Time to open up the books on how much money I spent last month.
Managing expenses is absolutely critical to becoming financial independent at a young age.
In fact, I’d argue it’s much more important to be an excellent saver than an excellent investor in this regard.
And in order to save, you must limit expenses.
Making more money is great, but not locking down the appropriate lifestyle first by adopting a scarcity mindset will almost surely result in lifestyle inflation.
Someone earning $100,000 per year but spending $90,000 per year will probably never retire (and certainly not early), but someone earning $40,000 annually and spending just $20,000 of it per year will become financially independent in a reasonable amount of time (likely within a decade or so).
I consistently saved well over 50% of my net income in order to go from below broke in 2010 to financially independent in 2016. In fact, I was routinely hitting monthly savings marks above 70%.
And I was working a regular, middle-class job during much of that period.
Everything was hinged upon my ability to live below my means, enjoy most elements of frugality and minimalism, and totally believe in a future me who was already financially independent and taking advantage of that freedom.
While I no longer have to (or really even attempt to) maintain a high savings rate, keeping my expenses low is still vital to maintaining my financial freedom.
You can’t get to a point to where your passive income starts to cover expenses, then just ramp up spending. You have to more or less maintain the same lifestyle that got you there.
That all said, I could technically spend much more than I do.
Passive income covers my essential expenses.
I earn five-figure and growing dividend income from my FIRE Fund.
It’s a pretty wonderful life position to be in. I’m very fortunate. And very grateful.
All in, passive income is north of $1,400 per month – and growing.
But I also earn a rather significant amount of active income from my ongoing writing and coaching efforts.
As such, the early retirement math has been rendered moot for me (as it will be for almost anyone in FIRE).
However, I don’t ever want to regularly rely on that active income.
If I were to rely on it, I wouldn’t be financially independent any longer. In addition, relying on that income would likely negate a lot of the enjoyment I get out of writing, turning work into a job.
I may sometimes use some of that excess income for travel or other extraordinary personal spending, but this is a complementary and voluntary addition to my everyday life that’s supported by passive income.
That everyday life, by the way, is fun, free, and functional. There’s no sacrifice. Even though I don’t spend very much, I don’t ever wake up and feel like I’d be much happier if I suddenly spent a lot more money. That’s not how happiness works.
While my ability to live on relatively little and still feel happy has been built on an overall life philosophy, that ability has been further bolstered in a major way by relocating to Chiang Mai, Thailand indefinitely as a dividend expat. I’ve taken maximum advantage of geographic arbitrage.
Because the cost structure here is so much lower than what exists in the US, I don’t have to watch and stress over every penny in order to get my spending down to a level that’s roughly in line with my passive income.
If anything, I spend exactly zero effort in managing my expenses these days. The “effort” has been replaced by a structural realignment of expectations and beliefs, along with a major move abroad that takes advantage of geographic arbitrage.
With that introduction out of the way, let’s get into my real-life spending for November 2018…
|Rent & Utilities||$468|
*The Everything Else budget category includes expenses I don’t have a regular budget for. In this case, I bought two t-shirts.
All of my physical possessions can fit inside of two small bags. Naturally, I own very little clothing. Only enough to get me between washes. My tight inventory means I have to replace old or stained clothing quickly.
Speaking of which, I might have to splurge and buy new pants soon. My three pairs of pants (which I alternate throughout the week) are getting old. I’ve had them for many years now.
I typically spend between $1,200 and $1,300 per month on life in Chiang Mai. That’s for a very nice lifestyle – for two people. No shame in my game. Monthly spending on just my essential expenses (my “line in the sand” for FIRE) is less than $1,000, which actually leaves a rather large margin of safety.
This month obviously came in higher, however.
That was entirely due to my annual subscription that came due for Traveling Mailbox.
They’re an online virtual mail service. They adeptly handle my US mail for me. Worth every penny.
Otherwise, everything was pretty much right in line with expectations.
But this is the calm before the storm. December is going to be extremely expensive for a variety of reasons.
First, I have to renew my annual ED visa to stay here in Thailand. So that’ll be showing up in next month’s budget. It’s going to run somewhere around $1,000 for the paperwork/program.
Then there are the upcoming travel costs to leave Thailand and actually get the visa from an a Consulate. I’ll be traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for that. This will be my first time in Vietnam. Sweet!
Also, as previously discussed, I’ve planned an end-of-year holiday bash in Bangkok for Oh and I. We’re going to eat and celebrate our way across the city for about a week. While we’re down there, we’re also going to head out into the Isan countryside to see her family for a couple days. So there’ll definitely be some extraordinary travel and food costs next month.
It was another successful and enjoyable month in FIRE. Truly couldn’t be more blessed or fortunate.
I’m super excited for what the last month of 2018 holds. It’s been a phenomenal year thus far. I’ll be closing out my first full calendar year abroad in one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Awesome!
I’ll quickly point out that there’s no visa expense in this report. I’m staying in Thailand on a one-year ED visa, which was settled earlier this year. As such, there are little ongoing costs to maintaining that. But I think you could go ahead and add $100 or so (based on the visa costs stretched out over a year) to the above expenses to get a full look at what life is costing me here.
And, of course, this factors out any outgoings that wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have an online business (business expenses, business taxes, philanthropy, student loans, etc.).
This level of spending on the essentials is a comfortable base for me. I suspect that I’ll be more or less in this range of spending most months, outside of occasional travel and the annual visa concerns. Of course, I could spend less (especially on housing), but I have no desire or need to. Likewise, it’s easy to spend quite a bit more, but I equally lack that desire and need.
How was your spending for the past month? Did you meet your expectations? Why or why not?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: imgflip and Warner Bros. Pictures.
P.S. If you’re interested in becoming financially independent at a young age, which will involve controlling expenses, check out some amazing tools and services that personally helped me become financially free at 33.