Living on $10,000 a Year: Attempt #2

Living on $10,000 a year: Deep Dish 2018 spending report


Last year, my goal was to live the good life on less than US$10,000. I ended up going about six hundred bucks over my target, but was pretty happy with the attempt.

This year, I didn’t have any particular goal in mind. Since I’d already built a spreadsheet and got in the habit of tracking my expenses, I kept up the practice anyway. Every last dollar, dong, baht, and rupee has been neatly pinned to the page, examined, and categorised.

Once again, I’ve got an entire year’s worth of spending data spread out in front of me.

So, how’d I do?

Living on $10,000 a year: Deep Dish 2018 spending report
Note: I track business expenses and donations separately

I had to check the numbers a couple of times to make sure I hadn’t screwed up. I spent almost exactly the same amount as last year, right down to the last $20. This happened with no conscious effort whatsoever on my part. Spooky!

I actually thought I’d loosened my purse-strings quite a bit, but apparently not. Once again, that ten thousand bucks has stretched a really long way. There have been fewer adventures this year—I’m trying to live the quiet life, to get some solid writing done—but I still ended up dancing at a Sangeet in India in full ceremonial garb, flying to my friends’ wedding in New Zealand, crashing their honeymoon in Vietnam, getting my ass tattooed in a Balinese bar, and so on.

More importantly, I’ve had complete agency over my time. I’ve mostly used it to read, write and learn, as opposed to the touristic and fun stuff, but I’m very much at peace with that decision—it feels ‘right’ for this particular stage of my life.

Here’s how the spending breaks down:

living on $10,000 a year sankey flow chart
(this entire post was actually just a pretext for making this sweet sankey diagram)

Eating well

Once again, food was far and away my biggest expense. I saved a bunch of money on groceries by actually making a habit of going to the local market, where I filled my panniers with a cornucopia of fresh produce for a few bucks (here’s an example of my weekly haul). I offset those savings by spending more money at restaurants, but that feels like a great tradeoff to me. I’m not really interested in trying to save more money on food, and increasingly refuse to pinch pennies on anything to do with health and wellbeing.


Saying no

The defining lesson of this year is that I need to get better at just saying no to things. I don’t have to join every social event, or accept every invitation. Popular ‘must-do’ activities are rarely worth it. I have managed to turn down almost every freelance gig and other offer this year, which feels sacrilegious—saying no to money!—but invigorating.


Three best purchases

1. Fitbit

That’s right: I’m one of those wankers who won’t shut up about their fitness tracker. Honestly though, this thing is so freaking cool. I went for the Charge 2. It would be worth it purely for tracking the duration and quality of my sleep, which has been a bit of a wake-up call, and sparked all sorts of changes in my habits. While this blew out my spending in the ‘health and fitness’ category, I offset it somewhat by #redneckengineering my own calisthenics station, and using this dirt-cheap beachfront gym in Bali.

2. Kindle

Yes, eReaders suck compared to actual books. I got the Kindle Paperwhite, which is incomparably better than the ancient Kobo I had before. It was instrumental in getting me to my reading goal. I spent more on books this year than I ever have before, but I don’t see this as a bad thing at all—it feels more like an investment, and is still paltry in the grand scheme of things.

3. Bluetooth headphones

If you listen to a lot of podcasts and music on the go or while exercising, this is the kind of purchase you don’t want to pinch pennies on. I accidentally destroyed my Jaybirds in a fit of over-zealous vacuuming, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The replacements—Plantronics BackBeat FITare water-resistant, have eight hours of battery life, and are much easier to take in and out. In fact, the Plantronics were so good I bought them twice! Heartbreakingly, the first pair were either lost or stolen a month after I got them. Memo to self: stop being careless with expensive-ass headphones.


Location, location, location

While money passes through my fingers like water in New Zealand, it takes an active effort to spend much in Asia. I only spent around $600 a month in Chiang Mai, and $800 in Bali (see my full cost-of-living breakdown for Bali, and Chiang Mai).

2019 is going to be more of a challenge. I’ll be in Vietnam initially, which is cheap as chips, but I’m thinking of going home to New Zealand for a spell, before I head over to the Americas for a long overdue tour, and set up a new base of operations there. I’d love to meet some more readers, and possibly crash on your couch, so I’ll let you know which cities I end up in closer to the time.


