’ classes and good food for our pets. We save our shower water to flush the toilets (as I mentioned we are in a drought, but this also helps keep our water bill down), we only heat our house in winter with firewood from our own trees (free!), we don’t eat out, and we mend our clothes and receive hand-me-downs from generous friends with older children. I would welcome any advice! One idea we have is to move to a cheap rental further away from Cape Town, and rent out our home. However, our house needs some work before it would be presentable, and this would entail an extra move, and probably delay our move abroad, which we’d like to accomplish as soon as possible.

2) We recently sold our rental flat for $129,360 and it’s in the process of being transferred. Some Capital Gains Tax will be due and I haven’t worked out just how much as it depends on our annual income. Given our moving plans, how should we reinvest the profit from the rental flat until we move? Should I move this money abroad immediately? We’ve been receiving $343.15 per month in net income from that property. I’ve been looking at a 2-year South African government retail bond for a fixed 7.75%, with interest paid monthly. There are also 1-year fixed-term bank savings accounts offering 10%! We are hesitant to invest in ETFs and index funds as we don’t want to invest (even small portions) in alcohol, tobacco, oil, military equipment, weapons, or practices that harm the environment, like palm oil farming.

3) Where in Europe should we move to? The obvious choices, in light of our citizenship, are the UK and France. We’re nervous about the higher cost of living and the colder weather in northern Europe. We would love for our family to become bilingual, but recognise the big social challenge that would involve. We’ve been talking about making a home base in the UK and doing some frugal traveling south in the winters.

4) In the longterm, how should we invest the proceeds from our home once it’s sold? We plan to rent for at least our first year in Europe, but would eventually like to buy again when we feel ready to put down roots. I am attracted to the high rate of return possible when investing in South Africa, but recognize the danger of the Rand devaluing, especially when we will be living on a different currency.

Notes On South Africa (from a non-finance person!)

South Africa’s inflation is high, at around 6.13%. The interest rate in my savings account is 5.35%! The mortgage rate on home loans is 10.5%. It’s potentially a great country for investing, but is also more risky because of the exchange rate. Over the past 10 years, I remember seeing the Rand at 7 to the dollar, and now it’s at about 13 to the dollar. If we transfer our assets into another currency, we need to time the move carefully.

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Clara and Ben’s youngest playing

I want to start off with a huge round of applause for Ben and Clara’s absence of debt! They’ve done a wonderful job staying debt-free and I commend them heartily. I also congratulate Clara for this comprehensive run-down of their finances. It’s not always easy to pull together disparate investments and expenses and I’m impressed with how thorough Clara was.

If you’re not tracking your money in an organized, formal method, I highly recommend you sign-up for the free expense tracker Personal Capital. It’s what I use and, without a concrete picture of your monthly expenditures, it’s impossible to set longterm goals as we’re doing today with Clara.

Clara And Ben Need To Earn More

I want to start with Ben and Clara’s income. I know that here on Frugalwoods we usually talk about the other end of the equation—saving and investing–but today I feel strongly that we need to start on the earnings side. Practicing frugality without enough money coming in doesn’t yield results. It’s a two-part equation and you’ve got to make money in order to save money.

We’ll get to Clara’s expenses in a moment, but the real work for Ben and Clara is honestly on the income side.  As they’re not able to cover their monthly expenses–and they have no investments outside of their properties and a small emergency fund–what Clara and Ben need is more money coming in. There’s no other way to slice it.

A tea party at Clara and Ben’s home

Additionally, with their plans to move to Europe, it’s highly likely their cost of living will increase and they’ll be in an even tougher bind month to month. Although they’ll have cash from the sale of their properties, they’ll also need to live somewhere, which is going to entail an outlay of money in either rent, a mortgage, or an outright home purchase.

My chief recommendation is for Ben to increase his income. Since he’s already working remotely, his career seems ideally suited for their globe trotting plans. If he can work from home in South Africa, I assume he can continue this work on a new continent. I highly recommend he work to dramatically increase his client load in order to increase the amount he’s bringing in each month. His current income of $222.64 per month is barely making a dent in the family’s monthly expenditures.

Another option is for Clara to start charging for her online editing work and begin doing portrait commissions again. If both Ben and Clara would like to be working part-time, then perhaps Ben can take on more of the homeschooling and household responsibilities while Clara works from home as well. Clara and Ben are in a wonderful position to increase their monthly income as they both have professional skills that lend themselves beautifully to remote online work. Whichever configuration they decide will work best for their family, the bottom line is that they need to earn more money. Now.

Diversification Of Assets

Clara mentioned that she doesn’t want all of their longterm wealth tied up in property (as it is now) and I wholeheartedly, 100% agree with her. Diversification is a key element of longterm wealth and security and it makes me nervous to see almost all of their net worth tied up in properties located in the same country. I think they’re wise to sell their South African properties and move that money to a more stable investing environment.

Ben’s shoes: a true sign of a frugal man

Clara is spot on with her assessment that they should invest some of this capital as opposed to funneling it all into rental properties. I think rentals can be an excellent component of a diverse portfolio, but they should be just that: one component. I’m not an expert in investing outside of the US, but I agree with Clara that the family should take their money out of South Africa. Although the rates of return might be higher in South Africa at present, I wouldn’t feel comfortable investing in a currency as prone to inflation and instability as the Rand. I would invest in whichever country they decide to move to–France or the UK–and concentrate on investing in a diverse portfolio of assets.

I prefer and recommend investing in low-fee index funds because they are the most diverse way to invest, they typically yield the highest rate of return, you can DIY your investing, and they charge very low fees (high fees have the ability to absolutely cripple your net worth over a lifetime of investing).

Mortgages And Moving

I’m a proponent of carrying a fixed, low interest rate mortgage. I completely understand why Clara and Ben chose to buy their South African properties outright with how high mortgage interest rates are there, but, in Europe they should be able to find a more favorable rate. A challenge here is that it can be tough to qualify for a mortgage without a traditional W2 job. But without a mortgage, I’m not sure how they’re going to afford a home for themselves as well as a rental property. Here again, increasing their income will help ease this burden.

One option could be for Ben or Clara to get a traditional job in their new country before moving, then move, then secure a mortgage on a home and possibly also a rental property. I would be very, very hesitant to funnel all of their cash into buying a home without a mortgage because then they’d be in the same situation they are now: no money and not enough cash flow to cover their expenses, let alone start saving for retirement and investments.

Two of Clara and Ben’s kiddos hiking

If you’re able to secure a fixed, low interest rate on a mortgage, I do not recommend paying it down ahead of schedule, or buying a house with cash (unless you have considerable assets–we’re talking many, many millions of dollars), for a number of reasons:

  • A paid-off house is a wonderful thing, but you can’t use a paid-off house to buy groceries or cover any other expenses. You might be able to get a Home Equity Line Of Credit, but that’s not a guarantee and certainly not if, for example, you’re in a catastrophic position of having lost your job. It’s a lot of money tied up in one asset.
  • In addition to the fact that a paid-off house is an illiquid asset (unless you’re able to sell it quickly, which is an unknown), there are opportunity costs to paying off a mortgage early/buying a home outright. Namely, you’re missing out on the potential investment returns you’d enjoy if your money was instead invested in the stock market.
  • Mr. FW and I choose to hold mortgages on both our primary residence and our rental property because, mathematically, our money is better deployed in the stock market thanks to the average annual rate of return (7%) that you can expect after many decades of remaining invested in low-fee index funds. Essentially, money is better leveraged in the stock market than in a paid-off house.
  • If you have a low, fixed interest rate mortgage, then from a mathematical standpoint, there are better ways to utilize your cash to maximize longterm wealth growth than paying that mortgage off early. I view holding a mortgage–and having money properly invested in diversified assets (aka low-fee index funds)–to be a much less risky decision.
  • A mortgage is an excellent hedge against inflation. Inflation is when money becomes less valuable and the neat thing about a mortgage is that it’s denominated in the dollars you originally paid for the house and so, over time, as inflation increases (which generally happens), the money you’re using to pay off your mortgage is “cheaper.”
  • In conclusion, it’s not bad to hold a mortgage and it’s actually a fine component of a diversified portfolio of assets. Buying a house in cash to the detriment of investing is a lot like putting all of your eggs in one rather unstable basket.

It’s not that it’s a bad thing to pay off a house early or purchase a home with cash–it’s just that it comes at the expense of other opportunities to grow wealth. Many of us who are early retired/financially independent choose to hold mortgages–even though we could afford to pay them off tomorrow–for the above reasons. Bottom line: financial stability and wealth can happen with a mortgage; but it absolutely cannot happen without cash on hand and diversified investments.

HUGE CAVEAT: What I’m talking about here are fixed, low interest rate mortgages. My only experience is with mortgages in the US, where this type of mortgage is commonplace. It’s my understanding that fixed-rate mortgages aren’t as common in other countries, so you’ll have to do your own research on the country you end up choosing.

Expenses

At the beach

And now, let’s take our customary Frugalwoods stroll through Clara and Ben’s monthly expenses. I must preface this by saying that they are already quite frugal and the biggest impact on their net worth is not going to come from spending less, but from earning more. That being said, I think there are a few areas where Clara and Ben can save a tad more.

  • Housecleaner. Unfortunately, this expense has got to go ASAP. $83.39 per month is pretty inexpensive for domestic help, but since Clara and Ben aren’t making ends meet, they desperately need this $1,000.68 per year back in their account.
  • Kids. I’m not sure what all the $308.69 per month covers, but I wonder if there are any opportunities to frugalize here? Again, since we’re in a dire situation of Clara and Ben rapidly depleting their emergency fund in order to cover their expenses, I’d take a hard look at what can be eliminated from this category as it’s a whopping $3,704.28 per year.
  • Pets. Same story as the kids. Are there any generic foods or products that could be used that would reap a few cost savings in this category?

Summary

In summary, I recommend that Clara and Ben do the following:

  1. Immediately increase their income, either through Ben taking on more clients or Clara building up her freelance editing business and Ben taking on more of the childcare and household duties. This is priority #1 and I would start working on this today in order to stop the bleeding.
  2.  Rebuild their emergency fund. Every dollar they earn that doesn’t go towards their monthly expenses should be funneled into rebuilding their emergency fund. At their current rate of $2,169.54 in monthly expenses, I recommend they save $6,508.62 to $13,017.24, which represents three to six months’ worth of expenses. Three months is the bare minimum for an emergency fund and six months would give them a much more secure cushion. I would also consolidate all of their savings accounts into one high-interest savings account based in the country they move to. With this consolidation, they already have $6,860.12 saved up, so that’s a great starting point for building to that six month total.
  3. Decide where they want to move to and make it happen. I really like Ben and Clara’s idea of renting for a year in their new country before buying a house–I think that’s a wonderful way to get a sense of neighborhoods, home prices, school districts, lifestyle, and more. I recommend they research mortgage options and interest rates since paying in cash would decimate their net worth and they’d again have almost all of their assets tied up in real estate.
  4. After selling their home in South Africa, I’d invest a goodly portion in low-fee index funds based in the country they move to. I recommend removing all of their assets from South Africa. I’d also go ahead and invest the profits from the rental flat they recently sold in the market where they intend to move. If they plan to buy a home in the next five years or so, they could keep their downpayment as liquid cash in a high-interest savings account.

Clara and Ben are at an exciting juncture in their lives and they’re well positioned to gain greater stability over their finances. By increasing their income and diversifying their investments, they’ll be well on their way to a secure financial future. Many thanks to Clara for participating as today’s case study subject!

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Clara? She and I will both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!

Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me (mrs@frugalwoods.com) your brief story and we’ll talk.

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184 Responses

  1. I am definitely in agreement that they need to spend more time on the income side and less on the expense side. There just isn’t a ton of fat that they remove on the expense side so it’s probably time to look at increasing incomes for both of them. It’s clear that Clara has skills that are in demand and she should look for opportunities to get paid to utilize those skills.

    • Clara says:

      Agreed – I think with our move to a higher-cost-of-living location, our income definitely needs to rise. I will get started with looking for freelance work online. Thanks for the feedback, Mustard Seed Money!

  2. Christina says:

    One thing that must be mentioned is that when planning to move to Europe, paying for and having to set aside money for kids education is completely optional (and in my opinion a bit silly). Loads of European countries have free education all the up to post-grad levels, and world-class universities. Germany is one country that functions in this way, so is all of the Nordics.

    If you’re able I would move to a country with free schooling and a comprehensive welfare state. If you’re set on the UK or France, maybe go to Scotland? Yes, it is harder to retire early is these countries, but seeing that you have three young children and seem to want to work some I think it would pay off massively.

  3. Clara says:

    Thank you, Mrs Frugalwoods! I appreciate all of your advice and feedback, and I agree with you on the mortgage issue after we move. I know I can carve out some time for freelance work, and have already begun to set up a profile on Upwork, as a starting point.

    I was going to ask if you know of any index funds that exclude the list of industries we want to avoid, but then I looked up “ethical index funds” and I can see that once outside of South Africa, there is plenty of choice for us, so I just need put some time into researching them!

  4. I’ll start off by saying that I’m FIREd now and older at 57, but before that I and Mrs. Freaky Frugal had some similarities with Clara and Ben:

    1) I spent most of my career in IT and significant part of that was freelance.
    2) We had 2 sons, 2 cats, and 1 dog. Ben and Clara beat us on all count there, but it’s a similar situation!
    3) Mrs. Freaky Frugal, at one point, was a stay-at-home Mom and then eventually worked part-time as our sons got older.

    Mrs. Frugalwoods recommendations are excellent. I would follow everything she says. I’ll just add a few suggestions:

    1) Although it’s painful, Clara and Ben should reduce the number of pets that you have. It’s just going to be too difficult and expensive to move and keep and all of them. Sorry.
    2) Ben and Clara should pick 3-4 cities they would be willing to move to in UK/France. The cities should be places that both Ben and Clara can work without difficult Visa problems. Ben should travel to those cities and try to find a job. The first city he can find a job in is the city they should move to. Ben has excellent prospects because he works in IT. His skills are in high demand. Clara can eventually get a job or do freelance work as her children get older and she has more time.
    3) I understand that Clara and Ben don’t want to invest in companies that you don’t like. Clara needs to understand that could cripple their returns in the long-run. Clara could try to invest in socially responsible index funds. The Vanguard FTSE Social Index Fund is an example.
    4) Mrs. Frugalwoods is correct – the Housecleaner needs to go. Fortunately, you have a small army of Housecleaners at your disposal – your children. Dividing the work between you and your children should make it go quickly. Plus they will learn some valuable life skills about taking care of themselves and property and saving money.

    I wish Clara and Ben the best of luck!

    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks for the recommendation about the social index fund. I invest with vanguard and really like how easy it is – and have been thinking about socially responsible investing.

    • Clara says:

      Thank you for the feedback Mr. Freaky Frugal!

      Yes, to rehoming some of our pets. It is difficult, but we have been having this discussion already, because of the cost of their plane tickets if nothing else! We are aiming to take two dogs. I’ve just found a good new home for our third dog, which is a big relief. Ben would like to take one of our cats, and we’ll have to advertise for new homes for the other two.

