Reader Case Study: An American In France
Georgia and her husband Seb live in a French village along with their darling baby daughter. All is wonderful, except that they’re not quite sure what to do next!
Case Studies are financial and life 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.
I provide updates from our Case Study subjects at the bottom of each Case Study several months after a Case is featured. You all requested an easier way to track Case Study updates and I have heard your pleas :)! Here’s list of all the Case Studies that currently have an update provided at the end of the post (and a hint that if you’re a past Case Study participant who hasn’t sent me your update yet, send it on over–your fans want to hear from you!):
- Reader Case Study: Earn More, Spend Less, Or Both? (Julie’s story, published October 2016)
- Reader Case Study: Stay Home With Baby or Return To Work? (Kelly’s story, published November 2016)
- Reader Case Study: The Case Of The Over-gifting In-Laws! (Grace’s story, published December 2016)
- Reader Case Study: Renovations and Vacations (Audrey’s story, published January 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Help Me Decide How To Pay Off $185K In Student Loans (Bridget’s story, published February 2017)
- Reader Case Study: The Grad School Dilemma (Emily’s story, published March 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Can We Buy Our Dream Home? (Jack & Elizabeth’s story, published April 2017)
- Reader Case Study: We Have A Van, Now We Need A Plan! (Florence & Anna’s story, published May 2017)
- Reader Case Study: To Buy Or Not To Buy In Sydney, Australia? (Jemma & Greg’s story, published June 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Starting From Scratch In Canada; Where Do I Go From Here? (Alison’s story, published July 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Moving To Europe From South Africa, Trying To Make Ends Meet (Clara’s story, published August 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Should We Stay (In San Francisco) Or Should We Go Now? (Melanie & Kurt’s story, published September 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Having A Quarter-Life Crisis in Nashville, TN! (Steph & Zach’s story, published October 2017)
- Reader Case Study: National Park Rangers Figuring Out Finances (The Ranger’s story, published November 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Londoners Wonder About Buying A Property (Betty & David’s story, published December 2017)
- Reader Case Study: At Age 57, It’s Not Over Yet! (Lucy’s story, published January 2018)
- Reader Case Study: From Brooklyn to LA With a Baby (the FrugalBrooklyn’s story, published February 2018)
- Reader Case Study: Debt And Dreams In Queensland, Australia (Sam & Keith’s story, published March 2018)
- Reader Case Study: Single Psychologist Saving In NYC (Lauren’s story, published April 2018)
- Reader Case Study: How A Cancer Diagnosis Changes Everything (Emily & John’s story, published May 2018)
- Reader Case Study: Inside A Financial Circus (No, Really, The Finances Of An Actual Circus!) (Jana & Dextre’s story, published June 2018). WITH UPDATE PHOTOS TOO!!!!
- Reader Case Study: Should We Buy A Campground And Laundromat? (Payton & Riley’s story, published July 2018)
- Reader Case Study: Social Workers Who Need To Get Solvent (Sue & Dan’s story, published August 2018)
- Reader Case Study: Should I Become A Veterinarian? (Sally & Harry’s story, published September 2018)
- Reader Case Study: With Twins On The Way, Should We Quit And Move? (Rose & David’s story, published October 2018)
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.
And a disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises. I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances.
With that I’ll let Georgia, this month’s Case Study subject, take it from here!
I’m Georgia, I’m 33 (my husband Seb is 31) and I’m a longtime reader and big fan of the Frugalwoods! I’ve been following Frugalwoods since before they made the big move and have really enjoyed all of the Reader Case Studies. Recently, I’ve been flip-flopping on some decisions of my own.
After reading a Case Study one afternoon, I decided to write one up myself as though I were doing it for the blog. It was SO HELPFUL. I mean, the detailed budget alone helped me and my husband see our finances so much more clearly. It took me the better part of a week, but I’m so glad I did it! Writing it all up helped clarify some stuff but I’d still love input from Mrs. Frugalwoods and Frugalwoods nation!
We begin in Paris, France
My husband Seb and I met in the summer of 2010 when I was apartment hunting in Paris. He is from Cannes, France and I’m from Florida, USA. I had just been accepted to Le Cordon Bleu (a culinary school in Paris), there was a huge heat wave, and it was all rather exciting. I was 23 and a hot mess.
Seb had just met his future girlfriend (of several years), and we wound up hanging out a lot together in a bar in the 13th arrondissement called la Belette Qui Tete (something about a ferret?) where we drank cheap flavoured beer and talked about Camus and our romantic entanglements (mostly our romantic entanglements).
Seb and I became good friends, and when he later moved to the US to be with his American girlfriend (and I moved to Australia to be with this random Australian man I’d met), we kept in touch and wrote each other emails as well as actual letters on real paper (in which we talked about Camus and our romantic entanglements).
Fast forward to 2013 and I’m making artisanal ice cream in Oakland, California, and Seb is living in Versailles, France while not working on his PhD. I emailed him out of the blue, because life is less than thrilling when you’re making ice cream all day long (tasty, but underwhelming) and I’m all “HEY I need to come back to Europe, do you have any ideas?” And he’s all “YEAH come back and sleep on my couch and we’ll find somebody to marry you!”
Seb and Georgia Tie The Knot
Approximately four months later, Seb and I got married. His mother literally had to lie down when we told her, poor thing, and kept insisting that it was all a joke (awkward). At the time, Seb was about €9,000 in debt for student loans, mostly due to a semester abroad in the US. When I tried to be added to his bank account, I discovered that I’d been blacklisted from all French banks because of an overdraft.
When I’d left France the first time (swearing never to return), I’d forgotten to close my automatically-debited movie pass which, after three years of negligence and overdraft fees, came to €2,000 (!!!). This is an apt illustration of my previous handle on all things financial… .
By the time we celebrated our first wedding anniversary, we’d paid off all of our debt, Seb was finishing up his PhD, and we’d stashed away a few thousand euros in our savings account. We’re both naturally frugal, because we both know what it’s like to be stone cold broke. After living in the Paris area for awhile, we decided we’d like to move to the countryside because when we visited his dad (who lives in said countryside), I fell in love with his little town before we’d even gotten off the train. It was a risky decision and everyone told us how difficult it is to get jobs in the middle of nowhere, but I’ve always figured there’s work for people who are willing to work. We moved, we both got jobs, and everything worked out splendidly!
Living In A French Village
Now that we’re installed in our postcard-perfect French village in Normandy, and have been happily puttering along for a few years, I am of course brainstorming ways to move someplace else. Or, more precisely, ways to be able to live in multiple places at once that do not involve tricks in the space-time continuum. In short, I want to have more control over my time and have the ability to see my US-based family more often.
This deep, emotional desire has been heightened by the birth of our most delightful baby, alias Little Pie, who just turned five months old. We’re not planning on having any more children, so she is our one and only, and is very loved! Multinational relationships are great, but they do involve a lot of tugs at the old heartstrings. I want my parents to be able to hang out with their (only) grandkid and vice-versa, and I want Seb’s dad to be able to hang out with his (only) grandkid. Basically, I want to have my cake and eat it.
Seb and Georgia’s House
We bought our home in 2018 for $147,300 (€130,000). We paid all of the notary fees in cash (about $10,200 / €9,000). We didn’t pay any agency fees as we knew the owner. We did pay a courturier fee (not sure what this is in English) of about $1,700 / €1,500. The courturier negotiated our bank loan since in France it is very difficult/impossible to get a loan for a good rate if you do not have a permanent contract with your work, which neither my husband nor I have. Our total loan from the bank was $151,845 /€134,027 at a 1.6% interest rate. We paid $11,330 /€10,000 as a downpayment. We still owe $144,814 /€127,821 on the house.
We’ve done about $11,330 / €10,000 in construction on the house, with a friend who charged us a very friendly rate, which we paid in cash. This was all cosmetic work, as the house had no fundamental issues when we bought it. We’ve also done work ourselves, and spent about $2,250 / €2,000 to install a deck and a pergola, paint the interior, put up drywall, etc.
I’m not sure how much the house is currently valued at, but the previous owner’s agency provided a quote of $150K – $180K /€130K-160K, which obviously we have to take with a grain of salt. However, I love obsessively watching the real estate market and am pretty up to date on local housing activity. Given that, I would price the house at around $160K – $170K /€140K – €150K in the current market based on comparable properties, although our house is a little exceptional and therefore difficult to price. Our home is newer (in that it was not built in the 1600’s) and is located downtown, surrounded by older/scenic properties.
We have a large yard, three bedrooms, and there’s no work necessary—this type of property is really hard to find in our town, which dates to 1100 AD! We’ve done lots of improvements (more or less transformed and updated the interior and exterior) and this should add to the value of the house. Further improvements will probably not add to the value, since comparable (built circa 1960’s) properties don’t currently sell for much more than $180K /€160K, no matter how much bigger or nicer they are. In light of that, we’re not planning on spending any more money on home improvements.
If we were to move, I think we’d lean towards renting out this home. I estimate we could probably rent it out for about €700-800 per month. This is the rental price of comparable properties (3 bedroom non-attached houses in town with a garden and new appliances). If we were to move, our plan is to slightly lower our monthly mortgage payments (they’re currently €700) to €600 and try to rent out the house for €800, saving the extra €200 for the property’s eventual needed repairs/emergencies.
HOWEVER there is quite a spanner in the works, better known as Our Jobs. Seb and I are both pretty good at saving money*, but we certainly don’t make much (me especially!!). Luckily we live in France, where life is less expensive, and we do not have cars or animals, although we narrowly avoided buying chickens to eat our compost and sheep to mow our lawn. Seb has only ever lived in apartments and when confronted with expanses of green to maintain, he tends to have sudden strokes of genius…
Anyhow, Seb is a high school teacher and also puts in extra hours for extra school-related work (he teaches French to teenage immigrants who’ve recently arrived, usually under traumatic circumstances). Seb loves his job, but he has to reapply for it every year which, because he is French and used to job contracts that last a lifetime, makes him highly nervous.
Seb’s professional background is in immigration. He did his PhD on the subject and has worked for the government with people seeking asylum (not for very long, but long enough to realize it wasn’t the job for him!). I’m glad he’s not doing it anymore, because having to refuse people papers because their atrocious suffering is not quite as atrocious as that guy over there is a soul-sucking activity. Since it’s expected that workers will refuse a certain percentage of asylum candidates… it’s a tough job.
Seb also taught at the university level in the US and enjoyed that very much. He really likes teaching and working with teenage/college-age people. If we moved to the States, he’d probably pursue teaching at a high school or community college, although I know he’d be up for something different too. He also runs his own independent publishing house, teaches philosophy, and we both volunteer at a local charity bookshop. Given his varied talents, I’m sure something cultural or what have you would work for him.
*Okay spoiler alert: after completing a detailed budget (thank you, Mrs. FW, for motivating me to do this!! Very, very eye-opening) I am sad to say that perhaps we are not quite as frugal as we thought… whoops!
I work part-time as a pedagogical assistant at a culinary high school, where I teach kids professional English, such as “I recommend the Chablis,” and help them taste-test Blue Lagoon cocktails at ten in the morning. I love my job, but I’m in year three of a six-year contract that cannot be renewed. I could leave this position at any time prior to the termination of my contract, but for me to give up the advantages of this job, I’d have to be paid a lot more. I walk to work (no car), work part-time, have zero work-related stress, have SIXTEEN WEEKS OF PAID VACATION to spend with my baby and my man, and to travel to the US… and I really enjoy my work! The downside? I don’t make very much money.
I’ve considered taking the national exams to become a chef instructor at the high school level, which is basically my current job with more responsibility. However, this would probably mean moving to another town (there aren’t all that many culinary high schools, even in France!). And once you’ve passed these exams, the government can send you pretty much anywhere in the country that needs a teacher. This position does not pay super super well (about 1,600 Euros per month starting) and the main clincher is that I need to become a French citizen first… and thus pass their charming national exam. So, this idea’s on the back burner. I do not hold an EU passport, but I will be applying for French citizenship this year, once we get all the documents together. In the meantime, I can legally work in all EU countries (other than maybe the UK, because of Brexit) as I have a French work visa, which is a ten-year visa and is renewable.
I’ve also considered getting a United Nations job. I was shortlisted for a UN editing gig in Geneva a few years back, and would consider doing something similar. They offer quite a good deal whereby you work in Geneva and live in France—we have friends who live in Evian and do this. The pay for the UN jobs is quite peachy, and the competition is fierce, but I’d be willing to move to do something interesting and well-paid that would allow me work with words and feel like I’m helping people.
I tallied up the jobs I’ve had over the years and the total came to over fifty. I used to work several jobs at a time, and have had A LOT of short-term contracts. My main areas of focus are/were:
- Museums: I was Manager of Art Education at a fine arts museum in Tallahassee for about six years. I was also a culinary tour guide in Paris when I lived there.
- Restaurants: I’ve worked mostly as a pastry chef, but also as a cook and server and have had several stints as a caterer for weddings and parties.
- Education: In total, I’ve been an instructor (whether culinary or English language or otherwise) for over a decade.
- Miscellaneous: I’ve done secretarial work, worked in universities on the administrative side, been a treatment writer for commercials, written material for a travel website (and took photos!), worked as an editor for films and books, worked in hotels as a bilingual receptionist, worked for an event decoration company for eight years, and also had a very rewarding job working for a women’s charity while I was in college in Florida.
Georgia’s PhD and Writing Aspirations
Currently, I’m getting my PhD in English Studies at Bordeaux University. I’m in my first year and it’s a three-year program. The big idea is that after graduation I’ll try to get a job teaching at the university level in the US, where we will go to make big money (or at least more than $40K a year). Then, after a handful of years, we return to retire early in France. This idea is not set in stone, nor is it concretely actionable, which makes both of us wonder if it’s really the best scenario.
In addition to both being teachers, Seb and I have a real affinity for school: I have a Master’s degree in English from Bordeaux University and a Diplôme de Cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Seb has a PhD in sociology and political science from the University of Versailles.
What I’d really like to have is lots of time to hang out with my kid and my husband, be able to afford both time- and money-wise to visit my family often, and be able to write. The undercurrent of all these life choices is my desire to be a published writer with a solid–though not necessarily opulent–career. Thus far, I’ve put in a little over a decade and countless completed manuscripts trying to achieve this dream and have yet to see any offers of representation or publication, although I have been published as a translator. Of poetry. Which sells like positive hot cakes, let me tell you.
Should We Move To Florida?
Another dilemma for me: do I try to make more money now? Do I start a side hustle and really try to increase my paltry income in order to attain early retirement? Do I change jobs, which would probably involve less time spent with my man and my kid and also my family, in pursuit of making that end goal a reality? Or do I keep on keeping on with the PhD and the knowledge that somebody somewhere will probably hire me for more money than I could make doing professional calligraphy or blogging or cat-herding or whatever I could do as a side hustle right now?
There’s also the cost of living to consider in the US, which would be higher, since we’d probably have to get at least one car. We’d only be willing to move near my parents (who live in Florida), because:
- Childcare is too expensive in the US without grandparents.
- The point of moving would be to see them more often and more easily.
Things are, in general, more expensive in the US. I also foresee going out for dinner/drinks more if we moved to the US, because my brother is a bartender and trying to nail him down for a visit is like trying to part water, so it’s best to attack him when he can’t physically leave the building and suddenly find himself in Peru.
A Note On French Retirement Accounts (Or Lack Thereof)
There’s a French national retirement program that neither Seb nor I will probably see much of unless we work into our seventies. They calculate your retirement based on how long you’ve worked in France. I have only been working here for a total of seven years, and you need forty. I am currently 33, which means I’d have a very modest retirement pension at 66 years old, but only if I never left France and worked elsewhere.
Where Georgia and Seb Want To Be in 10 Years:
We’d like to be financially independent or close to it so that we can have more control over our time and less stress over our money. Ten(ish) years is a steep goal, but I think we can do it!
I guess we’d also need to be managing our investments, because I’m really not sure about the European stock market, and I’m not sure if I’m allowed to have investments in the US stock market if I’m living in Europe? As such, we’d probably invest in rental properties in France, which I’m pretty comfortable with as my mom managed hers (in the US) while I was growing up and I have her example to emulate, and I know exactly how much of a pain it can be.
The only thing is I have to get much more educated on is French taxation as far as investment properties are concerned, because I have more than a feeling that they tax heavily on non-primary residences.
We’d like to be living in France or somewhere else in Europe, but have plenty of time to visit the US and/or enough money to fly people over to visit us. Our daughter will be ten years old, and I’d like for her to see her grandparents often, attend a public school, spend a lot of time outdoors, and generally have a fabulous time. Obviously we would both like to spend lots of time with her too!
I’d also like to live in Italy at some point, because: the food! Also, I hear they pay university professors pretty well over there, unlike in France. So, yeah, in ten years it would be cool if all of this was happening. Trilingual babies unite!
Seb would like to basically keep doing what he’s doing (teaching), but not have to worry about money and contracts. I would like to be writing, gardening, volunteering, and doing some kind of interesting work. I’m very open to what that might be—anything from market gardening to teaching classes someplace to working at a museum. Basically I want my current life, but with more financial elbow room.
Georgia and Seb’s Finances
All amounts have been converted from Euros into US Dollars
|Seb’s income from teaching||$2,287||Includes French lessons for immigrant students, philosophy club, extra hours|
|Georgia’s income from teaching||$686||I work part-time|
|Georgia’s government aid||$629||Social assistance since I work part-time. However, I feel guilty about accepting this and might not apply for it next year.|
|Seb’s income from teaching adult education||$171||This is approximate and it changes every month|
|CAF (Caisse des Allocations Familiales)||$97||The government gives us money for childcare expenses, ain’t they sweet!|
|Monthly Net Income:||$3,870|
|Annual Net Income:||$46,440|
|Mortgage||$812||20-year fixed-rate loan at 1.65 percent interest. We are thinking about reducing the monthly payments and increasing the duration. What do you think?|
|Groceries||$503||We buy almost entirely organic (about 90%) and local (about 60%…but then there’s all that chocolate…). Organic and local are important to us! I cook everything more or less, outside of the occasional frozen pizza. Plus, since we shop for about half our groceries at the market, it’s less expensive than the grocery store. Win win!|
|Income Taxes||$265||I’d like to note here that I LOVE paying my taxes! It gives me the warm and fuzzies! I know what it’s like to not be able to afford health insurance and be in a seriously precarious financial position in the US, and if I can spare someone else that kind of day-to-day wrenching anxiety by sharing some of my surplus with a system that covers people’s basic needs (such as not dying or going into crazy debt for such exceptional and unheard-of circumstances as having a baby), I am incredibly happy to do so. I know tithing is big on this blog, and I like to think of taxation for social equality as a kind of non-religious tithing 🙂|
|Travel: Annual trip to USA||$194||YIKES. We try to avoid treating travel as a new fancy way to be consumers, but it still adds up! We visit the same places over and over in order to get to know them, stay with friends and try to live, once arrived, the same way we do at home. Except with a lot more pizza.
This trip to the US is one trip per year to visit my family. We spend about 500-700E each on airfare, then the rest is our spending budget when we arrive. We stay with family and borrow a car.
|Daycare||$170||The cost is $2/hour for twenty hours a week while I’m at work and studying. Papi (granddad) watches the baby two afternoons a week all by himself, something that all the older local ladies find VERY impressive. They were shocked when they discovered that he even changes diapers. Gender role switcheroo!|
|Utilities: Gas||$114||We have a gas stove and I cook a lot. LOVE THE GAS! Also used for radiators, heat, etc.|
|Dental Bills for Georgia||$114||TEETH! I blame this on being a pastry chef and chocolate cake addict, and on not having dental coverage when I was living in the US… I didn’t go to the dentist for a long, LONG time! This should go down/disappear next year when me teeths is fixed.|
|Health Insurance||$97||Optional, but we like to have the extra cushion. This covers all three of us.|
|Travel: Annual trips to Italy||$92||Two trips per year. Airfare and trains are about 70E for each of us, then we stay with friends who we try to treat as much as possible in return for their hospitality! Ain’t gonna lie, we also eat a lot of pizza and gelato and that delicious smoked-provolone-potato-tomato-pasta when we get there, to say nothing of the caffes with mineral water and little shell-shaped candied orange pastries…I die!|
|Georgia’s PhD Expenses||$69||Fees and books. Might go up considerably next year if the new regulations that require foreign students to pay a higher tuition go into effect. If this happens, it will be more like $600 per month.|
|Utilities: Electric||$57||We were thinking about getting solar panels and selling the excess energy to the electric company. Normandy is cloudy, but solar panels have gotten more efficient, and there’s some financial incentive from the government to invest in them… input?|
|Medical Expenses for Baby||$57||She had a lot of crazy medical visits in the first few months, though everything is fine now. She still goes to the chiropractor and the physical therapist once every two weeks. This should go down soon!|
|Seb’s Workday Lunches||$52||We’re going to try to cut this. Seb eats at school a few days a week and gets a sandwich one day a week.|
|Transportation||$46||Seb borrows a car once a week and puts in gas, and takes the train 1-2 times a week as one of his jobs is not in our town. We might be able to lower this. I walk or bike to work.|
|Boulangerie||$46||This has got to go down! It’s our Saturday pre-market treat to buy croissants to eat at the cafe with Seb’s dad. We could absolutely reduce this to one croissant each (heh) and eliminate the mid-week flan and pastry purchases. We also buy bread at the boulangerie, which is more sensible… and oh-so-tasty. Although I gotta admit, part of me has to acknowledge that I moved to France 99% for the pastries, so eliminating this altogether would not be in line with my lifelong goals…|
|Cafes||$46||Coffee is cheap! At $1.20 a cup, we have fallen into the habit of going out for one with friends more often than we probably should…|
|Travel: Annual trips to Paris||$46||We go to Paris about three times a year now that we have a baby (it used to be more). Tickets are 20E roundtrip, and we stay with friends. We do go out to eat a couple of times once there, at cheap but delicious places, and go out for drinks more often.|
|Internet and two cell phones||$34||Seb’s is $10/month, Georgia’s is $20/month. We broadcast our internet from my phone and I have international calling included.|
|Baby supplies||$34||Mostly diapers and cotton wipes. I only use water on her for now to protect her skin. We don’t buy her any clothes because everyone’s been generously giving her more clothes than she could ever wear.|
|Travel: Annual trip to Cannes||$34||One trip per year to visit family. Train tickets are about 100E each, the rest is spending. We stay with family and borrow a car.|
|Clothing||$29||This is one new pair of shoes each every two years or so, plus a few purchases per year. Could be reduced. I thrift shop, but am known to splurge on a really nice bathrobe or something equally extravagant every once in a while…|
|Postal expenses||$29||Mailing books for Seb’s publishing house, mailing postcards—a stamp is more expensive than a cup of coffee here!—postage for presents|
|House Insurance||$23||Should get a tiny bit cheaper this year as we’re switching providers.|
|Books||$23||We love us some books. I don’t have access to an English-language library, although I just recently got my mom’s US library info and have started checking out Kindle books on her account, so hopefully this will go down a little!|
|Gifts||$23||Seb and I rarely buy each other presents, but we do get things for family and friends.|
|Shrubbery Pruning||$17||We have ginormous privacy shrubs in the back, but now that I’m not pregnant I could easily take care of pruning these twice a year.|
|Water heater maintenance||$17||This might be an optional expense, but I’d rather pay for maintenance than for problems on something I can’t fix myself…|
|Household supplies||$17||Dish soap, trash bags, sponges, etc. This is all organic and eco-friendly to the max!|
|Household maintenance||$17||Paint, furniture polish, hardware, new handsaw, light bulbs, etc.|
|Personal care||$17||Essential oils, makeup, lotion, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. I try to make stuff myself… organic deodorant and toothpaste cost a literal arm and leg!|
|Movies||$17||Seb goes to about two movies a month. He LOVES this, and I occasionally go with him, so long as it’s nothing too depressing 🙂|
|Drinks out||$17||Mostly in the summer, at our friend Herve’s bar.|
|Gardening||$17||This reflects a lot of start-up expenses for the new house’s new garden. Should be WAY less this year. I mostly grow veggies.|
|Paperwork stuff||$17||There is always some document to have translated or a passport to renew…|
|Bank Fees||$11||This is a mandatory checking account expense. They charge for the pleasure in France.|
|Medical Expenses for Seb||$11||He’s easy: occasional pharmacy expense, glasses.|
|Restaurants||$11||We almost never eat out but do so occasionally when friends visit from out of town.|
|Seb’s Haircuts||$5||I cut my own hair. Seb’s hair is hilariously difficult to cut, I tried and failed many times and have mad respect for his hairdresser, who’s known him since he was ten and lives in terror of his thrice yearly appointments.|
|Hobbies||$5||Calligraphy, painting, knitting, etc.|
|TOTAL MONTHLY EXPENSES:||$3,336|
|TOTAL ANNUAL EXPENSES:||$40,032|
|Savings Account||$33,167||Kind of an emergency fund / savings combined. The money is in two French accounts that accrue a tiny bit of interest and have a cap of 20,000 each. This cash is accessible at any time. We do not keep extra money in our checking account, other than what we think we’ll need for the month. There are no IRAs or company-matched retirement funding things here, since everyone has a retirement fund. There are also no credit cards, although I am considering applying for one next time we go to the States so that we can try a rewards program, although I’m not sure if the fees for using the card in another country would nullify any points/cash back etc. Any expats have some input? Also, funny story: when you want to buy stuff on credit here, say Christmas presents, you have to go get a proper loan from the bank. Hilarious, and does help, I think, to keep people out of superfluous debt!|
|Item||Owed on mortgage||Notes|
|Our home||$144,814||20-year fixed-rate loan at 1.65 percent interest.|
Georgia’s Questions For You:
1) Should I change jobs? Or single-mindedly focus on finishing my PhD and our future plans, even if this negatively impacts our savings rate?
2) Should we move to Florida to live near my parents? Is this a financially viable option?
3) Or should we stay put and figure out something else? What job could I do to make a higher wage, with a Master’s/PhD in English? I would prefer to avoid cooking because it doesn’t pay well. Same story with translation work (and those deadlines are crazy-making!)
4) How should we invest? Stocks? Real estate?
5) Should I get a side hustle to boost our income? Or is this a waste of time? We used to do AirBnb, but can’t now because our house is too small… which is too bad, because we loved having people over! I used to be a tour guide and had a great time, but we don’t live in a big city so it’s less viable now. Also, the pay was very irregular.
6) How can we save more money? I invite any and all suggestions for increased frugality! I know our budget has A LOT of fat, and I’d love to see concretely how that money could work towards furthering our financial goals.
Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations
Alright, now I want to go to France and eat all the things and drink all the wine!!!! Georgia and Seb’s life sounds amazing! The boulangerie line item alone has me drooling as I’m a world class pastry eater. They’ve managed to build a charming life that’s inventive, creative, and fulfilling. I’m delighted Georgia and Seb came to me for a Case Study because I think they provide a wonderful example of making it work under many different circumstances. I also want to congratulate Georgia for her diligence in putting her Case Study together. As she noted, it’s no small feat, but it is a tremendously useful exercise in illuminating your financial life.
The theme that echoed for me as I read Georgia’s Case Study is the need for discernment. I get the sense that she and Seb are interesting, brilliant, funny, kind people and that, because they’re smart and good at lots of things, they want to do all of the things! This isn’t bad, it just represents a challenge. Most of us are only good at one or two things, and only have one or two driving passions, but Georgia and Seb buck this trend. They are good at, and passionate about, a lot of things! That’s why I want to start off with an echo of Paula Pant’s advice:
You can afford anything, but you can’t afford everything.
This is apt for Georgia and Seb because there just isn’t a way–short of space/time tricks–for their lives to encompass everything. At least not all at once. And not without a lot more money.
The top line advice I want to offer Georgia and Seb is to spend time discussing and discerning what they want to do most. Georgia’s write-up for this Case Study should provide the foundation for this conversation and I encourage them to go through their potential life plans with a calculating eye.
I saw a number of competing goals in Georgia’s writing:
- Achieving financial independence in ten years
- Living in the United States
- Living in Italy
- Retiring early in France
- Earning more money
- The ability to travel more and be location independent
- To work as a university professor
- To be a published author
Most of this is achievable, but I’m hard pressed to figure out how it could all happen (at least, within the next ten years). So let’s dig into some specifics that will hopefully help provide a framework for Georgia and Seb as they go on this journey of discernment.
Georgia’s Questions #1 and #5: Should I Change Jobs? Should I Get A Side Hustle?
Georgia noted her desire to earn more money, but she also noted that she loves her current job–a rarity for most people, let me tell you! Of all the things I hear from readers, one of the rarest is what Georgia said:
I love my job… for me to give up the advantages of this job, I’d have to be paid a lot more. I walk to work (no car), work part-time, have zero work-related stress, have SIXTEEN WEEKS OF PAID VACATION to spend with my baby and my man, and to travel to the US… and I really enjoy my work!
I realize she doesn’t make much money, but it is lovely to hear from someone who enjoys her work so very much! Given that, I hope Georgia factors in her personal happiness in this decision-making process.
Georgia and Seb’s Financial Independence Goal
Georgia listed their top-line ten-year financial goal as achieving financial independence, and so I’ll address that within the context of her job-related questions. Financial independence is calculated based on two primary factors: your spending and your assets. The basic premise of financial independence is that you have enough in assets that a safe withdrawal rate will cover your expenses in perpetuity.
Based on Georgia and Seb’s current income, expenses, and savings, they are not on a track to reach financial independence or retire in the next ten years. However, that’s not to say they couldn’t radically increase their income and put themselves on this track, if that’s their primary goal. Earning a lot of money at a job you don’t love can be a means to achieving a very specific end (such as financial independence). Hence, we reach Georgia and Seb’s first juncture of discernment:
Would Georgia (and potentially Seb too) rather find a different job (with longer hours and more pay and potentially more stress/less enjoyment) in order to achieve financial independence? Or would she rather continue working a job that brings her daily fulfillment, but that isn’t going to allow her to reach financial independence anytime soon? There’s no right answer, there are just different scenarios to consider.
Achieving financial independence is a fairly uncommon thing and to do so requires an extraordinary set of circumstances–both a moderate/high income and low expenses. If Georgia and Seb determine that financial independence is more important to them than any of their other listed goals, they can do it, but it will entail:
- Dramatically increasing their incomes
- Reducing their spending
- Putting some of their other goals on hold, possibly permanently
Disclaimer side note: before making such a consequential decision as retiring early, anyone–including Georgia and Seb–should research from multiple sources, run their own numbers, and determine a rate of withdrawal that’s tenable for them. For more on the theories behind withdrawal rates, I recommend the following series from Early Retirement Now: The Ultimate Guide to Safe Withdrawal Rates. Additionally I want to note that in the US, most people have the backstop of social security, but Georgia and Seb don’t appear to have access to a similar system in France if they retire early. It’s unclear to me what their pension benefits would be (if anything) if they retired early, which could add another level of risk to this plan.
