April 2017 Atypical Life Income Report

Welcome to the fourth monthly income and expense report from the Atypical Life family. We are pleased to share this with all of you, so that you 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 demonstrate:

  • 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.
  • Side Income can allow you to be free from the man sooner than just saving.
  • 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$570
Expat Income$1,266
Interest Income$5
Dividend Income$56
Other Income$102
Salary (Mr. Atypical)$6,467
Salary (Mrs. Atypical)$58
Total$8,524

April was just another normal 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.

My company has a fairly generous 401k match of 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 $6,466 goes to the 401k each month to prepare us for financial independence. The 401k matching contribution is free money and we make nearly $6,000 per year from it.

Expenses

ExpensesAmount
Business$143
Entertainment$17
Fees$6
Food$220
Home$325
Insurance$74
Medical Expenses$71
Shopping$55
Taxes$1,065
Travel$743
Total$2,719

Our April expenses were expected and slightly under budget! We had our lowest monthly shopping budget to date at only $54 for the entire month.

My parents were in town for the first 2 weeks of April, which means more dining out and exploring. We tried to show them a good time and that involves traveling. We took a week long trip to Gansu province where we got to see numerous Danxia formations and got the must do in China done, visiting the Great Wall. Introducing my parents to the local food is enjoyable, but certainly more expensive than dining at home. However, this month we were able to reign in the food expenditures because we were eating local Chinese. Having my parents here for a few weeks gives us a feel for what the cost may be to live when we have kids in the future.

As part of our planned expenditures from the Chinese bonus we received in January, we treated my parents to roundtrip flights to Gansu. Both of their birthdays are in April, and we are so appreciative of them coming to visit, we felt that covering the flight was a great idea.

Our Gansu trip spread from March 28 – April 4, so is split over 2 months again. The portion spent in April was $743. This amount is lower than the March portion because it includes my parent’s reimbursement for half of travel expenses. Because my parents do not have a free way to get RMB to spend, we are covering all costs and they reimbursed us at the end of their trip via PayPal. To read more about our trip and how we did financially check out our post here.

April 2017 saw my lowest monthly shopping expenditure ever! We spent only $55 which included a new chain for my bike and a new skillet. Both of these were replacements for broken parts at home. Our low expenditures for April prove that it is possible to not buy stuff. After 5 years of buy, buy, buy, you can rid yourself of the habit and only buy the things you need.

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 supercharged investment vehicle, the HSA. My parents tried out acupuncture while they were here, but didn’t use all of their sessions, so we paid for 3 future acupuncture sessions. Acupuncture cured Mrs. Atypical’s back problems, so we are believers.

Our grocery and dining came down to normal in April. In March we spent, $427 and in April we spent $220. Our dining budget is always pretty small because we don’t eat out very often and when we do, our favorite restaurant cost $5 for the 2 of us. We get 兰州拉面 pulled noodles from a noodle shop within walking distance of our apartment.

The HSA Experiment

Our HSA, currently residing at 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 keep all of our HSA money invested at TD Ameritrade and buy VTI, the best possible investment vehicle. VTI is the ETF equivalent of my favorite mutual fund VTSAX, Vanguard Total US Stock Market Admiral Shares.

After 2 months on the TD Ameritrade platform, I have figured out how to purchase my one ETF without issue. I was able to contribute an additional $1,750 into the HSA bringing our total investment to the maximum $6,750 for 2017.

The investments made into the HSA will save us a good amount of tax for 2017. At the 25% tax bracket, if assumed the HSA contributions are taken off the top, it is $1,688 in tax savings. I will be in the 15% tax bracket after all of our savings so, even there our tax savings are $1,013. These savings help to accelerate our path to financial freedom.

Taxes

Everybody hates taxes. They eat away at our income and we never even get a chance to see it. Taxes were 39% of our expenses for March totaling $1,065.

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 what 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.

April saw the completion of our taxes, albeit after the normal April 15th deadline. Our theoretical tax liability for 2016 was $15,565 and we had paid $15,378 meaning we actually owed taxes on the return for the first time ever. This is a major bonus because the government did not get a free loan from us.

