Reader Case Study: From South Africa to Tennessee, Now Planning a Move to Europe!

Brenda, who works at a non-profit, and her husband Kyle, a firefighter and nurse, live in Tennessee with their two daughters and one dog. Brenda is from South Africa and their dream is to move abroad after Kyle’s retirement (in six years) from the fire department. Today, they’d like our help figuring out the financial and social/educational aspects of such a move.

What’s a Reader Case Study?

Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send to me requesting advice. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, dear reader) read through their situation and provide advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. For an example, check out last month’s case study. Case Studies are updated by participants (at the end of the post) several months after the Case is featured. Visit this page for links to all updated Case Studies.

I probably don’t need to say the following because you folks 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 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. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.

With that I’ll let Brenda, this month’s Case Study subject, take it from here!

Brenda’s Story

Brenda and Kyle’s daughters enjoying a local park

Hi Frugalwoods! I’m Brenda, a 42-year-old South African married to Kyle, a 41-year-old American, and we live in Tennessee. I grew up in South Africa, and have also lived in Germany (for one year), England (for six years) and the Czech Republic (for 1.5 years). Kyle and I met when I was visiting my cousin in Tennessee, and were married in 2008.

We have a dog named Bella (aka Best Dog in the World) and two daughters ages 9 and 4. Kyle’s entire family, including a soon-to-be 100-year-old grandmother, live within two miles of us, in a town south of Nashville, TN. My parents live in South Africa and my brother and his family live in Prague, Czech Republic.

Brenda’s Career

I hold a Bachelor of Arts, completed by correspondence while I was living in London. I’ve worked for a non-profit state agency on and off for the past ten years, and I really like the organization and the people I work with. I quit and stayed home for two years after the birth of our second daughter, but was re-hired and now work two days a week.

I have a 45+ minute commute, which sometimes frustrates me, but I don’t think I could find the same flexibility or diversity in the town where I live. I’m content working part-time for now. It was very chaotic trying to manage everything when Kyle and I both had full-time jobs, and I think I now have a good balance between work and family. I’m also a firm believer in women helping other women, and although I’m busy with my own work and family, my part-time schedule allows me to do things like help fetch the neighbor kids from school when needed.

Kyle’s Career

Brenda and Kyle’s beloved 12 year old German Shepherd cross, Bella

Kyle studied history in college but has been a fire fighter for almost 19 years and was recently promoted to Captain. He is grandfathered into the 25-year retirement scheme, which means he has just over six years until he can retire with 50% of his salary. He also qualified as an RN (registered nurse) seven years ago, and last year went back to school to do an online RN to BSN bridge course, which he will complete in July.

In addition to studying, he currently works 24 hours on/48 hours off at the fire department, and an average of one 12-hour shift per week as a PRN ER nurse–so you can imagine how crazy our schedule can be! Kyle is an excellent nurse and an accomplished leader in the fire department, and I’m proud of all that he has achieved.

The past few years have been a team effort and we couldn’t have done it without both of us working hard, making sacrifices and compromising on our time at home and work. Fortunately, we were not severely impacted by COVID-19. The rates of infection in our county stayed low, Kyle continued working his regular schedule, and I was able to temporarily reduce my work hours to almost nothing for two months in order to be home with the children.

Work Life Balance

I have a good home/work balance. We agreed that I would be at home more while the kids are young, and Kyle would work more as his earning potential per hour is higher than mine. We plan to revisit this dynamic in the next year or two. The great aspect of our current work schedules is that we have time and flexibility for travel. Kyle gets a lot of vacation days, and chooses how many shifts he works as a PRN, and my schedule allows for flexibility, so it’s not difficult for us to take three weeks of vacation at a time. The hardest aspect is that Kyle is gone for 24 hours at a time, which is hard on everyone because he has to miss birthdays, Christmases, etc. Additionally, we live far away from my family and it requires a lot of time/money to visit them or fly them to us.

Brenda and Kyle’s Love of Travel

Kyle and I both travelled a lot before we met: I backpacked all over the world and Kyle did trips to Europe with his family. Since marrying and having kids, we’ve taken lots of local and international trips together. Travel is a passion for us, but also a necessity to see my family. My parents have visited us some years, but it’s becoming harder for them to travel as they age. Taking our children to South Africa or Europe for three weeks used to be like moving a small army, but now that they’re older, we’re able to pack very lightly.

On safari in South Africa

Each year we typically do one big international trip (we rent a car and stay with family or AirBnB to keep costs down), 3-4 weekend trips in Tennessee or neighboring states (we stay in State Park cabins where I get a discount, or use Hilton points if possible), and do day outings to parks, festivals and anything else that looks interesting.

Some years, Kyle and/or I will also do a short solo trip, for example I met my Czech friends in NYC for 5 days in 2017, and I sent Kyle and his father to Normandy in 2019 (a 40th birthday surprise!). The pandemic put our travels on hold, but we feel confident that within a year or two we’ll be able to resume. We use credit card travel rewards but also spend a hefty chunk of our income on travel expenses.

We used to be able to travel quite cheaply, just flying when we found a good deal. Now that both kids are in school, we are limited to mostly traveling during school holidays (which are peak and expensive). Why do we do these trips with children? Apart from the obvious, which is seeing family, we want the girls to be global citizens. We want them to see that not everyone is like us, and that’s ok. In fact, Kyle and I come from different religious, political and socio-economic backgrounds ourselves. We want them to experience how it feels to be in a strange county, not speak the language, and rely on the kindness and help of others. And we do the local travel for similar reasons, to see things that are interesting and different, and to learn.

The Longterm Goal

Our longterm goal is to move to Europe for a few years after Kyle retires from the fire department (in six years), in order to be closer to my friends and family. South Africa is not a viable option for us unfortunately, due to the crime and unemployment. We visited friends in Powys, Wales a few years ago and could envision ourselves living there, but would also consider something like a civilian nursing position at one of the German military bases/hospitals.

Bayeux, Normandy 40th birthday trip

Nursing pay is lower in Europe than the USA, and I wouldn’t look for a job until the children were settled, so we would potentially need to use some of his retirement or build up our savings as a cushion. Europe would be a good base for visiting my parents and brother, and still easy to get back to the USA to see Kyle’s family. At the moment, we don’t have a definite decision on if/where we would go, but we want to be prepared financially for whatever decision we make when the time comes.

People might wonder why, family aside, we want to move to Europe. We like where we live and have a great public school system. However, we really feel suited to the European lifestyle – outdoor activity, public transport, meeting friends at a beer garden on a summer afternoon. We will most likely retire back in the USA, but we want to have the experience of being somewhere different for a few years.

I’m sure people will point out that we’ll be leaving Kyle’s family, and will put ourselves in the same situation of being apart from family (as we’re currently apart from mine). While that’s true, his family will have had almost 20 years of living near us at that point and will have had the chance to see our children grow. We all get along well, but our interests are different and we don’t shop, eat out (except occasionally) or vacation with them like Kyle’s sister’s family does. We have always led an independent life, and have openly expressed our intention to move one day, so it won’t come as a surprise to them.

Brenda and Kyle’s Hobbies and Lifestyle

Milktarts, a South African treat baked by Brenda

We rarely eat out because I like cooking and we both bake. We also have a half-acre yard and love to be outside. The past few years I’ve experimented with growing different vegetables, and this is turning out to be our most successful year to date, which honestly isn’t saying much.

We probably don’t save any money growing our own, and are constantly locked in battle with the chipmunks and squirrels, but we enjoy it and think it’s important for the kids to learn how food is grown. We also spend a lot of time, effort and money trying to keep our grass alive, but by mid-summer our backyard usually resembles a dust bowl! Kyle likes woodwork and DIY, and among other things, he built our deck and a playhouse for the girls.

Spending time with friends is very important to us and we have a small, tight-knit group with similar interests and hobbies. Getting together usually means a potluck at one of our houses, time spent at a park, or a weekend at a cabin. Keeping up with the Joneses isn’t important to us, most of the furniture in our house is secondhand (as is our TV and two of our cars), but we try to keep our house well-maintained. Over the past seven years, we’ve put money into home repairs, painting and new AC, and at some point we will need to work on our 1970s kitchen (hello nasty tiled countertop grout!) and resurface our driveway.

Brenda and Kyle’s Frugal Nature

We don’t buy many clothes, and the kids wear a lot of hand-me-downs from the neighbors, but I do buy new shoes for everyone a couple of times a year (one child is a toe walker and the other has weak ankles). I pass on all of our kids’ clothes, books, toys etc. to friends when we are done. Since we are given a lot, I like to continue the favor.

Bread baked by Kyle

We’re avid readers and visit the library every week, but I also have a hard time saying no to buying new book series for my 9-year-old bookworm. We spend about $40 to $50 per person on gifts for birthdays/Christmas/Mother’s and Father’s Day (Kyle and I don’t usually gift each other and if we do, it’s a small, fun gift). This adds up though as we have 12 family members in the immediate vicinity. I also send parcels to my brother’s family twice a year, and a parcel to our friends in Wales once a year. The postage often costs more than what’s inside, but it’s important to me to have that connection with them and all the kids feel special receiving a parcel from another country. I typically don’t send gifts to my parents as mail has a habit of going missing in South Africa, so we treat them to something special when we’re together.

We try to spend more of our money on memories and experiences than on things, but after going through all of our accounts for this Case Study and looking at our meagre savings, I’m realizing just how much more we’re spending than we thought. I think we may like having experiences/making memories AND Target/Amazon a little too much! Our monthly income is about to increase as Kyle has been promoted and we are about to finish paying for Pre-K and Nursing School, but I’m worried that the extra money will just get sucked up into our spending.

We recognize how fortunate we’ve been and continue to be in our lives. Our hope is to one day be in a position to not only have the life and experiences we want for ourselves, but to help others too. To do this, we need to make some changes to how we manage our money, and I look forward to Frugalwoods and all the wonderful readers steering us in the right direction.

Where Brenda and Kyle Want to be in Ten Years:

Falk, our smoking dragon from Wales

1) Finances:

  • In ten years, we want to be financially secure enough to be working abroad for 5-10 years, even if the pay is less than here in the USA. In other words, we want to have enough money saved for retirement that we don’t need to save anything from our income in Europe for our retirement.
  • If we choose to remain in the USA, we want to downsize to a smaller home and be mortgage free (or close to it) and have no debt.
  • We want to have at least $30,000 in each of our kid’s college funds by the time they start college.

2) Lifestyle:

  • We love our lifestyle and hope to continue it.
  • We want to enjoy the world and all it has to offer, including time with friends, travel and outdoors.

3) Career:

  • We want Kyle to be retired from the fire department and working in emergency nursing, either in the USA or Europe.
  • I would like to be working at a non-profit organization that offers me flexibility and personal fulfillment.

Brenda and Kyle’s Finances

Income

Item Amount Notes
Kyle’s Net Income from the Fire Department $5,001.05* After health and dental, retirement, 401K, FSA and taxes/medicare/SS
Kyle’s Net Income from the Hospital $1,643.18 After taxes/medicare/SS
Brenda’s Net Income $1,040.03 After taxes/medicare/SS, and 401k
Monthly subtotal: $7,684.26
Annual total: $92,211.12

*Kyle was just promoted and his new salary will be $5,700, but I recorded our income and expenses as they were for the past 6 months.

Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Mortgage and property taxes $1,300
Groceries, household supplies, dog food, beer, and wine $900 This was higher than I expected. I have switched to buying more organic, and we go through a HUGE amount of fresh fruit and veggies each week. It also includes our beer and wine consumption:-) I pack school lunches for both girls and do use things like Lara Bars quite regularly, which are quite pricey. Plus, all the baking. Too much baking..
Travel and Entertainment $750 Includes local and international travel
Kyle’s nursing course, software, etc


HELOC (home equity line of credit) repayment

$400


 

$400

 

Our portion (his employer pays about 2/3 of the tuition). He will graduate at the end of July.

