When you imagine moving somewhere more affordable, you probably don’t think of Europe.
But that’s what my husband and I did in May 2015. We sold most of our stuff, ended our lease and left California for Germany.
People in Düsseldorf always ask why we would leave San Francisco for this small industrial city by the Rhine.
This is how we respond.
Why My Husband and I Moved to Germany
In San Francisco, our rent was $3,000 a month.
No, we didn’t live in a mansion in the center of town. We lived in a suburb 45 minutes outside the city in a 700-square-foot above-garage apartment on someone else’s property.
We needed two cars to get to work, and my commute cost roughly $45 per day in tolls, gas and parking. Add on the dog walker we had to hire since we were gone so many hours, and the cost of going to work climbed to $60.
The closest grocery store was Whole Foods, and we all know how that goes. A small shop for two people was at least $100.
Want dinner out with friends? That’s another $100.
Granted, we definitely weren’t poor, nor were we making a conscious effort to cut back and save more money. Our decision to move to Germany was primarily based on a desire for adventure, not because it would be easier on our pocketbooks.
But now that we’re here, it turns out this decision is better for our bank accounts than we could have imagined.
How Living Abroad Helps Us Save Money
Even though my husband and I make around half of what we did in California, our rent is a third of the price for double the space.
A nice dinner out with wine and dessert is $40 per person.
Want to head to Amsterdam for the weekend? It’s a $33 train ticket, one way. That’s cheaper than the gas, tolls, parking and dog walker combo I had to pay for when I commuted 20 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.
Living in Germany definitely isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, of course. We don’t speak the language, the culture still confuses us a year down the line, and we miss the nature and sunshine of the Bay Area.
So we looked at our finances and did some quick math. With all this extra money in our budgets, we could save $12,000 (enough to move home, put a deposit on a rental, ship our things and take a month off work to settle in) just by putting $200 each into a joint savings account.
By the time my husband’s three-year German work contract is up, we’ll have enough money to get us resettled back home.
But wait, so you moved to Germany just so you could save the money to move home?
Don’t worry, we’ve got that covered too.
Outside of a joint savings account, my husband and I don’t share money. That means we have our own individual savings goals.
By the end of our three years in Germany, we’ll likely have an additional $10,000 each.
My husband wants to buy a car and I want to take maternity leave (something you have to plan for years in advance when you run your own business).
That’s $32,000 in savings in three years, all while living abroad in Europe.
Here are the tools we’re using to save money and organize all these moving pieces.
You Need A Budget
I track every dollar in and every dollar out using this amazing tool.
Not only does YNAB help me figure out that, no, I can’t buy my dog an extra toy if I want to drink coffee this month, it helps me allocate and grow a “buffer” on my bank account — a must when you primarily do project work and don’t know what your income will look like each month.
YNAB also helps you manage savings goals, debt payments and “fun” money.
Capital One 360
When my husband and I got married, we each had accounts at different banks. Because we had no plans to combine our money, we needed a simple way to manage savings toward our joint goals.
Capital One 360 is all online, and we set up automatic transfers from our individual accounts every month. We use this as our joint savings account.
Because my business is based in the States, I get paid in dollars. Problem is, I spend money in Euros.
The Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account gives me free withdrawals and doesn’t have any international fees. I found out about this amazing debit card from this couple and it’s been a lifesaver.
When you don’t share a bank account, splitting expenses becomes a little more complicated — especially when you’re mixing currencies.
I Venmo my husband our rent money every month and use xe.com to figure out the current exchange rate. He keeps that money in his U.S. account, since he travels back to San Francisco for work a few times per year, and pays our landlord from his German account.
Occasionally, I still need to transfer Euros to my German bank account to pay for things like my cell phone bill. Transferwise is an incredibly intuitive tool and it’s crazy cheap to send money abroad. Plus, it only takes a few days to arrive!
Moving Abroad Turned Out to Be a Brilliant Financial Decision for Us
Could we have saved the same amount of money by staying in the States and tightening our belts?
But we would have had to cut way back on our general lifestyle choices, and we definitely wouldn’t be able to hop on a train and go to Amsterdam for the weekend.
So, by living here, we can have our strudel and eat it, too.
Your Turn: Would you move abroad to save on your living expenses?
Marian Schembari is a writer and blogger based in Düsseldorf, Germany by way of San Francisco. She writes about travel and creativity, and spends way too much time on the Internet.