      Your suggestion of choosing 4 potential places is a great idea to make the choice less overwhelming. We’d prefer to be in a rural area rather than a city, but narrowing down our big “where?” question would be very helpful.

      I will look up the Vanguard FTSE Social Index Fund – thanks.

      Yes to having the kids help with chores! It seems scarily easy in this country to bring up little princes and princesses who don’t know how to wash their own dishes and clothes, etc. This is something I have been conflicted about for a long while. It is made more difficult because we have such a long history with our lovely housecleaner, but as we are planning to leave anyway, we may as well let her go sooner rather than later. And it will be good for the kids.

      I appreciate all your advice!

      • You’re welcome and great job with the pets!

        You may want to consider a somewhat rural area that has excellent public transportation to a big city. Ben’s prospects for a high-paying IT job are much greater in a big city. Just a thought.

      • Anne says:

        You should look up requirements for bringing pets overseas. Many countries have vaccination and quarantine requirements that can be expensive and / or cumbersome.

        Try recommending your cleaner to some of your friends to help her make up the hours.

        • Clara says:

          Thanks Anne. Thankfully, there is no quarantine to the UK any more, but from South Africa it takes 4 months to go through the process with vaccines and health checks. I still need to do the research on EU countries.

          There is such high unemployment here, that finding a new job for our cleaner will be difficult, but we are going to try.

    • Caroline Bowman says:

      the housecleaner is a tiny, tiny expense. They are very socially conscious people and it’s extremely hard to explain in a way that is understandable (and not rude and patronising) just what the level of joblessness and desperation is. A once-weekly clean for their home is a tiny, tiny fraction of what their income is. Yes I take the point it adds up, but honestly, I’d say the pets are far more expensive and having moved 1 cat from the UK back to SA, it is the same as moving a person in terms of cost; expensive. It adds up and is terrifying to think of 6 animals.

      I have 3 children and we are also on a tight budget. My husband works in IT, for a salary and we are fortunate to have medical aid. Saying that, I work freelance circa 20 hours a week and earn GBP doing that. Since Clara’s family is not making ends meet to the extent that they have no car insurance (on our roads!! I know it’s legal and I appreciate one cannot pay for something with money one does not have), it says to me that A/ they need to streamline those property investments and sell off one or more fairly fast. Get as much out as they can, and there are various ways to do this. My mum did it with Krugerrands, entirely and completely illegally (all participants are now deceased). Things like coins and jewellery and artworks are all portable, could technically all be gifts… I’m just saying.. Point B is that since Clara is evidently giving a lot of her valuable experience and time to NGO’s, she could be earning at least some income in that same time instead. I appreciate that it might not be as fulfilling, but NGO’s do employ people too, so that’s something to consider quite strongly. Basically, income needs to rise somehow, and glaring huge expenses need to be reduced. But with the exception of the pets, I think they are doing extremely well in terms of monthly spend.

      I could not, in conscience, get rid of a weekly cleaner unless there was literally no other option.

      I am also a CT person and would no more leave than fly to the moon, BUT then if I had to, I’d definitely choose France over England, for the language, the culture and to some extent the weather.

      • Liz says:

        Caroline, I’m not South African, but as soon as I read Clara’s reason for keeping on her cleaner, I felt exactly as you do. What price social conscience? If they can bump up their income by the same amount as they spend on the cleaner, then it’s a major benefit to the cleaner.
        Having said that, it’s also true that the cleaner will be unemployed (by them) when they emigrate, so the suggestion to help her get work with someone else is a good one, either before or when they leave.
        BTW Mrs Frugalwoods, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I think Personal Capital is only available to US users. I certainly can’t access it in Australia. I use Excel spreadsheets for my finance tracking.

        • Rebecca says:

          Hey Liz

          I’m Australian and I use Pocketbook for tracking expenses. It’s free and it syncs with most Aussie banks I think. There’s a desktop version that links with a phone app, but you could use one or the other. I really like it.

          • Rebecca says:

            (Also, I agree about keeping the cleaner. I went to South Africa about six months ago, and many housekeepers are pretty much part of the family. Such a huge divide between the haves and the have-nots.)

  5. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Clara! It’s so difficult juggling taking care of kids, homeschooling them, and taking care of the finances for the family at the same time, so I really admire your hard work and frugality.

    I would totally agree that you want to incrwae your income. Computer Science is a very marketable field these days, so if Ben could attend an inexpensive online course or find free resources to improve his skills, I think it would improve his rates a great deal.

    Also, the biggest expenses that strike me are the cleaning service and pet care. I would recommend eliminate the former and reduce the latter. Sometimes rehoming our pets is a difficult choice, but it might be best for our family.

    • Clara says:

      Kids are SO time-intensive – thank you for saying that.

      Ben actually charges a fairly high hourly rate, but just doesn’t work many hours. I will ask him if new skills would be helpful though.

      Yes, we will have to let our housecleaner go, and we are looking for new homes for some of our pets.

      Thank you for your feedback, Ms. Frugal Asian Finance!

  6. Kirsty bremner says:

    Regarding the future move to Europe, as a Brit (living in the US) but with plans to retire to France (so I have been researching etc in fairly great depth), I would suggest that they look to live rurally in either France or the UK and continue to freelance. Living closer to large European cities comes with better job opportunities but very high housing costs. Rural France particularly has very low housing costs. Renting for at least a year sounds like a fantastic idea. As expats who have moved a lot, I would say that renting definitely gives you the flexibility to experience a new location, dip your toe into the water, and allows you to reconsider your decision once your year is up.

    Leaving your assets liquid will also take a little of the pressure off you both, when you are relocating and possibly have a reduced income. (I’m not suggesting that you spend wildly and deplete them, just know that moving comes with plenty of costs that you may not have considered).

    • Arielle says:

      Rural France (e.g. the Languedoc region) was also my immediate thought about a future spot to live. My family just returned to the US after having an incredibly thrifty month-long vacation in Quillan . Renting a 3 bedroom home in the center of an active village was economical, food at market and grocery stores was priced on par with (but much yummier than!) that in the US, and entertainment was either cheap or free (mountains? beaches? picnics? gorges? castles?). We loved this slower-paced corner of the globe where you feel like you’re living in an impressionist painting (because you kind of are!) and where your money will definitely stretch.

      • Lacey says:

        What a great suggestion. May I ask how you found the rental home? It sounds like a good way to test the waters before jumping in.

    • Clara says:

      Thank you, Kirsty – helpful advice.

  7. Francine says:

    As the U.K. is planning to leave the EU, I would suggest to move to France. More easy to work beyond other borders, living not so expensive as in England and nice climate in the southern parts. Plus a lot of “outdoors” of all kind. Good possibilities for education all over Europe. And working from the house is easy with internet everywere. Wish them luck with their choices. Francine

    • Marta says:

      I agree completely. Furthermore, some rural areas of France (I’m thinking the South, because of the climate) are quite cheaper than England -just think in France they have euros, and pounds are more expensive, which could be harmful for your savings. Also, the European work visa is valid through all the continent, which may be more useful than just having the UK’s one, plus in France they have great social benefits, which will be helpful to cut medical and educational expenses. And they also have BETTER FOOD, hahaha. I’m from Spain and know quite well both countries, so I really think that would be a better choice for you. Hope it helps!! Best of lucks 🙂

    • Economymum says:

      I’m an EU citizen in the UK. If you decide to come to the UK then I would suggest that you do so before the official Brexit date in march 2018. Based on how much noise there is about reducing immigration, I think it will be very difficult afterwards. Another angle to consider with European countries is the social welfare which is probably quite unheard of in SA and US. Here in the UK you would get child benefit for example assuming one of you don’t earn over 50k pa. Probably worth investigating criteria for this.

      • snowcanyon says:

        Really? In the US there is the EITC, also SNAP, Medicaid, and school lunches. And lower tax rates and higher salaries.

    • Clara says:

      Thank you! 🙂

    • Caz says:

      I do think you need to look very carefully at what the UK will be doing as it pulls out of the EU (I live in the UK) My youngest son and his Swedish partner made the decision to move out of the UK after the referendum are now living and working in Sweden. I have given up trying to figure out what is going on quite honestly, in the UK. May I suggest, if one of you has time, that you have a look through this forum http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/ which is a UK forum with many sections and threads. There are sections on mortgages, investments, being a landlord and lots of other things. And home education is alive and well, yes HS kids can take GCSEs and A levels, there are loads of groups who band together for lessons parents cant teach. Education is generally free here unless you choose otherwise, but college may not be and university will not be free This site would help you if you chose to live in the UK https://educationotherwise.org/. And the UK Government has a website which may answer some of your questions (MSE would answer the rest or point you in the correct direction). I am sure that other European countries have similar forums. Apologies if I shouldn’t be mentioning other forums on a US frugal site but I feel this family need to look directly at the other countries they are considering

      • Clara says:

        Thank you, Cas! I had discovered Education Otherwise, and it was reassuring that homeschooling would still be an option for us if we want. I appreciate your help! 🙂

  8. Evelyn says:

    Just a few words of caution from me, a German reader (and probably highly subjective words, too):
    You’d be depressed in either the UK or Germany or other similarly-tempered countries, but so be it. The economy’s better in the “cold” countries, and worse in the sunshine countries, like Greece or Spain. Plus the more touristy it is (half of Germany and the UK take their summer holidays in Spain, Greece or Italy), the higher the prices for houses.
    But if you’re really place-independent for your work, it wouldn’t matter, maybe.
    You also have to be careful of your choice of country because of the homeschooling thing… in Germany, you can’t homeschool (it’s forbidden by law)! But, there are independent schools which get a heavy subsidiary from the government, so it can be payable…
    And the best thing about Germany (and which is why I would recommend you make your children study German) is that tertiary education is mostly free – no (or very low) tuition fees make it a very affordable choice.
    The apprenticeship system (called dual system) is quite good, as well. You go to school and you go to a company and you get paid and a very practically relevant education.
    I wish you best of luck…

    • SwissMiss says:

      I would second that. I have lived in the UK and in Switzerland. In Switzerland, and well, if you can, come to Switzerland. IT skills are in high demand. I know immigration restrictions are tough, so I don’t know if you qualify, but if Ben could get a job:
      – excellent free public eduction for your children
      – once they are out of school, either Uni pretty much for free or an excellent apprentiship training
      – high child benefits
      – high cost of living but also high salaries
      – expensive but excellent healthcare and you get subsidies under a certain threshold (though with an IT income, I wouldn’t expect you need it)
      -very stable economy
      – (at least compared to the UK) no worries about your pension

      You could even live in the French speaking part to make it easier language wise. Or you could move to France, but live close to the border. Get a job in Switzerland but pay the living costs of France.
      As I said, I don’t know if it works with immigration restrictions, but I do think IT does open up doors as it is in such high demand.

    • Monique says:

      There are highschools in Germany where classes are in English. A friend of mine went to an american highschool in Berlin for example. I could recommend Berlin for its relatively low living expenses, it’s quite laid back atmosphere and for its green surroundings with lots of lakes. Also it should be possible to find jobs without speaking German. Many forreigners are living and working here, including people from south africa. There is a Facebook group for South Africans in Berlin, maybe you could ask for advice there. Lots of luck!!

    • snowcanyon says:

      Housing in Italy is crazy cheap outside the big cities.

  9. What an incredible story, Clara! Kudos to you and your husband for your hard work, your debt-free lifestyle, your efforts to “frugalize”, your dedication to volunteer work and your thoughtful planning around your children’s education and your family’s future!

    I second Mrs. Frugalwood’s advice to increase income. This could first come through Ben’s job, but could you (Clara) also generate a small income to help rebuild an emergency fund and help with expenses? I would imagine homeschooling and caring for 3 children is a lot of work (!) but I wonder if there would be freelance editing/writing jobs that you would enjoy completing a few hours a week. Also, with an M.A., is there an opportunity for you to teach graphic design or some related course to middle or high schoolers within the homeschooling group for a small fee?

    With the expenses, I see that you include kid’s birthday gifts in there. Is this for your children’s friends? If so, would there be an opportunity to DIY some gifts? In USD, that could mean the difference between a $30 store bought toy and $10 supplies for a DIY toy or gift 🙂 And I do agree with the previous commenters with the pets. It would be very hard and expensive to move with cats and dogs, and they are a significant expense already. We recently moved from California to Michigan and had to leave our pet rabbit in CA. It was not easy, but it was the right decision for both our family and for our rabbit. Are there people you know who could provide good, loving homes for them?

    Good luck with your decision making process!

    • Clara says:

      Hi Mrs. Adventure Rich! Thanks for your encouragement.

      I have tried teaching and it is definitely not for me! Maybe if I stopped homeschooling I could do it, but as I’m an introvert, all my “social energy” gets used up with my own children at the moment. I will start looking for online freelance work right away though, as that would be perfect for me to do in the early morning before the kids wake up.

      I lump both our kids’ birthday gift (singular!) and their friends’ gifts into my “kids” category, so yes, it is for all the gifts. That is a good idea to give homemade gifts rather than buy something, and I used to do that until I got really strict with myself about always having 8 hours of sleep! Maybe a compromise would be to batch-make a bunch of gifts (like sew up 30 bags in advance, and then just embroider names on them as the parties come along).

      I guess this comes back to the Basement Shelves decision on the last Frugalwoods post: do I have more time, or more money? I feel rather short on both at the moment, so it’s a tough call! 🙂

      • hhaha. I was also thinking teaching is a good idea. Good hours and good benefits to be an international school teacher especially in Asia! But I wouldn’t want to be a teacher myself either.

        You really put a lot of heart and effort into your kids! Having one kid is tiring enough. Imagine 3! and stay home + home schooling… I can totally understand the domestic helper spending. Maybe teach the kids to start helping around the house as they are old enough already?

      • Fair enough! haha- I taught a once-a-week class at my church in college and it was tough! It was a great experience and it taught me I was not exactly cut out to be a classroom teacher, so that makes sense!

        And I know what you mean about the more time vs more money. I have several areas of my life where I have taken one or the other of those choices, but it is always a hard decision!

      • Lindsey says:

        When I did home schooling, years ago, I had two children and the neighbor had two children. She did not want to put her boys in public school so she paid me to home school them along with mine. It was not a huge amount, but it paid for our groceries every week.

      • Rae says:

        Quick thought: teaching doesn’t have to be in person. Perhaps you could create some lessons for others to purchase and use? You could do lessons for homeschooling parents to do with different aged children and / or online classes for adults to take.

        One idea that immediately occurred to me was that you could do some very short lessons in things like complementary colors and other basics of graphic design and sell access for a very small amount targeted to nonprofits that can’t afford/aren’t lucky enough to have access to. That could eventually be passive income.

        Just a thought!

  10. Mrs FW, your advice is really sensible and realistic. I would love to be a stay home mom home schooling my Mochi too. They have been really lucky to get so much family support. However, having 3 kids and 6 pets is not easy. You can’t get it all right away when you want it. I’m not sure if UK is the best place to live on low income. Maybe somewhere like South America or Portugal could allow them to meet the ends without giving up too much of the current life style? All the best!

