Monday, January 2, 2012

Literally everything I spent last year

In 2011 I visited eight countries and spent GBP 9,421.37
(average £785.11/month)

Is that a lot? An achievement in thriftiness? I'm not sure, and I don't really care either way. I'm still earning more than I'm spending and I can't put a price on the freedom my freelance career gives me (not because it's priceless, I'm just rubbish with numbers).

I expect 2012 to be similar in terms of aimless wandering, but it'll probably be more expensive now that I've left South East Asia. But there are other parts of the world where living is cheap, and that I haven't been to yet. Those two criteria are enough to put South America on the I'll-think-about-it list for 2012 - but not before I've been through the more expensive South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand on my slightly illogical odyssey.

That said, now I've added up and taken a look at these figures for the first time, it turns out some of these Asian countries really weren't as cheap as I was giving them credit for.

Well Happy New Year to you too

What? Oh, yeah - well done. Anyway, this is literally all the money that went out of my bank account between 1 January and 31 December 2011, covering everything from accommodation, food and transport to second hand books, direct debits and tax (luckily for these figures, I paid the bulk of my annual self-assessment tax today, once the new year had already begun - meaning 2012 is well on the way to being more expensive than 2011 was already. It'll take some pretty incredible frugality to get back on track).

Some funny foreign cash

Because I pay almost entirely in funny foreign cash these days, rather than using my debit card, I can't provide you with an unnecessarily detailed breakdown of exactly where the money went, like I did for May. I didn't spend the whole of 2011 writing down every Nips chocolate coated peanut and raisins snack purchase in a notepad, and I don't want to spend the majority of 2012 writing this blog either.

Instead, you'll have to settle for a slightly less needlessly thorough month-by-month account of my expenses, which could be useful for identifying which countries are cheapest, or months in which I probably didn't do an awful lot. Like June.

Literally everything I spent in 2011


Countries: Taiwan
Money spent: £822.63
Notable expenses: Everything got cheaper once I got out of Taipei. I had another insane phone bill for £73.78 (for a phone I practically never used), and I was really debating whether I needed it at all. Luckily it decided to break in February anyway.


Countries: Taiwan, Thailand
Money spent: £659.09
Notable expenses: The flight to Bangkok cost a reasonable £105.71 and there was one final mental phone bill, but I was looking forward to things getting cheaper now I was in Thailand...

Tasty invertebrate treats are a great way to eat on the cheap (Chiang Mai).
At least they would be if they weren't disgusting and of practically no nutritional value


Countries: Thailand 
Money spent: £920.07
Notable expenses: That was a surprise, but makes sense - I did a hell of a lot in March and didn't stay in any one place longer than four days (I even went to Cambodia for 20 minutes). I bought some new clothes, a new camera and MP3 player too - it's unusual for me to buy things, I must have been in a good mood.


Countries: Thailand, Malaysia
Money spent: £553.69
Notable expenses: I could slow down a little in Malaysia thanks to its less ridiculous 90-day entry permit, but I still travelled as much as I could, all over the peninsula. I saved money by not flying.

I never ride the offensively gaudy taxis either, which all adds up (Malacca)


Countries: Malaysia
Money spent: £573.60
Notable expenses: You'll notice this differs from the optimistic £467.82 reported here, as these two values were calculated differently - this one by adding up the 'out' column of my online bank statement for May, the other one by noting down all my individual payments on crumpled pieces of paper.

Maybe I withdrew money in May that I didn't use until June? Or maybe I just forgot to write down the occasional squid sambal or water bottle purchase in my notepad? Which do you think is more likely? It's disappointing to see that it might not be possible to live on less than £500 a month after all, even in Malaysia...


Countries: Malaysia
Money spent: £266.31
Notable expenses: Oh... alright then. To be fair, this was probably the most boring month I've had since leaving the UK, and I didn't do much but read, work and write increasingly paranoid blogs. This was mostly thanks to my bank (let's call them 'HSBD') making me wait in the same tedious city for weeks on end, so I could receive a rubbish device to let me log in to my bank account online.

Fraud protection is important, which is why they like to regularly block my card for perceived fraud because I've booked a flight or bought some food. The fact that this was the dullest month and the one where I spent the least is probably some sort of message to take on board.

