Our 2018 Finances

FIRECracker
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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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Back in 2015, if you had told us it would cost us LESS money to travel the world than live in Toronto, I would’ve thought you were nuts. Everyone KNOWS travel is expensive—I mean, why else did we shell out $5000-$10,000 a year on a 3-week vacation while we were working? It wasn’t until we started traipsing around Europe and Southeast Asia that we found out what a racket the vacation industry is. We were able to visit 19 countries (even expensive ones like Denmark, Switzerland, and the UK!) for only $40,000 CAD or $30,000 USD a year for the two of us. Back when we bought vacation packages, that amount of money would’ve lasted us just 3-6 months!

It was a no brainer. Why would we stay in one place when we can travel the world…FOREVER?

And it wasn’t just us either. We met some friends last year who, after coming back from Chautauqua, sold everything to travel the world!  Read their breakdown of expenses on their blog Nomad Numbers here.

But, that’s only because we spent a 50% of our time in Southeast Asia, and they spent part of their year in Mexico right?

Well this year, we decided to try to spend most of the year in expensive Europe. Surely, having to pay everything in Euros or Pounds would screw us over, right? Well, as it turns out, not so much.

Here’s a breakdown of our expenses for 2018 by month:

Region Duration Cost (CAD) Cost (USD)
North America (U.S, Canada) 2 months $3649 + $3237 = $6886 $5297
U.K + Western Europe (Germany, Portugal, Canary Islands) 6 months $3150 + $3019 + $2596 + $3037 + $3114 + $3328 = $18,244 $14,034
Iceland + Canada 1 month $4480 $3446
Eastern Europe (Poland, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) 2 months $3037 + $3193 = $6230 $4792
Malta & Spain (Andalusia) 1 month $3898 $2998
Total 1 year $39,738 $30,567

Adding in expat insurance from IMGlobal of $781 CAD/$601 USD per couple, that gives us a total of $40,519 CAD or $31,168 USD.

This also includes other health care costs like dental and eye care. We got x-rays, check-ups, and  teeth cleaning for 40 USD each in Poland, a custom-made night guard for $135 USD, and contact lenses and prescription meds in Canada for $240—all paid out of pocket. Outside the U.S, healthcare is extremely affordable. In Malta, Wanderer went to see a doctor for a rash, and when it came time to pay, they waved us off and said, “don’t worry about it”. The cost for his prescription medication? 2 Euros.

New readers might be wondering why we switched to expat insurance after using travel insurance from World Nomads. Well, the reason is that in order to buy travel insurance, you must have health insurance in your home country. That’s why we used travel insurance for the first 2 years, since we still had our Canadian Health insurance. Now that we’ve been out of the country for so long, we’ve lost our coverage and are now using expat insurance. You might also have noticed that expat insurance cost us ½ of travel insurance. This is because we picked a package with $500,000 each and deductible of $2500 total. With Travel insurance, there was no deductible and a default of $1 million of coverage each.

The key to staying in Europe without busting your budget, as it turns out, is to balance expensive places (like Iceland, the UK, the Netherlands, and Finland) with inexpensive places like Las Palmas, Portugal, Poland, and Eastern Europe. So, in this case, even though we didn’t have Southeast Asia or Mexico to balance out our costs, Eastern Europe and Portugal did the trick.

We also took advantage of the monthly discount on Airbnb, which gives you 20% or more off when you book for a full month. Since we’ve been to almost 40 countries, we’re no longer moving around every 2 days like we did during our first year of travel. This saves us 20-30% monthly on Airbnb. If you’ve never used Airbnb and want to try it, click here to get a discount off your first booking.

We also discovered that Germany (with the exception of Munich and the Bavarian region) isn’t that expensive. And with the exception of Andalusia, Spain wasn’t that expensive either. Las Palmas was especially easy on the wallet—given that they don’t have the VAT (European goods and services tax) and have the local IGIC tax instead, which is much lower (7% versus 21%). Portugal and Poland continue to give us fantastic value, while being underrated enough to not be mobbed with tourists (unlike Amsterdam and London).

