small change toward a rich life

I moved to Mexico: AMA

(Reposted for convenience from my personal site.)

(For those unfamiliar: ‘AMA’ is an acronym from Reddit that stands for ‘Ask Me Anything’.)

We’ve been living in Mexico for a few months now. At first I was too busy adjusting to talk about it, but now that I have the time to write something, I find I don’t know where to start. Our lives are different in many details, and I have little idea which ones other people would find interesting. I need direction.

So if you have any curiosity about our situation here, tell me what you’d like to know. I’ll answer everything — here if it’s related to personal finance in some way, on my personal blog otherwise.


The future of Pocketmint

If you’re reading this, six months after my last post, I imagine it’s because either you know me personally, or you’re a tenaciously devoted follower of Pocketmint. I know there are a few of the latter out there, and I appreciate it, so I want to offer an explanation and (re)set expectations.

First, the bad news: This pattern where I drop off the face for a few months, and then pop up again randomly? Is not likely to change anytime soon, I’m afraid.

Now the good news: I don’t see myself abandoning Pocketmint altogether. I’ll keep coming back, if sporadically. (If you sign up for the mailing list, you’ll get notified when that happens.)

Here’s why:

For a while in 2012 and 2013, this blog was my primary focus. I was making a specific effort to post frequently, in hopes of building an audience big enough to maybe support a small career as a personal finance writer. I tried my hand at professional journalism, started working on a book, and attended a conference, all with an eye toward eventually pulling some kind of income out of this hobby. Not because I particularly wanted to monetize (I hate that word) Pocketmint, but because we don’t yet have nearly enough savings to retire (even in Mexico), which means I need to find a non-soulcrushing way to bring in some money.

I knew that my ‘next life’ should involve writing, because it has always been the thing that I do best. (I say this because I’ve gotten more praise and accolades for my written works, from more people, than for everything else I’ve ever done put together. This has been consistently true since second grade.) And also because after spending fifteen years as a fungible cog in corporate machines, I’m more than ready to be valued for my uniqueness, and I’m hoping there is a little bit of job security in having a distinctive ‘voice’.

So, writing. The specific kind of writing, however, was informed as much by market realities as by my own preferences. There are more outlets and a larger audience for non-fiction writing than for fiction. Fiction writing also tends to be more of a winner-takes-all market; financially either you do shockingly well, or you land somewhere between barely scraping by and starving.

But when Mexico suddenly became an option, four years ahead of schedule, certain economic realities shifted. Jak has, at least for the moment, a job that will support both of us. Our cost-of-living is much lower than in Seattle. We have a little more leeway for risk-taking.

Jak and I discussed the options at some length. His feeling was that, although in the abstract a non-fiction personal finance book had a better chance of bringing in an appreciable income than a fiction novel, in our particular case, the odds were roughly equivalent. In other words, he believes I have a much-better-than-average shot at being one of the ‘winners’ of the fiction market. So he told me I should write whichever thing I wanted most.

I do enjoy a lot of things about personal finance, especially the behavioral economics bits, but there was really no contest. I’ve been yearning to go back to fiction for years now. I have specific projects in mind, chiefly the series that Jak and I first started planning back in 2005.

The last six months have been mostly consumed with the logistics of moving to another country — before, during, and after. Now that I have time (and spoons) enough to write, my first priority is the fiction.

I will still write to Pocketmint, when I feel like I have something important to say that belongs here. (In the very near future, I will be answering reader questions about the financial aspects of living in Mexico — if that interests you, stay tuned.) But I’m not going to force a post just because a certain amount of time has elapsed, and I’m not going to worry about how many people are reading whatever I do write here. Also, you’ll probably notice a scarcity of photos in this and most future posts; although I think they improve appearance and readability, it takes a lot of time for me to search for Creative Commons images that fit my subject matter, and get them properly placed. I’m going to use that time to come up with more words, instead. :)

If in a couple years it becomes clear that I’m failing to achieve Fiction Writing Success, I may come back to the non-fiction option; until then, Pocketmint is once again just a hobby. To those of you who’ve stuck with me through the swerves and the silences, thank you. I hope you’ll stay to see the next incarnation.


Our year of radical change

Okay, I went AWOL on Pocketmint again. I’m sorry, but I’m hoping when you hear why, you’ll forgive me. Around the time of my last post, my whole life took an abrupt left turn … and then just kept going.

Here are (some of) the major developments from the last three months:

1. Jak got a job.

In April, after 15 solid months of unemployment, Jak landed an open-ended full-time contract gig. The change in annual income triggered a decision we’d made last year …

2. Jak and I got legally married.

We’ve been committed life partners for twelve years, but had never brought the state into the equation. Our various personal reasons for not doing so have become less relevant over the years, and I had calculated that with only one income, being legally married would save us around $3000 per year in taxes.

Simultaneously, an even bigger change was under consideration, and by the time we had our tiny wedding ceremony at the end of May …

3. Jak and his ex-wife renegotiated their custody arrangement.

After this summer, Claire (now 14) will see her dad on vacations, for periods of a week to a month, instead of the most recent every-other-weekend arrangement. This meant we were no longer bound to Seattle, and therefore …

4. We decided to move to Mexico at the end of this summer.

We’re mostly following the same plan that we had in mind for 2017 … just moving it up by four years. The main difference is that we have less savings, and are not as far along in building our independent income streams.

But it still seems to make sense to take the plunge now.

  • Last winter — the eight months from October to May — was the worst period, psychologically, that I’ve had in over fifteen years. I couldn’t make any progress on writing a book or anything else of long-term use, because day-to-day survival and basic functionality took all the spoons I had. So even though the bank still doesn’t seem to want this house any more than we do, staying here has a cost in economic productivity, as well as in happiness.
  • Two years ago I was confident that, whenever the bank got around to foreclosing on our house, we would be able to find an affordable rental despite the hit to our credit rating. But Seattle overcorrected and is now in the middle of a dramatic housing shortage. There aren’t many rentals to be had, for any price.
  • Jak’s current job is entirely telecommute — he’s actually contracted to a company in Atlanta. With luck, he’ll be able to keep that job for some time even after we move. That money — and our savings — will go a lot farther in a place with a cheaper cost-of-living.
  • Moving away from Seattle before Claire is out of high school adds some expenses, notably increased child support payments and extra airfare for her to visit Jak and vice versa. But we ran the numbers, very conservatively, and determined that even the worst-case Mexico scenario would still be several thousand dollars cheaper per year than the best-case Seattle scenario. That either allows us to sock away more money (if Jak can keep his job) or slows down the rate of our savings burn.

So what have I been doing during my three-month silence? Writing wedding vows and organizing a guerrilla ceremony. Slowly sorting through a four-bedroom houseful of possessions: trying to determine what few things we ought to keep, and jettisoning the rest. Helping Jak with his small press venture — vetting contracts, designing book covers, programming a custom web site. Studying Spanish like crazy. Researching the recent changes to Mexican immigration policy, and trying to make a bajillion arrangements for the impending move.

Some of all this might be interesting for Pocketmint readers — I’d like to tell you about our beautiful and amazingly cheap wedding, for example — if I can just find time to document any of it. I’ll do my best to squeeze some writing in amongst everything else.

What would you most like to hear about?


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