Looking back at life via the World Cup

As you get older, and spend more time working in an office day in, day out, it’s harder to remember what you did each summer. When I was in my early twenties, I could probably tell you what I did every summer holiday since I was 12.

Nowadays, I don’t even recall what I did last summer without some deep probing of my memories. ‘Summer’ is no longer six or more glorious weeks away from school or university. In fact, living in Thailand, ‘summer’ doesn’t really register with me all, because of the year-long hot climate.

But there’s something about the World Cup that makes a summer memorable. It’s only every four years, and there’s an atmosphere of excitement and emotional investment in a team. It’s time spent with others over beers, and sharing (often in the case of England) commiserations.

With the World Cup going on right now, it’s prompted me to remember what I was doing during the last tournament, and tournaments before that. The memory of each World Cup summer allows me a little snapshot of my life at a particular moment.

Four years between World Cups is a long time, and it’s been interesting to reflect on how much has changed over time. Here’s are the snapshots of my life over the last five World Cup tournaments, spanning 16 years.

World Cup 2002

I’m done with my first year of university and living independently! I’ve somehow blown through the first installment of my student loan (it must have been all the drinking and new clothes). No worries though, I’m putting in a lot of hours working as a catering waitress in London for £6 an hour.

There are many fancy weddings to work this summer, and some of them happen to have celebrity guests. I also get to get work at state banquets and private parties. There’s plenty of money flying around (just not amongst us wait staff). I head back late at night to my cheap house share in Peckham and watch the World Cup highlights with my housemates. We buy cheap booze and cook up cheap meals. We’re all broke but happy.

World Cup 2006

I’m in Dhaka, Bangladesh doing an internship with an NGO. I graduated from university the year before, and I’m dipping my toes in the world of international development. I’m fascinated by the inner workings of the organisation, and the politics of the country, so I do my best to learn everything I can while I’m there.

My weekends are spent volunteering with street children, and my evenings are spent with privileged expats and local elites. I don’t need to worry about money at all; my host family lend me their driver and car, my dinners are paid for. I’m hugely conflicted about my comfortable life of privilege even though I probably only have £500 in my bank account in total.

My partner is working for the World Cup organizers in Germany and offered me a ticket to go see the final! But I can’t go. Instead I invite friends to watch the Cup Final in the home theatre of the mansion I’m staying in.

World Cup 2010

It’s a glorious London summer. The sun is out, and the nights are long. My partner and I have just moved into our adorable, but expensive flat in Islington and enjoying the afternoons and evenings drinking overpriced pints in our local pubs.

I’m also in the middle of finishing my Masters thesis, while working a four-day week for a non-profit that makes me want to bash my head in. I’ve been working there for 2 years and hating it from day one, but I force myself to stay there for the stable income. A possible move to Singapore is on the cards, but this isn’t final yet.

Money worries are on the periphery of my mind, but I push them further out. After all, it’s the summer, it’s the World Cup, and I need to try out all the fancy restaurants and pubs in my area, right?

World Cup 2014

I’m enjoying a mini retirement in northern Thailand. I quit my high-stress and low paid (but highly rewarding job) earlier in May. I have no idea what/where my next job will be, and I don’t care. Money doesn’t worry me very much because I started taking saving and investing seriously the year before. Instead, I’m taking the time to do things I’ve wanted to do for a while, but couldn’t due to being tied to full-time work. So I go on a ten-day silent meditation retreat, take a course on sustainable living at an organic farm, and go to a music festival in Borneo.

Meanwhile, Thailand has just undergone a military coup and declared martial law. I wonder how a 10pm national curfew is going to work when the World Cup matches are on late. Thankfully the self-appointed National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) relax the curfew just in time. I watch the Germany-Argentina final on an outdoor screen through a curtain of rain (it’s rainy season).

World Cup 2018

I’m living in Bangkok, my home for the last three and a half years. I found my perfect job, but I realize it’s time to leave it behind. So I’m in transition, getting ready for a three-month travel adventure around Asia, before finally making the big move back to Europe. I’ve been steadily building up my savings over the last few years to give myself the time to figure out the next step in life. But I’m also slightly stressed about not having income coming in after September.

I’m not particularly fussed about watching the World Cup this year due to the time difference, plus I might have developed a gluten intolerance which means I can’t drink beer! (But England making it to the quarter-finals has got me excited).

World Cup 2022??

It’s hard for me to project four years ahead. I have never been great at life-planning – I tend to let life happen to me. During each of the World Cup summers just described, I could never have imagined where I would be four years later. Back in 2002, I certainly wouldn’t have imagined I would be writing this post in Bangkok 16 years later. Perhaps the lack of life-planning has enabled me to make such crazy career and location moves.

But money has also become more important to me over these years; especially as I’ve realised that financial independence can help me continue living a life untethered from traditional work. I also know that as I get older, it will be harder to follow my passions without that financial security.

So while I don’t know where I will be, or what I will be doing in 2022, I do know how I want to feel in four years time. I want to feel more financially secure and independent, closer to family, passionate about whatever I’m doing, and perhaps settled somewhere longer-term. It’s now up to me to try break down these vague feelings into actual SMART goals and taking action…

Over to you! What were you up to in the last World Cup? Where do you want to be in 2022?

 

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?