Tag: Expat

Money Matters

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”
― Epictetus

Welcome to money month on SDS. In keeping with my 101/1001 goals I’ll be keeping a spending diary and reporting in weekly on where my money goes so that you, faithful minions, will keep me honest. There will also be posts on the subjects of money, spending, and adjacent choices. I’m curious to read your thoughts and feedback.

We the Small Dog clan have an odd sort of problem. We aren’t bad with money, but we’ve always made just enough to not have to worry about it. Hurrah for you, check your privilege, you might respond–which would not be an unreasonable admonition–but it has had a curious side effect in that we have never prioritized saving as much as I think we should have. Between rent, groceries, cars and subsequently travel cards, etc., most of our money has always been spoken for the moment it arrives in our pockets. We’ve always had a bit extra…and instead of saving, we’ve typically spent it.


There are some socioeconomic factors at work here. Jeff and I are millennials and like many of our generation we are paying off massive student loans. We were fortunate in that I had a job through the recession, during the worst of which we lived in a cheap university town, but it’s still had long term impact. Our savings from my first job financed our move to London but for several years we were paying over $1,000 a month towards student loans which was, in a word, backbreaking. We’ve also tended to prioritize personal goals over financial goals (one of the key insights that came out of an Edelman study looking into generational behavior) such as living in a major city abroad rather than buying a house and preferring purchasing experiences to stuff. We’re not extravagant, but the fact is that there have been times that we’ve overspent or life has been more expensive than anticipated (losses in the family requiring international travel, for instance).

We also live in one of the most expensive cities on earth. By choice. But nearly everything is more expensive for us than it would be most anywhere else. There are endless think pieces and reporting on Londoners moving further and further out from the city in order to afford rent. Expats without UK driver licenses, we need to live more centrally as we rely on public transportation to get around. Rent is, as a result, our biggest expense by far and followed closely by food. Would we like to own property someday? Sure, but it seems like a very faraway goal. It’s not outrageous for a good but basic house in a well connected part of the city to cost over £1m. For a central London home, a deposit of close to £100k is not atypical and, according to this piece in The Telegraph, if we were able to set aside £500 a month towards a down payment, we’d be able to save up to that…in about 16 years. Yikes.

Years back I made it a goal to put a specific sum (nowhere near the £500 mentioned above) in savings monthly and have mostly kept to it. But in six months of freelancing it has been hard to keep that up and some of those unexpected life incidents have periodically depleted or swallowed our savings over 7.5 years of marriage. We’re fortunate to have not really struggled thus far (written with the biggest knock-on-wood possible), but an unexpected side effect of this making of enough-to-get-by-comfortably-but-not-much-more has been an attitude of living in the moment, financially speaking, and not really thinking as much about the future as we should.

Which is why I’m making savings and budgeting a much bigger priority moving forward. This is part of my Year of Less, in that I want specifically to cut down on casual spending, consume less in general, and budget more closely. But overall, I want to start cultivating a saver’s mindset. It will be a shift, but as I start thinking about the second two thirds of our lives, it’s one I want and need to make.

What has had a significant impact on how you think about money–a book you read, an experience you had, a relationship you’ve been in or witnessed? What were the immediate effects? The long term ones? And how have the past few years changed (or cemented) your ideas about money? 

Barcelona: The History

“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte

If you like places that wear its history on its sleeve, you’ll adore Barcelona. It’s a perfect mix of Roman, medieval, and modern and you can find traces of era all over the city.

For example, in the main square, we stumbled upon some traditional fall festivals that included large “giant” figurines that are paraded in the streets on holy and fest days (and seem to have some Celtic or pagan origins, at least according to some historians) and acrobats which seem to a Catalan tradition.

 photo Spain12_zpspdicqhyo.jpg

 photo Spain17_zps8mf00hks.jpg

For those into conquest, trade, and epidemiology, the court where Isabella of Spain supposedly received Columbus in audience before his voyage is a nice check in.

 photo Spain13_zpswxi8trvp.jpg

And the architecture everywhere is fantastical…until you start to learn how much of it is a lie!

