June 2018 Update – reluctantly going gluten free…

Can you believe we’re halfway through 2018?! Knowing that we’re entering into the second half of the year has me both excited and nervous. Excited that I’ll be soon leaving work and embarking on a three-month tour of Asia, but also nervous that I won’t be generating any income for the foreseeable future.

I’ll be eating into my net worth and savings, so I need to start mentally preparing myself now to see my net worth go down, after five years of tracking and working hard for it to go up each month.

A perfect evening of cocktails and sunset in June

An Enforced Health Break

I’ve been feeling quite poorly since the end of May, dealing with what’s likely a flare-up of a chronic condition. I’ve had to make some lifestyle changes to see if that has any effect on my symptoms.

The main change has been related to diet. I’ve been making an effort to cut out gluten, dairy, and coffee to see if it makes any difference. As a lover of cheese, cake and chocolate, this has been a major challenge, especially as my partner just came back with a suitcase full of the stuff from Germany!!

It also turns out that wheat/gluten is present in a whole lot of things I wasn’t aware of, so I’ve also accidentally ingested it several times over the month. No wheat also means no beer, so I haven’t been down the pub watching the football as I usually would during the World Cup.

Cutting down on gluten and dairy seems to be working to some extent, but I’m hoping I only need abstain this temporarily until I feel in tip top shape again. In addition to these dietary restrictions, I’ve also made an effort to do more exercise, and I’ve started taking time to meditate before bed.

Since I’ve been prioritizing my health in June, not as much energy and focus has gone into my work, blogging or progress on other goals, but I’ve tried to keep things ticking along.

June Highlights

June was a fairly low-key month for me. My partner was away in Europe for half of it, and I spent a lot of time at home. That said, there were still some nice relaxing days and evenings out with friends.

We spent a lovely Sunday afternoon in the old part of Bangkok, going to Museum Siam to see an exhibition on gender and sexual identity. The exhibition gave visitors a quick overview of the rights of LGBTQi people in Thailand (summary: there’s a long way to go), and the activist groups pushing for change. The best part of the exhibition was the collection of personal objects that gives some insight into the lives of Thais who have struggled to assert their true identities. The exhibition is on til end of September, so I’d highly recommend it to those in town.

Gender Illumination exhibition at Museum Siam

On my birthday we went to a vegan restaurant to celebrate. Since the weather has cooled down a little, I also exercised in the park a bit more, often with friends. I think working out with friends is my favourite frugal hack: you get fit, catch up friends, and it doesn’t cost a penny! At this point, I’d way rather spend my time with friends doing this instead of binge-drinking in the pub.

I also went to a three-day work conference near my home. It was a good opportunity to reflect on the sector I’m working in, and figure out if I want to continue working in it or not. The conference was held in the Marriott, and it took quite a feat of self-discipline to not eat all of the cakes and cookies on offer throughout the day.

My sewing course also wrapped up this month. I’m not sure I’ll be whipping up beautiful dresses any time soon (let alone something vaguely wearable), but I look forward to getting my hands on a sewing machine when back in the UK, and trying things out. It does make me want to continue making stuff with my hands, but arts and crafts courses tend to cost quite a lot of money in BKK. Now that I have my full weekends back, I will try to channel that time, energy and concentration into exploring Bangkok, and looking into side hustles.

I made a pair of trousers!

June 2018 numbers

Reported in Thai Baht (THB) and UK Pounds (£)*

Income: 74,926 THB / £1,665.02

My income is my monthly salary from my full-time job (after taxes and a 3% contribution to a provident fund), plus some modest allowances for housing and phone/internet costs.

Expenses: 25,769 THB / £572.63

CategoryCost (THB / £)Explanation
Rent11,000 THB / £244This is my half of a fairly small one-bedroom condo unit in a central location.
Groceries and regular meals out3,654 THB / £81.20Regular meals out are cheap meals I eat in canteens, food courts, or street food stalls. These tend to cost between 30-50 THB (67p – £1.10), and make up most of my usual meals in addition to what I cook at home.
Eating out and treats1,545 THB / £34.33This includes special meals on date nights or with friends, and little sweet treats
Drinking195 THB / £4.33I include both alcoholic and other drinks like bubble teas and coffees in here. I couldn't really drink much this month.
Entertainment270 THB / £6.00This usually includes cinema tickets, and other entertainment costs
Transport: Commute948 THB / £21.07I use the BTS and MRT systems to get to and from work
Transport: Non-Commute879 THB / £19.53I might grab taxis or motorbikes from time to time
Utilities / phone174 THB / £3.87Internet, electricity, water, and phone
Toiletries / personal care234 THB / £5.20Toiletries and some make-up
Health / fitness5838 THB / £129.73Medical consultations, tests, and medication
Gifts / Donations0Guess I wasn't feeling generous this month!
Holiday0No travel plans made this month
Learning432 THB / £.59Kindle books

Savings rate:

66% (January – September 2018 goal = 60%)

June was a cheaper month for basic costs than usual because I couldn’t indulge much in beer, coffee, or pastries. But two trips to the doctors upped my expenses. My insurance covers 2,000 THB per outpatient visit, but with the consultation and tests, it came to over 4,500 THB each time I went. I could have gone to a cheaper hospital, but I needed a specialist.

