Make frugality great again hat

Make Frugality Great Again!

What comes to mind when you think of the word frugality? For me, it’s a used tea bag sitting in a saucer, waiting to be re-dunked. Or arguing with the store manager to try to get a discount. Or ‘mum says we have food at home’.

And that’s coming from someone who loves this thing. The first post I ever published was my viral 2016 ‘coming out’ essay on the life-changing power of frugality. This is still the best experiment I’ve ever run, and set me up for everything that followed.

But longtime readers might have noticed that I’ve moved away from this kind of material over the years. Partly, it’s because I find early retirement blogs interminably boring. If I see another ‘monthly income report’ post I will scream.

I’ve also been feeling a little uneasy about the virtues of frugality and the early retirement movement. My upcoming book is about how I fell out of love with these ideas, and my attempt to build a more well-rounded philosophy. Whether or not you read the book, I feel like I should explain how my thinking has changed in recent years…

Life of Paisa: The Cost of Living in Medellín, Colombia

Shortly after arriving in Medellín, I got The Fear. I barricaded myself in my tiny, claustrophobic Airbnb, binge-watching Narcos and compulsively reading up on the lurid crimes that still plague the former murder capital of the world. Every backfiring engine was a gunshot. Every taxi driver was scheming to deliver me into the hands of the paramilitaries lurking in the jungle. At the calisthenics park, I carefully guarded my water bottle, in case someone slipped in the scopolamine drops that would turn me into a zombie.

My salvation came, as it often does, through a basic grasp of statistics…

2019 spending report: the year of becoming a fancy bitch

2019 Spending Breakdown: The Year of Becoming a Fancy Bitch

Well, time to hand in my frugality card. In 2019, my expenses jumped 38 per cent!

…or perhaps not just yet. I spent most of the year in the Americas, including three of the most expensive cities in the world, which was a shock to the system after so much time in Asia.

It’s only fair to separate this out. After doing some very technical analysis, I calculate that my lifestyle has inflated by 1.25x this year.

Not quite as bad, but still a big leap. This was the year of becoming a Fancy Bitch. Honestly… I’m kind of into it.

Better to Reign in Hell Than Serve in Heaven

‘Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven’ is the fervently-held belief of many freelancers, entrepreneurs and digital nomads I’ve met over the last few years. They’ve all walked away from overbearing bosses, steady paychecks, and nine-to-five office hours to build their own dominions.

There are no rules in hell! You can set your own hours and fire annoying clients and be your own boss and blow off work to go drinking at 11 in the morning. But liberty always comes at a price…

stockmarket charts: how safe are index funds, anyway?

Beware of Geeks Bearing Formulas

The history of finance is a history of brains dashed on the pavement. The fact that many people tend to be ‘irrationally’ wary of the markets starts to take on a new significance: the suspicious folk-wisdom has often been correct, while the ‘experts’ have consistently been dangerously wrong.

Hence Warren Buffett’s warning: beware of geeks bearing formulas…

A Fistful of Dong: The Cost of Living in Da Nang, Vietnam

This is the first time I’ve felt a little guilty about writing one of these posts. The beach town of Da Nang is an underappreciated gem. It’s the smallest of the big five cities in Vietnam, and much less well-known than Hanoi or Saigon.

But it’s been vaunted as an up-and-coming hub for digital nomads in recent years, so the cat’s out of the bag already. If it starts getting overrun with bitcoin enthusiasts and wellness coaches, I swear it’s not my fault…

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

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

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 […]

Fuck-You Money Part II

If you ever need a refresher on the importance of fuck-you frugality, go peel off a $100 bill, and subject yourself to the silent, brooding judgment of Benjamin Franklin.

The side-eye is so doleful it traverses time and space. It’s almost as if Franklin knows his face is about to be a) rolled into a tube and stuck up some degenerate’s nostril, or b) used to purchase another superfluous piece of junk that will, in short order, be discarded upon a mountain of previously purchased superfluous junk.

