Travel Slow, Travel Cheap, Travel Forever

Why do so many people feel they need to rest when they get back from vacation?

The problem with vacation and travel in general is we are going about it all wrong. We have a set amount of time, say one week, and we try to jam as many activities and as much sightseeing as possible into our limited time. This creates a great environment for stress and high cost.

The solution:

Travel slow, travel cheap, travel forever.


So what is slow travel?

Slow travel is going to fewer places and really experiencing them. When we traverse quickly from one place to another we miss out on all of the cool little things that make a place interesting. Slow travel is about spending the time to see the little things, to talk to the locals, and to experience life as locals.

When we travel slowly, we get to spend more time doing and experiencing and less time traveling. The travel part of traveling, the bus rides, plane flights, train rides, etc. is enjoyed by few. When we decide to travel slowly, we are consciously deciding to spend more of our vacation experiencing and less of our valuable time away getting transported from place to place.

The pace of slow travel depends on the person and the constraints on vacation time. If we had the choice, we would go to places for 1-3 months at a time to really get to know them. Currently, work constrains us to a max of about 2 weeks on a vacation, so our itinerary gets cut back a lot. If we tried to fit in everything and “see a whole country” in 2 weeks, like we did in Greece, then we get to spend half of our time traveling, and the other half recovering from that traveling.

Slow travel does not only apply to the retired

Even a one week vacation can be spent traveling slowly. If you choose to go to just one place, then a one week vacation to another country or another city is enough time to get to enjoy yourself and not feel like you are flying from one place to another.

Sure, 1-3 months per location would be preferable, but one week allows for time to get to explore the back streets, and the local cafes if you are not rushing from one place to the next. In a week, you can start to develop a routine and enjoy the relaxation.

Everybody takes week long vacations. Most of us have at least 2 weeks of vacation per year in whatever job we have. If not, maybe we should reevaluate what is important to us. We can work with our bosses to get entire weeks or 2 weeks in a row for a longer trip. Don’t let limited vacation time discourage you from enjoying the experience of slow travel.

I talked with my boss and my boss’s boss recently about vacation and needing more for traveling while we are living in China. 3 weeks is simply not enough time to travel while we are living abroad. After talking with them, they offered to allow me to take at least one additional week of vacation over the year and also to work a little extra to accrue more if needed. You will never get more time off unless you ask. The worst they can say is no.

There is time for slow travel, even if you have a job with little vacation.

Slow travel is cheap

The entire premise of slow travel is minimizing your time traveling, so you can experience a place. Travel is expensive. So by minimizing our time traveling on planes, buses, trains, taxis, etc. then we are lowering the cost of our vacation substantially.

Our recent trip to Indonesia, is a perfect example of this. We toured by bicycle, which I still consider slow travel, even though it is moving most days. Despite traveling by bicycle our biggest cost on the trip was transportation and travel. That includes travel hacking our way to cheap plane tickets (~$200) for the 2 of us. Travel hacking saved us $600 on flights alone.

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As you can see, transportation was the largest cost. If we extended the trip another 2 weeks, than our transportation cost would remain the same while becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of overall trip cost.

The longer you stay in a single place or move about by free transportation, the cheaper your trip will be. Plane flights are always a major expense, unless you travel hack your way to cheap or free flights. The only way to truly minimize your travel cost is by minimizing your travel time and to travel slowly.

Conclusion

The question you have to ask yourself is this:

Why am I traveling?

Am I traveling to get photos of all the sites to show to my friends and family? Or am I traveling to experience a new place, experience a new culture, taste new foods, experience wonderful scenery, and learn a new way of life?

Asking yourself these questions will let you know if you are ready for slow travel. If you just want to maximize your photo opportunities at all the well-known tourist attractions, then fast travel is for you. However, if you want to experience life in a new way, then slow travel is the best way to reach your goal. Slow travel will allow you to travel forever!

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slow travel, frugal travel, cheap, forever

Is College the Only Path?

Why does society push us towards pursuing college?

Is college really the only path to freedom out there?

Society pushes college as the answer to everything. Yes, I went to college and got an engineering degree. After college, I got this big fancy engineering job with an international manufacturing company before moving to China on the expat package with the same company.

As an engineer, the skills I use most from day-to-day are those skills learned in the first year of engineering courses if not in high school. Were all 4 years really necessary to get to where I am today.

A degree is really nothing, but proof to employers that you can commit to something for four years. ~Anonymous

Mrs. Atypical came across this quote yesterday, and I immediately loved it!

It seems most employers don’t really care about what you learned in college. They are just looking for a check mark on your resume to say, yes, you went to college. The job requirement says BS degree in something. You are qualified!

Since I learned all of the essentials to my degree in one class, the introductory class, did I really need 4 years? I could have started working 4 years earlier (I went to college for 5 years because of a co-op job for one year), had way less student loan debt and already been retired at 28. Because society and employers value that piece of paper so much, I had to remain in school for the 4 years of classes, not to learn about engineering, but to demonstrate my persistence.

So after 4 years or more at an influential college, you now have a pretty piece of paper that you can show prospective employers. That pretty piece of paper proves nothing other than your ability to persist through 4 years of classes. It is the same paper regardless of your grades and regardless of your knowledge.

diploma

Hiring Young

Employers are scared to hire someone young. I hear the young bias on almost a daily basis. We are bringing in a 3rd party contractor to evaluate some equipment at work. He is my age, 28. My co-workers are scared. Since he isn’t 40+, he must be an inexperienced idiot. Being young must mean that you don’t know anything! I was ecstatic that our hired help is young because he has less of a chance of bias from too much experience.

Employers are scared to hire someone out of high school because there is no proof that they can stick with something. Just finishing high school is not proof because it is nearly required these days. By spending 4 years grinding your gears away, paying a college so that you can study and work for them, “proves” that you have what it takes to make it in the real world.