Here’s a detailed breakdown of how much we spent on average in different categories in each of the European regions:

Western Europe:

$3,380 CAD / $2,600 USD per month

Category Cost (CAD) Cost (USD)
Accommodations $1600 $1230
Food $900 $700
Transportation $520 $400
Entertainment $250 $188
Clothing/Toiletries/Data etc $110 $82
Total $3380 $2600

This is typically how much we spent in Germany. We didn’t splurge on eating out as much (we saved that for Eastern Europe and Spain) because frankly, I didn’t think I was getting a good deal. The food wasn’t bad but I could get better food elsewhere. Transportation in Germany was more expensive (read: double the cost of subway costs in Portugal and Eastern Europe) so there wasn’t much we could do about that but overall, for a country with such a robust economy Germany was surprisingly affordable.

 

Iceland + Canada + Poland:

$4,480 CAD / $3446 USD per month

Category Cost (CAD) Cost (USD)
Accommodations $1278 $983
Food $762 $586
Transportation $1207 $928
Entertainment $413 $318
Clothing/Toiletries/Data etc $820 $631
Total $4480 $3446

Despite cutting down on rent by staying with family for over a week and spending some time in Poland, this was our highest spending month. Why? Notice the crazy spending in the transportation and Clothing/Toiletries/Data/etc categories? And no, I didn’t go crazy shopping for designer purses or take limos everywhere. It’s because even though flights to Iceland were covered by points, we still had to pay for flights from Iceland to Poland, and on top of that there was the Iceland car rental which was hella expensive. Then, we ended up stocking up on contact lenses, prescription meds in Canada, getting our teeth cleaned, and buying a dental night guard in Poland. So yeah, we went a bit nuts on these costs, but in the end, it didn’t matter because spending time in Portugal, Eastern Europe made up the difference.

Eastern Europe:

$3,037 CAD / $2,336 USD per month

Category Cost (CAD) Cost (USD)
Accommodations $1209 $930
Food $1135 $873
Transportation $160 $123
Entertainment $480 $370
Clothing/Toiletries/Data etc $53 $40
Total $3037 $2336

Interestingly enough, we saved a ton on accommodations and transportation in Eastern Europe, compared to Western Europe, but we decided to spend 20% more on food and 50% more on entertainment. Yup, I’m a total Spa snob now. I regret nothing.

 

Malta and Andalusia:

$3,898 CAD / $2,998 USD per month

Category Cost (CAD) Cost (USD)
Accommodations $1708 $1314
Food $1430 $1100
Transportation $590 $454
Entertainment $20 $15
Clothing/Toiletries/Data etc $150 $115
Total $3898 $2998

This was another high spending month because expensive Madrid is included and we ate out like crazy (Madrid’s food scene is out of this world!). Transportation was expensive too because we had to fly to and from Malta. Luckily, Entertainment costs plummeted because Malta has tons of free beaches and Madrid has lots of free museums.

So this means even spending only $40,000 CAD / $31,000 USD for the full year in Europe, we still splurged on spas and eating out. We just ended up doing it a lot more in inexpensive places like Poland and Eastern Europe instead of Germany and Iceland. We also spiked our entertainment category by going to spas a lot. But you don’t have to. What I love about Europe is that with so many free sources of entertainment, you could save a ton on activities and still have a great time. In Madrid alone, we were able to see different museums every day for a week without entry fees, just by going at the designated “free entry” times. Ditto with London.

Transportation in Europe is also dirt cheap (shout out to Norwegian, Ryanair, Portuguese trains, and European buses). Norwegian, in particular, is a win for travellers . You can get from the U.S to London or Oslo for $200 USD per person—comparable to the taxes paid when using points. Then from Oslo you could fly to Bangkok for a similar price.

