I’ve been mulling the past few days about what I could do for my future daughter, the wheels in my head turning to thoughts of small wineries (less expensive than you probably think; even in prime regions they apparently can be had for well under $1 million), vacation homes, overseas investment property (which will be useful for said vacations as well), which then segued into thoughts of “golden visa” programs, which offer residency and even a path to a second citizenship through investment (€500,000 in real estate is enough for residency in Spain, for example). All quite nice to give a child a head start in life.
America is an expensive Country…
And potentially a good value as well. If you look at rents and real estate prices in some quite nice parts of Europe, including even some areas that are historically considered expensive…they’re really not anymore. Due to exchange rates and economic conditions even the likes of London are now borderline cheap by American standards; the first-rate cities of Europe now cost as much to live in as the third-rate cities of the United States. Nashville’s rents, for example, can now be honest-to-goodness compared with Paris. Music City might have some things going for it, but is the quality of life you get from a town whose primary attraction consists of one street’s worth of trashy bars remotely comparable to what the City of Lights offers?
Add up housing costs in even the most expensive regions of Spain and a modest residence can be had for about the same as you’d pay for an average tract home in one of America’s go-to “cheap” cities like Phoenix, Austin, or even Atlanta. And lest we forget, a small winery can be had for roughly the same price range, as could a castle. Yes, really: it’d be a castle in a remote location that had fallen into some degree of ruin, but what an asset. That’s something worth owning. Imagine being able to raise your child with exposure to an international view, enriched in another culture, immersed in another language, and inheriting something like a winery or a castle (or at least an investment property), maybe even a second residency or citizenship.
Yet rather than unlock a whole world (literally!) of opportunities and advantages for their children people make their first purchase…a tract home in the suburbs. Huh?
Well, one thing that gives is that unless these people could find jobs and careers in the destination countries (easier now than it used to be courtesy of the remote work boom…) they’d have to rent long-term in the United States and own abroad, which is two home payments rather than one, often putting the whole idea well beyond the means of your average first-time homebuyer.
Notably, among first-time homebuyers who do have the means it’s actually a rising trend nowadays to do exactly that: rent in a pricier urban area where you work but own your secondary residence in a more affordable and bucolic vacation spot. And there’s been a surge of Americans buying property in places like Spain, so somebody must be going against the middle-class grain and giving themselves a foothold overseas.
Another thing that gives is that the very mechanism that makes American housing affordable for nascent middle-class families — the 30-year mortgage with down payments that amount to 20% at worst, often more like 3% — tends to be absent abroad, at least according to the cursory research I’ve done. Banks are generally unwilling to lend for home purchases overseas like they are for purchases within the same country they operate in, and finding a mortgage with a local bank in a foreign country as a United States person is said to not exactly be the easiest task in the world.
If you even find a lender willing to give you a mortgage, it’ll often be at a higher interest rate and/or demand a higher percentage as a down payment than you’d suffer in a similar situation in your own country. There are ways, of course; in some situations just the down payments American families save up can buy them a decent property all-cash in a cheaper country, to name just one example. But it’s certainly a handicap.
Why so Domestic?
Nevertheless, it’s striking to me how few average middle-class type people even get this far in the thought process. The whole idea doesn’t even occur to them, any more than it occurs to them to hire an au pair for their child, so they can be relieved of the drudgeries of parenting they love to whine about so much, while imparting on the child a familiarity with another culture and language, all at a cost that might be doable on a young professional’s salary. Certainly it wouldn’t be any more expensive than using a daycare center, particularly if you have more than one child.
And yes, I know that a lot of few families who have au pairs (or overseas real estate, for that matter) aren’t exactly rich, but looking at the people in my own life, what I see is families forming in a way that’s totally bereft of imagination, where they save up and buy the tract home in the suburbs, they have family or a daycare center watch the kids during the day, and they take the kids to the same couple of destinations everybody else in their circle travels to, barely (if ever) leaving their own region of the United States. Hardly an overseas vacation in sight, let alone investment properties, au pairs, wineries, castles, and second citizenships…or a trust fund, for that matter, despite much of this stuff actually being within their price range, at least in principle.
And the people I know are drawn from the crowd who frequent dance studios! If anything you’d expect them to skew quite a bit more cosmopolitan than average for the area, and indeed they do, but usually the only people I ever hear go to Europe are those who are from there, and might have families there too (blech). The more adventuresome types who travel internationally to somewhere they’re not from or don’t have family in (especially alone rather than going with somebody)…I can count them on one hand.
Heck, about the only person I ever talk to who really appreciates my road-tripping adventures over the years and is even aware of what the places I’ve gone to even are and where they’re located is a (oddly enough, very local) girlboss type who’s a lifelong business owner, and how common is that?
I guess it just frustrates me a bit to see people be in the same places and go with the same people doing the same things with them day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, and it’s all so mind-crushingly boring I wonder how even they stand it, let alone how I could if I were in their place. I suppose the listless cities that dot the United States and really have no point to them other than hives for white-collar worker drones have something to offer a certain common sort of person. At least some of them seem content in the warm embraces of their predictable existence.
But not all of them are; I personally know some of them, who do everything society has taught them they’re supposed to to attain the ideal of being the modern middle-class family woman (or man, but more frequently it’s the woman), yet don’t seem deep down to actually like it that much. Certainly it doesn’t seem to have a good or wholesome effect on them.
The message here, I suppose, is: even if you are a middle-class family type, you don’t have to let yourself succumb to the encrustation of the mainstream lifestyle. There’s a whole world of lifestyle paths you could give your children than the standard life script; take a good, long, hard look at them. You might find one that speaks to you, and lights a fire under you to fulfill a dream you never knew you had…