Category Archives: Expatriate Money

Grateful or in debt – what does it feel like to you? An accompanying expat spouse’s dilemma.

by Margarita

Much has been said about the role of financial dependence in expat marriages. FeeCultureOne spouse gets the transfer to work abroad, the other decides to follow thereby giving up his/her job and with that — the ability to contribute monetarily to the household.

Although situations vary, most non-working accompanying spouses contribute to the family in many other ways: they organize households in the chaotic “before” and “after” of a move; they take care of children and pets; they figure how things work in a new environment and smoothen transition for everyone else; they run the house and errands; and they play a very important supportive part that allows the other partner to work.

We all know they contribute – and they know it too – however, concerns of being financially dependent and spending “not my own money” has always been high on the expat spouse’s list of feeling unhappy. So why is it that perfectly accomplished people with a large list of things they do for the family still feel like they don’t deserve the money they spend? Why do they feel guilty not to make a paycheck?

Thinking about it a little more after a conversation I recently had with some fellow expat women, I came up with three reasons:

(1) In today’s society (the Western kind), you are only as good as the size of your paycheck and the title on your business card. Money you make elicits more admiration than the impact you make as a parent, a partner, or simply a human being.

(2) The reason above contributes directly to how accompanying spouses feel about their self-worth. Many a client with whom I’ve worked told me how they cringe when asked “what do you do?” – one of the first questions that you get in a gathering of any kind. Or how they notice that people’s eyes glaze over as soon as they mention that they are not working.

(3) And then there is the third reason – the most poisonous of them all. There are actually spouses that will hint or point out that they are the ones bringing home the bacon – and that no amount of support, or of household chores, or of parenting impact, or of simply moving around on a whim of someone else will ever be as important as their paycheck. And unless you make the same amount or more while doing everything else you are already doing, you should stop feeling smug about yourself and your contribution and start feeling very grateful.

My question is: grateful or in debt?

The answer is, of course, your choice! We can always choose the way we feel about our surroundings and the way we react to them. And perhaps it’ll work the first, the second, and the third time around. But then the fourth time, it’ll be harder. And the fifth time – even harder. Why? Because if you live near the toxic plant, you won’t be healthy no matter how many vitamins you take and how many vegetables you juice. The plant has to stop emitting toxins or you have to move.

Your thoughts on this “grateful” or “in debt” dilemma?

Waking up an artist in you — expat lifestyle opportunity… and a learning opportunity

One of the common advices an accompanying expat spouse receives in response to her/his concern about losing a career/job is this: “Enjoy your hobbies while you have this great chance.  Look at what you love to do and do it.”  It’s a great suggestion and many newly-unemployed expats have definitely found a peace of mind in taking up pottery, painting, writing, or stamp collection.  Finally all of those things they’ve been meaning to do their entire lives were at their fingertips and they had time and resources to do them!

Then a few months later a few of us “impact-oriented” people (me included!) started to wonder.  So here I am painting away (or writing or creating pottery or sewing) and isn’t this the time when I am supposed to be getting really good at this — my new craft, professionally-speaking?  I mean I’ve always been successful at my work, I’ve advanced and made more money in my career almost every year so isn’t this the time to start booking galleries or creating my fall fashion line?  And if not, then why am I doing this?  Why am I spending all this time and resources on doing something that’ll never create any impact in the outside world and will never make me money?

This is when the old familiar voice of doubt starts getting louder.  Maybe this new painting I am making is going to be really bad.  Should I change this color or should I add this color or should I… just quit the whole thing and do what I am good at — find work and immediately begin putting in 60-hrs weeks to catch up on what I’ve missed?  The hobby I’ve taken suddenly takes the form of some race I am supposed to win and every day I am more and more afraid to screw up the canvas.

Has anything like that happen to you?  It certainly has happened to me — and it continues to happen once in awhile.

What do I do?

I go back to a great metaphor my coach and I created.

