Internationalist

Where are you and where are you going?
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Solvent
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Internationalist

Post by Solvent » Sun Jan 08, 2017 3:48 am

I’m starting this journal while on leave from work, staying at a family member’s place in Goolwa, Australia. I resisted starting a journal for a long time for various reasons but none of those seem important now. I now invite the rest of the ERE community to have a look into my life and offer any insights that may occur to them.

I actually live in Geneva, Switzerland. My home city is Adelaide, Australia. This is the first time I’ve been home in a few years. I have a wife and a baby, which makes the whole ERE-thing a bit tricky. I don’t think I’m inclined to the ‘extreme’ part of ERE anyway,* but I do appreciate the cohesiveness and holistic scope of the philosophy.

*I’ve noted the Myers-Briggs is popular on this forum. I’m ISTJ.

I have a 9-5 job that’s not particularly flexible, or necessarily enjoyable, but it does come with good perks and the opportunity to travel to interesting places. I’m an economist by trade, but on most days I feel it’s probably more appropriate just to describe myself as a bureaucrat. I push papers. I follow complicated rules, and where appropriate, make judgements about which rules can be bent, broken, or which ought to be followed when multiple rules contradict each other. Although there are certainly more interesting aspects to my job (maybe to make an appearance in this journal later) I feel like they’re probably secondary to the rule-following aspects. Due to my work, I’m likely to move out of Geneva later this year. I’m not sure where to.

In finance terms, I probably have roughly 10 years or so of savings banked/invested, with the yardstick a low-cost Australian lifestyle. In Genevan terms, though, it’s probably a mere five years’ worth. I’m currently the only member of my household working, and our savings rate is approximately 40 per cent.

An ERE-consistent thing I did today: I picked up three board books for my baby from a 2nd-hand store for a dollar each. One in particular was a bit dirty so I gave them a rub down with diluted white vinegar and left them to air in the sun.

Solvent
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Solvent » Fri Jan 13, 2017 2:20 am

The big cost areas are, of course, housing, transportation and food.
In these areas, I am paying the following:
Rent - 2600 francs per month for a 2-bedroom apartment. Water, electricity and internet are included in this (but not TV tax, which is unavoidable in Switzerland).
Food - about 520 francs per month.
Transportation - About 950 francs per year. This is the cost of 2x annual passes for public transport, as I don't own a car. Every now and then we will take a taxi if we need to get to the airport or train station early.

The bill for 2x mobile phones is about 80 francs per month.
Banking/investing costs are running about 25 a month.
Baby stuff is currently about 150/mo, although there would also be baby expenditure finding its way into the groceries bill.
Given maternity and newborn stuff, our medical expenses have been high this year, but I'm hoping they won't be ongoing.

PsAi
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Re: Internationalist

Post by PsAi » Sat Jan 14, 2017 7:00 am

Wow, 2600 is crazy expensive. Even for Geneva!! I think you got huge potential there moving to a cheaper place.

Solvent
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Solvent » Fri Jan 20, 2017 1:38 am

@PsAi: I don't think 2600/mo is crazy expensive, but I'm willing to be corrected. I don't think it's cheap - it may be on the slightly high side - but certainly not crazy expensive based on my research. It's fully furnished, and as mentioned, most utilities included. In any event, I'm likely to relocate from Geneva in the first half of this year for work reasons, so I'm not using energy to look for what would only be a temporary solution to the shelter problem anyway.

Currently I'm still on leave, staying with the in-laws' family in Asia. Being away from work is great! Going to be hard going back to the grind.

I am a bit of a creature of routine though. Given the craziness of work and life throughout November-December, I'm hoping to re-establish some routines when I get back. In the last few months of last year I was being smashed with work stress and trying to sort out this long vacation back home, along with some other annoying expat-related matters. This was not the usual state of affairs, and it resulted in me losing the willpower to keep some of my better habits.

So on my return, I'm going to be looking at restraining my food expenditure through more inventive pantry management and shopping. I need to re-establish an exercise routine, which is something I've not had for the roughly nine months my daughter's been around. I'm also going to try to allow myself to be bored a bit more and spend less time aimlessly browsing the web.

These are all pretty stock-standard new years' resolutions, I'm afraid. I've never been the sort to make them, but given the aforementioned shaking up of my routine last year I do need to make a mindful effort to resettle myself into good habits when I get back to Switzerland.

julien
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Re: Internationalist

Post by julien » Fri Jan 20, 2017 5:04 pm

Geneva is probably the most expensive place on Earth... currently living there and I can vouch for the fact that 2600/mo is not crazy if you're living in the city.
Also keep in mind that salaries are very high there... a minimum wage (corresponding the least qualified type of jobs) would be > USD 60K / year while any reasonably good wage would be ~USD 120-150K.

