What’s Next for the Novaks?

Foreign Service LifeWashington, DC
December 21, 2013

Family Pic

Hey folks, long time no talk.  Sorry bout that.  I wasn’t feeling it.  But I’m back now, so that’s the good news.

So when we last talked we had just received our long-awaited assignment to Washington, DC.  While that was a huge relief, the celebration was immediately replaced by a long to-do list of related action items.

First, our anticipated timeline.  2014 is going to look something like this:

  • Nia and Sarah leave Lima in late March and head to Minnesota for Easter and the birth of Nia’s first cousin (Emily and Andrew’s first baby)
  • Nick leaves Lima in May and we begin 4 weeks of home leave that are split between Minnesota and Bend, Oregon
  • We arrive in DC sometime in June and go into temporary housing for 2 months while we find a home/apartment
  • We move into our permanent home/apartment in August and receive our car and possessions
  • In September we’ll all go to Minnesota for my sister Beth’s wedding and Nia will also start preschool/child care this month

Here’s the thing.  Domestic assignments are RADICALLY different than overseas postings.  We basically go from being someone really special overseas to ‘just another bureaucrat’ in DC.  We lose all the support services that we’re used to having and housing is no longer provided for us (aka: paid for).  This creates a huge change in our financial picture and makes money very tight for us due to the high cost of living in DC.  Just to give you a frame of reference, $80,000 and below is considered low income and houses go from 500k and up.  We’re looking for a 2 BR/1 Bath in a relatively safe neighborhood in or around DC and will need to spend between $2000-2500 to secure that.

We were previously allowed to keep an unlimited amount of things in storage but when you take a domestic assignment they require that you take back all of your possessions.  We will be getting back all our furniture from our old life (we use govt furniture overseas) as well as useful things like my childhood art, keepsakes from my deceased Grandma and all our high school momentos.  As you might imagine, with no basement or storage we’re going to have to get VERY CREATIVE with where we fit all of this stuff in a 2 BR apartment.  Yay for new challenges!

We will also need to count on my income for the first time and will need to put Nia in childcare to do so.  More on that in another post.  Just wait until I tell you about the childcare application process!

While I trust that it will all come together, it’s a lot of change for us.  Honestly, this feels so much harder to me than going to another foreign country (despite it being my home country) because we’re required to get settled without help and make decisions from a distance.  Perhaps this will be good for us, as we’ve come to rely on the government to make our decisions (because there’s no other choice most times) and to fix things when we have a problem.

So there you have it.  The Novaks are going to have a chance to flex some new muscles in the new year.  Silly me for thinking that living in the States again would be easy!  Onward and upward we go…

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  1. Jen says:

    Good luck with the move! Just as an FYI, as long as you are flexible, your ‘housing allowance’ that you are giving yourself is very generous. Assuming you are not including utilities in the amount, you should have no trouble finding a reasonably sized place. Our home in Annandale is rented out (to a fab DOS familly!), but to give you an idea, it’s a 3 level 3 Br/2 full bath/2 half bath townhome with plenty of storage and a one car garage: $2200/month (excluding utils, 20 min. drive to HST). As long as you are not *bent* on a certain exact location, you should be fine! Also, don’t forget if you are close enough that Nick can use Metro, it will likely be covered by Metrochek. And don’t forget to have him max out the childcare FSA…that was invaluable for the extra childcare we needed last year when I took language!

  2. Kelly says:

    I agree, you probably don’t have to spend that much. We rent out our small SFH in Reston for $1,900 per month. You can get a nice townhouse for under $2,000 in MANY areas closer in to DC that are perfectly safe. Especially since you don’t have to worry about schools yet. It depends to a large degree on how much square footage you want. But remember that a temporary storage unit costs much less than another bedroom! Be creative and it will be fine.

  3. Sarah Novak says:

    We’re really hoping to be in the district so we can avail of the free preschool for 3-5 year olds. We are considering everything though because we don’t know if we’ll be able to find an affordable, safe place in DC. Good suggestion on the storage unit, we may just need that…

  4. Sarah Novak says:

    We’ll definitely be availing of the FSA childcare reimbursement as well as the Metrochek program – both are so useful! Definitely keeping all our options at this point and trying to trust that the right situation will present itself.

  5. Julie says:

    Sarah, we are not in the District, but in a LOVELY townhouse community in Merrifield, VA (near Falls Church). We pay about $1975 rent right now for about 1300 square feet (I think it’s more, if you include the non-finished laundry room that we use for storage.) Super duper child-friendly neighborhood, really good school district. Very very safe neighborhood. Oh, and we move in July. I love our area – super convenient for everything. If you want to talk to my landlord, just let me know.

  6. Sarah Novak says:

    Fantastic – thanks for the suggestion. I’ll be in touch if we get into the preschool in that area and want more info!

  7. Julie says:

    I have to say, I went through MASSIVE sticker shock when we came to DC. What people expect you to pay, and the state of the living conditions they expected you to pay that for!!!!! (NOT EVEN KIDDING. ROACHING CRAWLING ON WALLS KIND OF THING.) We looked at over 50 places, put bids on three. Got outbid on the first two (yes, bidding war for rentals here).

    And childcare??? Outrageous up here. That also made me want to swallow my tongue.

    Beyond that – being used to my FS-way-of-life, transitioning to DC was a super hard adjustment for me. I don’t think I’ve ever completely adjusted to it, just tolerated it (sometimes better than others).

  8. Sarah Novak says:

    Oooh, I hear you. I’m irritated already and we’re not even there looking yet!

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