Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

This story is part of CNBC Make It’s Millennial Money series, which details how people around the world earn, spend and save their money.

Stephanie Synclair was on her own “Eat, Pray, Love” journey in 2012 when she first visited the place that would become her second home.

Synclair was newly into her entrepreneur era, having quit a 10-year corporate marketing career to become a consultant and work for herself. “I knew it was time to quit corporate America when I was sick of people telling me when to take a lunch break,” she says. “I wish it was deeper than that.”

Starting her own consulting business meant Synclair could work from anywhere, including while traveling the world.

She looked for the cheapest flights for her first trip out of the country — “It was Palermo, Sicily, and that’s how we ended up here,” she tells CNBC Make It. For a roughly $250 plane ticket, Synclair set off to Sicily with her then 6-year-old son, Caden.

Stephanie Synclair, 41, is a businessowner and mom in Atlanta and splits her time at her second home in Sicily, Italy.

Mickey Todiwala | CNBC Make It

She immediately found Sicilians welcoming, and “I knew from the moment I landed that I loved it here, and it was almost like home for me.”

Synclair, who lives in Atlanta, made Sicily her home away from home in 2022 when she bought a house there for 59,000 euros, or about $62,000.

She now runs her own tea company, LaRue 1680, and pays herself $80,000 per year. Here’s how she spends her time, and money, across her home base of Atlanta and her second home in Sicily.

Falling in love with Sicily

If the promise of good food and beautiful vistas drew Synclair to Sicily, it was the friendliness of the locals that made her want to stay.

She first felt it when she arrived in Sicily and committed the “cardinal sin” of taking a nap after landing, she says. She woke up in the middle of the town’s siesta, when many shops and restaurants are closed for the afternoon.

Mussomeli, Sicily, went viral for selling homes for 1 euro.

Mickey Todiwala | CNBC Make It

Synclair remembers wandering the streets with Caden looking for a place to eat, when she came across a woman who didn’t speak English.

Even through a language barrier, the woman recognized Synclair’s need. “She grabbed me by one hand and grabbed my little baby by the other hand and walked us to the store that she had just left from,” Synclair says. “I felt like that was one of the most hospitable things anyone could have done, instead of just leaving me to be lost in the streets of Sicily.”

Those neighborly interactions motivated Synclair to spend more time in Sicily. She figures she knows more about her neighbors in Sicily than she’s ever known about her neighbors in the U.S.

“Once people know you’re in their community, they do take you in as family,” she says.

Another welcome difference is the Sicilian approach to leisure, she says: “My favorite thing about living in Sicily is you actually get to live. I do find that in the United States, it’s more work focused for me. And so here I’m able to really relax and spend time doing things that I love doing.”

“I always said I could see myself living here, but it was more so in a dream way,” she adds. “I never actually saw myself buying a house here. I don’t know that I really thought it was possible at the time.”

Buying a home abroad

Like many Americans, Synclair got serious about buying a home early in the pandemic when mortgage rates dropped throughout 2020. But it wasn’t long before home prices shot up.

She noticed houses in her desired neighborhoods around Atlanta that sold for $300,000 in 2019 were going for upwards of $800,000 by 2021. She was priced out of her budget of $450,000 — until she expanded her search. If the U.S. housing market was so bad, was it better anywhere else in the world?

“I started looking outside the country for just what was available,” Synclair says. “It really was more so just curiosity, just looking. I don’t think in that moment that I knew it would actually lead to a purchase.”

Stephanie Synclair bought her home in Sicily for 59,000 euros, or roughly $62,000 in 2022.

Mickey Todiwala | CNBC Make It

One day, she saw a message in a Facebook group for American expats in Europe, where one person brought up inexpensive houses for sale in Sicily. That’s how she learned about Mussomeli, the Sicilian town that went viral for selling off crumbling homes for 1 euro. Through some research, Synclair connected with a real estate agency that also sells properties in less need of repair but still at an affordable price.

Synclair began looking for houses in September 2021, found hers in November and closed on it by March 2022. The grand total for her three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 4,000-square-foot house: 59,000 euros, or roughly $62,000 based on conversion rates as of October 2023.

Like many foreigners who buy in Mussomeli, Synclair is in the process of renovating her new home. She’s budgeted 20,000 euros — around $21,000 — worth of repairs, including transforming the home’s garage on the ground floor into a living room and bar area, adding a bedroom and bathroom, and knocking down some walls in the kitchen.

Preservation is also top of mind. “It was very important for me to keep the architectural details in this house, like the historic floors, and to not try to change the walls or the arches,” Synclair says. “This house is at least 500 years old that we know of. It was remodeled maybe 100 years ago, and the floors are at least 100 years old, and they’re still kicking.”