The way our tax return actually worked is a lot more complicated because we got over $7,000 in tax return that was then remitted with the additional $187 to the company.

Since we had the huge return in the bank account for a little while, I took the chance to max out my Traditional IRA for the year with a contribution of $5,500. With that final contribution, I have maxed out all pre-tax savings accounts by the end of April besides the 401k. Now to see how much more we can save on the year.

Blogging Update

April saw a lot of changes come to this blog and its secret sister travel blog that we also run. All of these changes were behind the scenes, so hopefully, there wasn’t much to notice on the actual site.

Blog Speed

We got feedback that our site was slow to load in the US. We always assumed that it was super slow to load because we live in China where internet service sucks and the server is in the US. Using a VPN to bypass the “Great Firewall” slows down traffic because of the encryption to get out of China.  Not using a VPN means we are a long long ways away from the server. Because of those reasons, I thought the server was probably fine.

So with concrete feedback that our site was slow, I delved into Google and did my research on how to speed up a site. I came back with a huge list of things to go, not the least of which was to switch to a VPS, virtual private server.

We were hosted at Bluehost on their shared hosting plan. I attributed a good amount of the slowness to the way shared hosting works, so we decided to upgrade. I enjoy being able to tinker with settings and optimize everything myself, so it made sense to build our own server. With Bluehost, the VPS was still pretty well managed for you, so I went with Digital Ocean, where I created a new Droplet, installed Ubuntu 16.04 and used EasyEngine to install WordPress.

EasyEngine made the installation very easy and straightforward. To go along with the standard WordPress install, behind the scenes there is:

  • Nginx webserver
  • MariaDB (a better updated version of MySQL)
  • php7 (the current latest and greatest)
  • Redis Server (an object cache)
  • fast-cgi caching (Nginx functionality)
  • Let’s Encrypt (free open-source software that issues free SSL certificates)

You will notice 2 server side caching programs in the list. These work together to cache and speed up our websites significantly. When I started the load time for our homepages were on the order of 10s and now they are down to 1-2 seconds depending on location. The next step in the coming month is to setup a CDN to deliver the content locally. The biggest benefit of the CDN hopefully will be a faster experience for our China users and ourselves during editing.

The hardest part of the migration effort was moving the media/uploads folder over to the new site. Because I am in China I could not get rsync to work between them without timing out. Due to this issue, I bought WP Offload S3 by Delicious Brains and now have all of our media hosted by Amazon Web Services. The WP Offload S3 plugin allows us to push all of our media to Amazon and then bring it back locally once installed on the new server. This service will also integrate very well with the CDN from Amazon, Cloudfront. Both of these services are free for the first 12 months, so we are certainly starting here!

As part of the migration, I also broke our multisite up and made individual installs of our 2 websites. This makes individual management of them easier because they have different target uses.

Traffic Growth

Our next major goal is to actually get people to read our content. It is kind of demoralizing starting out when you write a bunch of content, but nobody actually reads it. This month saw several concrete steps towards increasing our traffic.

First, I signed up for the Billionaire Blog Club. Paul has tons of free content to share with all of us about how to start a blog and the steps it takes to create a successful one. What drew me to his courses was their similarity to Elite Blog Academy while still being reasonably priced. We paid only $128 for a lifetime membership. His claim to fame is being able to start successful blog after successful blog instead of just teaching how he did it once.

Second, I started our Pinterest account and got it rolling with BoardBooster. BoardBooster allows me to auto-pin various pins on my boards and really get it working automatically for $0.01 per pin. I paid $10 to get 1,000 pins/month. Following Paul’s tutorials on Pinterest, I was able to optimize my SEO on my boards and start getting them full of awesome content. I currently have gotten on 4 group boards and feel like I am going to start experiencing growth on Atypical Life soon.

Check out and follow the Atypical Life Pinterest account here.