When we take a job in the real world, we are making the 2nd biggest commitment of our lives. Second only to marriage. As the employee, we know that we are going to help out our employer the best that we can, but employers don’t seem to believe it without proof from that piece of paper called a diploma. It shows that we can persist, and perhaps, that we have matured from our naive high school days.

What else is out there?

Despite society’s leaning towards college, there are other options out there for moving though life without a college degree. Sure a college degree, in an employable field, makes it easy to get a “good” job and make the big bucks, but it is not the end all.

Remember,

In the pursuit of freedom, less is more.

In this spirit, how can we get by without college?

The trades offer an excellent bypass of college and also a ticket to freedom. Going into the trades takes less time from your life to get certified and the pay is excellent. It also is applicable to almost anywhere you want to go because everyone needs an electrician, a plumber, a carpenter, etc. Learning to work with your hands and build practical things is a surefire way to bypass college and start pursuing your freedom earlier.

Starting your own business is another way to bypass the HR requirement of needing college. For those of us that are pursuing freedom, there is no better way than self-employment. It allows us to set our own schedule and live our own life instead of being beholden to our employer. There are a near infinite set of possibilities for self-employment that I will not list here. Suffice it to say, if you have the passion and the patience, self-employment can be the answer to bypassing college.

Can we change corporate requirements for college?

At this point in 2017, probably not. College has been driven home for too long and promoted too well, to be able to convince corporations that we are qualified despite no college degree.

Even though the probability is low, we should still do our part to convince corporations that college is not necessary to prove our worth. We go to college for 4 years, yet our future employers still require nearly 6 months of training and possibly 2 years of working experience before they find you beneficial to the company. If it takes 2 years of training after you just completed 4 years of training (college), why do we need the initial 4 years? Bringing this kind of solid argument to the table can help to influence change.

The transition to more reasonable requirements at work and better work-life balance has already started. The millennial generation has been hard at work getting flex-time schedules, more flexible vacation, remote working, and many other amenities. If we keep pushing our employers to focus on our potential and not on our qualifications, then we will be able to move towards a society where capability is king, not education.

Conclusion

College will always have its place in society, especially for knowledge for the sake of knowledge. However, we should not believe that it is the only path in life after high school. There are other ways to progress towards freedom.

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How to Start a Blog: Easy

Are you thinking of starting a blog?

I started Atypical Life 3 months ago and have helped Mrs. Atypical with our other blog coming on 2 years now. Let me walk you through the easy part of how to start a blog.

First we have to understand what is a website or a blog and how does it work. Without this understanding and just blindly following tutorials, you will get set up, but then never be able to fix the inevitable problems that arise in a complicated system.

What is a blog?

A website is simply a named connection (domain name) to another computer that houses the files you are looking at. Every computer is given an IP address, and a DNS or domain name server, correlates a URL address to the IP address. This allows you to type an easy to remember URL into the browser and the internet magically can find the correct computer to connect to.

So the first step of setting up a blog is to get a computer or server to host your website. In theory, you can buy your own server, set it up in your office, connect it to the internet and run it from home. However, this is a difficult task and takes a lot of up front money to setup. It also does not come with customer support.

This is where Bluehost comes in. Bluehost is a web hosting company that hosts websites and blogs. They make the process of a self-hosted blog very, very easy. They provide all of the hardware requirements for you and also provide the base-layer software to run your new website or blog. In the 2 years we have been with Bluehost, we have had less than 1 day of downtime from server issues. Over 99% availability on a website is outstanding.

The best part is if you sign up through this tutorial, you will get a special rate of $2.95 per month for shared hosting.

Reasons to sign up with Bluehost:

  • Free domain name with hosting purchase
  • 99+% server availability
  • Spectacular customer support available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week
  • Custom-built servers to create a stable environment for your blog
  • Bluehost will grow with you and your blog
  • One-press WordPress install
  • No contracts, remaining money back anytime if you don’t like it (I’m sure you will like it)

So now that we know we are going to go with Bluehost, what is next?

First, you should think of what you would like your domain name to be. This is very important because this is how people remember your blog and can tell their friends about it. A name like thisisjustanotherboringblog.com is probably not a good one. Think about what you want to write about and brainstorm names that are meaningful. It is worthwhile to spend the time upfront to decide on a good name. You can always change later, but it cost money to buy a new name and time to do additional configuration.

After you have decided on a name, head over to Bluehost and sign up for an account there. They have various levels of accounts with added services for increased costs.

  • Shared Hosting – This is a server environment for your website that is shared on a single operating system. This is suitable until you have high traffic.
  • VPS Hosting – Virtual Private Server Hosting – This gives you the ability to have your own operating system for your sever. You are given your own virtual server to use and have the ability to configure it to your needs. VPS Hosting is also good for very high traffic or high computing requirements for rendering your blog. You still share a physical server with other users, but you have your own operating system image.
  • Dedicated Hosting – This is the ultimate hosting solution, where Bluehost provides you with a dedicated server, which includes it’s own hardware. There are no other users on your server and it is dedicated for your use only. This provides the highest speeds and processing power for extremely high trafficked websites and blogs.

If you are using this tutorial to sign up, you should start with Shared Hosting. Bluehost offers the ability to scale with you and move your plan to VPS Hosting and Dedicated Hosting for you as your blog grows.

Setting up Bluehost Shared Hosting

To start, head over to Bluehost’s homepage and click “get started now”.

Next, you have a choice between the levels of service Bluehost will give to you. We have been very happy with basic plan so far. Because Bluehost allows us to upgrade as our needs grow, it makes sense to start out with the Basic Plan for 3 years and grow from there.

Now you get the chance to choose your domain name. Since you have already thought about your domain name choice, this should be a fast step. Chances are, your preferred domain name is already taken, so be prepared to keep trying different names until you find one you are happy with and that represents what you want to write about.

