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.

March 2017 Atypical Life Income Report

Welcome to the third 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 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
Bonus$6,020
Company Match$1,112
Expat Income$1,266
Gifts Received$50
Interest$4
Investment$725
Salary (Mr. Atypical)$6,467
Salary (Mrs. Atypical)$131
Total$15,775

March was another great 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.

I was stoked in March when our company actually paid the Short-term Incentive Plan (STIP) at 100% funding this year. This amounted to a 7.75% bonus on my new annual salary. All of the extra funds got saved and invested with 50% going directly to the 401k, ~25% going to taxes and the final 25% paid out to me and invested in the HSA.

One problem with the 401k contribution this month is that it still has not posted. I received my bonus on March 10, and the $3,010 that were “contributed” to the 401k, have still not shown up in my account. I was waiting for the salary contribution posted (around April 7) before approaching HR about this lack of contribution. I am not sure of the company’s intent here, but it seems they are holding on to my money for their own gain rather than paying it out to me on time.

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 ready us for an atypical life of freedom. The 401k matching contribution is free money and we make nearly $6,000 per year from this income source.

March is when all of my VTSAX investments pay out dividends, so we had a $725 dividend payment. The payment for this quarter was very low compared with past payments. Even though I have more investments than I did in December 2016, the dividend payout was down 25% on a per share basis.

Expenses

ExpensesAmount
Business$550
Fees$8
Food$448
Home$325
Insurance$74
Medical Expenses$70
Shopping$427
Taxes$2,730
Travel$890
Utilities$29
Total$5,551

Our March expenses were to be expected and slightly over budget! They were the highest of 2017 so far because of hosting my parents in China for a few weeks.

The bonus we received in January from the local Chinese government got put to further good use this month on a new lens for our Micro 4/3 camera. The Olympus E-M1 that we bought in February is complemented nicely now by a wide-angle Panasonic 7-14 mm f/4 lens. This lens gives us a new perspective to use and will continue to expand the possibilities of beautiful photography for our blogs. 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.

Because my parents are here, our budget, in general, got overstretched. We are trying 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, visited the Great Wall. We are also getting more food out at restaurants as a result of them here. Introducing them to the local food is enjoyable, but certainly more expensive. It gives us a feel for what the cost will be to live when we have kids in the future.

In addition to the business expansion from the Chinese bonus, we treated my parents to covering the flight cost to Gansu and back. 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 March was $876, however, half of the non-flight cost will be paid back to us by my parents. because they do not have a free way to get RMB to spend, we are covering all costs and they will reimburse us at the end of the trip via PayPal. Keep an eye out for our upcoming post about our Gansu trip.

Shopping

The shopping budget was over this month at $427. The reason we were over budget again is due to my parent’s trip to China. Because we can’t buy some things in China (I wear a size 46 shoe 13US), we bought them from the US and had my parents bring them to us. This saw the purchase of a pair of Chaco sandals for me, a pair of cycling sandals to replace the ones that I broke last year, and 2 horse riding helmets for Mrs. Atypical. The last one was a mistake due to a website malfunction and we will get reimbursed for the helmet when it gets returned to the store.

Mrs. Atypical and I are very into exercise and use it to spend much of our free time. Since cycling here is not too fun and the air is not too clean (think a thick headache inducing smog 150+ PM2.5) she asked for a bike trainer so she could ride inside. There was no way I could say no to that, so we purchased one that I would ride as well, and she is well on her way to getting stronger because of this purchase. I did not buy the cheapest version of a trainer because tools should be bought to last, and good quality can make all the difference. In the pursuit of freedom, we cannot forget to live and enjoy ourselves.

Medical

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.

We had our first medical costs of 2017 this month with the purchase of 12 months worth of birth control. China has it right because birth control is over the counter. There is no way they could have maintained the one-child policy for years without easy access to birth control. In the US, the government has put up barriers to access which does not make any sense.

Home

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.

Food

Our grocery and dining budget ballooned this month from my parent’s visit to $427. With $335 spent on groceries for the month, it is evident that we were stockpiling ingredients for the month ahead. I purchased 10 lbs of butter in preparation of baking wonderful Western sweets. Since we get the butter delivered, I thought it was better to stockpile before it gets hot here to stop melting during delivery. I am always happy that the cost of food in China is so low beside our splurges for sanity’s sake on butter, sugar, and chocolate!

