The New Math

Well, folks, money management class is closed for The Experimental Expats. Like a Nate Silver poll of the 2016 presidential election, it appears I drastically misread my readers and got it horribly wrong. Based on the response from an old post discussing investments and the importance of a diversified portfolio, I mistakenly thought now would be a great time to share some insight about the recent market volatility, our progress after four years retired and why you should ignore all the “sky is falling” stories in the financial press. But based on an almost total lack of interest in the post and virtually no comments or replies, I guess the financial and money management stuff is best left to other bloggers.

I award myself this certificate for my financial post

Admittedly, I’m a tad disappointed because I put more effort into it than almost any given day in my last job. Thinking it was too long and complicated, I hereby officially anoint my latest post about expat finances a failure and apologize to anyone that was nice enough to give it a read. Using most of the post as background information to explain why our situation is different than many early retirees and what led to our risky decision to forego work, I planned on a follow up to discuss our budget and share some of my rather simple spreadsheets. Ironically, I stumbled onto an article from Business Insider yesterday about 8 people who retired early and how the decision changed their money habits.

Naturally, they’re all millennials that found a way to achieve “financial independence” at a ridiculously young age and they don’t really explain anything about how much they have, how they intend to fund the next 50 or 60 years (some have kids) or how they travel the world with a total net worth of nothing. Some are professionals that probably thought real work was too hard. Most write for-profit blogs which means they live day to day and hope the “online income” field will carry them into the latter part of this century. Clearly not my idea of being “retired”, I wish them all well but wouldn’t trade my diversified portfolio and the security that comes with it anytime. So like a fitness class scheduled at a bad time, part two of my financial post is canceled due to lack of interest. But please don’t go away yet; I heard you all loud and clear and will now return to my regularly scheduled programming.

Thai English on menus; always fun.

Moving on from finances, the next chapter in our experimental early retirement as we countdown the last year in Chiang Mai before moving to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is a three day trip to Malaysia to terminate our participation in the MM2H Retirement Program. Rather than complaining about the rising US Dollar that’s pounding us right before we need to exchange a large sum of Malaysian Ringgit for US Dollars, I’ll craft a more reader-friendly post with many personal pictures that highlights life in Chiang Mai. Simultaneously, it helps me alleviate some of the sorrow I’m already experiencing about leaving a place that’s safe, comfortable and funny.

Tootie Fruity

There’s always something in season in the tropics from mountain-grown strawberries to smelly durians. Always easily identifiable at the fresh market and supermarkets, huge displays of remarkably inexpensive fruit appear almost out of nowhere. Growing up in North America, all we ever saw were two types of mangoes and they’re expensive and never very fresh. Here in Thailand, there are at least 10 different varieties and they all have different sizes, color, and sweetness. At the moment, it’s rambutan season. Related to lychees, it grows in a tree, is apparently very nutritious and derives its name from the Malay word for hair thanks to its appearance. Similar to longan fruits, it’s got a translucent sweet mushy center and a big pit. Having only seen them in cooking shows, they’re worth trying but not one of my favorites.

Also a late summer staple in Thailand, the mangosteen is another strange looking fruit that looks inedible from its ugly outside appearance. Sometimes used as a flavor in artificially sweetened drinks and other assorted western world products, nothing beats the real thing. This year’s crop is bigger and sweeter than I’ve ever tasted and at about 30 cents a pound, we’re devouring them while we’re still here. Also rich in antioxidants and carrying various health benefits, the juicy white flesh inside rivals mangoes, oranges and other sweet fruits.

You simply squeeze with two fingers to reveal the white fleshy fruit.

This year’s crop looks like purple baseballs and tastes as sweet as candy.

One thing I love about Thailand is how everything is already opened, packaged, peeled and laid out in neat little packages. Where else can you see pomegranates sold like this? I’m not a huge fan but here’s a link from someone that is. And of course, they grow in Thailand also.

Fast Food Abominations

Always finding it interesting that so many American fast and casual food companies choose to expand into nations that have nothing in common with American gastronomic palettes, we’ve seen everything from San Francisco based Swensen’s Ice Cream in Myanmar to a small California based burger chain called The Habit in Kuala Lumpur. Even funnier are the flavors and oddities they use to get Asians into the store like this strange new concoction at Auntie Annie’s pretzels

Or this bizarre-looking nugget at KFC with some sort of dark red and probably highly spicy sauce.