Since we started travelling in 2015, we’ve gotten much better at figuring out which places give you the best value and how to reduce cost using Airbnb monthly discounts. We’ve also been fortunately enough to have Chautauquan friends in the U.K, Europe, and the U.S who have been gracious enough to let us stay with them for a couple of weeks this year

So now that we’ve stayed in Europe for a full year, we’ve visited pretty much all 26 countries of the Schengen European Zone. The only ones left are Sweden, Norway, Slovenia, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein—which we’ll probably check off this year. Is there a prize for visiting every Schengen country? Nope. But I don’t care. I just like checking off lists. Shut up, I’m not crazy, you’re crazy.

Okay, now I realized this is turning into another monstrous post, and I haven’t even gotten to passion project earnings or investments, so I’m splitting this post into 3 parts. If you want to find out how much we earned and how our investments did last year, stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3!


Chautauqua: Want to join our Chautauqua family in UK or Portugal this year? Portugal is sold out, but there are still a few spots left for the UK. Click here to buy the tickets.


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53 thoughts on “Our 2018 Finances”

    1. I think it just gets easier over time…I had no idea which regions were expensive and which weren’t at the beginning. Over time, you start to develop an encyclopediac knowledge of where to go to even out your budget. I also tend to enjoy tracking costs, so I can see when my costs start going a bit crazy and adjust (eg, like the transportation costs in Aug that made me realized, hey we should to go to Eastern Europe next to smooth it out).

  1. I voted “Travel” in last week’s poll and daaaaang, you delivered. Sweet! Thanks too for providing both CAD and USD. I appreciate it.

    What are your visiting criteria? I assume since you haven’t listed Norway that you don’t count layovers in Oslo (which I agree with; I spent an hour at IAH in 1997 but still don’t think I’ve actually ‘visited’ Texas).

    1. Thanks for voting, Adam! Yeah, layovers definitely don’t count. I have to actually be in the city for a few days for me to count it as visiting. (although from what I hear about Luxembourg from other travelers, just 1 day will suffice)

  2. Thanks Kristy for calling out our past year’s spending report in your post!

    Traveling the world “full time” enables us to utilize the amazing power of geo-arbitrage that lets us spend the money on what matters to us at pretty much any given time. Want to enjoy some amazing jazz live performances during the summer? Just go to Montreal in July and have the time of your life. Want amazing food at a fraction of the cost? Go explore Mexico and so on… Basically, by deciding to make the world your home and embracing slow travel, the possibilities are endless and this give you total control over your budget.

    For us, after slow traveling in Quebec, California, and Mexico last year, we plan to visit both Europe and South East Asia in 2019 and will also keep visiting a mix of places with both low and high cost of living. Very inspiring to see that you and Bryce were able to travel in Europe for a full year for just USD $30K!! Even we were skeptical if Europe would increase our budget substantially but it’s great to see that it doesn’t have to! Thanks for the post!

    1. You guys rock! So proud of you guys for making the leap to full time nomads and proving that travel really does save you money.

      See you guys in Europe or Southeast Asia soon!

      1. Thanks, Purple. I’m too old so there goes my solution! I was all over that “non-lucrative” visa from Spain but that limit where you become a tax payer in Spain, complete with it’s wealth tax, has me concerned.

        Back to the drawing board.

        1. There’s also the D7 visa from Portugal, freelancer’s visa from Germany, and upcoming digital nomad visa from Estonia. We’ll write more about those in future posts.

  3. I guess a rolling stone gathers no moss! You guys really traveled A TON in 2018. Holy Cow! I feel tired just reading about all the difference places you traveled too!

    Good thing you slow travel, eh? If you tried to squeeze in all those countries into 3 or 4 weeks of job vacation, you’d never sit still.

    Seriously though, good job traveling the world on such a small annual budget! With the kids in school we don’t travel nearly as much as you guys do, but I plan to start traveling a lot more once they get a little older.

    Great update FIRECracker!

