Saving While Working Abroad

by Poi on September 15, 2011

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I thought this travel lifestyle was meant to be easy. As is often explained, just cut out the unnecessary spending, save a few thousand pounds and off you pop for a lifetime of happiness.

Obviously the problem comes when that money starts to run out, what do you do? Well in our case, we set up home in Bangkok for a year to give the funds a little top up while Kirsty teaches English as a second language. Saving while working abroad, perfect! Problem is, That’s not as easy as it sounds.

Unfortunately, saving in Bangkok is pretty hard in fact it doesn’t matter where we are. Anywhere that’s not our ‘boring old hometown’ makes it harder to save. We love where we’re from, it’s home to our friends and family but we’ve seen it all before, no excitement comes from walking out the door each morning.

At home my friends could come round on a Friday night and we’d stay in because we didn’t feel like we were missing anything by not going out. As I look out my window here across Bangkok’s skyline that’s not the feeling I get, I want to get out and make the most of being here, explore the streets.

Before we started our life here I remember us saying to each other “We’ll still live like backpackers and just save the extra money we’re making”, it sounded like a great rule to live by but in reality it’s a very tough one to follow.

We’re not backpackers anymore, we’re not waking up every few days somewhere new surrounded by new people. On the road luxuries such as nice food and fancy clothes meant nothing because so much else was going on, there was so much more to take in.

We’re not so easily distracted anymore, we have a routine, we hang around with the same people and go to the same places.

Photo Credit Flickr- Ryan Snyder

Perhaps a bit too much of this?

We want to go out to expensive restaurants, spend each sunday piggying out at the expensive buffet with all the other expats and go out and buy nice clothes. Wearing the same outfit every time I leave the apartment doesn’t cut it when we’re with the same people all the time. When I’m living a life that’s so much about making money, I don’t want to feel like I have to budget every last penny but there’s no other way.

This isn’t to say I’m not loving living in Bangkok because I am, that’s the problem, I’m loving it too much. I just wish I was a millionaire so I could make the absolute most of it, because that’s my biggest fear.

What if I live here for a year and don’t enjoy it to the level I could? I might look back at my time living in Asia with regret.

But there’s another side to the coin, I worry that if we do spend too much, go to the posh side of town each weekend and drink in the fancy bars and spend freely in the shopping centres that I might go home with nothing. I want to travel after Bangkok, I don’t want this to be the end of my journey.

At the moment, the truth is, we’re probably spending more than we would like, we try to avoid a few things to save money but the lure of many is too much to resist.

We’re trying to find a balance, one that gives us the best of both worlds, but is it possible? Have you taken time out of travel to increase your savings? How did it go? Did you reach your goal?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Julia September 15, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Think this is a totally understandable fear and one I’m already thinking about even though my trip hasn’t even started yet. I’m already worried about money (or lack of) and know that I will have to work at least some of the time to top up the funds. I’m also worried about is working too hard in one place and not enjoying it as much as I could. But hey, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. And hopefully whatever you feel you might have sacrificed here will be more than made up for in another city.

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Poi September 15, 2011 at 9:08 pm

It’s surprising how much you worry about money before I trip. When we set off I couldn’t help but think about what it would be like when the money ran out, because I’d been saving up for so long, actually setting off on our trip was the beginning of the end haha. There was a lot of excitement as well of course, I’m not completely negative!

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Heather September 15, 2011 at 8:12 pm

It’s not easy, you’re right! I wanted to travel after Oz, but I quickly realized that I didn’t want to put in so many hours at work that I didn’t actually enjoy Sydney. When I stopped enjoying my job, I quit to join two friends on a road trip around the country. I knew this meant my money would run out, but I wanted to enjoy Australia to the full and figured I’d have to sort out the rest later.

Wish I could have made it to Thailand to see you guys while I was on that side of the world 🙂

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Poi September 15, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Sounds like you had a similar experience and made the right decision, you go to leave Oz actually still liking the place.

I know we’ll still make the most of Bangkok I just hope we don’t spend to much money in the process. I’m sure we’ll get a chance to meet in the future, somewhere or other!

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George September 16, 2011 at 7:42 am

I know exactly what it’s like. I was doing TEFL in Germany for 9 months and part of me wanted to save for my trip to Oz at the end but part of me wanted to go about and travel round Europe at the same time. I didn’t see half as much of Europe as I would have liked (Lots of Scandinavia and the east still to do) but I had a good time and now I am in Oz and I’ve managed my trip on budget so everything works out in the end.

Now I’m saving to move to Japan next year July hopefully and start the adventures all over again. 9 months ahhh I had better get saving!!

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Poi September 16, 2011 at 10:42 am

I’m glad your saving is going well at the minute, keep it up. Germany, Oz and then Japan.. sounds like your having a good time!

I’m hoping we’ll fall into more of a routine but with us going away quite a lot in the next couple of months I can’t see that happening. We’ll see how it goes!

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Anthony September 16, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Fantastic timing. I hold my hands up high and out myself as a big wussy money worrier. It keeps me awake at night to how I’m going to fund myself, but I guess it just keeps me on my toes.

Cheers for the open and honest insight mate!

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Poi September 20, 2011 at 11:19 am

At least if you’re thinking about it you’ll have the motivation to keep the funds up, it’s a tough one though, money vs experiences.

