It's hard to imagine that in the past two years, I've gotten married to my husband, helped him through the grad school process, traveled thousands of miles, moved abroad to two completely new countries and did it without being buried in massive amounts of debt.
Back in 2014, I was living in Tucson, Arizona, working full-time as a cartographer and making about $45,000 before taxes. It's not as much as I would have liked, but I was spending what I wanted. Going out with friends, dropping cash on food and drinks, buying expensive cars … it’s safe to say I was living beyond my means. While I didn’t have any debt, I also didn’t have any savings.
When my then-fiancé, Aaron, got the idea to go to grad school for performance psychology, we sat down and compared costs of schools in the States versus abroad. Tuition was actually cheaper outside of the U.S. by about $10,000 to $15,000 for a year-long program. So he applied to some programs abroad.
About a month before our wedding, we found out he had been accepted to a program in Scotland — which just so happened to be where we were getting married — and jumped at the chance to live there.
We only had about two months from when he received his acceptance letter to when we had to move ourselves and our two cats (with a wedding in between), so we had to build a financial cushion quickly.
Moving Internationally on a Budget
We sold both of our cars, which gave us about $15,000 to work with. Our furniture, spare computers, clothes and anything else we were willing to part with yielded roughly another $10,000 on sites like Craigslist, Autotrader, eBay and Tradesy, as well as good old-fashioned yard sales.
The tuition for Aaron’s one-year Master’s program was about $25,000, and since he would be going to school full-time, we would be living off just my salary (luckily, my job transferred to the UK).
We spent as little as possible once we got to Scotland: We rented a tiny, 400-square-foot apartment for about $900 a month, took public transportation everywhere, went without cellphones, cooked at home every night and bought clothes only when it was absolutely necessary.
The minimalist lifestyle was definitely a shock. The UK overall is a very social country; everyone wants to drink and go out and spend money. And if your friends make more money than you and want to do all that, it can be tough. Fortunately, several of our friends were in similar financial situations, so we would either invite them to our place or go to theirs. The rare occasions we did go to the pub, we limited ourselves to one drink each.
Our one splurge was travel. We visited Amsterdam, Morocco and the French Riviera on the cheap: budget airlines, traveling by train or ferry and never checking luggage. With our super-strict budget, we were able to pay off about $8,000 of Aaron’s tuition within the year.
Next Stop, New Zealand
About three months before his Master’s graduation, Aaron applied for a Ph.D. program in New Zealand to continue his studies in strength and conditioning. We had moved back to the States when we found out he had been accepted.
While Aaron flew out to get settled, I stayed in Arizona for about six months to save up some extra money. I lived with my grandmother and took on an additional part-time job, saving enough to cover my plane ticket to New Zealand, the cost to ship our two cats and a used car once I got there.
Because the UK doesn't allow you to bring in animals on a plane, that first move involved flying to Belgium with our cats under our seats, hopping a train to the Netherlands and then taking them on a ferry to Scotland — for over $2,000. Getting the permits to ship them to New Zealand took nearly six months and cost about $8,000.
Aaron’s Ph.D. program isn’t costing us anything, and he actually receives a yearly stipend of about 25,000 New Zealand dollars that covers our rent and utilities. My paycheck goes toward food, and the remaining $1,200 to $1,400 per month goes to our savings (including a travel fund) and his loans — we still have about $16,000 left to pay. But with the additional income, we’ve been able to up our savings and 401(k) contributions significantly.
Saving Up to See the World
Our spending habits really haven’t changed. After the year in Scotland was over, we were used to our new lifestyle. Plus, we really like the benefits of spending less and using the money for traveling and paying down his loans.
After 10 months, we’re already saving up for our future travels: South Korea for the middle of 2017 and Saint Petersburg for the Fall of 2017. To bump up our savings, I work as much overtime as possible. We’re just preparing for the next place we’ll go, wherever that may be.