"Of all contrivances for cheating the laboring classes of mankind, none has been more effective than that which deludes them with paper money." ~ Daniel Webster
Reinventing the Good Life
I recall, in the mid 70s, greatly enjoying a comedy from the UK's BBC, called The Good Life. It starred well known British actors Richard Briars, Felicity Kendal and Paul Eddington (later of "Yes Minister" fame). The basic premise of "The Good Life" was that Tom and Barbara Good were sick of the rat race, and decided to become self- sufficient, right in the middle of suburbia, from their own home. So they kept their own animals, grew their own food, made their own tools - and generally opted out of the system. This greatly amused and sometimes annoyed their neighbours, and gave rise to many comic situations. It's a long time ago now, but I remember why I was so taken by that little half hour of anarchy each week. The premise was so appealing! Here was a typical couple, living a very ordinary life. But on Tom's 40th birthday, he decided he'd had enough of the modern day treadmill. So, together with the enthusiastic cooperation of his wife, he found the courage to change their situation, and buck the system - to lead a life of their own creation. It was also the era of the "hippy" - the counterculture, one with which I partially identified (being a musician), so the combination of the idea of exiting the system and becoming self- sufficient held a certain magical charm. It still does. How many times have you wished you could exit the rat race? How many times have you wondered why you work so hard to pay the mortgage, in order to have the right house, in the right street, complete with all the latest gadgets - only to be burdened and stressed by the whole situation? The urge for simplicity, to be able to opt out and de-stress is a powerful one. Even more so in these days of "double" working families and the ever-increasing pace of life. It also reminds me of another experience I had during the mid 70s. I had been working in New Caledonia (French South Pacific), in a band, and was on my way home. I decided to take a side trip to Suva, Fiji. I was only there for 5 days, but during that time I came to see life from a completely different perspective. I also noticed how relaxed and happy the Fijians seemed, smiling in the streets, enjoying life - but without any of the wealth or amenities we may consider necessary. While flying from New Caledonia to Fiji, I found myself sitting next to a Fijian who had just completed six months work there - and was going home with his accumulated savings, to improve the life of his family. When I told him his Pacific French Francs were useless in Fiji, and that he should have exchanged them in Noumea before leaving, it naturally caused him great distress. My advice to him was to keep the money until his next planned work trip - and then to exchange it all before returning home. He gratefully thanked me for the advice, and promptly insisted I come and stay with his family in Suva. His hospitality was only exceeded by the number of mosquitoes attending my bedside. So after one night I had to politely excuse myself and check in to a local hotel! His ability to bounce back and get on with life left a deep impression on me, and I realised that happiness does not depend on having one million dollars in the bank - not if you are living in a place where a lot less will give you a lot more. The "Good Life" recalls all those hopes and dreams, the idea of something more real, simpler - happier even. But is it a false hope? Is such an opting out possible? Can you REALLY leave the rat race - quit the system? The answer is a resounding YES - if you have enough motivation, determination and resilience. How is this possible? Some people manage to opt out of the fast-paced urban life by going back to "nature", the country lifestyle. They buy a block of land somewhere, raise some animals and start to grow their own food. It's all perfectly possible - if you want the rural lifestyle! Usually, land is a lot cheaper in the countryside, and you can get more for your money. But the downside is you have to give up many facets of city life you may actually enjoy. Another alternative - one which allows you to maintain a life to which you are accustomed, without the cost and stress associated with it - is to move to a country where the cost of living is considerably less, and where your existing income will go a lot further. Believe it or not, there are many places where you could comfortably live for $2,000 or less each month. If you have a retirement income, or other international source of income, then finding an alternative residence can make that income seem like a lot more. That way, you get to totally de-stress, while not having to give up those things in life you really enjoy. Many Americans are finding that a life in Panama can offer such an alternative. Other nationals are "escaping" to places like Thailand, or Malaysia - or the emerging "new" European countries. In each case, the cost of living in such places is far less than where you are probably living now - and your hard-earned dollars