If you did not decide on a domain name and are pulling your hair out agonizing over this decision, you are in luck. There is an exit-intent pop-up that allows you to skip the domain name for now and move on to registration.

The final step to your Bluehost account is to input your financial details to allow payment for your new hosting environment. $2.95 per month is an awesome deal for hosting, but if you want even further savings, move your cursor off the website again to trigger the exit-intent pop-up and get a further $0.30 in savings and get Site Backup Pro for free.

You have the choice to purchase add-ons at this point and you can purchase what you feel you need. There are privacy add-ons to shield your personal details from the domain name servers and others. The Site Backup Pro for free is an awesome service if still available. It allows you to restore single files to your site without having to restore the entire file system. Inevitably, at some point you will need this service and it will be worth its weight in gold.

Congratulations, you now have a hosting environment!

I just bought Shared Hosting on Bluehost, now what do I do?

At this point, you need to install some software to allow you to run your blog or website. First, though, let’s explore what your new shared hosting really is.

Your shared hosting environment gives you the access to a virtual computer over the internet. You now have access to a computer that resides on the Bluehost servers. Inside the files on the destination computer are:

  • files for content
  • files for media
  • files and scripts to tell the web browser how to display things
  • a MySQL database to correlate them all together
  • an Email Server
  • and many, many more

With all of these files on a computer, you may wonder how it all comes together to be displayed logically for us mere mortals. Sure you can read the code that makes the internet work in theory, but the true beauty of the internet comes out from the graphical display of all of the information.

In order to correlate all of the information together you need a content management system or CMS. There are various content management systems out there to choose from, but the most common for blogging is WordPress.

The vast majority of blogs nowadays run on WordPress software. There are 2 versions of WordPress out there, so be wary when you just hear WordPress. WordPress.com is a one-stop hosting and CMS solution, but because WordPress, the company, owns your website, you never have true freedom of expression. It can also get very, very expensive, and since you are reading here at Atypical Life, I know you do not want expensive. We have already setup hosting with Bluehost, so now we need to get WordPress for our new server.

WordPress.org is the website for the wordpress content management system software. It gets installed on a Linux server/operating system, and gives you a user-friendly interface for editing and building your blog.

Installing WordPress

Bluehost offers Mojo Marketplace which has a one-click install of WordPress. This makes it almost too easy to get up and running on your new website.

Navigate to “one-click installs” on your Bluehost C-Panel and here you will find WordPress as the first option for installing. Click on WordPress and follow the prompts on through to successfully install WordPress on your website.

WordPress is the first on the list for one-click installs because it is the most popular website content management system.

Tips during the install:

  • Since this is a new install, you can overwrite anything that is there (if it’s not a new install make sure that your installation location is not going to overwrite anything important).
  • Choose your new domain name to install to. This will install to the file location /public_html/
  • Click show advanced options so you can input your preferred username and password. You should probably not use admin, admin.
  • Once installation is complete, your new wordpress website will be accessible from your domain name.
  • The WordPress admin panel is yourdomain.com/wp-admin, just add “/wp-admin” to the end of your domain name.

Congratulations, you now have a website.

Let the fun begin! Let me know in the comments about your new blog. I look forward to reading your new blog.

Remember, signing up for Bluehost and setting up WordPress is very easy and cheap at $2.95 per month or less, and is the beginning to a long and fulfilling journey of telling your story to the world.

Up next, How to Start a Blog: Intermediate where you will learn about themes, plugins, and widgets.

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How to start a blog- easy

The Expat Freedom Rocket

Becoming an expat engineer for an international company has been a boon for my retirement savings. I got aboard the expat freedom rocket and have not looked back. It has certainly poured the jet fuel on my path towards personal and financial freedom. I have been able to pay off $50,000 in student loans in very short order and raise my net worth to nearly $300,000 in the 2 years I have been an expat.

This post is about the financial aspect of being an expat. If you want to read about my experience as an expat, there will be much more in the coming weeks.

Disclaimer: I use expat to mean those that work for an international or multinational company, in which the company moved the employee to a new location outside of their home country. There are many more definitions out there for expat, but for the sake of this article, it is this.

The Financial Benefits

In order for companies to attract the best and brightest to the far corners of the globe, large multi-national companies offer an “expat package”. This package is to incentivize employees to leave what they know and journey to the unknown that is expat life. My company has put together a very good expat package that is based upon the US State Department’s expat package. I have had discussions with many other expats where I am based in China, and have found my package to be better, but not much better, than most of the other expats.

In order for a company to incentivize their employees to pull up anchor and move across the world requires a great deal of incentives. We did not need the incentives because we wanted to explore the world from outside the US, but most need some financial incentive to get them on their way.

Our Expat Package Before Moving

To start with my company provided an all expense paid trip to China, so we could fully understand what we were getting ourselves into. On this one week trip, I was brought around China by my future boss, but did not ever go to work. We looked around at apartments and tried to get the feel of the city we were moving to, so we could decide for ourselves whether this new location would be a good fit for us for the next 4 years.

After this initial trip, we were sent over again, all expenses paid, on a house hunting and work trip. I had to work this time, training employees at the new facility, but had lots of time during the 3 weeks to explore the local areas and check out housing. In the end, the housing we found on this trip didn’t work out, but we could not have known this at the time. The downside of working for a large multinational company is definitely the team of lawyers that write up ridiculously long contracts that the prospective landlords have to sign. These contracts were a huge headache for us while we searched for apartments. When we finally got to contract negotiation, most landlords backed out.