Higher Education Jobs In the US
I want to address Georgia’s interest in working as university professor in the US. I am not a professor, but I know a lot of them, and I’m pretty certain most of them would say that it’s no longer a profession that offers high pay, job security, or plentiful job opportunities. In the past, this wasn’t the case. But increasingly, US universities are moving toward fewer tenured faculty members and more adjuncts (which usually means no contract, no benefits, and lower pay).
According to this article in the New York Times, “Tenure-track positions are shrinking at colleges and universities. As a result, people with advanced degrees have found themselves in lower-paying adjunct positions indefinitely.” This appears to be an unfortunate nationwide trend in higher education and so I strongly urge Georgia to do more research into the viability of this career path. If Georgia’s #1 goal and desire in life is to be a university English professor, then she should do it, no matter the pay or the challenges. But I don’t get the sense that’s the case.
Further from the New York Times, “Over the past few decades, colleges and universities have responded to budget crises by hiring low-cost, part-time faculty to teach core curriculum courses that formerly went to full-time tenured professors.” Additionally, “Too many adjunct professors cannot make a living wage through teaching… In fact, one-quarter of part-time faculty are on public assistance.”
Unfortunately, and as an English major myself this PAINS me to the core, but The New York Times notes, “If you have a Ph.D. in accounting, you can basically get a job in two weeks… But in the liberal arts it’s an entirely different story… You can receive 100 or more applicants for a single position, and that causes a problem.” Sadly, this means Georgia’s outlook–with a PhD in English–is especially grim.
Again, there’s not a wrong answer here, but I don’t think–based on current trends in US higher education–that attempting to go the university faculty route will be lucrative or easy to accomplish. Additionally, Georgia noted that if they moved to the US, they’d only be willing to move near her parents in Florida, which I think totally makes sense from a family/grandkid perspective. However, most university professors need to move to wherever they’re offered a job–it’s rare that a professor is able to choose where they live. It would be a pretty small needle in a haystack for Georgia to find a full-time faculty position at a university near her parents. It could happen, but the odds are slim. I know there are a TON of Frugalwoods readers who work in higher education and I implore you to weigh in with your advice and experience!
Should Georgia Finish Her PhD?
If Georgia enjoys the program and has the time, then sure! The cost–at present–is quite low ($69 per month/$828 per year) and I don’t think presents a barrier. However, if her program increases to $600 per month ($7,200 per year) as Georgia noted it might, then I think she faces a tougher reckoning.
I’m not sure of the utility of the degree (see above discussion), but that’s not the only reason to pursue a PhD. If Georgia derives deep fulfillment from her program, then that’s a valuable reason to continue her studies.
If Georgia is set on working in a field that requires (or rewards) a PhD in English, then I encourage her to research those positions and their anticipated starting salaries.
Georgia’s Question #2: Should We Move To Florida?
My immediate reaction to this is no, because I can’t quite imagine going from bucolic French village (where one walks everywhere, unburdened by a car) to suburban Florida, where one must drive everywhere. This is more of a visceral reaction on my part than one founded on data points, but I do encourage Georgia and Seb to fully consider the ramifications of going from pastoral European village to suburban USA. Georgia notes that they visit her parents every year and so, next time they’re there, I suggest that she and Seb pretend they live there and see how it feels. Here are a few exercises that might help:
- Drive to the grocery store and peruse the options. Since food is important to Georgia and Seb, it’ll be important for them to know what they can expect.
- Drive to a potential daycare. Visit potential daycares and inquire about their prices and waiting lists.
- Drive to a potential workplace.
- Really, lots of driving.
- Look at real estate and get a sense for what their monthly rent/mortgage would be.
- Scope out cultural opportunities: bookstores, cafes, restaurants, farmer’s markets, etc. These seem to be important aspects of Georgia and Seb’s life in France and so they’d want to explore what options would be available in Florida.
The lifestyle shift would be momentous, but it’s also true you can’t put a price on living near family. But I always hesitate when people want to move somewhere solely to co-locate with their extended family. We analyzed this topic in depth in a previous Case Study (Reader Case Study: Should We Buy A Campground And Laundromat?) and here are some of the salient notes from that study, reframed for Georgia and Seb’s situation:
Something striking is that Georgia and Seb didn’t identify “living in Florida” as one of their longterm goals. In fact, Georgia specifically said, “Basically I want my current life, but with more financial elbow room.” The underlying message I got from Georgia is that they’re already living the life they want to live! They’ve carved out their little corner of the world and truly love how they spend each day. THAT, my friends, is the ultimate goal of using your money wisely. Having the ability to enjoy your life every day is WHY we save money, why we invest, and why we steward our resources carefully. It’s entirely possible their quality of life would increase if they lived closer to Georgia’s parents, but it’s also possible it wouldn’t. I can’t answer this for them, but I encourage them to ask each other the following questions:
- In five years, what will you regret more: not living near Georgia’s family or not living in the part of the world you love?
- Is it possible you’ll feel resentful towards family members if you give up so much in order to live near them?
- If you moved, would you feel as though you were just trying to work back to what you have now (a home in France)?
- Tellingly, Georgia noted that they’d like to return to France and so, again, I’m not sure that an interlude in Florida is going to make sense.
- Will you feel as though your daughter is missing out on the benefits of family if you don’t move?
Moving to Florida: From A Financial Perspective
Unless both Seb and Georgia are able to secure very well-paying jobs in Florida, I’m not sure the move would pan out financially. Georgia is aware of the expenses they’d incur in the states, including:
- Much, much, MUCH more expensive daycare (although it sounds like Georgia’s parents might be willing to provide some care). Full-time daycare for a baby can be anywhere from $1,000-$3,000 per month.
- A car, which includes: insurance, registration, maintence, repair, taxes, and gas.
- Higher health insurance costs.
- Higher living expenses (in terms of rent, utilities, groceries).
Additionally, from Georgia’s research into the rental market, it doesn’t sound like renting out their home would generate much (if any) revenue. Breaking even on a rental isn’t awful if their plan is to eventually move back to this house, but then again, I’d question the utility of moving away in the first place. Since they just purchased their home last year, it would be tough to break even (or come out ahead) if they sold it on such a short timeline.
I also want to make a note here for Georgia and Seb to do some research into their mortgage interest rate. A 1.65% interest rate is fantastic, but it almost sounds too fantastic to be a fixed-rate percentage. It very well may be, but it also might be an adjustable interest rate. It caught my eye because it’s so phenomenally low, so I just encourage Georgia to take a quick look at their mortgage paperwork to make 100% certain that it is a fixed rate.
Georgia didn’t specifically bring up the idea of location independence, but it seems that might be an ideal scenario for them (with the possible hitch of ironing out school for their daughter once she’s older). Here are gems that stood out as I read their Case Study:
- Georgia and Seb are worldly, cosmopolitan, bi-lingual, fascinating people. Given this, they want to experience the world fully.
- They want to live in Italy!
- They adore traveling and food! (I couldn’t agree more on both counts!!!!).
- They love their French village! There wasn’t a single negative comment about their current house or hometown.
- They already live close to one family member–Seb’s father–who is clearly a very involved granddad.
- They both have multiple interests, passions, and talents, which I think they could easily transmute into careers.
- They are hard workers. I think Georgia and Seb are romantic visionaries with an unusually strong work ethic. This is a great combination!
Given all of this, I wonder if they’ve considered both pursuing mobile careers, such that they’d be able to live in France for part of the year, visit Georgia’s parents for part of the year, and travel about for the rest of the year. They’ve already successfully run an AirBnB out of their home and so perhaps it would be viable to keep their home and AirBnb it while they traveled/visiting family. I don’t know if Georgia and Seb want to be this nomadic, but mobile careers would certainly grant them this freedom. They’d be able to:
- Spend quality blocks of time with both Seb’s dad and Georgia’s parents and brother WITHOUT the expenses and upheaval of moving to Florida permanently
- Retain their homebase in the French countryside (assuming they’re comfortable with renting it out/AirbnB-ing it when they’re not in town)
- Travel extensively for long periods of time each year
- Experience different cultures and foods together as a family
Remote work is increasingly common (my husband and I are both able to work from anywhere with an internet connection) and Georgia and Seb have such a panoply of skills that it seems they’d be able to find something satisfactory.
Georgia’s Question #6: How Can We Save More Money?
Oh I love it when people ask this (because I’m going to answer it whether you ask or not, so it’s always nice to be asked). What I want to highlight for Georgia and Seb, however, is that on balance, their issue is much more one of lower incomes. Georgia is keenly aware of this and, while it is possible for them to save more, I also want to make sure they keep an eye on increasing their income.
In every Case Study, I like to point out that what you choose to save or not save is a very personal decision. Cutting every last expense is NOT the right answer for everyone and I am NOT an advocate for making yourself miserable in the process of achieving financial stability. I AM an advocate for values-based, goal-oriented spending. I think it’s important to assess whether all of your expenses bring you fulfillment and a good return on your investment.
I think it’s also important to question if your rate of savings will help you to achieve your long-term goals. But what you spend on? That’s a very personal choice and one you have to make for yourself. My job is to identify areas where you might be able to save, but only you can decide what level of savings is right for you. If you’re struggling with where to save more and how to map out a longterm financial plan, I encourage you to take my free 31-day Uber Frugal Month Challenge.
|Item||Current Amount||Mrs. FW’s Notes||Proposed New Amount||Amount Saved|
|Mortgage||$812||This is fabulously low! Cheers!||$812||$0|
|Groceries||$503||This seems pretty reasonable for three people who mostly eat at home.||$503||$0|
|Travel||$366||I combined Georgia and Seb’s line items for their annual trips (to the USA, Italy, Paris, and Cannes). This is a tough one because it represents a significant amount of their spending, but it also represents a top priority for them.
This is an example of values-based spending, but it’s also $4,392 per year. It is, by far, their largest discretionary expense, but it’s also perhaps what’s most important to them.
My inclination in this category is to encourage Georgia and Seb to investigate cheaper ways to travel, which could include location independent jobs.
I’ve reduced this by deleting their trips to Italy ($92 per month) and Paris ($46 per month), but left in their trips to visit family in the US and in Cannes.
|Income Taxes||$265||Fixed expense; no change||$265||$0|
|Daycare||$170||Amazingly cheap!!!!! Nothing in the US comes even CLOSE to being this inexpensive.||$170||$0|
|Dental Bills for Georgia||$114||Georgia noted, “This should go down/disappear next year when me teeths is fixed.” Hooray! I’ll remove it for the purposes of this exercise.||$0||$114|
|Utilities: Gas||$114||$114 per month seems kind of high, but Georgia noted this is for their heat as well. Since they have a new(er)-ish house, it might be worth investigating options for insulation that might reduce this amount.||$114||$0|
|Health Insurance||$97||Fixed expense; no change||$97||$0|
|Georgia’s PhD Expenses||$69||Fixed expense; no change||$69||$0|
|Property Taxes||$69||Fixed expense; no change||$69||$0|
|Medical Expenses for Baby||$57||Georgia noted, “She had a lot of crazy medical visits in the first few months… This should go down soon!” So I’ll remove it.||$0||$57|
|Utilities: Electric||$57||Georgia asked about the viability of getting solar and this is something she and Seb should certainly research. It’ll depend on the incentives the government offers, the way in which their electric company structures metering, the amount of solar they’d be able to produce, the siting of their home, etc.||$57||$0|
|Seb’s Workday Lunches||$52||I’d recommend cutting this entirely–it’s a relatively easy and painless way to save!||$0||$52|
|House Taxes||$51||Fixed expense; no change||$51||$0|
|Boulangerie||$46||Oh the pastries!!! As a fellow pastry-lover, it’s tough to recommend removing this line item. What it really comes down to is the discernment issue: what do Georgia and Seb want most? I’ll remove it for now, just for the exercise of demonstrating how much they could save if they wanted to.||$0||$46|
|Cafes||$46||Same note as the pastries: What it really comes down to is the discernment issue: what do Georgia and Seb want most? I’ll remove it for now, just for the exercise of demonstrating how much they could save if they wanted to.||$0||$46|
|Transportation||$46||Georgia noted, “We might be able to lower this,” and so I’ll remove a tad from this line item and leave it to Georgia and Seb to figure out what’s feasible.||$30||$16|
|Baby supplies||$34||Seems reasonable to me!||$34||$0|
|Internet and two cell phones||$34||Nicely done! Supremely cheap.||$34||$0|
|Clothing||$29||This is certainly not an unreasonable amount, but it might be an area where there’s an opportunity to save more. I’ll remove it for now.||$0||$29|
|Postal expenses||$29||Fixed expense; no change||$29||$0|
|Books||$23||Same note as the pastries: What it really comes down to is the discernment issue: what do Georgia and Seb want most? I’ll remove it for now, just for the exercise of demonstrating how much they could save if they wanted to.||$0||$23|
|Gifts||$23||$276/year on gifts isn’t astronomical, but isn’t nothing either. Might there be room to DIY and decrease?||$15||$8|
|House Insurance||$23||Fixed expense; no change||$23||$0|
|Drinks out||$17||Same note as the pastries: What it really comes down to is the discernment issue: what do Georgia and Seb want most? I’ll remove it for now, just for the exercise of demonstrating how much they could save if they wanted to.||$0||$17|
|Gardening||$17||Georgia wrote, “This reflects a lot of start-up expenses for the new house’s new garden. Should be WAY less this year. I mostly grow veggies.” Given this note, I’ll decrease this amount here.||$5||$12|
|Household maintenance||$17||This is certainly not an unreasonable amount, but it might be an area where there’s an opportunity to save more. I’ve reduced it by a tad.||$10||$7|
|Household supplies||$17||This is certainly not an unreasonable amount, but it might be an area where there’s an opportunity to save more. I’ve reduced it by a tad.||$10||$7|
|Movies||$17||Same note as the pastries: What it really comes down to is the discernment issue: what do Georgia and Seb want most? I’ll remove it for now, just for the exercise of demonstrating how much they could save if they wanted to.||$0||$17|
|Paperwork stuff||$17||Fixed expense; no change||$17||$0|
|Personal care||$17||This is certainly not an unreasonable amount, but it might be an area where there’s an opportunity to save more. I’ve reduced it by a tad.||$10||$7|
|Shrubbery Pruning||$17||Georgia wrote, “now that I’m not pregnant I could easily take care of pruning these twice a year.” Excellent! I’ll remove this amount.||$0||$17|
|Water heater maintenance||$17||Hmm, seems like a lot for just maintenance, but then again, I don’t know what type of water heater they have.||$17||$0|
|Bank Fees||$11||Fixed expense; no change||$11||$0|
|Medical Expenses for Seb||$11||Fixed expense; no change||$11||$0|
|Restaurants||$11||This is certainly not an unreasonable amount, but it might be an area where there’s an opportunity to save more. I’ve reduced it by a tad.||$5||$6|
|Utilities: Water||$11||Fixed expense; no change||$11||$0|
|Hobbies||$5||This is certainly not an unreasonable amount, but it might be an area where there’s an opportunity to save more. I’ve reduced it by a tad.||$3||$2|
|Seb’s Haircuts||$5||Fixed expense; no change||$5||$0|
|Current Monthly Subtotal:||$3,336||Proposed New Monthly Subtotal:||$2,715||$621|
|Current Annual Total:||$40,032||Proposed New Annual Total:||$32,580||$7,452|
Income vs. Expenses
While Georgia and Seb do have some room in their budget to save more, I think what this spreadsheet highlights is that the real issue impacting their ability to save is their income. At a certain point, there’s just nothing left to frugalize. In order to make momentous progress towards their financial independence goal, there’s no doubt that Georgia and Seb would need to dramatically increase their income.
Death By 1,000 Paper Cuts
Other than their travel line item, Georgia and Seb’s spending is a good illustration of death by 1,000 paper cuts. They aren’t wildly spending in any one area, they just have a lot of little expenses that add up each month and gobble the majority of their income. I counsel so many people who initially tell me “I don’t know where the money goes! We don’t buy expensive stuff!” This is a very, very, very common refrain. In fact, it’s VERBATIM what I said before I started tracking my own spending. I’m not telling Georgia anything new here; she shared the following observation:
After completing a detailed budget (thank you, Mrs. FW, for motivating me to do this!! Very, very eye-opening) I am sad to say that perhaps we are not quite as frugal as we thought… whoops!
People get tired of hearing me parrot “start with tracking your spending” because it sounds blah. Boring, rote. Boring as it may be, it provides one of the best (and easiest) ways to begin understanding your finances. Yes, income is important. Yes, investments are important. But none of it matters if you aren’t saving any of your money! You have to have something to invest. If you make $1M per year but spend $1M per year, you will (obviously) have a lower net worth than someone who makes $50K a year and saves half of it.
The VAST majority of folks I work with–here on the blog and in person–have a budget that resembles Georgia and Seb’s. There aren’t any massive line items, everything looks pretty reasonable, an yet, there’s no money left at the end of the month. If you’re not tracking your spending, I use and recommend the free expense tracker offered by Personal Capital. If you’d like to know more about how Personal Capital works, check out my full review.
Savings Accounts Side Note
One of the easiest ways to optimize your money is to keep it in a high-interest savings account. With these accounts, interest works in YOUR favor (as opposed to the interest rates on debt, which work against you). Having money in a no (or low) interest savings account is a waste of resources because your money is sitting there doing nothing. Don’t let your money be lazy! Make it work for you! And now, enjoy some explanatory math:
- Let’s say you have $5,000 in a savings account that earns 0% interest. In a year’s time, your $5,000 will still be… $5,000.
- Let’s say you instead put that $5,000 into an American Express Personal Savings account that–as of this writing–earns 1.70% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,085.67. That means you earned $85.67 just by having your money in a high-interest account.
And you didn’t have to do anything! I’m a big fan of earning money while doing nothing. I mean, is anybody not a fan of that? Apparently so, because anyone who uses a low (or no) interest savings account is NOT making money while doing nothing. Don’t be that person. Be the person who earns money while sleeping. Rack up the interest and prosper. More about high-interest savings accounts, as well as the ones I recommend, here: The Best High Interest Rate Online Savings Accounts.
Overall Asset Allocation
Now that we’ve discussed some of the ways in which Georgia and Seb could save more money every month, let’s take a look at their overall financial picture.
- No debt other than their mortgage! Hooray and congrats! I am so impressed and delighted that they buckled down and paid off all of their debt. Further, they’ve managed to stay out of debt. Perfect job here.
- Robust emergency fund! Fabulous and wonderful!
- An emergency fund is typically three to six months’ worth of your expenses held in an easily accessible checking or savings account. At their current rate of spending ($3,336/month), that would be $10,008 to $20,016.
- Since they have $33,167 in savings, they’re in great shape.
- An emergency fund serves as your buffer against financial catastrophe and is a mandatory part of everyone’s finances. Yes, everyone!
- No retirement savings. Eek! This makes me nervous. I’m very much hoping that French readers will chime in and offer their advice on both this and the below line item (investments). I am not at all familiar with the French banking system, but I encourage Georgia and Seb to do research into retirement savings vehicles.
- My concern for them is that they won’t accrue enough working years in France or the US (or any other country) to qualify for government supplied retirement (social security in the US).
- Hence, I suggest Georgia and Seb research if there are ANY tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles they can avail themselves of in France.
No investments aside from their primary residence and their savings account. Similar to the above, we’re straying into territory I’m not versed in and can’t offer concrete advice on. Georgia is aware it’s important to have investment elements of her financial portfolio and she’s correct that two very common avenues for this (both of which I happen to do) are rental properties and the stock market.
- As far as I understand, it is indeed possible for Georgia to invest in the US stock market (through a low-fee index fund). As an American citizen, I am pretty sure Georgia can hold an American brokerage account (through, for example, Fidelity or Vanguard).
- However, the huge caution with this approach is that an American brokerage account would be denominated in dollars while Georgia and Seb are living in a country with a different currency. In light of this, if she did choose to open an American brokerage account, she’d need to be very careful about currency exchange rates. Basically the concern is that if the dollar loses value against the Euro, suddenly your savings are worth less (and of course the inverse is also true). Over time, currency exchange rate fluctuations could dramatically impact your net worth. In sum: a savings account denominated in a currency over than your own can be risky and challenging, although not impossible.
- What I encourage here is for Georgia and Seb to do more research into ex-pat investment options from other Americans living in France. I just don’t know enough about this to offer detailed advice.
- What about rental properties?
- Georgia also asked my opinion on buying rental properties in France and my answer is that this might be a good idea and it might not be. Several things in Georgia’s favor:
- She said she loves tracking the real estate market.
- Her mom owns investment properties and so she has a first-hand source of information.
- She and Seb have dipped their toes into this arena by renting out their place on AirBnB.
- There are many factors that go into determining whether or not rental properties are a good idea, and it’s certainly something Georgia and Seb should investigate. Owning a rental property is so heavily location-dependent that I really can’t advise on whether or not this is a good idea. Georgia and Seb should research:
- Purchase prices and rental prices in the area (and the return therein)
- The percentage of units that are rented in the area
- If there are home owners’ associations and what the rules are governing rental units
- What sort of mortgage interest rate they can anticipate when buying an investment property
- Taxes and laws surrounding rental properties
- The rental prices in the area and whether or not these typically include things like utilities, snow removal, trash, etc.
- Whether or not they’d hire a property manager and how much this would cost. If they don’t plan to hire a property manager, they should assess their DIY skills–can they re-plumb a toilet? Fix a leaky sink? etc etc etc (as Georgia and Seb know, repairs are endless in homes… )
- Calculations for a robust fund to cover vacancy, maintenance, repairs, etc
- The caliber of tenants in the area and how likely evictions or vacancies are
- Landlord/tenant laws in France and in their region
- Georgia also asked my opinion on buying rental properties in France and my answer is that this might be a good idea and it might not be. Several things in Georgia’s favor:
Georgia and Seb are in a good position–both financially and in terms of life enjoyment–and so I think this is an exciting juncture for them. They have the opportunity to consider what they truly want to do in life and map out a plan. The key for them will be whittling down their many ideas and passions to a simplified core that represents their highest priorities.
Here’s my summary of advice to Georgia and Seb:
- Spend time on the topic of discernment. Quiz each other on what you want most from life and make lists of everything you’d love to do. Narrow it down, be honest about what’s reasonable and what you can afford. Identify your top line priorities and then let go of everything that doesn’t align with those goals.
- Consider the ramifications (and realities) of moving to Florida. Consider the change in lifestyle, the change in expenses, and whether or not you’d enjoy living there.
- Research the job prospects and salaries for Georgia as a university professor in the US.
- Consider if location independent careers would more nearly meet your goals of: traveling, seeing family more often, earning more money.
- Review the above suggested decreases in spending to determine what would be tenable.
- Determine if financial independence in ten years is your top priority. If so, turn your focus to finding higher paying jobs.
- Research investment options. Research the availability of tax-advantaged retirement accounts in France. Research investment options for ex-pats living in France. Research the viability of purchasing rental properties. As part of this research, double check the fine print details regarding your mortgage interest rate.
Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Georgia? 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 (email@example.com) your brief story and we’ll talk.
Updated 3/12/19: After many of you commented on how delightful Georgia’s writing is, I begged her to divulge the following:
“After many years of being harassed by her mother to sit down and write it, Georgia has written a memoir about living and cooking in France (from Normandy to Paris to the French Riviera) and will soon be shopping it around the literary scene.”
Hopefully we can all read it soon!
Update from Georgia on 12/10/19:
I wanted to let you know that I launched a blog about cooking and living in France. It’s at: https://georgiaerwin.com/
I decided (in part inspired by the Uber Frugal Month challenge) to do a year-long set of monthly cooking challenges—such as a month of wine and cheese pairings (tough one), one about nut-based recipes, another focusing on traditional French cuisine, etc…and even an Uber-frugal-style month!
In other news, I’ve recently gotten a R&R (revise and resend) on my memoir about living and cooking in France. It’s from one of my top-choice agents so I’m really excited to get it polished up and sent back to her. I’m feeling pretty good about it this time around…
In other other news, I will soon be teaming up with one of France’s top coffee roasters to write a guide to coffee and coffee houses in France, which we plan to pitch to various French publishing houses and to the Michelin guide (since there are no Michelin-style guides for cafés…yet!). This project is still in the early days, but I’m foreseeing several surrounding writing/cooking/publishing projects… we also have another upcoming co-project that involves coffee roasting and cooking ateliers in a shared space here in our village. Very excited about all of this! Anyhow, thank you for reading this. Your Reader Case Study really helped clarify things for me, and you can see the results above!
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Wow, first of all Georgia, I can see why you want to be a writer. Your post was hilarious! Second, I can relate to your story in a lot of ways. My husband is Chilean and I’m American, and we had the same desire to split our time between the US and Chile.
I’m going to weigh in on one small part of your story only: our boys are now 11 and 8, and we sacrificed saving more in order to travel to Chile more frequently while they were young. I’m SO GLAD we did. In fact, I wish we’d focused more on traveling and less on fixing up our homes, in hindsight. For us, family is so important, and the memories that their family members have of the boys as babies and toddlers are priceless. You can’t get those years back, and, to sound like a cliche, the years go by so fast.
My husband eventually converted his position to a remote one so that we could move next to my family in North Carolina and spend longer stretches in Chile with his family. It sounds like you could possibly do something similar just by virtue of the massive amount of vacation time you (and possibly Seb?) have.
It’s so hard to make the decision to live one place or the other, but for our kids’ sake, I’m glad we finally did. When they got to be school aged, it became much harder to travel for long stretches, so I would recommend traveling as much as you can now that your daughter is young.
This is just my two cents, but like Mrs. Frugalwoods, I agree that your lives in France sound ideal and you sound so happy, so maybe spending longer stretches with your family in the US, and prioritizing your travel there, makes sense.
Thank you so much for your comment and for saying that the post was hilarious (food to my little egoic soul, let me tell you!!). You know, what you said about focusing on travel now while it’s easier really hit home for Seb and me. We do have massive amounts of vacation time for the moment, and we could take better advantage of it!
Seb just said that he thinks we should start taking our whole summer break (the full 2 months) and devoting it exclusively to visits to the US. I think this is a good idea, because you know how it goes—two months is precisely the amount of time it takes to overexpose yourself to your family and be happy to head home with no regrets, hah.
I’m glad you made a decision you feel good about now—that’s really the name of the game, isn’t it? Thanks again for your comment!
Absolutely! I love the idea of spending your summers in the US. Yes–two months is just about the perfect amount of time, honestly! 🙂 Good luck you guys!!
Hi Georgia! To keep it short, we are an American/German family living in Germany. We have grappled with the same issues over two and a half decades….the main grapple being where does my heart want to live? In Limbo forever as a result of marrying a man from another country and having left mine and lived in his and visa versa.
My main thoughts on your lovely post are these:
Life is far more expensive in Americaland. Everything. Perhaps utilities are cheaper simply because the US is more wasteful and hopefully that will change.
Healthcare and vacation time were the two main reasons we returned to Germany in 2004 after having our first child. We had lived in and loved Colorado for seven years prior. We were young and healthy and had no dependents.
Healthcare and insurance costs are ridiculously expensive. You would be irresponsible to not have insurance in the US as small health issues can be expensive and slightly bigger ones can lead to bankruptcy or extinguished savings. Good healthcare plans with child are also expensive unless you get jobs that cover a large part of the premium.
Travel is a big priority in our lives. Travel out of the US to anywhere is expensive and with two to three weeks of vacation a year also sad. Deep sigh sad. We return and stay in Colorado every two years. I go with my kids alone for 6 -8 weeks and my husband comes for the last two. In the off years we travel Europe and have family and friends come to Europe to meet/see us.
Lifestyle in America is a time and money and energy suck. Europeans value time, food, family and are far less focused on consuming material items in general. Do not underestimate the simplicity you have gained simply by living Simply in a small village in France. Although you may earn less money, you have a social system that provides support and has many perks. You can work less and have more time. You are not surrounded by people that are shopping, eating out, working excessive hours, infrastructures that only encourage you to desire more stuff. Additionally you would likely need a car to get the bare minimum of your needed stuff.
You can definitely invest in index funds in the US. We do so and use our US tax refunds and rental income surplus to do it.
I recently had a good American friend move back to the US from Brexit. Her husband got a 5yr project position at Princeton. They spent a small fortune on the move and one year later are selling their rental house in England to be able to even afford a property in Princeton. Their child is now struggling in school where had not been in England. She says they are hemorrhaging money where they don’t have it. On her upside, the weather is better and she has her family near. However Now his family is far. Additionally she is forever changed and now intimately understands that place called Limbo.
You are a gifted writer as so many have commented before. Your projects sound Auspicious and wonderful. You are a win for France. Lucky them!
All the best to you and yours,
Thrilled to read this – I am a Canadian woman married to a French man, same age, living in France, expecting our first and only baby, and it’s a whole other world here in terms of how to structure your financial life and your retirement! Some points based on my research so far: there is a tax-advantaged vehicle for retirement savings in France, it is called PERP (Plan épargne retraite) – as France transitioned to witholding income tax at-source in 2018 it was not advised to contribute to one last year, but now in 2019 you should be good to go. Talk to your banker – if we have to pay these irritating fees just to have a chequing account, take advantage of the personal service from the banker responsible for your account! The second option I identified is a PEA, Plan épargne assurance. Check these out and I would suggest shifting some of the funds from your Livrets A over to these other ones, as Ms. FW notes you don’t need that much cash on hand for emergencies (Livrets A are tax-free savings accounts with 0.75% interest rates, your money’s always accessible but it’s not going to do much in a Livret A). By the way, the translation for a “courtier” is a broker, just a particular type of broker who gets different loan offers from banks on your behalf. Using one, we were able to get a 1.3% interest rate for our Paris apartment over 20 years and yes, Ms. FW, these are fixed rate mortgages! France has very strict rules about mortgages and your monthly payments cannot exceed a third of your take-home after-tax income, and the loan is subject to a special type of loan insurance in addition to the mortgage. Right now in France if you have any possibility of taking out a mortgage, you should, the rates are great. I would definitely advise the letter writer to reduce their monthly payments and extend the life of the loan to 30 years; locking in such a low interest rate for a longer period of time makes sense and you can use the money saved in the short term to concentrate on other financial goals. I really feel for you in terms of the importance of family and having to make compromises. I’m lucky in that my parents are both able to travel frequently to visit us, and they both love France and see themselves spending long stretches of time here post-retirement to see their grandbaby, in your case it sounds like the mobility will have to come from you more than them. Ms. FW’s suggestion is a great one, keep the quality of life you have but focus on a more location-independent work life, and that may help you meet a lof of your goals. Wishing you all the best! Bises!
