Straightening up your finances now that you have no income

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

When you move to a new country, the first few weeks are always the best! For me, these first weeks were full of surprises, excitement, more moving-abroad paperwork, and getting used to the area. I moved to the US over a year ago, to go with my husband in his career advancement. But, as time passed by — a week later — I started getting worried about my professional career and not being able to work. It was the second time I followed him to a new country. Once again I left a secure job and a promising career behind, without any guarantee that working in the US will be possible.

Most of the women who move abroad under such conditions, often feel that they are leaving behind their identities, social support, and especially their career advancement. For me, not being able to have an income and depend on my partner, became a serious issue, it created uncertainty in our long-term goals. After some crying, freaking out moments, and in-depth analysis, it was time to develop financial habits, knowledge, and tools that could help me feel safer about the future with or without income or my husband's job. Therefore, in this article we will focus on your personal finances and having a long-term independence, hooray!

Can we even talk about the financial future when we aren’t allowed to earn a single cent?

Here are our starting points on how to straighten up your finances with no income:

  1. Every conversation on how to improve your finances should start with understanding your relationship with money.

If you are like most of the working women these days, the idea of even asking your husband for money to buy deodorant or other goodies kinda feels unsettling and diminishing. What happened? Where did all my credibility go? Every day I started wondering, when would I be able to work again? Is my career worthless to this country?

What started with me worried about my career, turned out to be something more complex and even rooted in my childhood beliefs towards money. The fact of not being able to work, helped me realize that one odd reason why my career was so important, was linked to, 1. My sense of belonging, 2. Pride, and 3. My understanding of how money and life work. For me at that time, there was only one way of earning money: through long and tiring working hours. It was a habit I learned from my mother, who is another workaholic. I never saw her during the week because she was always busy working. It turned out that my family had quite a slavery-relationship towards money, and we weren’t the only ones.

This realization of not having a great relationship with money came after hours of research online on how to make money and become rich. None of the options shown was a possibility for me, especially those that need a work permit in the first place. But neither said, “work for long hours until you die”. Actually some options suggested, “put your money to work, not work for the money”. Does this idea make any noise in your mind?

The more I learn about money while not having it, the better I become with every single dollar that touches my hand. Since my husband was busy trying to get used to his new job, he had no time to plan a good strategy on what to do with his salary. But, while I had zero income (and a bit of jealousy), I had a lot of time and interest on how to make that money work for us! After long months of study and reading about money and investing, now my husband calls me the “financial brain of the family”. He is confident that I will make us richer!

The whole purpose of this article is to give you tools that can improve your relationship with money, create a strategy that doesn’t make you feel envious of your partner's career, and most important for a greater, freer life for your family in the long-term. If you need to come back and forth through this content please do so, until you feel that this article was actually written by you!

It seems that people that are good with personal finance are not just lucky, but actually understand how income and investing works.

To start sinking the idea of how healthy our relationship with money could be, let's talk in millions.

Welcome to the US, the world of opportunities and the biggest mecca of self-made millionaires!

According to data from the Global Wealth Report, the US continues to be the no. 1 country of self-made millionaires with 18,614,000 people owning more than USD 1 million (though other countries like Switzerland are getting closer to the US record). But what does it mean to commoners like us?

Besides being happy knowing that these self-made millionaires and their families will no longer have to worry about being able to pay a dentist appointment, there is a valuable lesson behind them: they are not that different from you and me! Some of them had a horrendous past and struggles that make me wonder if I even have a right to complain. And the even better news is that those valuable lessons are now available to everybody!

But, where do we start when you have no income or investments to follow their tracks to success?

2. Start learning and talking about money, at least with your partner.

For some of us, financial education is not our strong point; even the word itself sounds too complex to comprehend. Earning money and complying with duties, was already complicated in your home country. But now that you have arrived in a new country, you realize that you have to learn about this all over again?!

The truth is that the financial markets, retirement, investment, and even the savings process can be complex. Especially for us foreigners that aren’t used to the new systems. For example, experts such as Tony Robbins and Robert Kiyosaki (both self-made millionaires), agreed that the US financial system was created in such an intricate way. And one of the reasons was, so that you have to depend on the help of financial advisors or stockbrokers. Even though this might be true years ago, now we have the internet with access to more information than we can actually handle! I’m not suggesting that you should become an accredited financial advisor, but I hope that this can encourage you to at least talk about a financial plan with your husband and understand how GOOD this is for you, instead of letting an "expert" control your future.

There are plenty of incredible books, audiobooks, podcasts and even short videos available to all. If you are worried that this will become an extra expense for your nonexistent income, it is time for you to get a library card or to be more in touch with your YouTube account. Libraries are a beautiful place to start, where you can borrow printed and digital material for free. The best books about money that I ever read were hosted by my local library in the US! On my busiest days, a short Youtube resume about a topic got me a long way towards financial control and freedom!

The following article, my all-time must read, watch or listen to, includes a short list of financial resources if you aren’t sure what to study first.

Involving your partner in financial learning, or carrying him along the way is key for a peaceful marriage - whichever budget or expending agreements you have, improvements always bring great advantages.

3. Build a financial plan and budget that resonates with your future long-term life goals.

The only reason why budgeting is at third in the list is that I hope that through learning and understanding your own behavior towards money, you will manage to create a great budget plan. A system so awesome that controls your current situation and helps you thrive in the future! There are great techniques on budgeting, and somewhere out there might already be one that suits your style!

