October 26, 2015

debt free and living the good life: a how to

So many people ask me how I have lived abroad for so long and managed to take control of my finances from across the world.  For the first time in my adult life I have no student loan or credit card debt. I had almost 20K when I left 5 years ago. I have traveled to 14 countries in the meantime and live a more lavish lifestyle than ever before. Let me tell you how....

Oh, But you Can! If you think you can!

I am sick of hearing people complain that you cannot do anything when you have student loans and debt and I just had to write about my experience with it because I am just a normal person, that has done amazing things with plenty of strings holding me back. I had an epic journey while still paying off student loans every month and anyone else can too.  You are CHOOSING this path of crippling debt, I know this because I also chose that for a while too. Just like I chose to go to school and get into that debt (even though I was only 18 and had no idea what I was doing, but that is another post entirely!) I would never say it is easy, nor that I haven't had to work hard. I do, however, honestly believe (in my healthy, young and supported situation) it was much easier to live as an expat in Thailand and pay my loans off than it would have been if I had stayed living in the US. There is no way I would have them all paid off by now if I had made different decisions. I would go as far to say it would have been impossible to save 1000 USD a month while still having a great life and traveling. But I did just that.

 Teaching English in Asia (you can read how I feel about teaching here, but for the record I am not a teacher and do not have plans to teach forever, though I do very much enjoy working in schools and with students) is a great way to live a life you never thought possible.  I am not getting paid to write this, I am not involved in any 'quit your job and travel the world' scheme. I am writing this because I am a success story of this lifestyle choice and I think every person should do the same to make our world a better place.

Some weeks I worked 60 hours teaching but this feeling of satisfaction now is worth every minute.  Here is how I paid off almost 20,000 US dollars in 5 years (but mostly 3) while living and traveling very well. 

1. I don't have a lot of things. I do not own a car, have a nice big house with a washer/dryer or even a dog. I am human, I kinda want all of these things. But the important thing is I realize these are all unnecessary things for life and are very much luxuries afforded mostly by people in the West. Most of the world gets along just fine without a lot of 'stuff' and we are happier overall I think. No car = no gas money and insurance. Small house = small bills and more for your travel fund! If you find those material things are more important to you, then that is your decision that you must live with and know they are the reason for your situation... and that is okay if you are happy! That is what we are all seeking, right? For me, that is not what truly makes me happy, but we must all find our own bliss. Though I really want that dog...  

2. I have a pretty strict budget. Every month I set a very big part of my salary aside to send home to pay off my debt. Like almost all of it, leaving only enough for rent and bills. This means that number 3 is necessary to eat and have extra money but is the biggest reason I paid it all off so quickly. I crunched the numbers and made sure every pay day I set the correct amounts aside and off to where they go. This means I had no way to 'dip' into my savings if I needed to and when I ran out of cash I was out and had to eat 40 baht street meals, which is not even an option in most western countries. (I also don't depend on my family to give me money if you are over there thinking, 'rich, spoiled b*$&#...' my mom sends me a care package from home once in a while but I am proud to say I have been financially independent this whole time. Well, I do have a sweet husband that helps me out with dinner if I need it once in a while, thanks babe!) 

3. I have extra tutoring hours after my full time job.  I work a decently paid job in Bangkok and if you are smart and hard working, it is easier than you might think to land a job like this overseas.  Even though I get paid enough to live off of, I also tutor twice a week after school for my spending cash and it is a great system. At one point I was tutoring 3 days a week after school and on Saturdays. It was okay for a while and I took big chunks out of my debt with that but it was not sustainable. It is important you work just enough to make it worth it but don't lose your sanity. It is usually much better money with private tutoring, so you work at the good International school for the paid time off, work visa and resume booster, but extra hours for the $$$$. This is a necessary evil unfortunately. Work hard, play hard!

4. I have different priorities. Travel is my priority and I have to shift my thinking sometimes to make this stay true. Sometimes I want my nails done or to go shopping and even though I have done those things while I have lived in Thailand, I do my budget first and only once in a while indulge. I have had to say no to some nights out and dinners so I could stay within my budget and that can be tough. I have stayed in some questionable hotels along the way (those are a fantastic experience in itself) and I have also stayed in amazing ocean view villas. It is all about balance. 

5. Time and patience. One of the most important things living and working abroad is patience, in all things. No one expects to pay off all their student loans overnight, and you won't living abroad either. It can be difficult at times figuring out how to send you money home, exchange rates can make you crazy and you always encounter problems you didn't expect. Really, my first 2 years abroad I was shopping and spending money like crazy and paying only the minimum payments every month. Only as I became a bit wiser about my financial situation (HOLY SHIT, how much is going just to interest!?) did I start saving and sending big amounts of money every month. It might take a while, you might not get to do everything you have your heart set on, you will have to make some compromises, but it will happen. 

Now, more than 5 years later, I am heading home debt free much older and wiser. Though sometimes I get crazy thoughts like, "I'm gonna take out a mortgage to buy a house!" or "I don't care if I have a car payment!" I know in the end I will probably fly back into the unknown sooner than later, but this time I will be financially sound and with a much more worldly head on my shoulders. 

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