14 Tips from a Family Who Moved to Europe, Paid Off $43K and Put Away $10K

moving to europe
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Jennifer and Jim were exploring Europe on their honeymoon in 2009 when the idea struck to move there full time.

The college sweethearts from Arizona State University were enjoying their stay in Ireland and realized they didn’t want it to end. They also met a young American couple who had decided to move abroad; Jennifer and Jim considered it fate.

The couple carried big debt going into the marriage: Jennifer’s student loans came to $35,000, and together they had more than $10,000 in credit card debt.

Six years later, Jennifer and Jim have paid off a whopping $43,000 in debt and saved an additional $10,000 in cash — all on one $40,000 salary! They live comfortably, travel often and now have two kids.

Here’s how they did it.

Newlyweds with Debt and Big Dreams

Jennifer, then 27, and Jim, then 26, arrived in Dublin, Ireland, just three months after they made the commitment to move. They had no solid jobs or living situation, though Jim had dual American-Irish citizenship.

They rented a small apartment right across from the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral and landed jobs at an outdoor clothing and equipment retail store in just two days. They wanted flexible, relaxed and stress-free employment, since their goal was to travel as much as possible.

Changing Plans and Starting a Family

They thought they’d only be in Ireland for a few years, but given Ireland’s free healthcare and generous parental leave, the couple decided to have start their family there.

While they both worked, the couple lived off Jim’s salary and saved Jennifer’s. When their first child arrived in 2013, Jennifer received six months off paid, plus another six months off unpaid. She then became a stay-at-home mom, and they were forced to find more creative ways to save.

In 2014, their second child was born. Jennifer and Jim started saving in the simplest way possible: stashing cash away and not touching it. Jennifer refers to this as her “Sock Fund.”

And it worked: They’ve paid off $43,000 in debt and put $10,000 in the bank.

Jennifer and Jim miss the U.S., but they’re in love with the European lifestyle. They feel Europeans are less brand-conscious and live much more simply, which helps make saving easier.

“There’s no keeping up with the Joneses here,” says Jennifer.

Jennifer and Jim’s Tips for Saving Cash, No Matter Where You Live:

  • Hide money in your own Sock Fund: Sock away money in a jar every week and every payday. Out of sight and out of mind means you won’t think about it or spend it.
  • Walk to the store: Buy only what you can carry.
  • Don’t have a car: Not everyone can pull this off, but Jennifer and Jim have easy access to public transportation and the ability to walk just about anywhere.
  • Don’t buy a gym membership: By walking everywhere, you’ll get lots of exercise for free.
  • Reinvent your wardrobe: Jennifer was especially creative at reinventing her wardrobe with accessories to change the look and make it feel like new, without having to drop cash on a new dress for every occasion.
  • Book airfare many months in advance: Don’t wait and risk it. Book your airfare at least six months in advance to make sure you can grab cheap seats.
  • Say goodbye to cable: With the Internet, everything is available in a few clicks. Jennifer and Jim traded their expensive cable for an Apple TV.
  • Use pay-as-you-go or roll-over cell phone plans: These plans force you to be aware of your monthly usage. You’ll probably surprise yourself and save plenty of minutes.
  • Ask for discounts: Ask and ye shall receive. Regularly check in with service providers to see about special offers and deals.
  • Be careful with credit cards: Pay off your credit cards on time to avoid interest, and when your rates go up, just walk away and get a new credit card.
  • Get rid of your stuff: Every year or so, go through your entire home, pull out anything you don’t need or use, and sell it. Not only are you decluttering, you’ll make money you can add to your Sock Fund.
  • Take advantage of freebies: Free events, free admissions, free stuff. You’d be amazed at what you can enjoy that is simply free: museum days, park picnics (pack your own wine!), giveaways and more.
  • Buy the best: Do your research and opt for higher-end (and, yes, more expensive) appliances and electronics that will likely last longer. But of course, wait until they go on sale!
  • Stay in on date night: Save money on babysitters and expensive restaurants by planning at-home date nights. After the kids go to bed, enjoy a bottle of wine (Jennifer and Jim are spoiled by affordable and tasty European wines), cook and make time for each other.

The Bottom Line: Choose What’s Important to You

While some of Jennifer and Jim’s success is due to the benefits of living in Ireland, like free healthcare and generous maternity benefits, you can leverage many of their tactics no matter where you live.

As Jennifer says, “You decide what’s important.”

Your Turn: Would you move to another country to save money on living expenses?

Joanna Brinjak Furlong is a writer, marketing strategist and mom based in Los Angeles. You can find her on Twitter @JoannaBFurlong or blogging createfully.