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.

My second month using this platform was much more successful than the first month. I did not make the same mistake as I did in February with incorrectly moving funds from HSA Bank to/from TD Ameritrade. I was able to put an additional $3,500 into the HSA bringing my total investment to $5,000 for 2017.

The investments made into the HSA will save us a good amount of taxes 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 49% of our expenses for March totaling $2,729.

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

Our taxes for March were extraordinarily high because of the tax withheld on the bonus. I initially thought it was way too high because they withheld 25% federal income tax from it, however it ended up correct. Because it is additional income above the estimated tax that I pay on my normal salary, it is taxed at my max tax rate of 25%. The 25% income tax was levied on the entire bonus, even though 50% of it went to the 401k in pre-tax contributions. Due to the expat package, I do not pay real income tax, but estimated income tax to the company, the accounting is done differently. The tax rate should probably be 15% since my saving plan for the year will put me in the 15% tax bracket but is not worth arguing.

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 $10,239 in March 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

My parents came to China to visit and we got to go on a wonderful trip to Gansu province to check out the scenery and mountains there. It is nice to know you are loved and that people will travel half way around the world to come and visit.

How was your March? 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!

March 2017 financial review

Travel Slow, Travel Cheap, Travel Forever

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

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

The solution:

Travel slow, travel cheap, travel forever.


So what is slow travel?

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

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

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

Slow travel does not only apply to the retired

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

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

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

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

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

Slow travel is cheap

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

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

[wpdatachart id=6]

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

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

Conclusion

The question you have to ask yourself is this:

Why am I traveling?

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

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

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slow travel, frugal travel, cheap, forever

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.

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

financial review February 2017 Atypical Life

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

January 2017 Atypical Life Income Report

Welcome to the first monthly financial review 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 financial review will look very different to most family budgets, however, it is 100% real and is achievable under the right circumstances. So let’s begin.

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

January was a 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.

IncomeAmount
Bonus$5,196.00
Company Match$569.70
Expat Income$1,266.00
Gifts Received$100.00
Interest Income$4.93
Misc. Income$170.94
Salary$6,330.00
Total Income$13,637.57

Bonus Windfall!!

We finally had our windfall of a bonus that we have been expecting since July last year. This bonus was paid by the local government here in China as a talent award to individuals working in the area that applied for it. We had to put a lot of effort into the acquisition of this award, but $5,196 is worth the effort when it can bring us closer to freedom. The money was all deposited into a Chinese bank account, so we cannot pull it out for investing. The question now is how to treat this bonus? I think we will use it to double down on our pursuit of freedom with investment into blogging and self-employment.

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 since 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. 50% of $6,330 goes to the 401k each month to ready us for a truly atypical life of freedom. 401k matching contributions is free money and we make nearly $6,000 per year from this income source.

The company I work for also has a health promotion program to help them bring down healthcare costs. This program works on points from pedometers and other health monitoring inputs to give us a maximum earning potential of $1,000 per year for the 2 of us. We both wear Garmin watches to track our steps, sleep, and exercise. I use it also to track some of my bike rides that then get uploaded to the company tracking website for bonus points towards our award. All of this is to say, I withdrew $140 from the program in January.

Expenses

Our January expenses were on track and on budget!

ExpensesAmount
Fees$2.50
Food$117.54
Home$325.00
Insurance$73.91
Shopping$288.36
Taxes$1,065.46
Travel$839.86
Total$2,712.63

I managed to keep the shopping budget down to below $300 this month, which was a huge success. January is my birthday, so we usually blow by that amount on birthday presents which we need to cut back on. This January I got birthday presents of long lusted after tools for bike repair. For those of you that are into bikes, I got a Taiwanese equivalent of the Park Tool TS-1.1 truing stand for wheel building and I also got a nice torque wrench and bits for bike repair. I also got several other cycling tools to fill out my bike shop worth of tools.

