Celebrating my 5 years in Germany

Just passed my 5 year anniversary for living in Germany!

*throws confetti*

Germany has given me so much.

Firstly, Martin is German! We met in Toronto but I followed him here. 🙂

I also went to grad school in Germany (essentially for free tuition-wise), and then went on to land good jobs in Germany. Soon I’ll launch into a (hopefully) lucrative freelancing career.

I am so grateful. I know I live a very privileged life.

It’s been very up and down for me in Germany. But instead of reflecting on my bumpy ride, I’m going to just appreciate how good I have it here.

There are so many people Europe/Germany bound right now, who don’t have it as easy as I do. After reading some truly heart breaking stories, I’m going to shut up. I have nothing to complain about anymore.

Thank you Germany, for accepting me in and for giving me all this opportunity. Thank you for giving me my husband!

To another fruitful 5 years, when we plan to FIRE! :mrgreen:

An introverted freelancer

introvert

I’m an introvert. But when I tell people that, they are often shocked.

Even my Mom, childhood best friend, and husband find it funny that I identify as an introvert. Apparently I talk a lot, or something!

But being an introvert doesn’t mean I’m shy, or socially nervous (I’m neither). It means I recharge by being alone, and I prefer low-key, mellow social activities rather than loud, high sensory stuff. I also process my thoughts through writing, while extraverts tend to think out loud.

Since I’ve quit my job in July, I’ve been working down my 3-month notice period. At first I thought these 3-months would be a drag, but it’s giving me time to recuperate from the shock of having quit so suddenly, plus a chance to get my upcoming freelancing business off the ground.

I didn’t think I would be cut out for freelancing, but surprisingly, I’m finding that freelancing suits my introverted personality type afterall!

While I’m not a freelancer yet, I’ve been networking with freelancers and actively laying the foundation for my ‘break’ into the freelancing world. Things are going well, and I’m feeling very positive about everything.

It helps that I have strong connections in a niche industry, and the people around me tend to be really, really nice [and helpful]. But this doesn’t guarantee that I will be able to land jobs. Maybe at the beginning, but time will tell whether I can sustain myself through freelancing or not.

What I’ve learned is that there is a whole network of freelancers who are introverts like me! And networking with them is just as important (if not more important) than networking with big companies. Freelancers in this circle pass jobs to each other regularly, and one in particular will become my 2nd big client that will make up at least 20% of my yearly income. In Germany, I’ll need at least 2 clients to comply with tax and labour laws as a freelancer.

The type of freelancing I’ll do is scientific consulting (to be broad), so the people who choose to freelance in this field tend to be more reserved science nerd types rather than slick-talking business types (who are also science nerds). From what I can see, the latter are more likely to stay in a big company to move up the ladder (because they are good at it), or would break off to start an agency (bigger than freelancing).

So basically, I feel like I’ve found ‘my people’. Hardworking types, but not focused on gaining power or recognition. We just want to do good work. The work we do, whether it’s as employees within a company or through freelancing, will be absorbed as someone else’s work. This doesn’t bother me, because I don’t need the recognition. I just want to get paid!

I still have a lot of paperwork to sort through, and to find a Steuerberater (Accountant). It’s a little overwhelming, but very soon I’ll work my last day at the office and will have more time to fumble in wrong/broken/English sounding German at the Finanzamt! FUN! :mrgreen:

Automatic DIY investing in Germany with Wertpapiersparplan

euroinvest

Woo hoo! I set up a Wertpapiersparplan through my comdirect Depotkonto, and have invested my last 3-months worth of pay cheques kosten handeln frei. :mrgreen:

Sorry for the Denglisch!

What I mean is that I’m investing every month now, automatically and without transaction fees!

My investment strategy changed from dividend stocks to growth stocks, because I don’t need the dividend income right now and would rather not be troubled with taxes.

I feel so relieved to have landed on a plan and to finally have it all set up. There’s not a lot of English-info out there for DIY investing in Germany, and it felt daunting to get everything up and running. But now my systems are in place it will be easier to keep at it.