I’m averaging a 56% savings rate from January to June, so I’m close to my overall target. But I know there’ll be some big costs coming up in the next couple of months, including flights for later in the year.

My hospital is quite fancy

Net Worth:

Up 17.7% from December 2017 (2018 Goal = 20%)

Barring any major disasters in the markets, I should hit my goal by September before my net worth starts to decline again.

July plans

Even though I feel like I’ve got my current life on frugal autopilot, I realize I haven’t been actively trying to save as money as I can. I only have two whole paychecks left before I leave my job, and I keep going back and forth about whether to save the most of it as possible, or to use it to make the most of Bangkok in my remaining time here.

But I’ve also just come to the realisation that making the most of Bangkok doesn’t necessarily mean spending a fortune. For me, it means exploring new neighbourhoods, rather than checking out the latest trendy restaurant. I’ve just signed up for the Uber Frugal Month with Mrs Frugalwoods (for the second time), so I look forward to embracing the challenge of making the most of Bangkok in July on the smallest amount of money.

I also need to start thinking about making the big move. Deciding what needs to be donated, what should be sold, and what’s coming back with us. Thankfully work covers my relocation costs, so I’ll have to start talking to them about booking my flight back to the UK in December and looking into freight charges.

Ok that wraps up the monthly update! How was your June?

*I’m not too fussed about using an accurate exchange rate each month, as long I use the same rate for income and expenses. I’m using a rate of 45 THB/GBP.

Using geoarbitrage to maximise value for money when shopping

If you’ve seen my cost of living breakdown and monthly reports, you’ll know that Bangkok can be a very affordable place to live. Basic expenses  – rent, transport, utilities and eating out – are a fraction of what I would pay back home in London.

But beyond these essential monthly costs (and the occasional massage), Thailand often doesn’t offer great value for money. This might be a surprise to those who come to Thailand for cheap shopping and expect bargains. Yes – those fake Adidas shoes may be cheap, but they’re not made to last, which means having to make a repeat purchase. That’s not a bargain at all, and is a huge disservice to the environment.

Over the past seven years living in Thailand, I’ve learned tips and tricks to make the most of my trips back home to the UK to save money on shopping. I suppose this is one way of using geoarbitrage to maximise value and minimise spending.

Using geoarbitrage for better value shopping

What I take on my trips back home to London

Before I make each trip, I usually fill my suitcase with little treats that I know my friends and family would like, and that represent good value and novelty. These include:

  • Mama noodles – creamy tom yum flavour (the BEST flavour)
  • Tao Kae Noi seaweed snacks – soooo good
  • Northern Thai coffee
  • Thai cooking sauces – these are much more authentic that those in UK supermarkets
  • Sheet masks – these cost much more in the UK than over here
Everyone loves these mama noodles

After I distribute these gifts, I’m usually left with an empty suitcase because I have enough clothes still in the UK to wear when I’m there. I proceed to fill that suitcase with items that I know are much cheaper in the UK, or represent better value for money. Since the UK pound has dropped against the baht in the past two years, my money also goes further!

What I bring back to Bangkok from the UK

Clothing

Markets in Thailand sell fantastic looking clothes for very little money. I myself was seduced by the cheap and on-trend clothes being sold in the various market stalls (it seems whatever appears on the catwalk is on Bangkok markets the following week).

After a couple of years of buying cheap garments and having them fall apart soon after, I learned to buy for quality and durability instead, which is often found in more recognisable brands. Unfortunately in Bangkok you pay a premium for this due to import taxes. Zara and Mango – which are not exactly known for their great quality either – are almost seen as premium brands in Thailand, and have price tags to match. Thankfully Uniqlo seems to deliver quality on a lower price price point, but I don’t like the fit of all their clothes.

Meanwhile, shops in London seem to be perpetually on sale. No matter the timing of my trip – around Christmas, spring, summer, or autumn, it seems there’s always a sale on. I buy little, I buy smart, and always with something in mind.

