Croatia geoarbitrage sabbatical

Over the last few months, I’ve gotten requests to publish Slow FI interviews with people who do not have a spouse or partner’s income to fall back on. After going and looking back at the Slow FI interviews, I realize that only about ⅓ of the interviews are with people who are single. And, I hadn’t featured any single parents yet.  

This was definitely a gap in the Slow FI series that I wanted to fill. 

We know that it’s generally easier for people to build financial freedom when they are in a dual-income partnership. At the same time, many single people have also built the flexibility and security that they needed to design their life. It may be more difficult and the considerations may be different (especially for single parents), but it’s certainly not impossible. 

To illustrate this, I am so excited about this next Slow FI interview with Angela (aka Frugal Nomad Mom) who is a single woman who recently quit her job to move to Croatia with her 4-year old son. She describes this shift as part geoarbitrage and part sabbatical.  

Angela was originally on a FIRE path. Her goal was to retire early with a paid-off house in Austin, TX in about 8 years. After learning about Slow FI and realizing that she didn’t need to endure her current situation for that long, she decided she didn’t need to wait to make changes.  

I’ll let Angela share more in her own words. Let’s get into the interview!  

1. Tell me a little bit about you. 

My name is Angela. I’m a single mom of a 4-year-old boy. My sister is also a single mom. Her son is 5. All four of us now live together in Split, Croatia. We moved here from the U.S. in December of 2020 after launching our blog Frugal Nomad Family

I’ve always been frugal and good at saving. Growing up, my mom worked full time and did all the housework. She was in a constant state of burnout. She’s told me she felt like she missed out on getting to be the mom she wanted to be. 

When I think about her story, it motivates me to find a better way, and slow FI is my solution. Having my son was the big life change that made me get serious about attaining FI. I wanted the freedom and flexibility to parent on my terms. I didn’t want my work-life to dictate the time and energy I had to focus on my son and my passions. 

Before moving to Croatia, I worked in tech and made close to six figures. I had upwards of a 50% savings rate which has given me a lot of cushion. This allowed me to take a sabbatical to pursue my goal of being a full-time blogger and business owner. 

2. Why did you decide to use geoarbitrage to take a sabbatical?

Moving to Croatia was a deliberate choice to slow down and live more intentionally. 

boy park outdoors

My goal was to spend a minimum of two years raising my son in another country. I want him to have the experiences that come from being deeply immersed in another culture. Originally, we had planned on moving to Portugal. When COVID happened and borders everywhere closed, we pivoted and went to Croatia instead.

My corporate job went remote due to COVID, so we pushed our plans up and decided to just go for it. While I gave up my high salary, which would have led me to FI in about 8 years, I also cut my monthly cost of living by 50-60%. 

Since moving to Croatia, I split my time between blogging, being a full-time mom, learning Croatian, and pursuing other business ideas – both local and remote. 

I decided to make this change for a few reasons. First, I wanted to be more present and energetic as a parent. I was burnt out from my job and it left me feeling unmotivated and sluggish. I was always compartmentalizing. I wanted the pieces of my life to be more holistic.

Second, I wanted to focus on my long-term goals of building my own businesses. I have a lot of ideas and the hardest part has been narrowing down which business ideas to pursue first. 

Because I don’t know where we will go next, I’m primarily pursuing businesses that can be run remotely. I’m starting with blogging and drop shipping as my first two ventures. My current goal is for my online businesses to replace my full-time income within two years. 

The next income stream I want to pursue is real estate. I had my real estate license in the states and worked as a property manager. I plan on owning real estate in several countries, or hubs as I like to think of them, and hiring property managers on location to handle day-to-day stuff. I’m using these first two years in Croatia to travel to nearby countries and learn about the local real estate markets, the laws related to foreigners buying property, and to make local connections who will help me streamline the process. 

3. How has your decision to move to Croatia impacted your quality of life? 

There are so many reasons why moving abroad can lead you to your best life as a single parent. For me, and my sister, the experience has been incredible. 

While living in Austin, pre-pandemic, I was commuting a minimum of two hours per day in heavy traffic. We’d leave the house at 7:30 am and not get back until past 6 pm. 

During the week the only real time I got to spend with my son was sitting at the table for breakfast and dinner. After dinner, I’d get him ready for bed and then we’d read books and he’d go to sleep. Sometimes I’d lay there and cuddle with him while he slept just for a little extra time with him. 

On weekends, I tried to do a fun activity on Saturdays and keep Sundays for meal prep and cleaning. I made it work. I was exhausted and sometimes I would cry from how intensely burnt-out I felt. 

