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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expat package, freedom rocket, extreme savings

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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capitalism is killing us

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

Why I Decided to Share Our Finances

Sharing your finances, your income, your expenses, and your lifestyle with the world is seen as taboo. We all grow up hearing that it is unacceptable to ask how much money someone makes. But if we all started to share our income and expenses with each other, I believe we can liberate ourselves and help each other grow towards the atypical life of freedom.

When I shared Atypical Life with my parents, the first comment was:

Do you really want to share all of this information online? What about your family? Who is your target audience? ~Pops

I appreciate my dad’s input and understand where he is coming from. In his generation, it was seemingly unacceptable to share one’s income, even with their own family. I never learned how much money my own dad made until he was retired. I will not share it here, since sharing income is a very personal decision.

I hope to answer his concerns below.

Do you really want to share all of this information online?

scary man
What the media wants us to think all people are like.

Of course I want to share my finances online. The world is full of people that are scared by the media. The media does their best to make the world seem like a scary and unsafe place to live. The internet is only full of trolls and those trying to steal your personal information, right?

I am an optimist and do not believe all of the scare mongering that the media likes to put out. People are good at heart. I have no qualms about sharing my finances online. I have an engineering degree from a renowned university and make a reasonable salary for that degree. I have taken the chances that have been afforded to me and have been rewarded for taking those chances. Why is this something to hide?

If we all were to share our finances online, then we would be able to better compare how we are doing against the rest of society. Is the job we are doing underpaid in comparison or are we living the good life with a good company paying above average wages? This question and many more could be answered if we had access to the information that I want to provide to all of you.

The human resources department of every large company does market research to determine wage levels and set pay grades. This allows them to make sure they do not “pay you too much”. It goes to show, the information is out there and shared anonymously between companies, but is not available for the public, to do their own fact checking.

glassdoorGlassdoor is a company that allows you to share your income and job titles anonymously. This website is a great way to post your income levels for all to see, if you don’t want people to know your identity. You can contribute to the benefit of all by sharing your income and job, so we all can do comparisons across industry and the economy. It is also a good way to research prospective companies since you can leave reviews on the company culture and other information that is not easily available online.

Why I Share my Atypical Finances

I want to share my financial information to help people. Living the atypical life is great, but being able to help others achieve the atypical life is truly exciting! Through this blog, detailing my finances and tips on how to live the atypical life of freedom, I hope to inspire more to pursue freedom on their own terms. I will share my income while I am employed by my company along with the other benefits of employment.

The second part to sharing my finances is sharing my expenses. There are 2 reasons I want to share my expenses:

  1. to help my readers see that low expenses really are possible.
  2. to help keep me accountable and lower my expenses further.

mr money mustacheMr. Money Mustache was the first financial independence retire early (FIRE) blog I came across and he inspired me to pursue the atypical life of freedom. One of the main takeaways is that the lower your expenses, the less money needs to be saved for early retirement, and the more money you can save each month. These 2 effects compound together to bring freedom super quickly. By sharing my expenses with my readers and the world, I hope to inspire you to reduce your expenses as I reduce mine in the pursuit of freedom.

As seen from my 2017 goals, I hope to lower my monthly expenses by $300 per month on miscellaneous expenditures. By blogging about my monthly income and expenses I hope to control my own habits, so that we can live the atypical life of freedom from the man sooner.

By sharing my investment strategy and investment contributions, I hope to educate you about investing. Investing is always shrouded with mystery and portrayed as something best left to the experts. I hope to share my own journey through investing and show the endpoint that is super simple. I will be sharing all of the information that I wish I knew, when I started out on this journey 7 years ago. By sharing this information, I hope to shorten the length of time to investment enlightenment for all to follow.

Identity Theft Concerns

I am not concerned about identity theft. Atypical Life is anonymous (obviously my name is not Atypical), and will certainly stay that way until at least I leave the workforce. Sharing my income, expenses, and investments is just sharing values. In order for identity theft to happen, a thief would also need account numbers and lots of my personal information that is not available. Because of this, I am not concerned.

