Expenses in Vietnam

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My actual YNAB for March, April, May of 2016.

I’ve used YNAB for a few years now, from back when I was living in Australia. When I moved to Vietnam my YNAB usage kinda tailed off. Like most budgeting applications that I’ve tried, it doesn’t handle multiple currencies well. (In YNAB’s case, they don’t handle multiple currencies at all. I suppose you could create multiple budgets, each with a different currency, but…)

Now that I’m not longer working for an Australian company and traveling back to Australia regularly, it seemed silly to pretend my budget should be in Australian dollars. Four months ago I wiped the slate clean with YNAB and started tracking things in Vietnam Dong.

Four months marks a good point to look back at my expenses. Short term fluctuations should have averaged out. But it is still missing some of the “once a year” and “once every few years” type expenses. Things like insurance or buying a new vehicle.

My total expenses over 4 months were 150,133,349 VND. 150 million sounds like a lot but when you convert to USD it works out to $1,683 a month. And if we annualise it, it becomes $20,196.

With a number like that you can see why so many people have fantasies about retiring outside of the US, perhaps in Southeast Asia.

If you look into the details of my spending: housing is by far my biggest expense. It is around $700 a month, or 41% of my monthly spending. I rent a “nice local house”. That means it isn’t in an international apartment building (where rents run $1,200+). And it isn’t a “local house” (where rents can be as low as $300 but you won’t have certain things you take for granted).

It is far too big for what I need: three bedrooms across four floors (including a rooftop terrace). One bedroom is just used for storage. I go to the fourth floor about once a month. But the landlord put in timber flooring (to appeal to foreigners) and installed a western-style bathroom.

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Typical Vietnamese bathroom. Notice the shower? The whole room gets wet.

And the location is pretty decent, though no one in the neighbourhood speaks any English. I could move and save some money but, right now at least, it isn’t worth the hassle.

Other assorted expenses:

During that time period I also had a root canal, my girlfriend had to see a doctor, and we had two long-weekend holidays.

So I was certainly wasn’t living a spartan lifestyle. The biggest sources of variable spending are when guests from out of town come. We eat out more, at more expensive places, and go to more expensive bars and clubs.

I live a relatively “local” life. Not every expat does. It is possible to live in Vietnam and spend just as much as you spent back home. If you’re eating Italian food, drinking wine & cocktails, buying cheese, eating steaks…that stuff is all imported and adds up. I (mostly) eat at local restaurants where no one speaks English and the meal is $2–3.

I don’t have any children, so I don’t have to worry about school fees. Foreigners aren’t allowed to send their kids to the public schools (and you probably wouldn’t want to anyway). Private schools can be as much as $40,000 a year, though that’s the top of the range.

I’m (relatively) young, so I don’t have any medical issues. My private health insurance is from IMG Insurance and is $600 a year. I don’t have any regular prescriptions or medical devices.

In a few years I’ll probably need to buy another scooter. But a brand-new top-of-the-line scooter is a bit over $2,000 (as long as you don’t get a Vespa), so that’s not too hard to budget for.

Travel and vacations are another wildcard. I don’t travel back to the US or Australia very often at all. But if you did (maybe for family reasons) at $700–1200 a flight, that can add up quickly. In Asia you can travel cheaply…or not. You can stay at cheap 2-star hotels or extravagant 5-star resorts.

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Learn how to enjoy early retirement in Vietnam. With charts and graphs.

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