shrinking your big expat lifestyle....(25 Posts)
I'm questioning a few things about our current situation (currently in ME) e.g. having home help (currently have a live-in maid/nanny), and wondered if anyone out there has 'downgraded' their expat lifestyle and been happier?
Right now we're in a big, spacious villa, great compound etc. I really need help in the home here as it's too big to cope with single handedly. We have 2 young DC.
I'm very, very tempted to make a move to an apartment, same location, same facilities albeit not quite as nice (pool/playground), and to have a cleaner twice a week who could also do the laundry in place of a live-in helper.
My 3.5yr old DS is getting ALL of my time, not learning to share me with DD who is 1. Largely because it's 'too easy' for me to hand the baby to the helper while I go off and do something DS wants to do like the pool or playground, but it's hard to take DD with me. Granted, I could change this, but it's a battle, and when my very challenging DS is throwing another tantrum, it's becoming habit for the maid to swoop in and take baby. This isn't what I pictured from having a maid at home but is becoming hard to break.
We'd save money - a lot of money. Approx £1K per month in the bank.
The apartment is more modern, more 'normal', and more like what we'd have at home in the UK. It feels more homely that this mansion I'm in right now (which also has it's benefits of course).
The only cons I can see:
No help on hand for babysitting
I'm about to go back to work here, so having someone at the house to prep dinner etc would be helpful. That said, I'd finish at 2pm every day, so no hardship to get home and make a bit of dinner.
Essentially, I think I'm missing my normal life back home. We've been here for 2yrs now, doing the big house, maid, thing. We're saving money being here so this isn't entirely financially driven. We have 2 more years to go (at least), so downsizing at some point was on the cards so that we can sell some of the huge amounts of IKEA furniture we bought to furnish the current villa!
My question is.... has anyone downsized and regretted it? Got rid of your helper and regretted it? These were two of the big selling points for me in coming out here (for DH's job originally), so I'd hate to do it and regret it down the line.
Any experiences/advice/thoughts would be much appreciated.
Won't you need the helper for childcare when you go back to work ?
habibi, I wouldn't need the helper for childcare - eldest will be in school and youngest in nursery. My hours have been agreed so that I can drop them both off on my way in to work, and pick them up on my way home.
Who will look after them if hey are sick or when there are school holidays?
Absolutely no experience of this (!), but from an outsider's perspective why don't you change your behaviour for the next month whilst you still have the maid? Break your habits of handing baby over etc and try and do it yourself. Try to be more independent whilst still having the safety net. See how it goes.
Semi - the school holidays aren't a problem (it's a school based job I've been offered). Yes, if they are sick we'd have to find a solution, but my husbands work is also pretty flexible. Having discussed it all with DH this morning, that really is the only time we think we'd miss the live-in helper.
Sorrel - I've tried that already over the last few days. It's going okay, and feels a bit better, and I know it will get easier as the DC get older too. It's been particularly tough as my youngest wasn't quite mobile - wanted to throw herself around at the playground but I still had to keep close watch on DS - we are just coming out of that now. We leave here for summer soon, and I know when we come back in September the DC will be bigger and a bit easier still.... all the more reason to let the helper start looking for another job now....
It sounds as if getting some freedom back is really important right now. No point spending £1k a month for a house that's too big to manage without help. Go for the apartment. It sounds like a great move for you.
I would kick the tyres on the sick thing. I live in HK and employers have v little sympathy for prolonged absence due to routine childhood illnesses because of the helper norm. I can't comment on your DHs employer but just a word of caution not to expect the flexibility you might expect in the UK where employers might appreciate that there's no alternative. My dc are at school now and I was contemplating going down to an afterschol nanny rather than FT/ live in, but then I had 2 weeks where my two had colds with temperatures ( one after the other) so 2 straight weeks with one of them off school and I appreciated the benefits as it clashed with work stuff that I really couldn't miss.
That said, I get where you're coming from. I do enjoy the summers at home when it's just the 4 of us.
i think wait until you start the job again. your feelings may change then. and try different techniques with your child who wouldn't share yet.
You're thinking about a reduction in help at the precise time when you will need the help rather than it being a luxury. I wouldn't change a thing until I had got back in to the swing of work, and then I'd make my decision.
In the meantime, i would make a real conscious effort to see things through when the youngest having a tantrum rather than keep passing over etc
We are in the ME (Middle East, Sample).