Hi Lucinette! Thank you for your comment—WOW 1,3 is amazing! The rates are really great, for people with and without CDI. And it is pretty crazy that they’re fixed-rate! Thank you for the reminder to go see my bank person. Some other readers mentioned the PERP, which is yet another hilarious French acronym, and I’m going to check it out. And I think you might be right about extending the mortgage…all things to think about!
And it is great to hear from other expats who are in a similar boat, especially regarding family. I think my desire to move over there is mostly just guilt that my parents are less mobile than me (my mom has to take care of her mom, who can’t travel, and my dad likes international travel about as much as he likes a tooth extraction).
Anyhow, thank you so much for the feedback and bises to you as well! Best of luck!
This is great info! Knowing that your mortgage is indeed fixed at such a low rate, Georgia, it might make sense for you to extend the term so that you can free up more money for other investments now (retirement, rental properties, etc).
What a difference in countries. Her writing is dreamy and I instantly want to board a plane to visit. It’s not happening, because it’s not in the budget. I’ve raised 3 kids in the Midwest and I wouldn’t dream of aspiring to move here with a small child. (If your life was my alternative) UNLESS you had full time daycare with a grandparent.
Consider growing more veggies that have a long growing season, like lettuce and green pole beans. I think the grocery budget could still be easily cut more.
Also, perhaps a trip to the US every other year and the grandparents paying for a trip to see you every other year?
Another option, rent out that house while traveling to US to pay for an annual trip?
Just some ideas. Congrats on living a simple, dreamy, beautiful life filled with creativity. Don’t over complicate it. Well done
Hi Melanie! I could talk for hours about vegetables, so I’d better not get started other than to say you’re right about long-season stuff, paired with short-season cool veg. I’m thinking a combo of things like peas (short season) and beans (longer) that also can be left on the vine to produce dry legumes. And I’m going to start growing more sweet potatoes, they cost a fortune over here since they’re a flashy newfangled veggie for the French! But honestly the grocery budget’s biggest line items are stuff like chocolate and peanut butter and nuts. All things I can’t really produce myself. Vegetables and fruit are comparatively cheap!
I think renting out the house while we’re gone is a DANG GOOD idea! My husband and I read that last night and had a real duh moment. Obviously we should rent!
And I think you’re absolutely right about not over-complicating. Those are words to live by…
Hi Georgia- Great post! One thing to consider: in addition to the driving and cost of living in Florida, what does the rest of your community (outside of family) look like there? I’d consider that. A lot. I don’t know where in FL you’re considering, but I’d worry about finding like-minded folks.
I’m so glad you pointed this out Emily! When I moved I found the biggest frustration was that I moved from a varied community where it was easy to find people I connected with to one where it was hard. I hated that the number of non chain restaurants was frustratingly low, there were no bakeries and few farmers markets. The last straw came when my son started school and I found choose between not great public schools or religious private schools. Community is SOOOO important.
Hi Lanae! Thanks so much for your comment! The chain restaurant thing is pretty terrible. I love me some Krispy Kreme but that’s about it for sure. Community is so very, very important. And so very easy to take for granted. Something we have to keep in mind.
We just moved from the UK back to Orlando where I grew up and found the exact same issues.
Hi Emily! Thank you for the comment. In response to your question—I have a lot of exes in Florida? 🙂 Nah, in all seriousness, we have a really great non-family community there. I hear you about the dearth of like-minded people; Florida can be a pretty terrifying place if you don’t know where to look…
I have my PhD in English literature from a top-ranked university, an excellent publication record, etc. etc., and still spent three years on the academic job market and ended up with only a low-paying lectureship from the university where I received my PhD. I have very few friends who found a tenure-track position, and those who did found them at small universities in random locations with hefty teaching loads and, again, low pay. Jobs in higher education are hard to come by, but in English literature they’re particularly difficult to land. The trend now for Humanities PhDs is “alt ac” careers. So to echo the advice I’m sure you’ll receive from every other Humanities PhD, it’s a valuable pursuit but not one likely to lead to a stable or lucrative position—not inside academia at least.
This is such a reality and I am so glad Mrs. Frugalwoods (and Jennifer) made such great points about the changing academic job market. I just completed a PhD at a top-ranked university as well, have already spent two fruitless years on the academic job market, and even the tenure-track jobs I was considering (that received over 800 applications each) pay much less than you can make outside of academic. Add in the “two-body” problem with both partners finding tenure-track jobs at the same institution, and I would definitely warn Georgia about putting all her eggs in the higher educations basket. Just to add- this is not just a problem in the humanities – I studied political science like Seb and the job market is equally as difficult.
That sounds terrible, Emily. Best of luck with the job market. I know, from my friends who’ve just finished their PhDs, that it is really hell out there right now. Crossing my fingers for you.
Yep, just jumping in to second this. A PhD in the Humanities is wonderful and should be valued, but the job market in the humanities is beyond terrible–like 300+ applicants for one job terrible. In my subfield, there were 12 jobs in the entire US last year! And keep in mind these aren’t the plum jobs in great locations, all jobs. I’m one of the lucky ones who landed a dream job several years ago. When my undergrads tell me when they want to do a PhD in my field, I have to have a real honest conversation with them about it–that my job is not the job available anymore. You shouldn’t plan on it anymore than you would plan your future based on winning the lottery. And even if you do get a job, because it is a national market, you have little control over where you live. Georgia and Seb seem to really value the ability to choose their location, and being beholden to the academic job market would really restrict that. In short, pursue a PhD if that is your passion, but don’t plan on it as a path to financial security or flexibility of location of any sort.
Luckily it seems like Georgia and Seb have many, many other marketable talents and a sense of adventure and hard work, which should get them far. I’m excited to see what they end up deciding to do.
Hi there Vee! Thank you for the comment—yep. That sounds about right. I think I had a vague idea about being a lecturer in creative writing or something once I got published, but who knows if any of that will ever happen! I do have a habit of choosing career paths that are akin to winning the lottery…must work on that! Thank you again for the kind words, take care!
Going into scholarly publishing might be something to consider re: alternative academic career choices! I have a library science background, and well-paying academic library jobs are also difficult to come by if you are not willing to move for a job. I now work for a large university press with lots of wonderful colleagues who work remotely, so mobile careers could be in line with this as well. The Society for Scholarly Publishing has some useful info: https://www.sspnet.org/careers/getting-into-publishing/
Thank you for the link!! That looks great, and I think scholarly publishing could be an interesting idea…in any case it sounds like you have a great job. Nothing better than wonderful colleagues.
Hey, A, would you be willing to email with me about this in more detail? I am looking to potentially get into this area … would love to pick your brains, as they say.
Hi Jennifer—thanks for your input. This point is really hitting home for me. I think I have a tendency to jump without looking, which leads to some interesting life decisions but I think as far as a career in higher education is concerned, this is probably not the best tack! I wish you the best of luck in your career pursuits, I know it can be demoralising.
Another English PhD chiming in to say: do not continue with your PhD because you expect it to be a real career-booster. As a mom of three kids with a gainfully, even lucratively employed husband whose job is decidedly location specific, I spent two fruitless years on the job market applying for jobs I knew I was never going to take (not moving to Nebraska, not moving to Houston, etc.) before bailing on the enterprise. The few friends among my cohort who got jobs were willing to move ANYWHERE (literally, someone moved to Kabul until the American University in Afghanistan shut down due to kidnappings and terror attacks!) or to live apart from their partners. Not happening here. Having a degree from a University outside the U.S. will also do you no favors while applying for jobs in the States.
I have spent the last two years working to transition to high school teaching: taking short-term leave positions in order to make connections and build up my CV. I have yet to find anything full-time, but I’m going to keep plugging away. So even my back-up plan has proved frustratingly elusive. Still, I don’t regret the PhD. I learned so much about myself as a writer and a thinker in addition to my field (and didn’t take on any debt– that’s key).
Like you, I’m a hard-working dreamer with dreams of a writing career. I hope it works out for you! In the meantime, enjoy your dreamy-sounding life.
Hey Brooklyn! Yes, this does seem to be the general advice in these comments. RUN AWAY FROM THE PHD WHILE YOU STILL CAN! 🙂 I have friends who are job hunting after spending almost 15 years on the actual degree itself. Academics are totally nuts. (And among some of my closest friends, so I mean this with all the love in my heart!).
I wasn’t really continuing with the PhD as a career plan, more because I adore my topic and wanted to see it develop a little further. But again, it is something that could be translatable to general non-fiction, so perhaps I’ll go that route. But I did think that a PhD might (maybe) be helpful if I ever did get published and could be hired to teach creative writing. That’s a lot of ifs, though.
What kind of stuff do you write? My husband is always reminding me, when I get discouraged, that breaking into the publishing industry is one of the toughest jobs there is. It isn’t meant to be easy, and frankly all the rejection and failure has given me so much more intellectual mettle than I ever got in school with grading systems. To be honest, writing a Master’s thesis was a piece of cake compared to writing a novel. Which probably says something very obvious about my life that I’m too blind to see…
Anyhow! I wish you the best of luck with becoming a high school teacher (tough job, too, but with all that vacation time who can really complain??) and your writing pursuits. Thank you for the thoughtful comment!
I write historical romance! So if I ever get published, my PhD in Victorian Lit will have actually served a useful purpose 😉 I’ve been working on the same novel for ages, since finishing my degree a few years ago, but with full-time caregiving to my kids and intermittent full-time teaching it’s gone slower than I wished. Still, I write every day. And credit the dissertation process for teaching me how to stop being precious about it and just sit down and get it done, whatever it takes.
You also share a name with my littlest baby, so I confess to enjoying your case study all the more. Please update us once you and Seb get some clarity together on your next steps!
Historical romance! One of my favorites! Georgette Heyer? I have all of her books and my husband keeps on trying to double-triple-check that I really want to keep ALL of them and I have to ward him off…
Yes to not being precious—my mom’s a writer and she always said that you have to treat it like a job. My addendum to that is to treat it like a fun job. I think Stephen King wrote that if you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong. Of course, writing ultimatums are about as numerous as pieces of unsolicited parenting advice, so grains of salt all round!
(Sorry I’m going to have a complete moment here):
Georgia is the BEST NAME EVER. 🙂 I have always, always 100% adored my name, and been so thankful to my parents for making such a fab choice! It suits me down to the ground, and is strong and feminine and really, really hard to pronounce in French hah! Over here, it sounds like people are hacking up a hairball. GHE-HOR-GHEEE-AHHHHH. Terrible. But then I hear that wonderful song and think of moonlight and pines and hope that everyone who has ever broken my heart hears it and lives in regret.
And Victorian lit is one of my favorites. I wrote my Master’s about literature written between the wars, but I love me some North and South and Brontes and all the rest. So radical, and so … invigorating. Villette is next on my reading list…
Anyhow, best of luck with the writing (keep going!! I for one want more smart historical romance, bring it on!) and give my fellow G a long-distance Bonjour.
I really enjoyed reading your post, especially since I have been living between France and the US since I left college in 1985!
I agree wholeheartedly with Mrs Frugalwood’s assessment that you really seem to love your life in France, and although you may not be making a lot of money, you have a wonderful lifestyle. I was glad she brought up child care costs, because I noted that in your post you didn’t address it. In France there are many more options, and it is Far more affordable than in the US. Even if you made more money in Florida, much of it would be eaten up by the increased childcare costs, and, as Mrs Frugalwood’s noted, the costs of having (and constantly driving) a car.
Higher paying jobs are often associated with longer hours, and in the US there is less vacation time, so you will want to get a good sense of how much (less) time you may be spending together as a family.
Unless I missed it, the issue of healthcare hasn’t really been addressed properly. In France it is inexpensive and fairly easy to access. In the US it is very expensive. If you are not well covered in the US (which comes with a price) a sudden healthcare disaster could set you back a long way financially, and cause a great deal of stress. This would not be the case in France. I think it is easy to take for granted the huge gift you have there of universal healthcare.
Lastly, just a word of warning about making a living on rental properties in France. As Mrs Frugalwoods mentions, be sure you fully understand landlord and tenant laws. In France they are highly skewed towards the tenant, and you can easily find yourself with one who is not paying their bill and cannot be removed without a years long process. I know several people who have found themselves in this position, including my brother who currently lives in Paris. Not only did he lose out on almost two years of rent, the tenant caused a lot of damage to his apartment so he had a costly renovation to pay for after the tenant was finally removed.
Whatever you chose to do, I wish you and your family all the best of luck!
Oh, and one other think to consider Georgia: your daughter’s education. She is young, but they grow up quickly! You mentioned your husband’s debt due to a semester in school in the US. Higher education is Far more affordable in France. (My piano teacher who is German, married to an American, is sending their daughter to Germany for college because they can’t afford it here and don’t want her to leave school highly indebted. She was educated in a German school however, in the US.) If you move to Florida, and your daughter does not go through the French school system (unless you did it privately as we did while in the US, which was expensive) she might not be able to succeed at a French university. It’s not certain, but should definitely be a consideration.
You know, one of the main pieces of advice I give younger people in the US is to get good at a language and go to Europe for college. It is SO MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE. And much quicker, too. I do think about this with my girl, and I know that if she ever wanted to go to an expensive university I would have to have a very serious conversation with her about being self-sufficient. My parents helped me with my university fees, but they were in the hundreds of dollars per year, and I paid for my housing and everything else by working—and I think it’s one of the best things they ever did for me. You feel such a greater sense of accomplishment when you put your nose to the proverbial grindstone and take care of yourself independently as a young person. It also makes that first post-degree job that much easier to navigate…
Thanks again, Heather!
Hi Heather—thank you for the comment, and woo hoo! US-France residents unite!
YES to childcare costs. I have friends in the US who basically work to pay childcare. It is scary.
You know it is so good to be reminded of all the things that made me want to move to France in the first place—healthcare, public transportation, food…
And I have heard tell of the tenant-favouring rental laws in France. This is also good to keep in mind, especially in the era of AirBnB. As much as I feel uncomfortable that rental services like AirBnB are making housing in places like Paris and elsewhere more expensive and less available, it is smarter from the perspective of the owner. Food for thought.
Thank you so much, and best of luck to you, too!
Heather raises a really important point about the cost of life in France: childcare, education, health care, all are cripplingly expensive in the US, even for people with good salaries. And that’s without even getting into the issue of quality of life, which is much higher in France than in America, largely thanks to these financial considerations but also the vacation policy. Not to say that France doesn’t have problems (the gilets jaunes are just one symptom of those), but they are quite different from those here.
Thank you, Ellie!
As someone who dreams of being an ex pat, I loved reading this and if Georgia ever decides to start a blog I hope she updates us all so I can read it.
I also loved reading this because I can relate to that feeling of being unsettled, searching for more and wanting to do ALL THE THINGS and live all the places. I urge Georgia to reread this but add in details and stories of her monthly budget, like the memories she makes meeting her father in law Saturday mornings for pastries, the trips to Italy, the ones to Paris. There’s always room to cut back on these expenses but they are more than just expenses- it’s quality time and living life. With a culinary background it’s possible to recreate some of these things at home and save money.
I mainly came to comment and warn against the romanticized version of living “elsewhere” and especially moving to be closer to grandparents with the expectation that it will provide childcare, a close relationship with grandchildren, etc. I made this mistake and moved from my lovely Denver suburb with the ability to bike or walk everywhere, fresh markets, farm to table restaurants, and lovely support group of friends back to my hometown shortly after my son was born so he could grow up around family. I regretted that decision for almost 4 years until we were able to get back. This will not be true for everyone but I found that my parents had lives and jobs and interests and could not drop everything to dote on their grandson as much as I thought they would. They love him and loved spending time with him but i realized they could still build a relationship with him via FaceTime and a couple visits a year if we lived across the country just as well as us living in the same town with the bonus of me being happy living in a place that more closely aligned with the life I wanted.
This. Definitely. Even if grandparents are now saying that they want to help with childcare, the reality of it year-round while you work vs helping out for a few months at a time when you are around is entirely different. Plus depending on their age and health, it might not be possible for the length of time you would need childcare. And you would still have private preschool costs instead of state-subsidised crèche in France.
You know, I think you’re totally right. Made me laugh out loud with “I regretted that decision for almost 4 years…”. I think it’s very easy to romanticise family relationships, especially when they’ve been happening for years when everyone’s on vacation! And if I ever have a blog, I promise I will check in!!
As a grandparent-age Frugalwoods follower, I find it interesting that some case studies appear to think that grandparents will want to be full-time daycare. I took an informal poll of my friends some time ago as one was facing this request (we are all in our upper 50s) and most are willing to help out once in a while, but not on a full-time basis.
I would hope my own children would have a discussion with my husband and I prior to making any life changes that would include us as caregivers. I love having my free-time and the ability to travel, work more, and read, relax and enjoy my friends. I am happy to watch my grandkids so my kids can have a night out here and there, but full-time?? Not a chance – I am not ready to give up the career I have worked so hard for!
Just a thought from someone in this age group!
Hi Kellee, thank you for the input, too true! I would never just assume that my parents want to sit around and watch a kid all day, even if it was their grand baby. My mother has offered to watch her, either in the States or in France, if she should ever live here or we should ever live there. And I wouldn’t expect her to do it full-time. My dad is not on the babysitting roster AT ALL, hah! I mean, he’d probably teach her how to shoot a pistol and leave her in the woods somewhere to mind herself and shoot squirrels. Ya know.
But I do think it’s important to note that everybody lives their own life, and that we should never assume that anyone would be happy to do anything that involves copious amounts of their time!
Take care, and thanks again!
Georgia – thank you for your gracious response. I was worried it would be misconstrued.
PS – I am an academic (college professor) and it is a seriously bad time for us – if you can, try to get the Chronicle of Higher Education online as it will give you a really good idea of the state of higher education here in the States. It is pretty grim I am sorry to say!
No, Kellee, I think your comment was spot-on. I don’t think my mother ever expected to fall quite in love with her grandbaby as she did, and not all grandparents do, because they are too busy drinking cocktails and living it up! Or knitting. Or whatever.
I will certainly check out the Chronicle. Things do sound awfully grim. Take care!
Reading the Chronicle is a great idea, but much of the Chronicle is paywalled. Inside Higher Ed covers many of the same issues for free. Also check out the website of the MLA for literature-/writing-specific matters.
Georgia and Seb, you are both so energetic and creative, I doubt that any choices you make would be impossible to carry off. But a couple with so many talents and interests need to home in on a few NEEDS (as opposed to wants) in order to strike a balance. Indeed, too many pursuits might end up draining you physically and financially and you might lose yourselves in pursuit of goals that won’t add more value to your lives, or your child’s. And, after a long period of frenzied activity, one gets tired.
Consider taking stock of all the things you are both happy doing and try to figure out how you can combine them into a satisfying business, instead of pursuing careers which leave you dependent on the decisions and limitations of employers. Once you figure out what that all-encompassing goal is, do all you can to make it happen.
Also, visits with family are quite different from living/working near family. You can “visit” with family every day remotely, so take advantage of all that current technology offers to blunt the natural feelings of missing them and the guilt that your daughter is missing out.
You never experienced the struggle to be a self-sufficient adult after finishing school in the States, so you might have a rose-colored glasses idea that it’s a piece of gateau. It isn’t.
Hi Marilyn! Thank you for the comment—yes! We do need to get more up-to-date with technological ways of ‘visiting’ our family…my mother refuses to use anything where she can see people’s faces but my dad did get Skype…
Oh but I did experience the self-sufficient adulthood after finishing school in the States! Several times, in fact. I do know that it is not at all a piece of gateau. I remember when I realized that rent in California for a crappy room was more than a plane ticket back to France. I leave you to imagine which option I chose… !
I recently bought a house with my boyfriend (in Belgium, not in France). We also have a fixed interest rate of 1.69% since the interest rates here are extremely low at the moment.
In Belgium you can open a ‘pension savings account’ where you contribute 980€ a year and it is tax deductible. I also have a long term savings account which is called ‘Life Invest’ or ‘Home Invest’ at most banks, which has tax benefits as well. Fot both these products, you cannot use the money before retirement/age of 60 or 65 (or you pay a very high price). You do lose the tax advantage in both cases if you have a mortgage that is tax deductible, but you can keep saving even without the advantage.
Maybe there are similar products in France?
Hi Annelies! There are similar systems in France. I’m just not sure about putting money into something that I can’t touch until I’m 60…but we’re going to look into the equivalent, which over here is called “assurance vie” and which, if I remember correctly, did not have a very appetizing interest rate when we last considered it. But it is much more complicated to invest in Europe, and perhaps some compromise will have to be made for simplicity’s sake!
Reading this case study only increased my burning desire to LEAVE Florida ASAP. I moved here to be closer to my family and unfortunately, I can’t stand the heat, the humidity, and the lack of community. I would move in a heartbeat to where Georgia and her family live, and I can’t even speak French! Long walks in the countryside, cafes and pastry shops, no need for a car, and farmer’s markets?! You can’t do any of that here in Central Florida.
Of course, it all comes down to your decision but if you love your life the way it is in France, I can say with 95% certainty that you will find little to love about a life here in Florida as a result. It’s all suburbia, tourists, and chain restaurants. Best of luck with your decision and enjoy your beautiful ex-pat life!
HAH burning desire…oh goodness. That place is hotter than a tin roof in July. You know, with all the comments, I’m beginning to remember the mosquitoes, the snakes, the yellow flies, the cockroaches (OH the cockroaches, eugh!). But then there are the beautiful springs, the manatees, the rivers to canoe and the beaches to lounge on…all nice as well. And there are donughts.
All I can say is, if you’re burning to leave—LEAVE! Go to France! You’ll learn the language once you get here (I more or less did, honestly. My French was AWFUL). Get enrolled in a cheap Master’s program and set up someplace like Paris. You sound like you wouldn’t regret it…
Best of luck to you, too!
Hi Georgia! I just want to back up what Chelsea is saying. I moved to Jacksonville, Florida two years ago from Vermont (Hi Frugalwoods!). where I lived a life that sounds somewhat similar to your life in France. I cannot wait to move back! I moved here because I met someone who I fell in love with who lived here. I had been coming down for periods of several weeks to a month at a time before moving and thought I would adjust. It was a shock for me to find out what it actually cost me to live here. My car insurance increased by $70 per month and I have not ever had an accident. We are very frugal shoppers, mostly at Aldi’s, but we never spent less than $100 a week on groceries and they are NOT organic. The news here recently reported that it costs $68,000 a year for a family of 3 to live here comfortably and I believe that is true. I actually find it more expensive to live here than I did in Vermont and the pay scale is much lower. There is no quaintness here and frankly it is just ugly. I am a Grandmother of 2 and I love my grandkids, but I would not want my kids to move here just for my sake. Your expenses seem extremely reasonable where you are and I don’t believe you could get anywhere near the same benefits and quality of life in Florida. I totally understand your desire to spend time with your parents so the split time may give you the best option.
On another note, have you considered being an Indie author and self-publishing? You are obviously talented and many people are taking this route, as you probably know.
Hi Sally! Thank you for the input—yes, some areas of Florida are gorgeous and others…not so much! I really love Tallahassee, which is beautiful and quite charming, but I have never spent time in Jacksonville, other than at the airport! And Tally is not too expensive, honestly, if you know where to look/shop.
I have thought about self-publishing, and some other readers have commented about this idea. I am definitely considering all the options here! I feel like it might be a huge time investment that requires lots of skills I don’t have, but I could always acquire them…
Best of luck with your new life! I hope Florida grows on you. It can be such a wonderful place to live. Have you visited the beaches along the Panhandle? Or tried canoeing / boating in the rivers? All the best to you.
I’m going to address some of the US expat financial issues. First off, you need to be filing US tax forms while you’re working in France, if you’re not already doing so. If your Husband is going to be applying for US green card/citizenship you will probably need to file the back taxes before his application will be approved. You offset your US tax liability with the amount you pay in French taxes through the foreign tax credit (it looks like it is slightly higher, so you won’t have a US tax obligation), or alternatively if you live in a Low-tax jurisdiction, you can take the earned income exclusion. I’ll explain below why you should do Foreign tax credit.
There is no issue with holding US stocks while living overseas. These can be reported on your US tax return the same way they would if you were in the US, and your US taxes will be the same. If you had investments in a non-US stock market, it can be more complicated to file. You can contribute to an IRA, and if you use the foreign tax credit (but not the earned income exclusion) you can contribute to a Roth IRA. At your income level and given you are already paying French taxes, it would likely be advantageous to contribute to a Roth IRA, unless there is a better option in France. Be wary of some expat financial Advisors that try to sell overseas pensions or similar financial structures that can have high fees.
I note that you have some misgivings about the public assistance you are receiving. Keep in mind that robust social safety nets exist in countries like France because people use them and consider them a part of the public good that anyone can access when they are financially eligible. There is no shame in using programs that you are eligible for, especially when you have a small child. The real shame is that in the US social services have been stigmatized so that many eligible people don’t use them and there is a belief among many that it “isn’t for people like them”, so the programs get less political support.
Also, there is an agreement between the US and France that makes it easier to qualify for a pension/social security by using a combination of credits from both systems.
I agree with all of the above. Note as well that your ability to renew your U.S. passport is tied to being tax-compliant, so as Anne points out, if you are not filing U.S. taxes every year, you should do so now.
I also agree with the Roth IRA recommendation, and with the social safety net/government aid for Georgia. Your taxes pay for this and you are entitled to make use of it. No more shame in accepting it than there is in making use of street lights and paved roads.
Thank you, Sally!
There’s no issue holding US stocks for US tax purposes if you live abroad, but you will likely be liable to pay taxes on them (and lose corresponding benefits) in France if you are a French tax resident. It’s a big math problem best sorted out by a tax attorney…
I am currently looking into Roth IRAs though, and whether I would be taxed on one or not.
I totally agree with Anne that you need to make sure you are filing your US taxes–so many people don’t and it creates massive headaches later on! And, the social benefits are there for you because you are paying for them. The French would never be ashamed for using their “droits” (rights), and neither should you! Those were hard fought, and you’ve already paid into the system for some time!
Hi frenchmama, thank you for the comment! Oh man was it a headache to get the tax issue figured out. Almost as complicated as getting married, hah. Why do all governments love paperwork so much??
Thank you Anne for the advice! I am making notes of all this. I do file my US taxes, after having spent years not realizing that I needed to. And thank you for the kind words.
I’d like to chime in on the health care front as well.
Health insurance is much, much more expensive in the United States and the quality is increasingly poor, even for employer sponsored coverage. When I worked at a university in Boston, I had excellent health insurance but the cost of premiums for a family plan ate up almost all of my salary (the rest went to childcare). It is really, really expensive! However, I had peace of mind that my insurance would actually cover myself and my family if I got sick.
If you’re unable to find employer sponsored insurance, you’re going to have to rely on a subsidized plan through the health care exchanges. The good news is that at your current income, you would receive premium subsidies, but you would still be paying substantially more for monthly premiums in addition to high co-payments, deductibles etc. than you pay now in France. Moreover, you’ll have to be very careful to make sure that you only receive medical care from “in-network” providers or you will be on the hook for the full cost of whatever care you received. There are thousands of stories of people with insurance who receive emergency medical treatment and discover after the fact that they owe tens of thousands of dollars because the hospital/providers weren’t in network.
In addition to the financial burden, I can tell you that the constant dread of how to pay for unexpected medical bills takes a serious emotional toll. I long for the peace of mind of a universal health care system and if it were me, I would never leave a country where such a system was in place to return to our broken, expensive and inhumane health care system.
While you’re on your journey of discernment, I would strongly encourage you to figure out exactly how much health insurance will cost you in your location in Florida. There is a handy calculator here https://www.kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/
And for what it’s worth, I don’t think you should feel guilty about accepting social assistance! You pay taxes into the system and these kinds of programs exist to be utilized.
Good luck with figuring everything out!
Hi Mariah! Yes, I remember those health care woes for sure. I didn’t go to the dentist for YEARS in the States because I couldn’t afford it. Not a good idea when you’re a pastry chef and eat cake all day long…!!
Thank you for the comments and kind words.
Yes, this, re: health care! Over the last few years it seems everything has switched over to high-deductible health plans, which pretty much discourage you from getting care, since even after paying your premiums you have to pay every dollar out of pocket for the first $3000-7000 (whatever your deductible is). I feel like a monster whenever my wife and I have the conversation of “Is our 2-year-old’s current ailment bad enough to spend $300+ on a visit to her doctor’s office?” Nevermind the one time we had to go to the ER for a high fever which cost us over $700. (Treatment administered: tylenol.) This ish is crazy expensive despite the fact that we have no ongoing health issues AND my wife works for the dang health insurance company so our costs are actually lower than most people’s! We live in Boston where costs are high but employer perks and government protection for consumers are also pretty high, so I think our experience is on the better side of normal. And we are very fortunate to have a high enough income that a $700 visit to the ER doesn’t mean we can’t afford our mortgage or other critical expenses, though not high enough that it doesn’t hurt.
So, ah, yeah, definitely take this into account!
And I also second that you shouldn’t turn down government benefits. These types of benefit programs benefit everyone, because it comes from the central government and gets spent in the villages, so it boosts up your neighbors too when you spend that money on their goods and services!
Hey Rosalie! That is a good point about using money from the government on local goods and services…the villages of France are a dying breed, and I honestly feel like it’s my civic duty to support the cafes and bakeries and little bistros! I mean, imagine if France was just dead villages with nothing but houses, half of them abandoned (which is the case in most of my area) and the rest of them full of chain stores? It’d be beyond depressing…
And yes, I can’t tell you how much of a deep and profound relief it has been to have socialised health care. I feel like the entire timbre of stress in my life went down when I realized I could go to the doctor…whenever I wanted! Scratch that—that I could call a house-visiting doctor to come to my apartment and only pay 80E, most of which is reimbursed! I mean, it is pretty priceless. You’re too right.
I remember once when I was hallucinating from a high fever and drove myself to the ER and I called my stepmom (who was paying for my health insurance while I was in college) to let her know and she told me to leave the hospital immediately because it was too expensive. Those are not choices any parent should have to make!
Thank you for your thoughtful comment!
I’ll echo Jennifer—the academic job market (especially in English, which is what my PhD is in) has TANKED. And you’ve got the additional disadvantage of a three year PhD where you’re not going to come out with the kind of publication record and teaching experience that people with US and Canadian PhDs will have. Also, being a professor is super time consuming and stressful! I have a great higher ed-adjacent job, but very few non-academic jobs require or prefer a PhD, and those few that do (data science, research administration, policy) don’t particularly value ones in English and usually require relocating to a big city or university town.
