Monthly Recap – June 2015

June has been a pretty good month as far as my budget goes.

Budget review

First off, last month’s losers are this month’s winners. I cancelled a Farm vegetables subscription that I had (not because it wasn’t good, it was. Just that it didn’t work with my building’s configuration and I lost 2 out of 4 boxes in May – wish my neighbors would have left me a thank you note.). So in June, I spent $191.57 on groceries. Yep. It’s a bit misleading, though, since it was a short month and I was home only 3 weeks out of the four. But I’m still counting it as a BIG win. I let the remaining grocery money roll over to July as it’s gonna be a long month full of people visiting !

Foooood !

I spent $96.92 on restaurants. That’s going out 2 times in the month, one with my colleagues, and one was take out tacos. Plus a truly awful lunch at the airport when I was waiting for my flight. Ew. Still, I stayed under budget by a couple of bucks. Win.

Smoking Hell

On the smoking front, I’m WAY over budget, but for a good cause :

  • Cigarettes : $42.25
  • Nic patches : $76.15
  • Vaping (juices and atomizer heads) : $59.04

So a mind-boggling total of $177.44. Whoops. But it’s actually good news. I haven’t smoked a cigarette for a week, and my last pack before that lasted me another one. The last cigarette wasn’t even fully smoked and I didn’t enjoy it in the least. I’m fully vaping again and not craving cigs anymore. I’m still using patches, for the short term. I have enough to last me through most of July, and after that, I won’t buy any more. I’ll just keep a few as emergency crutches it’s all in the head 🙂

In July, I will most probably only buy atomizer heads, and a little more juice with lower nic level.

I just want a Genie to grant me a wish and I’ll choose to get rid of that fucking addiction.


I took Pet Insurance for my two cats in April, after many months negotiating with myself over it. And I’m glad I did.

One of my cats seemed off so I took her to the vet. She’s okay, but it’s a $277 hole in the Vet budget. Most of it went against my deductible, and I feel better knowing I can take her in any time and it won’t have to be a financial decision.


In June, I saved my customary 18.15% of gross income (401(k) and HSA). Not much to say.

As for my take home savings, I am finally above my monthly goal of 35% with a score of 39.9%. Couldn’t get to the 40% threshold, eh.

Net Worth

I don’t have the pic or the details with me, but on June 30th, I finally reached $80,000 !

So, all in all, a good month that could have been better (vet) or much worse (vet, eh). It goes straight into the WIN column.


Expat Series : Anatomy of my paycheck

When I was trying to figure out how much I would need to make in the US, and after I negotiated my salary, one of the things I had a hard time finding out is how a gross annual figure translates into monthly income. If you’re in that same boat, here’s a quick rundown of what my paycheck looks like. Continue reading

Expat Series – The importance of a relocation package

Important note : this post, as every other post on the subject, is my personal experience as an H1-B immigrant. I can’t help you get a visa, I can’t help you find a sponsor, so please don’t ask me for any help regarding your personal situation. I’m not an immigration lawyer or expert.

So you’ve passed all the hurdles. After (probably many) interviews, numerous emails and phone calls, maybe even Skype calls, you negotiated a good compensation package, and you got the job. Hooray ! Visions of the American Dream are dancing in your head, the Star Spangled Banner is now your favorite tune, and you’re spending all your free time looking for a new home. And reading Expat blogs OF COURSE.

But there’s one more thing you need to talk about, aside from the visa process. Your relocation. It’s very very important, because if you have to do it all by yourself, it’s going to cost you a ton of money (think multiples of $10,000) and even more headaches.

Most companies worth their salt will offer a standard relocation package. But a lot of them have little experience of long distance relocations, let alone cross-continents. It may sound straightforward enough, but believe me, there is a lot more than just a plane ticket. Remember you’re going to a new country, with different customs and different laws. You think you know the United States because you’ve visited a few times and because the American culture is everywhere in your home country ?

Think again.

Ask if they offer such a package, and exactly what’s in it. If anything is unclear, ask for clarifications. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into, and you need to get ready.

Chances are, you won’t get all of these. This list will just give you some things to ask about, and to think about. Some of the bigger items (home sale assistance, home hunting trip, home sale assistance) may be reserved for internal transfers (L1) or higher management, for example.

The obvious stuff : the move

Honestly, this is IMO the bare minimum. This should be a big red flag for you if your employer doesn’t pay for this AT THE MINIMUM. Don’t let the stars in your eyes blind you.