Traffic growth hasn’t really started too much yet, but after having prepared, I am confident it will begin soon.

Homepage

The homepage got a redesign in April. The new design, I think, looks much more professional than just the plain-Jane blog post list originally. Thanks to Thrive Themes and their email course on building a better homepage for the inspiration. I hope you all like it. I have plans to play with the design more in the future, but for now, all changes will be done on my development server at home.

Savings

In total, we made $5,803 in April 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 financial independence. 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

My parents came to China to visit and we enjoyed a wonderful trip to Gansu province to experience China. It is nice to know you are loved and that people will travel half way around the world to come and visit.

Soon we hope to have side income from our blogs to add to our monthly income report. 2 years from now, the plan is to transition from side-income to only income and be free.

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

If you enjoyed this post or found it useful, share the love and pin it to Pinterest!

Atypical Life April 2017 income report. We made $5,803 in profit this month. Blogging is coming along as we continue to invest in it to bring our dreams of freedom to fruition.

Cost Review of a Gansu Province China Family Vacation

After 2 long years in China, we had the pleasure of hosting our first family visitors, my parents. Since they traveled halfway around the world to come and see us, I took a week off of work, so we could travel slowly and experience China.

Originally, my parents wanted to visit places all over China. They just didn’t realize that China is nearly the same size as the US and places are not at all close to each other. After much discussion about slow travel, we settled on traveling to Gansu, since Mrs. Atypical and I had not been there yet.

Gansu offered another out of this world experience that only China can. Gansu is located in the Northwest of China, not really close to anything, and that was the whole point. We wanted to escape the crowds, escape the smog, escape the dreary weather, and enjoy China for what it can really offer.

Gansu on a Budget

Our trip started out in Jiayuguan after arriving by plane. Because my parents traveled around the world to come and see us, Mrs. Atypical and I decided to treat them to the plane tickets. The rest of the cost of the trip was split 50/50, so let’s see how we did.

Flights

Plane tickets to and from Jiayuguan went for $985 for 4, which is not too bad of a deal. We even traveled over a holiday weekend in China and the ticket price didn’t reflect a holiday price. For less than $250 each, we were able to get round-trip, one-stop tickets.

To purchase tickets in China is a slightly different process than in the US. The general advice to buy early to get good deals does not apply to China. If you buy more than 6 weeks out, the prices are higher. The prices start to come down at 6 weeks out and stay about the same price all the way up to one week out from the date of departure.

We use Ctrip to book our flights in China because it is a Chinese company and gets the best prices available for China. Their site is even in English, so it is easily usable for those of us that cannot speak Chinese. Because the on time departure and cancellation rate is pretty high in China, Ctrip also will call or message you about flight cancellations or delays. One time they called me over 4 hours in advance to tell me that the flight had been cancelled.

Our trip to and from Gansu went off without a hitch. All of our flights were on time and the flights were smooth. We did not have much for a view, and we were spread out throughout the cabin, but it got us there and back on a reasonable budget.

Transportation

On our trip in Gansu, we traveled by van with a private driver, by taxi, and by train. The private driver really is just a taxi driver that charges you a fixed rate for the day based upon how far away you plan to go. We found our private drivers when we took a taxi from the airport.

Drivers

Every driver was very excited to get to drive the foreigners!

This was both good and bad. The drivers obviously thought they could rip us off because we were foreign. The first driver of the trip, took us to see the Jiayuguan fort of the great wall, the first pier of the great wall, and a restored section of the wall that goes up into the mountains. It was a beautiful day of exploring and he charged us a measly 120 RMB for the privilege.

Not all of the drivers were so kind and genuinely happy to see us though. The next driver, in Zhangye, took us an hour away to see Mati Si, a Buddhist temple carved into a cliff face. He charged 300 RMB for the trip, but when we said we wanted to hang out longer and hike some in the beautiful park, he told us, that the 300 RMB was only for a half day and we would need to fork over 200 RMB more for him to sit there and do nothing. So we did not get to hike. We headed back to town because our driver was ripping us off and we were not going to deal with him anymore. He wanted to drive for us the following day, but we found a different driver through networking with the driver from Jiayuguan.