Clothes shopping this month were for Mrs. Atypical. Our vacation that started in January and went on into February was a bike touring trip to Indonesia and she needed some new cycling clothes for comfort on the long days in the saddle. There will be a separate post about our wonderful and relaxing trip to Indonesia. Needless to say, we spent a total of $780 there during January and the rest of the trip cost rolled over into February.

I do accrual accounting for our personal finances. Basically, this means, that if I paid for flights to Indonesia in December, they show up as expenses when they are actually used. So half of the expense of flights to Indonesia are in January and the other half are in February. This type of accounting is typically done in large businesses where it is required by law and not by individuals, however, I feel it makes the most amount of sense. We should account for things when they happen, not when they are charged to the credit card.

Our insurance for the month is also 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 for all of 2017. This covers us for all medical expenses in China and also qualifies us to use the supercharged 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. I was able to negotiate a housing cost into our contract of $325 because that is what my rent had been since I started working for my company out of college. The expat contract tries to keep your expenses the same as when you were living in the USA, so if I had owned a house in the US, I would not have to pay the company rent on my apartment in China. I cannot complain about rent of $325 to live in an over-priced ritzy-glitzy $1,000,000 high-rise apartment. It also includes all utilities besides phone and internet.

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 investment fee on that account, so we can move it to TD Ameritrade and buy VTI, the best possible investment vehicle.

Our grocery and dining budget was pretty low for the month at only $118. This has to be taken with a grain of salt, though, because we were traveling for 12 days out of that month. So an extrapolated spending would be $183, which is still amazing. We received lots of Christmas gifts in January, since our mail forwarding service is very slow to arrive to China, and in them we received all of the candy we could dream of! Sweets are definitely one of the top missed items living abroad in China.

Taxes

Everybody hates taxes. They eat away at our income and we never even get a chance to see it. Taxes were 40% of our expenses for January.

TaxesAmount
Federal$350.00
Medicare$102.44
Social Security$438.02
State$175.00
Total$1,065.46

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:

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

  • $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 to around $20,000. 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 financial and personal 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.

Profit

In total, we made $10,953 in January 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 January? Are you heading towards financial independence as well? Let me know in the comments below.

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2016 Atypical Life Financial Review

As a year comes to a close, it is time to review your financial situation for the year and look for opportunities for improvement going forward. As I discussed in the Power of Tracking, simply the act of tracking income and expenses will make us more aware of our habits. Without consciously trying to reduce expenses, they will go down, due to the increase of awareness. I know when I track finances, the fact that I have to input large numbers in for expenses gives me pause, and makes me look back at the purchase and really evaluate, was this worth it? Did I really need this or that whatchamacallit?

The real power of tracking comes when you analyze all of the data collected. This is when the conscious mind starts to make decisions to improve your situation and achieve the atypical life of freedom earlier. So let’s take a look at our financial situation for the year.

2016 Income

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2016 was another good year for us on the income front. I received a 2% inflation raise on my salary for the year. The biggest benefit that we still have in 2016 and continuing for 2 more years is the fact that I am an expatriate living in China working for a multi-national company. As such, I have a wonderful expat package that includes incentives to get us to move abroad and live in conditions that are different from the norm.

Expat Income

As we can see above, I received nearly $16,000 in expat income. This is the expat location premium, or hazard pay in expat vernacular. This income is un-taxed from my perspective because the company does a gross up on this amount, so that we can keep it all. I will write more in the coming weeks about how I have done my accounting during my time abroad because the company pays for a lot of expenses for us, but they show up as income on the W-2.

Investment Income

After paying off our $50,000 of student loans in 2015, I was finally able to start amassing money in investment accounts. I already maxed out the Roth IRA for both my wife and I, and was contributing about 10% to the 401k. When the student loans were paid off and I felt the relief of not having a liability always looking over my shoulder, I started to pour all extra income into investments. This brought me from near $0 in dividends to $3,150 in the course of 1 year. The 401k program changed again this year, with the company offering up a pretty generous 9% match. I maxed out my contributions with $18,000 plus ~$4,000 after tax added to the balance. This year, saw me buy and sell many different mutual funds at Vanguard, where I keep all of our investments. In the end we settled on the KISS method, “keep it simple stupid.” We now have 90% VTSAX or equivalent in 401k and 10% VBTLX. More on this in the future.