What I loved best about visiting Barcelona and hearing about its history is that the people of this city seem to have been amazingly inventive and innovative with their town. No precious nonsense about accuracy here, what they want is good show. So for instance, when there was a grand exhibition being held in Spain, they thought their cathedral was a bit drab. Romanesque architecture is by definition bulky, angular, and squat. This simply would not do. The enterprising populace decided to commission a faux gothic facade to the entrance in stead. It looks like it’s from the late medieval period, but in fact dates from the 19th century.

 photo Spain7_zpsyioo31hu.jpg

Glance down the side streets and you can see the original, rather less impressive and unadorned walls.

 photo Spain14_zpsdvrnleqy.jpg

This triumphal arch is a great might-have-been because it was the original site for an edifice deemed so ugly that the people refused to allow it to be built. And so the Eiffel Tower was erected in Paris instead. Oops.

 photo Spain15_zpsabta1ad7.jpg

The sand was perhaps my favorite story. The Spanish coast on the Mediterranean is rocky and not particularly good for holiday postcards and so when the Olympics were held here and a great influx of tourists expected, our proactive natives again rose to the challenge. Tons of sand was imported from the Middle East and palm trees from Hawaii–none of the tropical foliage you see in the city is native to the area, according to our guides. Marine sand is also different from desert sand, with a different texture and feel due to the polishing of waves rather than wind–meaning the beaches are rather rough to walk on. Doesn’t deter people, though.

 photo Spain16_zpsjcczey3v.jpg

And finally, the iconic Sagrada Familia is an absolute hodge podge because the original plans by Gaudi were lost in a fire. Rather than give up, dozens of architects and artists have been involved with the project and instead of trying to replicate the style of the master, they each have left a different and unique stamp on the area of the basilica they were assigned to. Far from Gaudi’s entrance opposite to this which commemorates the birth of Christ, this doorway memorializes his death in a darkly modernist style. My impious observation was that the statues of Roman guards looked like Cylons from Battlestar Gallatica…but I stand by this observation.

 photo Spain18_zpskhi64ozp.jpg

A completely mad and constantly evolving city!

Where Do We Go From Here?

“The private life of men of power isn’t what we expect, sometimes.”
He jerked up his chin. “People have some very odd illusions about power. Mostly it consists of finding a parade and nipping over to place yourself at the head of the band. Just as eloquence consists of persuading people of things they desperately want to believe. Demagoguery, I suppose, is eloquence sliding to some least moral energy level.” He smiled bleakly at his boot. “Pushing people uphill is one hell of a lot harder. You can break your heart, trying that.”
– Lois McMaster Bujold, Komarr

The Brexit vote was when I realized it was an actual possibility. Until that point I had dismissed him as ludicrous, a tangerine wannabe demagogue with absurd hair and even more absurd ambitions. After the vote I never discounted him again, but I didn’t think he’d win. He couldn’t. His language was so ugly, his platform xenophobic, his sexism proudly displayed instead of sheepishly passive, that I thought it would be his eventual downfall. Like so many people, I’ve been reeling to see how wrong I was.

The first words said to me by a Brit today, preceded by a cautious look, were, “My god. Your country.” I flinched.

My country, yes, but one that I don’t feel in particular harmony with at the moment. What Mr. Trump seems to have tapped into is very real and painful fear and resentment and I don’t dismiss that. If anything, I think the one thing his campaign should get some credit for is helping to reveal that we as a nation to not have our **** nearly together as we would like the rest of the world to think. We scratched our surface and found a lot of damage under what turned out to be a thin layer of gloss.

But even in spite of that I didn’t think he would win.

I’ve been very open about the fact that I found Mr. Trump’s campaign both ridiculous and repugnant. I am baffled at how a privileged seeming-narcissist, several times over a failed businessman who somehow apparently retains an obscene amount of money, a bully, a braggart, and self-proclaimed prophet of self-interest managed to convince anyone that he would be the champion and voice of the dispossessed. I don’t get it.

I am not particularly afraid of Donald Trump individually, indeed I’m wondering how he will find the office of the president in actuality vs. the perception of the office. History shows us that many men may covet thrones, but seldom do they covet the accompanying desks and paperwork. His temperament, crassness, impatience, utter lack of humility, and apparent inability to focus make him, in my opinion, imminently unsuitable for the role. I anticipate he will rely on a bevy of advisers for support, which is not unusual in and of itself until you review their CVs; these men (mostly speaking) and their self-avowed agendas do frighten me.