I see myself as a child playing in a sandbox, building a castle.  The castle isn’t coming out the way I’ve wanted and so I level it to the ground.  “It’s just sand,” I hear my child say and begin to build the castle again. Playing is the main point here.

Allowing yourself to play is the biggest gift and the biggest learning — and that learning comes from our inner children that we’ve forgotten with all our career and impact aspirations.  So how about making play the central part of whatever we are doing and remembering that it’s just sand?

Your thoughts?

NEW at the Global Coach Center: an online course on Culture Mastery — offering how to be effective in any culture through the 4C’s ™ process of culture-emotion intelligence.

Copyright © 2011 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

Success: what does culture have to do with it?

When I went to the Miami Bal Harbour Mall for a business lunch-meeting a week ago, I knew I entered another world.  And not because of the high couture brands that I saw there — but because of the amount of “plastic” that surrounded me.  Not “plastic” as in credit cards, but “plastic” as in “plastic” people, both women and men.

Those of us without any plastic surgery were in minority in that restaurant.  And since I’ve just recently moved to Miami from Russia — another place on the planet where having plastic surgery often means “you’ve made it” — it got me thinking.  What defines our understanding of success?  What part of our definition of it comes from us as individuals and what part comes from the culture that surrounds us?

When I coach my clients we always look at the set of values that each client holds dear to him/her.  And success as a value comes strongly in almost all of them.  Yet the definitions of it vary widely from client to client.  For some success might be a few billions in the bank, for others — a happy family, for yet others — fame, for … we can go on and on.

So what determines our definitions of success?

I think it’s a combination — a combination that came about as a result of blending our family culture, the culture of the place where we grew up, the culture of the place where we live, the culture of the place where we work, and the culture of people who surround us.  As we go through our lives, some of these influences change, some go away, and others come in.  And our definition of success changes with them.

What do you think?

People who enjoyed this post also read:

Trailing and not failing: How our relationships can sustain us i expatriation?

Three reasons to become an expatriate

A different take on expatriate motivation

Copyright © 2009 by Global Coach Center.
If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us!

Trailing and not Failing: How our relationships can sustain us in expatriation?

As many expatriate spouses do, I gave up my job when we decided to start traveling the world with Foreign Service.   I had a great job — the one that paid well and the one that was interesting — but then my husband got an opportunity that was too good  to pass on.  And so we decided that I can perhaps find something as we move from place to place.

The first country we went to ended up going through the recession less than a year after we got there, so getting a job in my profession in the local economy was not an option.  And that’s when I decided that I needed to re-invent myself.  Instead of looking for professional opportunities every place I landed, I decided to carry a professional “opportunity” with me.  That’s how I came across what I do now and I became an expatriate entrepreneur.

As it is with every type of entrepreneurship, succeeding financially takes a lot of time and a lot of effort.  It also takes working on the computer at night, having odd tasks at odd hours — especially if your clients live in different time zones — and taking some time from the family.  It is not a “9-to-5” kind if job and that’s where spouses and their attitudes come in.

How so?

In various ways.  But here I am going to focus on two: understanding and encouragement.

(1) Understanding. When you forgo a full-time job and choose working out of your home, you pretty much stay at home.  And, for some people, staying at home means that you are responsible for all the home tasks out there — cleaning, cooking, ironing, etc.  If you are working on a business, you probably have just as little (if not less!) time for all the home tasks than you fully-employed spouse does.  Yet you are expected to do them.   This expectation may create guilt on your part and criticism on your spouse’s part.  The same feelings surface when you work at night.  In the end neither your business nor your relationship benefit from them.

(2) Encouragement. We all know making money on an idea takes time.  Time and a lot of work.  So when you spend your mornings and your afternoons and your evenings growing your business, the last thing you want to hear from your spouse is the reference to how your business isn’t really a business but rather a hobby since you have not really made a dime.  Doesn’t do a lot in terms of encouragement, does it?  In fact, those comments often shut you down, even if they are meant as a joke.

