How a Canadian Expat Family in Budapest Does Money

Teagan is 24 and lives in Budapest with her 27-year-old husband, her 14-month-old daughter, and a new baby due in May.

ND: So Teagan, tell us about your finances.

Teagan: Okay. Well, first of all, my finances nowadays are largely comprised of my husband’s finances, and they have been more or less since we started living together, and definitely more since the lead-up-to and birth of our first child. Some of our friends and family are super impressed by this, and others are super aghast about it.

You mean that they are put off that you aren’t earning “your own” income?

No, not per se, because I have the baby and all so it’s a pretty legitimate reason to not earn an income (although we did finally sort out my foreign maternity pay — yay!), but more in the way that there are definitely some tensions about what we do or don’t spend money on, and I have had to work hard to feel comfortable about spending it.

I also really felt the loss of my own financial contribution to our household in a way I never expected. There have been a few instances where friends have suggested that we should just split our finances if I feel that way, and I’m like… aaaah, not so simple anymore. And also not practical.

In the last year since our daughter’s birth and our wedding, I’ve mostly come to terms with the idea that this is our money now, and I’m not being paid but I am contributing and it’s all fairly cool. It also helped that one of my relatives wrote us a sizeable and unexpected check as a wedding gift and so I feel like I’ve actually, sort of, helped our account fluff out.

It’s very easy to think “well, I’m in a marriage, all money that comes into the marriage is our money,” but much harder when that’s actually happening.

Yeah. Especially since my husband and I have different approaches to spending. He doesn’t really ever spend, and I have to very carefully manage an allotted amount of cash each month in order to ever save anything.

How does your current income compare to your current expenses? Does your family have enough? And what does that mean to you?

Currently our income does match our needs, and we are able to make a bit of savings. It’s all complicated by the fact that both my husband and I are Canadian, and we are currently living in Budapest, Hungary and have been for approximately four years. Consequently, most of our savings are either in CAD, or are converted to CAD from the Hungarian Forint, which we have had worries about over the years because it’s not a strong currency. Every now and again the right-wing-leaning government threatens to forgive all foreign loans or other complicated financial initiatives that would make our earnings worth much less, which is more than a little unnerving.

This is less of a problem now because last fall we moved into a larger apartment and had our daughter, and we paid out of pocket for most of the medical expenses (FYI, total cost including paying each midwife her own fee instead of a shared one, plus a doula, plus prenatal care and furniture for baby: CAD $4,000.00 give or take, so not bad). These events took care of the stockpile of savings we were worried about losing, and since then we have never built the same amount back up.

Wow. So my first question is: why convert everything to CAD? If you’re living in Budapest, do you have a Budapest bank account with Forints in it? Are you sticking with CAD because it is more stable?

Yes, we exchange because CAD is much more stable, and we do plan on going home eventually.

We do have Budapest accounts with Forints, and we have a sort of easy way of making the conversion because my husband’s uncle is a missionary with the Canadian Presbyterian Church. He earns money in CAD, but uses the Forint (which I’m now going to shorten to HUF), and we earn HUF but need CAD, so every month we transfer about $800 worth of HUF to him through the Budapest banking system, and he transfers the matching amount in CAD to us through the Canadian system.

Compared to the population here, we have a shockingly high amount of monthly income. A decent average monthly salary is I think roughly 180,000.00 Forints/900.00 CAD, and my husband earns 1.3 million Forints/6,500.00 CAD gross. Tax is 36 percent, so I would just like to add for the record that net the incomes are more like 115,000 HUF/550 CAD [for the average person] and 832,000 HUF/4,160 CAD [for Teagan’s family].

Also, I have a pesky habit of spending whatever remains at my disposal and have found the best and singular way to not do that is to have it in a separate account, and keeping it in Canada generally keeps it out of my hands, though this Christmas season and some planned travel has foiled that in recent months.

So what sorts of things do you tend to spend your money on?

Good question.

Lots of money gets thrown at eating out/ordering in because baby plus not very enticing grocery stores lead me to make rash calls at dinnertime (although recently we’ve managed to curtail that a bit). Additionally, during the day, one of the easiest ways for me to socialize is to go to lunch or coffee with other mums/wives who aren’t working. Even when I am being a responsible chef, a fair amount of money gets spent at the fancy foreign goods stores buying things I would be able to find at home or nicer quality groceries because who knew growing up in North America would spoil me so badly.

I would say that’s where most of our money disappears, but there are also intermittent clothing purchases for a growing child and my ever changing figure (pregnant, then not, then pregnant again in less than two years is so not fun on my wardrobe).

And books, art supplies, and wool to make me feel like a creative human from time to time.

You mentioned in your initial email to The Billfold that your high income made it difficult to find a peer group. Is your style of living different enough from the average Budapest citizen as to be noticeable? If I did the math correctly, you’re making more than five times the average middle-class income.

Yes and no. No in the world of our friends who also work with my husband (of which a few are really good, close friends), no again in some of the expat mums circles I’ve found myself in where surprisingly it seems like we are even poorer than the others, but yes in a lot of other places. I think the bigger issue with finding a peer group is our income and point in life combined with our age.