    • Clara says:

      Thanks! We have talked about choosing somewhere cheaper to live, but thought maybe we’d just find that we’d moved to a different place with the same challenges as here (crime, personal safety, and quite an uncertain future). Do you have any advice about alternative places? Ben did read up about South America, but thought we might have the same fear of crime as we do here. Have you lived in Portugal? I just looked up the cost of living in Scotland and Portugal and see that it is substantially lower there!

      We’ve lived in the UK before, in several different areas, and have friends and family there. We’re definitely thinking of choosing a less-expensive area than London; Ben is keen on Scotland. We’d both prefer somewhere rural!

      • I have never been to Portugal! The 2 areas just come up all the time in my web surfing for retiring overseas! Rural area do make sense. One other alternative, based on my Canada house hunt is that, you could purchase a house with 2 units (Duplex) or house with basement apartment. Then you can live in the basement or one unit, and rent out the other. The rental income can hopefully help you make mortgage payments! That is my plan when I retired =)

        All the best to your move! Being a mother of 3 is not easy. However, having 2 siblings to grow up with is extremely fun. Especially if you have loving parents. (I grow up in a family of 5 too). Best of luck!

        • Elena Kazan says:

          Have you thought about New Zealand or Australia?

          • Clara says:

            Hi Elena, Yes, we considered New Zealand (I have family there too) and Australia. They are not on our list, as we’d like to be able to travel easily to see family in the UK and the US, as that is where our closest family ties are.

            I know they are great options for other families who are looking to move abroad from South Africa though! 🙂

      • Kate says:

        I was thinking Scotland or Ireland. But carefully consider the weather. It can be very dark & depressing. Clara, I believe you could certainly make money from your current volunteer work! You may have to sacrifice some sleep for several months but I would absolutely consider it. I think like other posters that you will somehow increase your income. Very best of luck as you move forward. I hope you will give us an update.

        • Lindsey says:

          We (Americans) lived in Scotland, in the highlands, for two years. They were not very hospitable to outsiders…When we moved to England, we didn’t experience any of the same hostility.

      • Leo says:

        Hello,

        Portugal is quite friendly, I guess 😀 . Lots of people are coming to live here from abroad. There are several benefits for retired people, namely regarding taxes.
        We Portuguese keep claiming about everything from hospitals to education, roads and policies, but I actually think is a good place to live. In the countryside you can find good deals. Lisbon is nowadays in a housemarket boom due to golden visas (if you acquire a house for a certain value, you can have a special visa) and tourism. Also, Portuguese people think the crisis is over (which I don’t think is true…)
        And the weather is very nice, although this year we are having a severe drought and are desperate with forest fires…
        Also you have now lots of flights to everywhere from Oporto, Lisbon and Faro, sometimes very cheap since there are several low cost companies operating. It will be easy for you to travel to UK and France. To France you can easily go by car also.
        Wish you all the best for this new adventure in your family’s life!

        And Mrs. Frugalwoods, thank you for your wonderful work with this blog and for sharing your dream life. You’re trully an inspiration!

  11. margaret says:

    Hi Clara. I think that one of your biggest issues is that your husband is not managing the finances with you. You stated that he doesn’t like discussing finances and leaves the investing to you. So the sole bread winner has no idea how big the loaf is or how it’s being sliced! He may not like it, but managing finances is an adult responsibility and should be a SHARED responsibility in a marriage. It is only as a team that you will able to achieve your goals. Best of luck!

    • Clara says:

      Hi Margaret! I hear what you’re saying. Although Ben doesn’t like discussing money, we do at least have a regular month-end check-in with each other when we look at how our budgeting went. I think it’s fair to say that he does know how much is coming in, and how we spend it. We’re also planning a “finance date” together like Florence and Anna did back in May after their Case Study was published, when we’ll go through all the great suggestions here. We are both on the same page about how we’d like to invest. Although I’m doing most of the financial reading, learning and research, it does feel like a partnership because we’re communicating about our ideas and plans. Like any couple, we each bring different strengths and interests into the marriage. I know I’ve learned a lot about finances in the last year; Ben is on his own growth path as well. (And I have a couple of things that I’m not much good at adulting about, too!)

  12. Victoria says:

    If you don’t already speak French then I would think carefully about moving to France. Adding language issues to what will be a huge amount of change will be difficult. I couldn’t tell how much you know about France and the UK so forgive me if I’m telling you something you already know.
    London would be good for jobs but has a huge cost of living so Manchester or Birmingham might be better. Still big cities with jobs but lower cost of living and you could live someone a little more rurally and commute in. The schools in the UK would be free, which frees Clara up to get a job, but childcare costs are higher. However, you’d have to look into whether Ben could get a job visa wise. I think you also need to be able to prove income to be able to bring a non-British person into the country so it may be Clara who gets the job to start with and not Ben. I’m absolutely not an expert just going by what I read in the news so definitely look it up. I see the point being made about moving to where Ben can get a job first, but I highly recommend looking into the visa issues asap so you are aware of what is possible.

    There are no high interest savings accounts in the UK, even a 1-year fixed would only get you 1.9% and probably not friendly enough for Clara, although I don’t disagree that keeping cash is a good idea for the time being.

    Glad you are thinking about the pets, I know that must be hard. Bear in mind that finding a rental property is made more difficult by having pets, especially multiple pets. It may be worth some hard thinking about letting go of all of them. Not least because you’ll have to pay for quarantine and be without them for a while. Quarantine laws something else you should look into now.

    I think you’ve done well to think about where you want to be in life so now start doing research on which cities would best fit you. If Clara can work and Ben can stay home, maybe freelancing evening and weekends, then include places that Clara is covered visa wise. If Ben will be the main earner than Ben’s ability to get a job takes priority.

    It feels like it would be easier to get the children into school, at least for the first year, than try to learn the rules around homeschooling in a new country straight away. It is much rarer in the UK and France.

    Erm, feel like I’ve been a bit all over the place with advice, sorry. Good luck!

    • Clara says:

      Thanks for all the info, Victoria!

      The Brexit vote might make our choice more complex, but so far it has not impacted Ben’s right to work in the UK, not mine to work in France. It may in the future.

      There is no quarantine for bringing cats and dogs into the UK from South Africa, and one of my dogs is actually from the UK originally (not that that makes it any easier to get her back!) I have costed it already, and there is quite a bit of paperwork, but we are willing to do it for the 3 we are taking with us.

      We have done the research on homeschooling abroad, and the rules and support groups. There are only about 500 families homeschooling in France, so it’s rare. In the UK it’s much more common, and rising: about 30,000 children (compared to between 50,000 to 400,000 in South Africa). That said, we haven’t decided whether or not to continue homeschooling after we move. In France, it would probably be best for the kids to go to school to get fluent in French asap; in the UK, it would depend on their how much they need school (or not) to build a social life from scratch. We’ll have to see.

      Plenty to think about! 🙂

  13. Amy says:

    You’re doing great on keeping most of your expenses low. I’d take a look at the classes that your children are taking. $308.69 a month is a lot. Maybe have the children each choose one class that they want to take or you could choose one class that you think they’d all get the most benefit out of. You could exchange classes you are comfortable teaching maybe design, art or photography or barter your services for some of the classes that your children are currently taking? Your husband could teach classes or barter his services for their classes too.

    We’re in our tenth year of homeschooling our three children (17 at the end of the month, 8 & 6) we’ve been able to do it on a very small budget. Altogether I’ve spent around $2,000 total for books, classes, and supplies. Some of the things we’ve done to save money on the expense of homeschooling are borrowing books from the library, buying used books and teaching classes ourselves. I personally haven’t charged for classes in the past as they’ve been held at the local public library and one of their requirements to use their space is it be free to the general public.

  14. Rebecca Carlyle says:

    At the risk of overstepping, I’ll add that if my impression is correct that your husband is not carrying his weight, this needs to be addressed head on. The reason I say this is your description of your activities makes it seem that you’re the primary caregiver, and have to hire a house cleaner, too, yet he’s only bringing in $300/month while you’re hemorraging money. Any possible issues with depression and anxiety need to be addressed more aggressively, as the only realistic plans are for him to become the primary caregiver or to go win a high-paying full time job by himself overseas, both of which could be taxing stressful situations for a depressed/anxious person. My apologies if I’ve misread.

    • Ben says:

      Hi Rebecca, Ben here. No apology necessary – you read correctly.

      I have been diagnosed with PTSD. Just over a year ago now, I started seeing a psychologist and have found it to be hugely helpful. Being close to my children forms part of my healing. I used to see my therapist once a week, but having made progress, we frugalized it back to once every two weeks. Reprioritizing therapy may accelerate my ability to earn more.

      Working from home and having reduced face-to-face communication are what I am trying now. For the first half of this year, my income has doubled from last year’s, so I feel that I am making progress with generating more income. Online tools for invoicing (Wave) and remote communication (TeamViewer) have helped me work mostly from home, and track my income growth more easily.

      Thank you for your frank and thoughtful comment.

      • SMS says:

        Hi Ben, thanks a lot for being honest and huge thumbs up for doing it this way for everyone to read. Similar story here – so my advice: Whatever you decide to do as a family moving-wise etc. don’t be too hard on yourself and allow for some time to make slow changes to your work habit/the.amount of work you take on. It took me a long time from the initial PTSD-triggering incident in 2003/04 to acknowledging I had an issue and deciding to do something about (roughly 2010) to slowly leaving this issue behind and being a freelancer earning enough money to be able to quit teacher training in 2013 which was making everything worse again. Not saying it will you take this amount of time but don’t put pressure on yourself too much – for me that ‘pressure’ always made it worse again, which doesn’t help if you’re working towards a goal.

        • Clara says:

          Thanks for being supportive and sharing your experience. This is useful for me to hear. Because it is not a ‘visible’ issue, I keep needing to be reminded of its severity, and how important it is for Ben to take things at his own pace. We do make an effort to keep stressors to a minimum!

      • Rachel says:

        Ben, I’m sorry you and your family are having to deal with this right now. I have seen with my mom how much mental health can affect one’s ability to function and earn a living, and it is painful to watch. I can only imagine how it feels to be the one going thru it yourself, and I’m sending you all my healing thoughts and prayers. Thank you for addressing this here and adding it to the discussion because I feel like it is an important part of the equation. First in that I like your idea to repriortizing your therapy, not just so you can earn more, but for YOUR sake and for the sake of your future plans. Moving is extremely stressful, as are so many of these other life changes you will be making (I occasionally check this “stress test” out to remind myself of which life events are adding to my stress: https://www.dartmouth.edu/~eap/library/lifechangestresstest.pdf.) For the move to be successful, you need to be in a really good place mentally. Obviously you can’t wait forever because your mental health is going to be a journey, but if you think you could benefit from more therapy, I would find a way to make that work. I also think your mental health is an important part of the equation because it makes a liquid 6 month emergency fund even more pressing so that you are able to relax a bit if you are going thru a particularly rough patch. And it means that the “when” and “where” of the move is vitally important. I know Clara mentioned wanting to be closer to family, but have you considered living in the same town as your family? Would their immediate and regular love and support relieve some of the natural pressure that comes with parenting three young kids? I’m bringing this up only because I recently moved closer to family, and it has already lifted a load on my shoulders. You seem to be open to a lot of options, but it could be helpful to place more parameters on the location–to think about not just what you want in an ideal world but what your family really needs right now.

        On to more practical advice..I know this is heresy in Frugalwoods Nation (jk), but I would recommend an actual budget, if you don’t already have one. If you are living well below your means, I can understand the no-budget-just-frugal approach, but you are currently living above your means (though very frugally!). Which means that you have to think about your money like you literally CANNOT spend more than what you make (even though in reality you have an emergency fund to back you up). It’s also helpful because you can figure out how much money you need to make each month, and commit to making that. If Ben isn’t able to make whatever that amount is in a given month, then do whatever you need to do–Freelance on Upwork, sell your stuff, sew, whatever it takes. For groceries, decide how much you are going to spend, take out cash, and just spend that. If you have $10 left at the end of the month, you’re eating beans and rice every day. I know it sounds extreme, but that’s what my family did when we were poor, and unless you want to deplete your emergency fund, you have to act like you are poor. That’s my two cents…I hope it is helpful! Thanks for sharing!

  15. Great story Clara!

    Ben shouldn’t be afraid to step up his freelancing game by increasing his rates and actively looking for new jobs. He can check out UpWork for new clients.

    Also, you should pick up a few side hustles to make some extra income.

    You could start a blog about your journey managing the family’s finances showing readers what worked and what could be improved upon. Then use ads and affiliate marketing to promote products and services you use to help you everyday!

    You can also do surveys online, save money while shopping using coupons, and sell unused items lying around at home you don’t need.

    The other recommendations by Mrs. Frugalwoods are awesome and should be used as well.

    Wish you and your family the best Clara!

    • Martha says:

      UpWork is also fantastic for editing and writing jobs. I am a college instructor and I work Upwork all summer, usually earn 1500 per month

    • Caroline Bowman says:

      I think that whilst Ben could possibly (I live in CT too, and I’m quite aware the market is not what it is elsewhere, so it probably isn’t lack of effort that completely accounts for fluctuating income!) make some headway in making more income, that Clara, working as hard as she does in so many areas, could use those hours she works for free for charity, into earning something, be it for charity or for a funded NGO. I do NOT mean she should work all day and all night at all, just take whatever time she already works and require some remuneration.

      I think ultimately, rather than their outgoings being trimmed too much – counselling and mental health is absolutely crucial by the sounds of things, it would be an area I’d definitely not make hasty cut backs on – the basic fact is, they need to earn more in some way. Were it me, I’d sell a property, invest the money and use it to supplement, even quite modestly, my income. Even a couple of grand (Rands) per month extra would go a very long way to easing things.

  16. Elisa B. says:

    Being French and living in Paris at the moment I wil advise that moving to France while not speaking French can be quite difficult.
    On the other hand, some places in France have a high share of people coming from abroad especially from the UK. I think of Britanny or the west coast of France. In the same time school is France is free for the most part and of good quality. The health system is good and easy to go through and comprehend. Retiring early is more complicated, as retirement money is taken out from you paycheck each month and you will get a pension while you retire at 65 or so, and there is no way you can get that pension early.

    I was thinking Belgium could be a good match for you. It wil be easier on the language part as they are more flexible about language especially english. I know for a fact that employment there is going pretty well especially in IT as I work for an IT consulting company that have one office in Brussels
    and working as freelance is more common in Belgium than in France.

    Good luck on you research, it must be a lot of difficult decisions and infos to get through but such an exciting project!
    If you need and info of the french side do not hesitate to contact me 🙂

    • Clara says:

      Thank you, Elisa! I have a friend who moved to France 18 months ago who didn’t speak French. It has been difficult for her, but a little easier for her children, I think, as they’ve picked up the language faster.

  17. Mao says:

    I definitely agree with everyone on the income side. Cory has a good point that Clara, you can consider starting a blog. With your family’s multi-national background and different interest and moving to Europe, you have some really good story to tell. You could potentially earn a meaningful income from your blog too.

    Good luck with everything.