What are your thoughts on this?

People who read this post, also read:

Culture Shock Revisited or Is It Really Just About Going Through the Stages

How to Leave without Regrets

7 Behavior Choices of a Happy Expat

Copyright © 2009 by Global Coach Center.

If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us!

To tip or not to tip…is that a cultural question?

A couple of weeks back I left a 36% tip at a restaurant.  Not intentionally.  I just didn’t notice they had already included an 18%  tip and I added my 18% to that.  I only noticed my mistake several days later when going through the receipts.  Sigh.

That was a lesson for me.  And not only in reading paperwork before I sign it, but also in cultural habits and cultural conditioning.  Now that I once again live in the US, I am becoming more and more inclined to tip…everyone and everywhere.  I tip the waiter, I tip the valet, I tip my hairdresser, and I tip my dog’s groomer…the list can go on and on.  Tipping is now a responsibility, not a good gesture.  And I am quickly beginning to feel imprisoned by it.


Because for those of us, who are used to a different “culture” of tipping — either because we’ve lived overseas for a long time or have been brought up in another country — the tipping is still a choice.  One can still forego a tip if the service was bad and not feel horrible after the fact for days.  When you move to the US, that choice is taken away.  You must tip.  Or you’ll rot in hell of “cheapskates” forever.

So much it is a “must” for most Americans, that the tipping question has become one of our first questions before we travel somewhere.  “How much do we tip?” we ask our friends or contacts nervously.  My experience with answers is usually the same.  “It doesn’t matter,” my friends say, “if you like the service you tip what you want.”  No expectation, no counting percentages, no agonizing.  How liberating.

The restaurant where I left a 36% tip happens to be in the part of the United States that receives a lot of international tourism.  They include the tip because they know that foreigners are not “imprisoned” by the “tip culture” of the US and so, unless they count the tips in, they may not get them.  Smart thinking on their part.  Not too smart on mine.

I read my receipts a lot more carefully now.  And I’ve noticed that here many restaurants include the tip.  I think I prefer it that way.  It leaves out the guesswork of how much to tip — and it liberates me from worrying, if I have tipped enough.

What about you?  What is your cultural experience with tipping?

The people who read this post also read:

What makes repatriation difficult?

Cross-Cultural Intelligence 101: Tip 3 — Leave Your Assumptions At Home

Cross-Cultural Intelligence 101: Tip 2 — Pay Attention

Copyright © 2009 by Global Coach Center.
If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us!

Different colors of money

Have you ever noticed that it’s often much easier to spend money overseas than at home?  For instance I had no qualms about spending 500 rubles for lunch in Russia but I think twice about spending the same amount in dollars in the US.  Even the Euro – which carries more value than the USD – has been easier to part with than my own home currency.

What makes foreign money different?  Or, rather, why do I react differently to expenditures enumerated in “green” bills?

When I think about it, I realize that for me different money means different feelings about spending money.  Different in that I feel freer to spend and less guilty about spending, when I do so in any other currency but USD.  There appears to be less “baggage” and less anxiety attached to my actions of spending.  I feel more independent and more in control.

So does this mean that at home I feel disempowered, imprisoned, and intimidated by money and spending it?

Maybe a little.  Why?

Because we all grow up listening and taking in the money attitudes that surround us.  Expressions like “money doesn’t grow on trees”, or “there is no free lunch”, or “you have to work hard to earn your living” create a context around money for us.  We think of money as something unattainable, something hard to get, something unfriendly, something cold, and something that our lives depend upon.  This context affects our own attitudes towards money and our feelings towards spending it.

Naturally the context that people create around money changes from culture to culture. And that’s why our attitudes towards money changes when we go abroad, when we leave the realm where that context was created.