    1. Thanks, Mr. Tako! Yeah, definitely if we tried to cram 21 countries into 3 or 4 weeks of vacation, we’d would hate it. Slow travel has it’s appeal for sure.

      You’ve done your fairshare of travelling with the kids too! Very impressed that you were able to fly them to Japan on such a long flight. Will need to learn your tricks for keeping them entertained.

      1. Depends on the kid. My 5 year old tolerates long flights really well. She’s been travelling since she was 9 mos old. She watches kid movies and plays games on the in flight entertainment, draws, colors, we play card games, talk, snack, and she naps. She also makes friends sometimes if there is another kid nearby.

    1. yeah, I didn’t become a millionaire by blogging, that’s for sure 🙂 To answer your question, we’ve been blogging for 2 years and 8 months.

  4. Congratulations on another awesome year!

    Also I didn’t know this: “In order to buy travel insurance, you must have health insurance in your home country.” I was planning to use World Nomads without having any insurance in my home country since I wouldn’t be there. Time to reassess! Thanks so much for sharing your numbers! It’s super inspiring. Looking forward to parts 2 and 3!

    1. Thanks, APL! Yeah, it’s bit confusing–travel insurance is suppose to cover the costs of hospitals, etc before repatriating you back to your country where your regular healthcare takes over. That’s why it’s recommended by people who take vacations or sabbaticals. Expat insurance is to cover people who don’t have insurance at all. So in your case, evaluate whether expat insurance is better for you.

    1. Thanks, SG! And congrats on your move–I read about it on your post. Glad you are enjoying your new home and community!

  5. I love you guys! What an inspiration! Can’t wait to see the numbers in parts 2-3. Discovered you through ChooseFI podcast and listened to the episode that featured you like 10 times and each time got out something new. You are my heroes!!!!!

    Curious what areas will you be exploring in 2019? Please don’t be scared to visit Russia. 🙂 Aside from obvious Moscow and S.Petersburg may I recommend Kazan?

    Please keep being you.
    Much love
    Ella

    1. Aww! Thanks, Ella! Comments like this make me day 🙂

      This year we are planning Asia and more Europe (gotta check off those last 5 Schengen countries!). And we’ll probably need to fly back to Canada and US for book promotion events, visiting family, etc.

      Good tip on visiting Russia! We almost made it there Kaliningrad this year (since it’s easy to get to from Poland), but had to skip it to get our Schengen dates lined up. Will add Kazan to our future list of places to visit!

      1. If you want to dip your toe into Russia visit Helsinki. Unless things have changed in lst couple of years you can visit limited places in Russia for 72 hours without a visa from Helsinki. Lots of Chinese and Japanese tourists were there for that very reason. Also, Helsinki is a nice city in its own right – it had a great food market when I was there a couple of years back – including reindeer crisps!

        1. Great tip PJ! San Petersburg is so close to Helsinki, but I am afraid 72 hours won’t be enough to explore even half of this glorious city. But as you said, great idea to just “dip your toe,” before applying for a Russian visa. Please check out “Beliye Nochi” or “White nights.” 🙂

  6. I’ve been reading this blog for about a year now. Hope your lifestyle will become mine someday 😀

    If you decide to come to Stockholm, I’d love to buy you guys lunch! I’d recommend coming here in the summer considering your feelings on cold weather 🙂

    Best regards!
    Joel

  7. Just the post I needed to read today… We’re getting close and hope to come join in on the travels later this year. Maybe we can even meet up at some point :o)

  8. Pretty amazing but not surprising I guess. Good to see your intentions play out in practice with the whole CAD$40k / USD$30k budget WITH permatravel.

    I have to agree with your Europe comments. Some amazing values there as long as you skip the obvious HCOL areas like Scandinavia, Iceland, Paris/London.

    I think we could make our $40k/yr USD budget work in Portugal, Southern Spain, or eastern Europe pretty easily. We rented some pretty decent places for USD$45-50/nt with 3 bedrooms and I imagine monthly rental rates would drop that amount even further. And that was in peak summer tourist season!