And McDonald’s does have their staple food; a Big Mac and fries. Everything else on the menu from pork samurai burgers to the never-ending array of bizarre desserts like this one below is unrecognizable. Even funnier is how they write it in Chinese as well as Thai so the tourists don’t miss out.

McDonald’s in Thailand has the craziest sounding fast food

Of course, snacking is fun because just as we’ve seen ketchup chips all over Canada but sparsely in the USA, Thai people don’t like sour cream and onion so much but they love anything spicy; hence, a million local flavors of Pringles and Lays like shrimp tom yum and sweet chili.

Then there’s stuff that simply makes no sense to my taste buds

Thailand’s version of Costco is Makro. Easily the largest “cash and carry” store, they’re always open, sell everything in bulk from seafood, meat, and poultry to dozens of innards, Asian veggies you’d never know and thousands of giant processed cans of everything street vendors need to run their business. As for freshness, nobody knows where they get any of their stuff because despite being surrounded by water on three sides, Thailand’s once-thriving seafood industry is suffering thanks to labor shortages. Mostly what we saw in the southern provinces once filled with boats offshore are locals dredging for small clams and anything else they can call dinner. And as for living an early retirement on a cheap budget, you can always find stuff like this and figure out what kind of soup to make with it

Mmmmm, Curries

Oddly enough, Northern Thai food, known as Lanna style, is nothing at all like the stereotypical food served in any western Thai restaurant. Strangely devoid of Pad Thai and Tom Yum, the most popular soup in the North is called Kaho Soi. Spicy but different from Tom Yum, the Northen Thai version is a mix of deep-fried crispy egg noodles and boiled egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, ground chilies fried in oil, and meat (chicken or beef) in a curry-like sauce containing coconut milk. Rarely served in restaurants outside Northen Thailand, almost every farang (white foreigner) loves it (including us). Inexpensive and found everywhere from mom and pops to expensive “high-so” joints (they’re the crazy rich Asian type Thais), it’s roots are probably Muslim Thai but you won’t find many of them admitting that because the Muslims are in the South and the Lanna people are strikingly proud of their Northen Thai heritage.

Khao Soi; the food that defines Northern Thailand

Thankfully, we found a new mom and pop place around the corner that calls it “Northern Chinese Thai curry” and makes it “pet nit noy” (just a little spicy). If you’re contemplating a move to Chiang Mai or just a curious type and enjoy being well versed in local history and culture, here’s a great link from City Life Chiang Mai magazine

Although technically classified as a Central Thai dish, green curry is our other favorite Thai dish that’s never prepared the same way in western Thai restaurants. Usually bolder than mild red curries, a typical dish will have coconut milk, green curry paste, palm sugar, fish sauce, and a strange marble-sized eggplant known as a pea aubergine. The flavor in the curry paste comes from galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime, cilantro (known as coriander to the whole planet outside of America), shrimp paste, cumin seeds, and white peppercorns. Generally served with a protein like fish balls or beef, palm sugar and fish sauce are also included. Given its complexity, it’s easy to see why almost nobody in a modern society makes their own handmade paste anymore but if you visit, be sure to take a class and learn how anyway.

The crispy pea aubergines are what make it for me; they pop in your mouth and release a bitterness

Duck Duck, Goose

OK, they don’t have goose stands in Thailand but they do have tons of duck. Often found as a food truck’s only dish, we found this guy out on a suburban highway after an illness apparently put him out of business for a while. Gastronomically speaking, most duck in Thailand is leaner than versions I’ve had in Hong Kong and North America and I’m unclear how they raise them so lean. But one issue I have with Southeast Asian nations is they all add their own touch according to their tastes when it comes to sauces and condiments. So in Thailand, that means the duck comes with an insanely spicy relish-like hot sauce and sweet soy sauce (a sweetened aromatic soy sauce originating in Indonesia) which is easily their favorite condiment. They use it on dumplings instead of a vinegar-based sauce as give it to you to add as the sauce if you get beef teriyaki to go (It’s nothing like teriyaki or regular soy sauce).

