April 2018 Savings Report – 37%

April is a month to always look forward to when living in Thailand. It’s the month of Songkran (Thai New Year) when everybody piles onto the streets with their bright floral shirts, water guns, and buckets to engage in a countrywide water fight. As long as you don’t mind getting wet and jumping straight into the action, Songkran is truly an amazing experience.

But if you’ve already partied during Songkran for a few years like we have, April means escape. It’s the longest public holiday we get (usually 4-5 days if over a weekend), and is a bit like Christmas in that everyone is in holiday mode and work slows down. So in recent years we’ve been using it as an opportunity to take longer trips we’ve been planning.

This is a rather long introduction to say that April has been expensive! A trip to China, and a number of other unusual expenses means my savings rate is far lower than target rate.

The beauty of monthly financial reports

I’ve always been fascinated by other personal finance bloggers’ income and expense reports. It’s one thing to write about the concept and values behind financial independence, but another to actually go through the numbers and see how people spend (or don’t spend) their well-earned cash. It’s also great to see people incrementally make progress towards their personal finance goals each month.

I’ve been keeping my own income and expense reports for almost 5 years now, plugging away at a little spreadsheet at the end of each month. I’ll try to publish my numbers here to keep myself accountable, and to keep tabs on progress against the goals I set this year.

April 2018 Summary

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

Income: 74,926 THB / £1,655.02

My income is basically 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. Unless I find a side hustle in the meantime, this category is going to be looking pretty much the same until I leave in September.

Expenses: 44,919 THB / £1,051.38

My regular Bangkok expenses this month (e.g. food and transportation) are lower than average because I went to China for 12 days, and all of those costs are included in the “holiday” category.

Here’s the full breakdown: 

Category Cost (THB / £) Explanation
Rent 11,000 THB / £244 This is the shared cost of a fairly small one-bedroom condo unit in a central location.
Groceries and regular meals out 1,586 THB / £35.24 Regular meals out are cheap meals I eat in canteens, food courts, or street food stalls – food to fill the belly, tasty, but nothing special. 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 treats 1,517 THB / £33.71 This includes special meals on date nights or with friends, and little sweet treats I tend to indulge in most days.
Drinking 915 THB / £20.33 I include both alcoholic and other drinks like bubble teas and coffees in here.
Entertainment 400 THB / £8.89 This usually includes cinema tickets, and other entertainment costs
Transport: Commute 591 THB / £13.13 I use the BTS and MRT systems to get to and from work
Transport: Non-Commute 367 THB / £8.16 I might grab taxis or motorbikes from time to time
Utilities / phone 387 THB / £8.60 The super-low cost this month reminds me I have some bills that need to be paid.
Toiletries / personal care 2,554 THB / £56.67 I had to get my hair cut and buy some skincare products that ran out, but this is definitely higher than usual!
Health / fitness 336 THB / £7.46 I bought a 4-week workout program from Fitness Blender
Gifts / Donations 1,350 THB / £30
Holiday 11,661 THB £271.13 This includes all my expenses in China (food, accommodation, transport, etc.) I recorded my flight and visa costs earlier in the year.
Learning 14,063 THB / £312.51 I really wanted to invest into a new skill/interest, so this cost is mostly for a 50-hour sewing course I enrolled on.
Blog 2,313 THB / £51.40 Set up costs for this blog.

Savings rate: 37% (January – September 2018 goal = 60%)

As you can see in the expense breakdown, there are a number of exceptional costs that make April fall far below my target savings rate of 60%.

I would have to average a 65% savings rate for the next four months if I’m to meet my savings goal for the year, which sounds far too painful. I don’t want to cut back too much if these are going to be my last few months in this fantastic city, so I’m probably going to revise this downwards.

Net Worth: Up 10.9% from December 2017 (2018 Goal = 20%)

Even with the relatively little money I have invested in an ISA and pension, my net worth has been doing funny things this year due to some volatility in the stock markets. It seems there was an upturn this month and I’m back on track towards meeting my goal, although who knows how things will go in the next few months.