 


We took out this HELOC to install a bathroom in our finished basement. My father has severe scoliosis, and the guest bedroom and TV area are in the basement. Coming up and down to use the bathroom was hard on him, so we installed a downstairs half bath in the laundry room before their last three-month-long visit.

Kids school fees, supplies, teacher gifts, school fund raising events, and donations $375 This will go down to $75 as our last Pre-K payment of $300/month is this month.

Every time the kids have a field trip, have to buy a recorder for music class, etc, the form they send home has an option for paying double, to include a child who needs assistance, and we always do that. We also donate as much as we can to the bake sale, library book sale and other fundraising events.

Insurance $222 Includes 3 cars, house and valuables, life insurance for both of us, and nursing insurance
Charitable donations $200 3 monthly debits plus annual and sporadic donations
Gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and posting parcels $200
Amazon and Target $200 Books, occasional toys, home goods etc
Electricity and Gas $155
Brenda’s splash fund $150 Covers anything spent at work, get togethers with friends, anniversary card or gift, etc.
Kyle’s splash fund $150 As above
Fuel for cars $142
Home & Garden supplies $110 Includes fuel for lawn mower, spray for mosquitoes, vegetables plants, DIY projects, etc
Dog $103 Includes annual vet check & shots, dog sitting, and hair and nails four times per year
Children’s camps/sports $100 One does gymnastics, one does sewing
Clothes and shoes $100
Comcast Internet & Basic TV $89
Two Cell Phones (through Verizon) $85 We looked into the MVNO Republic Wireless but they don’t allow international calls and we must be able to call my parents in South Africa in emergencies
Car expenses: repairs, licensing, and tyres $85
Water and Waste Removal $83
Medical $70 Glasses, dentist and chiropractor (after using insurance and FSA).

Our medical costs have been higher than usual this year because I’ve had a lot of dental work, our oldest daughter had a growth spurt and needed new glasses twice in 6 months, and Kyle has been seeing a chiropractor regularly due to all the lifting he does in both jobs.

Eating out $65 Chick-fil-a once per month for kids plus occasional extended family meal
Hair & beauty $50 Kyle’s monthly haircut, the rest of us go twice a year, and I get my eyebrows done 4-5 times per year.
Streaming TV $40 Disney+ (just added for shut down until end of summer, after that it will go back down to $33)
Credit card fees $25 Annual fees on 3 cards. We usually earn enough points to cover a couple of nights at a hotel and at least one free plane ticket.
Weight watchers $20
Craft/DIY supplies $20
Monthly subtotal: $6,589
Annual total: $79,068

We also had the below one-off expenses this year, which all occurred in the same month and were covered by our $7,700 tax return:

Item Amount
Foundation repair $5,200
Cadillac engine breakdown and towing $1,220
Tree removal $550
Total:  $6,970

Assets

Item Amount Notes
Kyle Fire Dept Pension TBD Will be 50% of his top 3 salary years starting in October 2026 (when he’s 47)
Brenda State Pension TBD Vested in state pension, current projection is $260/month starting at age 65
Kyle ICMA 401k Retirement $44,410
Child #1 529 (College Fund) $13,428 We contribute $100/month
Brenda Traditional IRA $11,924 Rolled over from 401k when I left my previous job, I contribute $50/month now
Child #2 529 (College Fund) $4,240 We contribute $50/month and will increase this to $100/month once she starts kindergarten in the fall
Regular Savings Account $4,150
Regular Checking account $1,873
Brenda 401k $1,750
Travel Fund in Regular Savings Account $404
Brenda Splash Fund $85
Kyle Splash Fund $75
Total: $82,339

We also have $3,500 in airline credit from flights cancelled due to the pandemic

Mortgage and Home Equity

Item Outstanding loan balance Interest Rate and Terms Equity (amount you’ve paid off) Purchase price
Mortgage $187,620 3.5%, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage $62,381 $250k in 2012 (Current Zillow value estimate is $395,428)

Debt

Item Outstanding loan balance Interest Rate Loan Period/Payoff Terms/Your monthly required payment
HELOC $4,600 6% We have upped our repayments from $200 to $400/month

This was for the installation of a bathroom in our finished basement. My father has quite severe scoliosis, and the guest bedroom and TV area are in the basement. Coming up and down to use the bathroom was hard on him, so we installed a downstairs half bath in the laundry room just before their last three-month-long visit.

Vehicles

Vehicle make, model, year Valued at Mileage Paid off?
Chevy Equinox 2010 $7,000 82,247 Yes
Cadillac CTS 2005 $4,000 45,000 Yes
Honda Accord 2003 $1,000 196,000 Yes
Total valuation: $12,000

We bought the Chevy new and paid off the 4 year loan in 3 years. The Cadillac we bought in cash from Kyle’s grandmother a few years ago. We were given the Honda by a great aunt who went into elder care and we keep it for visitors (we had a visitor for all of last summer and were expecting my parents and brother this summer, but had to cancel the tickets we bought due to the pandemic).

Credit Card Strategy

Card Name Rewards Type Bank/card company
Chase Sapphire Preferred (affiliate link) Travel (All) Chase Bank
Hilton Travel (Hotel) American Express
British Airways Travel (Flight) Chase Bank

Mrs. Frugalwoods note: here are tips on how to create your own credit card strategy

Brenda and Kyle’s Questions for You:

1) Are we saving enough for retirement?

  • We have some savings in 401k, IRA and college funds, but a big portion of our retirement will be funded by Kyle’s fire department retirement. It will start when he is 47, and be 50% of his salary.
  • We know roughly what it will be per annum, but because it is not a concrete total amount, like a 401k, I find it hard to get my head around how to work it into our projections.

2) We know we need to cut back our monthly expenses and save more, but don’t want to cut our donations or travel.

  • I know our travel is a big expenditure, and maybe we should be more open-minded about cutting it, but can we save enough by making other cuts?

3) If we moved in 6 years, our children would be starting middle and high school.

  • We know the school systems in the UK are different (I worked at a high school in London), and transition can be tough at any age. Given that, we are willing to consider both local schools and home schooling.
  • Do any readers have experience/suggestions on moving with children in those age groups to the UK or to a US military base in Europe?

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Brenda and Kyle have done a great job over the years and have put themselves in an excellent position. I commend them for the work they’ve done to identify their longterm vision and goals. Their desire to live abroad is clearly a shared dream and one they’ve put a lot of thought into. I love their methodical approach and the deliberate steps they’ve taken to one day make this goal a reality. Way to go!! Ok let’s dive into Brenda’s questions:

Brenda’s Question #1: Are we saving enough for retirement?

This hinges almost entirely on the details of Kyle’s pension. If they haven’t already, Brenda and Kyle should research every last detail of his pension system. Since they’ll be relying heavily on this pension, they’ll want to know everything about it, including:

Brenda and Kyle’s first veggie haul this year

In many ways, their financial future is pretty straightforward: once they know what they spend and the ramifications of Kyle’s pension plan, they can calculate what they need to save.

In addition to Kyle’s pension, they have Brenda’s pension and social security. They should go ahead and figure out their anticipated social security earnings, which they can do by following these instructions on how to retrieve their earnings tables from ssa.gov (the government Social Security website).

Then, they have $58,084 in 401ks and an IRA  [$44,410 (Kyle’s 401k) + $11,924 (Brenda’s IRA) + $1,750 (Brenda’s 401k)]. Given their ages, this isn’t nearly enough, but again, these aren’t their primary retirement vehicles. The primary is Kyle’s pension, so I’d do extensive research on the viability and regulations surrounding that.

One question I have: does Brenda’s employer offer a match on her 401k? If so, I encourage Brenda to contribute enough to qualify for the match (it’s free money!!!!).

Brenda’s Question #2: We know we need to cut back our monthly expenses and save more, but don’t want to cut our donations or travel.

My main concern with Brenda and Kyle’s finances is how little cash they have on hand. Between all their savings and checking accounts, they have $6,587:

Item Amount
Regular Savings Account $4,150
Regular Checking account $1,873
Travel Fund in Regular Savings Account $404
Brenda Splash Fund $85
Kyle Splash Fund $75
Total: $6,587

Since they spend $6,589 per month, their savings would only cover their expenses for one month. This would put them in a very precarious position if one of them were to unexpectedly lose their jobs.

In general, I recommend that folks have an emergency fund (which is just a fancy word for cash on hand) of at least three to six months worth of spending. For Brenda and Kyle, they should target saving somewhere between $19,767 (three months worth) and $39,534 (six months worth).

Side note: In order to know how much you need in an emergency fund, you’ve got to know how much you spend every month, which is why I use and recommend the free expense tracker from Personal Capital.

The good news is that Brenda and Kyle are about to shed two huge expenses: Kyle’s nursing program tuition and preschool payments, which total $700 per month. That’s a massive savings right there and will bring their monthly outlay down to $5,889 (which brings their corresponding emergency fund goal range down to between $17,667 and $35,334). The less you spend, the less you need to save in an emergency fund.

At the rate of saving $700 per month, it would take Kyle and Brenda over two years to build up a three-month emergency fund, so let’s take a look at some other areas where they might be able to save more.

Brenda and Kyle’s Expenses

Playhouse built by Kyle

All of their expenses are totally reasonable, the problem is that there are too many of them. Brenda and Kyle can’t support this level of spending at their current salary levels. However, Brenda noted that Kyle was recently promoted to Captain and his new salary will be $5,700 per month. I’m not sure if this is gross or net; when they know the net amount, they’ll be able to more accurately calculate their savings rate.

The other red flag for me is their HELOC (home equity line of credit) debt because it has an interest rate of 6%. I’d love to see them pay this off at an accelerated pace (which they’re already doing). The tension is that they shouldn’t funnel extra money into this debt repayment until they have a more robust emergency fund.

An emergency fund is your buffer between you and more debt. It’s crucial to have this cash to float you in the event of an unforeseen circumstance (job loss, car breakdowns, new roof needed ASAP, dental emergency for the kids, the list goes on… ).

Given that, they’ll need to balance the HELOC pay-off with the goal of beefing up their emergency fund. What I might encourage Brenda and Kyle to do right now is to identify what expenses they could eliminate in the short term in order to address this dual goal. Once the HELOC is paid off, that’s another $400 per month they can save.

I’m a big fan of going for the big fish when looking to save more, so let’s go for the spending jugular. I removed all of the fixed, mandatory expenses and the necessary expenses and came up with the below list of discretionary expenses that Kyle and Brenda could–if they wanted–put on hold for a short period of time while they build up an emergency fund and pay off their HELOC.

I’m not saying this spending is bad and I’m not saying they shouldn’t add this stuff back in the future, I’m just saying that these are discretionary line items that could be removed for a short period of time:

Item Amount Mrs. FW’s Notes
Travel /Entertainment $750 Can this be put on hold, especially while travel restrictions are in place for the pandemic?
Charitable donations $200 Can this be put on hold for just a few months?
Gifts birthday/xmas/posting parcels $200 Can this be put on hold for just a few months?
Amazon/Target $200 Can this be put on hold for just a few months?
Brenda Splash fund $150 Can this be put on hold for just a few months?
Kyle splash fund $150 Can this be put on hold for just a few months?
Home & Garden $110 Can this be put on hold for just a few months?
Children’s camps/sports $100 Are these activities happening this summer (in light of the pandemic)?
Eating out $65 Can this be put on hold for just a few months?
Hair & beauty $50 Can you insource haircuts for just a few months? See this post for how.
Streaming TV $40 Can you do without for a few months (or reduce the amount and rely instead on free trials from different streaming networks? See this post for details).
Craft/DIY stores $20 Can this be put on hold for just a few months?
Monthly subtotal: $2,035
Annual total: $24,420

If Brenda and Kyle were able to save this $2,035 per month, plus the $700 from the conclusion of nursing school and preschool tuition, plus Kyle’s salary bump of $700 per month, they could save a whopping $3,435 PER MONTH. At that rate, they could fund an emergency fund of $17,667 in five months and pay off the rest of their HELOC in the following several months. In well under a year, they could easily wipe out their debt and put themselves in a much more financially secure position.