Atypical Life Target Audience

I will answer my dad’s final 2 concerns here. My target audience is all of my readers and the public that wants to know about freedom.

I hope to help people through my openness about finances and share with others our story about how we achieve freedom.

I would love to share Atypical Life with my family, however, there is the concern that they may be jealous because of the income level I am at after only working for a few years out of college. I understand the concern here, and will likely share this only with my family that I think would enjoy the read and learn something along the way. There really is no reason to be jealous of my income because it was all earned and deserved. Because of my engineering degree, my starting salary out of college is significantly above the average college graduate, but actually low to median for engineering salaries. This coupled with my acceptance of an expat assignment in China has allowed us to pursue an atypical life.

In Conclusion

Yes, I will share my finances here on Atypical Life. Sharing of our finances both income and expenses, I hope to inspire my readers to reduce their expenses, increase their income, and achieve the atypical life of freedom sooner. Sharing your finances online and in general is a deeply personal decision, and I believe the benefits to ourselves and society greatly outweigh the risks.

Thanks Pops for sharing your concerns and helping me to realize that freedom is paramount. blog post text

Do you have a blog? Do you share your finances online as well? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments.

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finances, sharing, income, expense, savings

Minimalism: Living with Less

Minimalism is the act of living with less and the pursuit of living with the least amount reasonable in each situation. While away on vacation in Indonesia, I got a chance to relax and reflect on where I am in life and where I want to be. I read a wonderful book by Ben Night titled “Adopting the Minimalist Mindset”. Here at Atypical Life, we follow almost all of the suggestions in the book when it comes to managing money and frugality, however, we have also been overcome by possessions.

If you have read my 2017 goals for the year, then you will remember that I used to spend $600 per month on things or shopping. This budget over the past 4.5 years has ballooned our possessions to the point that we have lots of things and many that are just sitting around.

Minimalism is all about spending your time with the most valuable people and objects in your life. ~Ben Night

Ben pointed out what we already know. Pursuing the atypical life of freedom, we know that the time for experiences and the time for family and friends far outweighs the benefits of many possessions.

Because of our many possessions, I get to spend much of my time each week on maintenance and upkeep of all of these possessions. The main takeaway from Ben’s book for us was the below point:

Find something in your house each day and trash it, donate it, or give it away.

His book detailed lots of ways to declutter your house and had sections on each area of the house and how to declutter your life. I was struck by the above quote because, in general, instead of throwing things out or getting rid of things when we no longer use them, we stick them in the drawer or in the back of the closet in the distant chance that we may one day use them… You never know, right?

This hoarding habit has created a stockpile of stuff in our apartment here in China. Luckily, we had the chance when we moved here to donate a huge load of possessions to Goodwill. Not everyone gets this chance. Moving is a great opportunity to remove unneeded things. We were able to remove old kitchen appliances, sofas, beds, tables, kitchen cookware, clothes and many other things in the move.

Somehow we still ended up with junk boxed up by the movers and delivered halfway around the world to China!

If you have possessions that have been in the box for 3 months and you haven’t needed or used them, do you really need to keep them or should you just trash them?

I say make the atypical choice and get rid of them. The choice is up to you which method to use to liberate yourself from possessions.

  • Donate it
  • Trash it
  • Give it away

I have started going through our belongings each weekend and enjoying the process of getting rid of things. My first foray this year into freedom of possessions was to go through my clothing. I was able to donate nearly 30 lbs of clothing and free up space in my dresser and closet. I had been holding on to clothes that I didn’t like, weren’t comfortable, or didn’t fit, just because I paid for them. Maybe I thought I could wear them later and they would magically be better?

I have been cycling for nearly 15 years and acquiring clothing for nearly that long as well. I still have some clothing from my early days of riding, but it rarely if ever gets used anymore. It feels liberating to remove this old stuff and get rid of it. The goal for me now is to remove items and not to replace them.