Gift Income

This year was a one off on large gifts. We received a gift of $50,000 to help with purchase of a house in the future. We plan to purchase a residence when we come back to the US permanently and can settle down to a single location. This was a wonderful jet fuel boost to our brokerage account this year and can helps to account for the major increase in dividends received.

Racing Income

Racing around China this year, even with only 7 races total, I was able to net $320. Of course, this money was turned around and more than spent on cycling things throughout the year, but it is nice to have an income from the sport that I love.

Mrs. Atypical’s Income

For the first time since we moved to China, Mrs. Atypical got a salary. She has learned Mandarin to a conversational level and is now able to teach other foreigners Mandarin. She has also picked up photography and got a couple of paid gigs throughout the year. Her income was rounded out with pet-sitting for friends and coworkers throughout the year. This all goes to show, that income can come from many different places, and is available even from the things you love. For 2017, we see this income increasing significantly, though not to the level of Mr. Atypical’s “real job”.

2016 Expenses

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The total expenses for the year of 2016 seem really high for the Atypical household, however, when we subtract the tax expense which can be mostly slashed in early retirement, the total expenditure was $31,000. This yields a need for $775,000 in retirement savings to live forever on with the 4% rule of early indefinite retirement. Whether we follow down this path of retiring once we reach the total savings goal, or generate a large enough income from side-streams is yet to be seen. But let’s analyze where all of these costs came from and look for ways to save further.

Auto

A common theme as an expat in another country is your budget and expenditures looking anything but normal. When viewed from the viewpoint of an American living at home in the states, this all looks impossible. The Atypical household spent $123 on auto expenses for the year. This includes only gas and toll road fees on our 2 and 3 week vacation back to the US to visit family. We own no cars, therefore, we have no auto insurance cost. We sold both of our cars before moving to the China, since it makes no sense to pay upkeep on a car that will sit for 4 years. Luckily, one of these cars, I sold to my dad for a steal, so we were able to borrow it for free on our vacation back to visit them. While in China, all of our auto expenses are covered by the company as part of the expat package by allotting us with a personal driver.

Business

Business expenses for the year are associated with shipping and selling items as well as establishment of our blogs. Bluehost is a wonderful host for our blogs, and was a great deal with the basic package for 3 years. Bluehost will be able to scale with our needs as the blogs grow and we look forward to many more years with them.

Fees

Fees for the year were all unavoidable. It is quite unfortunate when your company locks you into a 401k or HSA that then charges you innumerable fees. We got out relatively easily with the 401k being hosted at Vanguard now. I was very happy with this change in our benefits because the rest of our investments are hosted there. However, the Vanguard 401k sponsored by our company charges $75 per year, and then there are further fees associated with using their Vanguard Brokerage Option if you actually want to buy Vanguard mutual funds. I was happy with one option from the standard selection of 15 funds, so elected to save my money. Our HSA changed this year from MyBenefitWallet to HSA Bank which will save us $15 per year and allow us more investment options within TDAmeritrade. We will be purchasing VTI once all is processed.

Food

Our food budget is typically $400 per month for the 2 of us, so $3,800 on the year is a great number. We spend about 2/3 of this on groceries and 1/3 on dining out. We could reduce this further by not buying western ingredients in China. These ingredients, butter, cheese, sugar, and chocolate chips, are the main reason we are not around $3,000 total for the year. When you are living abroad and only eating the local food, life is very cheap, especially in China, however, we would go crazy without indulging ourselves on some of the comforts of home. Can you imagine going 4 years without cookies?

Home

The Atypical family is currently in a super ritzy apartment complex in China, however, the home/housing cost does not show this. We pay a $325 housing normalization to the company each month for the privilege of living in a $1,000,000 apartment. This was also part of the expat package that will be detailed more in future blog posts about the benefits of expat life. We paid $325 per month for the 1500 sq ft house we lived in prior to moving to China, so the company allowed us to continue living at the same cost. Our basic utilities are also covered in the expat package, leaving us only to cover cell phones and internet costs. Our 2 smart phone plans cost 100 RMB per month, or ~$15 at today’s exchange rates. The internet, which is purchased once per year, works out to $20 per month for another good deal, though the quality is sub-par and is influenced by the “Great Firewall”.