This also means that I have 100% of all my euros invested in stocks. That’s my entire savings from having worked in Germany for the past 3 years. 🙂

My dear husband is not very excited about the stock market, but he looks after all of our expenses so that I can invest my entire pay. Ideally I would like him to invest in something, rather than just keeping cash. But I’m not going to pressure him (even though he thinks I’m pressuring him!), because he has to want to do it himself. I think through time, he will warm up to investing after following my journey.

It feels pretty luxurious for me to invest everything I have, and not have to care about the bills. Talk about lifestyle inflation. 😎

Changing my relationship with work

freelancer

Two weeks ago, I was feeling so stressed and down about my freelancing career.

I told Martin that I can’t do it. That I may as well just be a house wife (not that that’s easy) because I won’t be able to find clients who are willing to pay me.

I was just spewing all this negative shit.

The next morning, I decided to stop the pity party and to wear a dress that I love. I’ve had this dress for years but stopped wearing it because it made me look ‘fat’. So it hung guiltily in my closet, and I decided that today was the day that I would wear it.

So I did, and it didn’t make me look fat. It made me feel GREAT.

When the head of the department came to my office to chat with me, I casually told him that I’ve decided to freelance. He said that was great news and affirmed that I’m doing the right thing (he thinks I shouldn’t give up my life to look after my husband), and said he is for it and to figure out how to get the ball rolling with my contract.

Since then, things have been falling seamlessly into place.

My contract is being pushed. I didn’t even have to negotiate like I thought I would. My boss just said I should make what the senior freelancers make (3x my current rate!) and wanted to know how many hours I wanted to work so she could get the contract process started.

Well that was easy!

When I asked for a 10% raise earlier this year, plus working from home 2 days a week, I was met with resistance. I don’t blame my boss, it’s just how the organization works. But as a freelancer, I’m about to sign a contract earning more than I do now, but working only 1/3 of the time and all from home. Now the company is asking me if I am willing to come into the office once in a while.

It has completely turned the tables on how both sides are approaching work terms.

Now I have more control, and I tell them what I’m capable of doing and when and where.

It was not easy for me to quit my job, but I’m so glad I did it!

I have no idea how things will work out, and I expect freelancing to have its own pitfalls too. But if I never dared to step out of my comfort zone, I wouldn’t be able to entertain all these possibilities.

Yuppies in Toronto

Tdot

I love Toronto, my home town.

But it’s so bloody expensive there!

I read this recent article about the cost of living in Toronto for young professionals, and it’s scary how accurate it is. If Martin and I lived in Toronto (which was the original plan), we’d easily spend the quoted $2.6K per month to live in a condo, with no car, for a single person. Since we are frugal though, I think we could pay attention and get by on $3.5K for 2 people.

Martin and I don’t track our expenses, but we estimate that we spend about 1.7K EUR ($2.5K) per month living near Düsseldorf (one of the richest cities in Germany), and that includes living in a nice flat in a good area, driving a BMW, travelling often, and buying local/organic/free trade groceries. While we are more frugal than everyone else we know around us, we are still embarrassed to live such rich-yuppie lifestyles and are trying to cut back.

And cut back we will once we move to Niederrhein. Our expenses will drop to ~1.4K EUR ($2K) per month. Even that sounds high to me, but we probably do end up spending that much when we spread our travel costs over the year. (I’m not including my new freelancing costs, or Martin’s alternative treatments)

If I stayed in Toronto, I would still find this FIRE lifestyle, but it would take me longer to save enough to FIRE.

Now I get to FIRE earlier (hopefully!), while living a much more interesting life. Not that people in Toronto don’t live interesting lives, but after spending my entire life there, I was pretty bored with myself. I wanted to see something new.

Then I came here and felt really out of place and wanted to go back! But that’s another story.

I would still love to spend time in Toronto when I FIRE, just cuz it always feels like *home*. If my freelancing career takes off, I may not even have to wait until I FIRE!

Running club

runners

I haven’t written anything about that mini-6K marathon I ran back in June.

It went well! I fulfilled my goal of running the entire track without stopping. I ran it in a leisurely 43 min and wasn’t sore the next day. While 43 min is slow, I still consider it a success!