I'm not working, but we are maid/housekeeper/nanny free. We live in a three bed bungalow. So, not necessarily the glamourous living some people expect. But we are on a compound, so the garden is dealt with (watered daily, grass cut about twice a year - that's all it needs).
Totally doable, and more like our lifestyle at home.
Kids at school, but will have them at home (half the time in the UK) for the 4 MONTH summer holiday.
We're also in the ME and we're about the do the opposite of what you're talking about so maybe I can give you the 'cons'?
To give you a bit of context, we currently live in an apartment, have a live-out nanny who works 8.30am-5pm 5 days a week, DH and I both work full time (although we are both public sector so only work public sector hours IYSWIM) We have one DS who is 15 months.
We want to leave our apartment for a villa because the apartment feels so small now there are 3 of us. Parking in our building is strictly for residents only, so it's a nightmare when we have friends over etc. Because there's no upstairs/downstairs, we feel like we have to be quiet in the evenings when DS in bed and when we have people over in the evening, I'm always paranoid about him being woken up.
Dragging food shopping, a pram, a wriggly toddler and everything else into a lift is a pain in the arse. I can't wait to be able to pull up on a driveway and just walk straight into our house without having to buzz into a carpark, wave at a security guard, park, buzz into the building, carry stuff to the lobby, wait ages for the lift...
The lack of outside space (ie a garden) is a pain. Everytime DS wants to run around, go for a swim etc it's a hassle to pack everything up, wait for the lift etc. The idea of just being able to chuck him out in the garden is really appealing.
STORAGE! Unless you have a huge apartment, storage is such an issue. Our apartment is a very generous size but we still keep his trike out on the balcony, his buggy in the laundry room, toys down the back of the sofa... The villa we are considering has a room we will use as a toy room and we can use the garage port for stuff as well.
I can't really talk about the live in/live out nanny issue because as much as I love her (and she really is part of the family), I couldn't imagine having her live in (I like watching TV in my knickers too much) and I don't think she would want to, because she has a very active social life. We have considered nursery several times but the nanny always wins because we like the flexibility. I'm not rushing to get DS up, washed, fed and out the door each morning - I leave for work with him still in his PJs and our nanny arrives in time to do brekkie. Also whenever he's been sick, I feel comfortable leaving him with her (she's actually a nurse by trade) whereas I know that every time he had the slightest sniffle, nursery wouldn't take him and DH and I would argue about who stayed home.
Is there some kind of halfway? Perhaps a smaller villa, live out help etc?
We lived in Sing without a live in, and I desperately wished we had one. Shopping, evenings out as well as children being ill. It's hard to fit in with everyone else's social plans when you don't have help. Have yours had chicken pox? With two of them, that is basically three weeks of complete confinement.
Is he settled at school?
I would enjoy having the opportunity to focus on each of your children one at a time. If DS is challenging then this is a god send situation. Really work on managing him while you have the opportunity.
Totally agree with Primera. We're not in the ME at the moment, but it sounds like you're trying to change your life to meet your current lifestyle when it's going to change as you start work.
Also agree that your DH employer's flexibility may not be quite as flexible when you've got a child who is sick for a few days and then the second one is too. In a way this is understandable: this sort of expat life offers a financial premium and that's implicitly expected to assist in these situations, in part because that's what everybody else does.
This is all relating to childcare.
As you have a live out nanny the type of place you live doesn't matter so much..as long as she doesn't take prestige from your villa.
But your children are growing and will need more, not less space to play. During the months where going outside to play is possible, being able to put them (and their toys, outside is something many people value. In a flat you always have to go downstairs - can't just watch them from the window. This becomes more of an issue if you a) need to get in with chores or b) don't have someone else to go down with them.
thanks for clearing it up for me redsand oh dear having a senior moment!
Can't thank you all enough for your valuable input to this....
I totally agree with everything that's been said about the space issue - we saw an apartment last night, and yes, there are buggies/trikes/scooters in the halls, and it'd be a squeeze to get our furniture in the living space.
So maybe this comes down to the help....
How does this sound instead of a live in?
Cleaner 2 or 3 times a week to take care of all cleaning, ironing, changing bed sheets etc.
Same cleaner to help 1 hour per evening in prepping lunches etc for the next day, and to help clear down the kitchen after evening meal. We've done this previously before we had our live-in and it was blissful.
Obviously the remaining issue is emergency childcare. They have both thankfully had chicken pox, so fingers crossed nothing else is going to see them off school or nursery for such a prolonged period.