will go a lot further. Many countries offer residency programmes, which make it easy for foreigners to gain special residency status, usually in return for some modest deposit in a local bank, or even just a guarantee of your monthly independent income. Take Malaysia, for example. They have a programme where you can gain a renewable residency visa, which allows you to come and go as you please. The added bonus is that you pay no tax on income which is earned outside Malaysia. Think of the possibilities! Let me give you just one example of "cost of living," from my current personal experience of living in China. I'm in Chongqing at present, which is in the south-western region of China on the Yangzte River. It's a bustling city with a greater population of 33 million. I can get anything I want here - every mod con conceivable. My material desires want for nothing. Yesterday I went shopping at the Metro, a French owned hyperstore where I can buy various imported foods. Stuff like French, Chilean, Australian and New Zealand wines; New Zealand cheese and butter, imported beers, Italian pasta, Spanish olives - the list goes on - which ensures my palate doesn't suffer withdrawal symptoms for western food. However, if I really want to save money - which I do regularly - then I just buy and eat local. A 600 ml bottle of beer costs me 25 cents. A high quality 100% cotton sports shirt costs me $10. A meal out for two in a good restaurant costs me $12. A tasty noodle meal is only 50 cents. I can even get my shoes cleaned for 15 cents! Or I can buy a great pair of new shoes for around $40. And the department stores are a shopper's paradise. Yesterday afternoon I visited friends in their new two bedroom, two bathroom, 120 square metre apartment. I was very keen to see what I could get for my money in this mega-city. I was surprised. Not only was the construction very solid (concrete throughout - including all exterior AND interior walls), but the level of finish and decor was every bit on par with what you'd expect in the west. And the cost for this brand new home in the middle of a large city? All up, including every luxury appliance and item of furnishing, it cost 370,000 yuan - or around US$46,000. A more modest one bedroom apartment would apparently only set me back US$25,000. I have calculated that I could comfortably live here for around US$1,000 per month - assuming ownership (debt-free) of an apartment. But even the need to rent doesn't add that much - a further $150 or so per month. So renting is another option. If I wanted to live the high-life, then I'm sure I could get a lot of bang for my buck on around US$1,500 per month. The point is this: If you are currently feeling stuck in a financial hole, with limited ability to save or get ahead, then considering moving to a lower-cost country can make a lot of sense - particularly if your income is sourced from overseas, like investment or retirement income, international business income, or your ability to continue working remotely (like I do), via the internet. Even better, it's possible to find a place to suit your own particular tastes and needs. Not everyone wants to move to Thailand, or China for that matter! Many English people are finding that a quiet "retirement" to rural France carries many benefits. A relaxed lifestyle, good food, friendly neighbours, a crime-free environment and very affordable housing are most notable. But where else could you consider relocating? Spain is another distinct possibility - and one which has some tax advantages for certain types of occupations. Another upcoming favourite with Americans is the Bay of Islands, Honduras. Or what about Croatia? If you like coastline and sun, then Croatia boasts the most of both in Europe. Some people describe it as "The Mediterranean as it used to be". The point is this: Where you live now is NOT the only place on earth, nor is it necessarily the best place. And if you would like to live a less stressful life, where your money will go a lot further, where you could "retire" from the rat race - and still enjoy the amenities that modern life offers - then making a move to another country could be worth your consideration. Of course, this is not something you would do in a rush, or on a whim. You'd need to research your options, plan to visit those countries on your short list - and get a real feel for the places before making any final choice. But such a process is both exciting and fascinating, and can become a new hobby! Yes, there was a whiff of unreality about Tom and Barbara's "Good Life" - especially the bit about becoming self-sufficient in the space of a city home garden! But it touched a nerve in many people - the desire for a more "real" life, one not consumed by working more and more, but more about enjoying life and getting the most out of it - with what you already have. But there is certainly no unreality about the many options available to you today - to live somewhere else, where the money you already have, and have worked so hard to gain, can give you a new life of much MORE - for much LESS. It's YOUR life after all. Make sure you live it as you want.