    • laura says:

      Clara – If you start a blog, I’ll be a dedicated follower. My kids are 13,15,18 and 19 and our biggest move in the next few years will be to go from the Midwest to the West Coast. I’d love to see where you end up and how you make the decision in the process.

  18. Erin says:

    As someone who wants to move out of the US right now it seems kind of strange to suggest, but why not move here? I live on a five acre farm next to an amazing bike path but within commutable distance to Detroit & Ann Arbor. School is free, and while moving into a good school district can be more expensive, it’s doable. I might try and wait 3.5 years, but with any luck this administration could be gone more quickly than that 😉 I will say that if you love the outdoors I can’t imagine a better place than the US, which has everything and a wonderful and mostly free national, state, and local park system to enjoy with anything from the beach to the mountains to the desert. I agree that income is the big problem here, and because that’s your husband’s “job” he’s going to need to become more involved with the finances to see that he has to earn more or you will have to join him as far as working goes. Good luck to you guys! What an adventure 🙂

    • Louisa says:

      I was also wondering why the U.S. is not on your list. It’s a big, diverse place! Is living close to one of your families, even if planned for only a year, something that would benefit your children and finances? Or would the costs of moving outweigh any financial advantages? I just googled “South African Expatriots in USA” and some interesting looking communities showed up; expect could find those for many places you are researching.
      At what age do you want your children to be educated in one place? Set that as a goal and work toward it. For instance, maybe you know you won’t want to move when any of them are in high school, so that will cover about 9-10 years, depending how education years are counted in that country.
      I commend you for prioritizing mental health care, and encourage you to make sure you have the best possible provider for your family’s needs, because it affects all of you. The counselor should be aware of the stresses of finances and of work.
      Are you or your husband bi- or multi-lingual? Look for opportunities to work as a translator.
      And best wishes to you! Thank you to you and Mrs. F for showing those of us in America a different kind of story, with the familiar themes of love, family, frugality, and care for the world.

      • Clara says:

        Hi Louisa! “At what age do you want your children to be educated in one place?” That is an interesting approach to setting a time goal. We are hoping to move sooner rather than later, but as moves are stressful, we aren’t rushing.

        Unfortunately, we’re not bilingual. I am learning French, though!

        • Sam says:

          Amazing, fascinating story. Thanks for sharing (and for being open about the PTSD). FYI: We moved from the NE of the US to the SE and it’s made all the difference financially for us (talking much lower cost of living (no state taxes help!) and quadrupled the pay check!!). Also, certain states (like Florida) are VERY home schooling friendly. That being said, I immediately thought of the south of France when I first read your story. Best of luck!

    • Louisa says:

      I was also wondering why the U.S. is not on your list. It’s a big, diverse place! Is living close to one of your families, even if planned for only a year, something that would benefit your children and finances? Or would the costs of moving outweigh any financial advantages? I just googled “South African Expatriots in USA” and some interesting looking communities showed up; expect could find those for many places you are researching.
      At what age do you want your children to be educated in one place? Set that as a goal and work toward it. For instance, maybe you know you won’t want to move when any of them are in high school, so that will cover about 9-10 years, depending how education years are counted in that country.
      Commend yourself for prioritizing mental health care, and make sure you have the best possible provider for your family’s needs, because it affects all of you. The counselor should be aware of the stresses of finances and work on Ben and your family.
      Are you or your husband bi- or multi-lingual? Look for opportunities to work as a translator.
      And best wishes to you! Thank you to you and Mrs. F for showing those of us in America a different kind of story, with the familiar themes of love, family, frugality, and care for the world.

    • Inga says:

      I think to choose the US instead of Europe wouldn’t be such a great idea. True, the nature is incredible. But on the other hand, you need a fairly high amount of money to pay for your healthcare and your children’s education whereas in most European countries both of that is either for free or the costs are much lower. Additionally you are much better off safetywise in Europe. There is just not that kind of everyday violence you can experience here in the US so regularly in the bigger cities. Also, the homelessness crisis…and last, but not least the political situation and the deeply devided country on certain subjects. Europe right now seems to me to be the much better choice.

      • Louisa says:

        Inga, you bring up very important points, and it would take a lot of research to answer them. I wasn’t even thinking of natural beauty, which is probably a big part of South Africa as well! Anything government supported demonstrates those are high priorities, and might also mean higher taxes. Outside of small segments of the largest cities, U.S. gun violence isn’t a risk (but always a tragedy! and a sign of related issues). Populations of homeless people vary greatly by area. The political situations in some parts of Europe are volatile, like some of the same concerns in the U.S., (broadly summarized as fights over “who gets to live in this country”). If I was making a move such as Clara is considering, I would probably get lost in fact-finding, trying to go beyond daily news crisis reporting to make the best choice.

  19. Megan says:

    I’m in agreement that your income needs to increase now, or once you move to Europe. I think you are in a really good place as far as your assets and being debt free. You can only go up from here in my opinion! I know working from home gives you so much freedom to be with family and enjoy the outdoors however, has your husband explored the option of working for a company where his earning potential is higher? With both his education and experience could he possibly have a 9-5 job Monday through Friday that provides a higher, steady income, and a piece of mind that you can afford the basic necessities? As much as I want freedom and to not be in an office 40 hours per week I enjoy the financial benefits and stability. Good luck!

  20. Julia says:

    If you go for the UK, I heartily recommend the vicinity of Manchester. The countryside round about is beautiful and easy to access, and we have a fantastic life here at low cost. We love visiting London, and indeed I lived there at one point, but life up here is much less stressful on so many levels. We love art and culture, and there’s plenty of that. The Peak District, the Pennines and the Lake District are all within easy reach for outdoor activities. The other European capitals are a short hop away by plane. Good luck!! The world is your oyster.

    • Clara says:

      Thank you, Julia! We used to live and work in Sheffield before we had children, and I think Manchester is the prettier sister of the two. 😉 I have walked the Pennine Way too – it’s glorious.

  21. Jen says:

    Clara, I live in South America and just wanted to tell you that I completely understand why you are hesitant to say good-bye to your housekeeper. We’ve had the same part-time housekeeper for three years, and the same full-time nanny for well over two years (we both work full-time and are expecting a second baby – we could put them in day care for much cheaper than the $800 a month we spend on our nanny but decided that the cost is well worth it to us!). They are adored members of our family and I know they rely on their jobs with us. After discovering this blog 1.5 years ago we told our housekeeper we were moving from 2 to 1 days a week, but we also found her a job at the same pay with a fantastic friend of mine for her extra day. It was hard, though! I don’t have any good advice except to make sure that you try and find her other work and give her plenty of notice. But I get it, I do. Living in places with dramatic income inequality where so many people work as housekeepers, drivers, nannies, etc. (and where it’s the norm to have some or all of those things!) is just fundamentally different from being in the US/Europe. Good luck figuring it all out!

    • Caroline Bowman says:

      this completely. It’s so hard to properly articulate this situation, but it is absolutely so. You *almost* have an obligation, if you possibly, possibly can, to try and provide a bit of employment. It’s unfair, it’s ridiculous, it’s all that, but it is so.

      These ladies and gentlemen become our friends and allies and announcing that we are firing them, for even the best of reasons, is hideously bad from their point of view. I too had to reduce hours and rather than try and make my wonderful nanny try and get by on a reduced income, I very, very reluctantly found her another full time job at the same rate of pay, which was stressful and very difficult, but it’s just so different than most developed countries.

      • Clara says:

        Our cleaner’s son is my son’s best friend. They spend most weekends playing together.

        Also: our cleaner is actually fearful of trying out new jobs because she has to cope with her limited English skills, her unwillingness to negotiate her wages, and her uncertainty that she will actually get paid for those four days at the end of the month.

        Real poverty here is so incredibly scary and desperate.

  22. Mitch says:

    Choose a country were college is free, or at least very low cost.

  23. Not sure how dead-set you are on the UK, but I could tell you your income would go a long way in Wausau, WI. It’s my hometown, of about 40,000 people (80k in the greater metro) and there’s an energy here that’s been building for the last five years. There’s a huge demand for IT people, and I’m guessing your husband could do really well here since you mention he’s an IT guy. Housing prices are cheap — I bought my house, a two-story cape cod in an amazing neighborhood where people still act like neighbors, throw parties together, etc for $78,500. I got a steal on mine but houses in my hood go between $90k and $120k. Gas would be cheap because everything is within 15 minutes, and we have great restaurants and a thriving downtown that seems perpetually filled with events. I happen to run one of them, Bike Fun Wausau, which hosts “poky pedals” anyone can participate in. It’s not perfect – winters can be a little harsh, especially if you aren’t interested in winter sports such as skiing, snowshoeing, etc. (We have a ski mountain too.) Wausau isn’t a huge city, but it’s very safe, statistically one of the safest places per capita in the US. It’s also a few hours drive from Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago if you get the big city itch. It’s also the perfect mix of outdoors and small city living. From downtown you can drive 15 minutes or less and be in the countryside.

    You specifically mentioned the UK, so maybe you’re not considering the US, but so much of what you mentioned you were looking for is right here in Wausau that I couldn’t help but post this. My monthly spending is so low here it would make the Frugalwoods look like high-rollers! (I kid, I kid) I also think with all that’s going on in Wausau, my house will be an investment because I think housing prices are going to skyrocket as Wausau grows. Feel free to check out the paper I write for, http://www.thecitypages.com, to see everything going on in our vibrant and growing community. I wouldn’t have typed this five years ago. But there’s an energy here that just can’t be denied.

  24. Belle says:

    Great story Clara! So much to learn. Thanks for the recommendations – I invest with Vanguard & we will look into your suggestions.

  25. Soggysuzzi says:

    I really feel for you Clara. What you are dealing with now is beyond horrendous. I would suggest that you are entering a substantial research phase of your life. Doing serious research before moving may save a lot of heartbreak later. I’m a great list maker so what I suggest may or may not be of use to you, but here goes:

    1. Immediate cash: I would suggest you both consider a full time job for Ben there for two reasons: immediate cash of course, but also it will be a lot easier for him to find a job wherever you decide to go if he has a formal job now. Somebody will have to have a full time job where you end up in order to rent someplace to live. Owners are not inclined anywhere to rent to people who have no stable full time income.

    Buck up your internet skills (if necessary) and do whatever you can to get some immediate on line gigs.

    If this isn’t going to work, flip the program and you go to work and Ben does the homeschooling while trying to build up internet hacks.

    2. Decide where to go. If it were me I’d choose England. There is going to be a lot of upset over this move kiddie-wise and having to learn a new language may be one straw too many for the little ones. Just a thought. If all goes well and you want to go to France later it will be a short and adventurous move when things are calmer.

    3. Painful things to consider to get you into a better survival mode now:

    Ask for payment on your on-line volunteer job immediately. If they say no, you will need to drop this activity. You desperately need that on-line time for moving research and other paying gigs. Your family comes first at this stage of your journey.

    Reduce extra-curricular classes to maybe one for each kid as re-ups come up. If you can do more, do it. Sit the kids down as a family and explain (to the best of their understanding) why this has to be done. Everyone has to contribute to this move and the kids need to understand why.

    Eliminate your few annual memberships as they become due and take full advantage of them until renewals are due. Stick to the library, hikes and the beach, etc. – no cost entertainment.

    Revisit food. I’m sure you do, but do it again. Are you using the Mrs. F breakfast of oatmeal and bananas? Is there some place else where you can obtain at least some of your food and supplies at a lower cost? Any other recipes that can provide the nutrition everyone needs at a lower cost? This can be a fun (?) family exercise if you can swing it. Who can come up with a good idea? The “I wants” are the killers to any budget.

    Other things have already been addressed, so I won’t add any “dittos” to that.

    4. Research everything about this move you can think of and then ask for more suggestion. A couple of things I thought of offhand about England (I know nothing about these issues in France):

    Since you hold British citizenship will you (and your family) be able to take advantage of their socialized medicine immediately or will you have to wait some time. According to what I’ve read they have been ramping up their immigration regulations. Whether this includes an ex-pat like you and your family is a question mark.

    England has free public schooling some of which is good and some of which is horrid. It all depends on where you live. Monied people send their kids to what they call “public” school but is really private school. Consider using a good public school which means you have to pick the right location. You can monitor and add to this at home while still giving you time to build your internet business.

    There are FIRE blogs in England – hunt them down and ask ask ask about everything including investments. Things are different there than in the US, so having local input will be invaluable. How about asking the English readers of Mrs. F to give you some other sources to peruse if you are willing to provide an e-mail address for them (set up a separate e-mail so stuff doesn’t get mixed up with job search and hack searching etc.)

    That’s a small start. I won’t address investments because there are others who know more than I do and will suggest things.

    The lack of safety where you are would be my big motivator and I know you all can make this happen. I wish you all the best in your move and happiness in the future.

    • Clara says:

      Thank you – that is a great point about UK-based FIRE blogs. I will look some up! Any UK or French readers can email me at Clara (dot) Mae (dot) Antigua (at) gmail (dot) com and I would be grateful for any financial advice specific to those countries. 🙂

    • Hannah says:

      Hi Clara,
      If you are looking for finance blogs from the UK, Monevator would be a good place to start. Some of their articles are very technical, but there are some excellent beginners investing articles. (It’s where I got most of my investing education from, when I was starting from scratch!)
      Their weekend readings round up also features a lot of UK FIRE blogs so it is a good place to get a taster of what out there.

  26. Melissa says:

    Clara, have you joined any professional graphic design or editing organizations? I am a freelance editor in the US and belong to an editing organization that hosts my profile on its website and has a jobs board (include freelance work) for members. You could join the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (a UK guild) and the Professional Editors’ Guild (South African). I also recommend building your own editorial services website if you haven’t already. Since you have a design background, have you learned book/magazine layout using InDesign? That could be a good source for freelance work if you reach out to book publishers/magazines/self-publishing authors. Networking will be incredibly important for you and your husband, so I also recommend using LinkedIn or similar services to connect with others and ask for informational interviews via chat or email to help you both narrow down where you might want to live and work. Best of luck!

  27. Debbie says:

    As an American who has lived in the EU (The Nerherlands) for 3 decades, as I married a Dutchman, I will tell you that the US government has made it quite difficult for anyone holding a US passport to invest abroad. This is due to the FATCA rules set up few years ago. You are required to report all foreign bank accounts and investments you have to the IRS. Also, the US has forced all foreign governments to also report your locally held funds to them. Of course this is a huge pain in the butt. In the past year we have been refused being able to invest because of my US citizenship. The only way a foreigner can open a bank account here is if you have a legal mailing address and a job. It’s very difficult. I make all these points as you spoke about selling off your property and investing the money. It might not be as easy as just finding the right funds. We have had to hire a financial expert who is capable of signing us up with USG-approved funds…that’s right…the USG has their nose in everything. You world would be a lot simpler if you or your husband could find a job as expats and have a company move your family overseas. Otherwise, I would also advise thinking more about the US. The unknowns of Brexit might make a move to the UK ill-advised until that problem is settled…at least 3 more years. Good luck!