My husband is also French, and we live in Canada near my family and visit his family regularly. We’re taking the baby for his first visit next month! (He’s six months old. And also Seb!) Like you now, we’ve chosen to live where we’ll have a great quality of life and family nearby, and prioritize travel spending. We also do lots of Whatsapping and FaceTiming with the French family, which helps. Regardless of where you live, you’re going to be away from one family or the other—and France is so great!
Another thing to consider (and why we’re raising the baby bilingual) is the cost of higher education in France—we don’t have to worry about saving for college because he’ll go to school in France for very litttle, and can likely stay with family while he does. Definitely can’t say the same about college in North America! That’s part of the reason why we’ll be able to afford for my husband to be a mostly stay-at-home dad until the kiddo starts kindergarten. It definitely means some sacrifices, but daycare is SO expensive here that it makes financial sense as well as being great for our family. Honestly, a job you love plus tons of time with your daughter sounds idyllic.
Hi Melissa! That is a good point that most jobs don’t require or reward a PhD. This whole Reader Case Study has really made me think about why, exactly, I’m pursuing one.
Hooray for the Sebs of this world! Does your family constantly get his name wrong? I swear everyone I know is calling my husband either “Zeb” or “Jeff” or even “Hank.” Or maybe that’s just my dad…he actually called him “Beau” once. ????????
And it’s a good point that either way, we’ll be away from family. Seb’s dad really, really loves taking care of Alma and spending lots of time together—they go to the bistro together every Saturday morning, on walks several times a week, and he takes her to daycare every morning! WHICH IS AMAZING.
College in North America is stupid. It just is. I don’t understand how we can still be robbing our young people blind like that.
Thank you for the thoughtful comments and best of luck to you!
Have you thought of doing some sort of vacation business? Something like a regional culinary tour for francophiles with some cooking classes and/or language classes. You seem to know people in the food scene in your region and could possibly partner with them. That, or a class for American teachers/schools hoping to incorporate a cooking skills class.
Also, I wouldn’t feel guilty for taking the government benefit. This is there for people who need it, and right now that’s you.
A travel company specializing in family trips to France for culinary classes/farm-to-table meals in the countryside! Now that is a travel trip I would love to take with my crew!
Let me know when you’re coming, Rebecca, and we’ll work something out 🙂
I have! And this did jar my brain, I think I’m going to contact a local place about this very thing. People have asked me if I could give them cooking classes before, and I do give language lessons. I just need to figure out if it’s the right option and get organized if it is! Thanks for the comment.
I love this idea! I’ll be signing myself up for your class 🙂
Only sign up if you like cheese and wine, Mrs. FW. You’ve been warned 🙂
Packing my bags.
A lot of things like this are now offered through airbnb experiences – might be a good way to workshop it and figure out viability and options before making a huge investment!
Good point, Anne! I’ll check this out.
I absolutely came in to suggest this. Even just day or half day courses/meals. You love teaching, hosting, food and languages, seems like a great fit. I read a book by Susan Herrmann Loomis years ago, who does something similar.
I agree that staying in France seems to be a pretty good long term plan! Remember, in not that many years, your daughter will be able to travel back and forth to Florida by herself.
Thank you for the tip about Susan Herrmann Loomis—I remember having picked up one of her books ages ago but I am going to take a look at her tour offerings and see what’s what!
Don’t feel bad about taking the social security type payment! The way you talk about paying taxes shows you respect the system, if you’re assessed and determined eligible for that money it’s for a reason.
I personally would stick with your part time job until the contract is done, that time with your family is precious! Plenty of time to try life in the USA when baby girl is at school and you won’t have daycare costs. If the PhD stays cheap, do it! You obviously enjoy it. I like the idea of the UN jobs down the track.
Hi Renee! You’re spot on, there. She will be in regular school so soon, it really makes sense to take advantage of being able to spend time together now, even if my job doesn’t make much money. She is the light of my life, after all!
Thanks for the comment!
Honestly. I would stay in France. Having lived in Florida and still having friends with kids there it is generally impossible to not have two vehicles (yes, it is a large state but most of it was designed around cars), housing can be expensive if you want decent public schools. Friends in Tampa are paying $3000 a month for twins for the same care a friend in Narbonne is getting in maternelle for FREE. Your taxes at work… Seriously look at quality of life and really talk to your parents about what reality would look like if you lived there. Day to day life is not like vacation and they may envision hanging out one a week for an afternoon. A friend is an adjunct in Boston and the last humanities position posted had 900 applicants. We don’t have universal health care and being uninsured while job hunting is a bad idea- last l heard the state insurance in FL isn’t great because l believe they didn’t expand Medicaid.
Ultimately, it sounds like you guys really like your life where you are. Maybe you guys fly to the US once a year or alternate who flies to who.
YIKES!!! The childcare issue in the US is just insane! And 900 applicants. Goodness gracious. Thank you for the reality check, Stephanie!
I love the comments as much as I love Georgia’s post. First of all, what an interesting life you’ve led! As an English major who once considered a PhD in English Literature and completed study abroad programs in Italy and London, I completely relate to your situation (though I’m unmarried, childfree, and live in the US!) and understand wanting more freedom to move around. I wish I could live a life similar to the one you dream of! But how exciting that you live in a French village and indulge in all the things I only dream of.
Anyway, I second Jennifer’s post about the difficulty of securing a tenured professorship in the American university/college system. It was difficult when I was considering pursuing a PhD, but it’s grown progressively worse over the years. A college classmate secured a position, but it’s not even in English Literature – it’s more a hodge podge of content for freshmen that I don’t think she particularly cares for. However, I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods in that you need to both increase your income and find more location independent work. “VIPKid” and “Upwork” kept popping up in my mind as I read your story. As an American, you should be able to participate in our online job market, which means you can teach English online or work remotely as an editor or freelance writer. I’m also wondering if it’s possible for you to watch children in your home, but with such nominal daycare fees I’m not sure anyone would pay you a reasonable wage. Unless, perhaps, you offer parents a drop-off service, where they can run errands without a child in tow.
Lanae offered a great perspective as well. I just can’t see giving up a bucolic life that you clearly love — you’ve even stated you love it — to resume the American grind of traffic, working long hours, etc., and the high cost of living. Your daughter already has valuable time with her paternal grandfather, which is great! Why not invite your family to spend more time in France? Perhaps as your parents retire, they could spend more time there. Besides, with your central location and EU benefits, you have so much more flexibility with traveling.
I’m not sure how much tourism there is in your village, but perhaps if you blogged about your life there and rented an Airbnb property (would provide a special appeal to your readers), you could create your own job. That would take time of course, but it’s worth considering. Either way, you can and should invest in the American stock market to ensure you have retirement funds. Google “investing as an expat” and so much will pop up. Here’s one example: https://thunfinancial.com/home/american-expat-financial-advice-research-articles/top-ten-investment-mistakes-made-americans-abroad/
Anyway, I look forward to hearing what you eventually choose. Good luck to you!
Ooooo, studying abroad in Italy. I hope you ate your weight in gelato while you were there…
I do think that you might be right and that online work of some kind is the best idea for me, career-wise. I have no idea how to go about it, but we’ll see…
Thank you for the well-wishes, and I’ll keep you updated!
Disclosure: I am typing this before I read Mrs FW and others’ comments so I am not jaded; apologies if a repeat anything!
I can hear the love and passion in you writing about your current life…don’t give that up! Enjoy it! It was a treat reading through your story, but to your earlier point, I think you already figured out what to do, now it’s just following through and doing it. When I read your budget, you already have marked “we can decrease this”, “this NEEDS to come down”, “we could probably do better here”….you already know where to cut your expenses! Your travel to the US and to other countries in Europe seems pretty low to me, but what about splitting some of those up? Would your parents or friends be willing to come visit you some of those times? To me, it sounds like you are living a part-time retired life now and hoping to make it full time in 10ish years. You spend a decent chunk on your fun and entertainment, but not outlandishly. If you cut that out, you could nearly cut your spending in half, invest that savings and hit your retirement goal. My question to you – is giving up your part-time retirement life for 30 years (random number), worth a full time retirement life in 10 years? Or will you end up living your part time retirement life in 10 years anyway because you both love what you do so much? I am usually one to give the “do whatever it takes!” advice, but hearing your love for your current life and everything you’d be giving up in the name of making money so you can essentially return to your current life with more money….I urge you to really consider what you’re after 🙂 One last point…..16 weeks vacation AND part time to be home with your baby girl? As the mom of a 14 year old, independent, social butterfly, those 10 years are going to give you more snuggles and love (ok, and frustration but made up for with snuggles and love) that will help you through the pre teen and teenage years. I work full time and used a daycare and am not sure I am cut out to be stay at home mom, even part time, if I had the option at the time. But in hindsight…I don’t know….that’s a lot to give up if you have the means not to. The most important thing, if I ever find myself in your part of the world, you may hear from a random stranger asking for a tour because it sounds like you know the best places for food, drink, and entertainment!!
Oh, FFM, you come on over to France any time! We’ll hook something up for sure!
I absolutely think you’re right. You know, this is why we did this Case Study—we are so glad to have had everyone’s feedback because it feels like the truth is staring us in the face. It’s so apparent it was invisible, you know what I mean??
And I’m usually a ‘do whatever it takes!’ kind of person, too, especially when it comes to people’s cherished dreams, and especially when it seems that the only thing blocking them is fear or an aversion to change. But I think that maybe croissants every weekend and cafés at our friend’s little place are maybe worth working a little part-time job I love? I dunno? All things to think about. Of course, the part-time job will end, and I’ll have to figure something else out, but who knows what will happen in the meantime. Seb and I have so much to discuss now, it’s kind of scary but also very invigorating!
Thank you for the comment, and YES THE SNUGGLES! And the kicks in the side of the head, and the scratches, and the hair-pulling, and the sleepless nights…but the CUDDLES and that little crop of blonde, baby-smell hair! I used to think I’d never like to be a stay-at-home mom, but doing it part-time is really great. I get my baby fill, and then *poof* off she goes to daycare.
Take care, and do contact me if you’re ever in France!
Hi Georgia, I enjoyed reading your colorful post. I must say, the life you already have is pretty great! It seems like sometimes (at least for myself), when things are going well and I’m content, that I start thinking, “Well, how can I make it better?” and then you stop being happy. I echo much of what Mrs. Frugalwoods has said, especially regarding two things: you need to figure out what you really, really want to do, and of course, starting investing like crazy. I’m not going to comment on the financial part of that, but I will answer Mrs. Frugalwoods call for professors to weigh in. I have a Ph.D. from an elite U.S. university in the humanities, I achieved full professor within 10 years of starting right out of grad school, and I live a decent part of the U.S. (New England). And yet: I do not recommend that you try to get a job in the university system in the U.S. The reality is, that while I do love my job and I have had remarkable success, the odds of getting a job EXACTLY where you want to live, getting a tenure track job at that, and achieving financial security while doing all that, are, in the words of a recent study: “similar to being drafted by the NBA.” I simply got lucky. I warn other folks away from this career that I love, because it ain’t what it used to be, as Mrs. Frugalwoods points out. Truly, abandon that idea altogether. Besides, your sweet life in France seems like a dream! Maybe the Ph.D. you are working on (and three years is super-quick as my field averages 10), will help you find a better-paying position in France, even if you aren’t at a university. Best of luck to you and congrats on your charming life! And now, I’m going to go eat pastries . . .
Hi Caitlin! I know just what you mean—isn’t it called the negativity bias? Where you’re constantly looking for what’s wrong and trying to fix it? I’m absolutely guilty as charged on that one. It does wonders to take a step back and remember to appreciate what you have…
Thank you for the comment!
I currently live in Florida, although not for much longer (literally, we’re moving to Pennsylvania next week). It sounds like Georgia’s primary reason for wanting to move here is to be closer to her family, which is understandable, and obviously she grew up here, but there’s a lot of things one needs to consider when moving here.
First and foremost, it’s EXPENSIVE. Florida has the highest car insurance rates in the US, and because of little weather patterns called hurricanes, home and renter’s insurance is sky-high as well. Put it this way–we just bought home AND car insurance in Pennsylvania for less than what we pay for just car insurance in Florida. Add in that the well-known insurance companies will not do business here because of said hurricanes, and it’s a mess. Property taxes are rising, and rents are soaring by the day, it seems like. Also, if you want to live anywhere decent, there are HOAs to deal with, many of which demand monthly payments that equal a mortgage payment. All the little things you take for granted in France, like farmers markets and boulangeries and museums and cute little bookstores and cafes? They’re pretty few and far between in Florida unless you want to pay $350K or more to live somewhere like Winter Park (near Orlando) or Sarasota.
I agree with Lanae that moving closer to family isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I have a lot of family in Florida, but in the nearly two years that we’ve been here we’ve rarely seen them because they all have jobs and lives. A lot of people don’t look past “Florida is warm in winter,” and they absolutely should. Georgia may have it easier since she grew up here, but I can guarantee it’s going to be a culture shock and a half to Seb to live here. It seems like they have a very good life in France, and a major move like going to Florida can throw a wrench into the system that might not be easily overcome. Bonne chance!
Hi Trish! One of my very favorite people on this earth has your name. Love it!
Yes, I agree, I think Seb would have to spend the majority of his time in a sports bar, eating nachos and watching the NBA to recover from living in the weird non-South that is Florida.
Merci beaucoup pour les comments!
Oh wow, your live in that French village sounds amazing! Honestly, I wouldn’t move. The UN job sounds like the best option to me. Why not try for that repeatedly over then next 3 years of your present contract. It sounds like you could get lucky and get a well-paid job that allows you to work remotely. That would be the best of both worlds really!
As for moving to Florida…well, I’m a proud and happy Floridian, and I say no for a reason that isn’t entirely financial. First off, I do live in a villagy-type town where you can literally walk everywhere, so let’s say apples-to-apples. Here’s where the 2 places absolutely diverge though. At our schools, we now have fences, armed police officers, single points of entry, lockdown and active shooter drills once a month, etc. I worry about my kids constantly. My little kid knows how to hide from a gunman and talks about it as if it’s normal. Post Parkland, FL schools have gotten much more safety-conscious. It’s SO different from how it was when my 7th grader started school. It’s sad.
On the other hand, if you do still choose to live in FL, the childcare costs may be lower than you estimate. We have free VPK for all 4 year-olds, and we never found even full-day preschool to be all that expensive here. Housing costs have gone up a lot at least in our county in recent years though. Honestly, a village in France sounds absolutely idyllic to me, and it sounds like you are making it work.
Hi Christine! You know, if I could find a remote UN job that would be just lovely. I will be seriously considering your advice!
And I am so sorry about your worries, that sounds awful. I once heard the quote that having children is like seeing your heart walking outside of your body. It’s so hard not to worry, even in the best of circumstances!
My school installed a front gate that locks automatically but it’s been broken for the last week and wide open. World’s laziest anti-terrorist system over here…
Ditto Christine’s comments a hundred fold! I live in Florida and love the diversity but I don’t like how militarized our schools have become. It breaks my heart that my kids are growing up in an environment where active shooter drills are the norm.
I fantasize all the time about living in Spain. I have a good academic job too, but on that front, it is impossible to pick a place and just move there hoping there will be academic work. The job market for tenure and even visitor positions is crazy and adjuncts don’t make a living wage. I loved reading about your food background and I second the suggestion someone else made about being entrepreneurial and doing some culinary tours and cooking lessons. I would definitely sign up! And maybe you could also save up to invest in rents properties with AirBnB potential, provided your area allows that. Or maybe a combination of saving up to open a bed and breakfast where people learned to cook great things, too! That’s living the dream right there. 🙂
A colleague of mine just got back from Spain and I am in serious need of tapas now. I hope you make it over there someday!
Thanks, Georgia! I’m going for a month this summer… and did the same two years ago! Maybe like your family visits back to Florida, we can be satisfied with a month or two here and there for now. 🙂 I for one would love to read your memoir, so I hope you will keep writing!
Hey, Rachel! Have fun in Spain. Eat so many nice things! And thank you for the encouragement—it’s so lovely to hear.
Dear Georgia, dear Frugalwoods,
Paris-based French reader here, so excited to see a French case study !!
Little vocabulary note, about the bank loan negocitation fee, it is with a courtier and not a courturier. Muck like a borker in the US. I’m going thourgh the same process at the moment, and the coursier is helping us get the best bank loan we can get.
On financial perspective, first about rental properties in France, it is not easy as it seems to be in the US. Been through the process with family and it can get really wrong, really fast. The law is mostly not on your side and to get people legally evicted could take years. Plus income taxes and property taxes, the return is I will say around 4 to 8 % max.
Second about retiring early and social security and pension fund (therefore the lack of it!).
We are blessed in France to have a moslty well working social security and nobody is getting into heavy debt because of a healt scare. My partner had to go to the emergency to consult an ophtalmologist at 11 at night, we received the bill this weekend and he only had to pay13 € out of his pocket. The 13 € could have been covered if he had an extra insurance paid 50% by his employer, which is mandatory for everybody working in France except some part of the public sector.
If you do not work, you will still be covered under an universal protection system, and will have about the same health plan as anyone working. It’s called PUma, used to be CMU. There is some conditions, mostly living in France, it is easier if you have an european nationality and you may not be covered the first 3 months if you come back from any other country.
About pension fund, the french system is just the total opposite of the US system. Our system is not fund based. Today active population is paying for today retired population. Problem is when everybody gets older and not much babies are made, your system does not work so well anymore. Hence the 97 € a month you receive from CAF, translating into “Please, keep having babies, we need them to pay our retirement”.
Basically money is taken out of your paycheck everymonth and your employer pays for it as well for “retraite” and you can get a full pension after a certain age or number of trimester you have worked. That number can change depending on a lot of things but the legal age to retire is 62 but may not be with a full pension and you can work until you are 65 to 67 years old and you will get a full pension.
The math behind your pension can vary based on again a lot of things but it is basically a percentage of the average of the best 25 year of pay and you need a minimum of 30 years of pay to get a minimum pension.
So basically FIRE is not that easy to do in France.
There is some retirement account possibility , they are not really interesting when you are on the young and low pay side of things. It is called Perp, if someone wants to look into it. What you put on the Perp is tax deductible for a maximum of 10% of your income with a miximum of 4 k€ anually.
When you retired you can get an annuity or if the annuity is too low you can get the full fund back.
The annuity will be considered as an income, so it will then be taxable.
Anyway, for any specific France related questions I will be happy to help 🙂
100 percent validated by a fellow French resident–you did a much better job explaining it than I could have, Elise!
AH! I am french too and I am so excited about this French case, and so happy that someone confirms what I thought about FIRE in France, more complicated than in the US.
Hello frenchmama, Géraldine,
Still trying to figure out FIRE in France, not that easy to do.
So much of what you read in the FIRE community is not applicable in France.
And then you go to the hospital for a major surgery, do not receive any bill or have any major debt afterwards, plus you are still paid by your work as “arrêt maladie” and then maybe FIRE does not matter that much anymore …
Yep. This. So true.
YES! And I always get couturier wrong. I think it’s because the woman we had as a broker was so well-dressed and pulled together all the time…
Thank you so much for the offer of help, maybe we could exchange emails sometime? I admit that I find the French side of finances rather bewildering. Seb wasn’t aware of much of what you wrote—it’s great to have someone outline everything with such clarity!
Thank you so much for the comment!
You can ask Mrs. Frugalwoods for my email, will be glad to share infos.
I work in accounting in the “Notary” sector now, so I get many infos by work and my training.
I read this blog for a while now (no baby and no woods at the time) and I keep on researching how to get frugal ideas from these blog and some extent of retiring early to work in the french system.
I got your email—thank you! I, too, started reading before any babies or woods…but only since I’ve lived in France. It’s true that the major tenants of FIRE are not necessarily applicable to the French system. But it’s an interesting question!
I think one of the main financial reasons to move near family when you have young kids is to decrease daycare costs. Since they don’t want to have more kids, Seb’s dad helps out with childcare in France, their current daycare costs are very low compared to rates in the US, and Georgia already works part-time – it seems like moving to Florida would probably increase their daycare costs.
True, Betsi. Daycare is such a budget-killer in the US.
I know this would keep you more “fixed” in one place – but as a trained chef, have you considered running a bed and breakfast? I also don’t know the rules – but perhaps you can run it as a teaching kitchen as well and bring in some extra income that way. With the extra space, it would be easy to host family for visits too!
Anyway, that was just a thought I had! Best wishes with your decision!
Hi Kelly! This is something I have thought about. It really seems like a great combination of so many of our interests, plus our love of hosting people. For some reason, in my mind it seems like this would be a plan for some far future, but who knows? DISCERNMENT, DISCERNMENT, DISCERNMENT!
Georgia – I can relate to having many competing interests and desires and love the emphasis here on ‘discernment.’ You also might consider teaching college online once you finish your doctorate, as a way ti supplement your income. Maybe your husband could do this, too. If I were you I would stay put abd travel as much as yiu can until your daughter is in school. I would find remote work to supplement your income, and/or invent a business related to hosting others in France. Being tied down to a lifestyle you dislike makes no sense. FaceTime lots! Don’t give up on writing! Discern, discern!
Hi, Debbie! You know, your comment “being tied down to a lifestyle you dislike makes no sense” really hit home for me. And thank you for the encouragement! It’s very nice to hear.
Georgia – Thank you! I taught college online in my pjs at night for years – when I was doing only that I was able to work for 3 colleges/universities as an adjunct and make 50K a year at one point … The key is to get your foot in some doors. Reading your story is helpful to me since I just retired at 62 and am tempted by a lot of interests – yet I KNOW I want a simple life and thus I need to say no to all those tempting possibilities! I get confused at times even at this point in life, and so discernment applies to me as well. Your story reinforces that!
The simple life is the best, and yet it is so complicated to make sure it remains as such! I feel like every day is a battle against accumulation and complication. Maybe I’m being a bit hyperbolic (battle is rather strong) but it all gets a tad overwhelming. But retirement seems like a good time to practice cultivating interests with…discernment….
Very impressed at 50K/year! Especially since it was in your pjs! It’s so difficult to stay motivated in the jammies.
Anyhow, thanks for the comments and wishing you a simply splendid retirement. (I just realized that is an awful awful pun but still true so I’m leaving it!).
I’m an American who has been living outside the US for 7 years now, and it was tough to find places to save locally. I was earning in Colombian pesos and wanted to find savings/investment vehicles here. However, that was a bust! So I ended up opening a Schwab brokerage account, which is one of the few you can open if you are an American living overseas (and not affiliated with an embassy, etc.). Betterment, Fidelity, and Vanguard all stopped allowing people in our situation to do this a few years ago. We now exchange our pesos for USD and either carry it over or wire it to our US account. Perhaps that could be a better option for you than saving in France? Good luck! (Sidenote: I love case studies from outside the US, for obviously selfish reasons!)
OH MY GREAT DAY that sounds complicated! Bravo for figuring it all out!! And I, too, love the case studies from outside the US. Living vicariously….!
Re saving for retirement…..as a US citizen living abroad you are up a creek unless you already had plans in place before you moved. Fidelity, Vanguard, etc., will NOT let you invest with them if you are not physically living in the US. And a regular bank will not let you even open a checking account if you don’t live there. The rules have been tightened up tremendously. As stated above, you have to file US taxes and FATCA rulings are making it extremely difficult. I live in the Netherlands and have dual citizenship. The Dutch banks won’t let me put my name on investments because the bureaucracy from the IRS is too much to deal with. We had to invest with an Australian firm as it was the only US compliant investment group willing to take us on. It is awful.
Having raised two children in Europe my advice is do not leave. Health insurance, schools, child care….you will need to win the lottery in FL to live the happy life you have now.
Hi Debbie! This is what I have heard, regarding investing. Your investment issues sound like a huge headache! And I’m all for dreaming big, but even I don’t plan to win the lottery. I think it’s definitely less stressful to raise kids in Europe. At least, as far as I can tell from over here! Thank you for the thoughtful comment.
Oh my goodness! This is so much fun!!
I want to start out by thanking Mrs. FW for her kind words and fabulous advice. WOW. Seb says he is most impressed by how accurate and precise she is, and that she has already clarified some longstanding issues for us. I second this!
I also want to thank everyone who has replied and to say that I am really looking forward to seeing the rest of the comments. Every one of them is giving us food for thought!
So my biggest question for the moment, if anyone would like to respond, is about remote jobs. Seb and I have often talked about remote work but it seems that the easily-ish obtainable contracts tend to be low pay for ginormous amounts of work. Is there anyone out there with any perspective on the job opportunities?
Again, thanks so much!! Having a real blast reading all of this over here, and very excited to see other expats and France residents.
I echo all the other comments to not leave France for the US. When our daughter was young we lived in a ski town in Colorado and only worked six months out of the year. We sacrificed earnings for time and community and I don’t regret any of it. We left ten years ago for the “real world” and I lucked into remote work which has meant lower childcare costs and I could follow my husband’s job. Even with only one child, if I had to work in an office, it would have made our lives much more difficult and expensive.
The PhD is a difficult one, I was accepted to a PhD program in the US over 25 years ago. I deferred for a year so I could earn a bit before I went back to school and am endlessly grateful to the very kind professor who sat me down and talked about the realities of finding a position after the estimated 8 years of schooling. If you truly enjoy the work and it is only $69 a month, then it is a tough call. But could you put the time to better use? I think the idea of experiences on Airbnb and doing tours, market tours with a cooking class after, etc is a great one.
Have you looked at teaching English online? Over at the MMM forums, there are several forum members that teach English through Chinese or Korean companies. My brief research is that it seems like companies are always looking for native English speakers and you might be in even more demand being bilingual. And I second the other ideas about continuing to apply for a UN role during the next three years of your current contract and Airbnb’ing your house while you are on vacation elsewhere.
The best of luck to you, your life is France is what many dream of here in the US, myself included.
The PhD is the real sticking point for me, because it does seem unreasonable to do it if the bottom has fallen out regarding job prospects, but then I think to myself, “hey, a PhD never hurt anybody,” and then my more reasonable side remembers that it is a pretty enormous investment of time and energy, and then I get to thinking that you’re probably right. I’m probably better off doing something more concrete and in line with my existing skill set.
Thank you for all the helpful ideas (going to go check out that MMM forum) and thank you for the well-wishes. Best of luck to you, too!
I saw you already did some work translating poetry in the past. Working as a freelance translator can be done from pretty much anywhere in the world with an internet connection and a broad range of interests is totally a plus there.
Hi Milena, thank you for the comment! Yes, I am going to look into all distance-job options. Translating would be fun, if it were literary-type projects…! Cheers!
your life sounds so beautiful, I loved reading your post!
I am FI AND a digital nomad (how the people who travel permanently and work permanently call themselves).
It is such a fun thing to do! We live in a travel trailer most of the year, we do have an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, but it sees us only about 3 months in a year. And should you ever be done with traveling, you can do the same from home.
Once you found what you want to do, you only need to find a decent Wifi solution for the country you’re traveling in.
My work is rather special, I work online as a Buddhist teacher and I love doing it. Learning English online is highly asked for, I know digital nomads who make their living teaching a language. Recently, somebody, I can’t remember also said that Japan is looking for online English teachers and they pay very well. Unfortunately, I don’t have a link.
I’d suggest to google “digital nomads” to find out more about this kind of lifestyle and how to make a living.
It sounds like you’ve got it all figured out! Bravo!
I will take this into account and check out ‘digital nomads’ for inspiration. Though Buddhist teacher sounds pretty amazing! Maybe in my next life, hah.
Thank you for your reply, it’s food for thought!
Not an academic, but as someone who is dating a PhD student at one of the big name universities — the job prospects for teaching are abysmal in the U.S. I recommend looking into European schools as a possibility.
Italy, perhaps? 🙂
As an Italian (not in academic but I know how it works here) I do not recommend it. In Italian universities, the professors with a contract and a good salary are few and mostly older (we have the oldest average age of professors in Europe I think). Adjuncts and researchers have very low pay and short contracts, always at risk of not being renewed. The funds for public jobs are blocked and we have high unemployment rates. My husband has been looking for a new job in IT (not in humanities!!) for the last year and he’s yet to find anything worth considering.
Also, to have a permanent job at any public university you must win a public “open competitive exam” (specific for each job position) where many times the winner is already decided, probably an adjunct that has worked in that place for many years as a temp. If only the system would allow it ,the universities would just hire him/her, but they cannot, so they have to go through the exam and try to make it seem like they gave a fair chance to all applicants. Very frustrating. Sorry but I think that academic work in Italy is not your best bet. Unless you want to apply to a private university, we have quite a few and some are quite famous (like Bocconi in Milano) but they are more science- or economy- related. Maybe there are some other places I don’t know, I have never done any research in this area.
I also would like to add that I loved so much your reader case, both because I am European and I can relate more, and because I feel attracted by the same type of interests (culture, travel, food) that you have. I am a 45 year-old full-time employee in a job I don’t care about at all, and I dream of doing something more related to my interests such as helping tourists enjoy all the great things my country / area (I live near Rome!) have to offer. Sometimes I think of sending my story and questions in for a reader case, too! Maybe I’ll do it, since it seems to be so beneficial!
Thank you so much, and if you ever come to my area (Rome) feel free to email me – you can ask Mrs. Frugalwoods for my email – and I will be glad to help or even meet! 🙂
AAAH I would love to meet up in Italy, I visited with my family one summer when I was about seven and have been head over heels in love with the whole country ever since. My dream is to write a book where I buy an Ape in Naples and slowly make my way up to Milan, stopping along the way to learn how to bake bread, harvest honey, and speak Italian without sounding like I’m completely insane. I am convinced that I can find someone out there who wants to pay me to do this. WHERE ARE YOU, PERSON??
I will most definitely be contacting you if we ever head that way again—mostly we go to Naples because we have friends there and I love that crazy city, but I am always looking to meet new people who love food and all the rest like I do.
Best of luck aligning your interests and your job—and YES definitely do a Reader Case Study-type thing, even if it’s just on your own! I found it so rewarding. I had the whole thing pretty much written up and ready to go before I’d contacted Mrs FW, and even though her advice has been invaluable, going through the motions was a fantastic first step.
Take care and please go dive headfirst into something delicious for me!!
But what Sabrina leaves out is the number of professor positions for native English speakers either at swanky private boarding schools, private universities, Italian branches of US universities or the English language graduate programs (this one actually applies more to your husband’s PhD than yours). The pay isn’t great by US standards, 18k euro range, but certainly very livable in Italy.
Very interesting to note, Leigha. 18K is doable in Italy, particularly down south I think? Getting more expensive from what I hear (particularly housing) but everything else is so cheap!
1. Travel: Could you switch off with your family every other year and have them visit you? You have three bedrooms. I’d be amazed if there weren’t friends who would take a free bedroom/home base offer to fly over (Icelandair offers $350-$400 fare to Paris multiple times a year).