Shoes

Bangkok is not kind to shoes what with the dirt, rain, uneven pavements. I walk a lot, so my shoes get a lot of wear and tear. Again, Bangkok offers great looking shoes for a few quid, but I want to be kind to my feet. It’s important to me to find quality shoes that are breathable, comfortable, and supportive (since I’ve had problems with plantar fasciitis).

I’ve tried buying shoes from Bata, which are everywhere in Bangkok, but they don’t really last long. So when I’m in the UK I go back to what I’m familiar and comfortable with – Clarks, M&S, or Adidas shoes. And since there always seem to be a sale on, I’m much more likely to find comfortable, quality shoes for a much lower price in the UK.

Underwear

Good underwear is so expensive in Thailand!! As soon as I’m in the UK I head back to M&S to restock. Enough said.

Tea

Is it any wonder that as a Brit I fill my suitcase with teabags? I grew up drinking PG Tips, and it’s just one of those creature comforts I love to indulge in. A box of 40 PG Tips teabags in Bangkok costs £4.50. For the same price, I can buy 240 bags in the UK. That’s less that 1p per tea bag, versus 11p in Bangkok! I also stock up on herbal teas like peppermint.

Chocolate and biscuits

Everyone needs some chocolate or biscuits to go with their tea, right? Give me Cadbury’s over fancy Belgium chocolate any day. They do have Cadbury’s here, but it doesn’t quite taste the same, and they sell tiny bars for 50p. Whereas I can go around Sainsbury’s and pick up four bars for £1.

Cheese

If I’ve bought any clothes in London, they’ll be stinky on their arrival in Bangkok because of all the cheese I’ve packed alongside. I looooove cheese, especially mature cheddar, stilton, camembert, and halloumi, all of which practically sell for peanuts in comparison to the mini fortune they cost Bangkok.

Chia seeds

I had no idea how much cheaper chia seeds could be in the UK until a friend asked me to bring some back from London. You can buy 2kg of chia seeds from Amazon for £8.99. The equivalent in Bangkok would cost £45!! I also used to buy things like sunflower seeds and flaxseed from the UK. But I’ve since found some amazing vendors in Chinatown that are the equivalent of Holland and Barrett and have good prices.

Makeup and Toiletries

I’m not big on makeup, but occasionally I’ll need to replace my Mac concealer, which I’ll do at the airport duty free. I do invest in skincare however, and for some reason basic face creams in Bangkok cost much more. So if I see a good deal on products I use from Soap & Glory, or Botanics, I’ll pick them up. I also bring all of my contact lens solution from the UK. I have gas permeable contact lenses, and finding the solution and cleaner for them in Bangkok is too much of a challenge.

Final thoughts

I realise that even after so many years abroad, I still crave the familiarity of recognisable foods and brands! It’s no wonder I miss home.

As I’m making the big move back to the UK this year, I won’t be needing these shopping hacks anymore. Instead I’ll be thinking of what I should be bringing back to the UK from Asia. I expect sheet masks and seaweed will be filling in the crevices of my suitcase.

How many packets of seaweed will fit in my suitcase??

Over to you – have you put shopping geoarbitrage to use? Have you found unexpectedly good deals or false bargains when shopping abroad?

 

I’m glad I chose passion over money – even if I’m poorer as a result

“Even dream jobs involve a ton of compromise and grunt work. Tedium. Dread. Anxiety. Moments of self-doubt. And cold feet. If I made career decisions based on how “passionate” I felt, then I’d probably be broke.”

On a dull and quiet afternoon at work, I came across this Medium article by Jessica Lexicus on the Dangerous Myths of Passion. The passage above jumped out at me. Yes! I thought – my dream job in social justice had started with immense passion and excitement. Yet here I was on yet another sunny Bangkok afternoon, stuck behind a computer, unmotivated, wondering if I was actually accomplishing anything.

I’ve been mulling over that passage ever since, wondering if I should have chosen a career that served me better financially. If I’m already feeling disenchanted and rather cynical about my field of work in my mid-thirties, would it have been any different working in a well-paid corporate job? I might have even saved enough to quit work and travel the world by now…  and so on and so on went my little monkey mind.

But after some time, I realised there’s no point for me – or anyone else for that matter- to feel doubt or regret about the life and career choices we made in the past. The most important step is to acknowledge and appreciate what we’ve learned from life so far, and to build on those lessons to craft the future we want.

Everyone’s path is different  

When I first discovered the world of financial independence, I came across the inspirational stories of so many people who had used their twenties to make good money and chart out their financial freedom. By their early thirties, they were free of the tyranny of salaried work, and could live out their passions on their own terms.

By comparison, I had also spent my twenties working hard and building a career. But I was focused on building a career in international development, with smaller non-profits that had low prospects for leading to a very-paid job. By pursuing this career abroad on Thai-level salaries, I was further derailing my prospects of buying a house in a desirable part of London, tending to a rooftop garden, and cuddling with puppies (which is how I often imagine my dream life).