After our 2 trips to China in 2014, it was time to move in 2015 and it was again an all expense paid move. The company paid for all of our stuff to be boxed up and moved around the world, as well as giving us an extra month’s pay for the hassle and extra expenses that occur whenever you move. This was a boon for savings, since we didn’t spend much of the extra money. The travel over to China was already covered along with $100 per diem for food and covered hotel stay until we were able to move into an apartment. It took us nearly 2.5 weeks to find an apartment when we arrived, so we received $1,700 for food when we actually spent less than $400. Obviously, this amount would have differed had we moved to a different part of the world, but with the location we moved to, food cost at restaurants is cheap.

There were several other side benefits of moving abroad. First, we were able to sell our cars and get reimbursed for loss on sale up to Kelly Blue Book value. This made selling the cars very easy and hassle free. It just does not make sense to keep cars in the US for 4 years while you go away. They would just sit there idle and rot away, so they wouldn’t work upon return.

Second, we were given a one day cross-cultural training to help with our transition to living abroad. Living abroad is definitely an eye-opening experience, and this training beforehand helped us to know what we were getting ready to be plunged into.

Third, they took care of all of the incidental costs associated with moving to another country. We had to go the doctor many times for various vaccinations that were all covered. They also paid and supported the acquisition of visas and passports as we got married and passports changed.

The last part the company did for us prior to departure was to give us a tax consultation with the tax preparation company that would be servicing us while we were gone on assignment. At the time, I was naive and very happy with the black box explanation they gave me for taxes. They told me, all I had to do was just fill in the forms they sent me throughout the year and they would take care of the rest.

The Expat Package On Location

There are many facets to our package while on location in China. The company’s intent is to make the cost similar to what it was while we were living in the US, while also incentivizing us to live here. In order to accomplish this goal it all starts with the hazard pay.

Hazard Pay

The location premium, hazard pay in expat vernacular, is an incentive paid by the company to get you to move abroad. The amount is a percentage of my salary and the percentage was defined by an expat consulting firm that does market research. They rate different areas around the globe and give a hazard assessment of living there.

This hazard assessment translates into a percentage of income that is added on to our salary tax free! I get a raise of 20% for living in China, which is ~$15,000 per year. When you take into account that it is tax free, at 25% it is equivalent to a $20,000 raise.

How many other ways do you know of to get a $20,000 raise?

Goods and Services Differential

The G&S differential is a small amount each month, also tax free that is to offset for food and normal services costing more in your destination country than in your home country. I thought it was pretty nice that they were giving us $200 per month when we started over here for the G&S, but over the past 2 years it has been lowered every 6 months down to its new value of $0. It really costs a lot less for us to live and eat here than it does in the US, but having the extra income is never going to be questioned by us.

Tax Equalization

The tax equalization policy provided by the company is very complex and is why we have a professional tax preparation company do our taxes for us. The basis behind tax equalization is for us to pay no more and no less taxes than we would have while based in the US making our base salary plus bonuses. The hazard pay and G&S differential are exempt from taxes from our point of view.

During my initial tax consultation while we were still in the US, I was happy with the black box approach, but since then my perspective has changed. I do not believe that taxes are nearly as complicated as everyone makes them out to be. I did a detailed analysis of my hypothetical 1040 for 2016 and 2017, so that I could get my monthly salary tax deductions reduced. My ability to do this shows that it is not as complicated as the professionals want you to believe.

The problem with expats are that we now owe taxes to multiple countries, especially being US citizens. The US has a terrible policy of universal taxation. No matter where you are in the world, or where your money came from, if you are a US citizen, you owe US taxes.

Because of this, the company pays all of our Chinese tax and all of our US tax. In return, we pay a hypothetical US tax and state tax to the company. At the end of the year, when tax preparation is completed, the tax preparation company fills out all the right forms to make this work. There will be a future post on tax equalization and how it is applied to me.

Housing

While abroad the company would like you to continue paying for your housing. They accomplish this with a housing normalization policy. What that really means, is if I continue to own or rent a house in the US, then the company will pay for my house/apartment in my destination country. However, if we decide to sell or cancel our rental agreement in the US, then we will have to pay the company a housing norm to compensate it for housing expenses incurred on our part. Either way, the company pays for housing in the destination country.

I was not happy about this policy, since we did not have a house and they originally said that the housing norm cost was $1,500 per month! $1,500 comes from a nationwide average monthly housing cost while I came from a rural poor location where housing cost was very cheap. I talked with the HR expat manager about this and showed that I had spent $325 on rent per month the entire time I had been out of college working for the company. He agreed that the $1,500 per month was not applicable to my situation, so it was written in my contract the agreed upon $325 per month. I was ecstatic with this result, and it has motivated me to always ask for more when it comes to the company.

We live in a $2,500 per month apartment for $325 per month. If we had to pay ourselves, we would be living somewhere around the $500 per month range in our city. At that price range you get a big apartment, but not the fancy name that goes along with where we are located.

China apartments

Another part of housing that the company provides is utilities. They pay all of our normal utility costs besides phone and internet, which are purely discretionary expenses. Many would argue nowadays phone and internet are normal and necessary, but it is not worth arguing about when we have so much covered for us. They provide our gas, electric, water, trash, and complex fees. I was surprised during my $325 per month negotiation, he did not ask for my normal utility cost, since those would be covered while in China. In that way, I saved another $150+ per month on utility cost over living in the US.

One last hidden perk we got out of our contract was a total of 5 appliances or $5,000 worth of appliances for living in China, whichever comes first. We managed to convince our moving company that a 55″ 4K UHD TV was an appliance, since our old TV could not be brought to China without power converters. This TV was a huge upgrade, but a pure splurge and would not have been purchased except for this lenient policy.

Driving

In the contract it states that they will provide a means for transportation in the destination country. I brought my own transportation in the form of bikes, however, that is not the intent of their contract. They were either to provide a personal driver and car, or they would provide a car for us to drive and assistance with insurance and licensing in the destination country.

