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The Universal Language of Money: How Americans Working Overseas Unpack Debt

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Living overseas has its perks—and its drawbacks.

Along with experiencing a new language, culture and diet, Americans working outside of the U.S. also deal with juggling a new currency, budget and travel routine.

So how do you get out of debt when you’re living in a foreign country? The same way you do stateside: one Baby Step at a time.

We asked Dave’s Facebook fans to share the triumphs and challenges of using the Baby Steps abroad.

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Figuring Out a Foreign Currency

“We followed Dave's plan while living in China and got through Baby Step 4,” says Stephanie W. “The best part of living in China while trying to get debt-free is that it's a cash society. Hardly any businesses take credit cards or even debit cards, so it really reinforces using the envelope system and seeing where your cash [goes].”

In Japan, Sheramy S. created a “yenvelope” system out of zipper pouches due to the prevalence of coins. “I had to carry two envelope systems around for three years . . . but we made it work!”

Despite up-and-down exchange rates, Jean H. has already paid off three credit cards—and she’s working on number four. “We are stationed on an American base in Germany, and we have a hard time budgeting with the exchange on the euro,” she says. “Some of our bills come in euros and some in dollars—and the exchange rate fluctuates monthly.” But that’s nothing that a good budget can’t handle.

Baby Steps work no matter where you live,” adds Hayley P. in Japan. “It's all about having a plan and being intentional with your money, regardless of the currency!”

The Emergency Fund and the Snowball

Determining how much to save and pay toward debts in a new country can vary based on income, taxes and even civil unrest.

In Germany, Timothy F. actually found extra money to throw at his debts. “We applied our cost of living allowance to our debt and knocked out almost $18,000 in six months. We are [now] debt-free!”

Miriam B. in the African nation of Malawi says, “We have to have a bigger emergency fund just in case we have to flee the country due to unrest.”

Michael L. in Denmark is working through a few international challenges of his own. “Paying down student loans is incredibly frustrating because by the time my money is applied to principle each month, it has gone through 37% income tax and transfer fees to wire it to the U.S., and then it's at the mercy of the current exchange rate.”

Saving, Traveling and Returning Home

Travel is one of the great benefits of life abroad, but it’s not without its catches. 

Shan M. became debt-free while living in Switzerland, but now she faces the new challenge of staying debt-free in the U.S. “We are moving in two months and are a little overwhelmed to have to buy a car, furniture and a house all at once. We're glad we have Dave's principles to keep in mind while scouting out these purchases.”

“My husband and I have been in Eastern China in Shandong Province for a year and a half,” says Tanya B., who is now debt-free except for the house. “What has been the hardest, to me, is bypassing the frivolous things that I know we could afford if we were not focusing on our mortgage, like taking fun sightseeing trips across China or even taking vacations to Italy.”

In Spain, Lisa K. has done more than get rid of debt—she’s saved like crazy. “Even with the higher cost of living, we are able to live off the same budget as we did in the U.S., saving all of our extra pay to stash for vacations and a huge down payment to buy a house with cash when we return stateside.”

Whether you’re dealing in dollars, yen or euros, telling your money where to go is the same in any language. So wherever you are, don’t make excuses for sloppy budgeting.

Instead, become gazelle-intense and change your world—one Baby Step at a time.

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