Sunday, May 17, 2009

Planning for a Wild & Crazy Adventure

As we head into the second year of this Wild & Crazy Adventure, friends question how we can manage such a lifestyle. So let me take a couple of minutes and explain how we planned for this incredible experience. Anyone can do this. Really…

When Scott first brought up the idea, my first response was not “No”, but rather “How will we pay for it?” Being the consummate accountant, I set to calculating how much we would need. We settled on a 6 month adventure. This meant that we needed enough money to live on for 1 year, a 6 month adventure and 6 months living expenses for when we return. We hoped to be able to take a leaves of absences from our respective jobs, but knew we could not count on that. So we would need something to live on when we returned, while we looked for work. Scott wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country, so I researched the cost of living in different countries. Be prepared for the initial gasp, because the amount will seem impossibly large and unreachable. So we set to saving money… Where did we find the money to save? First off, we cancelled our 401K contributions, that meant a tax hit every year, and also a willingness to postpone retirement, but we felt it was worth it. Given how the market has performed in the past year, I don’t think it was a bad choice. The next step was to rein in the unnecessary spending. It is amazing how much money one can spend without really thinking about it. It took us about 2½ years to save the required amount. It should have taken us longer, but Scott’s bonuses were larger than anticipated.

Above all, when you calculate the amount that you think you will need, be conservative. You never know what the future holds. We saved for a 6 month adventure, but it turned out that Scott was offered a 9 month position. Still, our expenses have been far less than anticipated, so we are stretching 6 months into 2 years (not bad!). The additional time requires renting the house. (Something that is quite emotional for me. Cross your fingers that the renters don’t destroy my home.) The budget will be pretty austere next year, travel will be curtailed quite a bit, but all and all it is manageable. The experience, I am sure, will be worth the sacrifices.

Believe it or not, the hard part is not saving the money to fund the adventure, but rather being able to take that final deep breath, join hands, and jump. You have to be willing, at least in spirit, to let go of everything that you are accustomed to and leave your old life behind. That final jump will open your horizons and challenge your perspectives and ideas that you have always held to be true. Understand, that no matter how willing you are to make that jump, and no matter how much you prepare yourself for the experience, the jolt of culture shock will punch you in the gut at least once in the first couple of months, an even occasionally afterward. Recall my earlier blog entry, last November I sent home for chocolate chips, brown sugar and measuring cups. They were required.

Before we left, I spoke with someone who had been sent to live in Germany for 6 years. She told me that she recommended the experience to everyone. She also said that I would learn things about myself, my husband and my marriage that I would never expect. After 9 months in Spain, I can attest to the truth of this statement. I have learned that under the stress of “all things foreign”, I am quite emotional. I have learned that I am still quite the rebel, especially when I feel that I am being forced into something. And that my dear husband, although he no longer “walks on water”, will stand patiently by my side in my temperamental moods. As I am the consummate accountant, Scott is “the eternal manager”, and in the absence of something to manage, he will create something to manage. I think that the stress, (and it is stressful living in a foreign country where everything that you know, believe and are used to may no longer be true), has been more of a challenge to our relationship than anything that we have ever dealt with before. Even more stressful than teenagers. But I would not hesitate to do it again. The benefits far outweigh the inconveniences.

We are staying a second year…

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