A whole duck to go in Canada runs about $30 or more. In Thailand, it’s a $16 take away item and dinner for four

Digital Coffee

Often spending afternoons reading or cooling off in coffee shops, we’d heard of digital printers that put a picture on top of your cappuccino but had never seen one. Unclear why anyone would want this, I figured it’s just another way for narcissist millenials to stare at themselves along with the twelve thousand selfies they take everywhere they go. Recently, our favorite local hangout installed one and since it didn’t cost anything extra, we tested it with an old photo of our wedding. Impressively clear, we liked it so much we barely wanted to drink it.

your pictures transposed onto coffee foam. What a useless but fun invention.

And a Taste of Italy

Originally planning on visiting China before we left Asia, President Shitbrains changed our minds with his Unwinnable Tariff War on China. With new rhetoric every day and trouble brewing with the Chinese government in Hong Kong, we thought perhaps it might not be the ideal time to play tourist in Beijing. Besides that, at $140, the cost of visiting didn’t make the list of the Top 7 most expensive Tourist Visas for Americans but came close so who needs that when you’re living on a fixed income? Knowing we’ll need to leave Chiang Mai one last time for seven weeks in March and April to avoid the annual environmental disaster known as “burning season, we decide to celebrate our 20th anniversary six months early with a trip to Southern Italy.

Conveniently, Thai Airways flies daily nonstops from Bangkok to Rome for about $950 USD although they’re one of the only full-service Asian based airlines not yet offering premium economy. Continuously ranked in the world’s top 10 for economy seating, the pitch between seats on their long haul Airbus A350-900 fleet is 32 and according to SeatGuru, that ranks relatively high among the industry, Given the time of year, we thought the Southern Mediterranean region would be cool to mild which sounds great given the insane heat in Chiang Mai this year. And with Easter falling in April next year but the peak of the rainy season finished, we learned that mid to late March can be an ideal time for visiting if you’re not looking to beachcomb.

ruined our potential China trip

With temperatures hovering between 8 and 18 Celsius and many resorts and restaurants beginning to open back up, it sounds perfect for exploring without the crowds. Ironically, there’s a strangely large number of chefs from Rome that left Italy for Chiang Mai and opened up restaurants here in the tropics. Having researched and planned our entire vacation online rather than using a guided tour, I learned that the cost of living is high and competition is immense so many of them become working expats. Having heard about a very reasonably priced place called Why Not Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar, we recently went to try it and gave it five stars.

Choosing Rome, Naples and The Amalfi Coast as our destinations in Italy, it harkens me back to my childhood roots in Brooklyn. Growing up in a heavily Italian neighborhood, most New Yorkers hailed from Sicily and Southern Italy so my mouth watered as I researched dozens of restaurants serving food so close to my heart. As for the financial aspect, the trip falls outside the scope of our annualized budget and is one of those things I feel we just need to do while we’re still on this side of the world. Earmarking a portion of our cash reserves, we’re lucky enough to have enough Thai Bhat left to use for purchasing Euros before we leave. Foreign exchange rates at money exchange shops are much better in Southeast Asia than North America where we once paid upwards of 9 percent to convert some Canadian Dollars to Malaysian Ringgit. Oh, but I’m back on personal expat finances for early retirees and that’s a topic I’ll trust my instincts on and stay away from unless enough readers tell me otherwise.

Thank you very much for spending some of your day reading our blog.

Please drop me a comment or leave some feedback; You’ll make my day. No, seriously. Cheers from Northern Thailand.

20 thoughts on “The New Math

  1. simpletravelourway

    We have a slightly different view on funding our retirement and paying for extended travel. Someday I’ll do a post on that and it will probably be received about as well as yours! When we were still working we saved a lot and managed our own investments. We set a dollar amount for what we would need to live on for the rest of our lives. We retired when we hit that amount which was roughly at our scheduled retirement age. Our 6+ years of nonstop travel did not put a dent in those funds and continued to grow BUT we came to a realization a few years ago. We live modestly and now have more money (in stocks) than we will need in our lifetime. There is no reason to take risks with our funds. We sold everything. If the market goes up – or down – that will not change how we live. At our age, we can truly enjoy our lives without worrying about the personal risk of the markets.


    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Thanks for the comment. Oddly, my plan is almost similar. We haven’t yet hit the number in the portfolio that I’ve deemed as enough to draw off of for the rest of our lives plus our small pensions and Social security. But when we come close I plan on switching almost all the asset allocation to super safe low duration bond funds and other safe income funds not subject to much risk from interest rate cuts.