Brenda hiking in her 20s

It would take sacrifices and it would change their lifestyle, but only for the short-term. Once these savings are in place, they can make the determination of whether or not they want to return to their previous level of spending. Plus, the great thing about a spending detox like this is that it can help clarify your spending priorities. Sometimes, you add it all back in. But other times, you realize you can spend less in certain categories without impacting your overall quality of life.

Side note: Brenda noted she felt their grocery bill was too high at $900, but this also includes their household supplies, beer, wine, and dog food. Since she’s feeding two growing girls, two adults, and one dog, I actually think $900 is pretty reasonable. Could she spend less? Sure, but if she wants to continue prioritizing organic fruits and veggies, the total amount might not go down by all that much. That’s why I identified all of the other above options for saving.

Another idea is for Brenda and Kyle to take my Uber Frugal Month Challenge together. It’s free and you can sign-up to take it at any time here.

Brenda’s Question #3: If we moved in 6 years, our children would be starting middle and high school. Do any readers have experience/suggestions on moving with children in those age groups to the UK or to a US military base in Europe?

Bustling Charles Bridge and Prague Castle

I’m throwing this one to the readers as I have zero experience in this area. All I’ll say is that Brenda and Kyle seem to have thought this through very carefully and, given their willingness to homeschool if needed, it seems they’ll make it work beautifully. I love the idea of raising global citizens and think their girls will have fabulously broadened horizon.

My first question is one of logistics: if the girls hope/plan to attend university back in the states, what impact will going to high school in another country have? I’m totally ignorant of how this works, just throwing it out there that Brenda and Kyle may need to go through extra hoops for ACT/SAT, financial aid, scholarships, and college applications.

My other question stems from having once been a teenager: how will Brenda and Kyle adjust if their older daughter is resistant to leaving her friends when she’s about to start high school? Would there be an opportunity for her to live with Kyle’s family in Tennessee and complete high school? Would Kyle and Brenda consider delaying their plans for four years while she finished high school? How a person feels about moving abroad at age nine is likely very different from how one feels at age 15.

I agree it makes total sense to wait for Kyle’s retirement before making this move (particularly since his pension is the cornerstone of their retirement), but am cognizant that 15 might be an age that’s resistant to being uprooted.

Summary:

  1. Research all the details of Kyle’s pension plan in order to have a clearer sense of what to expect.
  2. Prioritize building an emergency fund of three to six months’ worth of expenses
  3. Pay off the HELOC.
  4. Reduce expenses in order to achieve numbers 2 and 3.
  5. Consider plans B and C if the kids are resistant to the idea of moving abroad at ages 15 and 10.

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Brenda? We’ll both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!

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

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122 Responses

  1. Chris@TTL says:

    Great, deep case study!

    Some thoughts:
    – I agree they REALLY need a good grip on what’s up with the pension since it represents potentially huge value but might be out of their hands. Aside from the details mentioned already, I’d try to have a firm understanding of future safety (funding) of the pension. Far too often we hear about pensions getting cut.
    – $9k/year does seem like a lot for travel when there are other priorities, even though it seems to be their key fun thing. I guess it’s a matter of deciding what’s more important or finding some balance. Brenda & Kyle can certainly still travel! Perhaps just a matter of less of the expensive parts (air travel? hotels? luxury restaurants?) and trying to leverage travel deals, rewards travel, etc to minimize expenses.

    Thanks for sharing the interesting story!

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks Chris, I will definitely look into his pension a bit more. The city we live in is financially very stable, so I guess I always just assumed his pension would be fine.
      Regarding the travel, yes it is a lot! I would say $7000 at least goes to our international travel, and that is without any luxury restaurants etc. Last year a trip to Prague cost us $5200 for flights/car rental for 15 days (this was a good deal with our British Airways card, when I priced flights alone they were over $6000 for 4 at that time of year). We stayed in a little cottage that cost $60/night and tried to keep food/drink/sightseeing to a reasonable amount. It all just adds up so fast for a family of four. Perhaps this year ahead is a good time to focus on the local aspect of travel, and put what we would spend on international travel in our emergency fund.

    • Bonnie says:

      Agree 100% with gaining as much knowledge as possible regarding the pension. What are the funds invested in … etc. Treat it like a job to research. We’re dealing with fallout from that now and while there are governmental regulations, there is also a max that will be covered in case of issues/company takeover/bankruptcy. And we’ve been monitoring his for years, but still … things are out of an employee or former employee’s control.
      Regarding moving when kids are in teens, just do it if it’s the right thing for your family. Military families do that all the time (our Navy family moved a lot when I was growing up and in teen years) and you just handle it. There was never a question asked if anyone wanted to go. And now, with all the ways you stay connected, it’s a game-changer. We had letters! haha. … Colleges overseas as well, if that’s an option.
      Knowing exactly what’s being bought at Target, etc., is a huge eye-opener at times. How many times do you leave with more than was on your list? I realized that about 10 years ago, and that ended a lot of misc. spending that didn’t move me forward toward my goals.
      Maybe determine where you’ll visit by the cost, not the destination at times. Have a list of where you want to go and look at flights intra-euro as well. I’m often surprised at the deals on triangle flights where we visit a few cities, flying into one, taking trains around and then flying out of another. It’s definitely a splurge though, if you’re planning to retire earlier.

      • Brenda says:

        Thanks Bonnie, we will definitely put more research into the pension. Your other points are great too, and I’ve imposed a ban on Target for the foreseeable future. This forced stay home is definitely a good time for us to save as much as possible, and rethink some of the ways we travel.

        • Alison in Mass says:

          Big box stores are so hard to leave with purchasing extra stuff. But, a plus side of the pandemic is that they all now mostly have the curbside pickup thing totally figured out. If you use that to avoid going in the store, you have a much higher chance of purchasing only what’s needed because you won’t even be entering the store. And, it saves time too. For Target, I actually prefer to being mailed to my house because the way they package and wrap things is insane.

  2. Fiona Murray says:

    Hi We did something like they are planning but the opposite way round and moved our kids from Europe (London UK) to USA at the start of junior high. It was difficult and the education systems are more different than we were expecting. Do your research carefully as in the end we came back after realising that our daughter was very unhappy in US high school and that we would never qualify for US college funding.

    • Brenda says:

      I’m sorry you had to go back, I know college in the USA can be very expensive. The systems are different, and although I have a pretty good working knowledge of GCSEs/A levels compared to US high school, it could be a difficult transition for sure. I think we need to look further into the possibility that some readers have raised of working at a US/International school.

  3. Elise says:

    I live here in the USA while all of my family is in Europe (and my partner’s family is in the USA), so I recognize so much of this case study – frequent travel and long-term hosting. Thank you so much for sharing this!

    I have one idea for a minor way in which to save some money. I and my family often use local services to send each other presents, it saves on the postage a lot. So for example, I ordered my mom a book through a Dutch webshop for mother’s day; and my brother just ordered me a present through amazon here in the USA. That saves a lot on postage. And then if we want to give gifts that we buy ourselves, they travel with us in suitcases. And I do sometimes exchange hand-written cards with friends and family, but those are affordable (compared with sending presents).

    • Brenda says:

      That’s a great idea Elise, thank you. I did recently send my friend in Wales a bottle of gin from her lovely local distiller, and it made me wonder why I hadn’t done something similar before. It would save on the really high cost of mailing a parcel, and we could support businesses local to our friends and family.

      • Caroline Bowman says:

        Hi Brenda

        I was going to say something like this. As you probably know, the SA economy is… not great… and we also have hugely innovative and interesting suppliers of all kinds of things from leather goods to gin (yay for gin!) and lots else. If I were you, I’d definitely look at sending your family and loved ones back home things from within the country. You’d spend substantially less, support our tragic economy in a really meaningful way and everyone would win :).

    • Mandy says:

      I live in Germany and do this too! I send family in the US packages from shops in the US, usually from Etsy, women owned companies etc so its unique and personalized but not 100$ to mail 2 pounds of local chocolate that cost me 10$. Or I wait and bring presents when I am traveling to someone I love and I will bring the next years worth of presents pre-wrapped for B-day, Xmas etc and they just keep it in the closet until its time to bring it out.

    • Anne says:

      I do that. It makes a lot more sense monetarily, and less work for me to lug something to the post office than to just pick it out. We also do sending flowers from a local florist, which you can’t send from overseas.

  4. CKW says:

    Very cool case study! Sounds like you two have a great life and goals for a really neat future. A few points – any reason you can’t use WhatsApp or a similar app to talk/text family abroad? I don’t know about South Africa but I know WhatsApp works in Asia, the US, and Europe and it’s completely free, encrypted, and allows for talk, text, and video. Truly amazing and all it needs it wifi, which might free you up to look at different phone plans. Also, we are living abroad this year and there are some difficult logistics that can arise (especially during a global pandemic!) when you set out on your own. Thus, I would highly recommend you look into a program or employment situation that will do a lot of the transition work for you (move, visas, built-in community, general life logistics, school options, etc) to smooth out definite and potential bumps in your transition. The idea about working on base in Germany sounds fantastic. Is there any military installment near you where Kyle could pick up nursing shifts and become part of that ecosystem? For example, our friends that are civilian contractors at naval bases can apply to jump every few years to new assignments if they wish, including to bases abroad. What about Brenda’s gvt. agency? Any potential partner programs abroad that you could move to? We are on a Fulbright (open to “college and university faculty and administrators as well as for professionals, artists, journalists, scientists, lawyers, independent scholars and many others” ), and though it’s closed down next year (I think) due to the pandemic, it or something like it might be worth keeping your eye on for your projected timeline. Also, as Liz alluded to, the International school tracks can be complicated while abroad, so looking into home school is an excellent idea if you don’t want to match curricula. Though – if either of you could work at an International school that your girls could also attend for free or a reduced rate (good international schools are typically $$$$) , that might be a possibility as well. Also, I know you have family in Europe but living in Asia for even a year or two could be a lot of fun and can be so very easy on the pocketbook. There is a reason so many expats gravitate to SE Asia, plus there are several countries where English is quite commonly spoken. Lots of folks live here and travel constantly, including to Europe, because everyday living is so much less expensive. Something else to think about! Finally, once you have beefed up your emergency fund and killed the HELOC, saving more in tax-advantaged vehicles like the 401Ks will also help reduce your taxable income, which will save some $ at tax time, which helps to snowball that whole effort. Good luck!!!

    • Brenda says:

      Unfortunately my parents don’t have, and won’t use, smart phones. We do use Skype for video calls on their computer, but there have been instances (for example when my father had a heart attack a few years ago) where phoning cell to cell was the only option.
      We do hope that Kyle can get a job offer that includes relocation. I know that this is a possibility with certain nursing jobs in the UK, and nursing positions on the US bases. From what I can tell from my research, I should be eligible to work too. I have worked in the UK before, and speak German, so either one would be fine for me.
      A job at an international school would be a great option too, that’s definitely something to consider, thanks!

      • Katie says:

        My husband uses Google FI (~$20/mo) to call his mom on her landline or cell in India. Good luck!

      • Jessi says:

        Brenda I don’t know if you know this but you can use skype to call other peoples phones. It costs cents per minute and is how I call New Zealand from London. Then as long as you have wifi you can call your parents cells

      • Silvana says:

        HI Brenda,
        It’s very difficult to get a Nursing position in the US Military bases unless the spouse is married to an Active Duty family member who has Spousal preference or already a Civilian RN working in a military hospital and then gets a relocation package. There are RN’s who are volunteering for 2 years in US Military Hospitals in GUAM, Germany, Italy and Japan just waiting for an opening. I was a civilian CN myself working at TAMC. Another option would be travel nursing to the UK, . The NHS is always hiring Nurses but the conditions are much worse than the US and the pay is low. I know experience ED Nurses working in the UK making 16 pound per hour. The benefit of the UK is that it’s very cheap to travel to other cities in Europe. Just my experience as a fellow Nurse!