This past weekend I spent some time going through our junk drawers. We all have these. It’s where we throw all of our small trinkets and whatchamacallits. We have 2 gigantic 4 drawer office filing cabinets full of files and junk. I went through most of these and was able to get rid of more old things that will never be used again. It truly is amazing how much stuff you accumulate over time.

Why do we keep all of this junk?

Its hard to understand the psychology behind hoarding, even in small doses. All of us have some small emotional attachment to our possessions. This small attachment makes us feel that we cannot possibly throw whatever it is out.

Maybe the attachment is rooted in the fact that we paid for it.

“Aunt Rosie” bought it for us, and even though we don’t like it, we can’t possibly get rid of it. She might notice!

I don’t use it now, but maybe, just maybe, in the future, I can find some use for it.

I was raised going to Boy Scouts. I love all of the experiences that Boy Scouts gave to me and the morals it instilled. The Boy Scout motto is:

Be Prepared.

The Boy Scout motto definitely influenced me. I try to always be prepared for anything that can happen, or any activity I want to participate in. I do my research and acquire the gear needed, even if it could be rented. The outrageous prices that vendors charge for renting gear, steers me to buying and bringing my own. Personal gear can be just the right size and suited just for you. Because of the my desire to be prepared, I have certainly accumulated quite the collection of outdoors gear. It also stops me from getting rid of it because I feel I may one day need it again even if I have already upgraded to better.

In Conclusion

I have started to free myself from my belongings. The atypical life of freedom not only applies to freedom of the man at work and financial freedom, but freedom from belongings. It is okay to maintain belongings and be prepared for whatever may come your way, but there is a time when it is time to let go.

I have just started this process. Ben Night suggested to get rid of one thing each day, and after a year or 2, you will be down to a reasonable amount of things. This journey is just beginning for me, but I already feel better knowing that I am releasing the stranglehold my belongings have over me.

Join me on our pursuit of freedom. Can you get rid of something everyday? Once per week? Let me know in the comments.

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minimalism, living life with less, less is more

2 Weeks in Paradise: Cost Review of Indonesia

One of the benefits of living abroad as an expat in China is the Chinese New Year’s holiday. We were able to spend 2 weeks off on a wonderful vacation bike tour in Indonesia because of a week long holiday mandated by the Chinese government. I spent one week of my vacation and we were able to travel for 2 weeks. Chinese New Years (CNY) goes along with the lunar calendar and is the annual lunar new year. It is between mid-January to the end of February each year and lasts at least a week of festivities for the Chinese. It is also the largest human migration annually in the world, as lots of Chinese head to their home towns to visit family and celebrate another new year.

We took our chance to escape the chaos of China and the huge migration by leaving before the new year stared and returning after the government mandated holiday. This allowed us to miss some of the crowds.

How did we decide to travel to Indonesia?

We were planning a trip to Thailand to go visit Chiang Mai and the elephant sanctuary that is located there. However, when I learned from my Chinese co-workers that Thailand is a major travel destination for the Chinese, we changed our plans and set our sights on Indonesia.

Who knew, when we started planning this trip, that Indonesia is the 4th largest country in the world behind:

  1. China                     (1,376,830,000 people)
  2. India                      (1,289,690,000 people)
  3. United States       (323,675,000 people)
  4. Indonesia             (258,705,000 people)

The vast majority of the inhabitants of Indonesia’s 17,508 islands live on Java, the main island, and our destination for our 2 week adventure.

 Bike Touring to Save Cost

We brought our coupled tandem road bike with us. This was our main form of transportation once we arrived to Indonesia. We used it to tour various sites around Yogyakarta and also used it to travel across Indonesia and eventually end up in Bandung at the end of the trip where we took a bus back to the Jakarta airport.

Bringing your own transportation on a trip really frees you up to explore on your own terms.

  • It is free, since it takes no fuel.
  • It also allows you to see the countryside and stop at any location you want.
  • You get to interact with locals instead of blowing by them.
  • It is a great conversation starter.

