Thursday, 14 November 2013

Embracing minimalism and early retirement in Chiang Mai.


It's only five days until I'm 40. Seeing as the life expectancy for a Thai male is 71, it's safe to assume I've slid half-way down life's mortal coil. Rather than morbidly looking to the future, I'll take a quick introspective peek down my murky telescope of history.

Life started charting its own course when I left home to join the Royal Navy at the tender age of 17. By 20 I was serving on HMS Coventry in the Adriatic Sea as part of a UN force during the Bosnian war. At 23 I had completed submarine training and joined HMS Victorious - one of the UK's four nuclear deterrent submarines. I left the Royal Navy at 27 to pursue a BSc(Hons) with the Open University followed by an MSc at Newcastle University. At 32 I made what I regard to be the best decision of my life and I left the UK!

Since I left I've lived in a whole host of tropical countries (mainly Thailand). I've completed a PGCE teaching degree with Nottingham University which afforded the opportunity to teach Maths, Physics and IT in International Schools around Asia. I also managed to learn some basic Mandarin and intermediate Thai. By the age of 39 I had retired.

This brings me to the general topic I want to cover in this entry: How to embrace minimalism, become financially independent and ultimately retire young.


Today, there's a whole plethora of information, blogs, forums etc available online. It's a result of the digital revolution and the Information Age supplanting the Industrial Age. Admittedly, like anything worthwhile, it takes reading, time and understanding to digest and then use the information. Once one develops the skills necessary in the information age, anything is possible.

Everyone will have different reasons for doing what they do but my rationale was simple. I'd always felt an almost imperceptible dissatisfaction with the UK's materialistic ways. I couldn't quite put my finger on it but something used to niggle me. I was lucky enough to have paid my house off by the age of 29 through a combination of frugal living, a phobia of debt and sticking to diligent financial goals. Once I'd embarked on the MSc at Newcastle I had to ask myself: Why am I doing this? For academic prestige? To earn more money? If yes why? What do I want? I had everything I needed. After some hard thinking I realised I didn't need (or want) ANYTHING UK society was offering. I didn't want a BMW (I was happy with my £700 old banger). I didn't want a McMansion. I suddenly realised I didn't want to even be there.

So, without the benefit of today's blogs and online help I set off on my own. I sold everything I owned and left home with a backpack, tent, passport and an ATM card. I can't explain how liberating it felt to have no direct debits leaving my bank account. The only time money was debited was when I physically withdrew cash from an ATM. I had some interesting statements in 2006/2007 given how many countries I passed through. The sense of freedom was immense. No more council tax, electric, gas, car insurance, car tax, house insurance, phone, petrol, rent, mortgage, broadband, income tax. For the first time in my life I felt truly free.

For 18 months I travelled in this manner. It was awesome. I then settled in Taiwan for 9 months before embarking on a further 1 year trip around SEA. Since 2009 I've been living mainly in Thailand after falling in love with the place.

So what's life like here in Chaing Mai? Well, first and foremost CM has the most beautiful women in the world. Compared to the Western Land Whales I see backpacking here .... well there's no comparison. Feminine, petite, gorgeous eyes, silky long black hair (and that's just the ladyboys)! I become encapsulated everyday by these seductive exotic divas. Next, the chilled out vibe. CM folk are a pleasure to be around compared to other more hectic parts of the country. The motorbiking around the city is great which is a huge plus for me personally. This is easily the best place I've lived in Thailand.

Enough of this shit. How do you live a minimalist life then?

Even though I've been here only three weeks I can shed some light on how one can live on a minimalist budget here. I will give prices in both THB and GBP. Just as there are degrees of 'hotness' in women there are degrees of 'piousness' in minimalism. On one end of the scale you could live like this:

Room 100bt/day (£2)
Food 105bt/day (£2)
Total 6150bt/month (£123)

This is perfectly possible and those meals would be cooked and the dishes washed for you! However, there's not much room for fun like beer, birds, bikes, massages, pizzas, dating etc.

A more reasonable figure on which I seem to be getting by on is 20,000bt (£400)/month. This equates to about 5,000bt/week. On that I can have two oil massages (500bt £10), two booze/tab sessions (about 1,200bt £24) when watching the footy, 200bt/day on decent scran (1,400bt £28) and the 100bt/day for the room (700bt £14). That still leaves 1,200bt £24 for stuff like petrol, taking a lass out or even the odd Starbucks treat!!

So far I seem to be around the 20,000bt/month mark. This is without even trying. I have actually budgeted 30,000bt/month and it seems I will easily be able to live within that (although I do have ancillary annual costs like my Thai language course, visa and flights to Cambodia to consider also).

Financial Independence?

