‘Hi, I’m the new girl!’ Expat financial mistakes learnt the hard way.

I’m delighted to present Ms TheWealthster. She is my girlfriend and has taken the time to guest post an article for you all! Enjoy!

I moved to London from Australia in 2014, expecting to stay about 6 months (it’s been almost 6 years, sorry Mum!).

I set up shop in a shared house in Clapham, Zone 2 (could I be any more Australian?).  I got a job as a teacher in a primary school.  My rent was £600 per month excluding bills which was about average for London.  

Setting up shop in a new country is inevitably going to make a dent in your bank balance.  You have to buy plates, cutlery, sheets, pots, pans, the works.  Like a lot of young, naïve ex-pats, I rinsed through most of my savings in a matter of months.

Australian in London
Australia House in London

Six years later as I sit down and type this, I can look back and see the reasons why my account balance was steadily depleting. 

If I could do it again, there’s a few things I would’ve changed:

1. I should’ve been more prepared:

I didn’t do enough research before I left.  The two big mistakes were:

  • Accommodation when I arrived.  I didn’t know anyone in London so I opted to stay at a Hostel in London Bridge, wanting to be central and wanting to make new friends.  I ended up staying there for a month while I searched for a long term lease, and the going rate for a night at the Hostel was more than what a decent air BnB outside of central London would’ve cost (minus uncomfortable beds, the noise of the downstairs bar pounding through the floor, and sharing a room with 6 strangers.) 
  • Moving my money across.  I should’ve transferred my Australian money over to a UK account via a transfer app like Transferwise.  You don’t think those little international transfer fees mean much, but when you look at the bigger picture.. Yep. What a waste of money!

2. I got a job too quickly:

In my first week, I made a rash decision, securing a teaching job in a school on the other side of the Thames.  My train tickets alone were £250 per month (!) and the commute every morning to Zone 5 was around an hour and a half.   
I should have factored in my travel expenses when I was job hunting but I was too nervous about being without work for too long.  Travelling to work was a huge expense.

3. I took every opportunity to go on holiday I could

I went on so many holidays in my first year in the UK, it was unbelievable. Teachers in the UK get a week of holiday literally every 6-8 weeks; I literally went on a holiday EVERY TIME they came around.

A lot of the time, I travelled on my own and having done no research.  A lot of the time, it was a whole lot of shopping, drinking, splashing some cash by myself.

In my first year alone, I went to Netherlands, Malta, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, America, Spain, France, Canada, Germany :S 

I don’t regret any of holidays, but I was travelling for the sake of it.  I was living as if I would never get the chance to travel again.  Holidays are so much more valuable when you go with a purpose, not just for when you’re bored and are worried about FOMO.

4. I hated my job and procrastinated changing careers for too long:

To use a favourite British idiom, ‘..so much faffing about’.  I stayed working as a teacher for 2 years on a 4 day a week contract.

Here’s the kicker- I had no desire to go full time and no desire to fill that empty day with substitute teaching as another income source because I just hated the work.

Eventually, I manned up and changed careers. I started working full time in recruitment and making more money than teaching, and just generally started being a happier person. 

My point is, I should’ve ripped off that band-aid a lot sooner.  There was an empty day for about a year that I wasted not making any money, because I wasn’t brave enough to try something new.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but here’s the short answer of what went wrong for me: I simply did not think about the long game. 

My attitude was, ‘I’m new. I’m in this country temporarily. I’m going to live it up!’

My London life was like a fairy tale that didn’t seem real.  I seemed to forget that living in a different continent did not mean life was on pause. 

In my eyes, London was a sprint, not a marathon.  And I rushed through it, wanting to see everything, not doing any research, and not acknowledging my potential to earn and save.

So to close, I end with my top 5 marathon tips as of today:

  1. Get a library card.  Stop paying for new books.  Keep a spreadsheet of all the books you’ve borrowed so you never forget the books you loved and couldn’t put down.  Re-borrow them when you want to read them again. Simple.
  2. Don’t be afraid to shop second hand.  Nothing wrong with pre-loved gear. I’ve found a designer Chloe coat retailing at £600, for £20 at our local charity shop.  While I was running last week, I found a pair of size 5 Nike Air Force 1’s outside a mansion in a box labelled ‘Free- please take’.  Happily obliged.
  3. Book a mobile Hairdresser.  They advertise on community Facebook groups, bring their own gear to your house, and are cheap.  They’ll do discounts if you bring a few friends along to make it worth their travel.
  4. If you’ve got skills you’re not using, side hustle.  I’m not a teacher anymore, and I haven’t been a teacher for years.  But I have the experience, and the qualifications to work with children.  I’ve been on/off piano teaching for years now- it’s a great way to keep some cash in your pocket. 
  5. Find a like-minded FIRE partner.  It’s so important that you and your partner have the same mindset when it comes to money.  Keep each other in check, and remember that slow and steady wins the race.

3 thoughts on “‘Hi, I’m the new girl!’ Expat financial mistakes learnt the hard way.

  1. Interesting insight into such a brave move to take-off to another country on the opposite side of the world without doing much prior research.

    I always admire people who can just get up and go. I’d love to up and travel to Japan and not come home until I’ve gone from north to south, but I’m always so hesitant about getting a job once I come back. Maybe I just live too far into the future.

  2. I made the move at about the same time, pretty much made all the same mistakes but moved with my job so that was much much easier 🙂

    I don’t regret the travel, but you need to keep it cheap.

    You forgot the amazing step where you learn about the British tax system and retirement options – in many ways much more generous than Australia. I regret missing my first ISA limit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *