Cost of living for a couple in Berlin

48 posts in this topic

Posted

Hi, everyone. I have spent a good bit of time reading through the various threads on here in the last couple of weeks, including the ones on cost of living in Germany and in Berlin specifically. I appreciate the time people take to give advice and information.

My husband and I are looking at moving to Berlin this summer for him to take a postdoc in Potsdam. We visited Berlin for several days about two weeks ago, and we loved the city. We're trying to figure out if the move would make decent financial sense for us, though. I'm okay with not being wealthy, but I'm also tired of the poor life of being a student's wife. (I do work, but until recently I've been in nonprofits, so we certainly haven't been getting rich from me.) I'm hoping the postdoc offers high enough pay for middle-class living. I might be able to continue to do freelance work in our two years there, but only minimally. I don't want to rely on the idea of me having an income.

The pay at this university would be 2400 euros, untaxed, excluding health insurance costs. (Health insurance would be paid separately by the university. I do realize that dealing with expat health insurance can possibly open up a whole can of worms in Germany, so I'm on that topic already, based on people's helpful advice to previous posters on these boards.) I am sure that 2400 would be fine for living expenses alone, but we have fairly substantial student loans from the US; after we pay those, according to current exchange rates, we'd have right at 2000 euros left per month. I'm trying to think through this methodically and would appreciate input about what I'm envisioning for our budget. Please let me know if any of the amounts for these categories seem unreasonable. (Of course, I'm not looking for a critique of what matters to us in our budget, just a critique of the amounts we have down for them . . . and advice about what you pay for the things where I am unsure.)

Rent: 650 warm---We'd prefer a 2-BR to have room for an office and occasional guests, but we'd settle with a 1-BR if needed. We couldn't deal with a studio, because our two cats would be in our faces all night. We want a balcony. After reading a lot of stuff on here, I think we'd try to find a kitchen-furnished, otherwise-unfurnished apartment and then buy used items or Ikea items to furnish the place. We'd be aiming for an apartment on one of the public transit lines with easy access to S7 for my husband to get to his university in Potsdam. (We're considering Charlottenburg, Prenzlauer Berg, and Friedenau, among others. From what I can tell on here, beyond a couple of neighborhoods, what matters more than the general neighborhood is your corner of the n'hood.) We'd want to be on a street that was quiet at night but with easy access to fun stuff. If we went with a 1-BR, do you think it's reasonable we could still find a decently nice one to our specifications in the 400-500 price range? We don't need anything high-end, but I also don't want to feel cramped at home or deal with terribly drafty windows and doors.

Utilities: 150---gas, electricity, whatever else isn't covered in rent at the particular place we choose?

Cell Phone & Internet: 50---Cell phones for the two of us (not including calls abroad; Skype is for that!), plus high-speed internet at home. Would this cost level include a data plan for my husband to have internet access on his phone? (That's related to his work field.) Or would we need more like 80-100 to include that?

Groceries: 350---We tend to eschew highly processed foods, and I plan to hit the super-cheap, big Turkish market for some foods (does that go year-round?), but we also tend to buy organic and buy locally produced foods when possible. We're foodies and do get gourmet at times; other times, we eat things like (organic) pb&j. We eat vegetarian most of the time, though not always. I include other things we typically buy at the grocery store in this category---such as cleaning supplies, tp, and basic toiletries. I do dig Aldi for some things.

Restaurants: 150---Eating out about twice a week: once at a cheap place and once somewhere nicer.

Cat supplies: 30---Cost of annual food, vaccinations, upkeep, divided by 12 (What does high-quality cat food tend to cost in Berlin?)

Entertainment/exercise/out of house activities: 75---What does a movie ticket at a theater with English spoken or in subtitles cost in Berlin? How much do you tend to pay for gym memberships there? Yoga classes? What are your favorite out-of-house forms of free or cheap recreation there?

Clothing: 60---Annual cost of clothing purchases divided by 12; Probably would have friends order us clothes from American companies and ship it over . . . or would primarily shop for clothes on visits home.

Transportation: 120---Two annual passes for the train system, divided by twelve. We'd also plan to bring bikes for the warmer months.

Insurance: 35 for life insurance we already have in the US; what other insurance, besides health, do you find is actually necessary? I assume we'd want the equivalent of renter's insurance. Anything else that you have come to think is essential? Anything people had suggested that you've decided you didn't actually need?

Gifts: 30---Annual cost of gifts divided by 12; Are there any gift-giving norms in Germany that we should know about? Standards for hostess gifts, things like that?

Medicine: 15---I'm on two low-cost prescription medicines in the US, one for thyroid and one for allergies. Would they be like to be way pricier there?

Pocket Money: 100 (50 for each of us)---Money to spend on whatever we like--books, hobbies, specialty beer, whatever.

Household: 25---Cost of household needs like scissors, nails, tape, etc., divided by twelve months

Other issues:

Acupuncture---what does a session typically cost in Berlin?

What's the typical cost of an hour-long massage in Berlin?

What do you consider a reasonable price for a haircut for women and a trim for short-haired men?

Is there a co-pay when you see a doctor under the state insurance plan? If so, how much?

Appreciate any help you can offer!

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Posted

I'm inclined to think you're going into too much detail,the best thing is to figure out where you want to live and wheres practical for you,how much you'd spend on accommodation,minus that from your income and work from there.Otherwise you'll end up over scrutinizing your lifestyle and limiting yourself.I'd be inclined not to live in P-Berg if I was working in Potsdam.

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Posted

Thanks for the thought about P'berg, Cantenaccio. Some of the other researchers in that group live in that area and commute out to Potsdam, and my husband likes the idea of being near them. We stayed there in Berlin and enjoyed it. We won't pick a place till we've moved there and stayed in temporary housing, most likely.

I think many people don't think through finances in detail enough, get somewhere to live, and end up in trouble because they assumed too much. So I'd have to disagree with you about thinking about it in detail.

Would love some answers from others, including more info on my specific questions. :)

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Posted

In any case 2 grand is fine if you live within your means.Or put another way;if you spend more than 2 thousand you have too much money!Coming from Dublin,prices here are fantastic,with better quality and range of everything.Good luck with it.

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Posted

Cell Phone & Internet: 50---Cell phones for the two of us (not including calls abroad; Skype is for that!), plus high-speed internet at home. Would this cost level include a data plan for my husband to have internet access on his phone? (That's related to his work field.) Or would we need more like 80-100 to include that?

You can get phone + Internet for 20 EUR. The cellphones are another thing.

Groceries: 350---We tend to eschew highly processed foods, and I plan to hit the super-cheap, big Turkish market for some foods (does that go year-round?), but we also tend to buy organic and buy locally produced foods when possible. We're foodies and do get gourmet at times; other times, we eat things like (organic) pb&j. We eat vegetarian most of the time, though not always. I include other things we typically buy at the grocery store in this category---such as cleaning supplies, tp, and basic toiletries. I do dig Aldi for some things.

If you are not complicated 350 EUR for two is more than enough. If you are a neo-hippy it might be much more expensive.

Restaurants: 150---Eating out about twice a week: once at a cheap place and once somewhere nicer.

You can get a simple meal for two in a non-fancy but decent restaurant for 20 EUR.

Cat supplies: 30---Cost of annual food, vaccinations, upkeep, divided by 12 (What does high-quality cat food tend to cost in Berlin?)

This might be more expensive. Vaccinations & vet stuff cost about 100 EUR per cat per year, maybe more if you need to visit the vet frequently. Cat food can be either very cheap or extremely expensive depending on what you want. The cheapest stuff is about 1 EUR for 1 kilo of dry food and 39 cents for a 400g wet food can or 25 cents for a single meal 100g wet food. If you go to the expensive side, you pay about 8 EUR per kilo for dry food and 1 EUR per meal of wet food. We tend to vary because our cat is very fussy, he likes cheap wet food and expensive dry one. Cat sand costs about 4 to 6 EUR for 10lt.

Entertainment/exercise/out of house activities: 75---What does a movie ticket at a theater with English spoken or in subtitles cost in Berlin? How much do you tend to pay for gym memberships there? Yoga classes? What are your favorite out-of-house forms of free or cheap recreation there?

Movies (in English) cost about 8 EUR, but if the movie is longer than 90 min you pay 1 EUR extra and another 1 EUR if you want to sit not so close from the screen. The best choice if you are going to frequent the cinema is to buy the "5 stars" ticket for 30 EUR. It is good for 5 movies and you can sit wherever you want and no extra charges if the movie is long. You need one card per person. There is as well a "Movies Day", the entrance fee is reduced, normally to 5.50 EUR. All this info is for the Cine Star in Potsdamer Platz, it is the only cinema complex that shows movies in English permanently, you can find other small independent cinemas showing movies in English once in a while.

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Posted

I've found that it's cheaper to buy cat food and litter online, rather than at the stores.

I've found Yarrah and Hill's Science Plan to be the best cat foods. Hill's has a great rating.

For cat litter, I've found that Professional Classic mit Silicat works better than any cat litter I've ever tried. I recommend it highly.

Try looking at http://www.zooplus.de

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Posted

If you're interested in acupuncture and massage rates, I recommend calling or emailing Rainer Krell. He's an excellent Heilpraktiker and performs both services in addition to his other services.

He speaks fluent English, having lived in San Francisco a while back.

His contact information is on his website at http://www.praxis-krell.de

And good luck with your move here. Berlin is really a great place to live.

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Posted

The problem here I think is that this is basic subsistence budget not a "live properly" one. OK Berlin is cheap but 1,000 Euro per person net is scrimping level life for "grown up, adult" life (and I presume you are beyond the teen "isn't it fun to be poor" years) in one of Europe's wealthier countries, wherever you do it, and even allowing for the economies of scale of coupledom. You will be scrimping along. What would you think of a life on, what is it now, $1500 dollars a month in the US?

The problem with this sort of "I can manage to live" (and I'm controlling with money myself so I know where you are coming from, run such a thing myself) is that it only addresses the short-term and assumes "steady state". What about unexpected bills? Not to mention that just emigrating tends to burn up costs? Saving for your future? The fun of being in Europe (such as taking the chance to see other famous European places etc or whatever)? So maybe things to go in include - wider travel budget (unless you never want to go anywhere) and also perhaps language lessons?

If the budget balancing is so important, the point about living close to campus and so cutting possibly rental and largely eliminating travel costs seem very valid to me. Potsdam is a nice area, hardly slumming it.

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Posted

Thanks for the additional replies, y'all! Food for thought, all of it. And I've gotten two very nice PMs from people in the same boat we'd be in. I appreciate the info.

In response to one post: it would be impossible for us to live decently in Midtown Atlanta, where we currently live, on the amount of money my husband's being offered. We would never consider that, and I get what you're saying about being poor. Hence my post, really---I'm concerned about not creating poverty in our lives. But Berlin, when we were there, does seem way cheaper than living here. Rent and food are both substantially less expensive than they are here. And, of course, in Berlin you don't need a car, which cuts costs considerably. The fact that we wouldn't be traveling like we would want to is one of my concerns about the possibility of moving forward. I do want to get a full sense of life on the amount of money he's being offered. (And yes, we would basically be unable to save, I think, or save very much. The postdoc would, theoretically, position him to do quite well after the two years were up. But we are giving up the possibility of making much, much more money in the US for the sake of the good job opp for him and the experience of living in Europe for a while.)

We'd visit out the Potsdam way to see whether we wanted to live there, but we tend to be city people. Actually, I'm a city or small town/country person, but I don't want the suburban in-between life. It's just not me, though maybe Potsdam doesn't feel like that. My husband is very city-focused.

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Posted

Swimmer I have to disagree with your point about scraping by,1,000 is enough not only to live,but to live here with a massive degree of flexibility.Coming from the most expensive,poor value for money society in Europe I can appreciate how far money goes here.In Dublin you'd get a shitbox apartment for 1,000-1500 a month,a public transport system/health service that is behind most third world countries,groceries are extortionate,a fair bit of social problems/ crime,general poor quality of life and the crap weather that gets worse every summer.In Berlin it's possible to live however you want,if you don't like the price of something you can go elsewhere and get the same thing for a better price,which is among the many good things about this place.I agree with you though with regard to money for contingency.

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Posted

Swimmer, do you know the average income in Germany? to get 2400 net a month, you need quite a lot more gross. for a mid size family, overall 3000 net is considered well being .

If you make significantly more in your job, give me a call! :) i'll move back from Munich immediately!

Firefly: bio food in Germany is VERY cheap. compared to any western world place. normal food is somewhat cheaper than France of UK, but not US for processed food. for fresh vegies, on the contrary its quite cheaper than most places i've been in US. Restaurants are cheap in general.

For 2000 you should live quite ok. you wont furnish with designer furniture, but you could even handle a car with not much pain. 2 rooms apartments in Berlin are very cheap, and quite larges (for those who spend some time searching). in the mean time you could find cheap pensions in the skirts of the city.

unless you buy PS3 games every day, you will have spare money to enjoy around and tour Europe, so it seems a great opportunity to visit new culture and enjoy around.

BTW i do not know what your husband field, however in academy, there is not much money anywhere. I dont think even in US one would be proposed significantly more than 65K a year at beginning. for industrial ("real") job, a postdoc wont help (you might even say it hinders: overqualified, while if you would have spent the 2 years in the business, you would be better off on several levels). but its a great occasion to have a fun job and visit new places!

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Cante--Yes, we're entirely willing to be the kind of people who shop around. I do that already. But if I want something of quality, I want the option to get it at least some of the time.

I'm not a designer kind of girl. I just don't want to be a canned-foods-only, no-vacations, etc. kind of girl, either. :)

Gabi--It's not like having 2400 net; it's like having 2000 net. The 400 for pay back of student loans is non-negotiable and is (from what I can tell) an expense that not many mainland Europeans have. In my husband's (technological) field, in the US, it's normal to make over $100k the first year post-Ph.D. Several of the recent graduates from his group have made substantially more than that right out of school in the past two years. But we aren't people whose lives revolve around having lots of money; we are much more about experiencing a good life, if a more modest one. I just don't want us to shoot ourselves in the feet with this choice. We're already a good bit behind many people in terms of savings because of my husband being in school this long and me not understanding money the first couple of years out of college.

It's entirely non-essential that my husband do a postdoc in his field; however, the professor with whom he would be doing the postdoc is the point here. He'd learn a lot from the guy, would do very solid research, and would elevate his (my husband's) position within his field by the work and connections. I have no doubt it will be good for his long-term career if we do it. Just have to justify the trade-off and hope that nothing awful happens.

To be clear, we do have savings. We wouldn't be moving there with no safety net--I don't believe in doing that if people can avoid it. But our safety net is in dollars and the part of it invested in stocks has taken *quite* a hit. It would serve for an emergency in Europe, but it wouldn't be money I'd try to live off of for too long, the exchange rate being what it is.

I appreciate the specific info about the bio food. :)

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Restaurants: 150---Eating out about twice a week: once at a cheap place and once somewhere nicer.

if you guys drink wine or beer this might be too low ..

Entertainment/exercise/out of house activities: 75---What does a movie ticket at a theater with English spoken or in subtitles cost in Berlin? How much do you tend to pay for gym memberships there? Yoga classes? What are your favorite out-of-house forms of free or cheap recreation there?

gym is around 60 per month but "Mcfit" may be cheaper ... movies are 8 per person, check in with some local english speaking book clubs and free museum nights. get bikes and explore the city

Clothing: 60---Annual cost of clothing purchases divided by 12; Probably would have friends order us clothes from American companies and ship it over . . . or would primarily shop for clothes on visits home.

that sounds unnecessarily complicated. check out H&M...also great second hand shops all over the city

Transportation: 120---Two annual passes for the train system, divided by twelve. We'd also plan to bring bikes for the warmer months.

Insurance: 35 for life insurance we already have in the US; what other insurance, besides health, do you find is actually necessary? I assume we'd want the equivalent of renter's insurance. Anything else that you have come to think is essential? Anything people had suggested that you've decided you didn't actually need?

Gifts: 30---Annual cost of gifts divided by 12; Are there any gift-giving norms in Germany that we should know about? Standards for hostess gifts, things like that?

flowers and/or a bottle of wine when you are invited to someone's house. dont scrimp on the wine! also if you invite plp for your birthday the tradition here is that the bday person treats the others. keep this in mind or simply clarify beforehand

Pocket Money: 100 (50 for each of us)---Money to spend on whatever we like--books, hobbies, specialty beer, whatever.

get involved or start a book swap, english books are pricy here.

What's the typical cost of an hour-long massage in Berlin?

35 and up

What do you consider a reasonable price for a haircut for women and a trim for short-haired men?

20 for women (plenty do it cheaper though. try cutman for super cheap)

Is there a co-pay when you see a doctor under the state insurance plan? If so, how much?

10 euros

curious to know why you've ruled out living in Potsdam? Some great apartment deals there and lovely nature...what about travel money?! visiting nearby countries or going home?

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Sunny--Thanks for the reply and the info.

Haven't entirely ruled out living in Potsdam, but I think we'd prefer to be closer in to the city because of the activities we would want to do. For example, I completely plan to hit the big Turkish market once or twice a week. I'd rather have a 10-minute ride on the train each way rather than a 30- or 40-minute ride for activities like that. Especially with me not working, the last thing I want is to feel disconnected from the city and what's going on there.

Travel money, money for going home---we're okay with staying places cheaply; we've stayed in hostels traveling before. I'm trying to get a sense of whether there would be money left over for stuff like that. (What's the point of being in Europe if you don't travel? Seems like a huge shame.) People at least claim they would be lining up to visit us, so I'm not sure we'd go home except maybe once in the two years we'd be over there. We'd have to play it by ear and see which of our friends were getting married or having babies in that time frame! We could pull a bit of money out of savings for travel if we were getting by just fine on our income on a regular basis.

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How long will you be living here? A couple of years? Longer?

My advice is to not worry about movies/eating out/the gym and all the other comforts you might be used to in your daily life in the US. These are just details and you'll be going back to that life soon enough.

You have the opportunity to live in Berlin, in one of the greatest cities in the world, in a new country and a new culture with thousands of new things to see and do. And you'll be getting this experience paid for with a steady income. How many of us here would love this opportunity? There many Americans here scraping by on much less, trying to find work and a way to stay here, and still loving it.

So you might not get to go out to a movie but you can stroll through palace grounds or walk through Kreuzberg. Maybe you can't go out to a nice restaurant once a week but you can try new foods you've found at the grocery store or eat currywurst and pommes at the corner imbiss. Instead of going to the gym you can ride your bike through Grunewald.

I really don't mean to sound rude, but it sounds like you're worried about what my friend Scott calls "luxury problems". Most people in this world live on much less than we are used to.

Think of this as a rare opportunity and an adventure. Try to enjoy the challenge.

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Mike--I appreciate what you're saying, and I understand your perspective. But in two years there, I do expect to get homesick and to want things that remind me of home from time to time---like English-titled movies. Also, many German experiences (like some museums, for example) will cost money, as well. Moreover, if my husband is working and I can't work, I don't want to be bored out of my skull. I love people-watching and strolling a city as much as anyone, but I also want the chance to experience things directly. The flip side of what you're saying is this: it's frustrating to think of going to live in Europe and having plenty of free time, but being unable to do much of what interests me because of a lack of funds.

I'm willing to accept that some of my questions are (relative) luxury issues. I've put in a good bit of time being (relatively) poor while my husband has gone to school. The idea that I want to live a bit more security and a few more options when we move somewhere new doesn't bother me. I'm not asking to spend a month at luxury hotels in Paris on his salary; I just want to know whether I can go out to eat. :)

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Also, many German experiences (like some museums, for example) will cost money, as well. Moreover, if my husband is working and I can't work, I don't want to be bored out of my skull. I love people-watching and strolling a city as much as anyone, but I also want the chance to experience things directly. The flip side of what you're saying is this: it's frustrating to think of going to live in Europe and having plenty of free time, but being unable to do much of what interests me because of a lack of funds.