The next driver was the most pleasant and easy going driver I have ever seen in China! They are generally super aggressive, but our new driver drove safely. He drove us out to the beautiful Danxia Rainbow Mountains of Zhangye and sat around for however long we wanted for a flat day rate of 200 RMB. He was so nice and easy going that we used him for the rest of our time in Zhangye, which would be 3 more days. He drove us to the “Grand Canyon” of China, and to another Danxia location past the rainbow mountains.

Our last driver was back in Jiayuguan where we would fly home from. He really stuck it to us in the end with pricing, but I bargained him down. He was very happy to take us around all day to see various sights, and even took us to a wonderful Buddhist temple that we hadn’t seen in our research of the area. We didn’t bargain the price ahead of time, so in the end he had the upper hand when it came to leave at the airport. Because we did not bargain up front, we ended up paying 300 RMB for him driving us around town. The other 3 locations that we paid 300 RMB for the day (~$45), were much farther away from town, so I felt it should have been 200 RMB.

Lesson learned. Always negotiate flat-rate driver/taxis up front where you have the bargaining power and can choose someone else. If they do not want to negotiate and will not run the meter, someone else will. Just choose someone else.

Trains 

We took the train from Jiayuguan to Zhangye and back. The train was pretty nice and ran on a very regular schedule, so we could just show up to the train station and book our train for an hour later. Trains in China are very regular between towns and are on a set schedule. Unlike China’s airline system which always runs late, China’s train network is always prompt.

Our train ride to Zhangye cost a total of 150 RMB (~$22). We got 4 seats all together. Seats together don’t really matter. Everyone just gets on the correct car and then shuffles around. It is a little cramped in regular class seats, definitely not how we would travel cross-country like many of the Chinese do. The trip was pretty nice and took about 2.5 hours. During that time, the train staff took the opportunity on a captured audience to try and sell a bunch of garbage to us.

I don’t know about you, but I am extremely opposed to marketing like that. Whatever they sell is always priced high and I simply do not want to listen to their incessant jabbering. The problem truly lies with the consumers, though. If no one would buy any of the garbage they sell on the train, then they would not try to sell anything, knowing it is a waste of time. Capitalism has taken over, even in a communist country!

The return train ride from Zhangye was a bit more eventful. Because we traveled over Qing Ming, China’s Tomb Sweeping Holiday, the train was full and the only tickets they had left were standing tickets. I really didn’t want to stand on a train for 2.5 hours. Seeing no other options, we purchased 4 standing tickets for the same price as coming to Zhangye. Upon boarding, several young Chinese guys got up from their seats and offered them to us. They had been on the train since Beijing and were headed all the way to Urumqi. That is a 3-day train ride! Suffice it to say, they were tired of sitting and took the chance to walk around and go smoke in the smoking area of the train.

All in all, the trains worked out very well for us and were very cheap. If you can travel by train reasonably, it is the way to go in China. They run on time and are cheap. Two of my favorite things.

Touring Destinations

Gansu Province is off the beaten path of most people touring around China, but it has tons to offer. We saw 6 distinctly different beautiful locations while staying in only 2 cities.

The Great Wall

The first destination was the Great Wall. No trip to China is complete without seeing the great wall. Seeing as Mrs. Atypical and I have been here for 2+ years and have not seen it, it was a good opportunity with my parents’ arrival to go and see it. The Great Wall is a very impressive work, though the parts that you see in pictures nowadays that look beautiful are all restored. The actual wall looks like a mounded pile of dirt running off into the distance after centuries of erosion.

We toured the Jiayuguan Fort of the Great Wall on the first day in town, which set us back 400 RMB. I thought the price was kind of high for just seeing the fort, but on the drive back to the hotel, we were informed by the driver that the ticket is also to see the first pier of the great wall and the restored section that runs up into the mountains, and it is good for 2 days! All of these locations were spectacular and very unique.

Jiayuguan Fort
Entrance to the Great Wall fort in Jiayuguan.
great wall
A restored section of the great wall heading up into the mountains.
great wall
Beautiful wall up in the mountains of Gansu

Mati Si, Horse Hoof Buddhist Temple

After seeing the Great Wall, it was time to head to Zhangye to see the more natural scenery. The first stop on that leg of the trip was to see Mati Si, a very cool Buddhist temple carved into the side of the mountain. It is unbelievable the amount of excavation it took to build such an intricate network of tunnels. The craziest part was the statues that were inside and trying to figure out how they got there without cranes and modern construction techniques. I guess the ancients were smarter than we realize.

Mati Si set us back another 300 RMB for the 4 of us.

Mati Si temple
The Mati Si Buddhist temple outside of Zhangye.
Mati Si
The temple is carved into the side of the mountain.
snowy mountains
Beautiful view of the mountains from outside of Mati Si

The Rainbow Mountains

The highlight of the trip and the primary driver of going to Gansu was the rainbow mountains. The full name of the park is Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park. Mrs. Atypical found pictures of the out-of-this-world scenery while in the US and knew that we needed to see it before finishing our time in China. The park lived up to the hype with beautiful hues of red, yellow, grayish, and white that look like they are painted on the rocks.

It is not unreasonable to think that while in China, this is faked and actually painted on the rocks to make it a larger tourist attraction. However, we also saw the same coloring, albeit, less pronounced outside the park in untouched areas so we know the rock formations are real.

The rainbow mountains park cost 300 RMB for the 4 of us as well, and was worth every penny for the experience. To make the most of it, we stayed there for as long as possible, since the park is not too big.

rainbow mountains

rainbow mountains

rainbow mountains
Erie sky above the rainbow mountains.

Pingshanhu Grand Canyon

We found the Pingshanhu Grand Canyon gem while riding in a cab. I saw a picture of it in a brochure and figured it would be a cool place to go and visit. The rocks have formed pillars and a canyon snakes between them, even though there is no water in it now. Maybe the area was left behind by glaciers receding from the past ice age. Nevertheless, the canyon is there and we were able to hike down into the bottom and experience the natural maze of passageways through the canyon.

Again, we tried to spend as much time there as possible by bringing lunch with us and following all of the paths around. The drive to get here was 1.5 hours, so I wanted to stay at least 3 hours to make it worth the drive time. We ended up touring the park for 5 hours before heading home.

This was the most expensive location of the trip at 520 RMB for 4 people. This price, I thought, was too expensive. The park is new, so price should be low to attract visitors. It is not easy to get to either, so they are not going to get too many tourists just passing by. Part of the ticket entrance was a mandatory 30 RMB bus fee charged per person. I tend to disagree with “mandatory add-ons” because I could walk in if I wanted to. This park the bus fee was probably needed because it was 10 km from the entrance to the actual grand canyon location.

Nevertheless, the Pingshanhu Grand Canyon was a cool destination and I would recommend it if you have extra time.

Pingshanhu Grand Canyon

Pingshanhu Grand Canyon

Camel
Saw this camel on the way to Pingshanhu Grand Canyon. Looks like they farm camels out in this area.

Danxia Binggou

The 2nd danxia location we went to was Binggou Danxia Scenic Area. This was another very cool location just 10 km farther down the road from the rainbow mountains area. The topography here looks like sandstone pillars. We headed there in the morning of our last day in Zhangye and it did not disappoint. The scenery was out-of-this-world again! The only downside to the park was that several of the paths were closed to traffic for now.

Binggou Danxia Scenic Area was a good deal with the entrance fee only 240 RMB for the 4 of us. It again included a mandatory bus fee despite being able to walk, but it was cheaper than everything previously, so I can’t complain. Most people combine the rainbow mountains danxia and the Binggou Danxia in a single day, which would be 540 RMB for 4 people, but you would save the transportation cost to the rainbow mountains. Since we had the time, we just went to one location per day and enjoyed it.

