We spent a week in Bangkok and are a week into our trip to Cambodia. We’ve realized that is going to be really, really tough to track our expenses in this part of the world.
We like to put all of our spending on rewards credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi Prestige. Not only do we get great benefits, but we can also track all of our spending in one place using one of the many account aggregators out there (like Mint). The one we use is useful for performing analytics. For example, we can see what our spending trends have been for particular categories. This helps give us reinforcement if we are trying to reduce eating out, for example. One thing we do not do is track how we spend cash. We just add a manual entry for the total amount we take out of the ATM, since it generally is a tiny fraction of our total spending.
But here in SE Asia, almost no one takes credit cards. Our total spend for seven days in Bangkok was $867 (annualized this is equivalent to $45k), with $281 going to our AirBnb rental. Almost all of the remaining $586 was untracked cash expenditures. The one larger unexpected expense was shipping my defective HP laptop back to the US. That cost $110, leaving a more reasonable expense of $476. Nearly all of our non-housing expenses were in cash, except for a few meals at some more expensive restaurants that accepted credit cards. Unless you note all expenses at the time you incur them, there is realistically no way to track cash expenses.
For us, the paradox of SE Asia is that even though things are less expensive, we actually spend a lot more than we think. We are more willing to spend since things are so cheap, and those expenses just add up. Good beer like Asahi and Angkor costs about a dollar and an hour-long massage costs about $10. A main course costs about $5. We were stuck in traffic in Bangkok for 90 minutes, but the taxi fare was still less than $10. Put that together with our inability (or more fairly, unwillingness) to track cash expenses, and it’s easy to see how we are losing track of our burn rate here.
So far, I don’t feel like we’ve been recklessly spending money, but our expenses in Bangkok certainly came as a bit of a surprise. We spent more in Bangkok than we did in Melbourne even though the AirBNB in the former was almost half as expensive as the latter! We will probably have to moderate a little better going forward, or at least recalibrate our brains. This week, I’ve already gotten two massages and played a pretty pricey round of golf in Siem Reap. I’ve also been having a beer with dinner every night, which is probably not helping my waistline.
I’ll have a better sense of our expenses in Siem Reap over the past week after we check out of our hotel tomorrow. Then we’ll know whether our spending meter is properly calibrated, or if we should cut back a bit more.
I just did the math and it turns out we spent $880 in Siem Reap over six days. That includes $80 for the 3-day Angkor pass and $120 for a round of golf at a nearby championship golf course. I guess if you exclude these, the spending is not that bad…
Also, I mistakenly suggested we spent less in Melbourne than in Bangkok. That is not true, except when looking only at non-housing expenses.