Solvent
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Solvent » Wed Feb 08, 2017 3:08 pm

I'm back in Geneva now, with the rain and the cold. Visiting home and family was great, but five and a half weeks is a long time to be living in other people's houses. At times like this I really feel like long-term travel is not for me. I do love travelling, as I've mentioned. But I also like the comforts of home. The idea of travelling the world, Go Curry Cracker style, has great romance and appeal to me, but after a long trip like I've just had, I get that I'm probably not actually suited to it. That said, moving from place to place for, say, 6 months to a year at a time is a different matter. Doing it that way, one can establish a base and not always be feeling like a guest.

It's been six days now since I've been back and my hopes of slotting back into good habits, accomplishing new years' resolutions and all that, have been waylaid. Babies can do this to you. The little human has been restless and wakeful at night - and that's an understatement. This is the kind of thing that kills your motivation to do anything. Instead of starting a new fitness routine, rather it is thus: sleepwalk through the work day, get home, clean vomit from various clothes/household items, prep dinner, cook dinner, wash up from dinner, endure child that refuses to go to sleep, brush teeth, flop into bed exhausted. Then wake up every hour on the hour throughout the night.

The disturbance is probably just the result of recovering from a long trip - things will calm down.

I received an inheritance from the passing of a relative. It's approximately equal to two months' worth of saving, so that's boosted my net worth a little more than expected.

Savings rate was about 42% in January. Since we were visiting family for the first time in a few years, some of the out-of-the-ordinary expenditure was gifts, taking people to lunch/dinner, etc. Also, DW needed to renew her driver's license, which is a significant expense.

While on holiday I read two books - The Windup Girl and Status Anxiety.

Later this year I hope to add some graphics to this journal - years of expenditure saved, that kind of thing. For now, all the graphics I have relate only to my personal accounts, not to 'family wealth'. Given that this whole journey is a family one, I am going to start putting together some charts that show the big picture, hopefully it goes well and I can share here…

thrifty++
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Re: Internationalist

Post by thrifty++ » Wed Feb 08, 2017 6:09 pm

Solvent wrote: In finance terms, I probably have roughly 10 years or so of savings banked/invested, with the yardstick a low-cost Australian lifestyle. In Genevan terms, though, it’s probably a mere five years’ worth.
Which location would you be early retiring to ? I imagine Adelaide might be nicer than Geneva?

Is Adelaide a great deal cheaper than Sydney?

Solvent
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Solvent » Fri Feb 10, 2017 11:59 am

I don't have a location set in stone, but I guess Adelaide or some smaller town on the Fleurieu Peninsula is the default option. That's what I'll be basing my calculations on (as in, assumed expenses).

Since I feel it would be pretty unfair to permanently keep my children on the opposite side of the globe from their grandparents, I don't think I would be OK with spending retirement outside the Asia-Pacific region.

Switzerland sure is a nice place, but I can't see a way to retire early here. It's way too expensive. Although, I see that there are some others on the forum working towards it, so good for them. It's probably easier outside of Geneva, and perhaps also if you have access to the Swiss social safety net. If it were ever a possibility, I think I'd look outside of Geneva anyway... Lausanne and Fribourg, for example, seem nicer, although probably almost as expensive.

Other locations that are actually under consideration, though:
  • Canberra - more expensive than Adelaide, but opportunity for more work in my profession should I need part-time/contracts. A less lively city, but good for families, access to wilderness.
  • New Zealand somewhere - likely to be cheaper than Australia. Fantastic wilderness. Culturally similar to Australia. No visa/work problems due to Trans-Tasman Agreement.
  • Da Lat - closer to DW's family. Cheaper than Australia. Good climate. Developing world infrastructure and bureaucracy, more concerns over visa/residency.
Adelaide's a lot cheaper than Sydney, but primarily due to the cost of housing. Outside housing, I don't think most things are too different. Services are probably a bit more expensive due to higher wages. A 3-bedroom house, say perhaps 10km from the CBD, would be maybe $500k in Adelaide. In Sydney, you're probably looking at a million. I say this not being intimately familiar with Sydney property prices - maybe someone else wants to chime in? I also don't know if that exactly translates into a similar difference in rents, given the hugely askew incentives that subsidise ownership of property in Australia. The rental differential is probably not 2x like the capital cost is.