    • Jen says:

      Agreed, it’s rough out there for expats right now! I actually just had to move all my money from Betterment (I consolidated all our retirement accounts from various jobs there a mere 18 months ago…) because I mentioned that I lived overseas and they told me I had to close my account ASAP. Luckily Schwab still welcomes expats, so I’m moving everything there now. Basically, it’s tough on both sides – finding investment opportunities in a new country and also keeping investments in the US, even if they are from earnings while you were US-based! Plus the country I live in now just changed their tax rules and now it looks like I have to report everything I have in the US here, plus everything I have here in the US through FACTA. We’re planning to head back to the US in the next 5 or so years so I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that Schwab doesn’t change their policies between now and then. I have a lot of lovely advantages here, especially in this stage of my life (tiny kids + FT job) but the big-picture money stuff has been stressful lately!

    • Clara says:

      Hi Debbie, Thanks for all this information. I haven’t had to deal with FATCA paperwork yet as everything is in Ben’s name, but it is looming on my horizon! We have considered moving the funds from the flat to the US for investing in my name. As I already have a bank account in the US, I think it would be possible to accomplish this from here.

      • Sam says:

        If you can set up a brokerage account in a bank that has branches in the country you’re looking to move to, that would help a lot. Also, considering googling “Bogleheads” and the whole stuff brought up by Debbie above-there are frequent questions about this on the Boglehead site (but usually not from US citizens).

  28. CarolineRSA says:

    Hi Clara, don’t be pressured into laying off your domestic worker. First try to negotiate fewer hours or a reduced rate. Based on your investment choices, I see you are socially aware, and I wonder if drastically reducing another household’s income will sit well with you. Our domestic helper’s wages are a big-ish chunk of our monthly budget, but I’m happy to know that she is able to pay school fees and support her extended family. Besides, I really hate cleaning floors…

    • Clara says:

      Hi Caroline! I think the best thing would be to employ her until we find her a new job for that one day a week. The thing that makes letting her go sad for me is that in addition to putting her son through school here (and living in quite awful conditions), she sends money home to her mother and extended family in Malawi. You are right – it often isn’t only one family one is supporting in South Africa.

      • Caroline Bowman says:

        another RSA Caroline and I see she and I are in agreement. You’re doing the right thing Clara, it’s just a very complicated and desperately hard life, ESPECIALLY for refugee and migrant populations.

  29. Julie says:

    I just wanted to mention that it is possible to DIY resole those shoes.
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Resole-your-Birkenstocks/

  30. Soggysuzzi says:

    One more thing I forgot in my post: Many owners of rental property do not want to rent to people with any or multiple animals. This could be a big problem and you may want to continue to think (or rethink) taking 2 dogs a 1 cat. I know this is painful but sometimes we all have to think of realities and what we can or can’t do about it.

    • Diana says:

      I wanted to comment on this because I see a lot of expats abandoning their dogs “because it’s too complicated to move them.” My dogs are part of my family and there would be no way I would leave them behind. I’ve moved with them to three different countries. The last move, from Thailand to Prague, required tons of paperwork and planning. As for renting being harder with pets, maybe, but it’s definitely doable. I have three dogs and it wasn’t really that hard to find a place. It probably took longer than it would have taken without dogs, but it’s ok. Sorry, this is a really sore spot for me. You don’t leave your kids behind just because it’s inconvenient.

      • Clara says:

        Hi Diana! My dad lives in Thailand and we have considered going there for a few years to be near him, and to live cheaply while we try to grow our assets before heading to Europe. Did you find it difficult/expensive to take your dogs to Thailand? How was it owning pets there, as far as accommodation went? My two dogs will definitely be coming with us wherever we go.

      • Kim says:

        I agree. There’s definitely a place for frugality/practicality, but when I adopted my dogs, I adopted them for their lifetime. they are family members and I have an obligation to them.

  31. Catherine says:

    Hi Clara, I’m rooting for your family, you sound great! Even if you’ve lived and worked in the U.K. before I would suggest researching the visa process and related costs as things have changed in the last few years (if you haven’t already). I’m a British Citizen living in the U.K. with my Canadian wife – it will take 5 years of her living here before she is allowed to stay permanently and during these 5 years we will spend approximately £6k on her visa and we must comply with the earnings regulations (it’s not a high amount but it’s tough getting all the paperwork in order – we are employed but I imagine freelancing probably makes this more difficult). We just moved out of London to a small historic town in the middle of England and it’s a beautiful, relaxed way of life. Good luck!

    • Clara says:

      Thank you, Catherine! Yes, this is going to take a lot of research. Congratulations on your move out of London – it sounds as though you have found a lovely spot. I hope the rest of your wife’s immigration goes smoothly! 🙂

  32. Oh wow, I love your family! I’m sure your kiddos will be quite cultured growing up abroad too. 🙂 I definitely appreciated those experiences from when I was a kid.

    I second Mrs. Frugalwoods’ suggestion to increase your earning potential. It’s hard for me, an internet stranger, to tell you how to do that, but there are so many ways to increase income. Maybe offer to homeschool other local kids? Eh, just a suggestion. Also, when/if you move, you might be able to take advantage of a public school system to decrease kiddo costs–it could also free up your time to take on paying work if that’s what you’d like to do.

    I’d also suggest combating the food costs. Is it possible for you to grow your own veggies? Staples like rice and beans are cheap and would be filling for the little ones, too.

    Good luck!!! 🙂

    • Clara says:

      Hi Mrs. Picky Pincher! It is great to have experiences abroad as a kid – I’d just like moving to be a positive experience for the kids and not have them feel too uprooted!

      We used to grow some of our own veggies, but the drought has made it impossible this season, as the water costs more than we save on the food. If we’re here for another season and we get enough rain, I will look at planting again.

      Thank you for your good wishes! 🙂

  33. Tina says:

    I would recommend Norway – it’s a great place to live. All education is free and we have a national health care system. The crime rate is very low. There are great hiking opportunities. You can find listings for apartments and houses at http://www.finn.no. My husband is American. We have two bilingual children, and everyone sees that as a benefit. Most people speak English, so it would be easy to get by.

    • Clara says:

      Thank you, Tina! I will have a look at Norway – it sounds lovely. It is useful to hear that most people speak English too.

  34. Melissa says:

    Hi Clara! I don’t have any financial advice that has not been covered already, but I thought I would mention a possible place to look into when relocating. I went to graduate school at the University of East Anglia in Norwich in the UK. Norwich is a small city and may be larger than you wish but there are lots of smaller towns and countryside nearby. That part of the country is very beautiful and close to the coast. I loved it there – good public transportation and health care, wonderful architecture, culture, and amenities, plus much more affordable than larger cities in the UK. Best wishes to you and your family!

  35. American expat in the UK says:

    If you do decide to move to the UK, here is a good website to take a look – https://becleverwithyourcash.com. It covers everything – from saving money at UK supermarkets to wireless to cable to utility bills in the U.K. It was a big help when we moved to the UK from the US.

  36. Melissa says:

    I would also recommend speaking with an accountant with some international experience. Depending on where you move, the money from the sale of your flat may not need Cap-Gains paid on it. It depends on what you do with the money (I know you’d like to wait to buy again, but there may be some tax-deferred way to invest that money in the meantime), and crossing boarders with the money may be more or less tax advantageous.

    I also worry about you not keeping your skills fresh if you’re home schooling. I agree with the comment that moving to a country with good public education is an excellent way to go. Even if you decide to completely not lean in, you still should do some form of work, be it freelance or part time. You may find, when the kids are teens and you’re looking for a full time job, that the market has passed you by. I was raised by a working mother and I prize the independence that lifestyle gave me. Its not the right answer for everyone, its just food for thought.

  37. This is a really tough situation. But I do agree that there are many options like previously mentioned. I do have a question. Is it possible for Ben to get a full-time job while retaining his current job, since it’s an online job? This would keep the current income coming, while also increasing it. Another thought. Why do you feel the kids need to be in certain activities? My kids are also homeschooled, and other than the group we are part of ($22/yr) we have chosen to stay uninvolved in activities because of the cost. I’m not sure of the details of the situation, but given the income and expense issue, I would say that they could be taken out of any of those for the time being. They aren’t necessary to educate your kids. I hope you have gotten good ideas from all the readers to help ya’ll figure it all out!

    • Clara says:

      Hi Ember! Thanks for your suggestions and questions.

      Ben explained in the comments further up why his earnings are low, relative to what is possible. He isn’t planning on working full-time for now. He is intending to build up his hours and clients (and income) slowly without putting too much detrimental stress on himself.

      The “kids” category is big because it contains quite a lot of different expenses – classes, birthday gifts for our kids and their friends, annual memberships to low-cost-per-use places we like to visit, homeschool stationery, second-hand books, etc.

      I hear you – the kids don’t NEED the extra activities. They are all for things we can’t provide on our own: swimming, group sports, choir, piano (oldest child only, so far) and pottery. Quite a few readers have suggested we cut back on these, and Ben and I will talk about doing that. But – I think we’d prefer to find another way to make that income, though. I’d feel bad pulling the kids out of activities that are already a part of their weekly routine and social lives when Ben and I could make a bigger effort to cover them some other way. It’s all very well for us to choose to not work (much) to spend time with the kids, but not when it reduces our ability to give them the opportunities we’d really love to give them!

      We do belong to a free homeschool co-op where Ben co-teaches, and that is a great group.

      • Caroline Bowman says:

        I think the key thing is increasing income in some way. Rental properties are fine, but if you own free and clear, you could sell and have a substantial amount to invest very soon, and add the interest generated to your monthly income. I genuinely think you are doing pretty much what you can do, bar really lowering the quality of your kids schooling, which might be an option temporarily, but really would be a shame in the long term. The solution is to either earn more or sell something. Your outgoings are very low (I speak as a fellow Cape Town dweller).

        • Clara says:

          Hi Caroline! This is quite a specific SA tax question as you are from SA: Ben owned the flat we just sold, and the Capital Gains tax will be quite a chunk of that. Do you know if it’s possible to transfer some or all of that asset to me (the spouse) to reduce the tax owed on it? I am not registered with SARS (South Africa Revenue Service – for other readers!) as I’ve never earned enough in SA. So I have Permanent Residence status, but no tax number. It might be worth me registering? I know there is some sort of ability to transfer assets between spouses but haven’t understood it yet.

  38. Anne says:

    I’d recommend Scotland as a great place to bring up wee ones, but I am born and bred there, so I’m biased. Working in HR I know that there are lots of perm and temp IT opportunities in Glasgow and Edinburgh with freelance/contract opportunities for creatives, particularly supporting arts organisations and charities (search s1jobs and indeed). Both cities have lots of smaller towns close by. Public transport links in the central belt are generally good (cities are fantastic) with reasonably priced fares. The great outdoors (both coastlines and lumpy bits) can be accessible within 40 minutes from most places. Education is free up to and including fees (but not living costs) for university. Property wise, there is lots of choice whether you want to rent or buy (ex-local authority homes are great value for money), either to live in yourself or rent out. Rents are expensive in the capital as landlords earn more from the all year long tourist season than long term lets although tenants are very protected through govt regulation (espc and gspc websites can give you all the gen). The NHS is a great safety net with free dental and optical checks (which I don’t think happens in England). There are lots of festivals and events that are excellent value with many aimed at families. There are great links from the two big airports to many European destinations, US and Canada as well as rail links down south. But state retirement age has just gone up to 68 and many final salary schemes have closed, but everyone is auto-enrolled into a pension fund and there are still employers offering career average plans. Visa wise, you would be subjected to UK rules, but the Scottish Government is constantly challenging London to allow different rules up here to take account of our different demographics – I’d recommend keeping a watching brief to see if any of this changes. You could do worse than move here, at least for a wee while!

  39. Mallory says:

    Nicely done Clara and family! You have so few expenses that I understand why it’s near impossible to find additional items to cut. One thing you could look into in Europe specifically is a country that offers free internet. I know for a fact that Estonia (probably not the climate you’re looking for) does and given that your husband needs internet for his work, that could be nice to remove from your expenses. I know others have already suggested european countries with free education/university. For the time being in SA, perhaps childcare could be a relatively easy way to earn some extra money given that you’ll already be watching your own children.

  40. Richard says:

    I think you will be effectively priced out of UK property; rural property in Normandy or Brittany that is in need of some love is still extremely inexpensive and can come with enough land for a good vegetable garden / chickens etc… and can be quite beautiful. You could look to buy somewhere where some of your property could be holiday lets?

  41. Thanks for so honestly airing your story, particularly Ben’s honest sharing of his health journey. As someone who left a job to support a family member with significant health problems I understand how income, financial issues, and employment are a complex dance. Is there more to this issue that is impacting your planning? I I am asking more generally since you may not wish to discuss things in detail on this forum.

    My question relates to Ben’s income. Are his part time hours an intentional decision or are they related to his health? To me this is the crux of the issue. If part time work is intentional he needs to earn more. Simple! But if it is related to health things are far more complex and nuanced.

    Since increasing income is really what needs to happen to balance the financial budget in this story, the answer to this question really impacts any future planning. Does any move need to consider Clara’s employability so Ben can focus on recovery? Is part time work for both partners a better mix in terms of work – life balance AND financial stability? Does a move to out-of-home schooling allow for more income earning potential? Homeschooling requires huge amounts of time and energy and appeared initially to be a financial decision – though the time with kids is very valuable and I don’t want to minimize that. Is Ben’s health journey likely to prevent full-time work? Long term? Short term? Is a part time gig optimal? Does Clara need to assist with income earning? Can she? Where and how? These should all be front and centre when planning.

    I know for our family we had to orient all financial decisions around the assumption that I would likely never be able to contribute financially because of my commitment to care for a family member (it is different, but my point is that health issues also reorganized our finances). We also,for a while, needed a housekeeper just so I didn’t crash, I was so overextended, so I get that too.

    Ultimately I have no real answers. Sorry! :). Kudos to all your hard work. Thanks for sharing and I wish you well.

    • Clara says:

      Thanks Laura! It sounds as though you have gone gracefully through a big life-shift by facing the issue and making a plan! 🙂

      You are right that we need to put how we share the roles of income-earning and parenting at the center of the conversation, and then build a structure around that agreement. I would like for us both to work and to parent, but I know I need a reliable routine around that (eg: Ben works mornings while I teach; I work afternoons while he does extra-murals) as I like predictability and structure.

      Ben has mentioned over the years that he would really like to work as a team with me on some venture, but we have never managed to visualise it as I’d rather not work at a screen!

      I am looking forward to going through all these suggestions with him and formulating a plan. Thank you for your input!

  42. Christine K says:

    How much can you increase your income and still not have to pay taxes? I ask because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to increase income only to have to give that money right back to the government. It sounds like making the move ASAP is in everyone’s best interests. Without going into detail, I know a lot of expatriated South Africans and they all gave the safety reason for leaving. As to where to go, the thing that needs to be considered is health insurance IMHO. What does it cost in England, France or elsewhere? I know there is socialized medicine for routine stuff, but isn’t some insurance paid over there? With low incomes but high assets, I’d want to make sure that my family’s health insurance was totally taken care of before the move. That would be my deciding factor in where to base my family in Europe. I’m also firmly on the side of not carrying a mortgage ever, or eliminating it at lightening speed if you do take one out. I think there are 2 camps on this in the FIRE community though, and I do see both sides.