Like the view on the side of the road where it says no stopping? Go ahead and stop and take a picture of the scenery before you continue on your way.

Mt Merapi

There are certainly downsides to bike touring:

  • It takes longer to get places than on motorcycles or buses.
  • If you are tired, the last thing you want to do is ride your bike 50 km one way to go see a sight outside of the city you are staying in.
  • While having a “real job” and a set vacation time, you “waste” valuable days riding from one place to another.

The negatives are outweighed by the positives of freedom and choice. We get to explore on our own terms.

We were able to save hundreds of dollars on bus and motorcycle rental fees by bringing our bike and traveling the way we did. One destination, Sri Gethuk, a beautiful waterfall outside Yogyakarata, certainly had no buses going to it. The only way to get there is by motorcycle or bicycle, and we were able to go on our own schedule and get to experience it.

Sri Gethuk

Bike Touring Across Java

We started our trip in Indonesia with 4 days in Yogyakarta. While here we got to explore a number of very cool sites. The first was a small waterfall that is reminiscent of the Antelope slot canyons in Arizona called Luweng Sampang. Riding there was a brute of a bike ride with a 20% climb that was over 2km long. After getting there, the riding was all flat, so the day was relaxing besides the beginning. We were able to jump off the waterfall into the canyon below, only after watching some of the locals do it. After refreshing in the water, we headed to Prambanan to see the Hindu temple complex. There were actually multiple temple complexes at the site we got to see.

We also spent a day riding over to Sri Gethuk to visit the waterfalls and the cave. This was another 40 km ride there and 40 km ride back over steep difficult terrain. The waterfall was definitely worth it, since I got to swim and enjoy the water for an hour. The last day in Yogyakarta was spent eating pizza, relaxing and then checking out some more local temples. We had big plans for seeing other places, but our fatigue held us back. That is the one downside to travel by bike. When you get tired, you really do not want to go anywhere but to eat.

Borobudur

Leaving Yogyakarta we headed up to Borobudur on the bike and explored for the day. Borobudur was a very cool and unique Buddhist temple. Another benefit of the bike is there are no parking fees, usually. Borobudur was one of the tourist traps that we went to see in Indonesia. It is renowned as the world’s largest Buddhist temple, which we can attest to is 100% misleading if not completely disingenuous. Many of the Buddhist temple complexes in China put the size of Borobudur to shame, however, it was a very cool place nonetheless.

Borobudur

Dieng Plateau

After a day at Borobudur, we continued on to Dieng Plateau, where there is lots of volcanic activity. The ride to Dieng was extremely difficult. We found out in Yogyakarta, that the hills and mountainsides in Indonesia are dangerously steep. After reviewing the route, we thought it would be okay on the way to Dieng. We were wrong. The hills were still super steep and we were super tired by the time we reached the bottom of the 1000m climb up to Dieng. We rode around until we were able to find the bus up the mountain and loaded up our bike on the bus rooftop, in order to reach Dieng. We prefer to ride, but when the time comes to call it quits, we have started to accept it.

We found a little homestay in Dieng upon arrival that happened to be our cheapest accommodation of the entire trip. It ran us 75,000 IDR which is equivalent to $5.62, quite the steal. Granted this certainly wasn’t a luxury accommodation, but it served our needs of a roof over our head and a bed to sleep in. Exploring the plateau, we saw a beautiful green volcanic lake, multiple temples, and a very cool volcanic crater that reminded me of the small ones at Yellowstone in the US. All of these locations charged to go see, them and I felt like I was getting nickel and dimed to death. In the end, their charges were equivalent to $1 or less for most of the locations, so it wasn’t very expensive.

Dieng Lake

Enjoying Pangandaran

Leaving Dieng Plateau, we spent 2 days riding across the country to Pangandaran, so we could live in the lap of luxury at $13 per night for a secluded beach inn. Our ride across the country started with more of the steep craziness, but we were able to make it to Purwokerto in one day, where we couldn’t find a place to stay except for 450,000 IDR ($36). We felt ripped off here, but it was a very nice place and we were able to dry out our clothes after being soaked for a couple of days from rain.

