I have a lot I’d like to write but very little time, because tomorrow we head back to the US after living overseas for 2 years! More complicated topics will need to wait. But, I wanted to share some quick money and happiness lessons I’ve learned from our time here. In no particular order.
Perspective Is Valuable
Living in a foreign country has helped me appreciate the US, and it’s also given me some perspective on how to think about … anything and everything. What I mean is this: take any given question about life or money or happiness or whatever. And then imagine you grew up in a completely different socioeconomic culture.
Question: “What should I think about work and investing and retirement?”
Answer, from the perspective of …
… a personal finance blogger: “Invest only in Vanguard index funds. The market always goes up. Retire early.”
… a poor person in an urban slum: “I would give anything to have a good job.”
… a rice farmer in China: “Watch out for that water buffalo.”
… a French ski instructor: “Work to live, don’t live to work.”
… Penny: “Get off your computer and stop thinking about retirement so much.” 🙂
… a father of twin boys: “Hey — how’d you get on top of the house?”
It’s easy to get caught up in the particular circumstances of life. I like to remember that by sheer chance I was born into my culture and my family, and life would look a lot different otherwise. I try to make smart choices but I also know that for most decisions, there’s more than one right answer. If a certain answer sounds silly from several other perspectives, well then that certain answer might be silly. Or not as important as we think.
I Don’t Regret Any Spending On Travel Or Experiences. Life Is For Living.
We visited 7 or 8 countries while living overseas, ate a bunch of crazy food, saw some incredible sites, and enjoyed temper tantrums and ill-timed bathroom visits with kids in several European capitals.
(European in the bathroom. Get it?)
As you know, we’ve paid big money for these experiences. I wouldn’t want a dollar (or a Euro) back. Life is short. Life is mostly for living, isn’t it? I guess I’m like the French ski instructor sometimes.
We Need Less Than We Realize
For a couple weeks now our house has been almost empty, because our stuff is on a boat headed to the US. I can’t think of anything I’ve really missed. Our kitchen garbage can maybe? A nice mug?
Money Can’t Buy Happiness, But It Can Buy “Anxiety Insurance.”
We have a lot going on over the next few weeks: moving, buying a new car, renting a beach house, buying furniture, etc. The other day Mrs. R was picking out new beds for the kids, and I had no idea how expensive furniture for 5 year olds could be. This led us to some detailed discussions about how much to spend on furniture. We were getting dangerously close to talking as if we had a budget. Noooooo!
Some people are great with budgets. We aren’t. We get stressed when we try to optimize every spending decision. I was reminded that one of the benefits we appreciate most about having a high income is that we don’t need to worry about most expenses (within reason). The bed could be $200, $400, $600 — in the long run, not a big deal for us.
Everything is a trade off, and we remind ourselves that having good careers and high incomes should allow us to not worry about budgetary details. Money is a common stressor for many families, and one of my main goals in managing our family finances is to take that stressor off the table. There’s enough in life to worry about. So, we collected on our anxiety insurance policy this week.
Signing off from my international outpost — see you on the flip side!