Whether out of genuine conviction or simply because they saw a way to leverage rage into power, or some poisonous mixture of both, these people who he has chosen to surround himself with (or have managed to surround him, I’m unsure which is the case) have stoked the fires of racial resentment and misogyny. They have purposefully fanned flames of mistrust so that even reputable facts and data is suspect or rejected if it does not support opinion. Science has been dismissed, minority groups targeted, women attacked. The jury is out on whether some have tried to wield the power of non-elected offices and positions of information privilege in a biased way.

I am baffled that so many of the same people who eight years ago decried then-Senator Obama’s “lack of experience” as disqualifying and his candidacy as divisive, are now lauding a reality TV personality who kicked off his campaign accusing a whole community of being druggies and rapists–before going on to mock or attack the disabled, veterans, PoC, women…basically every facet of the population besides white men. I think a lot of people have been sold several ideas in this election (walls, unconstitutional religious tests, sweeping statements of action that exceed the limits of the office) that will likely never come to be. I wonder if the anger will eventually turn back against the hand that has fed it when these promises don’t materialize. I wonder if only promises would have proved be enough to calm fears of and resentment against a changing world. I wonder which is ultimately worse.

Brexit was only one side of this. Mr. Trump’s victory is just another. There is a rising tide of nationalism, xenophobia, and rabid fear of a world that is getting smaller and closer all the time. This tide is what I am afraid of. Intensely. But even seeing that this is the big picture, the election feels deeply and painfully personal to me.

My country has followed the election of its first black president with the election of a man who has been endorsed by the KKK.

The glass ceiling remains. My country would rather see a man elected who incites violence, speaks in racial dog whistles, lies outright without shame, and brags about sexual assault among other misogynistic speech, than a woman.

My country is divided. Mr. Trump has run a campaign of disenfranchisement and divisiveness and now has to bring a country together. Good luck. Both political parties have engaged in intense partisan rhetoric and actions over the last decade, but my opinion is that the right has invested far more in fanning fears and resentments in an effort to win back power. They have actively engaged in rabble rousing and now the rabble is roused. Anger may be vindicated, but I don’t believe it will simply go quietly away.

We’ve elected a reality TV personality. That’s humiliating. Politics and entertainment have long been mixed, but this is downright dystopian.

I’m disheartened. I’m afraid for the implications for the LGBT community, existing legal rights for women including abortion, minority communities, and others.

I genuinely thought the power of fear, distrust, and any number of -isms, was weaker than it is proving to be in my eyes. I believed my country looked different, thought differently than it is proving to do. I will answer calls for unity, I will take Secretary Clinton’s gracious concession speech words to heart, that “fighting for what is right is always worth it.”

But I am tired. I am disappointed. And I don’t think the problems raised (and in many cases purposefully manipulated) in this election are resolved.

Monday Links

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Saturday was a long and occasionally vexing day, but we got the whole move done in it. On Sunday Jeff got to go gallivanting off to an NFL game because we’d bought the ticket long before our move date (I still think sneakiness might have been involved) but we got our first batch of shopping done and almost all our things organized any way.

Next stop furniture, and what a doozy that will be. We’re preparing to be permanently poor for the foreseeable future! However after crunching some numbers, budgeting, and planning, we were able to afford plane tickets for Christmas in the States, which means we get to see both sides of the family two years in a row. Adulting, we are getting there.

…but we do not yet have internet so your links are a day late, though not a proverbial dollar short! Let me know what your weekend held in the comments!

Daunting but kind of exhilarating at the same time.
Daunting but kind of exhilarating at the same time.

In case you missed it, this Tiny Desk Concert was pretty great.

An intriguing piece on Secretary Clinton and the common problem of reactions to women looking for a promotion. Regardless of political affiliation, I’ve found her now famous comments about being torn down when seeking a new position as opposed to being relatively well thought of when doing that new position to be insightful.

Books, glorious books!

A query I have often posed to myself. I carry kit enough to invade a small country on a typical day.

