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?
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:
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.
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
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.
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 FIT—are 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!