In the end, we have our own personal driver. He is always on call and takes us wherever we want to go within reason. He has driven us as far as 4 hours away for bike races, but mostly his driving consists of taking me back and forth to work 2-3 times per week, while the other 2-3 days I ride my bike 44 km each way.

It took a long time to adjust to having a personal driver. It seems like a glamorous lifestyle, and for the most part it is. However, we have to schedule our driver to come pick us up whenever we need him, so we cannot be quite as spontaneous. The bikes have certainly given us our freedom while we are here in China.

This particular benefit seems to be the main difference between the good and just okay expat packages around this area. We have a dedicated driver while others have pooled drivers, so they only have priority on certain days of the week and their drivers are limited to specific locations. We have certainly grown to like our driver and definitely enjoy the novelty of not driving for ourselves.

Home Leave

Another benefit of life over seas is one free trip home each year. The company will pay for flights and travel from our current country of residence home to see family every year while we are away on assignment. This is very nice and makes going home to see family easier. However, we took this assignment because we wanted to see the world. We have already seen the US and there will be all the time in the world to see it later when we move back and settle down one day.

Our first home leave trip was to Greece during our first year abroad. Originally the contract said we could take our home leave wherever as long as the cost was the same or less than going home, but they changed the contract on us without ever letting us know. I appealed to the company board and eventually got approval for travelling to Greece. Plans for this year’s home leave are to head to Italy to visit family, so I see no conflict with the new policy. We are going to a family reunion in Italy!

Language Assistance

The company also affords us the opportunity to learn the local language. This is a monumental task when it comes to learning Mandarin.

普通话不容易。(Mandarin is not easy)

We were allotted $6,000 per person to learn the language. Mrs. Atypical took full advantage of this, and learned Mandarin to a conversational level of HSK4 (Levels are 1-6). I have been at work for 2 years and the first was extremely busy. The 2nd year on assignment, I finally got approval to bring a teacher out to work for 4 hours per week, so I could have language instruction during work hours. This proved great for me, but my coworkers that were also learning from this teacher found it hard to leave work aside for an hour or 2 each time the teacher came to work on language skills. I gained a lot from the 120 hours of instruction and can now understand a good amount, though the speaking lags behind.

Language learning is essential to assimilating into society when abroad and makes the experience much better. I am very appreciative that the company was so committed to allowing us to learn the language.

Miscellaneous Others

There are many other facets to the expat package, but most do not apply to us currently. In the future they will again pay for us to return home to the US. Also, if we had kids, they would pay for education in international schools while abroad. I am not sure if they would hire me for the job if we had kids, so this one is up for debate.

A nice benefit, though hopefully never needed, is emergency trips home in case family passes away. They will allot us time off and travel expenses to go support our family in hard times of family loss.

The final benefit afforded to us, often overlooked by my coworkers, is the family assistance benefit. In it, they afford us $1,500 per year for Mrs. Atypical to maintain working qualifications, take courses to further her knowledge, sign up for gym membership, travel for her work, etc. We have used all of this allowance each year. We were recently able to use it to purchase many blogging and photography courses that hopefully will allow us to monetize our blogs and achieve personal freedom sooner.

At the end of the assignment, the company will again pay us an extra month’s salary plus move all of our goods back to the US for us. The same package that came for moving abroad applies to moving home and should really help in returning to US life.

The Catch

The one catch in the expat package, one that any “good” lawyer would put in is their ability to change it at any time without prior notice. This is what they did to us when they changed the home leave policy without notification. They also have written in that they can change the hazard pay and G&S differential every 6 months. Hopefully going forward, there will be no more changes to our expat policy and we can finish our contract under known terms. Our HR team now seems to want to help us out, but it is a constant struggle to know when to ask for more and when to lay low. You will never get anything if you don’t ask.

In Conclusion

Becoming an expat is rocket fuel to our savings. I would highly encourage other engineers and business majors to seek foreign assignments to achieve financial independence sooner. One word of caution: If you take this assignment for the money, you will be miserable. But, if you want to explore the world while still being paid a huge salary, then the expat assignment could be your answer.

I was looking for an expat assignment since I started working, and it happened to fall in my lap. You just need to make it known you are looking for one and the chance may come around. We are way better off now since we took this assignment than before it. Hopefully by the end, we can be free, because that is what life is all about.

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Atypical Life 2016 Investments

2016 was a good year for the investments of Atypical Life. We were able to set ourselves up for future success through investing all of our savings throughout the year. 2016 was a breakout year for us because our priorities changed from savings for debt payoff to savings for investing. 2016 also saw huge growth in the stock market worldwide allowing us to get 20% growth in one year. We lucked out that the year with 20% growth finally had money in the market.

With all of the advice out there for where to put your money and when to put it where, it is hard to filter through it and decide on a plan of action for yourself. After deliberating on it, I was able to come up with a plan for the year, even though it changed throughout the year.

Initial Plan

  1. Max out Roth 401k
  2. Max out Roth IRAs via backdoor contributions
  3. Invest all other savings in brokerage account

With a clear plan in mind, we were able to save and invest for the year with a purpose. Each month, I was going to get my paycheck and put it towards these different areas.

Roth 401k

The plan for the Roth 401k was to spread the contributions out throughout the year and reach the 2016 max contribution in December of $18,000. The Roth 401k seemed like the best choice at the time because we could save after-tax money and never have to pay tax on it again in retirement. I had lots of feedback from financial advisors that the Roth IRA and 401k is the best way to go because of the tax advantages in retirement. It surely makes it easier when withdrawing money because you know exactly how much you have, but we shall see in a future post which way is truly better.

Needless to say, I switched from the Roth to Traditional (pre-tax) 401k for the tax savings now. By the end of the year, I had saved the maximum $18,000 between the 2 and had only lost out on the tax savings of $2,380 contributed to the Roth 401k which amounted to $595.