      • Anne says:

        I use Google voice for international calls when I can’t use WhatsApp (like calling to landlines or a non-smart phone). You just buy $10 of credit and use it when you need it. If you’re only using international calls for emergencies, and scheduling skypes for regular catch ups, this would be a really cheap option to keep the flexibility and switch to a cheaper phone plan.

  5. JD says:

    I think Mrs. FW has some really good advice. I would suggest looking at what college expenses and tuition would be for their daughters, if going to college in the U.S. as non-residents. It might be a lot higher, or there might be enticing offers possible. If there is any way to talk to prospective colleges (say, in Tennessee?) about that, I think I would.

    The Target/Amazon number is high, I agree. I think many of us get that surprise when we actually add it up. I’d try a ban for a month, like doing the Uber Frugal month, as Mrs. FW suggested. Then see how much you really need to buy there, as opposed to how much you want to buy. Same thing on clothing – how many months can you go without purchasing clothing? Stick all the money you saved right in savings.

    It sounds exciting! Good luck!

    • Brenda says:

      I will definitely look into the college expenses, thanks. I had really only thought as far as the end of high school.
      Yes the black hole of Amazon/Target… Some of the items were necessary, like water filters for the fridge, a new Roku remote after the 4 year old broke the last one, but definitely way more frivolous spending than necessary. A ban sounds like a good idea.

      • Deborah Albert says:

        We lived overseas for 11 years while my children were in elementary/high school. It is important to keep a stateside address, Driver’s license, a place where US bills are sent, etc. That should keep your kids eligible for in-state college tuition. We used my parent’s address on our DL’s, credit cards, etc. while we were overseas. My oldest son was 13 when we moved to Kenya and he wouldn’t change the experience for anything (they did go to a private international school with lots of other Americans.) My youngest was 7-18 while living there and he considers it home. They both benefited so much from the experience.

        • Brenda says:

          A good tip, thanks Deborah. My best friend from high school has lived in Kenya for the past 15 years with her family and absolutely loves it.

          • M says:

            Yikes, please be careful with that advice. I’ve worked in public policy in the state for years, and the way this is described does not sound like it would meet the legal definition of residency under Tennessee law. If you are not a resident and are caught using someone else’s address to receive state benefits there can be significant consequences: financial penalties, expulsion from colleges, or even the potential for criminal fraud charges. There is a big difference between “keeping kids eligible for in-state tuition” and “making it look like they are eligible” when they are not.

            There are considerable higher education benefits for Tennessee students when compared to other states, (HOPE scholarship, TN Promise, tuition benefits for state employee dependents, fee waivers, etc.) so it’s definitely worth factoring that into your long term planning!

    • Shannon says:

      Yes, TN has free college for residents, so it’s definitely worth keeping in mind.

      • Alison in Mass says:

        it does? wow. I live in Massachusetts and in state tuition is $15k at the flagship school, which is my alma mater. and that doesn’t include room and board! go TN!

  6. Mandy says:

    I am an American who was a foreign exchange student in Germany & then I moved back to Germany when I was 18.
    Just as an FYI homeschooling is illegal in Germany unless you are living on a US military base. The rules will be different from country to country so make sure to check that out in advance if its part of your plan.
    If you are not working as a civilian on a military base – then I assume without citizenship in an EU country you will be required to get VISAs? Those requirements will be different from country to country but generally include proving you have a bank account with a certain amount of cash available, medical coverage, proof you have committed no crimes in your home country (I specifically have to get it yearly for my work), marriage certificate, birth certificates (in Germany they expire every 6 months – that’s lots of fun & there is a special procedure for Americans to get them here) etc.
    As a US citizen you are required to file FBAR if you have more than 10,000$ on a foreign account at any time. Foreign banks will tell you in the EU that they have to notify the US of your bank accounts here. You are required to pay US taxes on your worldwide income so if earning money here you will probably want a tax lawyer / US accountant to help you with that.
    If your husband wants to work as a nurse in the EU, if its not on a US military base, there will probably be courses/qualifications he will have to go threw because the medical systems are different here from the US.
    I took my SAT’s in Germany during my foreign exchange year. I took them 4 times as I am dyslexic & every time I scored 100-150 points higher, this was back in 2002 so you’ll have ample opportunities for your kids to take them here. They offer them at International private schools around the country several times a year and I imagine other EU countries offer them as well.
    I specifically came back to Germany because I could afford to pay cash for University here with my parents help and in the US I would have had to take out major student loans. All the US foreign exchange students that showed up at my German, Dutch and Swedish Universities I attended had paid US tuition prices in the US and their US universities “sent” them to Universities in Europe that cost little to nothing in comparison. Tuition at universities in Germany average between 200€-500€ a semester which includes your public transportation card. So I would highly encourage considering sending your kids to university here if you can. A lot of programs are in English and if your kids live here for several years they will be able to pick up a language or two. In which case 30,000$ will cover most of their University (uni) costs, at almost any EU University. (I studied German law, European Law & International Commercial Arbitration law – so I was in uni for 7 years – most are in uni for 4-5 years depending on what they study.)
    Even if your kids want to go back to the US to live and work, if they have an education from a University in Europe it pretty much guarantees that they will have no student loans, they will stand out in a market saturated with US graduates and if you add international travel experience + a foreign language or two – your kids will not suffer whatsoever for not following the “normal” course of study in the US. Most US students are struggling to pay for their education state side, while adding a foreign exchange semester or year into their budget because its so valued.
    As your kids are American (I assume) they can apply for FAFSA and it even applies to some EU Universities (you can contact them directly for a list of currently approved Universities).
    Hope this helps!

    • Brenda says:

      Very interesting and helpful information, thank you. I think we would only consider Germany if we could get a job with the military, otherwise the language transition etc. would probably be too much. I speak it to about an intermediate level, not enough to get our main work permit, and Kyle couldn’t nurse there except for a US institution. I do find it amazing how much more college costs in the US, but then again the European taxes are so much higher.

  7. Paz says:

    I’m mainly here to comment on moving at middle/ highschool.

    I moved from the US to Israel right at the start of high school and I was miserable! We had family there but I had just started making friends and they where getting more important and I had them yanked from under my feet. I felt extremely isolated. Add to that having to study in a different language and culture. ( I knew the language but reading was hard) and timezones making it harder to keep in touch with friends from back home, it was really hard. My younger brother felt ok and bounced back fast as a middle schooler.

    I would strongly suggest making it temporary as a year might be fun to be the exotic kid, but more than that is feels really hard.

    As for collage, I was able to go the community college route when I came back to the States. Two years, then transfer and was able to skip says acts etc that way.

    If you want more info on my experience I would be happy to help

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks for this perspective, definitely something to think about.

      • Carrie says:

        I also moved overseas (father employed by the Navy) the summer before starting my junior year of high school. If you had asked me before leaving, I would unequivocally said I didn’t want to move, that is wasn’t fair, etc. Lots of tears! Once I arrived though, I found I absolutely loved it. Made fantastic friends and was able to travel and experience so many different cultures. I look back on those couple of years as some of best times I’ve had. I guess my comment is really to say that sometimes you don’t know what something will be like until you do it. 🙂

        • Mandy says:

          Same with my sister. My parents sent her to an international boarding school in Canada and it was nothing but tears and your ruining my life. When she graduated it was nothing but tears and how dare you bring be back to America afterwards.

        • Paz says:

          Interestingly enough it was the same with my brother! He was the loudest opposed out of me and my sister but settled in right quick, me and my sister kinda just felt helpless (we didn’t complain loud and scream and shout but we just quietly despaired and didnt recover and “settle in”) and I feel like thats when my sister stopped being a bundle of sunshine and rainbows super happy kid to a depressed and anxious one. She was in elementary school. It really depends on the kid! But I think for me having the hope of it being just a one year adventure would have helped.

  8. Julia Marwood says:

    Hello from the UK! 🇬🇧 It would definitely be worth researching how medical costs would be covered over here – I understand that the normal annual fee payable by Americans to use our excellent health service may in future be waived if the US citizen is actually working for the NHS. I’m not sure of the details, but having access to free health care obviously offsets the lower earnings over here.

    • Brenda says:

      Hi Julia. We would try to get a position with the NHC. From what we have researched, there is now no cap on the number of work permits available for nurses. Male nurses, especially in Wales, seem to be few and far between, and in high demand.

    • Cat says:

      It’s not really free – you would have to pay tax If working and there Is a surcharge to be paid. If working for the NHS there may be a relaxing of the fee but you’d still have to contribute with tax anyway

  9. Rachel S says:

    A few thoughts. First I totally sympathize with the high travel costs. When you have immediate family living in a foreign country, there are more considerations to traveling than just “have a staycation! Go camping!” The cost is establishing and developing a relationship between grandchild and grandparent, of maintaining family ties that can withstand the test of time. And when you have to buy 4 international plane tickets every year at $1500 each, your travel costs are actually quite low! With that said, have you all looked into travel hacking to try to reduce expenses? Ask grandparents to gift the grandchildren their tickets instead of gifts for birthday/ Christmas etc.? (Of course this may not be financially feasible, but it’s an idea).

    If you want to move to Europe, you might need to double your current travel budget (to maintain the same level of travel). Once to go see his family and again to see yours. Now you have 2 international trips you will want to take every year, give or take. Not to mention all of the other travel you are probably excited to do once you are living in Europe, but this time with two expensive teenagers coming along. Of course there are ways to travel cheaply, but no matter how cheap you travel, you still have some costs involved. Couple that with your reduced income and (maybe) higher cost of living… What I’m saying is that the cost comparison between your US lifestyle and your future European one isn’t a 1:1 ratio. And you will want to factor your budget into that.

    Next, another option to have a fun travel lifestyle while remaining in the US with frequent trips to Europe- your husband could look into travel nursing here in the US. If done correctly, it can be quite lucrative and can give you adventure and cultural diversity that you are looking for. They even have international travel nursing, but I am less sure how that works and if that could be useful for you all. But it might be worth some research.

    Lastly, is there anyway you can increase your income Brenda. If you want to maintain your same travel budget (which is obviously a paramount importance), the other side of the equation is for you to make enough to offset that. Now that the girls are in school with more consistent schedules, you may not feel as much of a need to have as flexible a schedule as you do now. And if you go back to working full time, for the next several years, your income could compensate.

    Either way, you all have obviously thought a lot about your goals and future and I’m envious of the amazing experiences you all will have and you will introduce to your children. Good luck!

    • Brenda says:

      Some interesting points raised, thanks Rachel. We have certainly tried to maintain those family relationships, especially with grandparents. We do travel hack a bit, for example we paid for our family trip to Prague last year, but I used points with all 3 of our cards to send Kyle and his father to Normandy for a week for basically nothing. They stayed in nicer places than we would as a family, and had a wonderful multi-day tour of the landing beaches. I felt this was a great use of our points, as it was the first father/son trip they took since Kyle graduated high school, and was probably the last too (due to his father’s health).
      Living in Europe, the flights to and from South Africa are much cheaper than from the USA. There are many more airlines flying there, and much better deals can be had. We will also be closer to my brother and can get to him quite cheaply, or they can they afford to fly to us. We love train travel too, and hope to do more of that while living there.
      Thanks for the tip on travel nursing in the USA. I don’t really know anything about it, and how we would manage with schooling, but will certainly look into it.

      • Brenda says:

        And yes, I could definitely increase my income. As of August, if this pandemic allows, my youngest will be in school until the same time as the oldest, hooray. I would still like to be home with them in the afternoons (after 3.30pm), but will have the option to work an extra day or two each week if I choose.

        • Allison says:

          You could look into online homeschool programs like Tennessee Connection Academy or others. As far as military bases in Europe, Trump announced a downsizing of almost 20% of military members in Germany specifically, so that might hinder your options in the future.

          • Brenda says:

            Thanks Allison, yes COVID and the Administration both seem to be throwing our plans a bit right now, but we will have to see how things are looking in 6 years.

