Living in a country where your parents do not live is expensive. When both you and your spouse have parents in different continents, and neither lives where you live, it is even more expensive.
I was recently at a work conference and was chatting to my taxi driver on the way to the airport. We had a lot in common. He had lived abroad from his home country for almost two decades (in common). He tried to visit his parents once a year (in common) but found that is was really expensive (in common) but felt obligated because he loved them and also because he was an only child (in common). I didn’t ask him if he was sending remittances, but I gathered that things were taxing. He had an 11 month year old baby (not in common) and had finally managed to find a place to live after almost being made homeless (seriously, 1 day before he had to leave his house) not because he couldn’t afford a new place but because the housing market was so tight in the European capital city where he lived (he talked of about 50 people showing up for “apartment interviews,” which I remember from an over-heating housing market when searching in Berlin years ago).
We just got back from visiting my parents over the Christmas holidays (January) only to prepare to fly to my partner’s parents to surprise my father in law for his 70th next month (February). It’s a nice, grand gesture, and one that I honestly do not mind doing. But all of this leaves us with a shit tonne of debt again: flights, hotels (we pay for the parents also), eating out, visiting, etc.. It’s made worse by the living situation of my partner’s family. We cannot stay with them, there is no room, so visiting means hotel or vacation rental. Bye bye cash! It was nice knowing you!
This spending coupled with a larger than expected tax bill and three universities that owe me “outstanding reimbursements” for substantial sums means that we are a) back in credit card debt and b) in overdraft for the first time in a number of months. Fortunately, we have built up some savings, so I don’t feel like everything has gone to the crapper, but we also have some new upcoming medical expenses and that net-worth line is flat if slightly sloping downward for the first time in awhile. How do you stay positive? Do we get addictive to “achieving”? What do you do to keep yourself feeling positive about your situation even when it is not improving?
I read this post entitled the The money, job, marriage myth: are you happy yet? and I wonder if the FIRE personal finance community also has a myth it is living by, which is setting us up for more unhappiness? The author of this article suggests that no matter how much we have, we are striving for more. Maybe the FIRE community has similar, unrealistic striving narratives, but in this case they are more subtle: no matter how much you are bettering yourself, you should be bettering yourself more? Maybe it is not a “simple path to wealth” but rather a wandering path that goes along easy streams sometimes and deep and darkened forests other times? Maybe we have just replaced one striving myth (more stuff) for another (more FIRE) like its just another consumer good we want?
One of his quotes in particular says, “To be happier we need to move from a culture of “more please” to one of “just enough.”” What happens if just enough is expensive and costly: like showing up for your family or getting accommodations for your young family? How can we do those things and stop ourselves from feeling like we are failing at our other goals? Life is ultimately about the tradeoffs we make. The simple path isn’t always cheap. I wish we would challenge that narrative more.