steveo73
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Re: Internationalist

Post by steveo73 » Fri Feb 10, 2017 6:20 pm

Solvent wrote:Adelaide's a lot cheaper than Sydney, but primarily due to the cost of housing. Outside housing, I don't think most things are too different. Services are probably a bit more expensive due to higher wages. A 3-bedroom house, say perhaps 10km from the CBD, would be maybe $500k in Adelaide. In Sydney, you're probably looking at a million. I say this not being intimately familiar with Sydney property prices - maybe someone else wants to chime in? I also don't know if that exactly translates into a similar difference in rents, given the hugely askew incentives that subsidise ownership of property in Australia. The rental differential is probably not 2x like the capital cost is.
I live in Sydney. I'm not sure about the differences in living costs but I assume Adelaide and Sydney would be similar. Maybe Sydney is a little cheaper due to increased people and businesses and competition but I doubt that there is much difference.

House prices though are crazy in Sydney, I live 20km from the CBD. I live in a small 4 bedroom house and we have 3 kids. I think our house would be worth about $1.5 million. Units which are probably nice go for over $1 million. I think rent in my house would be about $40k per year. The yield on property in Sydney is really low.

Solvent
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Solvent » Mon Mar 06, 2017 2:17 pm

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

I read this quote while sitting in the office just the other day and felt a mad wave of frustration pass through me.

In February I had a cold that hung around for far too long. Only in the last few days have I felt up to doing some exercise. It feels good to get moving again, but I'm going to have to take it slowly for another week at least.

The month was very successful on the finance front. DW and I have successfully implemented a spending limit in the categories of groceries, dining out, and booze. For one week we ate vegetarian-only, which was both novel and cheap! I have a piece of paper on the fridge that I use to mark down the dollars left in our budgeted weekly amount for food spending. It's actually worked as a good motivator, and we've mostly kept within our limit. That limit, in turn, was based on our previous average expenditure minus about 15% or so.

Savings rate was 55%. Actually, February was our lowest-expenditure month on record since moving to Switzerland. Having arrived home from a long holiday, we mostly stayed around the apartment. We didn't have any medical bills (the first few days of March has already seen some of those roll in though).

How I've spent free time this month:

Those good fitness habits that appeared in my New Years' Resolutions have been knocked back due to my sickness, but I did get out for a few swims, and also spent some time trying out some new yoga and calisthenics movements.

Books read - Dubliners (Joyce), Down Under (Bryson), How Long is Now? (New Scientist), In a Grove (Akutagawa, short story)

I think I have been more successful this year in spending less time aimlessly wandering the internet. When I go to news sites I no longer read opinion, I've trained myself to not even read article headings in the opinion section. I visit enough blogs as it is. I've been spending more time reading actual books.

I have been messing around a lot in FL Studio. I last used Fruity Loops back in high school… Something like 15 years ago. Spurred by a forum post (different forum) I got curious to see how the program had evolved and downloaded the demo. I've also completed a few lessons of a Coursera course on Ableton Live.

This led to a lot of playing around, and on to a few random thoughts, which created a train of thought that will probably wind up with me spending a lot of money. The thoughts are thus - in a previous life, before I turned in my creativity and sense of humour to become a bureaucrat, I was a musician. Not a great one, mind (hence ceasing the practice in favour of economics), but good enough to pass the audition to get into the local conservatorium. I still played a little after becoming a professional with a job and responsibilities, until I sold my instruments prior to leaving the country and becoming an expat. I did this in order to be less weighed down with baggage. My intention has always been to purchase some better instruments when I settle down somewhere a little more permanently. That could well be later this year.

Anyway, this ties into FL Studio as follows - I was thinking that home recording and production is much more accessible with programs like this than it was a decade or two ago. Given that it's already my intention to restock myself with some musical instruments, how much more expensive would it be to set myself up to do a little recording and production? Can I then build enough skill so that I find a way to mitigate some of the costs of the hobby through producing music? The answer - well, in the abstract, of course it's possible to make some money out of music. It's a side hustle that works for some. Perhaps it's most suitable as a side hustle, to the annoyance of the millions of people who want to be professional musicians and make it their sole job. Is it possible for me, specifically, to do so? Well… It's something to think about.

Jean
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Jean » Mon Mar 06, 2017 5:32 pm

The swiss social safety is generous but annoying.
I was able to retire at 29 without using it, my highest paychek was 3900 for a month.
So it's definitely doable.
Housing, health insurance and taxes vary a lot inside switzerland. For example, a nice two bedroom appartment would cost 1000.- in Bienne.
The only cost that stay the same troughout the country is grocery.
If money is the main reason why you don't wan't to retire here, then you should think about it again.