  10. Justine says:

    What would be your immigration basis for moving to Europe? Will it be through your parents or a work visa? Keep in mind that getting a European nursing license is country specific and Kyle would almost certainly need to be able to speak one of the official languages. A UK nursing job would generally be through the NHS and you would need a work visa most likely (tier 2), which can be hard to come by because the UK has to prove that no other qualified UK nurse is available to take the job. Since the UK left the EU, you won’t have the freedom of movement if you come over on a family visa from your parents. I’m not saying this to dissuade you but it could be difficult. It used to be pretty hard for American nurses to get a UK nursing license, but they’ve changed the process over the last couple of years to let more Americans be eligible. It’s pretty onerous, a written exam & clinical skills test but they’ve made changes and there’s more information about it in recent years. It used to be that you needed something like over 2000 clinical hours in nursing school, which virtually no American nurse has.

    • Cat says:

      Exactly what I was going to say! You would also need
      To budget for moving and visa costs – visa alone can be thousands of pounds.

    • Brenda says:

      We would try to get a work permit through the NHC or be hired on as a civilian nurse with the US Military. I know that each can be challenging in their own way. By the time we are ready to move, Kyle will have been a nurse for 13 years, and an EMT IV for 25 years, so we feel he would be a good candidate for employers. Our friends in Wales work with the NHS, and feel confident we wouldn’t have a problem getting a visa. Our plan is to travel to both Germany and Wales about 2 years before he retires, and really investigate it further. We would need to do some extensive research on cost of living, salaries, relocation package options etc.

  11. Katie says:

    Regarding the proposed lifestyle changes that Mrs. FW suggests: now is such a great time to give them a shot. Although it sounds a little silly to blame these behaviors on COVID, it is also a common trend I’ve noticed on many FIRE blogs – how do you explain to the people in your life why you do things differently without having to present a thesis each time? What if we had a Pandemic to blame it on, instead of an intricate, delicate, socially-charged, divisive, and loaded subject like money?

    In my own experience, sometimes carrying the “frugal weirdo” banner can feel just a “hair” awkward to justify to others who would *never* do these things: in-sourcing haircuts, for instance. This has been my white whale for a while, but I confess that I have avoided committing for years because I just didn’t want to deal with it: deal with figuring it out, deal with explaining to a curious co-worker (or sibling, parent, neighbor…) that it was my husband who cut my hair, deal with the anticipated head-cock and suspicious eyebrow raise that would come along with it, or the feeling that this person may think of you differently for something as outlandish for cutting your own hair at home. “Folks just don’t cut their hair at home,” and other silly statements come to mind. Writing this out, I could interpret that I must have an issue with my self-image in the eyes of others, but on the other hand, I also propose that haircuts are basically to keep ones self looking fresh and in compliance with expectations of social norms. Home hair cuts are NOT in compliance with social norms.

    But, we’re in a Pandemic now. No one can access salons – which means even the most spendy and fashion-forward, social pressure-compliant among us appreciate an at-home trim of dead ends. They may even be impressed with your wherewithal instead of confused why you wouldn’t carry your beautiful locks to a salon. So I’ve been giving it a try, and guess what: no catastrophes have occurred. Advantages of home haircuts include: not getting COVID at a salon, not having to make small talk with a stranger who has scissors in one hand and your locks in the other, cost is free-ninety-nine, it takes much less time than traveling to a salon, your expectations are lower, so you’re not disappointed if it doesn’t turn out perfectly, *no one will see the haircut anyway because we are all at home all. the. time.*, and, now, it is trendy! Since the haircuts are turning out perfectly acceptable (which was a pleasant surprise), I plan to just keep doing them moving forward and attribute them to a habit I picked up during COVID.

    This is just one tiny item on Mrs. FW’s list, but based on my recent experience, I think if you can convert yourself to a home-hair-cutter, then everything else on her list will be a breeze. Good luck and enjoy the freedom and $600/annum that you will get in exchange for clipping your own hair.

    • Brenda says:

      Brilliant:-) Actually Kyle used to buzz his own hair, and just last year started going back to the barber because he wanted to grow it out and have it look a certain way. He tried doing the style himself during the shutdown, but couldn’t always get it right and feels like he has to be very neat and professional looking in his uniform. I would be willing to try cut my own, or have a friend do it. To be honest, I think a lot of people around here already think we are weird, because I will drop $7000 on an trip but wear my mother in law’s hand me down clothes…

    • Mable says:

      I am proud that my husband and I have cut each other’s hair for a decade and that we both wear second hand clothes. I am not sure how it comes up so often in your conversations, but I have only had one person ever comment on my hair cut and my answer was that I would rather spend my money in a restaurant in London than at the hairdresser’s. That pretty much shut them up. Anything more intrusive and I say, “Why exactly do you want to know that?” It always ends it right there. Wear the frugal banner with pride, I say–you are helping yourself and the environment.

    • Kim says:

      I started cutting my own hair for the first time during quarantine and am hooked. I bought a haircut kit and a crea clip on Amazon. It came our awesome actually. Better than some haircuts I’ve paid for. No more salon trips!!

  12. alysta says:

    I agree completely re: moving a HS-aged daughter. We moved BACK to where we lived when my 15 year old daughter was in elementary school (to benefit from better high school) and it has been very challenging. I previously had moved back to my hometown so my kids could get the benefit of being around my parents. Bottom line: you see more of family and friends when you visit for specific periods (holidays, extended summers) than if you live there, just as you’ve seen with Kyle’s family. Key Takeaway: Parents and old friends have their own lives, too. They’ll make time, a lot of it usually, if you are there for a specific time, less so if you’re always going to be there. Personally, I’d figure out a way to spend summers in Europe once he is retired and then move if you want once both kids have graduated from high school. You have 6 years to figure out how you can set up flexible jobs to allow this. One caveat, if either child plays fall sports, summers still could be a challenge, and they are likely to not be able to have summer jobs, but I think you can get around that. That said, if either child shows interest in attending college overseas, there are some places where they can go free, which might be something to consider as well. Good luck!

    • Brenda says:

      We would be moving for the lifestyle and experience, not just to see family and friends, but worth considering. As one child gets done with high school, the second will just be starting, so I guess we either go in 6 years or do as you suggest and wait until both are done. Spending summers in Europe would definitely be a good alternative, if we could make that work.

  13. Cara says:

    Hi Brenda and Kyle- I’m an American living in Ireland for many years now, I moved a middle school and a grade school student here, and preschoolers. we have been visiting family in the States annually and indeed, when they were younger it was an undertaking and with all of us going it was quite expensive.The older two have flown the nest. I can speak to a few topics here. If your husband will be drawing a pension you need to look into how that might be taxed. We a just a few years ahead of you (age-wise) and similarly considering where to retire. The UK is actually pretty generous in terms of what they let pensioners keep, compared with other countries in Europe. You probably already know the Czech Republic has one of the lowest tax rates in Europe (I think it’s a flat 15%). Really do your homework here, including about estate/inheritance because you never know- I’m pretty sure Germany taxes the surviving spouse(!) which is unusual, and of course it depends on where these assets are located…and that depends on how you want to access them- transferring large sums, if needed, often isn’t easy, quick, or free. And do look into health insurance/health care. Again, in the UK coverage is pretty accessible to immigrants at reasonable cost. As for moving the youngsters…it can be a challenging transition at times, but they do make friends- especially if you have taken care to choose a school where there are other relocated families, and then they might not want to leave! So think about their access to university at your destination. If you’ve been paying local taxes, you may be entitled to free or discounted tuition. A few more warnings- the cost of housing is high (but our grocery bill is about half yours for four people), the quality of housing sometimes isn’t great (especially regarding plumbing and insulation), if your income in Europe is close to what it is in the States, you’re looking at 40% in taxes in most of Europe, at least on some of your income (so make sure you do make the most of the health care and university perks if you can), getting your taxes prepared by professionals in both countries costs money (read up on FATCA). And one worrying observation- your husband has never lived anywhere else, correct?. I’d be more worried about his transition. Maybe have an exit strategy (eg- hang onto your TN house for a year). Oh- and quarantine laws about moving pets are much more strict coming in this direction (because Ireland, at least, is rabies free). So consider your lovely dog’s experience too. Best of luck.

    • Cara says:

      Sorry, hope it’s not confusing to be commenting about the UK from an Irish experience. I’d say we’ve all had cause with Brexit to familiarise ourselves with our entitlements in the the UK as Irish citizens (which are still greater than those of other Europeans), especially as it’s still a big job market and academic option right next door.

      • Debbie says:

        So right on what you’ve brought up. Having an exit strategy is a good idea. Especially when we now don’t know from one day to the next what our future may look like. Local EU taxes are insane. I live in the Netherlands. While in the US a 5 percent tax on sporting equipment might be looked at as high, over here you are looking at 21 percent on many items, and not just luxury items. Car prices are crazy! We are also taxed on food and clothing….everything is taxed. And that is on top of the 40% income tax. We get it back ten-fold when our universities only charges us 2000 euros per year for any study up to and inlcuding any Masters program. I understand it is totally free in Germany….so there is that. Plus, health care in the EU will not put you in the poor house. You will never become bankrupt if you have to deal with a serious illness. Happy I’m here and not there right now!

        • Brenda says:

          Thank you Cara and Debbie for all these great points. I agree both the EU and USA have pros and cons to consider. Most likely we would return to the USA for actual retirement (age 60 or above), so we would either rent out our house for those years or sell it and invest the money for our return.
          Kyle has never lived anywhere but here and a neighboring state, and ten years ago I would have said us moving abroad might push him out of his comfort zone too much, but we have travelled so much and experienced so much in those 10 years that I feel he is quite open to it now. Wales was actually his suggestion:-) Sadly I don’t think our dog will still be around in another 6-7 years.

  14. Allison K says:

    Re phone service- you having a smart phone with google voice installed would allow you to use WiFi/data to call an international phone number directly. Looks like South Africa is 11cents a minute through this service. There may be others, too. If your call volume to parents’ direct phone line makes mvno (one with good local coverage) + parent calls still less than Verizon, kick Verizon to the curb.
    3rd car is a luxury and I question if it is truly essential for a visitor. Couldn’t a visitor drop Kyle off for a 24 hr shift and borrow his car?
    Basic cable plus multiple streaming subscriptions seems like a lot. Perhaps the family can get down to just one streaming service and rotate subscription choice across sections of the year?
    Things like bathroom reno and 3rd car for family visits- only you can determine the right balance for your family, but if you want to save, you have to find areas to cut. In the future, can you find any ways to minimize expenses to host family? More car sharing, having someone in the family temporarily switch rooms to permit hosting a guest with specific no stairs needs vs taking on new construction? Our extended family has numerous families that bump kids to sharing a room to accommodate grandparents visiting. None of the kids (inc me, now an adult) seem scarred by it; they’ve grown up always knowing they’d need to make space for visitors and it’s bred some real generosity in their personalities.
    Bluntly, you have to choose travel vs saving unless you find a way to increase income. I recognize the desire to travel and experience the world. But maybe it means you halve the frequency of international trips. Maybe it means you take your kids to places more cheaply accessed from North America for the next few years and save European destinations (that aren’t family visits) for once you’re living in Europe.
    Maybe it means a ton of US camping trips for the next few years while you build up savings. Maybe it means you communicate to family that if you come visit, you can’t pay to stay outside of their home and accept lesser accommodations they have to offer. I recognize comfort is a luxury we often invest in as adults, but it might be helpful to be reminded it’s a choice we make that means we can’t spend on other things.
    Find inexpensive experiences locally. My area (in non covid times) has a lot of programs for kids that have very low fees, libraries have museum and zoo passes, and county and state parks offer free or low cost programs for kids and adults. For hobbies and interest groups, if they are pricey and you have time to donate, ask if there is an option to donate time and receive a discount on services. I know it’s hard to give up experiences, but I don’t think you have to. I just think you have to seek out ones that cost less per value/enjoyment gained. There may also be volunteer activities that you could do as a family to broaden your experiences.
    A last comment is that maybe you need to set a budget for charitable giving and stick to it to enable emergency fund building. You need to be in a position to be able to help yourself, in addition to helping others.
    Best of luck! You have a lot of great priorities, but the painful truth is you’re going to have to cut way back on spending to achieve them.

