Many diplomats are quick to point out that their lifestyles aren’t as glamorous as they sound. They much rather talk about the downsides of international travel, government-paid housing, and fixed salaries than admit that they can afford to do things abroad that most people back home probably can’t.
I was thinking about the type of luxuries I afford myself these days, and specifically the things I probably wouldn’t allow myself to spend money on if I wasn’t an expat. This is the list I came up with.
The idea of hiring a full-time nanny to care for my children was inconceivable to me ten years ago, especially in a scenario where I wouldn’t even have a full-time job. I always though nannies were unhappy and underpaid workers, and that anyone who had one was a heartless snob.
Now I have a full-time nanny even though I haven’t started my job yet, just so I can have freedom to go places and have someone to help me with the cooking and cleaning. As far as I can tell we’re both benefiting tremendously from the arrangement.
2. PERSONAL DRIVER
My son has a driver that picks him up every morning and brings him home at whatever time I want; he’s not our exclusive driver (he has tons of other customers within the American community), but he’s never once stood me up or told me he wasn’t available.
I hardly ever use a driver for my own transportation because I like to be spontaneous and prefer walking and cycling anyway. But whenever my kids or visitors from abroad need to go somewhere I use a driver and it’s awesome.
There are many interesting and new things to see and to buy when you live abroad. So, with the full support of my husband, I do my level best to “support the local economy” by buying lots of local souvenirs, crafts, and delicacies, and shopping for food and clothes in local supermarkets and malls as much as I can. Guilt-free shopping is the best.
4. BALL GOWNS
I never wanted to buy an expensive gown because I felt it was a waste to spend money on something you only use once. Instead, I’d get something cheap in a consignment store or borrowed from a friend–heck, I didn’t even buy a dress for my own wedding!
Running around the expat community, however, I realized that most women had several full-length dresses in their closets, using them on rotation for special occasions and, most importantly, for the yearly US Marine Ball.
I grew into it slowly though: for the first ball I borrowed a dress; for the second, I wore a 90-dollar dress from Zara; for the third, I got a heavily discounted Vera Wang mini dress. After that, I decided to splurge and bought a Karen Millen dress. Maybe next I'll have a dress custom-made, like I see many of the ladies do around here.
5. DECENT FLIGHTS
I’m the organized one in our family, so naturally I arrange most of our travel. Whenever I’m in the process of booking a flight (for personal travel), I present my husband with two options: a cheap one and a more expensive/comfortable one. My husband never fails to go for the latter option.
Somewhere along the line my husband decided that, if we’re going to have a to travel a lot, he wanted to do it in the quickest and safest way possible, even if it costs extra money. It’s bad enough to travel with small kids. That said, we don’t travel business class (we only did it once, pre-kids), and there are limits to what we're willing to pay.
The same goes for hotels these days; we don’t automatically book the “standard room” anymore–we book the room that makes most sense for us. When we travel for pleasure we want it to be pleasurable, so the more stars the merrier. On the other hand, we still opt for family-style hotels and B&Bs frequently because our kids aren’t exactly on 4-star behavior most of the time.
Catering at my house? Yes please! After a decade of worrying about what to serve at work-related events, I finally decided to shell out the extra bucks to have someone else come up with a menu and work up a sweat in the kitchen.
At first I thought catering was too expensive. Paying two or three hundred dollars for brunch seemed excessive. But when I tried it I realized that it’s actually not that crazy if you consider the amount of food and work that goes into it, and the joy you get from serving great food and being relaxed at your own party! Also, you have awesome leftovers. So it's definitely something I plan to do again in the future.