  1. Do they pay for the plane tickets for you and your family ? If yes, are there any specific conditions (like a preferred airline, no more than 1 and a half child, etc)
  2. Do they pay for the move (packing, transportation, and unpacking of your things). If yes, to what extent ? Do they use a specific company ? What’s the limitation in terms of container size ? How about your car ?
  3. What about your pets ? Can you take them with you, and under what conditions (I took my two cats with me, paid for their tickets, and got reimbursed).
  4. Will they pay for everything, or will you have to advance the money before getting reimbursed (don’t underestimate the cost of an international move) ?

The less obvious stuff : your home

If you own your home, ask yourself what you want to do with it. If you want to rent it, that’s on you and all is well (but look into your country’s rental and tax laws !). However, if you plan on selling it, will your employer help you ?

  1. Can they provide assistance with the sale ? Closing costs ? Mortgage pay-off fees ?
  2. What if you sell at a loss ?
  3. What if you sell too soon and find yourself homeless until the day you leave ?
  4. What if you haven’t sold yet when you leave ?

On the same note, will you get a trip ahead of the move so you can start hunting for a home before moving ?

After your arrival

The first few weeks are going to be very very busy, especially if you came alone, and you will most probably need help.

Temporary housing

Ask whether or not your employer will provide you with temporary housing. This can be a hotel, or furnished apartment, for example. The duration can vary – one week, one month, or more.

If you have pets, tell them so they can get you into a pet-friendly place.

Rental Car

You will have a thousand things to take care of, in addition to starting your new job. A car is mandatory, and it’s always best if it’s paid for by your employer. Don’t expect to be able to buy one before a couple of weeks to a month, even if you have the cash on hand.

Relocation help

Some employer also provide help from a relocation agency. They can help you with all the formalities, and even help you find a home. Most often, they can be quite useful to help you navigate the administrative maze, and even help you avoid unnecessary expenses. However they are usually completely useless when it comes to finding a home (aside explaining what neighborhoods to avoid). They’re also useful when you don’t speak English fluently yet.

Financial help

Some relocation packages include financial help, in the form of a one-time bonus or a low-interest loan (for example a car loan at a preferred rate).

Home Buying assistance

If you buy a new home in the US, will they help you with the cost (closing costs, mortgage points, other fees, bridge loan if you haven’t sold your house back home yet) ?

Accounting help

This is super helpful. Ask if they will help you with your taxes, at least the first time you have to file them. This process can be incredibly complex for Americans, so it can get particularly daunting for expats. Especially if you have foreign income or assets in your home country for part of the year (or the whole year). They will need to also be familiar with your country’s tax treaty with the US, if there is one.

If such a help isn’t provided, unless you’re very good at maths and reading foreign tax laws, and your situation is very straightforward, I strongly advise you to find a good CPA specialized in taxes for International taxpayers.

Assistance for your spouse

If you leave on a L1 visa, your spouse will be able to get EAD (work authorization). This can take a few months, but it’s usually not an issue. Ask if your employer will pay for this, and if they can provide job search assistance for your spouse.

Here you go, a list of items to ask about when negotiating your relocation package. Go through it carefully, and know your bottom line, the bare minimum you can accept.

Expat Series – What to look for when negotiating your compensation ?

Important note : this post, as every other post on the subject, is my personal experience as an H1-B immigrant. I can’t help you get a visa, I can’t help you find a sponsor, so please don’t ask me for any help regarding your personal situation. I’m not an immigration lawyer or expert.

My employer contacted me out of the blue. I had sent my resume months before, using a friend’s referral, but there was no open position. Then one evening, I got an email from HR, asking me for a phone interview.

I was thoroughly unprepared. She called me the next day, and boy, was that a lot of fun. Having a pre-interview, in English, on the phone, about a job in another continent, is like your first time biking without the assist wheels.I spent the next few days getting ready (read: scrambling) for the real interviews to follow, including how job interviews work in the US, technical stuff, and most importantly, what to talk about when it came to salary, benefits and relocation. The first two is what I’m going to outline in this post. You can find a lot of online resources about the job interview process in the US, so I won’t get there (plus I only have that one experience).


If they ask you about your salary expectations,  you should probably deflect the question by telling them you would like to talk about benefits first. The reason for this is, your salary expectations might vary a lot, depending on what kind of benefits the company does or does not offer. Keep in mind your salary is only a fraction of your total compensation, and this is what you should focus on. You may also be able to get a number out of them without having to disclose yours first, which is always nice.