Final thoughts

Even though April doesn’t look good on paper in terms of savings, it has been a fantastic month, and worth every penny. China surpassed all my expectations (I’ll see if I can put together a post on it – EDIT: here’s the post), and I’m really looking forward to my sewing course in May and June, and working further on this blog.

How did your April go?

*Note on THB to GBP exchange rate: since living in Thailand, the exchange rate has ranged from a high of about 55 THB per GBP, to a low of about 42 THB (after Brexit). I’m not too fussed about using an accurate rate each month, as long I use the same rate for income and expenses. I’m using a rate of 45 THB/GBP.

My 2018 goals (and how a big life change can drive results)

I’m a self-confessed productivity and personal development addict. My Kindle is full of business and self-help content (although not the cheesy kind), and my browser history even more so. Whenever I’m walking, I’ll plug into the latest podcast episode on how to make the most out of life and work.

So I’ve known about goal-setting and how to do it for a pretty long time. Even then, I never really managed to set meaningful personal goals. I would write a list of things that I thought would be nice if they happened, like learn German, or run a 10k, but never wrote them down with serious conviction. Within the first couple of months of the year, I would forget all about the lofty goals I had set, and find myself again at the end of the year without having achieved any of them, or not really remembering what I had written in the first place.

That’s all changed this year

Once I realized that 2018 would be the year to finally move back home after 8 years abroad, I knew it was high time to kick my life into gear, and get myself primed for new opportunities and make the most of my remaining time in the region. So for the first time, I got serious about my goals for the year.

This meant actually writing them down in a place I could easily access from all my devices (i.e. not the latest pretty notebook I would buy and later misplace), and reviewing these goals on a frequent basis.  Placing my goals front and centre of my attention meant I could no longer procrastinate on actually taking action on them.

By doing this, I feel like I’ve already achieved much more in four months than I have in three years.

Now I really wish I had taken goal-setting more seriously before.

2018 Goals

So with the purpose of really taking my goals seriously, I’m publishing most of them below, with notes on the progress I’ve made so far. I don’t believe in sticking to unrealistic goals. As long as I’m making good progress, I see no problem with deleting or refining them depending on the circumstances.

Main 2018 Goal: Quit my job, go travelling around Asia for three months, and be back home in time for Christmas.

Progress: I quit my job this week! It was a huge relief to get this off my chest and let my colleagues know so we can work together on making this transition work well. I’ve given five months notice, so I’ll be working hard to contribute as much as I can, and helping to recruit someone awesome to replace me.

Savings Goals: I like financial goals because I can track my progress every month when I fill out my little spreadsheet. I really need to try to maximise my savings right now because I don’t know if/when I will be getting another steady job, and I’m going to be heading back to a place with MUCH higher living costs.

Goal 1: Increase my net worth by 20% from the December 2017 figure. This is quite modest, since I won’t be working for the last three months of the year.

Goal 2: Average 60% savings rate from January – September.

Progress so far: Although these seemed so reasonable at the beginning of the year, I’m actually now doubting I will meet these. My net worth is only up by 4% as of March, because the value of my investments in my ISA and pension taking a hit over the past few months. My expenses in April were also super high for reasons related to other goals, and this will knock down my average savings rate.

Earning Goals: I’d like to delay getting back into 9-5 work as much as possible once I’m back home. Commuting and getting to grips with a new job doesn’t leave much headspace for figuring out what I really want to do with my life. So I need to prep myself for alternatives.

I’ve known for a while that I should look into different side hustles, and try to develop passive income. Apart from earning a few bob here and there for some short online tasks, I’ve never put in the work to develop bigger side projects that might net me some passive income, or new income streams. I haven’t set a goal to earn a certain amount of additional money this year, but I have committed to learning about different opportunities, and taking action, however small.

