Im Taking A Year-long Assignment in China (I Think)

In December I decided to take an opportunity to possibly spend up to a year in China for a project I am now working on. As if my life wasn't crazy enough trying to get married I had to throw another major wrinkle into it.

I first went to China back in early 2003. I was awe struck at the amazing growth and energy I saw every where I looked (I recognized the growth explosion that was going on, but failed to adjust my investments to take advantage of it). Ever since my 1st trip over to China I have always said I would love an opportunity to immerse myself in the other side of the world -especially if someone else was going to pay for it!

I recently wrapped up my participation in a 2 year development program at my employer. Early on in my career planning discussions a potential opportunity emerged to work on a project that could require an assignment to China. After briefly discussing with my fiancee, I jumped on the opportunity.

Is It Definite?
Heck no. I have learned (a bit through the hard way) this stuff isn't reality until I'm on a plane for good. Trying to manage the personal aspects and the work aspects has been a tremendous challenge for me already. Dates are constantly changing, future work priorities are murky, and my fiancee and I have been trying to plan our future (nearly impossible to do when you don't know much about whats coming).

Its also become clearly apparent to my fiancee and I that we came to a quick agreement that I should chase this opportunity without fully reflecting on the long-term impacts on us. I believe we thought we would just manage as best we could; worst case we would be together every couple of months. Now that we have digested this a bit more, we are currently spending time reflecting together how we go forward with this (if at all).

Financial Impacts
Regular readers may have noticed its already February and I haven't created my 2007 financial goals. I've been holding off, hoping to get a better idea of what 2007 will bring - unfortunately I am no closer off. I need to establish something in the next couple of weeks.

Ignoring the relationship finances for a moment, the assignment provides a ripe opportunity to save additional earned income. My employer would basically cover living expenses and I could rent out my primary residence so in theory I could save significantly more of my take home pay than I do today. There is also the potential to save extra unspent allowance dollars provided by my employer, but this doesn't look to be a significant amount.

What makes this more complicated is my fiancee. Today our finances are completely seperate. While we have talked at high levels about handling finances in the future, we are still a long way off from co-mingling our income and expenses just yet.

However, what happens if we decide she should take a leave of absence or even quit her job so that we can be together while I am on assignment? Or even still, what happens if I decide to leave my job because we feel its too important to stay together during this critical time of our relationship and my finance decides she cannot come with me to China? Regardless, big changes with big financial impacts are coming.

However, at this point financial planning is on the backburner for us. We are just trying to establish what the best plan is for us, and then we can examine the financial impacts. Lets face it, some things are just more important than money ;-).

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Comments (11)

Well said 2Mill. Some things are more important than money, but we must know the financial impact of our decisions in order to plan properly.

When you said “leave your job” did you mean leave IBM or just the China assignment?

There are lots of unknowns and there will be many more. You cannot control them. So focus on things that you can control. My wife and I have been separated, living across states, continents, and oceans since we've been married. We also kept finances separate until after we got married; however, once we got married, we joined finances despite being geographically separated. Many people do it, so you are not the first to run into the situation. Plan for the things that you can. The longer you delay, the worse it will be. You know that if you take the job, you are going to have to figure in extra things like phone calls and airline tickets. So plan for it. There are lots of if's that you don't know about, so stop worrying about them.

When you do take the job in China, get something like Skype or use iChat so you can video chat and talk for cheap.

Join a frequent flyer club for both of you, b/c you will rack up miles if you are planning every other month.

Stay busy...both of you. if one isn't, he/she will have nothing more to do than worry about everything. one year is nothing. It will go by quicker than you think...1 yr to be exact j/k. seriously, time does move quickly when you are busy.

if you aren't sure about your relationship now, being separated will make it worse. so it may be best not to get married and to keep things separate. But, i still do not understand why finances are on the backburner. they really do not need to be. you are each budgeting separately, so there is nothing that changes at this point. once the decision is made, then adjust from there.

What a fantastic opportunity! And, it sounds like the both of you are on a pretty good track financially (e.g. she's not in debt, she even owns her own place), and so maybe putting the financial goals in a holding pattern for a year isn't so bad, just think of how many great experiences you two will have over there (if she is able to go with).

And if she is able to go with, how wonderful to share those experiences together!

Exciting! What you face is happening all over with young couples with blossoming careers.

I don't know how long you two have been together, but my wife and I spent 4 years about 2,000 miles apart for school/work. Hopefully your company will pay for a few trips back to visit US; She can visit China once or twice. 1 year isn't that bad, but you'll have to talk about what happens if that 1 year turns into more.

Good luck!

I lived in China for 8 yrs and recently went back for a visit. I can't believe how polluted it has become. from the massive growth. I'm accustomed to the low hygiene standard there but breathing in the black soot from cars and factories can only shorten your life span. My father still lives there and I'm begging him to move. I understand how the expat package and the opportunity to live overseas is appealing but to me it's not worth the health impact.

Great. I look forward to seeing you in China! Let me know if you have specific questions i can answer.

Don't let indio's comments scare you (I'm sure he has good intentions). Air quality in big cities (Beijing, Shanghai, etc.) are definitely acceptable. My kid actually has less sick days in China compared to the U.S.

China is a great place to be, Beiijing is having the 2008 Olympics. That place is booming.

Yeah we have lots of possible scenarios on the table, but my current preferred scenario is I start my assignment this summer, come back and get married in Oct, my financee quits or takes a leave of absense in Dec and comes to China for the remainder of my assignment.

To me it gets us the best of all worlds:
1) I get the assignment I want
2) She gets to start the next school year (which is currently important to her)
3) we get married which is important to her and me (although Im more ok with waiting than she is)
4) She gets to expience China with me and doesn't have to worry about getting a job since she won't be there too long (~6 months)
5) She works 1/2 a year which will certainly help with alot of the finances.
6) We are only physically seperated for about ~6 months which we have done before (albeit on the same continent).

What you are going through is pretty much the standard. 90% of the time marriage will derail your economic progression.

Wow. Unbelievable opportunity with lots of upside, as you call out. I have to say though, when push comes to shove, you have to decide A) assignment or B) relationship. It may work out that you get both, but be mindful that it may not. Marriage is all about compromises and if you're going the marriage route, you really need to put relationship above an assignment. (again, only if push comes to shove). Good luck -- you're blessed with great options!

It looks like the assignment in China worked out well afterall.

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A personal finance weblog of my journey to reach my goal of $2 million + the value of my primary residence.
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