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Lauren September 16, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Arggggh! Money! I don’t want to think about it! I’m going through it way too much at the moment, and Europe KILLED my budget.

I’m going to have to start working when I get to Australia next year, and hope I’ll be able to save a little whilst doing that…

Just need to find the right balance of FUN FUN FUN and SAVE SAVE SAVE… And you guys are going to be in Bangkok for months and months still, so plenty of time to do everything you want to… Without wearing fancy clothes haha 🙂

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Poi September 20, 2011 at 11:21 am

haha I can imagine Europe being expensive, that’s why were scared to leave Asia, it’s so cheap here and we’re still struggling!

I think it’s more Kirsty with the clothes, I bought 4 t-shirts for 14 quid the other day, that’s me done for probably a year now haha.

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Linda September 16, 2011 at 11:52 pm

I can only tell you from personal experience that later in life you will regret the missed travel opportunities more than the nights out. I came back to the Canary Islands five years ago with the intention of saving for my next trip, but fell into a habit of going out with work colleagues regularly….and it isn’t just the cost of the meal/drinks, but transport, new clothes (as you say), and I really regret it now. I can’t say I remember one of those nights out, but if I hadn’t had them I might be anywhere else on the globe right now, with great memories.

Basically you’re living the sort of life which many of us live in our home towns, as you come close to saying. You just happen not to be in your home town. There is nothing wrong with that, except that it seems not to be what you want?

Do you know where you want to go next? Having a plan and a goal might be the key to motivate you. The very wise Pearl Buck said something like, “Once you’ve decided on the “what”, the “how” will follow.

Lots of luck with your decision!

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Poi September 20, 2011 at 11:23 am

Great perspective Linda, Thanks.

You’re definitely right that we’d be so disappointed if too much spending meant the end of our travels. We’re trying to put together a sort of plan at the moment so hopefully like you say once we have that everything else will fall into place.

Thanks for commenting!

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Erin September 20, 2011 at 3:24 am

Hello! I just stumbled on your blog and realized you both are doing almost exactly what my boyfriend and I plan to start doing in a few months, and I’m having the exact same fears! Right now we’re saving money and soon we hope to get TEFL jobs in China to save enough to travel afterwards.

I’m also worried about the making/spending money balance as well as the work/free time to explore balance! Do you feel like TEFL leaves you with enough free time to enjoy your city?

Good luck to you both and thanks for sharing!

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Poi September 20, 2011 at 11:35 am

Hey Erin,

Thanks for checking out our bog, I just had a read though your first couple of posts, you guys must be excited to get underway after all the hard work.

Kirsty is lucky enough to have a teaching job where she only works from 8:30 – 2:30 Mon – Fri so we have plenty of free time to ourself. I’m sure you’ll fin it easy enough to manage working and exploring, after all you’ll be there for a while and he excitement of being somewhere new to begin with will ensure you don’t fall into a routine right away.

We started in China as well (although not working) you’ll love it! If you have any other questions feel free to give us a shout!

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Sarah September 20, 2011 at 11:31 am

Oh man, saving while living abroad was definitely tougher than I imagined! The best thing I found was to set myself a budget each week and take out that amount of money in cash at the beginning of the week. I found it way easier to work from a cash budget than just throwing around my debit or credit card. Also, I wrote down everything I spent so I could see where all my money was going. Even the act of writing stuff down made me second guess buying things!

This worked in South Korea, which is a bit more expensive than Bangkok so maybe it might help?

Good luck to you guys!

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Poi September 20, 2011 at 11:39 am

Thanks for the tips Sarah.

We try to draw our spending money out like you say but then forget to take the card out of my wallet, go out for a ‘few’ drinks and wham! we’re out all night!

I’ll have to take it out and writing everything down is a good idea, we’re often left wondering where it all went.

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Monica (@TotalTravelBug) September 27, 2011 at 12:25 am

I think most travellers experience this at some point. You want to make the most out of every moment but how can you do this and save money?

I found a nice compromise in Oz by working on a desert island. Food and accomodation was included in the wage so there was literally nothing to spend money on. Nothing! The guests bought us beer too so after 6 months we saved a fair wack.

Not quite sure if you can do the same in Bangkok though!

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Poi September 27, 2011 at 10:15 am

Working on a desert island with people buying you beer? That sounds pretty special!

I don’t think there is much hope of me finding anything like that in Bangkok but maybe I can convince Kirsty to let me run off somewhere?

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Ashley March 6, 2012 at 1:35 pm

This post really made me stop and think and was refreshing to see that I am not the ONLY one out there who has this problem!

I have been living and teaching in Korea for 2 years now, and am on the start of my 3rd. My original plan when I moved over here in 2009 was to spend a year saving money like mad. To be honest…Korea and Asia were not exactly on my “to-do” list…

After becoming immersed in the culture and settling in quite well…nearly 3 years later I am still here and am still trying to learn how to curb my spending habits as a resident.

Reading your blog is getting me quite excited for my next round of travels and I’m hoping it will help give me that extra motivation I need to cut corners and start putting away for what I love best—traveling!

Great entries! I thoroughly enjoy reading them!

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Nigel Chiu June 6, 2013 at 4:26 pm

This is what I planned to do after my graduation, living abroad and enjoy other culture. However I knew that it could be costly and saving money is almost a impossible mission, since I am a student that study overseas! Thanks for the sharing!

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