      As a guy who worked in financial markets I don’t believe in liquidating the entire portfolio and if we did, we’d have one horribly nasty tax bill albeit one time only if we sold it all and went to cash. We also have more net worth than when we quit thanks to growth but I was laid off about eight years before we would’ve hit the comfortable number in the portfolio so we just live with the gyrations for now.

      But I understand your concerns and if you can swing the tax hit and are more comfortable in cash, I’m all for it. Probably not what we will do but sounds like it works for you so congrats and thanks again for the support

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ed

    Hi Rob. I just want to say that I enjoyed your financial post and was looking forward to the next one. My wife and I are in our mid forties. We plan on retiring over seas in about 4 years. Reading between the lines, I believe our net worth to be similar to yours and Diane’s. So when we leave, we will be almost the same age as you were when you left with around the same net worth. Your experience and detailed posts bring so much value to us and gives us the confidence that we need. The one thing that we are concerned about is health insurance. I would love a post about that. Did you have to start out with Obamacare? (I know now it’s not required but it was). Do you have a global health insurance that also covers you when you’re in the U.S.? Or is it just a Thai insurance? As an American retiring early, I fear that health insurance will be the thing that kills our budget. When I look up rates it’s close to $2,0000 USD per month for a couple. Obviously, a Thai insurance like Pacific Cross would be much less expensive. Wow, I didn’t mean to go on that insurance tangent. The point my comment was to let you know that what you do is not only valuable but much appreciated it. Thank you!


    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Ed
      Thanks for the lengthy and detailed comment. I really appreciate the feedback and support.

      Not to sound ridiculous but we have no health insurance and only had one year of mandatory insurance that was required as a condition of MM2H for the first year. Honestly, we pay as we go and are very lucky. We have no health issues, work very hard at the gym three to four times a week and have been lucky enough to only have minor issues like minor food poisoning or things that we can address with over the counter drugs

      Our US coverage ended on Diane’s last work day but we never really worried too much about it. Honestly, I don’t know much about local policies. Most of them only reimburse for inpatient anyway so they try not to admit you I guess if possible. We have been to doctors in Malaysia. I had a minor mysterious cardiac issue after a long hike in hot Myanmar. Two long appointments with a cardiologist, a halter monitor and EKG yielded no conclusions and my condition came and went and they attributed it to dehydration. Total cost was about $280 USD; no forms or insurance needed in SE Asia. Just a passport.

      Diane went to a gynecologist once also for some minor issues. Also less than $200. Here in Thailand we’ve never been in a hospital. We go to a local clinic when we have minor issues like when the doctor stitched up my finger after I dropped a 30 pound weight on it. And Diane has asked about allergies. All negligible amounts of cash. You can get all your lipid panels and other labs taken at local clinics in five minutes and get the email result same day for about $30 to $60 depending on what tests you want.

      We have no insurance for our returns to North America although I do plan on reapplying for my permanent residency in Canada in between our move from Thailand to Mexico. That would make me eligible to Canadian healthcare for life along after re establishing residency so that’s the long term plans once we get in our 60s and may have more needs

      We can’t ever afford private healthcare in the USA so don’t see ourselves spending one third of our annual budget in retirement on a policy. Thankfully I have a Canadian wife and their rules allow me to count time spent outside of Canada as time in Canada as long as I prove I’ve traveled with my Canadian citizen spouse that sponsored me 20 years ago. The perm residency status never goes away so hopefully we can snowbird in the future. With luck we to have just enough left form our house cash after 15 years to buy a small property outside Calgary.

      If you want more information that I can’t make public, please respond on the blog by email and then I can PM you Thanks again for the comment


  3. Valérie

    Hi Rob, I’m super interested in your financial posts as well, just didn’t have time to leave a comment until today. Our post-retirement budget will be roughly the same as yours, we aim for the same sort of lifestyle, so it’s super useful to know that your experiment is a success, to see how you manage to live a fulfilling and comfortable life on a budget without cutting out on things like eating out or travelling. Seeing that you made it, when we hit our target, we can pack our bags and leave our jobs without worrying about ever having to return to the corporate world. I was actually really looking forward to reading the second part of your post, please, please publish it ! 🙂


    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Valerie
      Wow thank you so much for the encouragement. I really appreciate it and it’s nice to know that others can benefit from our experience. I will be writing another financial post soon because it’s a very relevant part of expat life. In fact, without it you’re just a digital nomad.