I don't mean to flog a dead horse,you know what you want best, but it seems your not willing to surrender things that you seem to be important when you come here.You'll have to come with a new mentality.This is a great place and you really can do whatever you want,including free musuems on Thur evenings.Anyhow,the whole city is a museum just to walk through.Once you have your 2K income you can rest assured you can get by comfortably,you'll be dead in a few years anyway.Take the 100 from Alex to Zoo for a free sightseeing tour.Check out the vast Soviet memorial in Treptower Park.I throughly believe this is a city that you won't benefit extra from my spending money but you can get the most out of it with very little.

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OK...ten suggestions, and I'm sorry if some have already been covered!

1. Several affordable and desirable neighborhoods are within walking or cycling distance of the S7, but the service is reliable enough that I wouldn't rule out a neighborhood you love just because it requires an extra connection from, say, the U8.

2. Regarding entertainment costs, Berlin offers a pretty exceptional amount of free entertainment, street life, community and outdoor activities, a great many of which are tailored to a crowd with a much lower income than yours. I would somewhat disagree with Swimmer about what constitutes a reasonable budget for "grown-up life" here; the key to getting the most out of your free time in a city like this is not having lots of money but rather having lots of friends. Therefore, I recommend living in a community with many outgoing couples who share your interests. At the moment, Kreuzberg/Friedrichshain is a very good bet for social opportunities, city life, and affordability.

3. Clothes - they're cheaper in the US, though Berlin's shops are much funkier. If you can, stock up on basics before you come and suppplement after you're here with little treats as an extra luxury when you can afford them.

4. The Turkish market on Maybachufer is year-round, twice a week. And many of the Turkish shops neaerby - especially on Kottbusser Damm - have much lower prices on produce and other basics than supermarkets. My partner and I set aside 450 per month for groceries, beer/wine, and occasional household things. We wind up with enough left over to go out to bars and clubs about three times a week, a nice restaurant meal once a week, and plenty of visits to cafes and cheap snack bars. Your food/drink/entertainment budget, in other words, is extremely generous.

5. Yearly passes on public transport are probably unnecessary for both of you. If your husband will be commuting every morning all year, perhaps he should get one (bear in mind, Potsdam is in Zone C, and an annual ABC pass is 830, or 70 per month). You could ride with him for free on this after 8 PM on weekdays and all day on weekends/holidays. To fill in the gaps, other options include single tickets, 10 AM monthly passes (51 per month) or just cycling during the warmer months. This is all just to say, that annual pass isn't necessarily worthwhile.

6. Your medicines are unlikely to be more expensive here, but it's worth checking with your insurance provider to find out how much they cover on prescriptions (rezepte).

7. Bikes - if it costs more than, say, $50 to bring them with you, don't bother. They'll get stolen anyway. Sell them before you go and put the money toward furnishing your apartment. Expect to go through 2 or 3 bikes a year. Luckily, the city is flat enough that you don't need to change gears.

8. Yoga classes are often as little as 3 or 4 EUR each. Every neighborhood has a great indoor swimming pool, with admission ranging from 2.50-4.00 per day. Many of the lakes surrounding Berlin are fantastic for swimming, as well as jogging/cycling around, for free, and kayaking is affordable enough to do every now and then too. Many, many parks have free facilities for tennis, basketball, volleyball, ping-pong, etc. I think you can stay in very good shape here without ever stepping foot in a gym.

9. Good that you can get by on one income. It takes a long time to find work here. I agree with the suggestions about putting some of your budget aside for German lessons if you're not already fluent, or even if you just need a refresher.

10. You seem nice. Drop me a line when you arrive if you need any help getting settled in. Best of luck!

S/M

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Sockmonster, thanks for the reply. I appreciate your input and will definitely get in touch with you if/when we move. (It's looking like 'when'! Hopefully, we will finish working out details in the next few days.)

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