So what benefits are we talking about and why are they important ?

Health Insurance

This one is immensely important. When you come from a country with a high quality, but cheap, health system, you’re in for a surprise. Everything here is extremely expensive, and hidden costs are everywhere. You need health insurance. Most big companies offer a subsidized plan, so ask about it.

  • Coverage details
  • Total cost for you and your family
  • Deductible and coinsurance
  • Max out-of-pocket amount

If they don’t offer health insurance, you will have to insure yourself, and that will most probably cost you hundreds of dollars a month. Shop around to get an idea of the cost for you and your family.


In the US, there are (AFAIK) two main sources of retirement income. Social Security, which is what we call in French “retraite par répartition”, just like ours, and your own savings (“retraite par capitalisation”). There’s also pensions offered by some employers, but they’re getting rare.

Social security is a non-brainer. You pay taxes, and when you retire, you get some income. Just remember that you need to work in the US for 10 years before you’re eligible for it.

Employer-sponsored retirement plans

But it’s not enough, and you have to save some of your income to complement it. These savings will be invested, and hopefully grow over the years. If you’re interviewing for a big company, chances are that they will offer a tax-advantaged retirement plan. Most small companies don’t offer these, though. In the private sector, they’re called 401(k). There are different variations of these, depending on whether you work for a private company or in the public sector, or depending on the size of the company.

You can contribute to the account by direct deductions from your gross income on each paycheck. Which means, any such deduction will reduce your gross income, and as such, your tax burden. You will pay taxes on it after retirement (when you withdraw the money).

What you also want to know is : does the employer match those contributions ? This means that the employer will match a fraction of every dollar you contribute. That’s free money. Take it.

If they don’t offer such a plan, or no match, adjust your salary expectations.


They’re much less common than they used to be, but they’re worth mentioning. An employer-sponsored pension plan is considered a pretty good benefit these days.

Fringe benefits

They can be a lot of different things :

  • life insurance, other insurances
  • company car
  • on-site gym
  • etc


This is pretty standard, but since we’re talking about working in another country you’re not necessarily familiar with, you need to do your homework first.

  • Average salary for your industry and location (you can use sites like Glassdoor)
  • Cost of living in the area. $100K won’t get you as far in NYC or San Francisco than it will in the Midwest. Look at statistics, and real estate sites like Zillow and Trulia to get an idea of rents. Trulia also shows a crime level map of each property.
  • How much do you need to make up for benefits company does not offer.

Visa considerations

Bench pay

If you’re going to work for a consulting company, ask them about bench pay. Some of them do not pay you when you’re not working for a client. This is illegal, and could get you in trouble with the immigration services. Research the company, and stay far far away from these (look at immigration forums for stories).

Spouse’s income

Another important consideration a lot of people don’t think about until it’s too late. Most (if not all) employment-based visas (H1, L1…) do not allow the visa holder’s spouse to work.

While it’s possible for the spouse of a L1 visa holder to obtain a work authorization after a while, it is not, ever, for the spouse of an H1-B visa holder, until they get a green card. That can be a big hit on the household income, both in the short term and the long term. If you’re going to lose one income, make sure you make enough to support your family. And make sure your spouse is ok with that.

Remember that getting a green card will take a few years in the best scenario, but for some of us (Indians and Chinese people), it can take 12 or more years. That’s a lot of lost income, and, maybe more importantly, years of career advancement that will never come back. They’re also not contributing to social security or saving for retirement during that time.

If you have that option, a L1 visa is almost always better than a H1-B.

For French citizen, you may want to look into the CFE offerings (Caisse des Français à l’Étranger) so he/she can still contribute to the French retirement system. They also provide health insurance, which may be an alternative to private US insurance, but keep in mind you’re getting reimbursed based on the French costs.

No side hustle

If you’re on H1-B or L1 visa, remember these are employer-specific, job-specific and location-specific.

That means a lot of very important things, but as far as income is concerned, it means you are not authorized to work for anyone else (including yourself, and including for example ads and referrals on your blog). So you want to make sure your salary can pay for your needs.

Here you go, some ideas to get you started. Do your homework, get familiar with the US system. My advice is to open an Excel sheet, and list all your projected income (after tax) and costs (make an estimated budget, include everything plus a small margin of error), to see what’s the minimum you need to earn. Take that, and the average salaries for your job, experience and location, and you will be able to come up with a bunch of numbers :

  • The absolute minimum you can accept
  • What you should be getting at least
  • What would be really nice

Then negotiate !