Company 401k Match

My company has recently become generous to the 401k match and gives us 9%, so long as we contribute 6%. This is a very high percentage of salary when compared with other company match programs, and is a big boost to the 4% we used to receive. 2016 was the first year for our new matching contributions and it was well received by all employees. It is free money, and we made the most of it amassing $6,825 in matching contributions throughout the year. Anytime we can get free money, we are all over it.

Roth IRAs

The trendy suggestion of the day is the Roth IRAs, so that is what we have been focusing on getting our money into. In the end, the difference may not be that big between the 2, but Roth IRAs are much easier while in retirement.

Moving abroad and accepting the expat package, our W-2 salary sky rocketed because of all the costs the company incurs that make it there. Because our salary might be above the limit for contributions to the Roth IRA ($181,000 for married filing jointly), we decided to exercise the backdoor Roth.

The backdoor Roth consisted of contributions after-tax to our Traditional IRAs and then after a few days/weeks, rolling the money over to our Roth IRAs. This was very easy inside of Vanguard because it was just treated as exchanging money between mutual funds. In this way, we were able to protect our Roth contributions from the possibility of our “salary” being too high. The only downside of this was losing out on pre-tax contributions to the Traditional IRA, but our salary was definitely too high to qualify.

Brokerage

We managed to get our brokerage account funded starting in December 2015, but we started to amass funds here during 2016 with a final account value at EOY 2016 of $98,000. We owned various mutual funds from Vanguard throughout the year, but eventually landed on the Vanguard Total US Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTSAX) by the end. Because of our trading and strategy changes throughout the year, we incurred taxable short-term capital gains. This was an unfortunate part of the learning curve of investing for the Atypical Life family, but we will likely never incur these short-term gains again.

Changes to the Plan

After the year got rolling and I started doing more research, I came upon different strategies to save more money. When you are pursuing financial freedom, the recommendations for the masses may not apply.

During my research, I came across explanations of why to contribute to the after-tax 401k. The after-tax 401k is a Roth IRA in disguise. Because we can contribute a huge amount of money here ($53,000 total including pre-tax, Roth, and after-tax), it is a great way to get money to the Roth IRA. We want to get the most amount of money after retirement into Roth IRA for ease of withdrawal and tax advantages. After-tax 401k contributions can be withdrawn and rolled over separately from pre-tax 401k contributions. This allows you to rollover the after-tax contributions to a Roth IRA and only pay tax on the earnings while it was in the 401k.

When we learned the advantages here, it was a no-brainer to start contributing to the after-tax 401k. By EOY 2016 we had contributed $3,800 to the after-tax 401k with plan contributions much higher for 2017. These contributions lowered the amount in our brokerage account, but is money not needed until “retirement” so it can be placed in tax advantaged locations for the time being.

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In Conclusion

2016 saw our net worth and investment accounts sky rocket. We managed 20% gains during the year, but then again everybody did. Because we finally had a good amount of money in the market (>$100,000) gains moved the value up a lot.

I was happy to have a plan for the beginning of the year and know what my path forward was. However, refining and adjusting the plan as the year goes by can lead to future gains. Our adjustments to the plan are positioning us to reach financial and personal freedom sooner.

All of our talk and worry about finances mean nothing if you don’t have the chance to enjoy your money. So get out there, do your investing, and enjoy life.

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Capitalism is Killing Us

He who dies with the most toys, wins. ~Pops

I couldn’t help but love this quote and write about it when I heard my wonderful dad utter the words. To die with the most toys seems to be the pinnacle of capitalism. We should acquire more and more toys all through life until we have so many we do not know what to do with all of them.

As we grow up, our parents by us toys. They see us enjoying ourselves with these toys, but many times they see us enjoying the box more than the toy itself. Oh well. The answer to that is to buy us better toys!

After we have grown to an age where we no longer need kids toys, the products evolve to adult “toys”. I am not talking about sexual risque toys, but the gadgets and gizmos that we all seem so obsessed over these days. In the millennial age, we have grown to expect information to always be available and for us to always be connected to the world. In order for this to be possible we need a huge list of toys:

  • smart phone for me
  • smart phone for wife
  • tablet
  • 2nd tablet
  • laptop computer
  • 2nd laptop computer
  • Desktop computer for hard computer processing tasks
  • camera 1
  • camera 2
  • etc…

electronics

At this point, the best thing to do is to buy a storage unit to keep our older toys in and continue down the path of buying more toys.

Where else are we supposed to keep all of these things?

I suppose we could always buy a larger house to accommodate all of the toys. Now, since we have a larger house, we can buy more toys to fill it up. It is unacceptable to have a space look empty. We definitely need to buy something to fill the space.

As you can see, there is a never ending stream of toys that need buying to be accepted in society today. To be seen as influential and successful, you must have all of these things. These things are what truly define us. It’s how society can know that we are successful. And everyone wants to be successful, right?

Capitalism is Killing Us

Actually, capitalism and the acquisition of toys is slowly killing us. It has a stranglehold on our lives and is slowly taking away any hope of freedom, instead delivering us to the man. In a world of constant connectivity, we are bombarded with more and more capitalism every day. This drives the world to believe we need more possessions.

We cannot let our possessions define who we are. We, ourselves, are the only ones capable of truly defining who we are.

If we succumb to the powers of capitalism and buy more and more goods, then we will be overcome by them and they will own us instead of the other way around.

I am unsure as to whether my dad was serious or not when he spoke these words. “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” However, I know from experience that he a frugal man. He also taught me everything I know about the DIY philosophy and working with your hands. If we are able to fix something or make something ourselves, why should we pay someone else for it?

I grew up in a frugal household where we did not buy too many possessions. The ones we did buy had meaning. My parents also gave me an allowance in which to learn my own spending and saving habits. The freedom of having my own money allowed me to succumb to the powers of capitalism and buy a stereo that I didn’t need and other miscellaneous things. I eventually learned to only spend on the things that matter most.