In Croatia, we all sit down and have breakfast together. Three mornings a week we have Croatian lessons. Other days we’ll go down to the beach and let the boys play while my sister and I sit at the nearby cafe to work on our blog. There’s a park near our apartment where we like to bring our yoga mats and workout. 

In the afternoons my sister and I trade off watching the boys so that we can work. In September, we’re looking forward to enrolling them in local schools. 

In Croatia, we walk everywhere and have no need for a car. Within one block of our apartment, we can find a butcher shop, grocery store, farmers market, and bakery. It’s typical here to go to the different shops for your food needs as opposed to going to one big box store. I love getting to know the different vendors and buying the local olive oil, honey, and produce. It’s also a great excuse to practice my Croatian. 

In the evenings, we usually go for a beach walk or rent bikes and ride along the coast. We eat dinner as a family at the table. I have more time and energy to cook from scratch. 

Life isn’t perfect. Croatian bureaucracy has been our biggest challenge. Getting paperwork done and correct information around residency has been frustrating. Overall though, it’s been completely worth it.

4. How did the decision to take a sabbatical in Croatia impact your financial goals and timelines? 

Before moving, my trajectory to achieve FIRE was 8 years with a fully paid-off home in Austin, Texas. 

After living in Croatia for several months, leaving my corporate job, and focusing on growing my own businesses my goals have shifted. 

I realized that part of what motivated me to achieve FIRE as quickly as possible was how unhappy I was in my corporate role. I was so focused on walking away from it that it had an outsized impact on my motivation to achieve FIRE.

I enjoy building businesses and seeing where interesting projects and ideas lead. I like being busy and productive. I don’t think I’ll ever fully stop working. Now that I’ve had time to adjust and refocus my energy, I’ve realized I would rather pursue slow FI and be more present today. 

I don’t yet know whether we will stay in Croatia, return to the U.S., or go somewhere else. I want to be settled somewhere before my son starts kindergarten in two years. At this point, I don’t see us going back to the U.S. I’m leaning towards staying in the Balkans or potentially moving to Portugal. 

I think of my time in Croatia as a cross between a sabbatical and geoarbitrage. If working for myself doesn’t meet my expectations, I feel confident I can go back to working in tech when I’m ready. 

Our blog has not generated revenue yet. My plan is to build the blog and my dropshipping store into my primary sources of income over the next two years. 

I’ve now shifted my focus to pursue slow FI. I’ll hit coast FI within one year based on my current cost of living in Croatia. If I were to move back to the U.S. or another HCOL country, I would no longer be at coast FI because my expenses would increase. 

My goal is to reach coast FI for the expenses I’d expect to have in a HCOL country. This would keep my options more open. I’m somewhat indecisive about what the future holds and want to be able to live comfortably wherever in the world I choose. 

5. What enabled you to make to move abroad and take a sabbatical?

There were a number of things that helped to make this decision a reality. 

First, I’ve wanted to work for myself for all of my life. It’s a drive I’ve always had. Ever since I punched my first time card, I knew it wasn’t for me. I want to build a business that I can pass on to my son. 

Turning 30 was a big turning point for me. I spent a lot of time reflecting on how I’d spent my 20’s. I had a lot of good ideas in my 20’s but felt like I never committed to anything. When I really thought about it though, I managed to accomplish a lot in that decade. So, I asked myself, “If I narrow it down and commit to some major goals in my 30’s how much more could I accomplish?”

I envisioned what I wanted my life to look like at 40 and worked backward from there. I used that vision to define what goals I would commit to for the next decade of my life. 

Working for myself and having multiple income streams was the biggest overarching theme. As a single parent, it feels especially crucial to have multiple streams of income because you don’t have a partner to fall back on. 

Watching my son grow up has made me realize how quickly time passes. One of the big goals that I wanted to achieve was to live in another country with my son. I decided it was time to check that one off the list. I’ve tried not to waste a single day as I work toward my goals. I feel excited about turning 40 and seeing where I’m at in my journey.

Financially, I had already saved an emergency fund. Selling my house and investing the money moved me closer to FI. I left Austin with enough money to give me a two-year cushion living frugally in Croatia. 

6. What shifts did you make that allow you to continue working toward your goals?

Moving to a country with a lower cost of living made all of this possible. I would have had to have thousands more saved to spend two years in Austin without income. Because I moved to a country with a lower cost of living, I can keep my lifestyle the same and pay a lot less for it.  

Here’s a comparison of my cost of living in Austin, Texas v. Split, Croatia. As context, I owned a house in the suburbs of Austin. In Split, we’re renting an apartment (numbers shown are what I personally pay monthly). Both properties could be described as outdated. 

chart cost of living

My COL is 50% less in Croatia. My net worth has continued to increase (because of my investments) even though I haven’t had any earned income in the last couple of months.