Since then, I’ve kept up the running and am training for two upcoming 10Ks also sponsored by my company. A few days after that second 10K, I’ll work my last day at my job. *sniff*

Running is helping me a lot with stress management. If not for my consistent running, I’m sure I would be crippled with stress right now. But instead I’m keeping it cool. 😎

Believe it or not, I’ve also started a running club at work! We go running during lunch every Tuesday and Thursday, unless it rains (it rains a lot here!). It’s just a small group of 2-5 people, but we’re known as ‘the lunch time runners’ now. 🙂

This is crazy to me, because I don’t consider myself a runner – or at least not a very good one. When I told people I wanted to try running, people offered to run with me! Which is largely why I’ve kept it up, because it’s become a social gathering. I’m also flattered that these good runners continue to run with me even when I slow them down.  We have a lot of fun though, and I’ve gotten to know more people through running.

Running is helping me become powerful and strong. Physically yes, but this feeling is spilling over to other areas of my life too, and helping to sustain me during times of change. I’m so very grateful for that. I hope to keep this up in my new Niederrhein life.

Re-thinking priorities: my last month at work

Essentials-of-negotiation-workshop

By pursuing freelancing, I’m essentially changing my career.

If you’ve ever changed careers before, you know it takes a lot of energy. It’s starting from scratch all over again and heading into the unknown.

I’ve changed my career many times before, so this is not new to me. But this time it feels different.

I’m very fortunate because I work for a big, well-respected company in a niche industry. If not for the name of my company, I would be struggling to land clients. But instead, I’m ripe with opportunity and connections.

There’s still about one month for me to go as a full-time employee (less my vacation days), which is also one more month of networking in person and organizing myself to launch into freelancing.

So far freelancing seems to suit me well. While I’m not a freelancer yet, I’m actively laying the foundation for freelancing and am amazed at how well it’s going.

Someone pinch me because it doesn’t seem real!

It’s been a very emotional past couple of weeks. I hadn’t been talking about my resignation much, and asked people who knew to please keep it on the d/l at first. But now my leave is officially out in the open, so I’ve also started talking about it more and have been receiving an outpouring of love and encouragement.

I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to land clients, but it appears that I have almost too many on my plate now! This is only because amazingly kind and generous people are helping me out in very real ways (without me asking), and I’m shocked, grateful, and so very touched.

Nothing is set in stone, but these leads are quite strong and it appears to be up to me, whether I want it or not.

Which of course, makes me think back to negotiating rates.

I’m not at all good at money-negotiations, and was feeling far too much stress about asking for $100+ an hour as a junior person. I’m sure there are fantastic money-negotiators out there who could pull this off, but I don’t think I’m one of them.

If I think about my goals, it’s not to make $100+ an hour off the bat. Maybe one day, but right now, I want to be able to consistently land projects so that I can continue freelancing and supporting my family and FIRE goals. Which means, I am willing to start at the bottom.

In my case, the bottom happens to be more than double my hourly rate now, which is not too shabby. I’m still planning to enter negotiations at more than that, but I know that if I get bargained down to that rate, I’ll still be happy.

Another benefit to working for a well known company in my industry is that it puts me in touch with a lot of talented people. Just because I’m not the best at negotiating, doesn’t mean everyone else is like me too (thank goodness!). So I’m asking one of my ex-consultant colleagues to coach me. He is great at all sorts of negotiations, and has really helped me understand things differently.

Like how I could probably get the amount of money I want to get, because I’m leaving my team at a sensitive time and I carry a bulk of the knowledge and expertise that cannot be replaced so quickly or easily. But that strategically, it’s not as wise to have a higher hourly rate than other more senior freelancers (I won’t get selected as much), and if I start so high it may leave a bad taste – like I’m screwing them over when they need me most. He says when people think of me as a consultant, the image shouldn’t be that I will cause them problems.

So he is helping me figure things out in a way that makes sense to me, while also helping me land a higher rate in other ways. I didn’t even think of it but there are other ways to structure a negotiation, not just a straight forward ‘give me X amount’. I’m very excited, and feeling more confident to enter the talks. Also I’m making it sound like this is all a hard negotiation, which it’s not. I’ll be speaking with good people who aren’t trying to screw me over. I just need to be clear about what I need to run my business, and what I can provide to my clients.