    • Christine K says:

      Also, unless you plan to live in the US in the future, have you considered getting rid of your US citizenship to also get rid of the potential tax liability? The US goes after taxes when it’s citizens sell property in other countries right? I remember reading about a recent case of a british politician who hadn’t lived in the US since he was 5 having to shell out some serious cash in capital gains taxes to Uncle Sam when he sold his property in the UK, simply because he held US citizenship. With selling properties abroad, that US citizenship could be costing you, especially if you don’t have any real intention of living in the US again.

      • Clare says:

        Christine – the U.S exemption that applies to selling your principal place of residence ($US500k for married couple) also applies overseas, so it’s only an issue if your profit is more than that. I’d imagine that politician was banking a large capital gain!
        It’s also not easy to relinquish U.S citizenship – it costs $US2350 (last time i checked) plus be up to date the last 5 years of taxes and the IRS will do an exit audit. My husband is american (living in Australia) so I’ve looked into all of this. You really need a good accountant who is familiar with U.S expat taxes.
        Clara – maybe you’re already doing this, but since you’re a U.S citizen, you should be filing a U.S tax return every year, and since your income is low you will be eligible for the additional child tax credit as long as the children are U.S citizens. If you’ve spent a significant amount of time as a U.S citizen living in the U.S chances are they are already automatically U.S citizens and all you need to do is register their births with the U.S consulate. (It’s a $US1000 refund per child until they are 18, and if you haven’t been doing it you can backfile for the last 3 years)

        • Jen says:

          I don’t think she would qualify for the credit – as US citizens abroad we file taxes every year but don’t pay because we are below the Federal Earned Income Exclusion of $94k per person-ish. Because we don’t actually pay US taxes (although I do pay local taxes in Colombia) we don’t qualify for any benefits either, including the child tax credit.

          • Clare says:

            It’s very confusing – that’s why we use an accountant! I believe it’s called the additional child tax credit – and you have to file using the foreign tax credit not the foreign earned income exclusion, and earn more than $3000 but less than $75,000 to qualify for the maximum amount. I wouldn’t have known about it if our accountant hadn’t told us! Of course, if you are in a country with lower income tax rates than the U.S you might be better off filing the foreign earned income exclusion and forgetting the child tax credit 🙂

          • Christine K says:

            It makes sense that you have to pay in to get the child tax credit, but I’m actually pretty sure you don’t pay into the system to get the Earned Income Credit though! If Clara is the US citizen maybe the small amount of earned income needs to come from her to qualify, but it’s a pretty decent benefit and would make up for the shortfall…this is presuming that you can get it as a US expat.

        • Christine K says:

          I thought the rental flat that they sold would be subject to US capital gains taxes since it wasn’t a primary residence for the past 2 years though? Maybe I’m wrong here, there could be some caveat I don’t know about. Doesn’t the US give a tax credit called Earned Income or something like that to people under a certain income threshhold? It’s thousands of dollars a year also I believe…really not sure how this works if you are a US citizen living abroad, but that could be a major solution here if it’s possible to achieve both that credit and the child tax credit you described. Now I’m thinking of the US citizenship not as so much of a liability but as a benefit in this situation!

          • Clara says:

            Christine, the rental flat was in Ben’s name, so I don’t think US taxes come into it at all. He will owe Cap Cains Tax here in SA though.

      • Sam says:

        Think long and hard about giving up US citizenship because of the financial implications. There was an article recently to this effect. Something about 401k/roth’s get immediately liquidated when citizenship is given up and depending on how much $ that is, it pushes you up into a higher tax bracket and you can lose a substantial amount of $ doing this!

  43. As a British citizen, living in the UK- I do not know why you would want to move here atm! House prices are incredible and only ever go up. Interest rates are non-existent. You’ll be lucky if you can get 1% Sure, you could move to the North of England for cheaper house prices, but the job opportunities will be limited. You will get more for your money in the USA. You’d be talking £1,300 a month just to rent a 3-bed home here, that’s before you’ve paid for any of your bills. You’ll need have to pay council tax in excess of £1,200 a year. Then you’ll have your utilities which are rising every few months in the UK. Food prices are also rising very fast. If you have a car, you cannot opt not to have insurance here, you’ll also need to pay road tax and the high cost for petrol. Public transport costs are astronomical. With children as well, whoever is the main income earner is going to need to bring in around £40,000 per annum just to cover your needs – in my estimate. Home schooling is not at all common here and definitely comes with a stigma. You’d have to be inspected and your children are likely to receive a very limited education because you cannot homeschool subjects like science after a certain age. I don’t know if homeschoolers take GCSEs, but if you can’t offer the standard qualifications – you children are unlikely to find jobs themselves here when the time comes. Surely it’s cheaper to send them to a free school in the UK, if you were allowed to come here?

    The UK welfare benefits situation is such that if you have not paid in enough of your National Insurance contributions, you will not get paid them. With not having lived here for years, I don’t see how you would qualify. Beware also the rules about trying to bring your family in, even though you are a citizen – if you cannot meet the new financial rules (you must prove your annual income or have a significant sum in savings) – your spouse will not be able to come here. Even if you have a job, you will also need to prove that you have enough money to cover all your dependents – your spouse would be included as a dependent especially if they do not have the right to work here. With the on-going health issues you mention, this is likely to be considered even more of a potential burden.

    I would recommend that you have to ‘let go’ of your cleaner and your pets right now. You cannot afford to have sentimental attachments to these things, in-fact you cannot afford them at all. Your cleaner will find another job I guarantee it and your pets will find new, loving homes. You are planning to leave the country anyway, so what difference does it make if you let them go now or then? Same goes for the annual memberships – they are not necessities and I bet you there are ways to do the same or similar things for free. You’re moving anyway, so don’t continue them. You will never stem the outward flow of money, unless you start to see these things clearly. I would consider selling all your properties to free up capital. Have you sat down and worked out on paper what you’re actually making? It just sounds like you could be out of pocket because you’re effectively paying for your tenants water etc. If they are loss-making, they need to go. Can you move to a cheaper area in SA, sell all your properties and rent? That way you will not be tied when/ if you decide to move.

    Regarding housing in the UK, you will find it virtually impossible to find a landlord that will take pets and certainly not that number. Cats and dogs are considered about the most damaging causing pets that you can keep. Most have rules that state- no benefits, no pets, no smokers. You also will not be able to rent without one of you having a secure job and without significant savings behind you, you would need to prove the last 2 years of income as self-employed in order to rent or get a mortgage. I don’t see how you can hope to do that, since you are not currently based here. The only option I see is that one of you take a full-time job with an employer. Be aware that you will get put on a 3-6 month probationary period, so you would need to have a significant sum behind you to protect against any unforeseen eventualities. But, unless you have a very specific skill set – I don’t see you getting by on one income in the UK because you will not qualify for any help i.e. benefits.

    The cost of childcare here, for the number of children you have – without government support (which I don’t believe you would be entitled to) would mean that you would be in the same situation as you are in now – haemorrhaging money. Where 2 parents work full-time here, one entire income goes on childcare for even 2 children. There is a big crisis going on here with the high costs and lack of places. Government financial support does not even cover the costs for working parents.

    If you come here and do not qualify (or your whole family does not qualify) then remember you would have to pay for the full cost of any healthcare provided on the NHS. They are really hot on this now and the figures are eye-watering. There are no insurance options that would cover that, you have to pay out of pocket. Private healthcare costs a small fortune (for the very wealthy only) and doesn’t provide the range of treatment that the NHS does because not many people use it. You would be taking a massive financial and health gamble.

    Finally, for any job that you apply for here- you would have to prove that you are fit to work, on top of right to work etc. You will have to pass an occupational health check with a Dr prior to being accepted for employment. I am unsure that an employer will want to take on an employee with a mental health condition, that sounds unstable and also quite newly diagnosed. Particularly as it sounds like Ben can only work part-time at the moment. My advice would be to stay where you are until 3-5 years after diagnosis, as that is the average time to recover from PTSD. You want to get to a place where you are stable and not reliant on frequent counselling. Imagine how an employer would react to someone having to take time off for appointments all the time. Just think of how many stressful things you are planning to change in one go. That doesn’t sound like sensible pacing to me, for Ben nor would putting his health in jeopardy by asking him to take on a full-time job, for an employer before he is ready. (P.S. I’m a health professional).

    Family support is fairly crucial to having a stable family life and support, even more important for people in your situation. I would definitely consider moving back to the USA. Live near family and let them help take the strain. Enjoy being able to spend time with each other. The cost of living is so low in America, you can buy enormous mansions for peanuts, the types of homes that only multi-millionaires live in- in the UK, for the price of a studio flat in the UK.

    • Christine K says:

      While I definitely agree that the cost of living is lower in the US (well, parts of the US) than in the UK, we have the wildcard of health care coverage here. There is no NHS here, although it sounds like they might not qualify for the NHS in the UK anyways? Our healthcare landscape is ever-changing, expensive, and not dependable at all. Absent good, employer-sponsored coverage, they would be at the mercy of whatever system is in place at the moment and of course that’s always subject to change. It sounds like only one spouse is a US citizen so while the kids would get US citizenship I think the spouse has to get a green card. I have no idea how that works, but I think it’s costly and probably not immediate. Not sure you can work without some sort of papers here even if your spouse is a citizen. Maybe there are places in Europe where they could live and work with UK/French citizenship that also have nationalized healthcare systems that they could take advantage of? I’m not too up on European healthcare other than knowing that a lot (all?) countries there have some form of socialized medicine. To me healthcare/insurance is by far the biggest concern in moving anywhere. The great news is that they have loads of options in the form of multiple citizenships, so they will no doubt find somewhere that fits their needs.

      • snowcanyon says:

        With three kids, Medicaid is nearly guaranteed. I wouldn’t worry, as long as you move to a blue (bluer) state. Nevada is thinking of expanding Medicaid to all. The UK and the NHS are FAR stingier with medical care than the US. I work in healthcare, am a dual citizen, and have lived in both places. Neither France nor the UK sounds like a great fit, and the more economically viable countries (Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark) might be challenging in other ways.

      • snowcanyon says:

        You can get an almost immediate spousal visa. Not an issue. Unlike the UK, there isn’t financial or medical screening for spouses, either, in the US.

        • Clara says:

          Thank you for that info, Snowcanyon! That is interesting about the UK being stingier with medical care than the US.

        • LuckyM says:

          This isn’t quite correct.
          Depending on your country of origin, a spousal visa takes around 6-12 months.
          As a immigrant into the US I had to go to a health screening, full-fill several vaccination requirements and my American spouse had to prove 3 years of income 125% above the poverty limit ($36,000 per year for a household of 5).
          Since my husband didn’t have 3 full years worth of income, another relative had to sign an affidavit of support for 10 years.
          I was also not eligible for any federal benefits for 5-10 years (depends on the benefits) and some states limit access to benefits as well.

          While the US is cheaper to live in when you’re healthy and make a decent income, it can be very expensive with chronic conditions or on a low income.

    • Caroline Bowman says:

      I am sorry to be argumentative but you genuinely are incorrect re her cleaner finding another job being guaranteed. That is… just not so. Also, it is a tiny, tiny fraction of their monthly spend. The situation with homeless animals is also absolutely dire. I personally would not pay for 3 animals to move countries. I’ve done it for one, (UK to here, lived and worked there for a decade and am a UK passport holder) and the costs, which look reasonable on paper, add up and up and up. However, just getting rid of them before one actually needs to is unlikely to do much for emotional health, or at least that would be my view.

      If Clara were to get paid for at least some of the obvious skills and talents she currently gives away, it would seem less punitive for everyone. That or sell the rental property, or both.

    • Isabella says:

      No, the price of mansions are not for pennies here in the US! The cost of living is not low in the US. Many, many people are stalled in minimum wage jobs. Housing can easily eat up 50-60% of their income. Health insurance costs are high. (For example, my sister pays $800 out of pocket each month for her family, and her company pays another $900/month for her policy!) Doctor visits and hospitalization are simply out-of-sight without decent healthcare. (I know this for a fact because I am going through very expensive cancer treatment at this time. We have a good policy with a deductible of $4,000/year, which is very good for here. Nevertheless, my treatment and surgeries will easily top half a million dollars!)

      College education is also expensive here. The average student now has about $30,000 in debt upon leaving college.

      I don’t know where you get the idea that housing is inexpensive! We live in Minneapolis, and housing in safe areas with good schools is NOT cheap. Before Minneapolis, we lived in California, and I think we all have heard what California is like!

      Wages and salaries have generally not kept up with inflation and the cost of living. Again, the big three are housing, higher education and healthcare.

      • Christine K says:

        Everything is relative though. I think housing in the US is significantly cheaper than in the UK. However, we also have incredibly high healthcare costs compared to the UK. I think everywhere has it’s expensive things, thus making frugality as a lifestyle important no matter where we go.

      • snowcanyon says:

        Isabella, have you lived in Europe? The US is MUCH cheaper. There are plenty of ways to get free or low-cost health insurance (look a Root of Good’s site), plenty of places with cheap instate tuition and good public schools, and taxes, food, and rent are cheaper in most parts of the US than Europe. The US is much, much cheaper across the board than most places in Europe, especially cities.

        I would suggest Clara and Ben look at Root of Good’s website- lots of useful info.

  44. Clara, I just want to start by saying that I appreciate you sharing your story. It’s was illuminating to hear about your life in South Africa and some of the challenges you’ve encountered there. I also greatly respect your socially- and environmentally-conscious lifestyle. Thank you for what you do!

    I don’t have advice beyond the excellent suggestions already provided. It does sound like earning more is the top priority. I can certainly understand your predicament: we, too, have sliced pretty much all of the fat from our budget, and if we want to increase our pace of debt repayment and saving, one of us really needs to get a higher-paying job.

    I also have to say that I agree with the commenter above who advised that you *not* let your housecleaner go. I suppose that it’s a good idea purely from a financial perspective, but it sounds like this is one very tangible way in which you support your community.

  45. Claudia says:

    Another huge consideration is that Clara is American, and all Americans have to file annually with the IRS as well as report on all bank accounts. You will very likely to owe the IRS capital gains taxes when you divest of your real estate holdings if they’ve increased in value. (The US, along with Eritrea, is has a citizenship-based taxation system so it doesn’t matter that Clara hasn’t lived in the US in years.) This may also have an impact on whether Clara will be able to open a bank account in Europe, since some banks are refusing to deal with American customers due to onerous FATCA reporting regulations. In any case, my strong recommendation is that Clara spend time researching all this — if she is unlikely to ever live in the US again, it would be worth considering renouncing US citizenship. If she does want to return one day, it’s important to make sure that she meets all her filing and tax obligations.

    All that aside, good luck with your upcoming move!

  46. Rebecca says:

    Hi,
    I think you should consider moving to Scotland. We have free healthcare including prescriptions and free university education after you’ve lived here for 3 years. We have lots of software companies and many offer flexible working arrangements. And as far as I am concerned we have the most amazing scenic wilderness- mountains, coast lines, beaches and islands.