Progress so far: I’ve made a list of possibilities for little businesses and side hustles, and have spent some time investigating some of these. I’ve started putting some steady work into one particular idea, but have to do more research into other ideas.

Learning Goals: There are so many skills that I have wanted to develop in recent years, and some of these are related to exploring alternative income streams. This year I plan to read 52 books (fiction and non-fiction), enroll in different courses related to my career and interests, start learning German again, and develop some mentoring/coaching skills.

Progress: I’m a bit behind on my reading goal because I mistakenly chose to start reading Les Miserables, which clocks in at 1,232 pages! But I’m sailing through on other goals. I finished up a course book on accounting that has been sitting in my office for two years, I started doing 10 minutes of fun German learning a day (thanks Duolingo), and I just enrolled on a two-month sewing course. Since I’ve been wanting to develop my mentoring/coaching skills, I applied and was accepted as a mentor on a program that mentors future female leaders in Asia. After spontaneously starting this blog this week, I can add other skills/knowledge to the list.

Health Goals: My goals for this year are about experimenting with different challenges/detoxes to see if any of these habits stick. This includes doing a dry month (no alcohol), trying out veganism for month, exercising every day for a month, giving up sugar for two weeks, and going on a social media detox (for mental health).

Progress so far: I successfully completed a dry January and vegan February, and tried to exercise every day in March (January was surprisingly much easier than the other months). I took some action on deleting a bunch of addictive apps on my phone (I’m looking at you, Instagram), but still need to do a proper week-long detox at some point, since I know the unproductive side of the internet will hook its tentacles around me again as it always does.

Travel Goals: Since this will be the last year my partner and I will be living in Asia, I really want to make the most of my time by exploring more of Bangkok, going on trips while I’m still working, and planning our three month adventure at tail end of the year.

Progress: We went to China this month, which has been at the top our our travel list for ages. And we’ve gone on a handful of microadventures around Bangkok, exploring little neighborhoods we’ve never been to. We’ve still got to do a lot of planning to pull together a kick-ass itinerary for October to December.

And that’s a wrap

Phew! It was a bit exhausting running through all the things I want to do this year, but this impending life change has forced me to finally get off the couch and take action after years of reading and listening to advice about designing a new life on your own terms.

It’s amazing to see what I’ve already managed to accomplish with some razor sharp focus. I hope to keep up the momentum, motivation, and energy so I can report back at the end of the year with some good results.

Save this pin for later!

From Blighty to Bangkok – the journey so far!

In late 2010 I packed my bags and moved to South-East Asia. I planned to travel around, take some photographs, and maybe work (but that was not a high priority), while my partner completed a one-year contract with a large firm. A year later, we’d be back home, telling our friends and families of our experiences in Asia, and re-inserting ourselves into conventional living (i.e. the work-consume treadmill).

It’s now 2018 and we’re still here. That didn’t exactly go to plan, did it?

Let’s re-wind

Life in London before I got here was pretty good, but pretty average. During my student years, and for several years after, I had a fun time frittering away my student loans and my meager income on renting in central London, going out, drinking copious amounts of bad wine, and zipping off on weekends away in Europe. I was also a bit clueless. Dinner at home meant an overpriced microwave meal. Investments and pensions were completely foreign concepts, and buying a house and getting a 30-year mortgage sounded like my worst nightmare (although with current London house prices who’s laughing now?)

Neither did I manage to get myself a proper full-time, well-paid job after graduating in 2005. With an fairly non-conformist mindset, I knew that I didn’t want to work for ‘the man’, so the obvious thing was to work for non-profits. This meant diving into a series of unpaid internships, voluntary work, and temporary roles before finally landing a low paid entry-level position I ended up being over-qualified for, and therefore hating.

Shortly after managing to secure a 40% pay rise on that job, I ended up earning less anyway by deciding to go part-time to study a full-time Masters. Following a painful year of full-time studying and working 3-4 days a week (something I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to a sane person), I was burnt out and ready for something new.