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks Allison, I will investigate those phone options. We do get a Fire fighters discount with Verizon, but it is still a bit higher than we like. Streaming could be reduced for sure. The only reason we have basic cable is because that was the cheapest way to get internet here, its all a bit of a racket.
      We could definitely do more local travel now. We don’t mind sharing rooms and staying with family, we have done that in the past. We travelled to Prague with another family last year, and it was their first trip abroad, so we thought they would feel more comfortable if we stayed near them and not at a separate place, and my brother didn’t have space for 8 of us.
      The 3rd car was given to us, and is an old beater we just held onto knowing we had visitors coming. We plan to get rid of it soon. My parents do watch the kids for me when they come in summer, and use our car to take kids to the park etc. The bathroom was a luxury, and probably something we shouldn’t have taken a HELOC for, but I couldn’t bare to see my father climb our steep basement stairs over and over so I made an emotional decision. Much of our charitable giving is the same, emotionally driven, and something I need to get control of until our finances are more secure.

  15. Jean says:

    I know you want to go as a family to visit your family but they are your family after all and I am sure you are the most important person they want to see. One ticket would be so much cheaper and you could stay with them. You could video your kids for them. There were only a couple of times that our daughter came to Florida to see us without her family and we loved it, had her all to ourselves. Leaving the US is a bit scary to me but I am older. Young people do not concern themselves as much as older persons do. I know some countries are experiencing rises in other diseases due to lack of vaccinations being done like measles, cholera, diphtheria. Your husband could be exposed. Not to say that we won’t have some of that here but not as much as other countries. Tennessee is a wonderful state. My daughter has a second home on Norris Lake. We had a float house at stardust marina on Norris lake for many years. There is a lot to see and do in America. Both of you have great jobs, would be so hard to leave that for the unknown. Your children may have difficulty adapting to a new culture, school, etc. they will be older and have to leave their friends. I just encourage you to think long and hard before taking that leap. I agree too that you need that 6 months emergency cash on hand and need to save more each month. Congratulations on your babysitter. We also had a sheltie and they are wonderful animals. They watch after the kids. You give them the rule book, they memorize it and hand it back to you. Wonderful dogs. Do you get the dogs teeth cleaned yearly, that is so important to maintaining an animals health. Good luck to you

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks Jean. Tennessee is lovely, and we have explored and enjoyed so much of it. There are certainly things to consider when thinking about leaving the USA, and we will do as much research as possible before making a decision. I have flown by myself in the past, but for me, it is more important for my children to see grandparents. My oldest daughter is particularly close with my mother. Yes our dog has regular check ups and teeth cleanings, thanks for checking.

  16. Becky says:

    On the topic of cell phones specifically — Republic does not do international calling, but other MVNOs (like Google FI) do, so that could be worth investigating how the cost would compare to Verizon.

  17. Lori Widener says:

    Did you check Comcast’s cell phone program? Mine is just $15 a month. Do you know anyone who works for a Hilton hotel? Their friends and family program is 1/2 off rack rate. Double check every bill and ask if there is a first responder discount. Good luck on your adventure.

  18. Debbie says:

    Some random thoughts from living overseas in the EU for 35 years.

    1. Schools: If you move to the UK and English is the first language, then your kids will be ok. In Wales might Welsh as a second language be required in school? That would be a tough one. As stated above, international schools cost a fortune unless you have a company paying your way. If they want to attend a US college, then they would most likely have to attend an American School or an internationals one that offers an IB program, which has a 13th year and allows them to attend universities world-wide. I would advise against home schooling. Your children will be so isolated and it will take great effort to make new friends. Sports is a whole different world over here. Not organized through schools like in the US, but you join local clubs for soccer, tennis, swimming, whatever. It costs money and dedicated time from the parents as well. I know schools in NL are quite strict about letting children out of school for travel outside the regular vacation periods unless it is under urgent circumstances. Summer school vacations in the EU are only 6 weeks long, usually from mid-July to the end of August.

    2. Taxes/Money: Make sure you understand how FATCA and FBAR will impact your incomes. Go to http://www.irs.gov to learn about these. The US requires ALL its citizens to file taxes even if they have no earnings in the US. You will undoubtedly have to pay taxes on your husband’s pension as well as local country taxes (not if you are employed and live on a military base) on any local employment. Most governments have a reciprocity agreement with the US so you are not double taxed. And investment opportunities are extremely limited if your permanent residence is overseas. Just today I read a FB post from an American here who has been told he can no longer contribute to his children’s 529 accounts. The bank was seeing too many deposits from a foreign country. So the accounts are frozen until something can be worked out. It can be a nightmare.

    3. Work: If you find nursing work on a US base in Germany (although it seems the current regime in Washington is looking to downsize our presence there considerably) then I assume you are good to go. Where I live (Netherlands) there are many Americans with medical backgrounds who cannot find work until they are completely fluent in the local language AND then have to take extra courses and pass tests to bring them to the Dutch requirements. Every country has its own rules and regs when it comes to medicine and all related fields.

    4. Travel: I raised 2 children in NL and they only saw their US family once every 18 – 24 months growing up. It’s hard. You want to keep them close to all their relatives but sometimes circumstances just don’t allow it. You will have to bite the bullet if you want to have the dream of living abroad. And, yes, you will be in a position where you will want to travel to see both sets of parents. Unless they can come to see you on their own dime, that will be extremely difficult.

    You are lucky that you still have 6 years to think through some of the big decisions you’ll have to begin making now in order to get to your goal. Wishing you much success!

    • Brenda says:

      Wow, such wonderful comprehensive information, thank you! Your experience is so valuable and I will really take all of this in account.

  19. Amanda says:

    I understand wanting to prioritize trips to see your family, and I would not personally touch that expense. Time moves fast and they won’t live forever, as I’m sure you know. Visit them while you can. It’s more important than money, in my opinion.

    That said, COVID has forced most international travel to go on pause. So you could think of the next 12 months as an opportunity to funnel that money into savings. And if by chance things go back to normal before that, you’ll have the cash on hand to visit immediately. So, win/win funneling that money into a savings account.

    I know several folks who moved in high school and, while it was hard in ways, they all adapted and did just fine. I’d talk to your girls as your Europe plans start to shape up so they know what’s happening and can have some say in it. I wouldn’t personally offer to have one of them live separately if they’re resistant – being separated from ones parents and siblings is likely to be more traumatic than having them move to a new place. But talk to them early and often, and see how they feel. It sounds like they travel quite a bit so they may be more adaptable and adventurous than the average American kid.

    One thing I didn’t see mentioned: if your husband draws his pension but then passes away before you, what happens to the pension? Do you automatically get the full amount? Does he need to adjust how much he takes so that you continue to get it after he passes? Just something to look into because rules around how a pension works for the surviving spouse vary.

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks for the support Amanda! I agree that this pandemic is forcing us into a situation where we can save what we could normally spend on travel (plus we already have $3500 in airline credit and other points) for future use. The girls have definitely been exposed to a lot and know that travel is part of our life.
      Regarding the pension, we do have the option to defer a percentage, which I could draw if something happened to Kyle. Or we could take it all from the start and put some of it into investments for future, we haven’t decided which would be the best option yet.

  20. Frugal Portland Gal says:

    Hi Brenda! What a fun case study! I love your family’s whole vibe and can see why you are a Frugalwoods follower! Just a couple of comments: I discovered this website which might give you some concrete ideas: The Earth Awaits https://www.theearthawaits.com/ So many options! Also, perhaps you could work more once your younger child is in school full time, and make more money. A job in a school, such as a teacher’s aide, would allow you to have time off when your kids have time off. Life gets much easier as the kids get older.

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks Frugal Portland Girl for your lovely, upbeat comment. I have looked into working at a local school, the pay would be quite a bit lower than my current hourly rate but there could be other benefits. I will take a look at the website you suggested.

  21. Rebecca says:

    I would like to add quickly that homeschooling is prohibited in Germany. You need a special permit if your want to be exempt and that is usually only granted to terminally ill children. However, I don’t know about exceptions for US-folks specifically – so please do your research if you consider this option. The German school system is OK in my opinion – as a German and education scientist – though your girls would probably need to learn the language quite well in order for their experience to be a success. There are international English speaking schools here as well, but they are private thus expen$ive.

    Greetings from Deutschland! 😉

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks Rebecca, I think we would only make the move to Germany if we could get a civilian nursing job at a US Military Base, for the reasons you gave above. Germany would be a good location for us, being neighbors with the Czech Republic, and I loved the year I lived there, but definitely more limiting because of language.

  22. Laurie says:

    We highly recommend red pocket mobile. We have SIM card for Verizon network and also need to make international phone calls to family in Germany. My bill is $15 per month and my hubby pays $10/ month.

  23. Heidi Louise says:

    Oh, that wonderful tree house! I don’t know that you want either of you to be working more hours outside your home. But if you wished to, Kyle could undoubtedly get carpentry work, either doing specialty things like the tree house or porches or gazebos, or interior work like trimming and baseboards and such, including at businesses. Or if you wish to switch your charitable donations to time spent instead of cash, volunteer to put up shelving or do minor repairs at the school, museum, religious house, etc. You and the girls could go with. Or switch gifts to family to a few hours of such work, although it is quite likely his family is where he learned to build. Tools and insurance are potential costs, of course.
    You said your one daughter reads so much. Look at how to use that reading, researching, writing, to plan how and where you will move. Good luck to you!

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks, he did do a great job for his first attempt at treehouse building. His grandfather taught him some skills, but he also looks up a lot of DIY on YouTube, it is amazing what skills you can learn that way! I don’t think he has time right now for anything else, but it is something to consider when he is finally down to just one job. Yes my daughter can help us research for sure, she already loves her Atlas and is teaching herself French, so maybe she will become proficient at Welsh or German:-)

  24. Heidi Louise says:

    To travel in the U.S., as you are used to using rewards points, look at Amtrak. You and Kyle could each get the credit card and your own rewards accounts and get a good trip or two with little cost. You could each take one child at half fare, (ages 2-12). Amtrak’s COVID travel precautions are on their website.

  25. Laura says:

    As far as schools go, my cousin and her husband both teach at “American” schools abroad, which my understanding means that when you graduate, its the same credits, etc as if you went to an American school. They’ve taught in multiple countries but usually it either national or regional capital type cities (lots of embassy kids go to these). One of my sister’s friends went to one if these when her father transferred to Korea when she was in the 10th grade. I have no idea about tuition of going to one of these, I imagine it varies widely depending on location, but it could be an option once you narrow down the location.

    • Brenda says:

      If we went to a military base, the schooling would be straightforward just as in here in the USA. I have looked at American schools in the UK, and the fees are pretty unaffordable unless an employer is paying. As you and others have suggested, a good alternative could be one of us working at the school in order to get a discount and we would be open to that.

  26. Bella Lewin says:

    I understand South Africa being a bit rough right now, but did you consider living in Zambia? Do US embassy hire nurses or fire fighter? Living in place cheap enough to live on the retirement money alone.This year is without traveling for everyone, so this is the year to pay down as much debt as possible. A other point, if you are a EU residents for a while, you get can go to Uni at local tariff, and that’s less then the USA. So you need for savings for college will go down a lot. My kid goes to a English speaking university college in the Netherlands, more expensive then regular uni, at the cost of 3000 euro a year. Look at the financial options you get from becoming a resident of the EU.

    • Brenda says:

      I had never thought of a US Embassy needing a nurse, but I will certainly investigate if that is even an option. EU Uni can be so much cheaper, if we stayed there and qualified, but I don’t know how long that would be. We will try to have at least $30,000.00 in our daughters’ college funds as a backup though.

  27. Brenda says:

    Thank you to Liz, to and all the Frugalwoods readers who are giving suggestions, please keep them coming! I love that everyone has different ideas and experiences to share. It is a great community and I’m happy to be part of it.