We also hit up the local bike shop for parts and repair. I can fix all my own gear, however, when parts break, there is no other option. My front derailleur cage broke and we needed a new one. At the shop, I was able to get a new one and get it installed along with adjustment of the disc brakes. The bike was not responding well to Indonesia and needed these parts to feel safe riding in the mountains.

Riding from Purwokerto to Pangandaran was a very nice ride besides the one crazy mountain (not steep) where the drivers were all over the road and seemed intent on running us over. We got rained on for several hours, but it was still a beautiful ride. We arrived to our beach paradise, and decided in the end to stay here for 3 nights. Given no schedule we would have stayed longer, but we still wanted to make it to Bandung at least.

We had a very nice day on the river with a guide company taking us up and floating down the Green Canyon. This included jumping off 15m high cliffs along with floating through rapids. It was a beautiful experience and one of a number of experiences that are budget friendly in Southeast Asia. I prefer no-cost fun on the bike, but trips for adventure excursions are still very fun.

The next day we spent a day lounging around on the beach and exploring the mangrove forest. It was very nice to just hang out and relax after several long days of bike riding. The fatigue we built up so far on the trip was starting to get to us. I got to spend my birthday lounging on the beach enjoying the clean air, beautiful water, and quiet surroundings.

Pangandaran Beach

Riding and Exploring Bandung

We were sad to leave Pangandaran, but the roads were calling and we were rested. The ride from Pangandaran to Tasikmalaya took us along back country roads that should have been very nice pavement had they not all been washed out from the heavy rains. We managed to stay upright the entire time, but the roads were doing their best to throw us off. We climbed up several mountains under the beating sun to reach Tasikmalaya. We feasted on roadside fried goodness on our way and made it to town after 94 km and running out of water.

The next day was our last ride of the trip. It was an okay ride to Bandung. We were on the “major” highway, highway 3. It was only a 2 lane road and was not supposed to be steep, but the 2 mountain passes we went over certainly qualified as steep (10-15%). It would have been a lot nicer of a ride, but the clouds were up and visibility was low. Also, the final push to Bandung was through unending suburban sprawl, which is no fun to ride through. In the end, we made it to our hotel in Bandung and set about figuring out an activity for the next day.

We found a volcano to go hike up, Tangkuban Parahu. It is the most popular volcano in Bandung, and is a terrible ripoff for foreigners. It cost less than $2 for locals, but the cost for foreigners is 10x the local cost! We still trekked up there on buses and by foot, refusing the many offers of additional transportation. The crater at the top was very cool and the views from the top were second to none. In the end, I felt stabbed through the heart at the time for 10x local cost, but we spent a total of $144 on entrance fees and attractions for 2 weeks, which is not too bad at all.

Tangkuban Parahu Crater

Our last day in Indonesia involved riding our bike to the bus station, packing it all up and then taking the bus back to the airport to fly out the following morning.

Cost Review of 2 Weeks in Indonesia

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Transportation Costs

We flew in and out of Jakarta on our adventure to Indonesia. Because of CNY, flights are usually astronomically priced during those weeks, so we had our first foray into travel hacking and flying on rewards points. During our investigation into living in China we were flown over to China by the company multiple times and we were able to rack up 56,000 rewards miles on Cathay Pacific. Nearly enough points to fly both of us round trip to Indonesia. The tickets for this trip were supposed to cost $400 each, but by using rewards points the cost was $90 in fees. We also had to purchase points, which is a major rip-off at $60 per 2000 miles, for a total round trip cost for 2 people to Jakarta, Indonesia from China of $210. I did not see us using the Cathay Pacific points anytime soon and they were set to expire as well, so purchasing points to travel made sense in our situation and it worked out for the best.