When my husband and I first sat down to talk about money here in the US, I was coming from an angry, jealous position. Although I came to the country happy to go with him, he was the only one guaranteed to be able to earn money, while the possibility of me getting a work visa seems so far away. But, I love my husband and I would not allow this topic to mess up our marriage in any way. So, whatever happens after these three years in the US, I don’t want to go back home empty-handed (materially speaking). It was the time to settle a budget that will assure that whenever we go back to our country, no matter if it was 3 years later or more, we will have built a nest that can protect us. We will not start over again every time we move from one country to another.

Having that in mind, think about how your current budget or the missing one is affecting your future, once you decide to return to your country or if you decide to stay. Will you be ready or will you still be freaking out of not having a job? — whichever it is, this is the time to discuss that plan.

Here are some tips that work great for us:

3.1 List all the expenses and decide how much you can save. There should be an amount that goes to savings. If you can’t convince yourself or your husband about it, search for the term “pay yourself first” and try to understand why having savings is so important.

3.2 In the budget you should include an emergency fund. As you will see through different contents, most financial advisors recommend this fund to be equal to 3–6 months of your current expenses. This is already important for citizens that live in volatile economies, but especially important for you as a foreigner, because most of your family and friends who would be able to help you out in an emergency are no longer near. You have to be able to take care of yourself as if nobody was around to save you.

3.3 Make the process as easy as possible for both of you. It can be through having automated payments or set a schedule to review your budget and expenses. Because my husband and I are not used to handling money, we decided to set bi-weekly reviews on our expenses, payments, and investments. Now that parts of our income go to our future goals, this task is actually exciting!

3.4 Control your expenses by dividing the money you have access to (place your savings in a separate account or item). If our savings are in the same account as the one you use to make payments, there will be no savings by now. Taking that money away from your hands will make you feel at ease and not have to calculate everything every time a payment is made.

3.5 Ask for an allowance, for you and for him. Although I understand how hard it is to depend on your husband’s salary, having the courage to include this item in the budget has made me feel more empowered! Before the budget exercise, I didn’t felt worthy of asking for anything. For some of you who are more mature in this matter will find it easier, but for me, it was a big shame.

As long as we respect the budget and every month the percentage agreed goes to savings, I don’t care about what he will spend his allowance for. He and I can buy anything as long as it is within the allowance.

It turns out to work great! He saves his allowance for months and later goes onto spree shopping buying the craziest gadgets for his gaming computer. While me? I saved all my allowance and started using it as an investment form. I wanted to discover if I could multiply the value of my money through the stock market without the fear of losing it and risking our family’s future! It turns out that today you can enter the market with as little as $50 to $100. I also use my allowance to buy my sweetheart a birthday present or take him out for dinner. It gave me a little power and freedom that was lost when moving to the US.

4. Work toward a financial plan that considers investing and retirement.

As you live for a long-term period abroad, it is easy to think that there’s so little you can do about planning investments or retirement.

But if there is anybody that needs to worry about this issue, are the foreigners working and living abroad. When you leave your country, this might mean that you are not receiving the benefits of retirement plans or low mortgage opportunities from our home countries. And thinking about hiring a pension or life insurance for only 3-5 years in another country, sounds odd. So what can we do?

It is time to do research! This is because the rules related to investing and retirement vary from each country. While for some of us it is easy to get a legal representative that can buy a house and rent it while we are abroad. For some others, it will be easier to invest in long term bonds or financial products that your country or the new one offers. You will have to find the answer, but trust me, it is out there, and it gets easier once you become familiar with the terms and the type of investment you like.

The fact is that you can't risk going back to your home country, with an empty pocket and no plan on what to do or where to live. After all, think about all the things you sacrificed for moving abroad! You have all the time in the world now! If having an allowance is not enough to invest yet, make some forecasts on how much money do you need then to make this possible.

5. Start converting $1 onto $1.01 over and over.

Now that you have an allowance, even if it is only 100 bucks per year, that money can be placed onto doing great things for you! Probably not to be instantly rich, but it could actually help you to train yourself on how to increase the value of money over time.

If you can get $100 to become $101, think of what could happen once you have your own income! The whole purpose of straightening up your finances is that you become an expert on how to handle $1 as good as $1,000 or more!

While not many financial investors will open the doors for your $100, online investments have become easier and accessible for even the smaller amounts. If you have a bit of curiosity on the stock market but afraid of losing your money, stock apps or investment simulators are a great start, you can test the waters without real money. Just remember to be careful and don’t breach the point where your trading is considered illegal work.

6. Never stop learning and thinking about your future.

I hope this article has given you some inspiration about your future financial goals, and why it is so important to talk about them. Even when you are not able to work or receive any income, there is always room to improve.

Having no income while waiting for an opportunity to receive a work permit could become your main burden if you allow it to. Therefore, using some of your free time to become better with money and create financial plans that are designed for long term goals -- regardless of your current situation -- will give you a peace of mind. If it is done well it can actually redraw your own future! It will also prevent the risk of ever finding yourself in this situation again (like losing your job, and having to wait for months before finding a better one).

This experience for me was extremely empowering. Becoming somebody who is good with any amount of money is actually something not common yet, but the most beautiful part of it is that my husband and I have a financial plan and idea of the future even more incredible than I could have imagined. My learning process about my relationship with money hasn’t ended yet but it is definitely taking a more defined shape. It started from broader views and terms, learning the basics and all the possibilities out there, to currently getting more specific as we decide what we like and what type of investments resonate more with our personality.

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