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.
My basic expenses in life are covered by passive income.
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 don’t want the activities I spend my time with to be boiled down into dollars and cents.
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 regular, everyday life which is underpinned by passive income.
That everyday life, by the way, is fun, free, and functional. It’s completely delightful. It’s customized for me and by me. 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 and fulfilled 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 September 2018…
|Rent & Utilities||$479|
*The Everything Else budget category includes expenses I don’t have a regular budget for. In this case, it was two small electronics: a USB headphone adapter (because the jack broke on my old laptop) and a new charger for my iPhone 4S (the old charger cable became badly frayed).
So it’s back to normalcy after last month’s blow-out expense report.
The numbers here are pretty well consistent with what I’ve been spending since I arrived to Chiang Mai. I’ve been coming in at between $1,200 and $1,300 per month fairly steadily.
Again, that’s not because I’m trying to. I’m not going out of my way to be cheap or otherwise limit my spending (nor do I aim to ever spend more than necessary).
I’m basically living my dream life; the numbers you see above are simply how much that dream costs. It’s the financial result of living my “perfect day” over and over again.
In addition, it’s important to keep in mind that I’m spending for two people most of the time. I’d be spending quite a bit less money if I were alone (especially on food and coffee). But quantifying my relationship in terms of how much it costs would be an awfully sad way to look at love.
So there’s not much to break down because this is in line with what I’ve been spending for quite some time now.
The only thing that was perhaps a touch out of the ordinary was how much I spent in the Gifts category.
Oh and I recently celebrated one year together – we met basically as soon as I arrived here, and we’ve been thoroughly enjoying each other’s company ever since. I purchased a small gift for the occasion, which is reflected in the report.
All this said, the return to normalcy will be short-lived.
This will probably be the last “clean” monthly expense report for the remainder of the year.
I don’t think things will be too crazy looking out over the next few months, but spending will be slightly elevated off of the norm.
Looking out into October, the purchase of plane tickets to Bangkok for our year-end holiday trip will be showing up. There’s also the anniversary dinner that Oh and I enjoyed earlier in the month. And I bought a new pair of shoes after my feet threatened to leave me.
Beyond that, there’ll be some minor extra spending here and there that will be discussed as the spending occurs.
I’m super excited for what the rest 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. That’s because I’m staying in Thailand on a one-year ED visa, which was settled earlier this year. As such, there’s very 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. I could spend less (especially on housing), but I have no desire or need to. I could also 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: Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
P.S. If you’re interested in becoming financially independent at a young age, which will involve controlling expenses, check out some amazing resources that personally helped me become financially free at 33.