2. Work: Do you have enough time outside pursuing your PhD and PT job to work online? You can teach French, English, or even cooking online – there are programs that pay well per hour (although, it’s intermittent). You could also create your own website, offering these services (this would take a long-time to build up clientele, but would also allow you to create content at your own pace). There are also lots of work from home jobs that are a bit menial, but allow you the freedom you currently have.
1. They visit often, and so do we, but it never feels like enough, honestly. It’s especially hard when the baby’s starting to crawl and have giggling fits and my mom isn’t here to see it. But nothing’s perfect, I guess!
2. I would be interested in learning more about those companies. The one thing I’m worried about as far as working online is super irregular and low pay, but again, nothing’s perfect.
Thank you for the thoughtful comments!
Yeah, I have to agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods. Life sounds pretty sweet in France right now. And I agree, I think they are severely overestimating how much university jobs pay in the US, and severely underestimating how much in additional expenses they’d incur. Just imagining the transportation, healthcare, and day care expenses… those can all be massive. The breathing room for early retirement will be difficult to find.
As a credit card churner, I can tell you that many US credit cards now have the chip which usually means you can use them overseas without a foreign transaction fee. At any rate, it shouldn’t be hard to find one that doesn’t have the fee.
Too true, Norm. Life is pretty sweet. And thank you for the tip about credit cards—I’ll be looking into that for sure.
I’m a tenure-track professor. Others have spoken to the difficulty of getting a tenure-track job and the wages associated with not getting one while staying in academia. I love each individual part of my job (teaching, research, service), but as a whole I’m deeply unhappy with it as a job. It’s stressful (a lot of pressure, many students), demanding (long hours), rarely rewarding (so much rejection even when you are successful), and competitive.
Amen and solidarity
Thanks for the input, Rebecca. That’s really a shame!
I teach online classes at the university level for secondary income, and that has helped my financial situation immensely. I have never included that income in the basis for my budget so it is used for savings, unexpected expenses, etc. That income was beneficial when confronted with a serious illness and the accompanying co-pays for medical care as I was able to keep up with those additional expenses without dipping into savings. And I agree with those who would love to follow Georgia via a blog; If you ever start one, Georgia, please let us know.
Agreed- I would love to read a blog written by Georgia!
Hi Donna! Did you get hired by a university to teach online? That sounds interesting.
I am working on a memoir about living and cooking in France, actually! This is why I don’t have a blog, hah! Just finished the first round of edits, and will be sending it to an agent I’m in contact with. I’ll cross my fingers and let you know!
Please do! Would love to read it. I am in my 12th year of teaching online, two classes per term, year round, as an adjunct. I may go to full time teaching someday but would miss my “day job” if I did that.
Donna, what is your field? My sense is that opportunities vary widely by discipline.
Very interested to know more about this. How did you get hired? How do you find jobs like this?
This sounds pretty great! I second Ellie and Anne—would love further details if you wouldn’t mind elaborating.
And thank you for the kind words! We’ll see…
You could get a blog and post twice a month to promote your book.
You don’t have to totally loose the pastries you could buy them every other week and go on a picnic the other Saturdays and try just once a month to make pastries. This is only temporary since getting croissants from real artists is pastries important to you. This will also make the croissants and little cakes more special. As my husband and I reach our goals we can now loosen the rules for the most meaningful things. Right now we are keeping the hair cutting ourselves. We can go out a little more now as well.
You need to go through all things that you buy and do and figure out what things can be swapped. Don’t think of these as cutting things out but as upgrades. For me going for cloth napkins, cloth sanitary napkins, not only saved money but they were more elegant and earth friendly. If you put freebooksy in a search it brings you to a free ebook site that tells you when ebooks go on sale for free or 99 cents on Amazon. I plan eventually to get Amazon maybe next year or the year after that.
Making your own work lunches will have a bigger impact since the food doesn’t seem as magical. My husband makes his work lunches and makes mason jar salads.
We don’t do organic unless its cheaper than non organic. We have been eating more organic by volunteering at a local garden and I am trying to grow a small organic garden. We did find that reducing the meat we eat each week and making a lot of foods like homemade pizza and soups are cheaper and better than packaged. We used to shop at Aldi and they do have some organic foods. I know they have them in France but don’t know if there is one close to you.
Tell us if an online Job and or some private cooking lessons works for you? I hope to here your successes.
It might be cheaper to send a plane ticket for your mom instead of visiting her unless you have a huge family who wants to visit.
PS good Luck Sorry if my English isn’t the best. I am a native speaker but I have a slight disability which makes editing take longer for me. It is funny since I am a published writer.
Hi Valerie! Your English is very precise! Yes, to pretty much everything you said. It has felt like an upgrade, most of the frugal-izing! I have cloth napkins and they really are classy as all-get-out. And the cloth pads. Which are a bit of a pain, but so much better for our poor planet! Anyhow, I wish you all the best with your goals and what have you published? Fiction? Non? Take care!
As someone who has spent years saving money with the ultimate goal of one day realizing for myself and my family the ex-pat life that you currently live, I suggest that you do not move back to Florida unless you have thought long and hard on whether it is a lifestyle you can truly envision. I am similarly inclined: I am always thinking of what’s NEXT, how to reach my next goal, when to move to the next home, etc. But you are in such a sweet place in your life, and in such a sweet time of your child’s youth. I hope you will shift your focus to maximizing your income within your current life (such as through remote work or the UN job) because you have already crafted a lovely life for your family that encompasses your interests and values so well.
Hi, Asher. Thank you for the comment. Isn’t it always the case, that we need to appreciate what we have? I am so bad at always looking towards the next thing, I think the only time when I don’t constantly turn the next step over in my mind is when I’m gardening. Thank you for the kind words!
I think it sounds like you have a great lifestyle already. Working part-time with a lot of paid vacation sounds exactly like what I’d like to do after I achieve some measure of financial independence (as in, I won’t quit working if/when I retire early, but merely scale back). I think that in your shoes, I’d kind of just keep on keeping on and not make any big changes. Give some thought to prioritizing your budget – you got some good advice on things you can cut, pick like half of them to keep and cut the rest.
As far as early retirement, I’m sorry to say I think you’re unlikely to be able to get there any time soon. Mr Money Mustache has some great math here: https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/01/13/the-shockingly-simple-math-behind-early-retirement/ Starting from scratch, which you pretty much are, you need a savings rate of 65% in order to retire in 10 years. That’s just not going to happen. But I’m not sure that you really need to retire early when you already have such a good life and jobs that you enjoy. You just want a bit more breathing room, and I think that that’s definitely something you’ll be able to accomplish in the next 10 years. Prioritizing fun spending and travel, and possibly adding a side hustle to bring in a little extra income.
As a side note, I did think that it was a little funny that Georgia is a trained pastry chef and they spend money on pastries 🙂
Hi Jane! Yes, absolutely, we would be unlikely to get to FI anytime soon with our current salaries! Such is why we wanted to think all this over. Because if we increased our income to two ‘normal’ US salaries (say for high school teachers, let’s say 40,000 USD/year each, one of which is about equal to our current combined income), or even higher-pay French salaries, and kept our expenses more or less the same or a little less, we would be very much within reach of a 65% savings rate. But we would give up a lot of quality of life in order to do so, I think.
And YES it is funny, my pastry addiction! And yes, I could make croissants from scratch…but have you ever made croissants? That is one INVOLVED process, particularly without a laminating machine and dry butter. And plus, why would I make them when I can get the best croissants on earth just down the street?? Instant gratification! 🙂
On the other hand, I make all kinds of US-style pastries that you don’t find here. Not as much as I’d like, but pretty often. I don’t know if you know many professional cooks, but they rarely ever cook at the house! It’s a strange oxymoron of activity!
Thanks for the comment!
As many other posters have noted, I think your numbers for the US are overly optimistic, specifically on the spending side. I’m not really familiar with Florida, but there are very few places in the US where you can enjoyably not own a car. Cars are always expensive. Add in childcare and any hope of saving 50% or more can become a distant dream. Basically, you should probably stick with France for now, it seems like you’ve got a lot of good stuff going for you there despite the income problem.
I have not made croissants. But I’ve been itching to make some more palmiers – they’re cheap to buy but homemade fresh taste better. Anyway, I totally get the whole not bringing your work home thing. Enjoy your pastries that you didn’t have to make yourself 🙂
You’re right! My numbers are undoubtedly overly optimistic (this is a recurring issue in my life, hah) and YES, not owning a car anywhere in the US is pretty unenjoyable, unless you live someplace like Key West? Maybe? Bicycling in 100-degree heat would be neither easy nor fun, but I’d be willing to do it if it meant not getting a car!! I drove in Florida for what feels like half of my life. With no AC. NEVER AGAIN! 🙂
People here also think we’re insane / rather sad for not having a car (there’s that little matter of freezing rain 150 days a year), so this is at least somewhat universal…
Palmiers .. such a good excuse to eat pure butter and sugar. YUM
We live on a barrier island on the space coast. Everything you need is walking or biking distance here. There are definitely people here who don’t own cars. As long as you also work locally you can live in certain areas of FL with no car.
That said, I’d still stay in France. 40k would not buy your way into the same lifestyle here as in France. Add in healthcare costs and there is just no way to equate the 2 even if you live car free here.
(And I hope I didn’t sound like a jerk about the croissants. I re-read it and realized that it came off all wrong and not at all “have you ever made those crazy things???” like I meant it to. I hope you enjoy your palmiers 🙂 )
Nah, you didn’t sound like a jerk.
My view (from the UK) is that you already seem to be living the life that most people dream of achieving after FI. Sure, it isn’t perfect, as you aren’t near your own family, but you sound so happy and being happy now is so important. My husband was struck down with a horrible disabling illness at 52 – no one should sacrifice present happiness for a future which may never come.
Hi Julia, I am so sorry to hear about your husband. Thank you very much for the reminder to appreciate what you have when you have it. It is true, happiness in the present is not a sacrifice that should be made if it can be avoided. Food for thought, for sure. Take care!!
Georgia, Julia brings up a very good point. I also became chronically ill *much* younger than I would have anticipated (if I had ever anticipated such a thing to begin with), and it irrevocably altered my plans and dreams. Now I find that I wish I had enjoyed what I had at each stage and place to a greater extent than I did.
As someone who also spent a great deal of time thinking “This is nice, but what if…,” I would suggest that something which has helped me be more content with my current situation has been reading Toni Bernhard’s books. They were written to help chronically ill people come to terms with their “new normals,” but I would argue that her approach could be helpful for those who are not ill as well: to wit, cultivating mindfulness and acceptance. Ms. Bernhard draws upon her Buddhist philosophy in her approach, but I am not Buddhist and I find her perspective still works for me. Alternatively, I think you could learn the same lessons through Stoicism.
Here is one of Bernhard’s books, if you want to check them out: https://smile.amazon.com/Live-Well-Chronic-Pain-Illness-ebook/dp/B0112OOP0S/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?crid=R8UPJ995OK19&keywords=toni+bernhard+how+to+live+well&qid=1554163624&s=gateway&sprefix=toni+bern%2Caps%2C149&sr=8-1-fkmrnull
I think you’re absolutely right. I’m checking out Bernhard right now. I love Stocism—I have Epictetus’ handbook as a permanent fixture on my nightstand, right next to Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. Both are great (fabulous, life-changing) reads. I’m sure you’ve already come across both, but they’re both wonderful. And I used to be quite ill quite a lot of the time, which is one reason I picked up Brach’s book in the first place! She talks a lot about unhealed trauma and how it is stored in the body, etc. I found that once I’d addressed some of my lingering emotional issues, I fell ill less often. I also stopped smoking and started eating organic (heh) which might have helped…!
Acceptance is … possibly the best habit anyone could cultivate in this world of more-more-more-what-if. Every time I spend more of my day focusing on that lovely Stoic-Buddhist blend, everything is so much sweeter.
I wish you all the best with your illness and the difficulties that engenders. I know how demoralising it can be to no longer have faith in your body or in your ability to make plans. Really, my thoughts are with you!
Oh and have you ever read The Body Keeps The Score? I haven’t, but I’ve wondered if it’s any good…
Take care! (I’m going to go get out my Epictetus and have a little perusal, thanks for the inspiration!)
Ah, books! Thanks for the recommendations! As you are the second person to recommend The Body Keeps Score to me recently, I shall have to read it.
I am only beginning to explore Stoicism, so I have not yet read the other books you recommend, but I shall add them to my list too. [Happily pictures teetering pile of books-to-be-read]
Happy to hear your health has improved!
And thanks for your empathy regarding my health. It really is difficult to accept life-altering change, particularly when it affects one’s identity (as you can imagine, health and fitness is an important component of identity for most military folks). And, as you allude, surrendering the illusion of control…
This identity crisis has been acutely challenging for me. Fortunately, though, being fiscally fit has meant that the unexpected acceleration from preparing for my next career to being retired and possibly unable to work again has not been financially catastrophic, for which I am continually grateful.
So now I am practicing acceptance, mindfulness, and surrendering the illusion of control, while trying to maintain gratitude for what I have – not an easy feat. But, in the end, sometimes the only thing one can control is one’s attitude.
Nice post–fellow American expat living in the Charente for about a year now. A few comments/427511
observations: definitely use your citizenship status as an American to create your investment portfolio with Vanguard/Fidelity or whatever service you prefer. I think the job market in the US is better overall and the income taxes are going to be way lower. I like to look at this from a geoarbitrage lens. For example, I live very well in France because I’m paid in US dollars, don’t pay taxes to the French government, but am able to take advantage of many of benefits of French society and life while I live an work here. On the other hand, you as an American married to a French man can own a house in a beautiful region where the cost of living seems ok and have a mortgage for 1.6% which would be unheard of in the US. Maybe it makes sense to keep this house, rent it out (your profit margins should be better) and work in the US for a few years where you could earn more, not pay state income tax in FL, and the overall job market is better. Perhaps you parlay full time employment gained in the US to telework/remote work that you can take back to France with you while still enjoying tax status of the US for W2 income only reported in the US.. I like the idea of living in both countries at different times when they are most beneficial for your child educationally and for you and your husband professionally/personally. We are definitely considering returning for at least 4 months out of the year once our children are grown.
Hi Jim! Yes, finding a job paid in USD without being taxed by the French government sounds pretty peachy…however did you score such an arrangement? And you pretty much summed up what we were thinking of regarding going back to the States to work. We really are lucky to have the option, and it’s always tempting to shake things up no matter where you are in life!
Charente sounds lovely, and that area is gorgeous! Plus the food. Obviously. Thank you for the comment!
Thank you for sharing your story! What a magical place you live in! As a mother of a ten-year-old and someone who works at a Big 10 university, I would say to stay where you are 🙂 Sixteen weeks of vacation and your low cost of living for an incredible lifestyle cannot be replicated here at all. I’ve met many people from the EU who come to study or live here for a while and while they appreciate higher salaries, they are flummoxed by the expense of cars, insurance, health insurance, transportation (often lack of), quality food, and more. Your quality of life is perfect and ripe and in the meantime, you can use whatever spare time you have to increase your revenue streams by working/tutoring for English or working for an online education company like VIP Kids.
In America, you would start with two weeks of vacation, four if you’re lucky, and with work and commuting, be away from home 40-50 hours/week. From this perspective it just seems like what you have is amazing. Thanks again!
Hi Marlena! Thank you for the super-nice comment! I’m happy to share our story, I remember reading obsessively about expats living in France before I made it over here and dreaming away…
You’re absolutely right about the crazy high costs in the US. We would, if we ever moved back, try to be as savvy about those costs as possible. Bicycles, jobs downtown, veggie garden, etc. Florida has three (THREE) growing seasons and where we live in France, there is a scanty single growing season.
Anyhow, you are so very welcome and thank you again for the comment! Take care!
GIRL. From a 10+ year immigrant from the US to France, you are killing it with the degrees! Well done! That said, you need to make an appointment at your bank, stat! Get your banker on the phone–that’s why you have one assigned to you! 🙂
My husband and I just did this recently, and we found out a lot of interesting info about investing in France.
First, since you didn’t specify which savings acct you have, I hope it’s not a Livret A? If you haven’t already, you need to get most of that money out of the Livret A into a higher-interest savings acct offered by your bank. Our Livret A interest rate barely keeps up with inflation, so we only keep a couple thousand in there for emergency expenses. Our bank has an account where it would take about a month to get the money out if we needed it BUT we can each put in 10k each into an account with a higher rate which is then invested in the credit union’s projects in our region. (which might also be what you have. If so, well done you!) If we ever needed a truly large sum, we know that it would only cost us a few euros in “decouverte” (overdraft) fees if it went past the end of the month.
Also, you should look into the “assurance vie” investing accts–our credit union has several tiers and ways of investing the money. They are much higher yield and you can get several percentage points. The money is invested for a certain term in a portfolio, something like a mutual fund, which you can then renew. You can either manage it yourself, do a portfolio, or a mix. The best thing about it is, if one of you dies (morbid) the partner or beneficiary of the acct immediately gets the money. The state doesn’t/cannot freeze it, and I don’t think it’s taxable upon death (very important, as death taxes can be up to 50 percent).
Speaking of death and taxes: Do you have a “contrat de marriage”? (I assume not–when we got married, the notaire wanted to totally rip us off and charge nearly 3k for one, when they shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred for a young couple with no property or assets besides savings and checking accts, so we don’t have one either). Did you know that if either of you passes, your assets immediately transfer to your child(ren)? With only one child, the kid only gets half of the property (though you have the right to live there if you don’t sell), half of the joint bank accounts, but all of any livret or investment that’s held solely in your name/husband’s name and doesn’t have you as a designated beneficiary. This can make it very difficult to sell the property if you need to in the wake of a tragic situation and can also mean that your five year old is suddenly very rich while you have barely enough money to scrape by… (We are in the process of getting a better contrat for our situation, plus a proper will made as, even though most inheritance rights are set in stone in France, we want to make sure that our children’s custody is not an international battle between our families… I get really morbid while I’m pregnant and start to research what would happen if I passed away, just to make myself feel better with information?)
You need to seriously evaluate your retirement situation. My husband’s parents paid into two countries–basically half in one and half in France. Now, they’re basically entitled to…nothing. The bare minimum, though neither has ever been unemployed. I know how difficult it is to be only on CDD, which is why I became an antoentrepreneur libérale (self-employed) while I was still working my regular job, then fully transitioned when my contract was up.
Being an autoentrepreneur is a great step for any small hobby-job that you’re hoping to transform into full-time work. Make sure that, if you create one, you put every related “job” into your declaration (so: writer, editor, translator, English private course teacher/tutor, etc.). You will likely have to go into an URSSAF office (ugh) to do this, but it is well worth it. Just declare “writer” as your primary activity, and if that fluctuates, you can change the “primary” activity online. This way, you could do small jobs while starting up that aren’t “writing”–otherwise, you have to close your current status and open a new one. You do not want to do that! With the new reforms, it’s actually even easier to be an autoentrepreneur, thank the Lord, because now you’ll be in the same health system (CPAM) and retirement schemes as salaried employees, yay! I’m still waiting for my status to switch to the main ones, as I’ve been doing this for years now, so my status switches over next year. This way, any money you earn is contributing to retirement, disability, health, etc., as well as lining your pockets. You do have to pass a certain threshold of euros earned per trimester to be investing in retirement, but since you’re currently employed, you don’t need to worry about that, and you will likely get enough work to hit that threshold more often than not (and, if you have an excess during one trimester, it can count towards future trimesters).
For living part-time in the US: Be aware that if you live/stay in the US for more than 35 days in a one year period (not necessarily a calendar year, check with a tax attorney!), you are likely to be taxable for any earned income–EVEN IF YOU NEVER WORKED A DAY IN THE US. So, be careful, and make sure to keep filing your US taxes every year, Georgia, claiming the proper earned-income abroad exemptions, to ensure you don’t have a problem moving to/getting work in the US! (The current threshold for not paying US income tax if you live abroad is around 98k dollars, not euros. Anything earned past that could be taxable, even if you never worked a day in the US or for a US company that year! It really, really stinks!) France, on the other hand, only taxes you if you earn income in France and/or if you live in France as your primary residence, which is very sensible.
Health insurance: If you’re referring to the Mutuelle, remember that those are now obligatory (since 2015?) not optional, even if you are self-employed or a contract worker, so that’s not a discretionary expense. That said, you can shop around and switch every year. We got ours to give us a slightly lower rate this year when we told them that we were going to switch to a competitor, 🙂
Same for Gas/Electric: With the new laws, you have the right to price-compare better than ever before, so make sure you take advantage of that to ensure you’re getting the best rates! (Though I hope you’re not getting as many marketing calls as me from the gas and electric companies!)
Investing abroad: Check with an international tax attorney. We are in the process of doing this, and it’s very complex. So far, we’ve found that investing in different ways in European stocks will likely bring us out ahead instead of investing in property–you have to pay a high taxe fonciere and other charges for rental properties, and if you sell, they are taxed very heavily, whereas stocks are taxed progressively (like income), so for us, we’d probably come out ahead with stocks in the long run. Plus, we really don’t want to deal with bad renters (my in-laws own a rental property in France, and it can go either very well, or very badly, but you seem to be aware of that because of your mom’s experience with it. Though, what can be a real kicker is that, in case of non-payment, it can take up to a year to evict a bad tenant and you have no guarantee of pay for that rent…)
Sorry, I really hope that this isn’t too much of a downer! But, before you make any major decisions, get that citizenship (good on you for having yours in process, I’m still doing my paperwork!), and consult a variety of tax attorneys and bankers to get a broad view of your situation. We’ve thought of moving to the US for work for a few years, as my husband could make tons of money there compared to here, but we don’t know if we could ever really take the plunge! Though we’ll have to work a fair bit longer here, the conditions are such that it’s more than a fair trade for the benefits (great vacation benefits, health care, disability and retirement benefits, nearly-free tuition for our kids…not to mention the food and scenery!)
Be sure that, if you move, you’re doing it for you. I have friends who have moved back to “be near family”, only to be miserable because it just wasn’t the same–parents wanted to be more independent, they couldn’t stand the working environment, etc etc. Others have moved back and loved it because it really aligned with their goals, with family as a great side-benefit.
Ok, enough for now! Bon courage!
PS: You’ve made me want to move back to Normandie–I loved living there!
Ooh, almost forgot! I assume you’ve already researched this, but: If you both want to get teaching positions, you get the highest amount of “points” in the open job lottery system to stay where you’re at if you’re married (some if you’re just pacsed, but it’s the highest amount if you’re married, plus more if your spouse also works in the system and already has a position nearby), making it unlikely that you would be moved out of your area if, for example, Seb applied while you are still in your teaching position. Though it might be riskier since you have a CDD instead of a CDI!
YES. We are married, and we hopefully will have some seniority if this ever becomes our big plan A, especially since we’ve both worked in education for about three years now. Though I’m not sure if my job as an Assistante Pedagogique accumulates seniority when it comes to the concours for becoming a professor…hmm. Need to ask about this at work. They’re cutting teaching posts left and right at the moment, but I think both of us would be in a good position to pass the concours for our respective areas of specialty.
Elisa again from a few comment up, still in Paris 😉
Frenchmama, yes yes and yes again for the will part and any notaire related things especially as I work in this field.
Some notaire, although maybe note in Normandy, are more specialized into expat and dual citizenship family. Maybe some thing to check on a week-end in Paris.
Mutuelle is mandatory but you could get the absolute minimum if you wish, just covering any hospital stay and expenses. My other half decided to only sign for that part which cost him only 100 € a year.
I am still looking into retirement and trying to understand better how it works but if you have any questions or want to know how many trimester you already have you can check https://www.lassuranceretraite.fr
With you social security number you can see all you’ve paid and how many trimester you have. Sometimes just working a month and a half will get you a full trimester, it’s what happened with some of my summer job, yeah! Depressing thing is the website telling me I can go on retirement in 2050 and will only have a full pension if I work until 2055 :/
Hi again Elisa, thank you for the link! I’m going to check and see what depressing number they come up with for me…though I think I might actually have two SSN because I moved here once earlier and they kind of lost track of me, and then I moved back and got married and I have no idea, anyhow, I will check it out. Thanks, too, for the information about the mutuelles. That 100 / year deal sounds like something I might be interested in.
And that was a real wake-up call about the will.
OH MY GOODNESS there are so many things I want to reply to here! You made me laugh out loud with “I hope it’s not a Livret A” becuase doncha know, that’s exactly what our $$ is in. Livret A feels like the financial outlet of the lazy and/or clueless, but when we opened our joint account I admit that I was kind of overwhelmed by the Frenchness of the other options. And the assurance vie program didn’t seem quite interesting enough to be viable? But maybe I’m remembering wrong. In any case, totally right that we should take advantage of our banker. She’s actually really nice, I mean like suspiciously. She just seems a terrible fit for any kind of cutthroat activity…
You definitely gave me a lot of food for thought as far as autoentrepreneur goes. I’ve considered it in the past, and will put it back on the books. Same with gas and mutuelle—I will definitely be price comparing those.
And great day is the taxation situation of an expat ever complicated?? I swear. Thank you for laying it out, I need to re-read all of this about five times and hope it all sinks in.
Regarding investing abroad, I think my husband is going to have a pretty hard time being OK with investing in stocks on a moral level. Unless they’re stocks for unicorns and renewable-energy rainbows, he probably won’t want to do so. We just talked about it and I think unless we get much more savvy about designing our own globe-friendly portfolio, we’ll probably stick to the (probably much less financially interesting) world of rental properties.
On that note, I have a question for you, since you seem to be a positive font of knowledge! Have you looked into renting a property / properties in the US while living abroad? Is this interesting? I mean, if France is less likely to tax for US income rather than the opposite, and housing taxes are higher in France than they are in the US, wouldn’t this be kind of the best of both worlds if you could hire someone to manage the properties for you?
Anyhow, thank you so much for all the info and the enthusiasm. And yes, la belle Normandie! I felt such a soul connection when I first moved here. Love those rolling green hills and … all that incessant rain.
Bon courage a toi and thanks again!
I’m glad that my long, rambling notes were helpful to you! Ha, regarding the Livret A, we’ve only switched over our funds recently when our banker gave us the percentages at our meeting with her–we were horrified that we had basically just left money on the table by only having our cash in a Livret A! In our defense, when we set up our accounts, we were crazy enough to have one of us switching jobs, buying a home/getting a loan, and moving banks and house all while I was pregnant! I feel like we’re only just getting our French financial feet now!
For investing, definitely check with your bank–especially if you are with a credit union. Ours (Crédit Agricole) has a couple of portfolios that fit more of a “unicorns and rainbows” profile than you might expect. One is all about renewable energies in Europe, for example, so you’re investing in the growing sector of eco-responsible power, not too shabby re: unicorns and rainbows investments! Our conseillère actually asked us if we were “more concerned about making as much money as possible or if it was more important to invest in a way that aligns with our values.” Something to think about, in any case! And you made me laugh with the comment about your banker–ours are so kind, too! They have been very, very helpful with tracking down answers for us about some international questions, and they just seem so…grounded. Not at all the loan sharks one might expect!
Oh, for renting out properties in the US, you still need to pay French taxes on the gains if you are a French resident, I’m sorry to say! (Unless there’s a clever tax attorney who can figure it out differently for you). If you live and work in the US, then Seb doesn’t have to pay French taxes, but since the US has citizenship-based taxation, you are potentially liable for paying taxes no matter where you live. It is SO complicated!
If you live (and rent) in the US and rent out your French residence, I think you still have to pay taxe foncière, but you get a tax break as well for not just letting the property sit empty while you’re not in residence. If you’re gone for less than two years, though, I think you can declare one year as “non-resident” for your French property (if not rented out) and not have to pay much taxe foncière…
Best of luck with everything–it is a Gordian financial knot when you’re an international couple, that’s for sure! But then, if it ever gets too overwhelming, you can always pop to the boulangerie for a torsade au chocolat and remind yourself of all the reasons to love living here. Well, except for today because it’s Monday, but you know what I mean, 😉
HAHAHA Monday. MONDAY. The number of years it took me to unlearn the “I’ll just pop out for some bread now” reflex on Mondays…too funny!
Your long rambling comment is super helpful! I’m going back over all of this with Seb, taking notes. We’ve got a bank appointment next week and I plan to put a razor to that nice gazelle-banker-lady’s throat. Kind of. By this I mean that I won’t apologize for myself or speak in my five-octaves-higher “French” voice. I sound like I’m three, I swear.
Anyhow. Thank you again. The Gordian knot is tangled but very interesting, no? All the best to you!
Wow! Georgia and her husband have such a fun backstory! I also had been thinking about the possibilities of them working remotely. An easy thing they could look into to start generating more income through freelancing would be to work as a translator for a site like Rev, or they could look into teaching online. Both would allow flexible hours when it comes to working it around childcare and family time, and you could just plan on putting all that money into investments. Best of luck!
Hi, Torrie! Thank you! I am going to check out Rev. Yes, I think remote working might be a solution for at least one of us. I’m always a little leery of translation because it can sometimes pay very poorly and companies expect to receive your work yesterday, but you never know! Best of luck to you, too!
Since you already have experience with rentals/Airbnb I would offer the suggestion of putting your home on Airbnb every time you vacation longer than a week (definitely for your US trips but even for your presumably shorter trips to Paris, Italy, etc). We started renting out our home a couple of years ago during our vacations and last summer we basically funded our an entire summer vacation with our Airbnb rental income. I would think you could at least fund your airfare which is your primary US travel expense?! There was some upfront work but now we have it down to a science of leaving the house (and we do it with two kids). We purged a lot of unnecessary personal items when we first started and we now have a locked storage area where we store our personal items during rentals.
We have a credit card that has no international transaction fees (I’m American and my husband has dual Irish-Canadian citizenship and we have family spread out over the globe so the no-fee was big for us too). We put everything on our card (and pay it off every month, which I know not everyone is a fan of) but we are then able to buy at least 4 international tickets a year on the points we earn.
You love the life you are living and that is worth more than anything else. Time with your baby (priceless), a job you love (priceless), healthcare (can be expensive in the US even with insurance if you or your family have an issue at some point). I would try hard to increase your earning where you are! You are definitely a great writer, you could also start a blog about your life in France and offering experiences on Airbnb too (cooking classes that include visiting the market with a Cordon Bleu trained chef.. I would pay for that!)
Renting out our house when we’re on vacation is one of those fabulous ideas that seems so very obvious in retrospect! Thank you for the hint! And I will be checking out no-fee credit cards. I’m not sure I’ll qualify for one since I have no credit, really, in the US, but you never know. Those points do seem attractive…
Thank you so much, too, for the kind words about my writing. It’s always nice to hear. I’m working on a memoir about cooking and living in France, and hopefully something will turn up! And yes, market visits / cooking classes would be super fun. We’ll see…so many options!!
This is my favorite Case Study post so far! I really related to it, not so much the French village part :), but having a lot of interests and possibilities but not sure what to do next. I thought your advice was really helpful.