Along with the round trip flight to Jakarta we also were scammed into a higher cost in-country flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta (Jogjakarta locally). When I went to book the $35 flight in Indonesia, it would not accept any foreign credit card. I had to book via a travel agency raising the cost to $50 per ticket. This is one of the drawbacks to traveling on a schedule set by work. If we had time and freedom, we would have just arrived to Jakarta and then booked the ticket to Yogyakarta.

Our trip worked out to be more expensive than I expected, but very cheap in terms of time-limited vacations. 40% of our cost was transportation, and of that 40%, 92% ($467) was just to get to there and back. This goes to show, that the longer the trip is, the cheaper it is per day. Our trip was 40% transportation cost, almost entirely spent on getting there and getting home, so if we had doubled the trip length, transportation cost would drop to 20-30% of trip cost depending on increases of food, housing, and activities.

Housing Cost

We paid on average $20 per night for accommodation for a total trip cost of $297. $20 is the upper limit of what I like to spend per night on accommodation in locales in Southeast Asia and it affords pretty nice hotels. We got ripped off a couple of times because we were staying in a tourist trap and because we didn’t book ahead. We learned to book at least a day ahead using Agoda to secure the cheapest cost and to find the lowest cost hotels in a city/town. Our favorite stay in Pangandaran in a small house by the beach, with included breakfast and the sound of geckos all night was $15 per night.

Food Cost

Food in Indonesia left something to be desired. Everything was fried, which is pretty good when you start, but after awhile gets old. One thing I will never get tired of though, is a dinner cost for 2 of $2.25. No the food is not exquisite, but it is not bad either. Indonesia does spicy right. Just one dab of their hot sauce is burn your face off spicy.

Want a fried hush puppy? Here is a handful of fresh chilies to go with it!

We had an “expensive” seafood dinner one night for Mrs. Atypical with tiger prawns and fresh fish for a total cost of $18. In the end everything was very cheap in Indonesia. Even though the meals were usually not enough to fill us up, we could stop at a convenient store for snack foods and still be way ahead on cost, even compared to China.

Activity Cost

Activity cost in Indonesia is outrageous when compared with the local prices. As a foreigner, you can expect to pay 3-10x the local price to go see any and all attractions. They believe because we are foreigners, we have lots of money to spend and they all want a part of it. Our big ticket items here were Borobudur temple complex ($39 for 2), Prambanan temple complex ($35 for 2), and Tangkuban Parahu volcano ($30 for 2). The one high ticket activity we paid for, that I thought was worth it was the Green Canyon float trip with lunch ($34 for 2). All the other locations we visited were just nickel and diming us, instead of outright scamming us.

Souvenirs/Goods Cost

We like to bring back something to remember each country we travel to. Since we are on the bike, these items must be small and not break easily or we will never get to enjoy them at home. We were able to pick up 3 pieces of Batik art for ourselves and our family in Yogyakarta. The first one, we paid the same as the next 2, and they were all the same size! This goes to show, that the sellers are really just out there to scam us as best they can. The quality on all of them were the same and they were beautifully made and colored. The total cost for these was $60 and the rest of our goods cost was in fixing the bike and attempting to fix our broken camera. Our wonderful Olympus E-M10 camera had its shutter freeze shut at Borobudur, so we went more than half of the trip without our nice camera.

In Conclusion

We had a fantastic and relaxing trip to Indonesia. Living in the high stress environment of full-time employment working for the man, coupled with living in a city when you are country-folk, leads to a desire to escape. Indonesia filled that desire and then some. We were able to relax and enjoy ourselves for 2 weeks all on a reasonable budget.

We spent a total of $1,264 over the course of 2 weeks on this trip, which worked out to $74 per day. This is a sustainable forever travel budget, and I still feel it was on the expensive side with transportation cost so high. In the future when the Atypical Life family reaches personal and then financial freedom, we will be able to explore the world on our own terms at our own speed.

Have you been to Indonesia? Let me know about your trip and costs and we can learn from each other.

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Indonesia, Java, Borobudur, cost review, finance, budget