Franklin’s not mad; he’s just disappointed. He wants us to be better…

Somebody wants you to do something, fuck you. Boss pisses you off, fuck you! Own your house. Have a couple bucks in the bank. Don't drink. That's all I have to say to anybody on any social level. Did your grandfather take risks? I guarantee he did it from a position of fuck you. A wise man's life is based around fuck you.

The Joy of Fuck-You Money

Humphrey Bogart used to keep a $100 bill in his dresser drawer at all times—a decent chunk of change in the 1920s. He referred to it as his ‘fuck-you money’, because it meant he’d never be forced to take a crappy part. According to Bogie, the only good reason for making money was “so you can tell any son-of-a-bitch in the world to go to hell”.

Unlike Bogart, I am not a tough guy. One time I cried in front of my boss. She gave me the rest of the day off. In fact, all my bosses have been great. I’m struggling to think of a single person I’d like to say ‘fuck you’ to.

But there are plenty of people who I’d like to politely say ‘no thanks’ to. And I say it all the time! It’s great. If I think back on the last few years, fuck-you money has changed my life.

Tabah lot, Bali on the cheap cover image

Bali on a Budget: Living on Less Than $800 a Month

Bali offers a delightfully low cost of living and high quality of life. This being my fourth trip in as many years, I figure I’ve got enough spending data to do a decent breakdown of my expenses.

I’ve tracked every last rupiah during my time here, and crunched the numbers on my spending. What follows is a full cost-of-living breakdown including all the nitty-gritty stuff (like insurance and bank fees) which most reports seem to forget or ignore.

Futurama compound interest cover image

Futurama Taught Me Everything I Know About Compound Interest

Futurama is one of the greatest cartoons of all time. If you haven’t seen this gem of the early noughties, here’s the basic premise: Pizza delivery boy Fry accidentally falls into a cryogenic freezer at the turn of the new millennium, and wakes up 1000 years in the future.

In the sixth episode, ‘A Fishful of Dollars’, Fry re-discovers his old bank account, which contained the princely sum of 93 cents at the time he was frozen. Over the 1000 years he spent as a human popsicle, he is told the balance has compounded from less than a buck to the staggering sum of $4.3 billion. Hijinks and capers ensue…

Why Im buying the iPhone X, and you should too

Why I’m Buying the iPhone X (And You Should Too)

I’m on the verge of tears by the time the Apple keynote livestream starts, because I’m sure the WiFi will lag. But it runs smoothly, and relief washes over me in an awesome wave.

Tim Cook takes the stage. “Apple has always believed that technology infused with humanity can improve people’s lives and change the world,” he says.

It’s a powerful statement, delivered with a grandeur that approaches the sublime. The universal message crosses all boundaries and instills one with the hope that it’s not too late for us to better ourselves.

The iPhone X is the star of the show. Oh, my God! Look at that subtle golden finish. The tasteful slenderness. It’s made from an aerospace-grade 7000 series custom aluminum alloy. The glass has a seven-layer colour process, to make sure it’s a beautiful precise hue. I’m sweating…

Specialisation is for insects - Elon Musk's Roadster cruises through space

Specialization is For Insects

Elon Musk is the real-life Ironman, and exactly the sort of superhero we need – because he puts the lie to the tired old cliche; ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. In this post, I want to make the case that cultivating broad interests and skills not only dovetails perfectly with the frugal life, but acts as a sort of force multiplier – a booster rocket that can propel you towards your money goals at blistering speed…

Living On Less Than $10,000 a Year

At the start of 2017, one of my goals was to try and maintain a flâneur lifestyle while living off less than US$10,000 (or NZ$15,000).
I’ve logged every rickshaw ride, every water refill, every bowl of noodles. Nothing escaped the merciless conditional formatting of my spreadsheet, which blazed a furious red whenever I overshot my daily or monthly spending targets. Now, with an entire year’s worth of spending data in front of me, it’s crunch time. Here’s how I did…