    • Jess says:

      Late to the game, but I didn’t see any comments about this, so wanted to mention: if you are struggling to visualize the pension as retirement savings, you could think of it in terms of an annuity fund. Only caveat is what others have said about making sure you research/understand the level of risk and diversify with your other retirement savings.
      Anyways, my thought is, if you have a figure you expect to need during retirement (e.g. 75K per year) and convert to savings using the 4% rule (25x75K=1875000), you can basically consider the pension to be part of that (if you will make
      35K pension per year 35Kx25=875K of reduced retirement savings need) so you will need to save 1million for retirement using these example numbers. Obviously adjust for your expectations especially with better knowledge of your tax situation, those are estimates based on your case study.
      Once you know this, if you think you can save enough money to make up the gap (in this example, 75K-35K=40K per year, after tax) during the continued working years after your husband’s firefighter retirement, you can also determine how much you will need in order for your money to grow to 1 million by the time you stop working. Let’s say you work another 15 years after retirement, if your money grows 7% each year that is 1.07^15, or 2.75x growth. So you would need 1mil/2.75= ~360K at the beginning if you plan to not make any more contributions before retirement, and again assuming the above numbers.
      That may sound a bit overwhelming compared to what you have saved thus far, but that is where exploring options to make more money (either to save now, or to make more money later and continue being able to save) or spend less (which impacts the amount you will need in the future as well as what you save now) come into play!
      I hope this can help think of ways to conceptualize the amount you will need when considering the pension.

  28. monica says:

    Have not read through all the comments but my suggestion would be: 1. Move as close as possible to your brother in the Czech Republic. Would be great for kids and you to have relatives close – Is Prague a possibility??? 2. As others and Ms Frugalwoods have noted, you seem to be way overspending! You don’t have much saved for you age and are almost totally dependent on the pension, which should work out, but still it will only be 50% of what he is making now, which seems like won’t be enough to support what you are spending now . You are taking home 92K a year, net, which is quite a lot of money for a Low Cost of Living Area (I live in Boston which is very High Cost of Living Area, with two teen boys who eat a lot, and I live on way less than that!) So work on saving and cutting out stuff that you don’t need! Am sure you can do it – Good luck!

    • Brenda says:

      We would LOVE to move to Prague, but we can’t see a way of making it happen. The language is very difficult, so the kids would have to go to private school, and I don’t think there is any way for Kyle to do nursing there.
      You are correct, we are absolutely overspending, which is why I’m here on Frugalwoods 🙂 I always tell my children they can’t have everything they want, but we have been trying to do just that. As I mentioned in the case study, we love our lifestyle and really want to continue having travels and experiences, but we need to get our finances in order first.

  29. Lizzie says:

    Hi Brenda and Kyle,

    Just on a note of potentially moving to the UK: I’d really recommend the South East Coast – around Hampshire. I’m a doctor and I live in a village by the sea, near Portsmouth. The hospital is great for work, and there is a fantastic outdoor lifestyle. The (state and private) schools are very good too. The weather is significantly better than South Wales… and you can get to London (and South Wales) within a couple of hours.

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks Lizzie. We liked Wales but would consider another part of the UK. Although I loved living in London as a single 20-something, as a family we would enjoy something more in the countryside, and with a historic feel. I would be interested in your opinion as a doctor, if you have worked with nurses who have come on a work visa, , how smooth the hiring and transition process is?

  30. Effie says:

    Hi Brenda;

    I am UK national working in higher education and have some thoughts that you might find useful.

    We currently have a nurse shortage nationally particularly in high cost of living locations (London and SE of the country) and certain specialties; this historically is an ongoing issue due to underfunding of NHS training places.

    Tier 2 visas have been capped by previous administrations (nurses never have had a dedicated visa programme here) so sometimes despite having a job offer from the NHS; staff have not been able to secure a visa. Nuts but unfortunately true.

    Also do be aware that the UK is currently going through a huge economic flux and the UK government Covid economic response has lead to a huge public debt and large cuts to public and NHS spending for the next 10 years are quite likely. No idea what will happen but all public sector employees are bracing for a very tough decade.

    Regarding your husband’s pension I would look very carefully to see if it is index linked and if there is a US residency requirement for this. In the UK the majority of government pension schemes are only index-linked if you remain an EU resident. A number of former government workers who moved to other countries have been left in penury after 10-15 years because of the eroding effect of inflation.

    Be warned about the crazy cost of housing in much of the UK – both to buy and rent.

    Also our high tax rates. There are some very good online take home pay calculators online which you can play with to see what a salary will generate after tax.

    That being said – it’s a brilliant country to live in, same time zone as SA and as you know a totally different way of life to the US. We have lots of culture, lots of work-life balance, lots of employment rights but also a lot of inertia and bureaucratic inefficiency.

    If you do decide to relocate I would strongly suggest checking out the MSE website the fountain of all Frugal UK knowledge.

    Good luck with your plans.

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks Effie, a lot of helpful information. COVID definitely has the potential to throw things off for a good few years. All we can do is take the advice given here, save as much as we can, and see what the situation is a year or two before Kyle retires. We do enjoy the UK lifestyle, I lived in London for 6 years and loved it.
      I will check out the MSE website, and also the possibility of being index linked- I had never even heard of that.

  31. odora says:

    I only read a few comments but will come back later to read more of them. I like reading different perspectives and even ideas to consider for my our family’s situation in the future. We’re immigrants from Europe and reside in NC and actually wouldn’t be against to retiring in TN in the far future :-).

    I cannot comment on the teenager moving to Europe and being apart from friend etc., but I think it depends a lot on the child. One will relish new experience and living in Europe while another will suffer herself and make everyone’s else’s life miserable. However, if you move, why would you want to send kids back to the USA to seek higher education? Why not take advantage of the inexpensive option and attend a university in Europe? It’s not free or very cheap, but I don’t think it will be more expensive as an out-of-state college (or a pricey in-state college) in the USA. Of course depending on the profession chosen to study in Europe the student should know in advance where her future will be. If in Europe, then it’s fine, but if in the USA then you need to know if that education/certificates/etc. are easily recognized/accepted in the USA. I think it would be something good to research further.

    PS. The new thing I learned in the comments here is from Paz who was able to go to the community college first and then transfer to a 4-year college and this way skip taking ACT or SAT tests. This makes me wonder whether this is dependent on a state’s or schools regulations or it’s possible for any student in the USA….Anyone heard of this? The reason I’m asking this because some kids can study very hard to earn their grades in school but they are not good test takers and ACT/SAT pretty much determines whether you can apply for college. I’m one of those nervous people and scared of taking tricky tests so not sure how it would have been for me if I grew up in this country.

    • Brenda says:

      Hi Odora, thanks for your suggestions. I would be open to the girls attending University in Europe if we could make it work, I just hadn’t looked into it that far yet. You are correct that kids all vary in the way they respond to transition, depending on their unique personalities. I can’t answer your question about ACT/SAT regulations, as my kids haven’t gotten there yet, but perhaps another reader can

    • Heidi Louise says:

      Odora: Look at the admissions requirements for the schools you are thinking of and see if they require or just recommend the ACT/SAT. Community colleges probably do not. States that have open enrollment (anyone who graduates from high school in that state is accepted into the state schools) might not. Private schools might be more willing to take the time to work with students who offer alternate proof of potential success. There is a lot of disagreement about the value of the tests, including because of the stress you refer to. News articles in the last few days point out that the Coronavirus is keeping students from taking the tests, so colleges aren’t requiring them, and they might not go back to them. The scores might be used in figuring some merit-based financial aid, even if not required for admissions.

    • Bri says:

      Hi Odora-I am a higher ed administrator here in the states (CA).

      Community colleges are considered open access-schools, are meant to education the masses, hence the “community” title, so there are fewer barriers to admission. For the most part, you submit an application and then are admitted.

      Traditional 4-year schools (state publics and privates) generally require the SAT or ACT, but there is a slow shift in higher ed right now, where some schools are doing away with standardized test requirements. There is much inequality within them, and as you pointed out, they are a barrier for many people. Some larger state systems have done away with the requirement and I expect many more will follow suit in the coming years.

  32. Cindy says:

    I think that they’ve got a great plan for themselves but need to make some adjustments to their savings. I would save the extra pay from Kyle’s promotion, as well as all of Brenda’s pay. European salaries are around $1-2k euros(not sure about the U.K.). You have to learn how to live on less now to fund your European life. That said-I’d see if you qualify for dual citizenship and have the girls go to college in Europe, which I think is more affordable than in the US. I think European elementary and high schools are very good-so they’ll definitely be ready for American college if they want.
    Good luck in the life you want for yourselves-my husband and I have similar want of living abroad at least once in our lives!!

    • Brenda says:

      Our salaries would definitely be lower, especially if we went to Wales. Some costs would be lower, but I have done some research on rentals and they are certainly high. I like your idea of saving my income. Even though I earn just a small portion of our income, it could be helpful to get used to living without it.
      I hope you and your husband can make it happen! I can’t speak to living abroad with a family yet, but I certainly loved the experience when I was young and single.

  33. Melody says:

    Hi Brenda, one idea from me is about increasing your income without increasing your hours! You mentioned you have put in a separate bathroom in your basement. Could it be converted into a tiny stand alone flat? Wasn’t sure if it was a full bathroom and has a separate entrance. We rent out the downstairs of our house – my husband just installed a tiny kitchen where the laundry used to be. There is no built in cooker but we bought plug in induction hot plates. We have a separate entrance for the downstairs (although internally it connects to our house) but my husband’s parents did it without.

    • Brenda says:

      Unfortunately it is just a half bath, we looked into having a shower installed but it is below ground level and the plumber didn’t think it was a good option. The toilet itself had to have a pump, and it is part of our laundry room. If we had it set up differently I would definitely consider renting it out.

  34. Katie Camel says:

    What an interesting life! I love all the international travel, especially for children so young. Mrs. Frugalwoods gives great advice as usual, and I agree that discretionary spending can be eliminated or reduced for several months to get you on your strongest financial footing. You may find after those few months that you don’t want to reinstate some of the spending because it’s not as necessary as you thought.

    Either way, you have an amazing husband – a fireman AND a nurse?! That’s incredible! Perhaps it’s also *possible* for him to pick up a few extra per diem shifts to help pay down that HELOC while also reducing those expenses? I’m a nurse and frequently direct all of my overtime to savings, so that my money and time is worth more. Sometimes I use it for travel or home repairs, but that’s it. I don’t like to spend my extra money because it’s as though I’ve wasted my time off.

    Good luck to you and please keep us posted!

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks Katie, we do feel as though our life is, and continues to be, interesting. We have learnt many lessons in what NOT to do when travelling with small children, and are just now getting the hang of it. Our last flight to South Africa we were delayed then cancelled, and then missed our connection in Johannesburg, and it ended up taking us almost 4 days door to door from our house in TN to my parents. It definitely helps build character.
      Yes Kyle is amazing, and I will remind him of it. The night we came home from the hospital with our first child, he made a decision to go to nursing school. He knew he would stay with the fire dept. until retirement to receive his pension, but he didn’t want to have to do 24 hr shifts any longer than that, and wanted a career he could transition to. He really doesn’t have time right now for extra shifts, but when he is not studying he sometimes picks up a few if we need a little extra money.

  35. Beatriz Cervantes says:

    I worked as a civilian on a military base in Germany some years ago. The pay was terrible. Hope that has changed. Also there was no culture or community to speak of on the base itself. As I did not speak German, there were few opportunities to make friends. I stayed
    9 months and came back to the US. Good luck.

  36. Dallas says:

    I am in the military and just recently left Germany (it is amazing). If your husband can get a job as a nurse on a military base I believe your children would be able to attend DoDEA. If not you could homeschool but only if you are working on a military base and have SOFA status. Otherwise it is illegal to homeschool your kids. Depending on what kind of a contract your husband gets it may cover housing costs. I know government employees receive this benefit but not sure if he wasn’t a government employee whether he would or not. There are quite a few military bases in Germany and a major medical facility (Landstuhl). Hope this helps.

