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Managing your personal finance abroad

I just got back from a whirlwind trip…to the edge of the world!

Sort of. I was on break from the Thai school year for a few weeks and took a short holiday to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, Thailand. I jammed as much as I could into the few short days.

I went to the famous White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), saw Black House, and toured the night markets of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. The highlight of the trip was a 2.5 hour pickup truck taxi ride I had throughout Northern Thailand’s countryside. So beautiful. Quiet and scenic views of rice field after rice field with mountains in the background. Seeing Phu Chi Fa, the “edge of the world”, was ultimate (so totally worth it) end result of the long ride.

In addition to the short holiday, I also went back to America for the first time in six months. It was bittersweet coming back for a visit and reminded me of something I’ve learned from living in Thailand the past seven months: managing your personal finance abroad is hard, tiring work. 

When I first got back to America, I went to FinCon (the financial media conference) in San Diego, California. While there, I got to see all of these cool up and coming financial companies from the fintech competition.

There’s an app for tipping yourself, an app for combining the benefits of credit and debit cards, and one that screens and analyzes stocks to help you better pick them.

All of it is amazing. It’s fasinating when you you stop and realize just how many tools we have to help manage our money. Money management has never been easier!

When I was still living in the U.S., I had a spreadsheet and online service I used to help me budget. Digit to help me automagically save additional money every month.  Investing avenues were everywhere in the form of different online brokerages. It was great.

And then I moved to Thailand and everything got thrown out the window.

I don’t have any advanced and visually appealing money monitoring software to help me keep track of purchases. There’s no online alert that will remind me when I spend a wee bit too much on books or camera filter grades (my new obsession).

My budgeting tactic right now consists of good ol’ pen, paper, and Evernote. Every night I go through what I spent for the day. I have a small drawer in my bedroom with envelopes labeled for different expenses. I’m using a extra labeled version of the cash envelope budget. Although instead of doing it for some fun experiment, I’m basically forced to do it since it’s the only way I can budget.

People talk about how getting your finances in order can be hard. And it is. It’s hard to really get down and look at your money constantly. I used to think it about the constant struggles and evolving we do with our money. Now I think about how bad it can be to not even have good tools around you to help you get better.

There’s a myriad of personal finance tools to fit different personalities. You hate budgeting? Try this. Or this. You want to stash away some more money? Enable auto-transfers to your savings accounts and try Digit.

Living in Thailand, not having access to a lot of these great things, I can see from an outside perspective how big of an effect fintech services can have on your financial life. They’re hugely beneficial at helping us really see our money without it being overtly boring.

Who likes to be huntched over every night or week and take a hard look at their spending? Not many people. It’s depressing, time-consuming and really boring. Luckily, you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. There’s apps to monitor your spending. Services that alert you whenever you over budget.

In Thailand, most people don’t have that. Even the regular, working professionals here don’t utilize fintech services, mostly because many of them aren’t available here.

A hotel clerk I talked with, told me how hard it was to keep savings goals in mind when doing it by hand. The banks here don’t have fancy-tools and advanced interfaces. Visualizing money goals and taking actionable steps toward them is a lot more difficult to maintain.

Something I realized about using plastic? It’s freaking great and shouldn’t be undermined all the time and definitely not cut up and thrown away (I’m looking at you Dave Ramsey). Credit cards and the swiping culture isn’t a terrible thing. It can be beneficial to use plastic often. I love credit cards and not afraid to admit it. They’re wonderfully nifty things to have when you use them responsiblity.

Thailand isn’t as up to speed as other countries with using plastic. Many places, even established businesses, prefer cash over card. When I was at the gym one day, paying my membership, two of the employees didn’t even know how to use the card reader! Plastic is still definely something not embraced here.

As for the whole envelope system, I don’t like having to do a budget cash-only style. It doesn’t work for me and feels weird. Many people say using plastic desensualizes the spending you do, but I disagree. For a person that has a bad memory, like me, logging into your bank account and going through your transactions is easier than racking your brain to remember what you spent $12 cash on two days ago.

When I do make my return to the U.S. sometime next year, I’m not going to take financial technology tools for granted any more. I want to experiment more with different ones and see what they have to offer.

Until then, I’m going to be sitting at my desk in my small Thailand apartment, hunched over, writing down that $5 I spent on coffee last week. Old habits die hard, I guess.

P.S. I filmed a video of my travel to Phu Chi Fa. Check it out if you’ve ever wanted to hear my voice and see how I am on video 🙂 

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Colin // RebelwithaPlan

Colin Ashby is the writer behind Rebel with a Plan, a website dedicated to people who choose to rebel against the norm of living in debt and feeling financially unenlightened. He believes everyone has an eccentric quality to embrace and that lattes are sometimes a necessity (despite what the personal finance community tells you).

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2 Comments on The Tireless Work of Managing Personal Finance Abroad

  1. Tonya
    October 18, 2016 at 1:37 pm (4 years ago)

    Loved your video! Those kids were so cute. Looked a bit foggy up there? I’ve never lived in a foreign country so I only know what is here, and I can say I’m glad I have financial tools options!

  2. Mustard Seed Money
    October 20, 2016 at 1:41 am (4 years ago)

    I have always wanted to visit Thailand. The views that you captured in Phu Chi Fa are amazing. And those kiddos are so cute!!! Thanks for sharing.


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