Korean BBQ would predictably end up being cheaper in Korea than here in Singapore.
By a factor of double digits


Countries: Malaysia, Singapore
Money spent: £1,367.95
Notable expenses: Holy Singapore! Maybe I was wrong about this place not being so expensive after all - though it can't have helped that I met a nice girl and insisted on paying for most of the stupidly expensive tourist things we did together, as well as upgrading from dorms to private rooms occasionally (for some reason - nothing too fancy, obviously).


Countries: Singapore, Indonesia
Money spent: £975.53
Notable expenses: Travelling in Indonesia isn't quite as cheap as you'd expect (even when you sleep in a field) - I really was spoiled by North West South East Asia. I might have paid the price for seeking solitude and avoiding Bali's overdeveloped tourist areas overrun by beer-drinking Australians in singlets. I'm sure it was worth it.


This month does not exist.

Chicken feet: cheap, but poor value in the meat content, nourishment and not-being-disgusting stakes (Singapore)


Countries: Singapore, Philippines
Money spent: £895.83
Notable expenses: Back in Singapore I wasn't much of a tourist, spending most of my time working and reading in the library (advantage: free!) Though it evidently costs three times more to do nothing here than in Malaysia (see: June).


Countries: Philippines, Malaysia (Borneo)
Money spent: £928.19
Notable expenses: The Philippines wasn't as cheap as I'd expected either, especially with the lack of dorms or the other crap options I'm used to more than doubling my costs. I wouldn't have minded if I'd actually seen anything. When I headed to Borneo, things got nice and cheap again.

Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary was cheap and excellent (Borneo).
I don't understand why people only visit Thailand


Countries: Malaysia (Borneo), Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia
Money spent: £661.40
Notable expenses: A brief stopover in Singapore and booking next month's Seoul flights and accommodation in advance accounted for most of this, but otherwise it's back to the best priced regions in the region. Even this only cost £12.49 and the Cambodia detour cost £136.46 total. After a year of slight nagging, my work supply caught up with my greedy demand this month (which is a lot of work), so it's surprising I got much of anything done.


Countries: Thailand, South Korea
Money spent: £797.08
Notable expenses: Shortly after arriving in Korea, I treated myself to a holiday for a couple of weeks this month (blogs coming soon - guaranteed to be indistinguishable from my normal stuff!) Fortunately, delayed work payments, an impending, massive tax bill for January and other dubious financial commitments left me teetering perilously close to poverty, and this fear kept me frugal.

The good news is that South Korea isn't as expensive as I feared, and in terms of getting value for your money (everything from free laundry services in hostels to generous portion sizes in restaurants) it seems pretty unbeatable. The other good news is that my holiday was fantastic.

What have I learned?

So it turns out that my self-aggrandising proclamations that I'd probably spend the same money travelling in Asia as I would staying put and being bored in the UK may not be true after all - fewer months hovered around that golden £500/month ratio that looks so appealing, with more edging dangerously towards £1,000. On the other hand, I've at least conclusively proven that being bored and doing nothing in Malaysia (see: June) is cheapest of all.

But the most important lesson I'm taking away from this is that I really hadn't been paying that much attention. I'd rather you didn't take this as an invitation to fraud-up my lazily monitored bank account, but apart from a few financial crises and lending out more money than is probably wise to those in need, I haven't worried too much. I was living in a state of innocence, and like the closing scene of that film Inception, I was content to accept this reality without checking the hard facts.

Of course, now that I have checked, the Eden-like innocence is shattered and I'll be scrupulously budgeting to keep my outgoings less than £1,000 per month from here to eternity. Here's to another thrifty year!


  1. In the interest of more unnecessary disclosure, I also paid off my student loan last year but left it out of the figures, as it would have made January almost twice as expensive as the rest of the year combined.

    I also missed out the even larger amounts I loaned out to people, because I'm operating under the over-optimistic delusion that I'll get all this back some day and it still counts as being in my barren bank.

  2. Another unnecessary update: I just remembered I did withdraw a lot of money in Cherating, towards the end of May, after walking seven miles (and back again) to find an ATM. This helps explains the May discrepancies and why June looks so cheap.