  47. Jessica says:

    Not sure if someone already mentioned this…but we save some money on kids activities ( like zoo memberships…) by asking for it as a family gift for Christmas from grandparents. A few years ago we decided to have less stuff, and opted for activities as gifts instead. The grandparents like it bc they get everyone in one gift and we make a point of talking about who got that for us each time we go.

  48. Alison says:

    So much food advice has been covered already, but I think there two sections to what you are trying to accomplish: the now and the future.

    The Now: No one can prioritize the best places to cut your expenses, but there is room. So whether you start to re-home your pets earlier than planned or something else, you have to pick what works for you. I think a frank discussion with your housekeeper is possible – but give her warning, or cut back slowly on timeline, or find someone else who needs her! That would be great for you, her and the new family.

    The future: Anything that is a struggle for you today will be multiplied in a new country. It sounds like you are familiar with new countries, but still, everything is harder with a family. Maybe try and think about what that might for you and mitigate against that now.

    Also: You could work all kinds of other things into homeschooling (easy for me to say!) but what about growing a garden from compost? Free to do and yields free food. What about learning french?

    Picking a new home country and city/town: You probably want to narrow this down sooner rather than later. So many good location options suggested by others. This could also be a good lesson for school. And, the kids could actively be involved in the selection. They would learn a lot about the world, and finances too.

    Buying vs Renting: Mrs Frugalwoods description of why a mortgage is good is more than awesome. And although I think you should weigh buying vs Renting, remember that if you don’t qualify for a mortgage straight off you could always buy a house with cash and then in two years (the USA required 2 years work history) you could get a mortgage. You can always finance at a later date. If I were in your shoes, or maybe ANY shoes, I’d be afraid I might spend that house money. Even if you think you won’t. You just don’t know what the future holds for income and issues. That’s a sum of money you can’t get back, especially with the income level you are describing.

    You are brave in your decisions and choices, enjoy the time you all have at home together and good luck in your move! You can do it!

  49. Becky in Texas says:

    Come to Texas, we have low cost living. You can find a very nice 3 bedroom/2 bath home for $120 – $200 USD. We have plenty of cheap gas and no state income tax! The only problem is that it’s hot in the summer! Come on over, y’all can stay with us till you get settled! Good luck and God bless!

  50. Erin says:

    Hi Clara and Ben,
    I’m impressed at how you’ve managed to stay debt free despite the many challenges!
    I live in the UK and over the years have met many South Africans who have moved to the UK. They have generally done so for security/safety reasons and been happy with their choice, but it has also been a huge lifestyle change, particularly not having housekeepers/gardeners/nannies as affordable norms here! Housing costs are high here and rising despite 10 years of a slow economy, and there are no signs yet that building is going to keep up with demand. Rental properties are also in short supply, particularly since changes to the buy to rent tax rules last year, and consequently landlords can be fussy about pets. Many refuse all pets, but most that accept them will restrict them to one. I have 1 dog and no children and can’t imagine parting with her, but there is no doubt that keeping 3 pets will affect your choices.
    Many comments have suggested ‘rural’ living as lower cost, but as someone who lives in rural southwest of England, I have a small 3 bed house with a tiny garden that is worth around £420,000 so it really depends on the area. I have to drive everywhere, there’s no nearby public transport and we have to have 2 cars for a 2 person household. The south is generally more expensive, the north less so, but the weather is warmer in the south. Personally I’d love to move to Scotland which is one area you have mentioned, and housing costs are lower there, but having lived there for a year some time ago, my husband flat refuses to return on account of the weather (and midges)…
    Outside of Cardiff and highly touristy areas like snowdonia, Wales is both beautiful and more affordable and may be worth consideration.
    State schools in rural parts of the U.K. are generally of very high standard and there are also some state funded (free) schools with a different ethos, such as Steiner schools or faith based schools for example. Although university fees are payable in England, the loans are only paid back once the ex student earns over a certain level, and it is thought that a large proportion will never fully pay them back, as they are cancelled after 30 years. There is also growing political pressure over this and it may well change before your kids are uni age, so I wouldn’t base your decision on that. Healthcare of course is free and of a high standard here, including for PTSD.
    It sounds like you can both work independent of location, so you potentially have the freedom to choose to live in a lower cost rural area with low crime rates and a good free school which fits your ethos, so that you both have more flexibility to build your income from home.
    I am a ‘remainer’, but even so, I would say don’t worry about Brexit in your decision making process; if nothing else, demand for IT experts will increase as immigration is restricted more!
    I wish you a Happy move and life wherever you choose. You certainly have a lot of options.

  51. Leigh Taylor says:

    Just a vote for Manchester in the UK. It’s a northern city so down right cold at time but really lovely people, currently loads of on going development and still crucially affordable to love. The peak district is on your doorstep and transport links are good.

  52. Diana says:

    I have moved internationally FIVE times! And have always taken my pets with me. Some moves are harder than others. My last move was from Thailand to Prague. I’m not sure if South Africa is considered “third country” in the list of quarantine guidelines. If it is, you’ll have to do a bunch of additional paperwork (which takes four months) to bring your dogs/cat into Europe. It’s a major headache and it’s expensive, so start early and plan well! That said, I brought three dogs with me from Thailand because my dogs are my family and there was no way I was going to leave them behind. So if you decide to bring yours, go ahead, but be prepared for the hassle.

    I work full-time from home. I don’t have kids (though the dogs are often just as demanding!) but I bet you could at least work part-time from home to increase your income. I’m a freelance writer, so I know a lot of people (editors, writers, etc.) who make a living this way. I live in one of the cheapest European capitals, and I could barely survive on $2000 a month. My dogs alone cost me about $150 per month including pet insurance, high-quality food, etc. Plus, once you’re in Europe, a good chunk of your money will go towards rent. Moving somewhere outside the main cities would reduce your costs, but if you don’t speak the local language, it’s complicated and not always fun.

  53. Julie says:

    If they moved to the UK the family would be eligible to receive Child Benefit, Working Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits (soon to be called Universal Credits). If you look on the Gov.uk website there’s a calculator where you can work out your entitlement. To search for locations within the UK have a look at the Rightmove website. It offerers reliable, accurate information on house prices, schools, crime rate statists, etc. Good luck. Julie. South Wales. UK

  54. Carolina says:

    Clara,

    You can check out southern Spain, specifically Almeria (towns Lubrin, Bedar, Mojacca). It is warm and relatively affordable. My family is from this region though we now live in Arizona. There are lots of British expats, so there are dual language schools for when kids get older. Work is going to be a hustle to get set up and running, but it seems like your husband is used to that. Homeschooling is not forbidden as in Germany, and there are associations. This is the region of Spain where they have the greenhouses, so fruits and vegtables are abundant and fresh year round. You are close to the coast/beach and mountains. I love it, but it will take lots of work to transition. I will warn you it may be backwards at times that is if you are used to the efficiency of the US, etc. (banks, postal offices open for like 2hours in the morning,…) But culturally, it is open and loving, festive and fun. By the way, LOVE the patchwork pants, beautiful.

    Cheers,

    Carolina

  55. Hannah says:

    Hi Clara,
    Your strong ethical approach to everything you do in your life is commendable! If taking it across into investing is non-negotiable, you can look at some ‘clean’ or ‘ethical’ ETFs, which include only companies that pass a certain benchmark. For example, in Australia we have one which include companies that have a carbon impact significantly lower than other companies in their industry; or some ETFs that are more similar to traditional total market ETFs but have had certain companies that deal with tobacco or arms excluded.
    Not only will you be able to invest, but you will be supporting companies that are doing the right thing, and helping them grow as responsible corporations and sending a message to the world that you want clean companies, and are willing to put your money where your mouth is.
    The only problem is that smaller ETFs are more volatile and not as dependable as whole market ETFs, so be very careful and make sure you do your research on them!

    • Clara says:

      Thank you, Hannah! It is great to know there are some index-type options out there for us that are still ethically-minded.

  56. Shelby says:

    Hi Clara: is Canada on your radar? We have lots of ex-pat Brits here, as well as from other Commonwealth countries.

  57. Anon says:

    I’d suggest looking at the cost of living in the UK or France vs elsewhere in the EU. Even if Brexit does happen, Clara will likely be able to get or retain EU citizenship through her husband being a French citizen, or through whatever agreement the British government works out with the EU. This could potentially allow them to move to an EU country with a lower COL. In my view, it may well be worth it to move to an eastern European country, as they tend to have a lower COL.

  58. Robin says:

    Clara and Ben,
    Fantastic that you are debt free. Big plus.
    I have lived in Europe for 17 years, in France, Austria, and now Italy. In view of the Brexit situation, and other considerations, I would advise France, as Ben has French citizenship. Do your children have French citizenship? I do not know the procedure, but they will be able to obtain French citizenship, as well as you, though your’s may take longer. One commenter wrote of Quillan, France, and it looks lovely, with reasonably priced properties on the market, and affordable rent. Mild mediterranean climate- great for year round gardening, without the COL in Provence, plus lower heating costs, and no need for AC.
    From what I know, the French school system is very good. The advantage of your children becoming bilingual is immense, and the younger the better. Having the children in the public school system would free Clara time to do online writing/ editing. School lunches are 3 euro- check out karenlebillon.com, she has an entire blog series about French school lunches, and how they educate students about nutrition. France has the lowest child obesity rate, of all of the EU and US.
    I think France has wonderful opportunities for outdoor and cultural activities.
    I have moved many times in my life, including continents, like you, and moving is expensive. Perhaps in anticipation of moving, and selling your home, you could sell as much as you are willing to. It is often times easier and cheaper to purchase new {or better, used} at your new destination. There are so many unforeseen start up costs.
    I know it is heartbreaking, but perhaps you can rethink taking animals with you. Have you looked into the implications and quarantines into bringing your pets? I also believe it might be a liability to renting. I think a short time rental would be a good idea to get a feel for the region.
    I am certainly not an expert on this subject, and I wish you the best of luck with your decision making property.

  59. Walter says:

    Clara, have you thought about renting out your apartments on AirBnB? I am sure that in a country like South Africa, you could make a substantial amount of money like this. Furthermore, you protect yourself against the inflation as the prices can be adapted flexibly and you will be renting out to foreigners.

  60. Sarah says:

    I have not read through all the comments, so maybe this has already been mentioned: But UK are leaving the EU, meaning that a UK citizenship, in the future probably won’t grant you (and in particular your kids) the right to automatically work and live in other EU countries. For these reasons (and to make the kids bilingual, it is a huge advantage!) I would favor France (assuming Ben speaks French) over UK.

    Other alternatives are Germany, Belgium (part is French speaking), Holland, Germany or any of the Nordic countries. With Ben’s French citizenship, you should be able to settle down most places and things like school, hospitals and the like are usually free or available at a very low cost. Just be aware that you probably aren’t entitled to welfare benefits (including unemployment benefits) until after some years (the period differ from country to country).

    I would personally stay away from Spain, Italy, Greece and the East-European countries. These are wonderful countries, but unemployment rates are higher, people have less money and the level of English is usually lower; so it would be a greater risk in my opinion.

  61. Beth says:

    Hi Clara, just echoing some of Elizabeth Hodge’s points above. I live in one of the lowest cost UK cities (Plymouth), live with my partner, and together our minimal monthly outgoings (mortgage, council tax, utilities, insurances, car costs, one dog) is £1400. This is annually shopping around for lowest insurances and utilities, buying groceries from the cheapest supermarkets, mostly walking everywhere, low mortgage per month. Obviously with children this would be more.

    I am a funded PhD student so on a low income, and my partner has mental health issues so works from home on a freelance basis. The ‘safety net’ of the NHS and welfare state is now a myth, I’m afraid. My partner was on a two year waiting list to see a psychiatrist – 18 months – 2 years is normal – and without help from family for paying for a private psychiatrist my partner would likely not be here. The months that my partner does not earn, or earns a very low income, it is close to impossible to claim benefits – the film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is not far fetched, unfortunately. I also agree you will find it close to impossible to get a mortgage, two years on a permanent contract or three years UK self-employed with tax return paperworks is the norm. I just had to get a new mortgage deal and actually couldn’t move from my current provider because of our situation.

    Finally, a non-financial point – Brexit has stirred up a lot of ill-feeling towards any issues around immigration, and outside of London unfortunately there are some very regressive views. Once I complete my PhD, I will certainly be trying to move out of England! my partner and I lived in Ontario for a year and loved the lifestyle there, perhaps that could be a consideration?

    Best of luck with your move, sounds like you are doing a brilliant job for your family – its hard to be the person holding everything together, so bravo.

    Beth

  62. anon says:

    I hope this all works out for your family! I know that others feel differently, but I would keep your housekeeper. It is my personal conviction that we should all share a portion of our income with others in need, and that God will bless us for it. Others may feel that it is “good Karma” for putting it out there in the universe.

    That income helps your housekeeper AND her family, so it is far reaching. Also, you yourselves have received a lot in inheritance, and this is a way to pay it forward.

  63. Malenksha says:

    I didn’t see this although it may have been mentioned, but since being around the kids is so helpful to Ben, and getting him feeling better has got to be better for the family, could *HE* take over all the homeschooling and you go back to work? I know it is turning this on it’s head a bit, but I am thinking of at least two families we know right off the top of my head where Dad does the schooling and care of the kids during the day (and all that entails!) while Mom is actually working full-time. The families are thriving in both cases.

    Also, while the extra activities for the kids are awesome, during a time of stress like this, perhaps as each one comes to a natural close (end of a season/cycle/school year), you can reassess if the benefit is worth the cost right now (not forever, just for this season!). Just because you pause on swim lessons for six months doesn’t mean you won’t do them again next year.

    And maybe it doesn’t have to be every activity all the time but perhaps swimming, group sports, and pottery can take turns while money is especially tight right now? (Thinking piano works best if it can continue although scaling back could work; we have friends who can only afford every other week lessons but after five years the kids are doing awesome and far better off than those who quit after a year of weekly lessons.)

    I know there have been many posts on this site and others about trade-offs… yes, we can have dad and mom home a lot more, but perhaps we also can’t realistically afford to join every activity we are interested in. It can be HARD to choose but sometimes finances dictate that we need to look carefully at what trade-offs need to be made — and perhaps you can find a solution where these important items (both parents home a lot AND lots of activities for the kids) can work out well. Or perhaps upon review you find one of those two items isn’t as important as X after all, and other changes need to be made instead to move the most important items to the top.

    Good luck! These things are always more complicated than a quick summary on a blog can allow for at all! We are rooting for you and your family to get the balance perfect for your family right now AND in the future! Will be anxiously waiting to hear your family’s update on where you move and how it all works out!

  64. Aliya says:

    I now live in the UK, if you decide to move here, my advice would be to find a place close to a big supermarket! Especially Tesco, they have big bargains around 7pm everyday, it would save you tons of money.