Even though I’m spending less now, we eat out more than we did in Texas. 

There are also a lot of opportunities for us to explore the local area. We do a couple of day trips per month on public transport to explore the islands or old fortresses or castles. We have an apartment that’s two blocks from a gorgeous, white sand beach. I’m happier and more balanced living in Split even though I spend way less. 

7. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”

Early in my FI journey, I was hyper-focused on reaching FIRE as quickly as possible. I tried to meet unrealistically low spending targets. It was really stressful.

Reaching FI is a great goal to have, but don’t sacrifice the present for a future you may not ever see. Life happens. Accidents happen. 

I think “downshifting” makes sense if you feel burned-out or are struggling with work-life balance. When looking back on life, I don’t think most people regret taking time off to pursue a passion project, focus on family or improve their mental health. No one ever regretted having a great relationship with their kids. 

Taking two years out of my FI timeline will set me back 3 – 5 years if I go back into a corporate job after my time in Croatia. Even if that’s the case, this time in Croatia will have been worth it.

8. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder your decision to use geoarbitrage to take a sabbatical to start your business?

My pursuit of FI made it hard for me to walk away from my paycheck. I struggled with this decision and when the right time would be. I went back and forth on whether I should just hold out for 8 more years until I reach FIRE. 

Ultimately, after crunching the numbers, I realized I wasn’t losing that much time towards meeting my goal. I used spreadsheets downloaded from The Fioneers website as well as my own budgeting spreadsheets. These helped me to determine how long a two-year stint in Croatia would set me back on my journey to FIRE. There are a lot of what-ifs that made it hard to come to an exact projection. If I were to move back to a HCOL country and continue to pursue traditional FIRE, I’d only be set back about 3 – 5 years. 

I wanted to do this while my son was young so that I could enjoy this time with him. Other factors in my life, such as having my sister and nephew willing to move with me, helped push me to take the chance.

9. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?

It is so important to know your numbers! Know what you can afford and how far back your choice will set you on your journey to FI. 

If you decide to make a similar move, make sure you have a loose idea of how you want to spend your time and what your goals are for the time period you’ve set aside. And be open to new opportunities. 

Thank you so much, Angela, for sharing your story with us! 

I’m coming away from this interview with so many more questions! Sadly, this is all we can fit into a blog post. Perhaps in the future, I can invite her to participate in a Slow FI Coffee Date to dig deeper.  

In the meantime, I want to share my key takeaways from this interview.  

The first thing I want to call out is how Angela took deliberate time to step back, reflect, and figure out what she wanted in the future. For Angela, it was natural to do this when she turned 30. 

But, you don’t need to wait until you reach a particular milestone to go through a similar exercise. You could spend time tomorrow reflecting on what you accomplished in the last ten years and how you want your life to be different ten years from today.  

I also loved how Angela focused on the possibilities with this simple question, “If I narrow down and commit to some major goals in my 30s, how much more could I accomplish?”  

Having clarity about what you want (and believing that what you want is possible) will make it almost impossible for you to not achieve your goals!  

I also want to call out a few strategies for pursuing Slow FI that Angela brought up. Although these strategies could be helpful for anyone, I want to note that they could be particularly helpful for people who don’t have a partner’s income to fall back on.  

These are the two strategies I want to highlight:  

  1. Building multiple streams of income 
  2. Geoarbitrage  

Before hearing Angela’s story, I’ve always thought that having multiple streams of income was valuable. Now, I understand why it’s so important for single people/parents. In a partnership, even if both people have traditional 9-to-5 jobs, they still have two streams of income. If one person loses their job, they still have some income coming in. People who are single with only one income stream don’t have that luxury.

Building multiple income streams not only gives you a feeling of freedom but also provides actual financial security.  

Moving to a country with a lower cost of living also provided Angela with so many benefits that would not have been available to her in Austin. She now pays 50-60% less to live in Croatia. This means that the proceeds of her home sale (added to her existing emergency fund) provides her with a 2-year runway to enjoy life with her son and build her business. 

Geoarbitrage allows her the time and space to work toward her goals without as much pressure. She gets to spend her time: 

  • Walking or biking along the beach 
  • Cooking meals from scratch 
  • Taking classes to learn Croatian 
  • Spending time with her son, sister, and nephew 
  • Focusing on her passions and building her business 

Even though she’s spending way less money, her quality of life has skyrocketed.  

Geoarbitrage and building multiple streams of income can be tools for anyone’s financial independence journey, but they are particularly valuable for people (with or without kids) who don’t have a partner’s income to fall back on. 

Thank you, Angela, for opening my eyes to this! 

If you’d like to continue following Angela’s journey, you can find her in the following places: 

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