Certainly, we all have to make the decision of what level of possessions is enough for our tastes and attitudes. To do this without the intervention of advertising is extremely difficult. We have to sit back and reflect on ourselves and what we want most in life to truly answer this.

Just ask yourself this question:

Will this (insert purchase here) bring me closer to my desired life?

Wait and ponder about this purchase for a month or 2 and then, after that time, if you still decide that you truly want it, you might just need it. Having time to ponder the wisdom of a purchase allows us to back away from the marketing and advertising hype and answer for ourselves whether we want something or not.

Freeing Yourself from Capitalism

Too many times we fall to the whims of marketers that tell us what we want and need. We are letting someone else decide what is best for us.

Is this freedom?

I think not. Freedom is deciding things for yourself. If you want to have someone else decide for you, then that is also your decision and you are free to do that. However, when marketing is forced upon you, it is hard to avoid and freedom of thought is lost.

Capitalism has been shoved down our throats and is plastered in our faces all of the time now. Anytime we consume TV or the internet, we are thrust face first into the capitalistic tendency to always want more. We have to do ourselves a favor and take a step back to free ourselves. It is okay to view the advertisements, but we cannot let them decide for us what is best for ourselves.

Freeing Yourself from Possessions

The second part of freeing yourself from capitalism is freeing yourself from possessions. Very few of us were born into a family that truly embraces less. Most of us grow up having expectations surrounding ourselves of what we are supposed to do and accomplish in life. We are expected to be successful and to be a contributing member of society. In doing so, we are expected to have a house full of things and have all of our own belongings so that we can be “free.”

Do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with buying things and, as you can see from my 2017 Goals, you know that I have a problem with buying way too many things.

In order to free ourselves from our possessions we must start to let go of sentimental value they hold. Look at them as just things and decide whether you need them or not.

Growing up, I was taught to be frugal and to not buy what we can make. However, the lesson that was missed was about getting rid of things. In our household, growing up we only bought the things we needed for the activities that we were pursuing, however, we never got rid of the things we no longer used. This created quite a collection of things, my favorite of the bunch, a 30 year old 8 foot wing to a RC model airplane. It has sat in storage in my parent’s house my entire life never to be used again, but it certainly was cool…

We have started getting rid of many things in our house trying to pare down on the amount of stuff we have.

In the pursuit of freedom, less is more.

 

The less you have, the more freedom you have to move around and decide for yourself what in life truly matters. We have decided here at Atypical Life that we would like to be location independent, and having less is key to accomplishing this goal. One only has to look to the Buddhist monks for guidance. In their classical rules, they are only allowed these 8 possessions:

  1. an inner robe
  2. an outer robe
  3. an additional robe to protect from the elements when necessary
  4. a bowl
  5. a water-strainer
  6. a razor to shave his head
  7. a needle and thread
  8. any necessary approved medicine

buddhist monk

The Buddhist monks are models of minimalism. I don’t expect myself or many others to follow such strict rules on minimalism, however, we can take as an example all that is required to live on. There are no excesses in the Buddhist approved list.

In Conclusion

Capitalism is slowly killing us. It restricts our freedom of choice, while convincing us that we still have a choice. In order to combat this, we have to make freedom a priority for ourselves. We need to relinquish the stranglehold that our possessions have on us. We cannot let others decide for us what we want. We have to decide for ourselves what is important. By deciding what is important to us, we have taken the first step towards freedom.

We cannot let our freedom come second!

How is your pursuit of freedom coming? Let us know in the comments.

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February 2017 Atypical Life Income Report

Welcome to the second monthly income and expense report from the Atypical Life family. We are pleased to share this with all of you, so that may have the inspiration to achieve financial independence and freedom from the man sooner. As an atypical family, this income and expense report will look very different to most family budgets, however, it is 100% real and is achievable under the right circumstances.

I share my finances to inspire others to reach for freedom earlier. I hope to show from my income and expense reports:

  • Income can be generated in multiple ways. The regular 9-5 job is not the only way to make money and is also the best way to be a slave to the man.
  • Lowering expenses is really the path towards financial freedom. The lower your expenses, the more you can save. Also, with lower expenses, it takes fewer savings to live on.
  • It is possible to have low expenses.
  • Becoming an expat is a great way to financial freedom
  • To keep me accountable.

Tracking Your Money

Keeping track of your money is the number one way to reach financial independence. We track all of our income and expenses and then analyze it all at the end of the month for you.

Using Personal Capital is the best way to aggregate all of your accounts into one nice easy view. With your accounts spread across so many different platforms, it is hard to get a whole picture of your finances. Personal Capital gives you a view of where you are, if you spent too much, saved too little, or went into debt. Keeping track of your Net Worth on Personal Capital is super easy.

The best part of Personal Capital’s service is that it is free! It fits in perfectly with our frugal sense and allows us to track and reach financial independence faster. Check out their retirement planner to estimate how far away you are from retirement. It is one of the best I have seen for those of us pursuing FIRE.

If you haven’t started tracking your finances, it is not too late to start. Give Personal Capital a try and you will soon be on your way to being a personal finance guru.

Income

IncomeAmount
Company Match$750
Expat Income$1,266
Interest$4
Salary (Mr. Atypical)$6,467
Salary (Mrs. Atypical)$116
Total$8,619

February was another good month for us in the Atypical household. We had our regular salary and our wonderful, but regular expat income. This expat income is a 20% location premium or hazard pay in expat vernacular. It is additional income for us that is grossed up by the company, so we do not have to pay taxes on it.

We saw our annual inflation adjustment to the salary this month. This year was actually the largest inflation adjustment I have ever had at 2.16%. It usually is exactly 2%, so I was happy to see them round up the numbers to an even $77,600 annual salary. They missed the adjustment to our 20% hazard pay, but I expect that to be made up in March in the next paycheck.

