Sharolyn Wynter recalls feeling "so proud and happy" when she hit a six-figure salary for the first time as a consultant for Deloitte.
"And then it was such a fleeting moment," says Wynter, now 37. "I was still going to work every day, working long hours, not being able to enjoy this money that I'd worked so hard for."
Her job in Atlanta, Georgia, came with a lot of perks, but it also felt grueling. After her father passed away in 2018, Wynter realized, "I don't want to work myself to death."
Wynter saved $100,000 and quit her job in 2019, giving up her $180,000 salary to take a couple years off. After traveling to about 40 countries, Wynter settled in Lisbon, Portugal, in mid-2020, to live "my most freeing life," she says.
Here, she adds, "you get a lot of bang for your buck."
Wynter lives on $2,100 to $2,500/month in Lisbon. "I would not be able to live comfortably, the way that I'm living, in the U.S.," she says.
Wynter joins legions of digital nomads, expats, and retirees who have relocated to Portugal in the last six years, many seeking a better life. The number of foreign residents in Portugal has nearly doubled since 2015 to more than 662,000 in 2020, according to Portugal's Immigration and Borders Service.
"I definitely think Portugal's a place people come to start over," Wynter says, "whether it be a new career, or just [a] different lifestyle."
Wynter's job and salary used to define a lot about who she was: "It was affording me the lifestyle that I had. I had a very comfortable lifestyle," she says. "It was affording the travel that I love so much. And I could not envision a life outside of that."
However, the job was "high burn" and sometimes entailed working 12-hour days and on the weekend. "You can't even go on a vacation that you can now afford. That's foolish," Wynter says.
She struggled to take breaks from day to day. "It'd be little things like feeling guilty if I took too long of a lunch, even though I may have been working for 12 hours," she says.
The first time Wynter moved abroad, to London, on a temporary work assignment, she enjoyed more work-life balance. The shift helped her gain perspective on the workaholic lifestyle she lived in the U.S.
She started to question why she "was chasing money," she says, rather than "creating memories."
Wynter's father passed away in 2018, right before he reached retirement age. Realizing her dad never got to enjoy the fruits of his work years in retirement was a turning point for her.
"That's what made it so real for me that I could not go and replicate and do the same thing," she says. "I love life too much, right?"
Wynter began seeing a therapist to help her detach her identity from money and status. She also began "saving really aggressively" in order to take a career break. Wynter drastically reduced her expenses by moving into a studio apartment in Atlanta and buying a used car.
She saved $25,000 in her emergency fund, $50,000 for her career break, and $25,000 to start her own business during her time off.
Then Wynter quit her job to travel the world.
"This is the moment in my life when I've made the least amount of money," Wynter says. "But this is the most — it's the most freeing life that I've had. It's joyful, just being able to just live freely on my own terms."
Wynter initially made London her new home base. Then she relocated to Lisbon, Portugal in mid-2020, lured by the laid-back culture, food, weather, landscape and cost of living.
Wynter budgeted $50,000 for one year in London but relocating to Portugal has allowed her to extend her time off for an additional year. She also sold her car and freelanced for about six months when the pandemic first hit, to add to her savings. Wynter plans to begin freelance consulting in March 2022.
Wynter pays about $1,250/month for a one-bedroom two-bathroom apartment in Lisbon's city center. The apartment came fully furnished and features plenty of natural sunlight. She had been paying $1,800 for a studio apartment in Atlanta.
Wynter spends $100/month on private health insurance, with zero deductible and zero copays. By contrast, after she quit her job in the U.S., Wynter paid $750/month for health insurance through COBRA, a federal program that allows employees to temporarily continue their health plan after their job ends or their hours are reduced.
She later downgraded to a cheaper plan that cost her $250/month. But the plan was "very poor quality," she says. "The coverage was so poor, it was pointless."
Wynter moved abroad in large part for better, cheaper health-care: "I refuse to be like one medical slip up away from, you know, all my money going down the drain," she says. "Like, all my hard work, you know, over something that I may not have been able to necessarily control."
"Once you get your finances under control, I think it makes it a lot easier to have space to pursue your creative entrepreneurial desires and aspirations because you have time," Wynter says.
In December 2021, Wynter launched the Xpat App, a mobile app that connects Black expats around the world. The app currently has about 2,300 members.
"If they want to find out where the Black community is, or connect with someone who's Black and living abroad, who's an expat, they can just go into the app, put in the name of the location, and it'll pull up profiles of people," Wynter says.
She was inspired to build the app when researching other countries to live in. Wynter wanted to learn more about the Black experience in places she was interested in, but had difficulty finding information, despite being part of many expat and travel communities.
"I do think that how we move through the world is very different," Wynter says. "I'm like thinking to myself, 'You know what? Since I can't find it, I'll just create it.'"
The need for that kind of app is "urgent," she says, as more Black Americans moved abroad in response to racial turmoil and political unrest in the U.S. in the last few years, in what's been termed "Blaxit."
Her business isn't monetized yet, but it "might have a return on investment that's in the millions. Whereas if I kept working, I would have had a cap at Deloitte, right?" Wynter says.
Regardless, Wynter says, she's not building her business for the money. "I may never make six figures again, right?" she says. "The way I live my life now, I'm okay with that."
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