But I realized most of us who finally discover financial independence probably kick ourselves about our earlier choices. Maybe you also discovered it a little bit too late and have racked up huge commercial debt. Or maybe you’ve succumbed to lifestyle inflation, and wonder how you’ll manage to pare back your family expenses.

Looking at financial rockstars who’ve built up a sky-high net worth can feel disempowering when you feel so far behind. But comparison won’t get us anywhere – rather we should learn from these rockstars and start implementing advice and tactics that make sense for our own lives. It would be worse to just get stuck in a cycle of despair and regret and fail to take any action at all.

Why I’m glad I chose passion over money

I think that the question of whether you should choose either passion or money can be a false dichotomy. I’m sure that the founders of Google followed their passion, and are definitely being paid handsomely for it now. There is no correct answer as to whether you should choose money, or passion, or both, nor any correct order in which to pursue them. Passion is also not synonymous with career – you can indulge in a whole range of passions that have nothing to do with work.

In my case, however, choosing my field of work was a conscious choice to follow my passion and reject money, as I hadn’t yet honed a healthy money mindset. I’m definitely poorer for making career choices I have, but I definitely would have been worse off if I had succumbed to consumerism, credit card debt, and whole host of other destructive money habits. A person making £200,000/year is poorer than me if they’re spending £200,001/year.

Instead of wasting time mulling over what could have been, I decided to turn it on its head and instead seek some gratitude for the choices I’ve made so far. Here’s what I came up with:

My work has given me an appreciation of money

I realize that by pursuing a career revolving around humanitarianism and social justice, I’ve always had a keen understanding of my own relative privilege and the value of money. By earning little and somewhat inconsistently (at least before my current job), I’ve learned how to live on less. This means that I can make necessary adjustments and embrace a level of discomfort more easily than others who may need to start tightening their belts. I realise that while I really need to work on earning more, my values and experience have given me a framework that is conducive to financial independence.

I’m already partly living the dream

Although I am mostly stuck behind a desk Monday to Friday, I often use the numerous Thai public holidays and my annual paid leave for trips abroad, plus I sometimes have work trips in the region. Over the past years, I’ve managed to visit most countries in South-East and East Asia. Being able to frequently travel to diverse countries has been an incredible privilege and a benefit of living in Thailand, even if I occasionally feel resentful for having to show up for a 9-5 job. Living and travelling in South-East Asia is a dream for others, so sometimes I need to recognize how lucky I am to have lived in a fascinating country and explore others.

I recently came across this timely reminder from the sadly departed Anthony Bourdain:

“To be fortunate enough to be able to visit Thailand, to eat in Thailand, is a deep dive into a rich, many textured, very old culture containing flavors and colors that go far beyond the familiar spectrum. Given our limited time on this earth, and the sheer magnificence, the near limitless variety of sensory experiences readily available, you don’t want to miss ANY of it.”

I get paid to learn and try to make the world a better place

Catch me on a bad day and I will come across as a cynical curmudgeon, railing against the failure of progressive activists to create change. But the path towards economic, social and ecological justice is a long, hard slog. Despite getting frequently frustrated about it, I’ve also developed an appreciation and admiration of the people who keep at it.

I’ve also learned so much through my work. Apart from when I have to stare at budgets and reports, an important part of my work is to keep up to date on what’s happening in the world (which supports my Guardian addiction). I’ve also had the privilege to learn directly from people and communities on the ground trying to forge change – and this knowledge and experience is far more valuable than anything I could learn from reading books or newspapers.

Ok my job is kinda awesome, but I’m quitting

Writing the above has made me realise I do have my dream job, and that I’m lucky I ended up here. But even this dream job comes with office politics, repetition and a feeling of being stuck.  While I have lots of autonomy in terms of what I do in a work day, I have less autonomy over my time and location – I feel I have to be in the office during regular hours – and that daily frustration builds up. What’s more, this job is on the other side of the world from my friends and family back home, who I’m missing more and more (the main downside of living abroad).

I realise no job will ever be perfect forever, because I’ll continue to evolve as a person, and my needs will change. Social justice will continue to be hugely important me, but I’m also aware that I can pursue this passion outside of a profession as well.

I’m happy with what I’ve achieved in my career so far, but I’m also open to stepping away from it to explore new horizons. I don’t know what kind of job/work awaits me when I come back to the UK later this year, and (apart from when I’m totally freaking out about it) I’m kind of excited about the possibilities.

Over to you: Did you choose passion over money? Or are you pursuing another route? Sound off in the comments below!

Why I'm glad I chose passion over money