My company has a fairly generous 401k match at 9%, as long as we contribute 6% to the 401k. This goal is very easy for us to achieve, as we contribute 50% of our income to the 401k. There is one caveat to my 401k contributions, though. They are only calculated on salary, expat income is not included, so 50% of $6,330 goes to the 401k each month to ready us for an atypical life of freedom. 401k matching contributions is free money and we make nearly $6,000 per year from this income source.

Expenses

ExpensesAmount
Business$1,170
Fees$44
Food$216
Home$325
Insurance$74
Shopping$252
Taxes$1,065
Travel$393
Utilities$283
Total$3,822

Our February expenses were on track and on budget! They were higher than January, but that was expected because we had a couple of lumpy expenses.

The bonus we received in January from the local Chinese government got put to good use this month on a new Olympus E-M1 mirrorless camera and Olympus Pro 12-40 mm f/2.8 lens to help grow our blogging and photography businesses. Along with that, we improved our blogs with new plugins, so keep an eye out for new formatting. Because the bonus was paid in RMB to a Chinese bank account, we were not able to invest it without the fees and hassle of a wire transfer, so we have decided to allocate it to business expansion.

I managed to keep the shopping budget down to below $300 again this month, which was a huge success. Partly, this is accounting because we are counting the new camera as a business expense and not a shopping expense. However, we kept our expenses low by not purchasing frivolent goods. Our shopping consisted of a ~$100 gift to our personal driver as a thank you gift over the popular Chinese holiday, Chinese New Years. We also had the expense of repairing our other Olympus camera because the shutter locked shut in Indonesia. These 2 expenses combined to be $200 out of the total $250 for the month. After nearly 5 years of spending upwards of $600 per month on “things”, I am extremely happy to be able to so quickly reduce this amount. It may be because we have finally acquired most of the things we need, or that I am finally pursuing freedom with the attention it deserves.

Our insurance for the month is on an accrual basis because we paid for the year entirely in December. We dropped our company sponsored health insurance that cost us $250 per month and the company $750 per month in favor of a local insurance company that was ~5300 RMB or $890. This covers us for all medical expenses in Greater China and also qualifies us to use the super charged investment vehicle, the HSA.

Our home cost remained at $325 and will remain at exactly that level until we finish the contract up in China. Our internet was paid in full this month for the following year. For the service (fine during the day, slow as dirt at night), the price is reasonable at $255 for the year or $21 per month.

Our grocery and dining budget was pretty low for the month at only $210. We were traveling for 5 days out of this month, so those food expenses are included in Travel expenses. Comparing our extrapolated January spending of $183 to the extrapolated value for February of $256, we see higher expenses, but we were not trying to run out before vacation either. I am always happy that the cost of food in China is so low besides our splurges for sanity’s sake on butter, sugar, and chocolate!

The HSA Experiment

Our HSA, which has finally been successfully moved from MyBenefitWallet to HSA Bank, incurs a fee of $2.50 per month for a balance under $5,000. We will incur this fee and an additional $3 per month on that account, so we can move it to TD Ameritrade and buy VTI, the best possible investment vehicle.

During my first month using this platform, I made a mistake. I was not vigilant while transferring funds between the HSA and Investment account and accidentally withdrew $2,000 from the investment account leaving me a ($1,700) deficit in the account. When I got the email about a cash balance debit error, I was especially confused. I had never heard this term before, but after review on the HSA Bank website, I figured out what happened and promptly replaced and added more funds to TD Ameritrade.

My first foray into investing on TD Ameritrade was successful, but I am a huge fan of mutual funds. I much prefer them over ETFs because you can just add however much money you want, not having to buy whole shares at a time. The TD Ameritrade platform is very busy and seems to be optimized for day-traders and those few that spend tons of time trading stocks. For those of us that are pursuing freedom, we must remember:

Keep it simple, stupid. KISS

Taxes

Everybody hates taxes. They eat away at our income and we never even get a chance to see it. Taxes were 28% of our expenses for January.

There are 2 certainties in life, death and taxes. ~Benjamin Franklin

After doing a review of my tax situation, I approached my tax preparation company about reducing my estimated taxes for 2017 and the future. I showed that I would save into pre-tax investment vehicles:

  • $18,000 to the 401k
  • $5,500 Mr Atypical Traditional IRA
  • $5,500 Mrs. Atypical Traditional IRA
  • $6,750 to the family HSA
  • Total Value of $35,750

This is able to reduce my taxable income significantly, and when combined with personal and standard deductions on the 1040, it brings our taxable income very low. The purpose of reducing our tax withholding is because we know best how to take care of our money. The government obviously does not know what is best for me. We can put our money to work as soon as possible by investing in VTSAX and VTI, without waiting for a tax refund at the end of the year. This can gain us upwards of 12 months of growth (or decline…). It also allows us to raise our contributions throughout the year to achieve a healthy total portfolio to pursue freedom sooner.

I would never use a tax preparation company right now if it was not provided by the company. Taxes are not nearly as complicated as they are made out to be. Due to the tax equalization policy that my company implements for us, we have to have a professional tax preparation firm handle our taxes.

Savings

In total, we made $4,621 in February and were able to save the majority of that into investment funds. It was a very successful month financially, but that doesn’t matter if we did not enjoy ourselves. We should not kill ourselves to reach freedom. You should enjoy life all the time, knowing in the future it can be even better.

“Love the life you have, while you create the life of your dreams.” ~Hal Elrod

We enjoyed Indonesia and hanging out with friends in China. Indonesia was an amazing break from work and recharged my batteries both mentally and physically.

How was your February? Are you heading towards financial independence as well? Let me know in the comments below.

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financial review February 2017 Atypical Life