Solvent
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Solvent » Tue Apr 04, 2017 2:32 pm

This month was less successful, in financial terms, than the last. There were two doctor's bills and one dentist's bill to be paid. TV tax was due, as was personal insurance. Too many bills! I also bought a compact camera to replace the one that was stolen on a work trip to Luanda last year. I do much prefer using a camera to a mobile phone when taking photos, even though I don't dedicate enough time to photography to justify purchase of a DSLR. I prefer not to buy cameras second hand, because you have no consumer guarantees and don't know how many times they've been dropped.

I also booked some air tickets, the family and I are going to Vienna and Budapest for a holiday in May. This trip is one we've wanted to do since coming to Europe, so we're making sure to fit it in before we leave the continent.

Savings rate: technically at 33% now, but this should be revised upward to 43% when our medical insurance reimburses us for the doctor's and dentist's bills.

Books read - Anarchism and Other Essays (Goldman), The Omnivore's Dilemma (Pollan), Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (Doctorow).

I got sick again towards the end of the month. I've not had good luck with my health so far this year. Tiny Human got the same sickness at the same time as me, and it hit DW hard a few days after. Luckily it didn't hang around as long as the cold I had last month, but it made for a lot of unpleasantness around the home. Ongoing, in fact.

I once again dedicated some real time to practicing my French, which I've neglected for much of the year thus far. I practice largely through apps, which explains much of why I'm not a successful language learner - that is, actually practising speech is massively important. The apps I use are Anki, Duolingo, and MosaLingua. I do have conversation exchange partners, but I haven't made the time to meet with them recently.

There has been interesting news on the work front this month. As I've noted earlier in the journal, I expect to be moving away from Switzerland, on to the next chapter of my life, for work reasons. I was just recently presented with options for this move. The move is not a certainty but it is likely. I expect to hear in a few weeks if I'm moving, and where I'll be moving to. These are exciting times! Once the announcements get made I'll only have a few months to pack up shop and get moving, which I anticipate will be difficult with a young family. It will be only my second international move (and first with a child in tow) so I'm not exactly a practised hand at this yet.

@Jean
Money's not the only reason I wouldn't consider staying in Switzerland, there are quite a few others. I have no path to permanent residency here anyway.

Jean
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Jean » Wed Apr 05, 2017 2:15 am

I would be interested in knowing those reasons.

Solvent
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Solvent » Thu Apr 06, 2017 1:49 pm

Well as mentioned upthread, it's too far away from my family, and my wife's family. That's probably the biggest reason. That would be slightly compounded if I moved to Bienne, which is a further train ride (admittedly not a long one) from an international airport.
While it's entirely my own fault, and not that of the Swiss, I've not really felt like I've been integrating here. This would be the result of many circumstances linked to my time and place, though - I always knew I'd be here for a limited period. Geneva's actually a hard place to force yourself to use (thus learn) French, since many people here are equally as comfortable with English. Joining clubs and activities around town gives you no guarantee of making Swiss friends because 40% of the people here are expats.
As far as I know, in order to get on the track for residency I'd need to find a different job willing to sponsor me for a different work visa.

Of course I could give you a lot of good points about Switzerland, too. The climate's really nice, although maybe a touch cold for DW. The countryside is truly beautiful. The community support available for parents with young kids is great.

Shame about Swiss cuisine, but that may be a bit of an inflammatory topic...

Jean
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Jean » Fri Apr 07, 2017 7:37 am

Bienne was just an example, But I get you point.
But I'm curious about your opinion on our food.

Solvent
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Solvent » Thu May 04, 2017 2:56 pm

We held a little party with some friends and neighbors for our now 1-year old TH (tiny human) this month. Nothing extravagant, just some afternoon tea in the backyard. Otherwise, not too much remarkable to report on. I still have not been notified of to where I'll be reassigned, but it will come very soon (perhaps tomorrow!). I'm getting quite nervous. I go through periods of melancholy realising that I no longer have to restock item X in my pantry as it runs out.

Savings rate: 47%. Not so bad, considering I booked some accommodation for my upcoming week of travel in Austria and Hungary, and still have medication and doctor's bills (these are turning out to be more regular than anticipated, unfortunately).