Loved this essay from Mike Birbiglia.

This man has lived.

I literally cannot tell the different between satire, news, and fiction sometimes these days. Headlines and situations like this do not help.

It’s October, Halloween is coming, start prepping!


Monday Links

“When Adam and Eve were dispossessed Of the garden hard by Heaven, They planted another one down in the west, ‘Twas Devon, glorious Devon!”
-Sir Harold Edwin Boulton

Hi, kittens! Your links are a day late this week, and that’s because I spent the weekend in a tiny village on the Devon coast with very little wifi. It was delightful, I’m not a bit sorry to be tardy. Full post coming eventually, but in the meantime, enjoy your links and let me know what the week holds for you. Ours holds a move…wish us luck!

Clearly, the view was hideous. HIDEOUS.
Clearly, the view was hideous. HIDEOUS.

Pockets for all, votes for women!

This longform piece really hit me as I have noticed an increasing fractal pattern to my attention span and way of thinking that I feel can be at least partially attributed to the media world and age we live in. It’s everywhere and it’s nearly impossible to shut out…and I agree that the culture of always being “on” and “accessible” has consequences.

Nothing says SDS clickbait like ancient archaeology.

A surprisingly good deep dive into the end of Brangelina.

Honestly, you couldn’t make this shit up in a sitcom generator.

Achieving a new museum.

Let me sing you the song of my people. Apparently.

Beauty PSA, people! Ilia lipsticks have arrived at Sephora. If you are looking for an ethical brand, I’ve found the pigment load is worth the price tag.

I’m both intrigued and repelled by the notion of communal living.

Finally, major fistbump to not just Gigi Hadid for standing up for herself both physically and verbally, but all the journalists and People Online who called BS on a sexist headline and situation.

Services at the Tower

“I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love getting in when or where others can’t. It’s not a noble confession, but it’s an honest one. And if you want a fantastic private peek into what is normally a very public space, make some time in your weekend calendar to attend Sunday services at the Tower of London. The main doors don’t open until after the first of two services (one communion, the other a sung matins), though a side gate admits service attendees without a ticket, and it’s an amazing chance to see this world heritage site nearly free of people. Redcoats excepted.

 photo tower2_zpsbtls6rti.jpg

The Tower still functions as a military fortress, though the vast majority of its activities are understandably ceremonial. The Beefeaters may wear Tudor era uniforms but their assignment is a proper posting and a detachment of the Queen’s Guard stands sentry over the Crown Jewels.

 photo tower1_zps3xgymrd8.jpg

However like all military bases, there’s a cottage community thriving here. Beefeaters live at the Tower, often with families, and there is also a small but famous Royal Chapel still in operation under the pastoral care of a military chaplain. St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains) is a Tudor church famous as the resting place of Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Katherine Howard, Lady/Queen Jane Grey, St Thomas Moore, Margaret Pole, and others.

 photo tower3_zpsuheam9qb.jpg

Attending a service here has been on my list of things To Do since moving to London, but I just never really got around to it. Then I went through the death throes of a faith crisis and didn’t really want to do anything more church-y than Christmas–which I still love and always will–and it fell off the radar. And then a friend friend from the MoFem (Mormon feminist) community invited me to attend on September 11th and it seemed a fitting thing to do.

 photo tower7_zps1xruwvts.jpg

One of the ravens stood by as a small group filed in for services, beak wide open and likely expecting one of the familiar uniforms to provide him breakfast.

 photo tower8_zpsbsewhxcd.jpg

Katie and I attended both the communion service and the sung matins, which I particularly enjoyed. Between the sessions, we wolfed down croissants and chatted about faith, community, expat life, and the nerdy history of the Book of Common Prayer. Totally normal touristy stuff.

 photo tower5_zpslazwzj4h.jpg

The congregation was not large, but we weren’t the only Americans there and as a military brat, it was nice to hear a few words on the day from a chaplain whose career was focused in and around active service. The fact that he managed to tie in references to Poldark and Great British Bake Off, before circling around to familiar parables was just icing on the cake. In spite of the day, and the remembrances of the day, the whole experience felt friendly.

 photo tower6_zpssynanvvn.jpg

It may not be your usual cup of tea, but it’s worth trying, even if just to sit in stillness in a lovely place for a while.