  65. Christopher Johnson says:

    I know how hard it is to get rid of those extra expenses especially when you are frugal in other areas, but I was thinking if they could find new homes for all their pets which is close to the difference between income and expenses they’d at least be close to breaking even. I know it is hard. I don’t have any pets (and haven’t since I moved out of my parents’ house at 18) because I know I can’t afford them . I don’t want to be in the situation where I’d have to give them up, which I feel is their case unless they can substantially increase their income. They are far ahead of me due to Ben’s staying at home when a young adult and the inheritance, but I’m still worried about how they’ll save for emergencies and their retirement since they are both in their 40s with children. Even without pets they still need to find some way to greatly increase their income just to pay for bills at a regular retirement age. I agree it is time to start charging for what is currently volunteer work. Do they have any room to grow some vegetables? Vegetables have gone up a lot in price here in Mexico so I wouldn’t be surprised if it is also happening in other countries. I’m in an apartment without even a balcony or patio, but I’d imagine that they have space to grow at least some of their food in containers. It could be a fun project for the children to work on and it doesn’t take much to start growing from seeds especially in ground. It might be necessary to take a hard look at the extracurricular expenses for the children and see if there are any free alternatives, but hopefully that won’t be necessary without pets and reduced food costs.
    What I would not like to see is for them to sell their properties and pay for moving and living expenses from that money and end up in a worse financial situation in the UK a few years from now.. Perhaps they could increase their emergency fund to 1 year of expenses since after they move it would probably be closer to 6 months expenses in the U.K. and it would be much more urgent without that rental income to pay for basic expenses.

    • Clara says:

      Hi Christopher!

      Thanks for your thoughts. As in the comments further up, it hasn’t been possible for us to grow food since the drought, as the cost of the water exceeds the savings on the food! But we will look at it again when the drought ends.

      As for pets, two of our dogs will be moving with us for sure as I am very attached to them, and they are worth the expense for me; I’ve found a new home for our third dog. The cats are Ben’s, so whether they move with us or not is his decision. As someone mentioned above, pets are important for mental health, so we are not being hasty about trying to rehome them.

      That is a great idea to increase our emergency fund to 1 year of expenses in anticipation of our move. Thank you!

  66. Norm says:

    I think socially conscious investing is needless and shows a misunderstanding on the part of the investor. I come at it from a completely different perspective. Look at it this way: All index funds are buying stocks that are second-hand. You’re buying it from another person. You’re not giving money to the company at all.

    The other side of it is that, yes, by getting dividends and gains from a company like Exxon Mobil or whatever, you are benefiting from their actions. But if it wasn’t you getting these gains, they’d be going to someone else, and who knows what they would do with that money? Now that the gains are in your pocket, you can take a perverse pleasure in using the profits of an evil multi-national to advance your own eco-concious agenda. This is what I do.

    If you are looking to make a difference and make a statement economically, you can boycott a company, but “socially responsible” investing is of no help… except to make the investor feel good.

  67. RG says:

    This is my first time commenting, but as an US expat in the UK I think I can contribute. You have a challenging situation, and frankly if you are looking to come to the UK you will need to gear up to making some changes. The housing market can be very tight here, and property prices are rising in those places where the tech jobs are. I rent, and I can tell you that most landlords – as in nearly all – do not permit pets. If you find one, you will likely have to pay a big premium for them. You will also generally need some work history and steady income to purchase a property via a mortgage, and if one of you is not a UK citizen then the required deposit will be about 25%. So, if you are to buy a property outright, that may dictate where you can live based on property prices, and if you are to take a mortgage, you will need to build up a couple of years’ indicative income. You should look at UK immigration websites for immediate guidance – the situation is changing all the time with imminent Brexit and there are numerous heartbreaking immigration stories that make me worried about what could happen if one of you moves to the UK ahead of the family and the family cannot subsequently join.

    Separately – I am very familiar with the impact of mental health issues on employment and other aspects of life, and my partner has just obtained a job after years of underemployment/freelance employment following acting as a carer, so I say this kindly – Ben’s mental health issues have to take priority. If there is room to reinstate more counseling, do that. In the long-term, this will likely enable more employment hours, but the justification is just in mental health being no less than what he deserves and needs. Relatedly, I wonder if the financial situation you are facing exacerbates his troubles. It is very hard to tend to one’s wellbeing when in survival mode. To this I would recommend 2 things (aside from upping the counselling): (1) that Clare take on more income generation activity (I can only see having the time to do this by dropping the volunteering – I get that you enjoy it, but perhaps that season of life is over and new priorities must take hold) and (2) seeking a nonfreelance job for Ben. Why the latter? Well, it will aid emigration, but to some extent it takes the weight of coming up with your own income off of your hands. My partner has just got a job in a small and supportive company on 3 days a week, which is a good amount of time for structure and income without being overwhelming. And this will make him a more attractive employment prospect when emigrating. I live in a tech-heavy city, and while there are many tech jobs, there are also many people applying for them.

    Best of luck in moving ahead and moving abroad.

    • snowcanyon says:

      Agreed. See my comment below. The US has more availability of mental health care. I too have options to live in both the US and UK, and while I would say the UK was cheaper and easier in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the US is much cheaper with better health care (especially mental), more sunshine, and more job opportunities. Also, with Brexit, citizenship and residency issues are going to be much more challenging in Europe than in the US, where spousal immigration is much easier and more straightforward.

    • Clara says:

      Thank you, RG, for your compassionate advice.

  68. There is rather an elephant in the room…it’s not just income…Clara and her family have lived a rather good life for the past several years with very little income. That is especially important while her husband is struggling to keep his head above water. It is not just that their income is too low for even their low budget lifestyle…they are able to have a stay-at-home mother, a homeschooler parent(s), a lot of a father’s time and attention, live in a beautiful place on a beautiful property in a beautiful area, get many benefits, etc., etc. They do not, however, have a debt free life…if you are constantly dipping into your cash savings to make up for overages each month, then you are staying out of debt by living off of savings. AND that might be a very good thing right now.

    I was told by a psychologist in a period of great trauma and stress in my life to consider this time as I would a period of physical disability, like a broken leg. For the next several months or even years, there is not going to be much an increase in income, not a full time job, not sending the kids off to school so that Clara can work part or full time. Frankly, why are they moving or thinking of moving NOW?? Lots of different pieces going on here and they need the advice of an accountant and an immigration lawyer. The kids are young and NOW is the time to best homeschool…and plan to move as the first nears high school. In fact, at least a year before high school so as to begin strong social networks. Nowhere in Europe or the US are they going to have both parents staying at home and earning very few hours…most would feel that they have a great situation now, with their dogs, cats, housekeeper, compound, rental cottage and money in the bank. Safety is of extreme importance…perhaps they could think of a way, other than costly full time private security, to feel more at ease about staying. Being near family? Invite a mom to come down and say for a few weeks or month…one ticket is much cheaper to subsidize than a family ticket.

    Good luck to you both. Research is the key here. Looking at where you might want to go, while analyzing the same benefits and drawbacks to staying right where you are. In the meantime, keep the lifeboat afloat, anyway you can during this difficult period. Barbara

    • Clara says:

      Hi Barbara! These are valid points. I’ve had conversations with other mothers here in South Africa who are thinking of moving and who echo what you are saying: “how could we ever replicate this standard of living abroad?” Because of the low cost of living here, I do revisit the option of staying. Temporarily. We could sell our home to invest, and rent in a much cheaper part of the country. We could then cover our expenses and have room to save, and grow our assets in order to make it easier to move in a few year’s time. The difficult thing about this option is the feeling of living in limbo. I find it difficult to put down proper roots, connect with friends, and feel settled when we’re planning a move in a few years. I imagine it would be the same for Ben. I am also concerned about the kids feeling uprooted, and making two moves instead of one.

      If we’re moving to a non-English-speaking country, then it would be best for them to be immersed in the second language as soon as possible.

      You are right – there are lots of different pieces in the puzzle, and while knowing that there are many options, and no perfect solution or location, we’re trying to be intentional about our choices!

      Thank you for your advice. 🙂

  69. Ina says:

    Hi Clara,
    a lot has been said already, so I’ll try and focus on some additional details that came to mind. I’m a German living in Berlin and have lived in Ireland and France so I’ll add some thoughts about those countries. As you both have lived in England before I’ll skip the part about climate, general situation etc. Because of the Brexit situation I personally would think hard before moving to the UK at the moment, though Scotland does look like good option. Have you checked out local websites for job offers? That could give you an easy overview of what kind of jobs are available in different regions. You could even post an online resume there to see if you (or Ben) get any offers. Best of luck to you and your family!

    Germany: Fairly high cost of living, but still a reasonable income to cost ratio imho, especially for people with higher education (as everywhere it’s difficult to make ends meet for people with lower income jobs). Renting and owning a house are both common. Renting with pets can be more difficult but should be ok, especially if you look for a house outside of a big city. As EU-citizens you don’t need a visa or work permit (if your children don’t have a EU passport they’ll need a visa but should get it without difficulties). Unemployment rate in total is very low, though there are big regional differences. As IT jobs are in high demand, Ben should have no trouble finding full or part time work or freelance work. Of course that’s easier in and around the big cities (particularly Frankfurt, Stuttgart, München), but also means higher cost of living. There are also many regional smaller towns with good job prospects. For an IT job it should not matter too much that Ben does not speak German (though he probably would be expected to learn some in the long run). Be aware that a big part of your earnings are taken out of your paycheck before you get it – taxes, health insurance, social insurance and state pension. It seems high, but is the cost for things like a good free education (including university) for everybody, good public health insurance, generally a good social welfare safety net (unemployment benefits after you’ve worked here, even including health insurance, child benefits…). Public health insurance also covers cost for therapist when “medically necessary” (not a question with PTSD) but there is usually a couple months waiting period and not the easy to find a therapist that is a good match. In the meantime you could always pay for one out of you pocket in the meantime. Freelancers usually get private health insurance, but those companies can exclude preexisting conditions or charge extra for them. Public health insurance takes you “as you are” and charges depending on your income. The language barrier will be less of a challenge in the cities. There are integration courses for foreigners including language courses. As EU citizens you’re not required to take them but can apply for them. Do you speak Afrikaans? If yes, that would help with learning German, there are many similarities. School is compulsory, so no home schooling allowed but I wonder if that is relevant for you as home schooling seems to be a mainly financial decision. This official website offers lots of good information: http://www.make-it-in-germany.com/en

    Ireland:
    Loads of international companies (many from IT/tech industry) have subsidiaries in the Dublin area but some also in the more rural parts. As far as I know, school is free, even university can be almost free. Public health insurance and social welfare are ok (not as extensive as in Germany, but the basics are covered).

    France:
    In my experience the language barrier will be (much) bigger in France than in Germany or Denmark. Ben could work in France while you’d be living in south-west Germany? At the borders there are many people commuting to work to the other country (many bi-national couples). No idea about the current job situation etc.

    • Emmy says:

      I read something not too long ago about UK citizens married to non-citizens having to prove adequate income to bring their non-citizen spouses into the country… these are people who have been married for months or years, unable to get their spouses with them. Unless that rule has been changed, she couldn’t bring her husband to England even if she could get there. So doesn’t that kind of eliminate England from the list of possibilities?

  70. Mr. Tako says:

    Sensible advice Mrs. Frugalwoods! I don’t blame Clara for wanting to move, I’ve met many good people that “got out” of South Africa. By all accounts, it’s an extremely dangerous place. I wouldn’t want to raise my kids there certainly.

    Rather than nit-picking about individual expenses, if moving is their goal they should really work toward making that happen right away. In a new country, income and expenses will both be very different. Real estate markets and stock markets will be different. Until they live in that new place, I wouldn’t suggest making any big investment moves.

  71. snowcanyon says:

    I am curious as to why you are picking Europe, not the US, since you are (presumably) eligible to live here. Unemployment is high across the continent and in the UK, salaries are lower, and housing and living expenses (health insurance beyond Medicaid being an exception) are much lower. In the US there is no quarantine for pets (outside Hawaii), houses tend to be larger (you could keep all the pets), and there are plenty of lower-cost locations with good education systems and lots of IT jobs (Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Chapel Hill, Houston, Boise, Grand Rapids I’m looking at you).

    With three kids and lots of cash from the sales of the properties, you could easily buy a house in cash in many parts of the US. IT salaries easily hit six figures here, and if you have trouble finding work you could support yourself with Medicaid, AFDC, SNAP, and other government benefits while figuring out the work situation. With a more flexible labor market, there are more opportunities for part-time work and entrepreneurship as well. Bilingual education is also more common (and more fashionable) here. In my tiny town of 7k we have French and Spanish immersion options!

    Europe is great, but America is cheaper with more opportunities, and many states have surprisingly robust safety nets. Why not move to the US?

  72. Hi Clara. First of all, well done to you and your husband for being debt free and ethical and so loving and strong as a family. Not everyone survives hard times so gracefully. Secondly, I can’t add a lot to the advice above, but I wonder if you would find Mumsnet https://www.mumsnet.com/ useful. You probably already know about it, but I’m sure you would find a lot of useful information about life in the UK and its constituent zones and cities and, if you were able to join (I am not a member so don’t know how it works when you’re abroad), good advice and support. All the best with your decision and your journey – you sound very grounded and organised, and very solid as a family, so I’m sure you will make a success of whatever you decide!

  73. KP says:

    I haven’t read all your comments but the ones I have highlight the fact that EVERY country has its negative points. I think you need to draw up a short list and fully research each possible choice. Here in the UK we have BREXIT, high cost of living in nice areas but do have the NHS and a free school system. You also speak the language ! You have lived here before but do not underestimate the huge change in lifestyle. To get good jobs you would need to live near a city and it would be expensive.

    Are you really sure you want to leave South Africa ? Would it not be a better place to live if you had enough money to pay for security, car insurance and schooling ? Perhaps it isn’t the place but the fact you can’t afford to live a comfortable life there ? I understand the security issues but ALL places have negatives. I have friends who have moved from the UK to South Africa who love it there and have a great life. Perhaps you think the ‘grass is greener’ elsewhere but it may not be so. Look at the recent terrorist incidents in France and the UK for instance ? The economy in France hasn’t been that good recently.

    Anyway, good luck with whatever you decide.

    • Tracy says:

      Hi KP.
      You are so right, every country has positives and negatives. South Africa has many “hidden costs” that affect our cost of living making the cost of living here seem lower than it really is.

      Even with enough to cover the (extremely high) costs of private healthcare, education and security, the very real fact remains that life here is quite stressful. Don’t be misled: the ability to procure private security services only goes so far and we live daily with the threats of armed robbery, hijacking, murder and sexual assault (rape).

      I’ve lived in South Africa all my life but had the privilege of traveling to and around the UK several times, and have many friends and family there. They have a lot more freedom in terms of moving around daily without fear and also access to travel: Europe is on their doorstep, very accessible for far less than coming from South Africa.

      South Africa is a beautiful country and we have no plans to leave. Honestly, crime is, in my opinion, the only drawback to life here. Even the weak currency and limping economy has minimal effects on us and we have a really great life here. My husband is partnered in two businesses, both of which are managing to earn us a comfortable living even with strict affirmative action barriers in place.

      However, if we couldn’t afford private security and healthcare for our family (we homeschool our 5 children thus avoiding the high costs of even government education), and had the option of living in the UK where healthcare and education are covered by taxes and private security isn’t necessary, I would probably move. They will also have access to social security benefits in their later years, something not available here.

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