Wanna move to where it’s summer everyday? Yes please!

My partner was also pretty tired with life in London. He’d been eyeing an opportunity to get a one-year placement with his company’s office in Singapore, and when this came through, I jumped at the chance to join him once I finished my studies.

I guess Singapore was my gateway drug to living in South-East Asia. The food was amazing, it never got cold, and it was just easy to get settled in. It also had so much to offer beyond just food and shopping. I would go to all the art galleries, parks, and interesting events happening all over town. It was basically my London life, but without the work, and without the crappy weather. Between frequent trips to neighbouring countries, I filled my time with yet more (unpaid) work with non-profits.

About 5 months into my stint in Singapore, I felt a bit aimless, and definitely a bit poorer. The travelling and exploring was great, but I did miss having a sense of greater purpose. So I started looking for jobs and asked my friends to keep an eye out for me.

Singapore to the Land of Smiles

A Singaporean friend sent a job advert that just sounded perfect. Except it in was in Thailand. Not Bangkok, not Chiang Mai, but some little unheard-of town somewhere in the North. After some deliberation, I decided to try it out for a year. So I packed my bags again and took up a job with a local humanitarian organisation that paid me a princely sum of 400 pounds a month.

After finally finding a job with an inspirational bunch of people on something that mattered, I threw myself into the work with gusto, and soon one year turned into two years, which turned into three. In the meantime my partner had also moved over and started working and getting deeper into life in Thailand.

30 and broke

Important birthdays can unearth some pretty uncomfortable realisations. I turned 30 during this time and realised I just had a few hundred pounds to my name. Enough in the bank to pay for my regular long-weekend trips around Asia, and the odd trip back home, but not much else. Add in my student loans and I was waaaay in the red.

I eventually found my way to personal finance sites I never knew existed, and started reading. I made an effort to de-code complicated (at least for me) financial advice and take action. I calculated my net worth, set up a stocks and shares ISA, and found out how much was in that pension my former employer set up for me (not much). I finally figured out adult stuff.

Hello Big Mango and shiny things

After three years of some serious overwork, I again felt burnt out and tired of small-town living. I left my job, and gave myself three months to do the things I could never fit into a long weekend: going on a meditation retreat, training on an organic farm, and exploring countries further east. During these relaxed months I also sent out a few applications for jobs in a big city. The job I really wanted came through, and Bangkok was the next stop on the tour (just for another year or two, of course).

Bangkok was a huge step up in terms of lifestyle. After living in a house with cheap plastic furniture, I just needed the shiny new condo unit with curtains that were picked out to match the couch. I just had to be near all the fancy supermarkets that sell everything I missed from back home. I had to go try out all the exciting restaurants and bars. My Bangkok life had come with a higher salary, but also a much higher price tag.

Still, I made an effort to save. I doggedly noted every single purchase on an app and updated my net worth every month, happily noting I was making progress. Also, once the novelty of having so many exciting eating and entertainment options wore off, I realised I was quite happy cooking at home and reading a book most evenings.

Once again, time raced by, and three and half years have passed in Bangkok. While we’ve both managed to find work that we love in a city that never gets boring, our move to Asia was only meant to be “temporary.” Each year we had the predictable discussion of when we should finally move back home, with the just-as-predictable answer, “just one more year.”

2018 is that final year

Several more years could have probably passed with us living in limbo like this. But the frustrations of commuting, being stuck behind a desk, and not having the time to travel were building up, even though I love the organisation I work for. Routine and lack of freedom can make even the best job in the world suck.

So 2018 is the year we make our transition out. There are so many life decisions we have to make, like where to live, whether to get a dog or a cat, what kind of jobs we want, and ultimately what kind of lives we want to live. But that series of decisions has to start with finally leaving our comfortable lives in Bangkok and embarking on something new.

Why I moved from London to Bangkok