Design Your Life
The Black Expat: ‘I Paid Off Over $50,000 In Debt While Abroad’
By DeAnna Taylor
Paying down debt is difficult. But Maya, a 36-year-old woman from Los Angeles, was able to do so once she moved abroad.Maya is an educator who has worked from the collegiate level, all the way down to middle school. She currently lives in Singapore where she has been based for the last six years.bWe spoke with her about her life as a black expat.
Travel Noire: What inspired you to move abroad?
Maya: I studied abroad three times as an undergrad, plus once in grad school and absolutely loved it. I always said if I could find a way to move abroad and still be able to pay my bills, I would do it in a heartbeat. It took me a while before I was able to feasibly do so, but once I found out about teaching overseas, I jumped at the chance.
TN: How does life abroad compare to life in the States?
Maya: My life abroad had changed drastically. I have always loved what I do, but I no longer feel like I’m in the rat race, working to make ends meet. I now get paid well for what I do, and I have enough spare time and money to pursue my passion: travel. I was pretty stressed when I was living in the United States. I had a ton of student loan debt, I had two mortgages that I was struggling to keep up with and by the time I finished paying my car note and utility bills, there wasn’t much left.
Living overseas was the first time I was able to stop stressing about money and actually pay down some of my debt. It was also the first time I was able to travel without worrying about what to sacrifice in exchange. Even when I’m not traveling out of the country, I can still explore my new home country or the surrounding countries quite easily and inexpensively.
TN: How were you able to pay down over $50,000 worth of debt?
Maya: It’s amazing how much more you can pay towards your debt when you no longer have to pay rent or a car note. As a part of my contract, housing is provided, as well as a travel allowance. I also no longer need a car. I took all of the extra money I had each month and starting aggressively paying things off. I started with the highest interest rate and focused solely on that bill (still paying the minimum on the others) until it was paid off. Once it was paid off, I moved to the next highest interest rate and then had even more money freed up from whatever note I had just knocked off.
It didn’t happen overnight, but I was able to pay off all of my debt, without compromising doing what I love. It gave me a freedom I had never known before.
TN: What challenges have you faced while being abroad?
Maya: The challenges I face mostly deal with what I left behind. Handling U.S.-based affairs can be a pain. If I need to call and check on a bill, my taxes, insurance, voting, etc. then those are times when I have to stay up later to call and am inconvenienced by the time difference. The same is true for trying to coordinate managing my properties from abroad. But settling into life overseas was truly easy. I’ve been fortunate to work for really great schools and the human resources departments have done such a good job with helping me to get settled that things that might be overwhelming for some are taken care of.
TN: How easy is it for you to budget and save while living abroad?
Maya: I think it is much easier to budget and save while living abroad. I don’t have the same temptations I had while living in the U.S. and I don’t feel I have to keep up with the Jones’s. I’m surrounded by lots of people who are also budget conscious or with whom I can talk retirement and stay motivated.
TN: Can you offer any budgeting or saving tips for our audience?
Maya: I would say that for me some of the best tips I’ve received are some of the most basic. When I was really following a budget I would separate the money for each category into envelopes and when that money was gone it was gone. I didn’t add more money to, say, my entertainment or shopping budget just because I had already spent that money. And I had to learn to say no to things. If I had already spent all of the money I’d budgeted for eating out then I had to say no when asked. I also actively hide money from myself. I like to keep a bank account that is online only. I have no credit or debit card linked to that account, and I cannot easily access the money. I transfer as much money as I can spare into that account and then try to forget about it until it’s accumulated enough to meet my goal.
Nowadays there are so many apps that help budget or track spending. Apps like Qapital, Personal Capital and Pocket Guard are really good. I’m surprised by how much my spare change has added up to this year with Qapital and again, I transfer that money into an account that’s not easy to access. With Personal Capital I’m able to log in at any moment and see a snapshot of my net worth. That’s incredibly motivating when you’re having a weak moment or just need to remind yourself how far you’ve come. Pocket Guard allows me to budget and sends me alerts anytime I go over.
TN: Where can we find you on social media for additional questions?
DeAnna Taylor is a criminal defense Attorney turned travel writer. The Charlotte native recently completed one year abroad working as an English teacher in South Korea. Her hobbies include fitness, traveling to new countries, and trying new foods.