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3 Big Money Mistakes I Made When Moving Abroad (& How To Avoid Them)

Here’s the thing about me: I am not impulsive. I like a plan. I like structure. I like details.

Here’s another thing about me: I like change. I don’t like routine. And I love to travel.

So now that you know a little about me, let me set the stage of the last six months of my life.

In June 2017, I decided to apply for a work visa for the UK. A bit of background: I did a year of study abroad in England during my undergrad and I fell in love. Never had I felt such a connection to a place before. It wasn’t just the tourist stops like Big Ben and the London Eye. It was the culture. It was the pubs. It was trains and the countryside and the freedom of being young and adventurous and finding a place in the world.

So when I came back after that year away, heartbroken and pining for my temporarily-adoptive country, I knew that one day, I would go back. Three years later, I had saved up enough money for the visa, the plane ticket, and maintenance funds to tide me over while I searched for a job. I quit my own job, hopped on a plane, and here I am, two months later.

Jobless.

I should say that I am extremely fortunate in my position. I am living with a friend who doesn’t charge me or the other housemates rent — instead, we split bills (about £150/$201.69 USD a month each), and alternate on who pays for heating (£30/$40.34 USD per top up, which we do whenever the machine tells us we’re almost out of hot water). We all chip in for food. I live in a cozy village only 20 minutes away from London by train, and I’m able to walk to most places if I need to get out of the house for a while. So all in all, my expenses are low, I am in a safe and secure place, and I live with awesome people.

I expected that finding a job would be the most difficult part of this whole affair, and I made sure to save almost double the required amount of maintenance funds before I even applied for the visa, just so that I could give myself as much of a cushion as possible. After all, the UK is not the cheapest country to live in, and I still have student loans and a credit card that I need to pay off monthly, both of which are attached to my Canadian bank account (while my bills here go through my UK account). Even though I planned ahead and made sure that I could afford this huge change in my life, there are a few mistakes I’ve made along the way that I wish I could go back and fix, just to save myself some time and money. Without further ado, here are three mistakes I made during my move to the UK:

1. Not Tying Up Loose Ends at Home

This one is actually not too bad, and it is probably the least troubling one on the list. Essentially, before I picked up from my home in Victoria, British Columbia, I had to change my address and settle any outstanding bills on all the things. For the most part, I did this. But in one case, I didn’t.

This would be with the CRA (Canadian Revenue Agency). Essentially, I got locked out of my online account and couldn’t change my address that way. I waited until I had settled in the UK and purchased a UK SIM card for my phone to make the call to get my account unlocked. This only took twenty minutes, thank goodness, and everything was easy to sort out. Nonetheless, I got hit with a hefty overseas charge on my phone bill, which will be automatically taken out of my account next month. I could have saved myself a headache and the cash just by being on top of this before I left, but unfortunately, I left it too late.

2. Not Reading Job Postings Closely Enough

This is a recent thorn in my side and one that I’ll be troubling over for a few weeks. After two months of job hunting, I finally got an interview for a library assistant position in a nearby town. The position is part-time, but the pay seemed good, and so that was fine with me.

It was only half-way through my interview that I realized that the pay was pro rata, which means, essentially, the job was posted with the full-time wage, and an indication that the part-time position would be calculated proportionately. So I would actually be paid less than half of the annual salary posted. Some quick math on my way to the bus afterward showed me that this would barely cover my living expenses — forget about transferring money to my Canadian account to pay off my credit card and student loan. I spent the evening sick with worry. If I was offered the job, should I take it, even though I could barely afford to live on it? Or turn it down, and hope that something better came along?

This is still a puzzle I’m pondering, and I guess I’ll find out in a few days what my answer is. But if I do indeed need or choose to carry on the job hunt, I’ll be keeping a closer eye on the salaries posted going forward.

3. Ignoring My Budget

That’s right — the evilest of sins, the most heinous of personal finance crimes.

Like I said, I put a lot into savings for my maintenance fund, and transferred myself $1,000 CAD ($790 USD) to start. This worked out to just under £600 — which I blew through in a matter of weeks. Before long, I was transferring myself another $1,000, and then another. Two months in, and I’m halfway through my emergency fund.

Now, obviously, I have bills and expenses, which takes out a sizeable chunk of that amount. But I also have constant hankerings for takeout and drinks, as well as having made a few small weekend trips that dipped into those savings. Furthermore, I have completely ignored my new budgeting app (sadly, Mint doesn’t work for GBP), and hardly ever remember to check it.

But the real problem might be that I am overly generous. The friend who lets me stay in his house rent-free was also job-hunting at the same time I was, but unlike me, did not have an emergency fund to float him for the time being. This meant that on days when we felt too lazy to cook and wanted a takeaway curry instead (how British of me, I know), or when we wanted to catch a film or take the bus into downtown, I paid our way. I don’t regret these things — he is, very generously, saving me hundreds of pounds by not charging me rent, and we both really hate job hunting, so morale can get low at times. But I also know that it’s been a huge drain on my financial resources and that me six months ago would have been horrified at the amount I’ve been spending.

*****

Of course, all this can easily be put back on track, and there are things I can do to make my situation easier on myself. After all, the whole reason I made this move was that I love this country, I love everything I can do here, and I’m looking forward to spending the next couple of years traveling, seeing my friends, and making memories. Holding myself accountable when it comes to my finances will go a long way in making sure that my time here continues to be awesome and that I don’t cause myself more stress than necessary. And really, what more can a girl ask for?

Jess is your average Canadian girl living abroad. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, and hunting down ingredients for Caesar cocktails.

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