Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Foreign Service and Personal Finances

One big thing I look back on at the end of the year is personal finances. This year I'm sharing something about that since it was a big transition year. One thing we debated for a long time was if we could afford to take the plunge into the Foreign Service. We had great paying Civil Service jobs in the DC area, but our pay was offset by the great sucking expenses of DC area living. It made us wonder if it was truly worth it to stick with those careers.

I heard from many of my new hire classmates that it was a pay cut for them to join the Foreign Service. This was true for me and very true for my wife as she became a "trailing spouse" and quit her job. I knew she could eventually get some sort of embassy employment but nothing like she was making before.

The pay you may see on the job advertisement isn't the only consideration for this kind of career. The Foreign Service has many monetary benefits to ease living overseas. We get a cost of living allowance in high priced countries like Sweden and there's other pays to offset hardship conditions in other countries so each tour is financially different.

They provide us housing and utilities while living overseas. I don't mind not choosing our housing but that trade-off isn't for everyone. We're also not building equity in a house since we sold ours. I think it's worth it since we don't have the headache and expenses of renting out a house from overseas.

I knew I couldn't compare working in DC to working abroad because our spending patterns would change. Overall, the added benefits and changes in spending have worked out as I expected. Here's a peek at that in case someone else is grappling with the same decision.

Friday, December 26, 2014

First FS Post - 6 Months Later

It's hard to believe we've been in Stockholm 6 months already! That's 1/4 of the way through my first Foreign Service assignment. We've traveled around Europe a little and each time we return to Stockholm it feels a little more like coming home. It's amazing how quickly we adapt and settle into new routines. Seemingly different surroundings can become comfortable in a short time by fully living in the new place. Here's some thoughts about this place and time so far...

The darkness this time of year is a little weird but tolerable. The picture above was at 2:30PM before the impending sunset. The sun was up from 8:45AM to 2:50PM. In contrast, Washington DC had sun from 7:25AM to 4:51PM. The noontime sun sits low on the horizon if it's not overcast and hidden. The weather makes a big difference so we feel like hibernating when it's overcast most of the time.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Civil Service to Foreign Service Finally Done

Yes, I started with the Foreign Service back in February of this year. Yes, I brought along copies of my personnel record and filled out tons of typical government paperwork showing my 2 1/2 years of civil service time. No, it didn't all magically transfer over on my first day. This is still government work.

I took the suggestion from another blog (see Not Everything Transfers) and my new hire classmates on submitting my last civil service leave and earnings statement to speed up the transfer of my leave balances. I submitted it to payroll help and it worked wonderfully to get my annual and sick leave credited. The rest of the official transfer was soooo much slower.