Cross-cultural workers are no stranger to transition. Each experience is a unique challenge with landings that can be rough on your health, spiritual vitality, emotions, and even finances. Three months ago, our family sold what we could and returned to the United States after 5 years in South Asia. In a year already marked by the unexpected, we anticipated re-entry into our home country to present another round of the unknown. Aware of the challenges, we took action early on to limit turbulence both in our health and our wealth. Here are some lessons learned along the way.
Have a Plan
From the onset of our decision to return, we began making a plan for our finances. We would need a cash “runway” to launch us back to America and into the new calling that the Lord had given us. Living space and home goods, transportation, health care, and schooling were all things that would significantly impact our finances. Early on, we began to rack our brains in anticipation of every cost we would incur between arriving and beginning a new career.
These are some of the questions we asked ourselves through that process:
How much will we be able to sell before we leave?
How long could we live with our parents?
What will a car cost?
How will our groceries and entertainment need to adjust?
What does it cost to set up a home?
When will we receive our last support payout?
For 6 months, we adjusted our savings and spending to ensure we could re-enter smoothly to a new normal. This is how our financial “runway” was put in place to bridge the transition gap.
Expect the Unexpected
American boxer Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” While our transition was planned, urgent or unexpected life changes can feel like a punch in the mouth. This is why having an emergency fund is vital. This account consists of approximately 3-6 months of necessary living expenses held in a checking or savings account.
While an emergency fund is not a “runway” to propel your next life endeavor, it is for the expenses from an emergency or unexpected event. These situations may include airline tickets to fly your family home due to unrest. Or getting stuck outside your host-country during furlough. Your school closes, and you suddenly lose your job. While I didn’t get punched in the mouth during the first six weeks, I did break my arm, and our youngest got a severe viral eye infection. And for those of you who aren’t aware, America doesn’t have the cheapest healthcare. Because of a sufficient emergency fund, $1,000 of medical bills haven’t sent us into a tail spinning panic in an already volatile season.
Make Room for Margin
Anticipating challenges in the move, a few actionable steps were vital for our family’s well-being. Our first priority was to create margin for my wife and daughters to adjust. As grief and struggle would inevitably come, it was important that they had space to respond, process and grow. How could we position our finances before our move to allow us to initiate in our time rather than react due to poor financial planning?
Practically, we saved enough so that my wife didn’t have to put our girls in school and begin work immediately after arriving. She could be at home, homeschooling our daughters, and shepherding them into the new normal. Meanwhile, I could be completing my financial planning courses and searching for a new job. Life will get busy enough on its own. Protect your initial arrival by making room for margin.
He Will Fulfill
While these ideas are not immune to all the ups and downs of transitions, they are invaluable in getting you started toward smoothly arriving at a new normal. Money can be a tool to navigate the challenges of life, even the transitions. It has the ability to either derail you or propel you toward your new God-given vision. Have a plan. Expect the unexpected. Make room for margin. And lastly, trust that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). The One who initiated this transition is faithful to sustain you through it and faithful to fulfill His purposes in it.
What have you done with money in transition? Share and let’s learn from each other.
The thoughts and opinions shared in this article are for general information and thought provocation only and do not take into consideration your personal financial circumstances. I am not a financial, investment or tax professional, but someone who wishes to share what I’ve learned through managing finances as a cross-cultural worker. For professional financial advice, please consult a licensed professional.