    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Dawn
      Thanks for the support. I will be doing another financial post where I just make some educational recommendations. I may not be a professional but I am living without working at age 54 for six years and have higher net worth than when we quit so I mousy have done something somewhat well. Cheers


  4. Archie Henderson

    Your last blog was interesting and dare I say much more than the foodie above although that is only my opinion. Who gives a **** what your pres thinks. Sadly the world is full of these types no matter where you go.

    Enjoy the remainder of your time in Chiang Mai and keep the blog going please.


  5. Jamie

    I thought the last post was great and want to hear more about expat finance. I also liked the information from this post about how money exchange fees are marked up in North America and not a good value.

    Enjoy your trip to Italy!


    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      I got a comment from someone that ripped me a new asshole saying people his age don’t want to hear about the USA or our finances and thinks Trump doesn’t matter. I wholeheartedly disagree and won’t let that comment on my blog. He can find another one to read but bashing me isn’t gonna lead me to publish his comment. Thanks for the support


      1. bc61b

        Rob… read your comments more carefully… I didn’t say “my” age, I said “OUR” age. I didn’t say I didn’t want to “hear” about the USA… I just think you could be better by not tearing it apart. I certainly didn’t say “Trump doesn’t matter”, you just don’t need to give him more attention than he deserves. Your objection to my post and willingness to write about it, but not publish it reminds me of another narcissistic personality… only wants to hear about himself in glowing terms…NO CRITICISM… really!!!


      2. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

        Fair enough. Thanks for clarifying. I wrote what I believe is true. If you live overseas you may not be following closely. And anyone who lives in China is blocked from free press even with a VPN so may not know what’s going on

        I am personally disturbed, offended and simply frustrated that the place I learned all my values from turned into a racist shithole. And as a non religious Jew, I’d be subject to the same fate as all the other European Jews even if I wasn’t religious so I have very strong feelings about the consequences of a dictatorship and hate filled society in America.

        I respectfully disagree when you say it shouldn’t be given attention. Complacency is the main reason he’s president. Americans are too comfortable and cushy and are literally allowing the nation to turn to a one party state with no respect for tolerance or the rule of law. Granted my blog is about early retirement but world events play a huge role in where Americans live, how they may be looked at and treated and even if they’re allowed to stay. At this rate, the world order is precariously dangerous and I believe sharing real facts and encouraging active participation against abusive leaders is important for everyone’s well being.

        As you said, censoring your criticism is equally bad so this is my rebuttal to why I choose to include the degradation of my homeland as a relevant topic. I hope you can see my point but understand if you choose to find another blog. Cheers


  6. Indo Tom

    As a expat living in Southeast Asia and an MM2H visa holder. I consider the MM2H program a nice safety net. Meaning that while Malaysia isn’t my 1st choice to live in because of the hot and humid weather. I can always go there if an unexpected issue occurs in the other country I’m living in. Plus the interest on the bank deposit is better than what I would get elsewhere.

    Good luck with your next experience living in Mexico. Do you think in the end you will just end up back where you started from in the USA or Canada with the realization that “there no place like home”?


    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      America is permanently damaged thanks to Shitbrain and I can’t see myself ever going back to a racist hateful intolerant gun infested place that he’s turned into a shithole and bastion of ignorance. Eventually we plan on snowboarding between Canada and somewhere else; hopefully Mexico. Thanks for the good wishes. Sadly, we are barely gonna get our principal since we bought the fixed deposits at 3.7613 and the dollar is about 4.20 now. So basically e made about 0.03 in four years thanks to currency risk.


  7. Indo Tom

    Don’t fret over your previous financial blog post. I actually set a reminder to go back and read it. Your financial commentary is probably more my interest than the foodie bits.


      1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

        Shouldn’t be. We used Joy Stay and our agent did the work for us. We have a letter from the ministry that requests the bank to release our funds plus accrued interest once they have stamped it as cancelled. We have to meet her at Putrajaya and then go to the bank. The letter allows six months to ask for your funds back


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