    • Brenda says:

      Thanks Dallas. I have been seen some civilian nurse job postings for Germany, including Landstuhl, and they have varied in salary and benefits such as housing and relocation. As some other readers have pointed out, those positions can be hard to get, but definitely still something to try for. I’m glad you loved it there, I lived there for a year when I finished high school and also really enjoyed it and still have friends there.

  37. Sarah says:

    My #1 concern for Brenda & Kyle is liquidity (or current lack thereof). This will provide them not only peace of mind in the short-term, but also options and flexibility as they look towards moving and/or retirement.
    *Agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods on lowering expenses to pay off the HELOC and bulk up the Emergency Fund
    * I would recommend stopping 529 contributions and traditional IRA contributions and contributing to a Roth instead. You can use an IRA Savings account when starting so it can also function as part of your Emergency Fund. You can withdraw IRA contributions and earnings for qualified expenses, which includes higher education. This would be a triple benefit: (1) help beef up Emergency Fund, (2) maximize tax-advantaged accounts, and (3) continue to save for college

    Other pension + retirement questions:
    *Does the pension include a survivor’s benefit? It may mean the payout is lower per month, but if Kyle were to pass you would still have access to it. It will be crucial to know if this is available since your spousal Social Security and State pension is unlikely to be sufficient
    *Life insurance: make sure Kyle is properly insured, i.e. the payout could replace his pension for you in the future if needed

    Miscellaneous
    *Investigate refinancing the mortgage since rates are so low right now
    *You might consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve with 1 authorized user instead of the 3 different cards, especially since you won’t pay taxes & fees on award airline tickets like you do with the BA Card

    • Brenda says:

      Hi Sarah. Liquidity is definitely a problem we need to fix. We earn enough that we should be saving a lot more.
      We do have good life insurance on both of us, with a higher amount on Kyle, and we have the option for survivor annuity on the pension. As of now, the pension scheme in our city is stable but nobody knows what the future holds. Our one comfort is that even though he will be retiring from the fire department, he will only be 47, and will continue to work in another field.
      I will look into the Chase Reserve instead of Preferred. BA is the only Intl airline operating out of Nashville so we gravitated to them as a convenience.

  38. Carolyn says:

    Sadly I know a number of people in the situation, one guy at church said that he was going to be getting social security next month, about $300. Below poverty level, so he is going to be continuing to work.

    https://www.foxbusiness.com/money/the-median-retirement-savings-balance-among-baby-boomers-is-shockingly-low.amp

  39. Becka says:

    Hi Brenda,

    Just one random note that could be useful for your kids: If you do move to Wales, I would suggest that you do it 3 years before your older child goes to university. The UK has an excellent and very fair student loan policy ( you don’t pay anything until you reach a certain income threshold, that threshold is around the UK average income, and if you drop under that level for any reason you don’t have to pay anything) but it comes with a three year residency restriction! My sister found this out to her cost when we moved to the UK, and she had to delay starting university for a year!

    Your children may want to go back the US after they finish school, but at least this gives them the option to go to UK university (without you paying at least £20k a year to send them!)

    I know it’s a niche aspect, but something to think about when setting your moving date – you don’t want to be liable for a year of tuition and living cost for the sake of moving a month too late!

  40. Elena Kazan says:

    My advice is for Brenda to supplement her income with work she can do from home. There are many different jobs that can be done from home. The websites I use are Upwork.com and Freelancer.com. It takes some time (1-2 months) to establish your profile, but there is constantly different work posten on these websites. There are even long-term positions like VA (Virtual Assistant) and many part or even full time positions available that you can do from home. This work can easily bring you an extra 1,000$ per month, depending on how many hours you decide to work.

  41. Rebecca says:

    As a former weight watchers member, I really encourage you to check out Health at Every Size. There’s lots of free resources online, but I think the book Body Respect by Lindo Bacon is a really good starting place (maybe you can get it as an ebook from your library). I know $20/month doesn’t sound like a lot, but diet food is also expensive. I know HAES sounds shocking, but I feel so much healthier emotionally and physically following its principles (plus intuitive eating). Sending love!

  42. Bailey says:

    Hi Brenda, just a travel tip here-
    I live in Salt Lake City and my friend started an Instagram account several years ago highlighting airfare deals out of SLC (called Flights from Home). She’s since sold the business but it’s super popular- and most info is accessed for free. Everyone I know near me uses it and travels to Europe for under $500/ ticket, even during peak times and on direct flights. (When my husband and I flew directly to London last May it was $400/ flight.) It’s far more useful than google flights because this business finds quirky deals that pop up for a day or so. You should check social media or the web for similar sites that focus on Tennessee. Of course, you’d have to be flexible with airlines, but it might be worth a shot if you could get all your air travel for $1600-2000. Best wishes! I traveled a lot with my family growing up and those were memories I’ll cherish forever. I’m glad you’re making it a priority!

  43. KnoxPatch says:

    More thoughts:
    Cheers from Knoxville, TN!
    Does your school system offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) track? It might make it easier to transfer credit/place the girls once you make the move.
    My younger daughter was accepted and will undertake a master’s program in Europe, beginning this August (fingers crossed regarding flights and COVID lockdowns). Her tuition will be 200 euro a semester. Her boyfriend is a German national and as an undergrad, pays virtually nothing for an engineering degree. Somehow that seems rational and forward thinking for a country’s future viability but hey, what do I know.
    Consider – again COVID changed everything – a Saturday school in the Nashville area for a particular language and culture. We have these in Knoxville so surely there are German, French, etc. Saturday schools for kids and adults in middle Tennessee. Ours are relatively inexpensive, offer tests for language level, and introduce the kids to food, language, and like-minded instructors and students.
    Best of luck!

  44. Johannah says:

    This is one of my favorite stories! You have lived full and interesting lives and I love reading the comments by other readers. Thanks for sharing your adventures and goals with us.

  45. Sally says:

    My comment come from a little different place. I am 70 and 3 years ago moved to Jacksonville from Vermont, where, like your husband, I had lived my whole life. I went there to start a new life with my partner and as I had visited there many times, I felt comfortable with the move and open to change. Fast forward 3 years and we are moving back to Vermont in a month. So I have a couple of things for you to consider:

    1. Does your husband truly want to move? I ask that because I had always assumed that my partner would not be willing to move to Vermont until he told me that it was what he wanted to do. I had just never asked him. He sounds like a wonderful man who loves his wife and wants her to be happy. He may be feeling guilty that he is close to his parents while you are separated from yours. Or I could be all wet about this lol.

    2. Have you ever had a conversation with your parents about them moving to you? Do you have siblings near them or are you their only child. Just don’t assume you know their needs.

    It sounds like you have put much thought into this and it will be an adventure whichever way you go.

    2

  46. Fason says:

    Have you thought about the UAE or other arab gulf countries? They hire western nurses (typically as department leads etc) and even western firefighters (again management positions). If your husband has a lot of experience he may be able to get a lucrative position and if you have international school experience you could also land a great job! Typically international school fees and housing are covered by employers. Its definitely NOT Europe, but Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, are quite international/cosmopolitan cities. Its a fantastic base for travel, (would be SO easy to get to SA) and is tax free (well, up to 105k for americans, still have to submit USA taxes though, don’t forget! lol)

    Of course, 6 years is a long time, so you who knows what the world will look like, but I think it is something to keep in mind!

  47. Rach says:

    Re moving and living abroad with teenagers— my family moved from the U.S. to continental Europe when my sister and I were 13 and 11; moved again to England only 3 years later. The moves were difficult, but I 100% would tell my parents to do it again. There are some hugely beneficial personality characteristics you pick up if you move around as a child: open-mindedness, curiosity, comfort dealing with the unknown or ambiguous, independence – the list goes on! The biggest con being a lack of a hometown and sometimes feeling lonely or isolated because breaking into a new community is difficult for anyone, even the most confident and outgoing kids. I highly recommend learning about “third culture kids” to get a better understanding of what your challenges your children will face when moving abroad. However, overall, it really was such an amazing experience that I hope those cons don’t dissuade you!

    In terms of schools, if you can put your kids in private international schools, they’ll have the IB (equivalent to AP level classes) that easily translates to American universities, which are accustomed to seeing IB grades. They’ll also have comparable SAT/ACT prep that U.S. schools have. However, if you go with the public schools, keep in mind that countries like France regulate that at the age of 12, children take exams to determine if they follow the “technical” path or the “university” path. I would also think about whether your kids would want to attend universities in Europe. At least when we were there 20 years ago, you had to be a permanent residence for 5+ years in order to qualify for the EU tuition rates.

  48. JJ says:

    Hi, +1 on all the people recommending your children attend university in Europe. Even if you’re not an EU resident, it’s usually still cheaper than in the USA, and the quality of education is more even across the board (at least it is in the countries I have studied in, i.e. Netherlands, Belgium and Germany) so it doesn’t matter as much which uni you get into (we don’t do the whole Ivy League thing here – in the Netherlands by law they all charge the same in similar circumstances). If I were you, I’d broaden my search for places to live in Europe a bit. There is a shortage of nurses in most western European countries, which would make it easier to immigrate if your husband got a job offer – although everywhere except the UK this would probably come with a requirement to learn the local language. . I’d definitely look into the Scandinavian countries as well. They all have very good and cheap education and university systems, and are easy to get around in while you still only speak English (although I’d recommend you all learning the language if you really want to integrate). And I’d look into Ireland as well, due to the lack of a language barrier there – after Brexit, you might actually be better off if you went to work in Ireland when you look at the opportunities you ajd your children might have in other EU countries, should you acquire Irish (and thus EU) residency.

  49. Inga says:

    I moved multiple times in my childhood and based on my experience I set my family the goal not to move when our girls are between 12-15. for my sister and me moving whilst we were in that age bracket was pretty destabilising. It wasn’t terrible and it didn’t detract us from our path/personality in the long run but it made for some bumpy years and required a redefinition of who we were which took a while. My sister before the move was playing an instrument and really active in a choir and orchestra through her music school. I was the youngest member of a vaulting team that trained 3 times a week and went to tournaments all over our region. Both of us completely stopped these activities after the move and instead just ‚hung At home unhappy until we found friends and then hung out with them. With an adult view I’d say those friends weren’t of the same caliber as the ones we had before. I definitely hung out with the wrong crowd – only one of my friends from that time went to uni, a few teenage pregnancies, boys I know went to jail
    Interestingly want reversed this for both of us was going abroad as exchange students by our self’s when we were 16-17. For my Younger brother it was different. That First move didn’t change things too much for him. He found a new soccer club, continued training, found new friends in his new team and school. But he went abroad younger than us. 15-16 and whilst his maturity probably Wasn’t the only factor, after trying to live with two families which didn’t work out, he returned from his year abroad early and had to repeat that year in a Local school. (My sister and I skipped that year locally)
    I am not trying to say: don’t do it. But planning a move with kids at that age I d do the following: steer them in their Early years towards hobbies that are easily transferred to the environment you are planning to move to. Eg small Country town in the UK/Germany will only have limited sports/arts options. Take their hobbies into considerations when u select your final destination. Don’t move to that picturesque place because you and hubby can have a more beautiful house if there is another town that fits your kids needs better but your rental property isn’t as nice. And finally calculate in enough time to get them settled into their new lives. I would budget at least 6 months of work to settle my kids in rather than both of us working full time From the get go
    Because hubby and me are from Germany and live without other family in Australia, we often discuss moving with our girls to Germany. They were born here but we try to prepare them for a move. ours will most likely be triggered by a family emergency/tragedy in Germany rather than planned
    If you are considering Germany, do put them into German classes. Whilst they d go to the military base school, they can join all the other kids activities if they speak even some German. At that age becoming fluent can happen within half a year (I had nearly failed English before going to the US on my exchange year and had taken it after learning French). With language skills they have access to more potential friends too

  50. Morgan says:

    Hi! I just wanted to mention that GoodRX works for pets and that a lot of vets will do a price match on normal vet supplies such as heartworm, flea and tick, etc. Wouldn’t hurt to ask if you vet does too.

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