Because you are parenting and earning more income earlier than your peers?

Yes, exactly. My husband is 27 and I am 24, so most people our age are not so settled in terms of career (him) and, well, I don’t know how to phrase it, but having a baby (me and also him). Then for those people who are in the same point of career and life, we are possibly less well off or more well off depending on debt and family circumstances, but sometimes we don’t even get that far because the age thing can be kind of awkward.

So it’s not a problem, but it is sort of weird for us in that we feel like there isn’t really anyone to relate to when we are looking for guidance or the ever elusive peer check of “yes, okay, I’m along with the pack, I’m cool, this isn’t so bad” — which is troublesome in itself but still, sometimes, you want to survey your surroundings and know you aren’t too far off from the people you respect and admire, or know and love.

Yes. It’s hard when you’re an adult because you’re not all going through the same experiences in tandem anymore.

Yeah — who knew that would happen?

HARRY POTTER DID NOT PREPARE ME FOR THIS.

It really does suck. I mean it’s actually great, but it’s hard.

Sometimes I have a desire to sit down and talk to God Margaret style, and it just doesn’t cut it.

I’m curious about what brought you to Budapest, and whether you plan to stay there for the long haul (or, at least, the next five years).

Ah, that’s a good and easy story to tell!

So my husband’s grandparents escaped from Hungary after the war, and eventually settled in a large Hungarian-speaking setting in Canada. They had four kids, two of whom taught their kids Hungarian, two who did not. My husband and his siblings are of the not, and each one (also four total) has made a pilgrimage back to Budapest to learn the language. In the same year that my husband and his sister — who is actually my best friend since ever and who I can thank my husband for — traveled to Budapest, I traveled to Switzerland (where my grandparents came from) to learn the language and get reacquainted with my family. At the end of my year, I decided that I wasn’t so keen on Switzerland, but Budapest is a very cool place and by then my husband had found his current job, and so here we are now.

As for the future, we would like to stay here for another year or two. Summer of 2016 is sort of our visual end date for the moment, and then we would both like to try our hand in France or Germany. Although as siblings are having kids and as time passes, my desire to be at home where our families are is growing.

So what are your financial goals between now and Summer 2016? Do you plan to save more money? Will your husband need to change jobs if you move? What are you preparing for in the next stage of your life?

Wow. Tough questions. Financially, we would like to not spend more than we earn. I am so ashamed because we earn so much but, lifestyle creep! Holy jeepers it jumps in. It is honestly a struggle not to spend the monthly income, or negate the saved income by spending the Canadian savings. I’m sure Christmas played a big part of that but still, habits. Also, it would be good to keep adding a little to the cushion we have so that if and when we do move home, setting up a house/car and whatever else we might need won’t hopefully totally bankrupt us.

We used to worry a lot about my husband not earning the same amount of money as his peers in the Western world, but now that he has moved into management positions, that is less of a concern for us. I am a trained legal assistant (which, though not my passion, I do really enjoy) so I would seek employment once kids are sort of 3–5 years old and I feel confident that barring all apocalypses we should be able to stay afloat, if not remain comfortable like we are now.

I should say: both of our families struggled with money in our formative years, so despite an obvious amount of wealth, my husband and I are always worrying about having enough, or not worrying but planning for the possibility, and saving or not saving feels like the difference between being successful and deserving a jail sentence.

Your financial story is absolutely fascinating because you are ahead of your peers in Hungary (financially), on par with peers in Canada (financially), and ahead of age-peers socially because you have started your family and have reasonable financial stability.

Yeah, it’s a strange one. I would never have guessed we would end up here. We definitely feel very lucky and can almost entirely attribute our good fortune to our parents. They have been generous financially so we never had to take on any debt, and also have been generous in their support for our unusual and sometimes risky choices.

What advice would you give to other people who might find themselves ahead of their peers financially/socially?

Well, I would say not to worry about the lack of a peer group, which is something I in particular really struggle with. This past year we have spent a lot of time reflecting on what our good fortune means to us, what losing it would mean, etc. and basically deciding for ourselves how we wish to proceed, and I think really everyone, in a peer group or not, should do the same.

I think the world we live in today is amazing because there is so much freedom of choice, so many avenues to choose from, but that in itself is extremely difficult. Sure, being stuck as a housewife or on the factory line just because of where you got your start sucked, but there is something so enticing about just knowing where your future lay. Now, we have all the world at our feet, but also all the gut-wrenching fault if we get it wrong, so I think a lot more focus should be put on what success and security really means just in our own heads, regardless of others.

Anything else you’d like to share with The Billfold readers?

Yes, I would mention that being well-off does not obliterate the worry or the wonder if you are on the right track. It takes a very conscious effort to feel like you are making the most of it and aren’t about to screw it up. I mean, we are definitely grateful for it and know that we are lucky to be here, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t weight our decisions carefully and sometimes feel like we aren’t doing well enough in our careers or lives. Money is important and helpful, but not defining. Which is either good news or bad news… not sure. Probably good.

Photo credit: Maurice

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