What is this? I would describe it as possessing sufficient personal wealth to live without having to work for basic necessities. Achieving FI is much discussed in online forums. How much do you need? What is a Safe withdrawal Rate? Where should I invest? How can I begin to eradicate debt? What's my personal net worth? One commonly discussed formula for calculating how much you need to retire is to work out how much you spend in a month. Multiply that figure by 300 and that's how much you have to have saved and invested in order to achieve FI. How you invest and your withdrawal rate is critical. Some experts suggest a withdrawal rate of 3-4% per year, however, this can vary depending on your investment rate of return and inflation.

As a maths teacher I might explain that something multiplied by 300 is going to be a big number. For example if you spend £1,500/month you would need £450,000 saved up and invested. A fanciful sum for many I would speculate. However, the key here is to massively reduce those monthly outgoings. For example the guy living off £123/month only needs to save and invest £36,900 - not such a fanciful figure!

The message I am trying to get across is that early retirement isn't merely for millionaires. Anyone can achieve it with the right mindset. It is completely possible. I know it is because I've done it and I'm a thick Geordie bastard as I've been told numerous times throughout my life!!

So what's it like being retired?

I retired in July and the first four months was taken up by a gargantuan motorbike trip around SEA. I arrived in CM and decided to celebrate the end of the trip with a long overdue bike wash.
Since then I've been trying to come to terms with being retired. It's very strange at first. When I was on the bike tour my days were filled. Now, I am finding myself waking up later. I love not having an alarm. I love going to sleep whenever. What I think I love is the time. The time to do whatever you want when you want. I'm still getting used to it to be honest. 
I've been out on many local bike trips like this viewpoint overlooking CM city. I've been drunk more times than is healthy with Alex, an old friend from Trang who happens to be working here.  
Is it a wasp? I've never seen anything like it before. 
Are they eyes all the way along its back? There were weird insects up at that viewpoint. 
Huay Kaew waterfall. Not as good as the Langkawi's! 
The road to Samoeng. An idyllic village to the west of CM. 
This young army fella was on his way to Pai from Samoeng on his scooter! That's one hell of a trip along 170km of remote looking roads. Maybe I'll do that route soon.
When I'm not drinking (and suffering the inevitable two day hangovers) I normally chill in the pool in the afternoon before going for a run between 5 - 6pm.  
I went to the mall to watch a movie. They were erecting this Xmas tree on the 5th of November. Far too early. I like Thailand because no-one really cares about it. 
Brilliant massive cylindrical fish tank. I would love to have some students measuring the height and circumference to work out how many liters it holds! I can't let it go!
I went shopping for a CBR500cc. 210,000bt. Slightly beyond my minimalist lifestyle budget but it felt strange to be temporarily seduced by capitalism's wares. Perhaps motorbikes are my Achilles' heel.

My bike was parked outside my room when a car flew past and the vibrations knocked it over. The clutch handle is bent to buggery and I've had a nightmare today trying to get a replacement. I managed to get an oil filter but I wasn't so lucky with the air filter and clutch.

On Monday I got drunk with a load of mechanics as they stripped an engine. It was great. Today they helped me straighten my clutch handle with a piece of wood and a brick. I love Thailand.
The booze hurts but I can't deny we have a laugh. Snooker in the local Thai bar is brilliant. All the matches on a massive screen, beer at 70bt a big bottle, a snooker table behind. Can't be bad. Alex and I had a match where we gave ourselves names. I was the Geordie Juggernaut and he was the Wiltshire Wizard. Unfortunately, the Wizard didn't have enough magic up his sleeve and ended up losing!  
Another spin into the sticks. 
I was just finishing a cappuccino (they didn't have Nescafe) when I came across these Karen tribal lads looking after about 30 elephants. I went down for a crack. This was the big Daddy, although I should mention in these enlightened times that the female elephants are just as equal, strong, independent and empowered.
The Mother and baby. That little elephant was ridiculously cute. He kept charging me where his forehead would crash into my groin and send me sprawling. The Mamouts were laughing although I found the whole thing a touch frightening - the kid's huge mother was only 2m away!!

Doi Suthep Temple. Sits on the hill overlooking CM.

I guess the biggest news is that I've started seeing a new lass. She's 23 and works in marketing. We chatted online for 3 months while I was riding around Asia. We've been dating for about 3 weeks. She's so hot with a great personality too. Although she doesn't speak much English I actually find that a plus as I love talking Thai anyhow. I feel like a truly lucky bloke right now!

Some websites to check out if you're interested in any of the stuff I was talking about:

Grong Naman krueng = oil filter
Grong agaat = air filter
Meu clatch = clutch handle

1 comment:

  1. For a math teacher, your numbers don't really add up. Wandering half the time and earning scat wages as a teacher does not add up to enough to retire on, even in Chiang Mai. With all your boozing and dating and what not, you're gonna have to head to the Gulf for a few years to top up, matie.


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