I personally like my attitude towards money when I am abroad.  And that’s why I am now trying to recreate it here at home.  I am changing a habit of looking at money from the perspective of lacking and hard and instead choosing to look at it from the perspective of abundant and friendly.  As we all know – what you focus on …expands!

What about you?  How do you relate to spending money when at home or abroad?

People who enjoyed this post also read:

Money Everywhere

Do Expatriates Have the Gimmies?

Flight $500, Hotel $150, Expatriate Reunions…Priceless

Copyright © 2009 by Global Coach Center.
If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us!

7 Behavior Choices of a Happy Expat

Ever wondered what makes some expatriates happy when they live in another country?  And what makes others not so happy?  I’ve created “THE WINNING SEVEN™” or 7 Behavior Choices of a Happy Expat.

Here are the first three:

1.  I am intensely curious. Coming to another land is always interesting.  You get to learn about the culture, you get to experience a different way of life, you get to try new foods, and maybe even new sports and new hobbies.  A whole new world opens up for you.  How do you want to be around this new world?  Take a metaphor of a toddler, for example.  When children are young there is so much newness around them that all they want to do is explore.  A toddler’s curiosity is intense — everything is interesting and they have no preconceived ideas as to how things should be.  A happy expat is kind of like that.  A happy expat sees the new place through the lens of a toddler.  Everything becomes a new “toy”, a new “game” to learn and enjoy.

2.  I accept others as they come, I don’t judge, and I don’t try to change people to my liking. This new place you’ve ended up in has been in existence long before your plane deposited you there.  People here are used to being and doing things their way.  No matter how much it may bother you and no matter how much you disagree, a judgmental attitude will get you nowhere.  Accepting that things run the way they do is your key to happiness.  Remember you don’t own the absolute truth of how to be.  There are many different truths and realities out there.  You see your truth through your emotions and others see their truths through their emotions.  We all have different emotions and we are all different.  Accepting others as they are will contribute to your happiness.

3.  I look at everything as an amazing learning experience. Someone once said that “life is always offering us new beginnings, it’s up to us whether to take them or not.”  I don’t remember who said it but it’s an empowering way to look at what’s available to us at every moment of every day.  And especially to those of us who get this incredible opportunity to not only travel but also live in different places.  Imagine for a moment what you would have missed if you never moved.  What things would you have never seen and what things would you have never experienced?  And now imagine what you have seen and experienced as a result of every move.  How many more new things are out there for you?  Even those times when nothing seems to be going your way, what is your gift there?

The next four are coming up in the next blog!

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Money … everywhere

I’ve noticed something interesting happening to me in Russia. Whenever I am outside I always find money on the ground. It’s not a lot of money — kopeks mostly (something like cents) — but I still find quite a few of them. Whenever I am outside of Russia, be it in the US or Europe or anywhere else, I am usually not that lucky. So what is it that makes money litter the ground in Russia?

I am thinking it has to do with an attitude that many Russians hold on small amounts of money. When you go to a supermarket, you will almost always find a kopek coin or a five kopek coin unclaimed at any cashier station. It’s as if picking up that little change isn’t worth it. Picking it up places shame on you for being so “mercantile”, so “small”. It makes you feel small and it’s shameful in the eyes of the others.

Same goes for the money on the ground. If you dropped a kopek or five, you won’t be bending down to get it. And if you a pedestrian who notices this change on the ground, you are not going to take it. Others may see it and then what would they think of you!

These beliefs about small money and how your own worthiness is connected with it translates into other facets of the Russian life and society. Nowadays you are often judged on how much money you make, what position you hold, and how many designer clothes and expensive cars you own. You can buy your degree, you can buy a judge, you can buy pretty much anything. People with lots of money rule the country and the last thing you want to do is to appear as if you don’t have money… which is what will happen if you pick up that kopek!

So I happily go around picking up all the change. I believe money should not litter the ground. It should be respected no matter how small it is… kind of like people who should be respected no matter how much they make.

My 2 cents … or kopeks worth…