Slow travel allows you to actually get to experience the places you go to. Too many people rush from place to place trying to “see it all” and end up missing the real experience.

Binggou Danxia
Cool columns at Binggou Danxia.
Binggou Danxia
Dried up river bed at Binggou.
Binggou Danxia
Amazing views like this were everywhere at Binggou. The paths were built to the tops of some pillars to give a 360-degree view of the surrounding park.

Jiayuguan Temples

The last day of our trip was spent touring around Jiayuguan. We headed to the Weijin Tombs early in the morning, only to be disappointed by how small the place was. There are ~1000 tombs scattered around the area of ancient warriors and noblemen, but there was only one tomb that was open to the public. We paid 124 RMB for the 4 of us to spend less than 30 minutes looking around.

After the tombs, we really didn’t have an idea of where to go, but our driver for the day ended up taking us to Wenshu Grottoes which was another Buddhist temple complex built on the side and into the side of a mountain. The place was extremely ornate and we had it mostly to ourselves for exploring.

The coolest thing here was getting to walk through an area where they were building new statues and seeing how they are constructed. The statues start off as a scarecrow of hay and then are molded with mud/clay to the correct shape before painting.

The Wenshu Temple cost 168 RMB to tour which was steep considering Buddhist temples are generally free to tour. However, the price was worth it for the beauty of the area and the kindness of the monks that lived there.

Wenshu Grottoes

Wenshu Grottoes
Built along and inside the mountain, the Wenshu Grottoes sit with a view of the beautiful glaciers in the background.

Housing

We stayed in hotels for this trip with a budget of $20 per room per night. We stayed within this with no problem. The only problem we had was booking with Qunar. Qunar is another Chinese booking site like Ctrip, however, they recently removed their English version making it much less useful. Our issue with Qunar was that we booked a hotel that told us upon arrival that they do not take foreigners. All foreigners in China have to register with the local police wherever they stay and many hotels do not understand the process, so they just say the don’t take foreigners. After calling the manager and having them come in, we were shown up to our rooms, in the hotel that “did not take foreigners.” Our rooms were massive suites for ~$20 per night.

After our room confusion in Jiayuguan, we booked using Agoda, which specifically states whether the hotel takes foreigners or not. We stayed for 4 nights in a hotel in Zhangye for ~$11.50 per night per room. This hotel was certainly not a high standard hotel, but it did the job since we weren’t spending much time in it anyways.

The last hotel in Jiayuguan was again $20 per night and was the worst of the trip. Our room did not have a window, nor did it have AC or fan mode. The room was roasting hot and Mrs. Atypical and I slept poorly. At least it was the last night.

Overall, we learned that booking with Agoda is the way to go in China. They have a wonderful selection of hotels in China and the pricing is about the same as on Chinese booking sites while being much easier to use for English speakers.

Food

Last, but certainly not least, we ate very well in Gansu. If for no other reason, everyone should travel to China to experience the food culture. The food in China is amazing and is as diverse as the country is big. The selection is so much more than we see at Chinese restaurants in the US.

We ate wonderful noodles and fresh bread one day, and lamb stew and lamb ribs the next. The variety was endless! My only word of caution: most food in China is spicy. Be ready for intense flavors that are nothing like you have tried before.

Total Cost Breakdown

We spent a total of $1,956 on a week long trip for 4 to Gansu including flights. After subtracting my parent’s half of the cost, the Atypical family’s travel cost was $1,471 because we paid for all of the flights as a gift for them coming to see us.

GansuExpensePercent
Activities$297.4815%
Housing$212.1211%
Food$177.519%
Transportation$1,268.7665%
Total$1,955.87

GansuPie

Gansu2017BarChartIn Conclusion

We had a spectacular trip to Gansu province with my parents in tow. We got to see lots of cool places and traveled slow enough to get to experience Gansu. If we had more time, we would have loved to bring the bikes and ride from place to place, which would have saved more money, but travel has to be designed around everyone.