Books read - Shah of Shahs (Kapuściński, fantastic, will seek out more of his work), A Wizard of Earthsea (LeGuin), Notes from a Small Island (Bryson, I find him humorous but I'm realising that his work is aging quite poorly), The Book of Tea (Kakuzo, had some very interesting insights on art appreciation that I would do well to spend some time thinking about). Mostly easy reads this month. I'm currently tackling Montaigne's essays. I don't know if I'll get through it: the translation maintains a very old-fashioned style of language and makes it a bit of a slog.

Wife and TH still sick through most of the month - still walking through life sleep-deprived - when will it end? The sleep deprivation, that is, not the life…

I managed to get placed in another French course at work, which I was unable to do through most of last year (courses were full). I really enjoy the classroom environment here. They're quite strict on your progress - if you don't pass the tests, you can't enroll in the next level course. Since most students use the language at least in passing for work and life in Geneva, they're generally quite motivated. This differs from some other adult courses I've done where people are just there because they're 'interested' – and since they're paying customers, the teachers have little incentive to force quality control.

With the upcoming move, I'm moving some money around and trying to figure out where my savings and investments should reside. I'm closing my UBS account and opening one at a different bank that should be cheaper when I am no longer a Swiss resident. I have calculated that it should be cheaper for me to maintain the investments that I've made while in Switzerland domiciled here, rather than repatriating all my money to Aus, because the withholding tax on international investments is kinder in Switzerland. This should make up for the costs and administrative pain of maintaining accounts here, I think. I really don't want to leave a trail of bank accounts in each country I visit, but if it helps my financial position, it shouldn't be that much more difficult to keep up…

@Jean
I don't find Swiss cuisine really interesting. I mean it's not bad... It's just not really interesting either. Talking to the Swiss I know here, they seem to think serving melted cheese served in three slightly different ways qualifies as high cuisine. Now, I like melted cheese and pickles... But not as an entire meal. Also, my Swiss experience is colored by the fact that I'm in Geneva - not a famous place for dining for a variety of reasons.

Take with a grain of salt, of course - this is coming from an Australian. Now, try to bring to mind 'Australian cuisine' and you might think my opinion is not worth all that much anyway (of course I'd never argue for Australian cuisine as being among the world's finest, come to think of it most Swiss probably don't either for theirs).

Solvent
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Solvent » Sun May 14, 2017 9:24 am

I'm going to be moving to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in a few months.

Although it sometimes surprises people outside of the field I work in (or people with limited knowledge of Africa), Addis Ababa is something of a hub for diplomacy and non-government organisations in Africa. Hence, it's not too surprising for me to be asked to move there, and believe I am (mostly) mentally prepared for a move to a developing country.

This will mean interesting times ahead. I'll take a salary cut due to cost-of-living adjustments. It remains to be seen, though, what actual living costs there will turn out to be and what kind of absolute values I'll be able to post in terms of saving/investing while I'm there.

I'm sure I'll have lots to add as the next few weeks pass (moving) and also months (adjusting to life in Ethiopia) but for now I'll just drop a few interesting facts.
The city is 2,355m (7,726 ft) above sea level (according to Wikipedia). I'll have to get used to living at altitude.
Due to this altitude, malaria is not a concern and apparently it's not unpleasantly humid, like many places at that latitude.
Population figures are probably not perfectly reliable, but it looks like it'll be the largest city I've lived in, in terms of number of people.
You may haggle over exact definitions, but Ethiopians remain proud that their country was never colonized by European powers (it was occupied by Italy 1936-1941).
My organisation seems to delight in sending me, an Australian and beach-lover, to landlocked countries.

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Eureka
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Re: Internationalist

Post by Eureka » Sun May 14, 2017 9:30 pm

Ethiopian food is just the best! Enjoy!

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Re: Internationalist

Post by Solvent » Sat May 20, 2017 4:10 am

It occurred to me that I actually should check my facts - and on doing so it seems Addis won't be the largest city I've lived in. That would be Melbourne, where I lived for a short period some time ago. I had thought it would've been smaller than Addis (at least back at the time I lived there), but it turns out it was larger then than Addis is now.

I'm having a lot of conversations that go:
"I'm moving to Ethiopia."
"You know that it'll be... different... to Switzerland, right?"

I must give the impression that I'm dreadfully naïve. Perhaps I am. Perhaps in nine months I'll be hating the dust, the poverty, the smell. I certainly won't rule out the possibility. For now I'm optimistic. I'm confident enough in my abilities that should it be necessary, I can quit my job, move back to Aus and find an acceptable position to continue building wealth.

I've contacted quite a number of moving companies and so far only a single one returned to me with a quote. I only intend to bring some boxes of personal effects, I'm not moving a container full of furniture.

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