Economics Of Retiring To Thailand

Column by Don Coppock  (July 2011)

   When I made the decision to retire in Thailand , that decision was based on the information I had at the time. The dollar had hovered around 40 baht for as long as I’d been coming here, and I foresaw no cataclysmic change in the stock market.

   Of course things have changed a bit since then. The dollar has dropped 25% to around 30 baht,  while the stock market has relieved me of another 25%.  Social security is also in limbo, and while nothing is certain, I’m figuring I’ll have to wait until I’m at least 65 to collect anything.

   I don’t get much sympathy here-- in Thailand most people receive the equivalent of 800 baht per month at age 60, which amounts to, oh, about $28 per month-- so I did what I expect a lot of Americans will have to do…I went back to work. Not that I’m complaining. I’m 60 now, a young 60, and I didn’t figure I could sit on my ass forever anyway, so I found a teaching job. It pays 35,000 baht (about $1.200) a month, which is good money in Thailand.  In addition I find myself tutoring for about $200 a month. Not only is it nice to have an income again, I found I’m pretty good at it.

   I admit I’ve never been a genius in economics. It continues to astonish me that we live in a system where people can buy things they can’t afford. But credit is great, isn’t it? Likewise I respect the audacious soul who initially thought of insurance. You have to admire the brass of the soul who first approached people with the concept, and they truly must’ve been gifted speakers to convince folks to pay for things that are unlikely to happen so they can collect in the unlikely event they actually happen. Las Vegas has better odds.

   I have no insurance here, but hospitals are significantly cheaper, often a tenth of the price, and if something comes up I pay for it. In the US I paid approximately $96,000 over 10 years for what amounted to nothing. And that’s just health insurance. As is usually the case, it turns out I didn’t need it, but of course that money, like the bulk of insurance I paid, is gone, baby, gone.

   After running my own business for two decades, I learned to handle my finances, though, and I learned to live within a budget that was dictated by my income, while trying to remain debt free. My parents taught me that. Life taught me that.

   With my limited income and savings I’ve learned to adapt and make necessary adjustments to my lifestyle. I turn off lights when not using them, limit my showers, shutting off the water while I’m lathering, flush toilets only when necessary and I turn off power strips when not in use. I recycle whatever I can, as well. To me it’s just common sense, it's being environmentally responsible and ultimately it saves money.  That being said, Thailand is definitely a lot easier on your wallet.

   I sold my house in America about 5 years ago, opting to rent a small 1 bedroom apartment in Reno , and found it’s a whole lot cheaper without one. Now I pay under $300 a month rent for a larger nicer 3 bedroom home in Chonburi,  less than half what I was paying in Reno. I rarely eat at high priced restaurants these days. I find shopping at the many open air markets cheap and fun. In addition to the delicious array of Thai foods--most dishes of about 2 servings cost about a dollar--you can also purchase salads, every fruit you can think of, and even sushi, which will run you about $2 for 10 pieces.

Chonburi Province in Thailand.

   Reliable internet service here is about $20 a month compared to around $50 in the states. Cable TV costs around $10, about a fifth of what I was paying in Reno . Water is about $6 monthly. Electricity cost about $20 for a small 3 bedroom home, while in America it was usually about 5 times that much. I no longer have a land line, but you can purchase phone cards as you need them for as little as $3 at the local 7-11 easily enough, and I figure I spend less than $20 a month. Drinking water is available in huge 5 gallon jugs for as little as 50 cents.

   Gas has gone up everywhere, but when I shopped for a car in Reno one of the first things I looked for was mileage…that was 10 years ago, so anyone surprised by high gas prices doesn’t elicit much sympathy. Since moving to Thailand I’ve found an even better way to save money on fuel, car insurance, interest on car payments, oil, car maintenance and every other expense regarding a car. It isn’t as difficult as one might think. In fact it’s amazingly easy; don’t buy a car.

   I drive a motorbike. Before arriving in Thailand I’d never ridden one, but after watching 9 and 10 year olds negotiating traffic I overcame my fear and learned. Now I can't imagine life without one. Motorbikes don’t encounter traffic jams, and it’s hard not feeling a bit smug when you motor between hundreds of cars stuck in place on a Monday morning.

   And they’re economical. My 125cc Suzuki Hayate gets over 80 mpg and fuel runs me less than $7 weekly. As for danger, I see evidence of it in white chalk lines on roadways daily, but I’ve been here three years and haven’t had a problem. The same rules apply to bikes as to cars; don’t drink and drive, turn off your damn mobile phone, drive defensively, and you’ll do fine.

   Of course they have limitations. Though I’ve seen as many as four on bikes here, it can be a bit uncomfortable for large families. Weather can be restrictive. To drive on most freeways in America they must be 150cc or above, but for local driving smaller bikes can’t be beat for efficiency.

   I also have become much more comfortable using public transportation. In most towns and cities here you can get from one end of the city to the other in reasonable time for under a dollar by taking a baht bus, essentially a pickup with benches in the back. They are plentiful, so there’s virtually no waiting time…step out onto the street and you’re on your way.

Baht buses are a quick and easy way to get around in Thailand.

  A motorbike taxi can get you there for maybe $3…and you never get stuck in traffic.
While it’s unlikely it’s this cheap in America, if you investigate public transportation, or even do the unthinkable and purchase a bicycle, chances are you’ll save a bundle.

   As for me, I'm not rich and have never aspired to be. I recall my Mother quoting the bible, telling me ‘It’s easier for a camel to get thru the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven’.  What she taught me is as true now as it was then. We aren't what we own, and ultimately the same rules apply here as they do there; avoid debt and the interest that comes along with it, eliminate vices  and maybe cut down on the $4 coffees. I suspect, like me, you’ll find some of those products you considered essential, aren’t.

   Perhaps having fewer possessions isn’t such a bad thing and there’s a timeless wisdom in learning to live with less, and to be grateful for what you have. Nothing wrong with living within your means. I mean, who in their right mind wants to be Donald Trump?