Have you ever traveled in China? Let us know, we may be able to help.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it on Pinterest!

Travel cost review of Gansu China. Budget travel and slow travel through a beautiful unknown region of China.

What is Freedom?

According to Webster’s dictionary, freedom is:

Freedom: noun free·dom \ˈfrē-dəm\ the quality or state of being free: such as

a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence: the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous freedom from care: ease, facility spoke the language with freedom: the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken answered with freedom: improper familiarity : boldness of conception or execution : unrestricted use gave him the freedom of their home

As we can see, freedom has many meanings. Independence is probably the most accurate definition of freedom from my point of view. To be free from all cares and from everything is to be independent.

Thesaurus.com ranked the following as the highest rated synonyms to freedom:

  • independence
  • ability
  • exemption
  • flexibility
  • immunity
  • opportunity
  • power
  • privilege
  • right

So what is freedom really?

Here at Atypical Life, we strive for freedom. We strive for personal freedom, to decide where we want to be and do what we want to do when we want to do it. We are pursuing financial freedom, where we will be able to live out our days without having to worry about working anymore.

Merriam-Webster got it right saying, liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another. As a society, we have become slaves to our money. Because of this, we are also slaves to jobs we do not like and do not want. Thesaurus.com concurs with its highest ranking synonym, independence. That is what we are truly seeking.

Freedom Defined by the US Constitution

In society today, we are told that we are free. The US education system does a good job of educating us about the freedoms that we have in the United States. We have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, right to own guns, right to be represented in court, right to own property, among others. All of these freedoms make it seem like the US is the pinnacle of freedom and that we all should feel free our whole lives.

The US has many rights and freedoms. However, these rights and freedoms seem only to free the fringe of society. Why are the rest of us left to be slaves to work?

Why do we not feel free? Society strangles freedom.

The freedoms afforded by the US Constitution and its amendments are a good start, but corporate and societal culture need to transform to produce a culture more centered around personal freedom.

Too many people spend their lives with their head to the grindstone to earn a living just to get by. They buy things day in and day out that society says you mush have to be happy. They get married to a spouse that they love, but after months and years of continuing to push through work, their marriage falls apart. Oh well, that is what happens in such a cutthroat society. One day they wake up and they are 70 years old and wonder where their life went. What happened to all those years I was going to have to enjoy retirement and the American dream?

I watched a good Youtube video last night about a couple that was chiropractors in the US and they were miserable. They both worked 12 hour days non-stop and when they returned home from work, they were too tired to enjoy each other anymore. They had become slaves to work and to money. They sold everything they had in the US and moved to Costa Rica where they reignited their love for each other and began to love life again. She wrote a book Happier than a Billionaire detailing their journey to a happier life. The best quote from the video was this:

We are all miserable. It’s okay to be fat and hate your wife. Join the club. In society today, it’s what it takes to get by.

They decided that was not true and pursued an alternative.

Today, the typical middle-class American is brought up in society knowing their path in life consists of:

  • 1-2 years of preschool
  • K-12 = 13 years of primary schooling
  • 4+ years of college (5 or more is okay because you are figuring out your life, right?)
  • Now at age 22-23 start work for 40-50 years
  • Buy a house
  • Get married ($$$$$)
  • Have children (done right costs >$250,000 per child)
  • At 62 if you’re lucky probably closer to 70 RETIRE!
  • Live out the rest of your days tired because you worked your life away during your most vibrant years

For the first 15 years of schooling, we are probably going to school for free. Our parent’s taxes pay for public schooling. School teaches us the fundamentals of all kinds of academic pursuits and gives us a good basis to figure out what we enjoy. During these years, the government has decided for us what we need to know and what we do not need to know. Is that freedom? During our formative years, we probably do not have enough knowledge base to decide what we do and do not need to know. Still, it is not freedom for others to choose for us.

During our years in middle and high school, we are told that college is the way of the future. If you do not have a degree, then you will just be an unemployed bozo on the side of the street begging for money. They neglect to show us the other ways to make money to achieve freedom, so the majority of us from the middle class and above head on into college to pursue higher learning.