Georgia, I noticed that Tallahassee came up a couple of times– my husband and I live in Tallahassee! If this is where your family is, we would be really interested in a house-swap on one of your trips to visit them!
Hey, Gabriela! Oh, the good old 850. Please go eat donuts from that place by FSU for me. I really like the caramel ones…
If you like, we can exchange emails and I’ll let you know if we ever decide to house-swap! Though honestly most of the time we stay with my mom, who has a studio apartment attached to her house, and it’s nice because then we really get to take advantage of visiting allll dayyy lonnnng with everyone.
Hope you made it through the recent storms OK. It really is kind of scary, all those tornadoes. Take care!
You life and lifestyle in France sounds wonderful…. and refreshing!! Sounds like you live in a place that is a good fit for your family.
Could your parents travel to France, and could you help with those expenses if needed?
I think that would be ideal…. get them out of Florida for a bit and into your unique life in France.
Your French life sounds like a wonderful one in which to grow up, an ideal childhood for your daughter.
If I were you I would not give that up.
Hi, Connie! Yes, my mom and stepdad love visiting, but my mom takes care of her mother, who can’t travel, and so leaving for longer periods of time is complicated for them. Otherwise, they’d be over here for several months out of the year! They used to live in France and love it, and have lots of friends in England. My dad pretty much hates traveling anywhere other than Hawaii (he’s from there) but he comes for a visit every couple of years and enjoys himself immensely!
You get 16 weeks vacation. Would spending a month in FL each year with your child help you feel better about the distance between you and your parents?
A month together is more quality time then most kids get with their grandparents!
Would it be hard for your husband to find a permanent employment contract in France? Moving to the U.S. will not help him with contract anxiety, as you know, U.S. employment is almost all at will unless you are a tenured academic. Which is VERY hard to do these days … as supported by Mrs. FW’s article.
Undoubtedly. A month would be great, and is what we plan to do this summer. And that is a very good point—I hardly ever saw my grandmother, who would occasionally swoop down and take us someplace for a month or two. A month is a very decent length of time for a visit…
And your second point is equally astute. US employment is the reason I find the whole French permanent-contract-anxiety thing really adorable. I ain’t never had one of those!
Here’s an idea for a credit card: I love my (American) Capital One credit card for international spending. The rewards are 1.5% cash back on all purchases, no account maintenance fees, and no fees for international spending! We use it when traveling abroad and when purchasing something in a foreign currency, there is no fee, just paying whatever the daily exchange rate is. I find the rates are reasonable and not gouging. We also have a money market account with Capital One that earns 2% interest, no fees, and a minimum balance of $10,000. Best of luck to you!
Wow, that sounds amazing! Writing it down to check it out. Thank you!
Your Case Study was so much fun to read- so joyful, optimistic, and full of promise and adventure! A few people touched on this, but you didn’t really talk much about it- has your family (namely your parents) ever considered moving to be where you are? Especially after they retire? My husband and I seriously considered moving to Aix-en-Provence last year due to a job change (so much so that we looked at houses, banks, etc.). His family is from Spain, and mine is from the US. We currently live in the US. One thing that we discussed with my family is what would happen when we had children, which we want in the very near future. My parents said, with zero reservation, that they would buy a vacation home (or time share or the equivalent) to live with us for half the year when they retired in a few years. Of course, they are in the fortunate financial position that they could do this, but maybe that isn’t too crazy for your parents to consider? Or for them to plan on living with you for several months out of a year, in one of the extra bedrooms? Also, don’t underestimate the value of going for a month long trip to visit your relatives. And when you child is old enough, you can always send just her to visit her grandparents for a summer, or even for a school year, to expose her to the US and the culture here. There are many more possibilities than just living in one place or the other, and forsaking the one left behind.
Good luck with everything, and I have to say- I’m just so excited for you!
Hi Rachel! Yes, my parents (my mom and stepdad, so only half, but still!) have very much considered moving (back) to France. The only issue is that my mom takes care of her mother, who can’t travel, and as such leaving for extended periods is complicated for them. Otherwise I think we would have them over here all the time! I absolutely plan on sending our girl to stay with her extended family in the US when she gets older—it’s one of the best ways to valorise the English language for her and make sure she understands the use of being bilingual. And for her to learn all kinds of other odd things, like shooting beer cans with grandpa and, you know, the idea of a ‘world series’ for a sport that is played in approximately four countries…
Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment and well-wishes! I’m excited for us, too. Honestly, we’re so lucky, no matter what happens. Take care!!
Floridian here. You worked in Tallahassee? That’s where I work right now; my kids and I all graduated from FSU.
I vote stay where you are, try to increase your income, and travel to see your family a little more, or help them come see you. You and Seb seem so happy there! And if you moved to the US, what about his dad missing his favorite girl?
A lot of good reasons have been put forth NOT to move to Florida. I’m giving another one. The weather sucks. You surely know this, but the painful memory might have faded. Yeah, we’ve had a warm winter this year — and a hurricane that, months out, people are still digging out from and some are still living in tents. Really. My nephew was lucky — he’s back in his house after only five months, and lucky that his workplace didn’t shut up shop and leave town. The warm weather has brought out the mosquitoes already (killed two in the house last night) and encephalitis was confirmed here last fall when a woman in my town died from it, and Zika has reached the state. My vote is clearly, don’t move here.
I enjoyed reading this story very much, and the pictures had me hungering for a chance to travel. I have to agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods on everything, and please, update us when you’ve made some decisions!
Absolutely graduated from FSU. Miss that library all the time! But obviously not as much as Papi would miss his grand baby if we left. She is currently out on a walk with him, taking in the crazy winds and plum tree blossoms.
YES THE PAINFUL MEMORY FADED. Every time I go back, I’m all “GIVE ME SOME HEAT, MAN!” I can’t get enough! I crave heat, and yet…I remember how insane it used to make me, sticking to every single surface I sat on and being drenched in sweat all the time. I hate being hot, unless it’s on vacation! To say nothing of the hurricanes and tornadoes. And mosquitoes. And Zika.
Thank you for the kind words and I will update as soon as there’s news of import! Take care!
You just haven’t lived until you’ve sat on leather upholstery while wearing shorts, in a car that’s been closed in the Florida summer sun for 3 hours. Go Noles! Yay Strozier! Enjoy your Florida vacations, but stay in that saner weather; it looks gorgeous there.
OH MY GOODNESS I had a Volvo with leather seats and NO AC it was hell. Absolute hell 🙂 Maybe being a bit hyperbolic, there. But yes, the weather is way saner here. Rain is friendlier than a burnt rear end.
Hi Georgia! I’m jealous that you live in France; I have before and love it. Two things
1) I would like to join the chorus to say DON’T bank on an academic job in the US. I have a PhD in an even less saturated field than English and it has not panned out for me and many of my classmates. However, I now have a job in “communications” where I basically write and edit and “translate” research to a broader audience, which I like. Maybe something like that would work as a part or full time gig to supplement your income?
2) Have you done any travel hacking? Seems like even a minimal amount of it would pay huge dividends for you since you travel to the US several times a year. When I was travelling back and forth from France a lot, I had a Delta/AirFrance Amex card which was great. There’s a lot out there in the travel hacking world and if you are able to put some big expenses on cards you could get free or close to free trips back to the US.
3) If you have your mom’s library card info, you may have free access to Lynda.com, they have short, introductory courses on a range of topics that are a good way to explore different skills and career paths. I used it (on my mom’s library account, haha).
Hi Rachel! Where did you live in France? I remember when I moved back to the States and was pining away for all that French red tape…grass is always greener, right?
1. Your job sounds delightful! I would absolutely be interested in something like that. How did you go about finding it? Do you work remotely?
2. Yes. This is something I must look into more rigorously.
3. Mothers are a blessing, and so are their library accounts.
Thank you for the comment!
Hi Georgia! I lived in Avignon, Nice, Paris, Nantes, and Marseille at various points. Spent most of my time in the first 3. As for my job, I got it through a grad school friend’s wife, strangely enough. It is not remote. If you haven’t already you can look on upwork which are all remote jobs though for some you need to be based in the US.
Another idea is try to make as many connections you can with French business and NGOs that may need things written or translated into English. Once you have a few clients word will spread. Good luck! Have some wine and cheese for me. Also, I miss monoprix, haha.
Oh my goodness, Monoprix. It’s the Target of France. So many things, and all so reasonably wonderful. I am wearing a sweater that I recently purchased at the soldes in Monoprix. Not very frugal, and thank goodness there isn’t one in my town or I’d have a real challenge on my hands!
I’d love to live in Nantes and Marseille! I’ve heard that Avignon can be challenging weather-wise (husband used to live there) and I really enjoyed living in Paris as a student.
I will absolutely have lots of wine and cheese for you, and a baguette thrown in for good measure. Take care, and thank you for the great ideas.
Loved your post, you sound like you have such an idyllic life!
On the subject of free or reduced college tuition in the EU, I am from Ireland and live in the U.S. and in order to get free college tuition in Ireland, you have had to reside in Ireland for 3 out of the last 5 years, so something to think about if you relocate to the U.S. It may be something similar in France.
I think someone mentioned the reciprocal agreement between the U.S. and France with Social Security. Definitely something to look into for France. Ireland and the U.S. has a similar arrangement and the U.S. takes credits earned in Ireland in order to qualify for Social Security.
And I also would not go to Florida in the summer, way too hot! If my kids were in France, I’d go there for a couple of months in the summer in a heartbeat – maybe something your parents could think about in the future,especially to get out of the Florida heat?
If your parents have an iPad, introduce them to Facetime, I have a daughter with special needs who uses it all the time to talk to me, so easy to use once you set it up and it’s free.
Geneva also sounds like a good option. Lots of international organizations there too, money is good and it’s right across the border from France. Good luck with your decision and please start the blog.
Hi, Ashling! I am dying to visit Ireland. I met the most wonderful woman who has this delightful house in the Iron Islands and I hope we can make it over there at some point in the next few years…
And yes, Florida in the summer is too hot. I wish we had our longer vacation in winter, when the weather here in Normandy is ultra-depressing, but we don’t. My parents would love to visit in the summer, and usually aim for that period. I mentioned it earlier, but my mom takes care of her mom and can’t travel for too long, but they do come over for lovely visits!
Thank you for the encouragement about the blog / writing, I will let everyone know if the cooking-in-France memoir I’m working on gets any traction. Even now, I STILL love reading about expats in France, or anywhere, really! Take care!
I’d like to comment as regards professorships in Europe so as to complement insights from US-based commenters. Basically there aren’t any. You mentioned Italy, but over there it is also really hard to get an academic job. Plus, you mentioned having time to spend with your family. Academic jobs will not offer you that. In general, they are highly competitive, badly paid and the tríade of research/bureaucracy and teaching just keeps pilling up. All the best,
Hello Vania! Thank you for the sobering comment. I am getting the impression that the poor academics have it rough worldwide at the moment! All the best to you, too.
I’ve been thinking about this all morning! I would suggest looking into digital work or remote working and try to make more income. Just consider trying to monetize your passions such as calligraphy on Etsy or perhaps sewing projects. You both have teaching experience so perhaps look into Vipkid for tutoring our tourism programs for tourists like “learn how to cook a Normandy countryside meal”
These are all great ideas. And you’re the only person who mentioned my calligraphy pipe dream! Which terrifies my husband! Because it is so extremely practical! But in all seriousness, I used to run a little EBay hustle back in the day (vintage clothes) and like the idea of a little online shop, as long as it isn’t too much of a headache (because goodness knows they can be). You can make really decent money on Etsy these days…
Anyhow, thank you so much for the suggestions, I have absolutely taken them into account!
Do not move to the U.S.!! It is incredibly difficult to raise children here, and I think you’d be astounded by the cost of daycare, health insurance, and housing, not to mention the abysmal time off of work. What you have right now is what so many Americans aspire to in their retirement. I say keep the PT job, especially when your daughter is young, and look for other ways to supplement your income. Consider stopping the PhD program if the cost rises significantly. And use your incredible amount of time off to visit family or have them visit you. Loved the pictures that accompanied this case study! Good luck with everything.
Hi Michele, thank you for your comment! It really does help me get an outside perspective on things, and helps me remember how lucky we are. All my best, and thank you for the well-wishes!
Chiming in as an academic here. I second (third, fourth, fifth) what everyone has said, and will add that you will have even more trouble finding a full-time well paying position because you would be coming in with a PhD from overseas, for any number of reasons. Have you thought about teaching in a study abroad program? Many universities have centers (Wellesley in Aix, Reid Hall in Paris, Syracuse in Strasbourg) that employ people like you to teach courses in house. A food in literature course sounds right up your alley! Check out what Mimi Thorisson has done in terms of developing a business around food in France, if you don’t already know of her. The quality of life you have is, IMO, going to be impossible to replicate in the US.
Oooo that sounds pretty fabulous. I will definitely be checking it out. I used to work at the American University of Paris, so will be pestering my contacts there for details on how this all works. Great idea.
And yes, I have heard of Mimi Thorisson, she of the huge country farmhouse and immaculate life. Total life-porn, if you’ll excuse me for saying so! I should go check her out again, and see if I can get a peek behind the curtain…
Thank you for the comment!
Hi Georgia! I worked for ten years in the travel industry and I think you have a great opportunity to offer people a unique customized travel experience in France. You are American, speak English (obviously!), and have a culinary degree from Cordon Bleu – have you considered offering culinary tours in your region of France? Maybe arranging for visitors to spend three nights in your village, offering one-on-one cooking classes in classic French cuisine as well as market visits, recommendations on the local dining scene, visits with local chefs, etc. I can say with 100% certainty that there is a market for this, especially among luxury travelers looking for a very personalized, unique bespoke journey. It would be a pretty low-cost investment – essentially putting together a website describing what you offer and then getting in touch with local inbound tour operators to see if they would take a chance on you. Research what other people offering these types of culinary journeys are doing and get in touch with them for advice. Focus on the high-end luxury travel market – not low-end big group tours but high-end private luxury trips. You would be amazing and I think would be a great way to merge certain things you enjoy (cooking, teaching, sharing your life in France). Good luck – I am completely envious of your life and I would 100% stay put if I were you!! 🙂
Hi Christina! YES I have considered something similar, but you really hit the nail on the head. I am listed on Viatour, and used to give culinary tours in Paris, but people rarely contact me for non-Paris tours. At the moment, I haven’t been seriously considering it because I’m kind of sleep deprived / have a baby-schedule to follow, but this is a super idea for when she’s a bit older. And I think you’re right, if I were to do something like this, it would be most interesting if it were on the luxury side of things. Group tours are absolute hell, honestly! 🙂
Thank you for the specific advice, and take care!
I didn’t see if these ideas have already gotten mentioned, posting them here in case they haven’t been:
– How bout purchasing a second home (look into tax regime of course!) so that there is a space to stay for family & friends from Florida and elsewhere when they come and visit.
Or perhaps waiting a few years and upgrading to a larger property where you could partially rent it out.
Then when it is not being used by extended family rent it out thru Air BNB or other schemes.
– That way you decrease your travel expenses and have a supplementary income source.
– Have you considered becoming a free-lance writer? This seems like a side gig that could become lucrative, expand and shrink as needed, could potentially allow you to advertise/ feature your local area to entice folks to come and rent your accommodation and/ or other places/ activities you visit/ do on your travels-
– If you get your French citizenship does that allow you to keep paying the lower PHD costs? If you want to finish your PHD and the cost change comes into effect- this may become a way to keep you costs low.
– Do you have a sense as to what it would take to get your previously developed manuscripts to a place where they would be accepted for publication/ be made into economically viable projects? I think it is is worth knowing.
Best of luck with everything!
Reading your case study has me dreaming of life in France!
Buying a second home to rent out when family isn’t using it is definitely something my husband and I are considering. I’ve got all my grey cells going full-steam-ahead on this one, and any possibilities of making it into a space where we could host cooking classes, etc etc etc…we’ll see!
I have thought about becoming a freelance writer, and have been making (rather small) attempts to find the right fit as far as this is concerned. Like Mrs FW said, I need a good dose of discernment, so we’ll see if I take this idea any further!
PhD costs will not increase! I’m grandfathered in! And, in typical French fashion, most of the universities are ignoring the price hikes. Vive la republique.
I do have a sense of what it would take to get my previously developed manuscripts into publication-ready shape. I have one kid’s book that’s in the revise-and-resend position with a really lovely US literary agent. She’s also waiting to see the rest of the cooking-in-France memoir I’ve just finished the first draft of. This is the culmination of years of work, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it will all pay off sometime soon!
Thank you for the well-wishes and I send you much luck, too!
As a French woman in Canada, and constantly pondering whether or not to move back to France, I really really enjoyed this study. Seb and Georgia seem lovely and I think they did a good job of highlighting the pros of France (the food! daycare! trains!) and the cons (limited job opportunities and low salaries, and then there is no accounting for family and friends being far away). I agree with Mrs Frugalwoods on all the budget items and wanted to encourage Seb and Georgia to look into retirement savings options in France, such as a PEA, Assurance vie, or PERP. Also, please note that there is an international treaty between France and the US that will recognize trimesters/years worked in the US for the purposes of French retirement and vice-versa. I’m not well-versed on how it works but it would in theory allow you to take a full government retirement in France or benefit from Social Security in the US (of course, who knows how things will be by the time Seb and Georgia retire, but still). Also, if Seb works for the government, wouldn’t he get an additional pension? Good luck with all of your plans, and please enjoy those pastries for me!
This is such good news about retirement! I’ll be checking it out, and thoroughly. Thank you very much for the comment, and I will absolutely enjoy some pastries for you (I had an Opera with lunch, and a glass of rose. Best job. Best job ever). You must miss them every day!
Hello from Germany! My husband and I are American expats living in Berlin for the last 3 years. Georgia, I laughed so much reading your post and saw so much of our lives and wishes in yours. We also are about to have a little girl (our first) and are staying in Germany because of the amazing benefits. After a year paid parental leave, we will get free childcare and also a child subsidy (just over 200€/month) from the government.
We absolutely love living in Europe and have realized that our lives really are like what people watch in the movies (walking through cobblestone streets lined with old buildings and biking to palaces every day) similar to what you described, BUT we also struggle just like you with being so far away from family.
We almost moved back to the US multiple times, but are now realizing there could be better options to have the best of both worlds. We’re currently trying to set up our careers to be location independent so we can travel to the US more often. I already have a home-based job as a consultant and will start to ask my work if I could work remote from US a few weeks a year to start. Then we are both planning to transition to freelance work at some point. For you, an idea could be VIP Kid, which someone already mentioned above. It’s an online company where you teach English to Chinese kids and they highly prefer Americans (as told to me by an Irish friend). Many of our Expat friends in Germany do this job and it makes about ~$20/hour and you can set your own schedule and number of hours. With your background, you should qualify for their maximum pay. It might not be what you ultimately want to do in the end, but could be a good way to increase income in the meantime.
I’m not sure how your health insurance works in France, but in Germany we were able to get really good travel insurance as an add-on for 20€/year that covers medical in the US (and most other countries) for trips less than 2 months at a time. Great deal if you want to be location independent! We found from our tax advisors you just can’t be residing in US with unknown amount of time and this could also cause visa issues. But multiple several-month trips while working remote could work I think…something to check out.
As mentioned by others above, be really careful and talk to knowledgeable tax consultants before investing in US or France, as it can have implications on both tax returns. From my understanding, the big investment firms in US no longer allow expats to invest. You might still be able to do IRAs, but only on US-taxable income. Usually that means income about the foreign earned income exclusion limit, which is quite high. So, we’ve found similar to you that the investment side is the one major disadvantage to trying FIRE in Europe. You also have to be careful about transfer of money back and forth between US…I know we got a letter from our Germany bank about new laws prohibiting this within certain time periods.
For credit cards, none of the Capital One cards have international fees! However, the cash back rewards may not be worth it if you have to pay fees to transfer money into your US account to pay the bill every month. We use TransferWise, which has low transfer fees, but I’m still not sure you’d come out ahead since many places don’t use credit cards in EU (or at least here in Berlin, many people still pay with cash and you can’t use cards at many small stores and markets).
I’d love to hear what other expats do to track their monthly spending, as Personal Capital does not link to foreign banks. We currently do everything manually, but it’d be nice to have something automatic.
For flight pricing, try the app Hopper for price alerts. We’ve been lucky to find deals to fly to US on good airlines even in summer months. Like $300 round trip. We also use Wow Air, which is cheap no frills airline, but clean and fine for us.
We also have US relatives that are tech illiterate (sorry Dad!) and don’t have smart phones or use a computer. So we recently bought a WiFi digital photo frame for them that I can manage remotely. It helps them feel more connected. Could be an idea for your mom.
I also confirm that your house loan rates sounds accurate, fixed rates in Germany are also that low!
And finally about healthcare/education costs in US, I completely echo many others’ thoughts above. This is so prohibitively high and stressful in the US. Same thing for vacation and paid sick leave…often little or no benefits in the US even at a good company! I think your French husband would be quite shocked to learn there is no such thing as guaranteed, paid sick leave in the US and that you often have to use your (already very little) vacation time! He may have a heart attack. I work with mostly French colleagues and they couldn’t believe it and that there’s no paid parental leave in US. I often feel so fortunate to be under the coverage in Europe, and now don’t know how we could switch back. Two years ago, I had to go on unexpected sick leave for 5 months due to an arm injury, but my work here paid 100% pay for first 6 weeks, then social system kicked in for the rest. Since I am the breadwinner and work 100% on a computer, we would have been absolutely devastated if we’d been in the US. It is things like that that make you realize how good the systems in EU are. 🙂
Sorry for such a long reply, but I thought us expats should share our experiences! It’s so uniquely amazing and difficult at the same time! I wish you the best of luck in having your cake and eating it too!!!
One other quick comment about tech-illiterate family! 😉
We were able to purchase a US Skype number in the same area code as our family. That makes it easy and free for them to call you in Europe using the phone instead of internet calling (but it’s over the internet on your side). That really helped my Dad a lot!
Hi KP! Your comment was so interesting to read, and I think it’s super cool that there are so many expats weighing in here! I took notes on all the practical points you mentioned, and am going to check out VIPkid. 20/hour is nothing to sneeze at…
One thing I wanted to mention is that there is an agreement between BNP Paribas and Bank of America where you can transfer funds between your accounts with the two banks and pay no transaction fees. It’s very easy and is how my mom used to send me money when I was studying overseas. I’m not sure if BNP exists in Germany, but maybe there is a similar agreement between a German bank and a US one? In which case, Capital One sounds like a great deal. I for one will be checking it out.
The health care system in Germany/France really is remarkable, and makes life so much sweeter. I used to cater on the side in the US, and I had no health insurance, and while I cooked for friends who would have been very sympathetic if I’d, say, cut off my finger while cooking their birthday appetizers, they would not have been in a position to cover my medical costs, or compensate for the toll this would have taken on my ability to work my day job! I used to be paranoid about hurting myself. And now I have this great sense of ease. It really is priceless. Not to mention giving birth in Europe vs. the US.
Anyhow, thank you for your lovely long reply, and I hope you are enjoying your own cake! Take care!
Great post Georgia!! Your lifestyle in France is awesome and I wouldn’t consider moving to Florida because of high costs you have to endure over here especially child and health care. You have a great day care situation in France($170 a month) and with the US child care being around $1K a month it’s an expense that will take up a good chunk of your income. And with health care costs here in the US rising as you get older, it will be something you really monitor when you reach FI!!
I would also look into investment options as Mrs. Frugalwoods mentioned to build up your wealth. It’s a great way to have more income for the long term(retirement) and could use for the short term (regular investment account).
Lastly, try to cut back on those small expenses!! You guys have so many of them and you might realize once you cut back on a good number of them you will save more than you thought. That savings could be used to more trips to the US and visit family!!
Please keep us updated and all the best!!
Hi, Kris! Thank you for the comment—definite food for thought! I will keep everyone updated, will be my pleasure 🙂 Take care!
Hi! So much fun reading your story! My initial thoughts have more to do with your daughter and the quality of family life you want to have with her. She’s really young and you guys should really cherish this time with her. As she grows, you will have more time to work longer hours and make more money but you won’t get this time back. Your life in France also sounds pretty ideal. I would take advantage of that amazing vacation time and go for a very long visit to the US every year (1-2 months) You could possibly work a side gig or freelance while you’re there to make extra money and give your family loads of time with the baby. You could also rent out your house while you’re in the states for a month or two each year and save further on those mortgage expenses. Cutting back on some of the drinks/ restaurant/ movie/ lunch/ expenses for the next few years would also free up more funds to see family or bring them to you in France in between. Try to think about the next few years and spending this time with your new family member. A focus on more money and career will come in time. Ms. Frugelwoods’ Idea of working towards geographically independent jobs seems like a perfect fit for you both but it may take some time to get there. I actually like Florida but I don’t think I would move there as the lifestyle is way different than what I like ( small city- Boston). Best of luck and so happy for you!
Hi, Virginia! Yes, this time with our girl is so precious. I think the next few years, before she starts school, are so important and I hope I take full advantage of them! Thank you for your input and well-wishes.
As an Australian I really cannot comment. However, I would suggest you look at this lady’s facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/FrugalqueeninFrance/
Thank you for the link! I used to live in Australia, what a beautiful country.
I read her post recently and she wrote that food was so expensive in France. Now that my children have finished school the International Baccalaureate is available at the local school. However, my eldest girl achieved her dream of becoming aFrench teacher. I shudder when I think of her university bills as she has two bachelor’s degrees and a masters. In our state teachers are not paid anymore for obtaining a masters degree.
Bethany took me to Paris for a few short days two years ago. It was magical.
Paris is really one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s like Hawaii—the hype is completely grounded in reality!
Food is expensive in France…unless you market shop. There are almost always farmers who sell their produce for reasonable prices. It’s not cooking that’s expensive, honestly. What a vicious cycle that can be—not having enough time to cook because you work, and working so that you can afford pre-made foods. Craziness!
I would definitely look at VIPKid for online teaching but also get your blog going. I know you’ve written a book and want to get that published first; however, if it doesn’t work out, write a blog. Here in the US, there are so many people who were offered book deals that would have never been published without the name recognition received from the blog. I have read books from bloggers where 90% of the book was already posted on the blog in some format and it surprised me they were getting publication deals.
I second the AirBnB and travel guide suggestions. I travel to Europe frequently with my husband and 12 year old daughter. This summer I will be visiting Germany for 3 weeks and have already scheduled German language lessons for my 12 yr old to have an introduction to the language. We’ve arranged for 8 lessons for 45 minutes each at a cost of 220 euros for the package. The instructor was recommended to me by the German as a Foreign Language program and charges 30 euro for each 45 minute lesson. I’ve also seen tour guides in Hungary who do day tours that include 1-2 hours of language introduction, a guided walk, a visit to a museum, and/or a stop at a local restaurant. This sounds like it could be right inline with your interests.
As far as moving to be closer to family, just be prepared that it may not work out as you planned. When my daughter was the only grandchild, her grandparents visited once a year from a few states away and they are both retired. Fast forward 6 years, my sister-in-law had a baby and was in so much debt that they moved in with her parents (my in-laws). They have lived with my in-laws for 4 years now and the in-laws have only been to visit once in 4 years and that was for 2 days. They are too busy taking care of their other grandchild and have no life of their own anymore. You never know what the future holds for your parents so I would hesitate to give up your comfortable life just for more grandparent time. I think it is amazing that she already has at least one grandpa who makes her a priority. You are blessed. I would just try to make a tradition of inviting your parents to spend the Christmas holidays in France every year since it is such a magical time in Europe. Then you could use your vacation to spend 6 weeks or so in Florida in the summer. That way, they see your daughter at least twice a year since it seems important to you. Just a question regarding the emphasis on spending time with family in the US- is this your desire and priority? or do you get pressure from the grandparents? What they say the want and what they are willing to do when it is a more frequent time commitment may differ or your expectations may not be their reality. I hate to sound pessimistic but my in-laws always talk about missing my daughter but they never make an effort to call, write, or visit her even though they’ve taking their other grandchildren who live with them on 3-4 vacations last year. I hope your parents aren’t like that but sometimes being closer leads to realizing their priorities may not be yours. Anyway, good luck. I envy your life!
I absolutely see what you mean. And yes, it’s true, (grand) parents are people, too, and have their own (busy) lives!
To respond to your question—no, my parents don’t put pressure on me, other than my mom saying she wishes she could see the baby more and them coming for visits whenever they can! I think half of it is I’m using my baby as an excuse to try to see my parents more often, because I miss them terribly! I do have relatives who are all talk and no walk, if you know what I mean, so I get your point.
It’s such a good idea to start a blog—but while I can finish manuscript after manuscript, I have the hardest time staying motivated for a blog! I’ve tried! I am a blog failure. If traditional publishing doesn’t work out, I really don’t know what I’d do. Probably go on writing and not being published. Hah!
You don’t sound pessimistic, you sound realistic. Which is a very valuable perspective! Thank you!
Good luck to you, too.
You should self-publish.
Read the blogs of JA konrath (a newbie’s guide to publishing), Rachel Aaron and many others. You’ll see that your life is already perfect, and your side hustle is writing and self-publishing.
Tamar, I saw this comment after your one below! Thank you so much for being so encouraging! I am going to go read those blogs now. All the best to you!
First, can I say that I love your story and the time you’ve spent in France! (I live around the corner from the Belette Qui Tête when I’m in Paris and the name means “The Weasel Who Sucks/Nurses.”)
I can’t comment on a lot of this, but as a college professor I can say that sadly, Mrs. Frugalwoods is right. It kills me to say it, but the only way I can emphasize it enough is to put it in all caps: **THERE ARE NO FULL-TIME FACULTY JOBS IN THE HUMANITIES IN THE US.** That is, there are very very few, and there are dozens of times more people getting PhDs than there are jobs, especially in English. This article is from 2017, and the situation has only gotten worse since then: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/11/21/full-time-jobs-english-and-languages-reach-new-low-mla-report-finds
Here’s a more recent, but equally grim overview: https://www.chronicle.com/article/What-We-Hire-in-Now-English/245255
In this situation, even people with degrees from top fancy American programs are supporting themselves by adjuncting for years at a couple of thousand dollars per course with no benefits, even if they are among the handful fortunate enough to eventually find a permanent position. A degree from a French PhD program, sadly, is going to be worth even less in the stupidly elitist job market. You u might actually be better off finding a position in France, where there is a demand for native English speakers in British/American Studies departments. But even there, things have changed a lot and today, most French PhDs spend years teaching at the lycée level before finding a maître de conférence position at the university. And in both of those situations, you have relatively little control over where you end up.
I hate that the situation is so discouraging, but given all of your other financial goals, it’s really important to be super realistic about it.