Performing Patriotism

“It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.”
― Aristotle

Watching US patriotism shaming from across an ocean and as an expat is a really enlightening and thought provoking experience, especially in an election season. If you don’t perform patriotism the way a person or group wants you to, the rage machine that can be and often is mobilized against you can be fierce. The group of my friends who are into sport are currently up in arms (on both sides of the issue) about Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit for the national anthem. A couple of weeks ago people dragged one of the most celebrated female athletes in the country both for her hair and her forgetting/choice/who knows to put/not put a hand on her heart during the same national anthem. I remember a brouhaha a couple election cycles ago about the fact that a candidate wasn’t wearing a flag pin on his lapel and what that said about his inner commitment to the US constitution. Pick a current topic of policy (or lack thereof) in the current presidential campaign and enjoy the flurry of commentary about how the candidate in question is fundamentally un-American.

I grew up in a military family, living on or near military bases multiple times in childhood. I remember how the national anthem was played at the close of day, during which everyone in earshot would stop and remain still for the duration. Flag ceremonies were de rigeur. The symbols of national identity were everywhere, up to and including my father’s collar. I consider myself fairly patriotic, even though I am openly critical of my country and the many challenges it faces in living up to its own ideas enshrined in revolutionary documents. But outside of the structure of the military, civil service, and local/federal government life, I also don’t see the been or benefit in some of the hyper patriotism (not to say nationalism) I see in the US displayed by many civilians. I find it strange, for instance, that the national anthem is even played at a football game, which has nothing to do with the body politic or any workings of government at all.

 photo original_zps055da62b.jpg

And I have been really disheartened to see a strain of American discourse weaponize patriotism–or rather how others “perform” patriotism. The vitriol heaped on a football player for exercising the very rights in question has baffled me. I’ve been far, far more angry to see a convicted rapist walk free for good behavior after serving just half of a six month sentence (ridiculous in its own right). In the election cycle, the hyperbolic scrutiny and wild interpretations about this candidate’s or that’s loyalty to the government has frankly veered into the realm of the bizarre. Meanwhile there has been a notable lack of policy debate about how the government should apply in people’s lives.

Perhaps it has to do with my experience with faith and religion, but I view patriotism in very similar ways to belief: something deeply personal, highly individualized, and fundamentally uninterpretable by other people. I can both criticize and love my country. A candidate for office cannot be evaluated based on jewelry. Flag ceremonies are insufficient barometers of loyalty. Sitting for the national anthem is not an act of treason. Neither is failing to place an appendage on another body party. There is no person or entity that can accurately measure devotion of any kind in another human and I’m struggling to cite an instance where a person or entity has tried without a whole host of interior motives behind them.

Now as a “stranger in a strange land” again, this time in the secular sense of being an expat I sometimes wonder if this commitment to displays or performances of patriotism is even good for Americans as a people. Does the devotion to the outward trappings actual result in devotion to the underlying principles? I have personally found that display is more often is tied to ideology than ideals, and political ideology that lacks the ability to be challenged is frightening to me. If history shows us anything, it’s that that way danger lies.

I’ve heard more than one American here in Britain talk disparagingly of British patriotism as being “tepid.” By comparison the Brits certainly are less loud about it, but most I’ve met are privately, staunchly proud of their nation. They acknowledge conflicts or disappointments with aspects of government or history or any number of things, and are perfectly willing to criticize themselves, but woe betide any outsider who may try to do the same. Americans are just as fierce about outside criticism but we are, strangely, equally or even more fierce when criticism comes from within in my experience. I’ve seen Yanks more likely to turn on one another than any outsider–I think that inability, at least in my opinion, to accept internal criticism more than anything explains the ridiculous and ineffective state of American politics at the moment. We seem hell bent on presenting a united front to the world, and willing to descend to insane levels of infighting in pursuit of it.

I don’t have any solutions to this problem except to say that I don’t like it and it disappoints me. I hate patriotism shaming and at a core level, I am mistrustful of anyone who partakes in it. And, as nationalistic sensibilities spike all over the world, I cannot but wonder if it’s dangerous.