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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
|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|
*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.
|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
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.|
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:
|Cadillac engine breakdown and towing||$1,220|
|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|
|Travel Fund in Regular Savings Account||$404|
|Brenda Splash Fund||$85|
|Kyle Splash Fund||$75|
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)|
|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.
|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|
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:
- Is the pension inflation-adjusted? Many municipal pensions are, but some are not.
- Does the pension calculation include overtime? If it does, could he work a ton of overtime in his last three years in order to bump up his pension payments?
- How secure is the pension fund? Sadly, we’ve all heard stories of companies/industries/municipalities defaulting on their pension plans.
- Will Kyle be eligible to receive full social security benefits? This depends on the rules of his pension, so again, something they’ll want to research.
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:
|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|
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
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?|
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.
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?
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.
- Research all the details of Kyle’s pension plan in order to have a clearer sense of what to expect.
- Prioritize building an emergency fund of three to six months’ worth of expenses
- Pay off the HELOC.
- Reduce expenses in order to achieve numbers 2 and 3.
- 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) your brief story and we’ll talk.
Update from Brenda on 2/21/21:
Firstly, a big thank you to you and the readers for all the fantastic advice and suggestions. They were all so helpful and gave us a lot to think about. We currently can’t make plans for our 2026 dream of moving abroad, so we are focusing on what we can control right now.
- Kyle officially obtained his BSN in July, yay! He is still working at the Fire Dept and doing at least one 12-hour shift/week at the Emergency Room of our local hospital. It has been a tough year of working in the thick of the pandemic, but he has stayed healthy and we are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.
- I am currently working in the office 2 days/week, and 1 day from home. I investigated picking up more office days, or doing some substitute teaching, but we are going to wait until spring to make changes. We have had school openings and closures, and have been on exposure quarantine twice, and we feel that one of us needs to have the flexibility to stay home and do schoolwork with the girls at short notice.
- Financially, we are heading in a positive direction (although we could still do better!):
- We have paid our HELOC down from $4,600 to $1,000 and will be paying off that last bit at the end of this month
- We have increased our cash savings account from $4,150 to $6,900
- We donated our old Honda to Goodwill, and cancelled the insurance, saving $22/month
- We reduced our streaming and cut the cost from $40 to $20
- We trimmed our travel spending down from $750/month to $250/month. We took four socially distanced 2-night trips in the second half of 2020, staying in self catering accommodation (our trips took us to a farm, 4 State Parks and 3 National Parks). We could have eliminated this expense completely, but those breaks were so good for our mental health, particularly Kyle’s. We hiked, kayaked and rode horses and loved every minute.
- Our only expense that has increased is our charitable giving, which we have currently doubled from $200 to $400/month. Other than having to quarantine or do school from home, our lives haven’t been negatively affected by COVID, and we feel very thankful. We made the decision to do what we can locally, and in South Africa, at least until January, and then scale back.
I hope the readers are safe and healthy and wish you all the best for 2021.
Update from Brenda on 7/20/22:
I just wanted to update you now that almost 2 years have passed since our case study.2-year update:
- We are debt free except for our house, and are paying a little extra on the principal each month
- We are approaching 4 years now until Kyle’s retirement from the Fire Dept. We have a meeting with HR in July to discuss the pension options (deferment, insurance etc.) so that we can prepare for the last 3 years. The last 3 years are crucial to the overall amount he will receive, not only because they base it on his best 3 years, but also because things like annual leave and overtime are all worked into the equation. All city employees just received a large (and much needed) increase, which will really boost our retirement payout.
- Due to being more careful with our spending, and salary increases, we were able to save a 6-month emergency fund. Which was fortunate because we are having to replace our roof this summer.
- We sadly lost our beloved 12-year-old German Shepherd mix last Christmas but have since adopted another rescue puppy.
- We continue to travel both near and far as a family but are being much more strategic with using credit card points and airmiles to cover most of the cost. Last year we had 4 days at the Gulf Coast courtesy of Hilton points, a wonderful fall week in Arizona hiking the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas, a couple of weekend trips to State Parks and 2 nights at a local Hobbit House in the countryside. This summer we will have a trip to Paris/Austria to see my brother and his family and we have a trip planned to Ireland in October with Kyle’s family. It takes a lot of time and research to make these trips possible on points and a small budget, but we’ve seen that we can do it in a much more frugal way than we were in the past.
- A move to Wales is still our goal and we aim to spend the summer of 2024 in the UK fact-finding and getting a real feel for the lifestyle.
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