There are several maids on the compound who work for families with older kids, that I would trust with my own... perhaps they could be on call if agreed with their employer. Or indeed, I do of course have my own friends here that don't work, perhaps I could call on them in an emergency too - like at home!
Or am I being mad about this too?
Agree that yes I should at least start the job first - this could well be case of me going mad rattling around the villa all day as the weather heats up. Perhaps once I'm in the routine of my own job and with both children for just a few hours in the afternoons before DH gets home for dinner/bath/bed etc this will all irk me less!
HOWEVER... and this is the brain worm I can't shake off....
We might only be here for 2 more years. Over 2 years, we could save £24K if we downsized. That's my shiny new kitchen in England!
Conversely, we all know what happened to the people only 'staying two years'!
I have seen families with FT or live in help where things pan out as you describe, OP, and the baby gets handed to the helper so that the elder children get their needs met by their mother. Helpers are often complicit in this as looking after a baby is more fun than cleaning (often these families end up getting a PT cleaner too, as the helper no longer has time to clean).
It's worth thinking this through and wondering whether you need to impose more discipline on yourself. You are the manager and decision-maker here, and you are letting other people (subconsciously) take the decisions as to who does what.
What's the cost of the live in help vs the rent reduction?
How much would the extra help cost?
Here the maid would be about half your annual savings. So add in the extra hours, and you are looking at saving maybe 10k over the next 2 years. Is that enough extra for you? Compared to what you save monthly, is it worth it??
What happens if you partially downsize, and keep the maid? How do the numbers look then?
But I agree with the others saying review after the job/nursery changes have settled in. That's a really good suggestion.
I have been kicking around the ME for a while and employed several staff over the years.
Might it be that your helper isn't a good fit?
When it works out , it really is a lifesaver, especially when working, There will be days when your child is too tired or poorly for school but not catastrophically ill. In their early years at nursery and school my children had lots of time off , catching everything going . I teach and if I'd everyday off that they stayed home, there wouldn't have been a huge stink at work.
There will be days when the nursery and school holidays don't align and others when you need to be in for training and the children can't accompany.
My other advice is that part time help comes at a cost in terms of reliability and once you pay someone to come for say 12 hours a week the difference in salary versus the convenience of having someone full-time is tiny.
Now my children are older, I do from time to time consider switching to a cleaner only but we are really invested emotionally in our brilliant helper and the ease she makes our lives is significant. Those years when my children were under five would not have been so memorable without her.
Fwiw. In most areas of the Gulf it is illegal to use a maid from the compound. Of course people do but the rules are your visa or an agency. Never mind all the local visa twaddle, no such thing. There are hefty fines and imprisonment for people who get caught, and don't believe it doesn't happen.
And agreed the break even point of a part time maid versus live in is probably 15-20 hours a week.
Get a smaller villa to save money, all the benefits, parking, shopping, storage, outside space. And when you make your decision, which shouldn't be until youve gone back to work put the other decision behind you and embrace the choice you make.
I wondered if this was maybe an issue with your live in helper. We had two long term helpers on our last assignment. When the first came I didn't speak the language and was brand new to having live in help, it worked more or less but I wasn't that sorry when she left. After a couple of false starts the next long term helper was amazing. We all thought she was great and real tears were shed by us when we left and had to say goodbye. Maybe try another live in before you give up on them altogether as the flexibility they bring is great.
Why aren't you considering keeping the helper and not sending your youngest to nursery? That would seem to be the obvious way to save costs without a major lifestyle change. I don't know where you are but most places I've lived in ME a live in helper is around if not cheaper than full-time nursery for one.
There's a big change coming up with you going back to work and it doesn't make sense to go without your support network, until you're off probation at least. I agree with others. Because the vast amount of working women have a helper at home employers are not used to having to deal with someone needing to look after sick kids. My boss just moaned to me about someone in the UK having to leave at a certain time (when there was something urgent that needed doing) to get to the nursery pick up and I highlighted that was what life was like in a world without live in helpers!
Villa to apartment, well that's your call and it all depends how much you want to save. I've lived in both and I found apartment living great when mine were tiny (no stairs) but then a complete hassle after that - getting out the house took so much longer and getting the shopping unloaded once a week felt like a military exercise until I felt I could actually trust my children to take my eyes off them. That said, if I felt I couldn't afford the villa I'd move to an apartment in a second. Is there an option for a smaller house or a cheaper house in another location?
The issue with handing your youngest to your helper is a completely separate issue btw and one you need to deal with. The way to deal with it isn't to get rid of the helper though, you need to look at why it's happening.
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