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My Silicon Valley family lost 90% of our income when our U.S. working visas expired

Jennifer O


Dressed for the Irish weather: Now they know they’re not in Silicon Valley anymore.

My husband and I didn’t plan to live on 10% of our income. Who does?

Our dramatic downsizing came about when my husband — after 11 years at the same Silicon Valley company and a series of high-stress roles — left his job. We’re both Irish and his restrictive visa meant that he couldn’t move to another company. My visa allowed me to work only while he had a job. Our only option was to return to Europe and start again — in our 40s, with three children in tow. It was terrifying.

But nearly a year into our dramatic downsizing, we wouldn’t change a thing. Would we swap our lives now to have our Silicon Valley jobs back, along with our three cars, our five bedroom house with a pool in Saratoga? I asked that question around the dinner table recently. No chance. Saratoga was recently named by Coldwell Banker as the most expensive suburb in the U.S. for real estate. Our lifestyle did not come cheap.


Our groceries come from discount stores instead of Whole Foods. But we have no shortage of sitters for date nights — though now, cocktails and dinner have been replaced by a pint of Guinness and a walk on the cliffs.


But it was also exciting. There were many things we loved about living in California — friends from all over the world, our house in the Santa Cruz mountains, nestled among the redwoods, with wineries and beaches nearby. But we were hankering after a simpler life. For the first time in five years, Americans are leaving the Bay Area faster than they’re arriving, many of them driven away by the combination of high stress jobs and the high cost of living.

So we packed up our sprawling Silicon Valley ranch, and moved to a little house in a fishing village close to where I grew up, on the southeast coast of Ireland. For my husband, it meant swapping 16- to 18-hour days hunched over a spreadsheet, for a summer spent planning his own business, and teaching our kids to bake cakes and build dams.

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For me, it meant leaving a well-paid corporate communications job, while I make plans to set up my own communications agency. For the kids, it meant exchanging a packed schedule of after-school enrichment of baseball, computer coding and music for afternoons on the beach, and long hours in daycare for a Hillary Clinton-style “village” — a network of carers including parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents.

Without monthly childcare costs of $3,000, plus our whopping $6,000 Bay Area rent, we’ve been able to survive — even thrive — on a fraction of our spending. The rent on our light-filled house with views of the Atlantic Ocean is 15% of what we paid in California. We’ve given up on luxuries, like vacations to Lake Tahoe and expensive clothes. Our groceries come from discount stores instead of Whole Foods. But we have no shortage of sitters for date nights — though now, cocktails and dinner have been replaced by a pint of Guinness and a walk on the cliffs.

We don’t intend to live on 10% forever. We’re striving for 20% next year, maybe even 25% the year after. But if that doesn’t happen, we’ll be okay. This past summer we gained something much more valuable than money: time to pick our older children up from school, and mornings spent with our toddler.


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