Insurance

Our insurance for the year was $3000 and was only health insurance. This seems way too high for me, since the cost of health care in China is extremely low. Mrs. Atypical spent one week in the hospital in 2016 with a minor surgery and many IVs of fluids all for a total cost of $400. This only reached half of our deductible, and the other minor visits throughout the year did not reach reach it. Moving towards 2017 we have founds new ways to reduce this cost significantly.

Pets

Mrs. Atypical is an animal lover, and her horse was the expense for Pets. We had a bad year here with her horse passing away in June after fighting through health issues for several years. It was a sad time for us, and was made harder when the boarding barn owner would not refund us for the board paid in advance for the entire year. We paid in March for 12 months, and Mrs. Atypical’s horse lasted only 3.5 months, so we were looking for a refund of $1,600, however, she would not refund us, calling into account the contract that we had signed while we lived locally. The large lesson learned here, is even if you are friends, dealing with money needs to be written down clearly and all expectations set up front before money is exchanged. This incident cost a friendship along with the monetary cost, but we have learned that trust with money involved is best left with only family. Anybody else can leave in the blink of an eye.

Shopping Expenses

Our shopping expense, which is the expense to cover all discretionary items bought, was way over budget this year and excessive even with the budget we allotted. Check out my goals for 2017 to see a discussion on my excess spending habits. $600 per month plus a few big ticket items accounted for these expenses. Below you can see a break out of where these expenses went. We ended up buying 2 kindles this year due to losing one and another breaking. Our big expenses on the year were in cycling gear and horse gear. Mr and Mrs Atypical reviewed all items in all of these categories for excesses and not needed things bought on the year, but did not find many at all that were not used or a total waste of money. Mr. Atypical is still building a solid toolbox full of tools to fix anything when it breaks and build things when the whim takes him there. We continue to expand our tandem touring gear to prepare for a long-term tour in the future. When we reach the atypical life of freedom, we plan to do a long term tour to visit the world while bypassing the bad and expensive part of travel, transportation.

Mrs. Atypical came across a deal on a new to us saddle for horses that is worth upwards of $4000 and we got it for $2000 after negotiations. This was bought way ahead of a time when we need it, but some deals have to be taken when available. We thought long and hard on this purchase since it was a long ways out, but decided if we could get it for $2000 then we should go ahead and buy it now.

The income received from Selling Stuff was put towards the upgrade of those items. We changed cameras from a Nikon D7000 (large DSLR camera) to a Olympus E-M10 (small micro 4/3 camera) for better travel photography. Also, my company has a health incentive program with step counting, so to have the optimal watch for that Mr and Mrs Atypical got Garmin smartwatches, a Fenix 3 and Vivoactive. We sold nice watches already owned to purchase these, so the total shopping expenditure should be ~$8500 with the selling stuff offset.

This year we plan to cut way back on spending here, since we are incrementally getting closer to having everything we want. Once that point is reached, where we have all the gear and tools that are required for our activities, then the shopping budget will mostly be maintenance cost on the gear we have.

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Travel

We save $6,000 per year for travel expenses and we did a good job of staying within this budget allowance. Part of the way we did this was with our flights home to the US being covered by a home leave allowance in the expat package. Therefore, our expensive Chinese New Year’s trip to the Philippines, a 2 week trip to Sichuan for a bike tour and a Christmas trip to Zhangjiajie (Avatar Mountains) fit within our travel budget. Along with those trips were several more weekend and long weekend trips around our home in China.

2016 Profit and Loss

Overall, 2016 was another good year to us. On expat assignment in China we made a profit of over $100,000 which brings us one step closer to personal and financial freedom. Looking towards the future, we have the ability for greater savings in expenses in the shopping, pets, and medical expenses categories, as well as increasing income. We look to increase business income from $0 to a profit in 2017 along with Mrs. Atypical’s various side job income increasing. Our expat assignment continues to be a boon to savings, and we look to maximize the savings over the next 2 years on assignment.

Let me know in the comments what you think of our profit and loss for 2016. We are always looking for ways to achieve the atypical life of freedom sooner.

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