A few other numbers to sum up 2018…

increase in net worth. Even though I cancelled almost all my freelance gigs, I earned enough to comfortably cover my costs, and put a little extra away. While the market shat itself towards the end of the year, one of my risky early-stage investments took off like a rocket (on paper).

countries traversed. I celebrated the New Year in Pune, India, then headed to Chiang Mai, made my first trip home to New Zealand in almost two years, wintered in Bali, then flew back to Chiang Mai, with a brief reconnaissance mission to scope out Vietnam and catch up with some friends.

 

books read. This blows my previous record out of the water. I’m going to write a dedicated post about all my sneaky strategies soon. For now, here’s the very best books I read in 2018.

 

words written. A quarter appeared here on the blog, a quarter were columns and freelance jobs, and the other half were on personal writing and other things, including the book project.

 

It’s been a very good year on the whole, but not without a few wobbly moments. Posts like this inevitably glamorise the highlights, as do social media and online personas in general. I’m thinking about how I can give more of an unfiltered, warts-and-all perspective in the future, although I’m a little uneasy exposing my soft underbelly to the sharp teeth of the Internet.

As always, people are the best part of my life. Thanks to all the friends, new and old, and the messages and comments from you, dear reader, which keep me doing what I’m doing. I am grateful to you all. See you in 2019!

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Prabhath Mathew
Prabhath Mathew

Hi Richard! How do you keep a track of all your expenses?! So precisely! Do you use any app or notebook? How do you do it?

Ruth

Just wanted to say well done on your spending! Love reading the nitty gritty like this and considering I spent $1,200 (NZ) just on freaking FOOD in December, you put me to shame! Keep up the travels, keep up the writing, I love following your journey and your insights. And when/if you hit Central Otago NZ and need a place to stay, look me up. And I’ll share our food with you, we clearly have plenty of that 😉

Ben
Ben

Bro you may have written about this before but where is your income coming from if you aren’t taking any freelance gigs on?
FYI the tiny house is all go!

dee

i cant do the no internet and i like living in my rented place – to old for that kind of living

Andy
Andy

Another goodie! I thought it was Nz$ until I read it again just now on Stuff haha. Interesting as I just did my year totals and found I spent 2.5k on food (insanely expensive in NZ) and 1k on gin! As of today I’ve home brewed 69 litres of beer and 10 litres of wine for 2019- it will help me save another 1k 🙂 Thanks for all the tips and inspiration, Happy New Year!!

Andy
Andy

Oh btw I got to share this- I have been phoning my bank each time they charge me a “account maintainence fee” and I request it to be refunded -THIS WORKS!! In NZ my bank is Anz, they will refund the fee. I do it with any fees that they charge me that I think are unreasonable. The fine print on bank account contracts says “fees are indicative and subject to change” ie they can charge you whatever they want and increase charges at any time without telling you. I guess most people don’t even check.

wazim
wazim

Hi Richard,
I just read the eye watering reaction to the ‘kiwi-ised’ version of this article released on Stuff,co,nz today. I gotta say (as a New Zealander) that either Stuff attracts the dumbest, ‘tall poppy cuttin-est’, financially ignorant, head in sand humans to it’s comments section or kiwis are just getting plain stupider and angrier by the day. As usual it is the loudest voices in the room that get heard (or published in Stuff) but rest assured, some of us out there enjoy your work and understand what you are doing.
Cheers, Wazza

P.S. ‘bludging’ off your folks is not a crime 😉

Rohan

Great stuff! Love the numbers. I’m just like you with Bluetooth headphones. Might have to check out your recommendation

Aisling

Great work Rich! Very interesting to see your breakdown! Here’s to 2019!

Curtin

Great sharing. Upping the books and writing myself. Maybe I can swing a friend’s couch for you in the USA.

Dawn

Impressive all round! Nice work.

Sharil
Sharil

Great article to close the year with!! It actually has given me the idea to track my own spending for 2019. I usually just take out my fortnightly budget in cash and spend as needed so I know how much I spend but not on what which may end up being an eye opener. Any good apps you can reccommend for that? Good luck and see you next year
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