HAH! You made me laugh out loud. (OUT LOUD!) I think ‘grim’ is the pertinent word from this discussion regarding academic jobs…
And yes, it is important to be super realistic about it—thank you. This whole exercise has been wonderfully enlightening!
Okay my advice is seriously, don’t change anything. I’d personally quit the PhD and find another part time job or something with just a little more pay, but that’s it. Definitely don’t move to Florida! You can afford what sounds like an amazing life with a ton of travel and time off and pastries and a garden and why would you change that? I’d build a little more flexibility into your budget by stopping the PhD (since it will probably never benefit you other than spiritually) and spending that time earning some money. Even if it’s working in a boulangerie. And definitely look into location-independent jobs for yourself and Seb.
Christy, thank you for your comment—you raise such very excellent points! And you’re among the few that have come out and said it, but I think the general gist I’m getting from the comments is that the PhD is a very questionable enterprise at best 🙂
Life and living in the state of Florida is totally much cheaper than most states in the USA and from what i have seen in France — Florida is way cheaper and salaries are much higher..Along with housing and no state income tax it is a GREAAT CHOICE to be there for a few years and save $$$$. Our EU friends came for 3 years got jobs and saved everything so they could go back and buy a nice home!!!
Hi Dotti! This was more or less what I was thinking, if we were to move to FL…it really isn’t as expensive as it sounds, especially if you have a good social network in place. And are willing to bicycle in extreme heat. And don’t move to Miami (is Miami expensive?). It’s so tempting! Thank you very much for your input.
A few thoughts from a Frenchman in Canada.
As far as renting out your house if you move to the US, you’d want to be very conscious of its tax status. France doesn’t tax the foreign income of citizens living abroad — but it does levy (some kinds of) taxes on (some kinds of) income generated in France. Another thing to bear in mind is that you may lose the primary residence exemption if you choose to sell your French house while abroad. (Technically, you don’t if you move to another EU country, and technically, you can apply (and then fight!) to have that rule applied to you even if you move to the US — but what a hassle!)
Basically what’s called valeurs mobilières (“movable” assets — e.g., stocks) are interesting to keep, as French taxes won’t apply at all. On the other hand, what’s called valeurs immobilières (“non movable” assets — real estate) are subject to social contributions (approx 17%).
See here: http://www.patrimea.com/fr/expatries/conseils-fiscalite/exonerations-avantages
Regarding investments, French generally invest in what’s called “assurances-vie” (which are not “life insurances” — they probably call it that just to confuse English speakers, heh). They’re essentially investment “buckets” (sort of similar to mutual funds) that receive very favorable tax treatment.
In short, you’re investing with after-tax euros, so when money is withdrawn, only the growth is taxed — but at the favorable return of capital (ROC) rate.
You’re allowed to make withdrawals whenever you like, but since the goal is to encourage long-term investing, the greatest benefits only appear after the policy is 8 years old: the tax rate drops even more, and you also get a sweet tax-free allowance. From the 8th year on, a single person can withdraw €4600 of growth a year, completely tax free (€9200 for a couple), not counting withdrawals of any contributions.
Note that the clock starts ticking on the date the assurance-vie is opened, not on the date each individual contribution is made. So if you don’t have one yet, you should open one tomorrow. No, today. If you open it with €1000 today and then do nothing for 7 years, then win the lottery and add €100,000, come Year 8, the entire amount will be treated as if it had been deposited on the opening date, which is tremendously beneficial.
There are complicated reasons why it’s interesting to have more than one (e.g., since you can no longer contribute to one once you start withdrawing from it) … but to start with, every French citizen should open at least 1 on their 18th birthday, to get the clock started 😀
Be careful, though. French tend to be extraordinarily risk averse, and the typical assurances-vie most people have are extraordinarily safe. You’d want to do some research and ensure that you have sufficient growth potential.
A final word: as mentioned, these are only really interesting after the 8th year. Non-residents aren’t allowed to hold them, so you’d want to be reasonably confident you’re sticking around. Just one of the many ways France won’t ever let you leave 😉
To (slightly) counteract the childcare cost issue, one perk of being French abroad is that the French state subsidizes the education of French children in a limited number of private schools it recognizes. There are 2 in Florida, which seem to charge $10-12k/year: http://www.frenchschoolmiami.org/tuition-fees and http://lyceefrancoam.org/images/Price_List_New_Students_2018-19.pdf.
Prices of these schools in other parts of North America can easily reach $15-20k/year, or more. Apparently, one of the ones linked above is under final warning before losing its French ministry of education accreditation, so that one at least may not be that incredible a school, heh 😀
But in any case, you would apply for a scholarship via the French consulate, which can cover up to 100% of all costs, depending on your income, starting in the year your child turns 3.
Students who graduate from these accredited schools around the world end up with both whatever the local high school diploma is, *and* the French baccalaureate, which is the only thing you need to unlock free university education in France. Also, if ever you were moving back to France within the next 18 years, your child would be able to seamlessly reintegrate French schools.
Of course, the catch is that in order for them to cover most or all of the cost income, your income has to be low — whereas you’re thinking of moving to Florida precisely to increase your income. Still, if you make the move, look into the scholarship options, as they would probably cover something up until you’re making a truly huge income.
Cheat: many French citizens in places that have high childcare costs, like the US and Canada, use the scholarships to put their preschool-aged kids in these sorts of schools, and then move them to the local public schools once those become free in kindergarten or 1st grade.
Finally, European welfare systems are set up completely differently to North American ones. The basic premise is that the money goes round and round and round so many times and in such complicated ways that virtually everybody is receiving some kind of “welfare” so there’s no reason to be ashamed. Until a couple of years ago, for instance, French child benefits were not income-tested at all — so billionaires received the same amount per child as paupers. Presumably, all of it went back in taxes, but they still dutifully received it. There’s not really any such thing as someone who doesn’t receive *any* welfare payments of any kind at all — even if in the end, they’re net contributors rather than receivers. It’s a different mentality.
Slightly related, France has one of the highest birth rates (or the highest?) in Europe, so a number of child-related benefits actually only kick in with child #2. Think, “family” rates for train fares (again, not income-tested), etc.
Wow, this is so informative. !! I am going to have to re-read it a few times and wrap my head around it all. And yes, the assurance vie described to me by my banker back in the day seemed very conservative, but I seem to remember there being a more flexible option.
And I was floored by what you said about immobile vs mobile assets—how very odd? Maybe it works similarly in the US, but if it does I am unaware of it. Thank you for the information and the heads-up about taxation. I didn’t know that if you sold your French house from the US, you lost your tax advantage! That’s crazy!
So basically, the most frugal thing you can do in France is have kids? 🙂
Thank you again for the comment and all the useful information. Take care!
Well, to be fair to the French “fisc,” they figure it can hardly be your primary residence if you’re living abroad 😉
More generally, real estate investments don’t benefit the overall economy other than through taxation, whereas investments in stocks benefit the economy through spurring research, buying equipment, and creating jobs — so there’s (at least theoretically) some logic to taxing the former heavier than the latter.
Just in case, here is the French consulate in Miami’s page with information on their bourses scolaires. Like most things related to French paperwork, it’s more of a pain than it should be 😉
Adrian you are a treasure! Seriously. And yes the paperwork, holy mackerel the paperwork. Thank you!!
Just want to My child attends the French American school in US and we love it. We are not French, so we pay the full 19K tuition… If you have a good maternelle near where you live, I would stay put and count it among the most important advantages. I have the experience to compare, and I am not a fan of the US educational approach, especially in the early years. If you are to send your kid to a decent school that is not private, you would need to spend a ton living in the district for that school and still have to contend with the approach here. Do you know they don’t even teach cursive in American schools anymore? My friends also live in good districts for schools, but when I tell them about the languages my kid speaks, or how he and his classmates finished this book series or that book series, all they can tell me is video games and Pokémon…
Hi Clementine! That is a very French name, I have always loved it. And Philippine. But I digress…
Did you know that they teach POETRY in French elementary school?? As in French-Math-Geography-Poetry?? I was blown away when I saw that! The kids were studying some washed-up looking older man with a cigarette dangling from his mouth in every photo like it was totally normal. Loved it.
The French education system can also be super, super harsh. Teachers get away with all kinds of bullying, sexism, racism, and general evilness that would never be permitted in the US. I have seen it firsthand, and it’s really scary to think that it could happen to my kid. Those scars last a lifetime!
But I’m very excited about Poetry, and my girl learning languages as a child rather than as a teenager. Pretty cool.
I’m an academic and it is so hard to find a secure job where you want to live. It’s not impossible – and if your top choice is a seemingly less desirable location it may well be easier – but it is very hard. Academic hiring is also very much about who you know and department politics, not simply whether you are the ‘best’ candidate. When you speak about what you love about your life – the free time, the relationships, the holidays, the time with your child – know that all of these will be pinched with an academic job, although there are lots of other benefits. Under NO circumstances take an adjunct position thinking that’s your foot in the door. It isn’t. Reading your case study, I’d be inclined to stay put and try to maximize your income a bit (maybe some online university teaching?), Use your 16 weeks leave to see family more, and encourage them to visit you. But you have a life you love, and your child will one day soon be in school, enjoy this stage now.
Thank you, RG, for the wise words!
Hi Georgia and Seb and all the Frugalwoods people,
Your case study has certainly prompted lots of interest. And good ideas and information! My contribution is simply to reinforce the idea of you running high end tours in France and perhaps Italy. Just imagine the research trips you could do in preparation. I suggest you build up to it with your book(s) and maybe a blog, use those to make a name for yourself over the next couple of years until your daughter is a little older. Curate some great packages around food, cooking, wine , gardens, language learning, any of your many interests. Try them out on your parents and their friends, promote them online. Maybe develop some niche markets, eg retired baby boomers who are ready for some adventures, time and dollar wise. I have heard a lot about WW2 sites in Normandy which I understand are special for visitors with a family connection.
If you can slowly buy, build or acquire some tourist accommodation to offer on AirBNB or as a base for your tours, then your retirement income stream will build. Is there any space in your current garden to build a small cabin?
Best of luck, the possibilities you face are fabulous.
Oh, the research trips! What fun that would be…
Yes, I have absolutely tried to figure out how to fit an eco-cabin on our property, but it’s too small to work. But I have thought about fixing up some charming old French properties to run off-grid (veggie gardens, solar power, etc) and rent out as isolation venues for Parisians, with locavore meals provided. I really like your ideas, and I really appreciate you laying them out for me. It helps to see what that could look like as a concrete path forward.
It does sound pretty fabulous, when you put it all together!
For the checking account fee, I recommend you switch to an online bank like n26! As a German resident, I have been so pleased with their customer service and lack of fees. You can still withdraw money from ATMs 4x a month as well, for FREE!
Kailey, thanks! I will check that out.
One of the most interesting case studies yet – what a vibrant, memory-filled, enjoyment-rich day-to-day life you’re experiencing! I’m probably going to be on the flip side of many of the comments and say keep in the cafe, the boulangerie (just cut back if it won’t be missed much) and keep the Italy trips in the budget and in life – those will all be memories to enjoy down the line. Can you add in a few more super low-cost meals to trim the grocery budget that also provide an easy lunch? Like beans/rice, eggs/potatoes/peppers/onions, etc.? Well, assuming those can be low-cost options there… not sure. I grew up in Italy and just cherish those memories and getting back there from the States is pricey, so we can’t make that journey often. To love it as you do and be so close, grab onto what you love.
I love this comment, Bonnie, I think it’s my favorite. Grab on to what you love—absolutely.
P.S. I meant to mention this in my first post, but have you read anything by Lauren Groff? She’s an amazing writer and novelist and her most recent book, Florida, is a collection of short stories touching on themes of motherhood, writing, and – you guessed it – Florida. Vivid, thoughtful writing I think you will love. I’d also recommend her novel Fates and Furies. Also must reads: the memoirs by Elizabeth Bard (Lunch in Paris, Picnic in Provence) — you will definitely identify with her story if you don’t already know it. Happy reading 🙂
My mom (a wonderful writer) highly recommends her, but I haven’t checked her out yet. Must remedy this soon! And I have heard of Elizabeth Bard but also haven’t checked her out (although my mom has!). Will do!
Are you on Goodreads? I love that place.
Don’t change your life! It sounds amazing! Just write a book about your amazing life in France! I would buy it.
Suzanne you are too kind and yes it is in the works!! I will let you know when it’s published to great acclaim and much brouhaha! 🙂 Thank you so much for the encouragement!!
[Trying to post this again as my first attempt failed!]
Georgia, I loved reading your case study! I’m an American married to a French-American dual citizen and we have 2 small kids. We’ve lived in Paris before and visit France every year to see my husband’s French relatives, so I appreciated your place in life. We hope to do a year or two in France at some point in the next 5 years so I’ve been grateful to read all the helpful comments from folks knowledgeable about how all this works in France – thank you, all!
I agree with all of the above comments questioning whether you should move to Florida and/or seek to FIRE in 10 years. You’ve built a wonderful life that you love — it just sounds like you both are feeling a little restless/uneasy about not having more of a financial safety net or concrete retirement plan. Here’s what I would do:
1. Quit the PhD program (at least for now). B/c it’s 3 years, it won’t count for much in the U.S., and no concrete job prospects to make it worth your time and money.
2. Get a side gig going doing online teaching/tutoring (the VIPkids work sounds ideal), and spend the time you had been spending on your PhD doing that instead. Sock all the proceeds away in some sort of investment or savings vehicle.
3. Start a blog. As noted above, it likely can only help the chances of your memoir getting published, and you’ve already found a captive audience here in the comments section of this post! You’re a great writer, hilarious, and living a unique and rich life – people will love that, I guarantee it, and I bet you can parlay it into freelance jobs or figure out a way to monetize it once your following grows.
4. Plan a month long trip to Florida each year, stay with your parents and soak up time with your Florida friends and other family. Invite others to come to you during the school year. Honestly, this set up will get you more quality time with most of your loved ones without having to put up with the downsides of living in the U.S. (And if your parents are retired or can negotiate extra vacation, have them come to you for a long trip during another part of the year.)
5. Start that culinary tourism business several folks describe above – you (and Seb too if he’s interested) would be amazing at something like that, and it’d allow you to harness all your talents and interests for a social and financially beneficial purpose. Start small and see how much work it entails and if you like it, and then go from there. I could see this being hugely successful for you!
6. If not AirBnb, start using homeexchange.com to house swap on your other trips (Italy, Paris, elsewhere). You can also have people stay in your home while you’re away and earn points that you can stockpile and then redeem for nice accommodations wherever you want to go (their system is called GuestPoints). We’ve done this a few times and had really positive experiences. It’s a way to monetize your home without exchanging money or incurring taxes, plus you often make friends with your swap partners – highly recommend. (I can email you a referral code that’ll give you some free points upon sign up if you want – ask Mrs. Frugalwoods to give you my email or share yours on here.)
7. Do some travel hacking if you can. You should be able to find a card (maybe the Capital One card mentioned above?) that has a modest minimum spend requirement that you can meet, and it’ll subsidize your trips to the US and elsewhere in Europe. (Hopefully you have a credit history so you’ll be approved?)
Even though it may not feel like it because you don’t have a big stash of retirement savings, you’re in a really awesome spot because of all the social supports in France. (Btw, definitely take that support as long as you’re eligible and don’t feel bad about it one bit!) All you really need is to generate some side income that you can invest and grow — otherwise, you already have a dream life and just need to stop worrying about trying to have traditional careers and retirement plans. That’s square peg/ round hole territory IMHO. You’re on an unconventional path but a beautiful one and one that can absolutely give you the security you crave with just a bit more effort and re-aligning of activities. Congrats, I can’t wait to see where you guys go from here!
Oh my goodness MG your comment is so invigorating! Thank you so much for such a thoughtful post! I really am floored by how nice people are on here, and how perfect strangers are taking time out of their day to say such kind things!
And I agree, it is so interesting to see what all the other expats have to say about living that life. It’s so complex and everyone’s story is so similar and yet so completely different. I really am having a blast just reading about other people’s lives (let’s be honest, especially the ones who live in Italy…).
Okay my brain is about dead after work (TEENAGERS = the same everywhere) and reading all these wonderful comments but I really want to jump into what you said so I apologize if I sound at all incoherent at any point 🙂
You said it so well—we are uneasy about having a non-traditional path. My husband, being French, is especially unnerved by a jump-and-the-parachute-will-open kind of mentality (…which is more or less me, haaaa). He grew up in a family where people (like his lovely father) thought of others before themselves and worked really hard and paid their taxes on time. My upbringing was very different—a musician and a writer for parents, and much uncertainty in general. So, yes, it is a bit like a fish and a bird trying to find that perfect half-submerged nest-houseboat. But I know it’s somewhere…
1. After everything everyone has said, and after serious discussions with Seb, I think this might be true. I adore my topic, but I am very happy with what I wrote for my Master’s. (Comic fiction by women between the wars—it was so much fun, and if anyone is interested in a reading list I can provide!).
2. Yep. Check. This sounds smart.
3. I mentioned earlier that I have tried to keep up with writing a blog and have failed miserably. I can write manuscripts and long-winded endless emails and all the rest, but the blog thing is … I dunno! Kudos, Mrs. FW! Maybe it’s because I feel like I wouldn’t have any service per se to offer, as Mrs. FW and MMM do, for example. But this is something to think about, for sure.
4. Seb had this same idea. He says that we should just plan on spending our entire summer vacation in the US, visiting family.
5. This is probably a really good idea.
6. Good tips! I didn’t even think about exchanging for Italy—yes! And I would love to exchange emails and get those points, thank you for offering.
7. I have no credit. When I was in the US as an adult, I was a cook, and all over the place! I mean that in every sense of the word! I once had a Target card. That is about it. And I think I regularly forgot to pay it on time. Depressing thought…
Square peg, round hole, but security is possible, YES. I’ve been reading all the comments out loud to my husband, but I may have to read this last paragraph to him twice. He about had heart palpitations with some of the ideas about potential jobs for me, because he knows that my unrealistically optimistic and entrepreneurial-minded soul needs very little encouragement to suddenly announce that we’re moving to Italy to work on an alpaca farm—just think of all the rent we’ll save!!
Thank you again, and it will be my pleasure to keep you updated!
First, please carefully reread the question you posed to us: Should we move to Florida? Seriously. Just think about that for a second.
Second: you mentioned you think you can work in all of Shengen with your French work visa. This is probably not true. I am in Spain (and in a strangely similar sounding situation), but I can’t work in outside Spain on my visa. I’ve been here about long enough to apply for citizenship and may do that and then use my Spanish PASSPORT to live in other parts of Europe, but I don’t think the country specific visas transfer.
Hah! Martin, too funny. Sadly, one can’t choose the crazy place where one is born, and for me that (very) crazy place is Florida! Some of the people I love most scare the pee out of me with their guns and all the rest. But I still love Florida. In all its crazy glory.
You know, that’s a good point about working in the Schengen zone. I probably got it wrong—in my head I’m good to go, but maybe not. I guess it’ll only be definite when I (hopefully) get French citizenship! I’ll have to double-check all this…
Thank you for the astute comment! And best of luck with your similar-sounding situation.
Hello Georgia, you’ve gotten so many great advices already. 🙂 I just wanted to tell you, I can totally feel the need to be around family, and how hard it is to have them in the US and Europe. Especially having children and wanting them to be close to their grandparents. It’s hard. Our story is other way around, we lived in Germany and moved to the US – there is no way you will be able to satisfy all needs. I love your writing and you really should start a blog. Enjoy the time you have with your husband and child and go visit for 2 months at a time your side of the family. If your family can travel, let them come visit you as well. There was a reason why you chose France. 🙂 Just as we had reasons to move to the US. Try to gather all the great advice you are receiving, but stay put in France. Haha — Reading your backstory I just want to go come visit. 😉 It sounds great! Hope to find a wonderful blog of yours — would love to read more about France and the yummy crossaints. — I do agree Italy has the best foods! Thankfully, Europe is so close and travel inexpensive… All the best!
Thank you for your lovely comment—it really is hard to be apart from family! But then again, I’m lucky that we all even WANT to see each other as much as we do. And traveling from within Europe is magical. Sometimes I still can’t believe that in the same amount of time it takes to get from Miami to Atlanta, I can have already travelled through three different countries (easily!). France itself is so different in all her beautiful regions.
Thank you for the encouragement, and I wish you all the best as well!
Loved this, you both seem like amazing people. As an Italian with a PhD though I just wanted to add that the academic job market in Italy is even worse than US and any other country I know of in Europe. Only old professors have stable contracts, everybody else, even if they are in the 50s and have had a brilliant career in terms of publications are stuck with no jobs/low pay/temporary contracts or just having to hide their PhD to work menial jobs. There is literally no future there for academics, all the ones who can have left, including me. Best of luck with whatever you choose!
You are right desdemona. I was thinking the same thing-one of my best friends is a PhD in Italy but works as a high school English teacher only because it is a lifetime contract. She would love to come to the US or even go work in France-i hope one day she has the chance!!
Hi Desdemona, thank you for the lovely / bleak comment. And best of luck to you, too!
This has all been so interesting to read! Your experiences are so different from mine that I can’t really offer you specific advice. But, as a mother of grown children, I will say- life has a way of going off the rails when you least expect it. Everything about your current situation seems lovely- from both of you enjoying your jobs to grandpa taking care of the little one to the sweet village lifestyle. The only things I would change at this point- is to put the plans in place for a long summer visit to Florida this year and to carve out even 5 hours toward extra income (teaching English online). Everything else can be worked out in 1, 3, 5, and 10 year plans. I did a summer program in France 30+ years ago and reading this reminded me of the English couple who were our guides. They didn’t spend much time with us- mostly in settling in at Cite Uni ersitaire and then for a couple of meetings with administration, and then to assist with transportation from Paris to the south. So, what I was thinking is that you both go to Florida with your daughter for the summer. Inquire with the local private high schools and universities about these kinds of programs. Then, when your daughter starts school- she could spend the summers in Florida (imagine her social cache! The French girl visiting her grandparents! The girl from school who gets to spend the summers in Florida and traveling in the US!) And you and your husband could work as tour guides for a few years to help toward some of your longer term goals. Just a few thoughts. At any rate- we’ll done! You’re much further along and on a secure path than I was at your age. ☺️
Hi, Lisa! A belated thank-you for your lovely comment. I am taking all of this into account for sure! And I am jealous of my own kid, I mean, bilingual at birth, somebody give me her life!! 🙂
I read that part about us being on a more secure path out loud to my husband to calm him down, thank you for saying that. It seems like many of his friends have these permanent contracts for cushy jobs making pretty good money and we’re like the teenagers of the group! Which is why I just sit back and remember all of my friends, who are in situations as varied as sold-the-startup-for-millions to 100-thousand-dollars-in-student-loan-debt-and-unemployed. It takes all types! Cheers!
Therme have not been a lot of comments on your mortgage. Dies this include amortisation, i.e. will your house be paid off after 20 years? In some parts of Europe this is considered the way to go as one part of your preparation for retirement. Consider that rates are expected to rise so they will certainly be bigger after 20 years. Additionally, the amount of money you do not have to spend on housing each month is money you do not have to save up for for your retirement. So you should have that house paid of by the time you retire. Also, please start by saving privately for your retirement! Poverty at old age is unfortunately a real threat in Europe for younger generations. In my opinion you absolutely have to make this a priority. Unfortunately I live in a different part of Europe, so I can’t give you any Tipps.
Yes, the house will be paid off. And I do consider it as a positive step towards financial security, because you’re absolutely right, one never knows what kind of social benefits will still be around at retirement age…
And you are too right, it’s better to think of retirement before it’s anywhere in the near future, when pinching pennies and planning is less due to an impending threat to your own welfare. In some of the other Case Studies, you can really see how planning early vs not planning early pans out.
Thank you for the comment!
Hi Georgia-thank you for posting this. I think you should stay put and like previous posters have said, come for a long visit with your family instead. I’d go as far as to say-try looking for a part time gig while you are here. You have plenty of marketable skills! Or…write that book while you’re here. Any side gig income sock away into one of those French assurance vie savings accounts that was mentioned before. Anyway-the lifestyle you are living in France right now just wouldn’t be possible here. Working part time in the US means no benefits at all usually lol. Childcare? I spend $170 on my nanny for ONE day of childcare. I work part time too, get absolutely no benefits other than I can contribute to a 401k(which I opened while I was still working full time). My husband works 18 hour days…the kids didn’t see him before going to bed tonight and that is the American dream right there. Live to work… I read the Frugalwoods blog to change that mentality for myself!!! Good luck Georgia I think you have a very good thing going for your family right now!!
Hi, Cindy—that is insane, $170 / day! Can I come be your nanny???? 🙂
I’m really sorry that your husband doesn’t get to see his kids as much as any of you would like. That must be really difficult. Frugalwoods is excellent for changing mentalities! Since I’ve been reading FW and MMM and many books about ‘decroissance’ or de-growth, it’s fundamentally shifted my way of seeing the world. I wish you the best of luck with your family and your super-chic nanny!
We have 3 kids-the sitter had been with us since our first was a baby and so she’s gotten many raises…. but she’s great and hope she can stay with us until the kids are all in school. There are workaholics everywhere-it’s just really accepted/encouraged here in the states don’t you think? I read a study that said most of us don’t even take our paid vacation days!!
Isn’t that tragic, that we don’t take our holidays? It really is such a national mindset issue! It’s encouraged here in France more and more, as in “Your parents were these lazy French peasants who drank too much wine and if YOU want to be part of the startup community and get in on this global growth, you’d better give up all the protection and benefits and lifestyle issues that were so important to your dated ancestors” which is really, really sad. I know people who think that the US model of work harder = more money is some kind of amazing unicorn dream scenario. All you have to do is never stop! Easy!
Your nanny sounds lovely. Have you seen Ali Wong’s comedy special? She jokes about having a nanny, I found the whole thing hilarious. People can be so judgemental about others’ choices! (Myself included!!!). I hope you take all of your vacation days and enjoy your babies. All the best to you!
I really enjoyed your post. I think you should go for that unicorn job working for the UN!. You are are a prime earning age so if you value becoming FI then that is going to be important. You could move to Florida to do that too, of course but I think that would compromise a lot of your values. Mrs. Frugalwoods is generous when she says that $500 is reasonable for groceries. Actually when you tally up all food and drink you are at over $650 that seems an opportunity for cutting costs, though pastries and coffee shops are part of French culture and therefore perhaps a necessity. I am from the UK living in the US so I understand the yearnings involved in raising kids away from grandparents. However your assumptions of transatlantic flights seem high. I last paid $450 return on Norwegian Air ( I don’t travel at peak times). Teaching grandparents the use of Facetime or Skype is a must. My 84 year old mother learned so I would think yours definitely can too!
The unicorn job is tempting…!! And yes, you’re right, our grocery bill is too high, and what with all those croissants….but I really am a big believer in organic (what’s saving on groceries today if you have cancer later?) and local (because what’s saving on groceries today when the planet is no longer inhabitable?). 🙂 This is not to say that I couldn’t eat a lot more (local and organic) rice and beans!
The flight calculations include all transportation costs—not just the $450 plane ticket but the $50 train to Paris (if we get the tickets well in advance, otherwise it’s easily over a hundred!), the $50 train to and from Charles de Gaulle, the $90 bus ride from Orlando or wherever to where my parents live and back…
But international flights have gotten so much cheaper in the last few years! It’s fabulous!
Anyhow, thank you for the thoughtful comment and I hope you are enjoying yourself in the US.
1. Do not lengthen your mortgage you will end up paying more in fees and interest. In some cases people can buy a hole new house or two for the interest.
2. Books, you can get free amazon ebooks with a site called freebooksy. It shows you the free ebooks on Amazon. Books are my weakness. I am taking a book buying sabbatical. (After I bought meet the frugalwoods.)
3. Cut the pastries to twice a month and make your own on the other weeks. You can invite friends over for a tasting.
4. My husband would eat out once a week when we first got married. We still saved a lot buy doing cheap rent and finding a discount grocery store Aldi we were able to buy groceries for two people for not much more over one. There are Aldi in France but I don’t know if their is one near you. We do more Walmart now. When lunch wasn’t free he packed it.
5. If you want to stay in France you might need a car or can you teach cooking classes to adults.
6.You can make your own natural deodorant. Recipes online.
7. Cut out the alcohol.
PS Be-careful if you have sensitive skin with any recipe.
1. If I’m not mistaken (and if any French residents would like to chime in on this, I’d love to hear it) I think that concerning loans in France, you pay the interest first and then the rest of the loan. So the bank recuperates their interest in any case! At least, this is what I have been told (in French, so sometimes I don’t get everything!)
2. Thank you!
3. Yum. I have been making more of my own since this RCS went up. Made a huge batch of chocolate mousse with chili this week.
4. He’s been making much more of an effort! Had a little issue there where he’d pack his lunch and then forget it (hah) but we’re getting the system down!
6. I do! So easy! Baking powder and a little lotion, baby!
7. We have pretty much stopped going to the bar, which is easy to do in winter anyway. We’ll see if the discipline holds during those brief beautiful days of summer…!
Georgia, have you considered self-publishing? If I understand correctly you have a few finished manuscripts, that could work for you on Amazon and earn you some dollars that could go into us stocks.
You want to be a writer, and you are more than qualified. There is no need to wait for the publishing gatekeepers to agree in this day and age. I recommend that you research self-publishing. A lot of people make good money from this.
I have considered self-publishing, but I want to torture myself with trying to get into traditional publishing just a little longer. For some reason, I feel like if a book isn’t finding the right agent, how’s it going to find the right reader?
A lot of people make good money from it. A lot more make no money at all! But it’s an idea to consider….
Just an additional comment from a fifty-nine year old about pensions. Georgia, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE take out a pension RIGHT NOW! And Seb should do the same. Even if you can only save a little, you should TOTALLY save into a pension scheme (ie a scheme designed to produce an income on retirement – not investing in property) FROM RIGHT NOW, however frustrating it might seem to be putting money somewhere you can’t access until you’re sixty, and however many other uses you might have for that money. Why? Let me tell you a story. Thirty years ago I joined my current employer, and after I’d been there a couple of months, the HR director wandered over to my desk one day with some forms and said “You’re eligible to join the company pension scheme, everyone’s in it, sign here”, so I did. I had no idea what I was doing or what the implications were, it was just another form I signed.