How she spends her money

Here’s a look at Synclair’s typical fixed monthly costs, based on what she spent in Sicily in March and Atlanta in October.

Elham Ataeiazar | CNBC Make It

Atlanta housing: $2,635 for rent, utilities and Wi-Fi
Atlanta transportation: $1,165 for car payments and gas
Sicily transportation: €370, or $389, for a car rental and gas
Sicily utilities: €246, or $258, for utilities and Wi-Fi
Average monthly food expenses: $486 for groceries and eating out
Subscriptions: $161 for Hulu, Instacart, Max, Netflix, Tidal and YouTube
Life insurance: $103

Synclair’s basic living expenses in Sicily are minimal — she paid for her house in cash, and utilities are less expensive. While her Wi-Fi costs about $150 per month in Atlanta, it’s about $50 in Sicily.

Her biggest expense in Sicily is renting a car to get around, and prices fluctuate based on the travel season. In the fall, a week-long rental could cost under 150 euros, but in the summer, the same rental could run up to 800 euros.

Back in Atlanta, Synclair lives in a three-story rental home that costs $2,275 per month. Her second-biggest fixed cost is car payments on two vehicles, which cost her over $1,000 every month.

One of Synclair’s favorite things about being in Sicily is the access to fresh and relatively inexpensive produce from local markets. She estimates a typical grocery run in Mussomeli to be about 60 euros, or around $63, versus a $100 minimum for each trip in Atlanta. On average, Synclair typically spends $500 to $600 on food each month.

Food is fresher and cheaper in Sicily. Stephanie Synclair estimates she spends roughly $100 per grocery trip in Atlanta, versus roughly 60 euros in Sicily.

Mickey Todiwala | CNBC Make It

Overall, Synclair says her biggest splurge is on travel, especially to upgrade to first-class plane tickets when flying internationally. One recent trip to Sicily cost her $950 to upgrade to a lie-flat seat on her trans-Atlantic flight.

‘I knew I needed to make up for lost time’

For all the milestones Synclair has achieved recently, she says she often feels behind in planning for her financial goals.

She didn’t save much money in her 20s and finally got started in her 30s. She first set up automatic weekly transfers from her checking to her savings, and bumped that up if she exceeded her business goals. “I knew I needed to make up for lost time,” she says.

As of October, Synclair had about $14,000 in savings, $33,000 in a Roth IRA, and $950,000 in a brokerage account.

Stephanie Synclair worked in corporate America for a decade before starting her own consulting business.

Mickey Todiwala | CNBC Make It

It took her a while to get serious about investing, she says, “but I’m proud of where we are now.”

In October, Synclair had about $6,000 in credit card debt, thanks to a few busy months of traveling and furnishing her new home in Sicily. She makes payments when she can, but tries to avoid spending more than the $80,000 salary she’s paid herself for a decade.

It’s an easier feat abroad, she says. “I live more than comfortably on my current salary, even with Atlanta being a lot pricier than it is here in Sicily, because I live for almost nothing here,” Synclair says.

Looking ahead

Synclair plans to retire in Italy. Once Caden, now 17, graduates from high school, she’ll spend more time abroad. She eventually wants to make it her full-time residence in the future, where she can enjoy a lower cost of living and tap into more travel opportunities around Europe.

She’s run the numbers on it, too: “If I was to retire in the United States, I would need at least $2.5 million to retire comfortably. That’s taking today’s inflation in consideration.”

“But by retiring here in Sicily, I only need about $450,000,” she continues. “And if I was to live here and live a life of eating out regularly, travel, shopping, etc., I only need about $18,000 a year, and that will be with money left over.”

Stephanie Synclair hopes to retire in Sicily, where she can live comfortably on roughly $18,000 a year.

Mickey Todiwala | CNBC Make It

In the meantime, she tries to visit Sicily once every three months for at least a week at a time, and longer during school breaks.

She’s still getting used to some cultural differences, like learning to speak Italian. And though she gets along with her neighbors, she’s still acutely aware of how being an American in Italy changes how people perceive her.

“I will always be an American on foreign land — I will always be an outsider,” Synclair says. “And I think that’s really important to remember when you’re coming into others’ cultures.”

“Overall,” Synclair says,” I think that what Sicilians do appreciate is that we are here to learn about their customs and their cultures.”

Conversions from euros to USD were done using the OANDA conversion rate of 1 euro to 1.05 USD on Oct 18, 2023. All amounts are rounded to the nearest dollar.

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The post 41-year-old works for herself and bought a house in Sicily for $62,000—now she splits her time between Italy and the U.S. appeared first on WorldNewsEra.


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