    1. I’m quite confident you could make it work. Spoke to a local this week from Portgual who lives on 1000 Euros a month for a family of 3. Based on their budget, a 40K USD budget for a family of 5 would be more than comfortable. You guys did great with your expenses in the summer in Europe! And with Southeast Asia coming up, I’m sure you’re going to rock that budget too!

      1. I hope SE Asia is as cheap as people say it is. I found first world living in Portugal and Eastern Europe to be very cheap and available all over. What I’m afraid of for SE Asia is that “backpacker slumming” is cheap but anything nice is $$$$. Also a big language barrier in Cambodia and Vietnam, whereas I could at least kind of make it work in PT, SP, and IT with my Spanish skillz, and at least pronounce things in the Slavic languages in E Europe.

  9. That’s cool Western Europe didn’t cost too much.

    Thanks for sharing your expenses.

    Can you share your income and investment portfolio performance for 2018 that afforded you these expenses as well?

    I do hope 2019 is a better year for stocks. But I’m not going to get aggressive at all. It’s been a damn good run since 2009, and I don’t plan to lose money.

    tx,

    Sam

    1. Sure, Sam and thanks for commenting! We will definitely be sharing our portfolio performance in upcoming parts 2 and 3.

    1. It’s called “IMGlobal”. We were original going to use Signa (which we wrote about before) but IMGlobal had a better rate (and they even include travel cancellation costs)

  10. I’ve been saying for years its cheaper to travel then live in Canada! I’m happy to see you guys saying the same thing because the response i usually gets makes me feel like I’m going crazy!

    If your looking for some new amazing yet cheap destinations consider the Balkans! We just spent the past 6 months there (spring to fall) We especially loved Serbia and Albania we felt very safe almost no tourists and incredibly friendly locals and tasty affordable food! (like cheaper then South east Asia for most things!)

    1. Cheaper than SE Asia?! Okay, now I HAVE to check it out. I have heard great things about Albania before–the only reason we haven’t gone is because we’ve been prioritizing checking off our Schengen country list (I know, I’m insane).

      And you are not alone in feeling ignore when saying it’s cheaper to travel than stay in Canada. I still have friends and family who don’t believe us…though I can’t say I’m surprised because even I didn’t believe it was possible until we started doing it.

  11. +1 on this:Can you share your income and investment portfolio performance for 2018 that afforded you these expenses as well?

    really curious how your portfolio did in 2018

  12. Firecracker, can you explain why is it you loose your Canadian health insurance and how do you get it back?

    Also, for the expat insurance, how does it work? Do you pay cash all over and turn in your receipts? What if they are on all sorts of weird languages nobody understands?

  13. Outstanding! Imagine if a bachelor doing the traveling. He/she would be spending just 50% of the total cost, or he/she can spend the same but 2x more for himself/herself, and be spoilt.

    1. No you don’t end up spending 50% of the cost. More like 75% of the cost. The cost of accommodation is what kills you. You pay the same cost for a room/apartment regardless of whether there are 1 or 2 people staying in it. Been there, done that, don’t like the price of the t-shirt 🙁

  14. You are the perfect person to ask, having been everywhere, if it isn’t imposing. My wife and I are slightly early retired and while we mostly take hiking trips in desolate locations in the US we do take an annual overseas trip. Our problem is we don’t like touristy places and we hate crowds. Places like Florence or Rome feel like a theme park to us because of the lines and traffic. Where would you recommend a couple of fit hikers consider that don’t want to feel like they are hiking with a thousand other people?

  15. Let’s say I inherited a million bucks (I WISH!) and invested in the same stuff you guys currently hold…could i generate enough passive income to do travel full time the way you?

  16. Which IMG Health Plan did you go with? Bronze, Silver, Gold etc?

    My wife and I are looking at which plan to add for our extended trip.

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