Now, I am grateful EVERY SINGLE DAY to that callow, ignorant twenty-nine year old who literally saved my bacon without any idea of what she was doing, because I know that when I choose to retire, and I can retire in the next year or so, I will have an income that will enable me to live a very comfortable life. This is in contrast to other friends my age who have moved from job to job or been self-employed and never saved and who are now faced with having to go on working basically for ever because they have virtually no other source of income and the alternative is penury. I know the interest rates on pensions savings may seem low, but that doesn’t matter because you will be saving into your scheme for thirty/thirty-five/forty years, and the magical unicorn of compound interest (Mr Frugalwoods is an expert on this, I believe) will ensure you make much much more money to live on in retirement than you could ever believe. And the most important thing about the way pension funds work is that the earlier you start, the less you have to save to make a ton of money. Here are some figures for you:
Person A starts saving at 25 and saves £100 a month for forty years at 7% interest. Person B starts saving at 45 and saves £100 a month for twenty years at 7% interest. At the age of sixty five, Person A has a pension fund of £256,000 and Person B has a pension fund of £106,000. The difference is huge! And once the money is going in, you don’t miss it. You can forget about it for most of the next thirty years, as I did, and then when you come to retire, be so, so grateful that you did it. Please do!
BANK APPOINTMENT HAS BEEN MADE, Barbara! Thank you for the words of warning/wisdom. We’re going in next week to open up our account! I guess, since we’re in our early thirties, we’ll be Person A.2… 🙂 Thanks again!
Hi Georgia, Loved reading your case study! The thing that struck me was that your current life situation sounded a lot like my ideal retirement situation. You have a lot of amazing freedom and flexibility where you can spend time with your family and spend time cooking. So great!
Whatever you decide, I hope you’ll keep prioritizing the peace and joy you have cultivated with your family. You’ve built a true treasure, and I know you will find a way to grow your finances and keep those values. 🙂
Hi Sherikr! Thank you for the kind comment. It has been such a good exercise, this RCS, to remember to prioritize the peace and joy. I’ve been coming home every day and feeling very grateful for it all. (March flowers are blooming everywhere, which let’s be honest makes it v easy!). Thank you again!
We are both US citizens living in Canada. I echo one of the other readers that you need to look into your US tax filing obligations. Once you have money to invest you need good advice from someone who specializes in the issue. US persons living outside the US who hold mutual funds and index funds etc in non registered accounts must considering report them passive foreign investments. The reporting obligations and money you would need to pay to an accountant would likely wipe out any gains.
Three key messages: You have to file taxes in the US every years even if you do not owe. You need to get advice about the best options for US persons oversees. You cannot ignore these obligations unless you forfeit citizenship.
I urge you to look into all of this ASAP before you start to expand your financial empire beyond home ownership.
Thank you, Lynn! I do file taxes, in France and the US. It is very important!
Seb and you are doing great!
On a modest income you have a wonderful quality of life, emergency savings, and no debt.
You have a little girl and have a wonderful granddad on site. Keep doing what you’re doing and just save for a regular retirement.
I don’t get a sense that you’re really into retiring early or even that you want to move.
It seems like you have the life you want and just want to see your family more and have a little more money.
I think all has been said on the difficulties of academic life and moving back to the US. My only pause about coming back to the US was based on your comment about empty villages. I remember reading “A Castle in the Backyard” about 2 Americans who bought a house in France. They didn’t choose a house in Najac because they thought the village was dying. However, depressed and prosperous places can be found in both countries.
A few thoughts:
Can you combine working/visiting family?
For instance, could you spend two weeks visiting and two weeks at wine/food festivals demonstrating cooking and drumming up business for culinary tours in your part of France? I was so surprised that people just want to see Paris. What about Giverny, D-Day beaches, the Bayeux tapestry?
Could you combine a “Patisserie-sit” in the US while visiting family? Every year I buy a buche de noel from a French patisserie in a wealthy suburb near my city. The line at Christmas was out the door at 7 a.m. They close for 3 weeks at Christmas to go home to France. I’m not sure if they do that in the summer but it seems likely. It is at the foot of a commuter rail station 20 minutes from the city. It seems to me a lot of people in similar suburbs would be interested in culinary tours to France. Also, the owners have to pay taxes and the mortgage whether the store is open or closed. That could be a way to expand your US/French connections.
Don’t stretch out your mortgage! Both your house price and monthly payment are so reasonable, I don’t see a reason to do it. Having a paid off house in your early 50s will be your biggest freedom-maker.
As a Gen X reader I see that a lot of the focus on grandparents and child care. I would also think about the time in 20 years when you may want to travel to the US more because of parental health issues. Social Security travels overseas but Medicare doesn’t so I see you visiting your parents more in 20 years due to their issues. As my 73 year old father used to say while taking care of his 96 year old mother “It’s the old taking care of the very old.”
Good luck and appreciate your good life!
Hi Mrs. Gardener, that patisserie-sit idea is solid gold! How fun! And how creative…I’ll have to check this one out for sure.
And yes, Seb and I are in full talks right now about paying off our mortgage early, perhaps, as a good first step towards a simple retirement/investment plan. Cause investing in France is hella complicated!
Also, the point about the old taking care of the very old—I have seen this recently in particular with Seb’s grandad, 75, who was until a few weeks ago taking care of his 102-year-old father. This situation has been turning over in my mind a lot lately…
Thank you so much for the comment and the well-wishes!
Hi Georgina, I think you got enough comments on the realities of the job market in higher education and i don’t disageee to that at all. I have a slightly different take on the whole phd thing however. I have a phd in social sciences and I didn’t choose a career in higher education. But I don’t regret doing my phd at all. Writing my dissertation was really challenging and something enjoyed for the intellectual fun and is something I’m always proud of. Having finished it i thjnk I would have regretted it if I haven’t. So my advice would be: do it for yourself if you are going to do it (& also only when you don’t go broke doing it!) Even though I didn’t pursue a career in higher ed, having the dr title has served me well over the last five years. In Germany (where I live) they love Dr’s (there are even scandals of politicians who bought their degrees just to be able to calls them so!). Once you have your degree you can call yourself a dr. I’m not German, Asian and look young (get mistaken as an intern in my 30’s) so having the title has been quite useful to set the right tone in business settings LOL. Also I teach as adjunct for several universities for four years as a side hustle. The pay isnt great but since it’s not my main source of income I am doing it for fun / passion. I see it as a hobby I get paid for. I get to learn and thjnk about topics I’m interested in AND make money! I also taught block courses in a city we have friends and combined with a family holiday. If you do this, you can totally tax deduce the travel expenses! win win win! Generally speaking universities pay more per hour when you have a phd 🙂 Im curious where the journey takes you! All the best!
Hi Germaus! Thank you for your comment—yes, I am torn about the PhD because it would be fun for me. But, as Mrs. FW notes, it would also mean time spent doing one thing and not another. Which to choose!? 🙂 All the best to you, too!
Although it is a delight for adults to be around babies, if you want your parents to be in your daughter’s memory, wait until she is an older toddler and can remember them for longer visits. You said it is difficult for your parents to visit, but you might be able to achieve that with the added incentive of the granddaughter to visit in France.
Why is Seb’s business postage in your expenses? I certainly don’t know how private publishing works, let alone such a business in France, but shouldn’t those expenses be separate? Is that something he just does for fun or is there income from it?
If you need more subjects to write about, (though I suspect you always have ideas you could use!), you could write about immigrant/refugee experiences. Perhaps some magazine-style articles about how they interact with food, making it, missing it, adapting to their new places.
Hi Louise! Seb’s business postage, oh goodness. It is a passion project and he feels bad charging people appropriately for postage, because it’s really expensive here. Sometimes it’s almost as much as the book itself. Thus, we pay a little of the postage ourselves. We have talked about this, but honestly I love his publishing venture and don’t mind us chipping in a little as long as it’s reasonable. He’s very patient with my hobbies and their expenses. There is no income from the publishing house, just enough to pay the authors and pay expenses for the next book. All the other expenses are separate from our account.
The immigrant food experience idea is stellar—I really am going to start working on my written French. Thank you for the comment!
Nice post, I also think real estate is very nice option to invest money as side business and get regular flow of some amount of money in form of rent. As I also invested in real estate, it helps me to handle some of my expenses and I can focus more on family and things what I want to do. Seems you are enjoying your work and all the best for your future plans.
Hi Tereza! Thank you for the comment. Sounds like you’ve got a nice setup! All the best!
I’m too lazy to read through the comments, but a woman I befriended on a FIRE website has a food & drinks tour company in Nashville that seems to be doing well – feel free to reply if you want me to see if she is willing to pass on her contact information so you can talk about this. As far as a side hustle, I think this might be just the thing for you to market to American (and other tourists). Maybe do some group food tours on Saturdays/Sundays (your hubs can watch your baby or you can go as a family) and show people the local flavors. Bonus points is your can take them to your friend’s bar if the food and/or drinks are good and you often then get to eat for free while making some side hustle income. Just a thought. Continue to be creative and have fun <3 Sounds like you're really living the dream! Also, I'd stay in France until you lose the contract job you love OR your husband loses his contract since he's the breadwinner. That is the point I'd consider coming back to the US for a bit. Hopefully, your parents are able to visit you often.
Hi Erin! Thank you very much for the offer—if it’s something we decide to do I will hit you up!
I posted this earlier, but it doesn’t seem to have “stuck” — maybe because I’d included the link?
Anyhow (without the link this time), I’d advise looking into a bank like ING banque en ligne. They offer no-fee checking and savings accounts, a no-fee Gold MC, unlimited free ATM withdrawals across the Eurozone … and they also have quite reasonable “assurances-vie,” as well as do-it-yourself investment options (which are usually hard to find and/or extremely costly in most French banks).
Adrian! Seriously, the best advice! Going to go check this out now. If anything, we can use the information to negotiate with our bank…! 🙂
Thank you again for the tips!!
Dear Georgia and Seb: Your case study caught my attention as my American husband and I live in Geneva and we have gone through the same ordeals and questions you have. We are 15 years older than you, we work in the UN system and have lived in over 7 countries. He is American, I am not. We have 2 kids. Please, let me “pass on” our experience, I hope it helps.
1) I think it is a good idea to give the UN and Geneva a try. But do not move here without a solid offer. With his background Seb can either teach in an International School or work in the International Organization for Migrations. Yes, getting a contract is super hard, but I think it is worth trying . If you get a UN contract, you will have good benefits like a retirement plan, home leave (you can list your Florida address), and they refund your taxes! The down side is that Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in the world (our saving power is ZERO). If you live in France and work in Geneva, please consider the whole tax implication (you need to be liquid and have a solid savings account to manage the payment chain), DISTANCE to work and what side of the lake you want to live. Evian is to far away from the UN. Check out Ferney Voltaire.
Question 2 (Moving to Florida) to be near your parents: Maybe for a while, as an experience, so your daughter can learn English formally (it is not true that kids learn the language if they hear it from a parent, they need formal education, grammar, classes, if not, in the USA they won´t become bilingual) . But as soon as high school starts, I would recommend you to go back to France. We found out Europe was a much better fit for our family than the US. It also depends a lot on your family over there . Are the loving, willing to help and participate?
Question 4 (How should you invest): As an American living abroad I strongly recommend NOT to invest in European Stock and YES invest in American Stock. The IRS procedure to report European Stock investment is a nightmare. I do not know what are the French laws regarding this, you will need to consult with an accountant, but, as for the American side, reporting foreign stock distributions is hellish. And as Americans we can no longer invest in Mutual Funds, so, the best market investment option now for us is investing in stock in the form of ETFs (the most similar instrument to a Mutual Fund). I have both, rental property and stocks. Stocks are easier to manage and more profitable. They are easier to liquidate. Maybe you can diversify and try to have both?. Question 7: PhD and Writing: My husband has both a Ph.D and does a lot of writing on the side (he has published about 5 novels and tons of short stories). The Ph.D. will help you get the UN job. The writing is for the love of the art. You do not make a penny out of it.
I think you are doing a great job living a frugal life. I think you will be happier in Europe. For the trips, we invite people to come home. It is cheaper to fly one person over and and hosting at home, than going 4 over there and staying in a hotel (which is what we have been doing to visit my husband´s family for the last years).
Best regards and let me know if you need more tips! Lujan
Hello Lujan! Thank you for the thoughtful comment. It is so interesting to hear what other expats have done and how they’ve set themselves up.
I didn’t even THINK about the US side of investing in European stocks! Goodness! We just had an appointment with our bank about all of this and will have another one, but I swear if any of this gets any more complicated I’m keeping our money under the mattress from now on! I’m not sure if I can legally invest in US stock. And the more I look into real estate in France, the less appealing it is. Maybe owning real estate in the US while living in Europe is the better plan?
I know hardly anyone makes any money writing, but I have to disagree with the idea that you do it for the love of it. I think you do it for the love of it until you want to get published, and then you do it for many diverse reasons. I also think that saying that you do it for the love of it is a good way for publishers et al to underpay writers—the whole “you’re lucky to even get a penny for something you’d do for free!” line. You know what I mean? And I know too many successful writers (financially and artistically) to think it’s 100% impossible to make a living writing….maybe not a huge income (or even a middling one!) but enough to live off of, with a bit of luck!
Anyhow, thank you for the food for thought and for sharing some of your story. Sounds super interesting! And thank you for the tips. All my best to you!
There are so many wonderful replies here to your even more wonderful casestudy Georiga. My 2 cents would concur with most other posts saying you should greatly weigh in the cultural change of moving back to Florida. Another thing would be to have an honest discussion with your parents about what their thoughts are on this topic because while you might a few more visits, everyone have priorities and their lives structured in a certain way that might not be conducive to big changes. In France your daughter already has the close connection with her grandpa and such an idyllic life that I don’t think it would be much beneficial to move back.
Hi TFC! Yes, I have been talking to my mom, you’re right! She’s more interested in coming to France, honestly 🙂 Thank you for the lovely comment!!
I didn’t look through all the comments but a few things jumped out at me:
You seem pretty happy with your life in France overall. The ability to travel is important to you and you have 16 weeks of paid vacation in which to do so. Is it more important than being financially independent in 10 years? That’s for you to answer, but based on what I read, it seems the answer is yes. And that’s OK. But to get to FIRE in 10 years starting at zero would require an enormous sacrifice from what you’re doing now. With Ms. FW’s suggestions, it seems you could be building a healthy portfolio of investments while still living a very good life. You would still get to FIRE, just not in ten years. But so what?
Books: Have you considered self-publishing? There are ups and downs to both traditional and self-publishing, but for many self-publishing is a viable option to a) get your work out, and b) have complete control over your publishing schedule. It’s also less make-or-break: contracts with publishers can leave you on the hook for the advance if you don’t sell enough, and it can be tough to get publishers to put enough effort into promoting your book to make sure it sells (you start low on the priority list compared to more established authors). The downside of self-publishing is you have to do everything yourself, learn the industry yourself, and promoting a book is as much if not more work than writing it (as I can attest). It’s a challenge not to get lost in the crowd, and requires a pretty rigorous output to keep oneself ranked highly. There are ups and downs, but something to consider.
You guys seem like perfect candidates for travel hacking – assuming you can do this from France. My friend and fellow FIREbug does this and seems to be traveling several times per year for ridiculously low amounts. Travel hacking involves taking advantage of credit card offers as well as several websites that scan for deals on flights, which are often temporary or mistakes. Travel hacking could be your side hustle, but in the sense of reducing one of your major expenses versus adding income!
One more thing to add, regarding location independence – if that’s the route you take, the options for homeschooling through online academies are tremendous these days. I’ve interviewed several people, some who travel to other countries regularly, who love these homeschool platforms since school travels with them. Many of them offer optional meetups that can provide social interaction as well. Something I thought could add to the conversation above.
Hi Kowalski! Thank you for the comment—yes to travel hacking, we need to get a credit card of some kind methinks. I might also use my mom’s credit card (AmEx) to buy our plane tickets so she can use the points to come visit…otherwise that’s a lot of wasted points!
I have thought about self-publishing, but like you said, learning the marketing aspect of it is a full-time endeavour. And there’s this part of me that feels like if my writing isn’t attracting an agent, then it’s probably not where it needs to be yet. I actually really enjoy querying and editing and all the rest, probably more than I would learning the ins and outs of self-publishing, so I’ll stick with that until it kills me, I guess!
I am so impressed by people who homeschool. I can’t imagine not being able to just drop off your kids for a good chunk of the day. HEROS.
Thanks again for the comment, all my best to you!
Georgia, I’m coming to the conversation a bit late, but I have several ideas in case you do want to pursue options for making more money while staying in France. Could you sell pastries at the local markets? Could you and/or Seb get jobs at the UN or EU or NATO? Since you are both bilingual and given Seb’s dissertation topic, there might be positions at these organizations having to do with immigration and security or immigration, refugees, and human rights or for positions that might suit your skills and experience. The EU has facilities in Strasbourg, if you wanted to remain in France. [You would probably need to be an EU citizen to work there, but as an American you should be eligible to work for the UN or NATO.]
Or, if you wanted to pursue the idea mentioned in previous comments about running culinary tours, I suggest you explore this website: https://sharonsantoni.com
Sharon started blogging as an empty-nester, and has since parlayed her blog into a brocante tours business and a mail order French box business. [And she has published at least one book!] Not only might you glean some ideas from her, but she might be open to pairing with you such that you could add to her tours with food and wine opportunities. [I don’t know her personally; I’ve just been following her blog for many years.]
Thanks for your comment and for the links! I am going to check out Sharon, cause I love a good brocante. Going to hit the local one this morning after the market! (To ‘window-lick’ as the French say, of course…).
Ah, I had forgotten about licking the windows. You make me miss living in Europe!
Oh and yes, selling pastries at the local markets has been considered. I used to work a catering company with my dad and I also used to sell vegetables at the market and thus I know it is a huge amount of effort for not much money. It sounds lovely, though, doesn’t it? 🙂 But installing a professional kitchen in my house, always needing to be here on Saturdays/wake up at the crack of dawn…it’s a lifestyle! My friends who work the market are troopers, let me tell you! Thanks again!
Of course! You’d know better than I. Still think the high-end culinary tours are your best bet. Please keep us posted – we’re living vicariously through you.
Hi Vet! I can’t reply to your earlier comment, but you are so very welcome for the book recs! Honestly I love a good book rec, it’s like a free present. Goodreads is a great website for that if you’re interested.
And I wish you as much ease in your life as you can find. You sound very corageous and cool under pressure. I know this might be a bit corny, but have you ever read Mary Oliver? I’ve been really thinking hard about Wild Geese, there’s a part of it that’s been stuck in my head: “You do not have to be good/You do not have to walk on your knees/for a hundred miles through the desert repenting./You only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves.”
Poetry always does the body good!
Best of luck to you, and take care.
Thank you, Georgia! I’m sad to say I only learned about Mary Oliver after her passing. “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.” We all have our private tragedies, or we will, as time goes on. As a friend so sagely pointed out recently, we are, nearly all of us, only temporarily abled. Time and chance happen to us all. Which is not to say that I don’t struggle mightily with the effects of time and chance, because I do. But as Arthur Ashe, the American tennis champion said in his memoirs, “If I ask “Why me?” as I am assaulted by heart disease and AIDS, I must ask “Why me?” about my blessings, and question my right to enjoy them.
The morning after I won Wimbledon in 1975, I should have asked ‘Why me?’ and doubted that I deserved the victory. If I don’t ask ‘Why me?’ after my victories, I cannot ask ‘Why me?’ after my setbacks and disasters.” (p. 326)
Thank you for this really interesting case study and for sharing so many insightful ideas. Georgia, your life sounds absolutely wonderful! I This hasn’t come up much, but from what I’ve been reading between the lines, I don’t think Seb would be very happy in the US long-term. Job/financial security ect. clearly matters to him. And from what I’ve learned here, if you move to the US, yes, you might be able to make more money but your expenses would be SO much higher, and there’s less security (work, social security, etc). Also, if you are used to a certain lifestyle (walkable towns and cities, public transportation, affordable national healthcare, etc.) it may be quite an adjustment to move elsewhere.
Short background: I am European, my husband is from the US, we live in Europe, and we love it here. I lived in the States, too, in fact, this is where we met, and I LOVED it. But we were students, so it was quite different. Since we plan to stay in Europe indefinitely, my husband’s considering changing his citizenship and renouncing his US citizenship.
I was wondering if you, Georgia, or anyone else, have considered or taken this step and would be willing to share their experiences? Like, is it difficult, how long does it take, how costly was it, etc.?
It would probably save you a lot of burocratic trouble to just have French citizenship, and you could still go visit your family for several weeks at a time. Just a thought. Looking forward to your comments.
Hey, Maggie! I would also love to hear about anyone’s experience renouncing US citizenship. Honestly, I never considered it until I started examining all this crazy paperwork stuff…the one thing I can think of that would be a major drawback is if my parents ever became ill, I wouldn’t be able to take care of them in the US. I like the idea of having dual citizenship, but it does come with some compromises, eh!
Thank you for your comment, I’m really glad you and your husband have found your happy middle. I also think Seb would be pretty unhappy in the US based solely on job security! Hah!
Best to you!
I will make it simple:
First, prioritize. Focus on what is most important for you, prioritize it and do not get dispersed. You can achieve all or most of your goals, but not all at the same time.
Second, by all means, get a PhD. The advantageous are enormous. Employers generally understand that, if nothing else (if your PhD is not directly related to their position), it says something about your ability to be disciplined, learn and achieve goals. You will keep the Dr. title for the rest of your life, and more importantly, the skills and knowledge you acquire are more valuable than you may imagine.
Third, do not, I repeat, do not move to the United States. Do you have any idea how lucky you are? Take any issue, like health care, child care, and yes, retirement. I paid into US social security all my working life until I moved to France. For 3 years of work and payments to the French pension system, now that I am retired, I get one third as much from France than I get from US Social security. Get French citizenship, which your husband and child have, if you do not have it yet. It is not just French citizenship, but EU citizenship. You can move to any EU country, short or long term, and enjoy the benefits of free education for your child and yourself, free health care, longer paid vacations, better public transport.
The quality of life just does not compare. Period. And you do not want you daughter growing up in what is, generally, a toxic social and cultural environment. I raised 3 children, two in the US and one is growing up in France. The quality of public education just simply does not compare. When we visit the US (California) she hates the food (she finds fresh fruits and vegetables tasteless, not to mention cheese), says there is “no nature,” hates the traffic, can’t understand why her cousins play violent video games… need I continue? When my two older son and daughter became teenagers in the US, I found myself struggling to protect my A student children from peer pressure: either being swallowed or victimized by their peers. When my son resisted, he ended up being beaten. This was in a high school in Santa Monica, California, an upscale city. If you want more contact with your US family, they should be the ones to come and visit more frequently, and take advantage of what you have opened up for them.
Fourth, if you want to move, the best option for your given interests, is to try and get a position with an international organization in Geneva -at least one of you- and live in one of the neighboring villages in France. Earning a Swiss salary, and specially a UN salary (with excellent retirement, international health insurance and other benefits) and living in France, where costs are much cheaper, can’t be beat. You are a short drive or train ride from Italy, and are centrally located to travel in Europe. I won’t elaborate further, as Lujan Garay Carlson has already explained some of the benefits. As for taxes, employees of UN agencies are tax-exempt in Switzerland and UN agencies reimburse your French taxes.
The physical environment around Geneva (specially for skiing, hiking and sailing) is unbeatable. The social environment is very international.
Fifth, it is good that you are planning for retirement early on. My advice, though, is steer away from schemes that claim to “put your money to work.” The 2008 financial crisis should have taught everyone a lesson. Earn your money from work, productive activities or from tangible things. Don’t fall for any of those financial schemes, and I mean the reputable ones. Rather than dreaming of “retiring early”, focus on enjoying what you do now, in the near future, and if need be, into old age. For example, if you become a published, financially successful writer, you are unlikely to want to stop writing at any time.
To put my views into context, I should mention that I am a PhD in Neuroscience, was a Professor at the UCLA medical school, am a writer (had opeds and articles on various -non-medical or scientific- issues published), and am currently retired in France, next to Geneva, where I worked at a UN agency before retiring.
Feel free to contact me if you want concrete information on moving or finding jobs in the Geneva area.
I can tell you’ve written a few well-organized documents in your life…hah! Thank you for the response. And thank you for offering to talk about Geneva—I will take you up on that for sure if the need arises!
I think a PhD in Neuroscience is perhaps a wee bit more impressive than in English Studies, regarding the question of whether or not to continue. Frankly, life has interrupted my studies at the moment so I haven’t been able to continue in any case. But we’ll see, maybe I’ll be able to work some magic somewhere…
And too true about toxic environments in the US. I hated middle and high school. It was awful. And I remember spending A LOT of time watching other people play video games, which is about the most boring activity on the face of the planet. Nowadays I imagine the kids who don’t play video games are just busy on their phones while their friends play video games…it’s tough to be a teenager, isn’t it??
Anyhow thank you very much and all my best to you!
Etretat is my favorite place on Earth!! That said… I can’t see how life in the US can come anywhere near what Georgia and Seb have managed to put together in France. And I don’t ‘get’ it… I’m half French and lived there for a while, my people are in Evreux, Louviers, Rouen, Le Harve, with cousins scattered all over, and the one thing ALL of them do is complain about TAXES (whereupon I think, “But you have socialized medicine!”) From the looks of Georgia’s breakdown, though, taxes there are super low (and utilities! I can’t imagine $11 a month for water). Is it a thing where the more you make the bigger % of hit you take? Also, my mother, who is 80 and still a French national in spite of having lived in the US for over 50 years, only worked (retail) a few years in the early 1960s, and she *gets a pension* in France. She keeps it there and uses the $ when she visits family. How is it that people in their 30s have to work exclusively in France in order to not forgo a pension now? Is it the EU, and Mom is just lucky that she was ‘grandmothered’ in to an old-style pension?
Financial independence is going to take a lot, but your cost of living is SO LOW that it’d be really hard to walk away from. And I say that from one of the lowest COL states in the union that has a decent economy.
Oh, Etretat…it’s just lovely, isn’t it? That is very interesting about the pension situation. I wonder…
Thank you so much for your comment. Yes, cost of living is just silly low over here. We have so much to be grateful for!
I’m a bit late to comment, but as someone who also has lots of interests, I highly recommend the book The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine. One great point she makes is that you can do everything, just not all at the same time. Her exercise (outlined in more detail in the book) is to pretend you’re visiting an ice cream parlor and you can realistically only choose three-four scoops of ice cream during your visit–any more is just too much. You can switch things out monthly or seasonally or yearly, but generally you’re focused on those three or four things. This can also help with spending–if you’re not knitting at the moment, no need to buy knitting supplies. It makes me feel much calmer and keeps things pretty simple, and sometimes it helps me get certain hobbies out of my system because I realize I don’t enjoy them as much as I thought I would.
So I am checking out that book right this minute—sounds fascinating. And helpful. And kind of sounds like my life, what with a few things in heavy rotation (cooking, reading/writing, gardening, arty stuff) and the rest of it coming and going. So much to be interested in!
Thank you for the comment and the book rec!
Dear Georgia, one thing we can advise from personal experience is for you to do an extensive research about buying a 2 or 3-family house in the US (maybe a parent can become a co-signer just because you have no credit and maybe not enough income) that will have enough cash flow to cover all its expenses and definitely leave you with extra money. You can hire an affordable property manager just like Mrs. Frugalwoods did and continue living in France. Properties in the USA can appreciate significantly over time if they are located in a neighborhood that you have researched well to make sure it is growing, expanding, developing, improving, etc. and if you buy the house at the right price. Mrs. Frugalwoods’ experience with buying a house in Cambridge, MA is an excellent example, but we will recommend buying a multi-family house instead because the chance of vacancy diminishes a lot (we own a 3-family house in a town few miles from Boston and live overseas full-time. They are now building 3 new subway stations within 2 blocks, so values and rents are through the roof). The profit from selling this house 10, 20 or 30 years down the road can be your retirement money as it can be at least several hundred thousand dollars. You can invest that money (or not!) in something that will pay you some percentage of interest and that will be enough to live in France as your overall cost of living will be much lower than in the US (by that time you won’t have a mortgage on your French home and your medical expenses will be still low).
Meanwhile (while waiting for your US house to appreciate), in France you should discontinue the PhD program unless it’s truly needed to fulfil your plans for the future, and use your spare time, including at least 12 of the vacation weeks you have to earn more money by either getting a temporary or online job, writing more/a blog, developing a business idea, researching opportunities to decrease expenses, increase income, have a better life, etc. You can still spend time with relatives in the US (and oversee your rental property while there), but 4 months sounds like a lot of time to be vacationing when you have so many ideas and goals to execute for the future.
One thing about food – we have switched to a whole food, plant-based lifestyle, so we only buy vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, coffee/tea and herbs/spices plus the occasional chocolate, wine and cheese. No more processed foods like peanut butter, lemonade, orange juice, cereal and crackers as we make our own healthier versions. We live on a $200 food budget for 2 adults while staying in our house in Boston in the summer and I can’t say we aren’t eating well as our fridge and counter are always exploding with veggies and fruits in season from the farmer’s market or from Whole Foods, and our meals are delicious and wholesome. We don’t eat out of carton boxes, jars and cans, and that saves us over $150 a month! You can save a ton of money if you stop buying processed foods at the store and process the stuff yourself at home – it takes just a few minutes to make a big batch of hummus, tahini, lemonade, salad dressing, pasta sauce, pizza dough, etc. Live simply and eat simply – it’s our mantra.
Wish you all the best! This summer we’ll be visiting Normandy for 10 days (staying in 3 different airbnbs) on our way from India to Boston. Thinking of spending 3 months there next year, somewhere in the countryside as it is a place that will fit our laid-back, low-budget lifestyle perfectly.
Aha! This is so spot on and I can totally relate to a lot of this. I moved to the U.S. from the Netherlands. The transition was tough, but man are there some things that culturally just are shocking, still to this day. Good luck on your endavours!
Hello Georgia! Thank you for sharing the link to your blog in your update! I’m wondering what you decided in terms of your PhD program and pursuing an academic career. I personally am in a non-traditional role within higher education. Ironically, while teaching has become a more precarious endeavor, administrators (mostly, staff experienced in management) have become more precious. I’d be glad to connect with you offline if you’d like to discuss. Best wishes!
Hey Tara! Love that name, by the way. You’re so welcome for the link, and sorry I haven’t updated it in a while! To answer your question, I decided not to pursue a PhD…for now. In any case, I don’t think I’ll be doing one to improve my chances of landing a better job. I MIGHT do one at some point just because learning is fun, but other than that, it’s no longer on the table.
And it actually turned out that I didn’t need a PhD because I managed to get a job as programs manager at the local fine arts museum. SUPER PEACHY job, not even sure how I lucked into it. It’s more or less what I did in the States back in the day, plus French heritage stuff, and French legislation, and it’s a public and not a private museum so everybody stares at me when I talk about stuff like ‘bringing in more money’ or ‘balancing budgets.’
What’s your non-traditional role in higher education? I’d love to hear about it.
Thanks for your reply, and all my best to you, too.