I was lucky enough to have chosen a highly employable bachelor’s degree in engineering, so I was able to get out of college after “only” 5 years. 1 year consisted of co-oping work, so I only really attended school for 4 years.

After graduation, we are now expected to get a job. But wait. Most people got a degree in an unemployable field, so what is the answer to that? Let’s go to grad school and get further in debt. We should not worry about student loan debt since it is in pursuit of education which will gain us a salary for life. Many people pursue grad school because the employment opportunities were not there when they graduated, or they didn’t play the employment game correctly to land the big job. So now they are stuck in school gaining more debt and lengthening their time to freedom.

When we finally do graduate, we are expected to get that big time “real world” job. Our wonderful government in the US decides for us what retirement age is. This age is not actually the age that you are allowed to retire, but it is the age that we can start collecting on social security. Since many people are still a slave to their money at 60 they cannot retire until they can collect on full social security which now comes around 67 or higher for my generation. Myself, I do not factor social security into retirement savings projections because of the uncertainty in it. We will provide for ourselves. If social security is around for us, all the better.

By the time we have reached retirement age, we are finally free. We are no longer beholden to the man and can pursue what we want when we want. However, since we spent 40-50 years grinding our most vibrant years away we are too tired to really enjoy what the world has to offer.

Yes, we can now enjoy the company of our family and our loved ones more often. We can even enjoy the freedom to travel around and see the world. But just ponder the days, when you were 25-40. The fittest and strongest days of your life. This is the time that Atypical Life aims to be free for.

This is why we feel strangled by society. We feel that the expectations set by society have to be followed. To go against the flow of society is to be a social outcast and to not be accepted. We are taught that acceptance in society is important, so we need to follow the flow and fit it with everyone. Because too many people just accept the status quo, our personal freedom is strangled.

Personal Freedom

We have the freedom to live the life that we want to. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise!

In order to live the life you want, you have to cast away society’s feelings and decide for yourself what you want most in life. We still have to live within the laws of the world, however, it is not difficult to design a life for yourself that fulfills and surpasses your wildest dreams. If your dream is to live where you are now and do what you are doing, congrats you are already free. But if you are tired and worn out from work, do not hesitate to change. We have to make personal freedom a priority because no one else will do it on our behalf.

Here at Atypical Life, personal freedom is being location independent. We want to be able to pick up and move around whenever we want. This does not mean we will not have a house/apartment wherever it is we are located at the moment. We want to be free from the obligation to be located in a certain place because of work. We want to travel and see the world. To do that, we need the freedom of location.

Financial Freedom

In the US we often hear:

Freedom comes at a price.

I cannot agree more with this statement. It usually means a human sacrifice in war, but for financial freedom, it has a more direct meaning. The price for financial freedom is your expenses for the rest of your life. There are too many investment decisions to talk about here, but the point when your investments are able to grow and become self-sustaining is when we have financial freedom.

Financial freedom seems like a dream to most of the societal drones that go along with their heads to the grindstone. However, if we save our money and invest it wisely, we can free ourselves. The more we pursue financial freedom and actually put real effort towards it, the quicker it comes.

In the pursuit of freedom, less is more.

Financial freedom does not mean buying everything you can possibly dream of and never running out of money. It refers to being able to cover your reasonable living costs forever. At this point, we have the freedom to tell people, we don’t need your money, you don’t own me. This is the truly liberating feeling that comes with financial freedom.

Freedom

Whether we know it or not, freedom is what we all want. Innately, we all want the ability to choose for ourselves what we want, when we want, where we want. Society has thrust itself upon us trying to tell us this is not possible. We need to take it upon ourselves to make freedom a priority because no one else will. Freedom means different things to different people, but we should all strive to achieve our own version of freedom.

Here at Atypical Life, freedom is paramount.

I would love to hear your thoughts on freedom.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it on Pinterest!

freedom, what is freedom,

freedom, what is freedom,