Our 2020 Finances

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Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

To say that 2020 has been challenging is an understatement. After the devasting news about Wanderer’s dad’s brain cancer diagnosis, we immediately cut our nomadic life short by hopping on the 2nd to last plane back to Canada from Taiwan, just before all the borders closed.

With 2020 at an end, this means that we’ve been retired for over 5 whole years! Buying our time back has been the best money we have ever spent, and in no other year has that been more apparent than this one. Despite having our ambitious schedule of conferences, a Google talk, and filming a documentary, all obliterated by COVID-19, being able to spend precious time with family has been priceless. You never know how much time you have left with those you love and sometimes, you even learn to forgive and heal the most difficult relationships of all.

In life we learn the most not from just being happy and fulfilled, but from how we react in a crisis and, hopefully, emerge stronger the other side. Which is good, because as we’ve learned from the past 5 years, retiring doesn’t mean you’ll be happy forever.

And while we’ve spent the majority of 2020 working on our inner feelings, don’t think for a second we’ve left the spreadsheets neglected. Oh no, no, no. I may be a little more touchy-feely these days, but there’s a time for yoga and meditation. And that time, ladies and germs, is AFTER our spreadsheets are happy!

Also, I don’t think comedians can ever say “ladies and germs” ever again after this year. Ugh.


One of the things I worried about (other than losing my identity) after retiring, was inflation. I figured, if we were to travel the world, wouldn’t that inflate our expenses? Will our portfolio be able to continue supporting us if we’re gallivanting continuously around Europe and Asia, drinking wine, hiking the Swiss alps, relaxing in saunas, and devouring sashimi and Kobe beef?

Turns out that fear was unfounded because we discovered something that was well known in the digital nomad community but completely foreign to us: travelling the world saves you money! The trick is to balance your time between expensive places like the UK, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Japan, with inexpensive places with Thailand, Mexico, Indonesia, and Eastern Europe, and using geographic arbitrage so that you spend a stronger currency (like USD, CAD, or Euros) in a place with a weaker currency like Thai Baht or Indonesian Rupiah.

That lifestyle hack, however, like so many other things this year, was swiftly decimated by covid-19. We were forced to come back to Toronto, one of the most expensive cities in Canada, to help our family.

So damn, I thought. If I can’t use geographic arbitrage, maybe I can use local arbitrage. And by that I meant moving to an inexpensive city in your home country, with the savings from your higher salary in a big city. Since we were no longer tied to jobs in a big expensive city, we could live in a small town that’s still within driving distance to our parents.

Turns out, we didn’t even need to do that. To our endless surprise, during a pandemic the best value ended up being found not in the suburbs, but smack dab in the middle of the downtown core!

Flexibility for the Win!

According to the National Rent Report, rents in Toronto have gone down 20% since last year on average. That’s why we found ourselves renting an 800 sqft 2-bedroom condo for $57/night— less than 1/3 of its normal nightly rate of $200 .

And we aren’t the only ones! Our friends also recently negotiated $255/month off their monthly rent.

Despite having to come back to expensive Toronto, our monthly expenses were somehow less than how much we spent in Thailand in January. Having lived here for the past 9 months, our rent in Toronto averaged out to be $1641 CAD/month (or $1300 USD), utilities, WIFI, and parking included.

The key in a pandemic is flexibility. Investors who bought condos to put on AirBnb got screwed (especially with new rules coming into effect ), while their tenants, who could move around, won out. By negotiating with each new landlord and pitting them against the plummeting rental market, we were able to score some surprisingly good deals in one of the most expensive cities in North America. When you have the upper hand, you use it!

Here are some of the places we stayed in this year:

Chiang Mai, Thailand:

$850 CAD/$640 USD per month

Bali, Indonesia: 

$600 CAD/$450 USD per month

Toronto (west end):

$1350 CAD/ $1000 USD per month

Toronto (downtown):

$1560 CAD/ $1200 USD per month

Toronto (downtown):

$1700 CAD/ $1280 USD per month


Domestication (blegh)

With restaurants, sporting events, stores, and spas all shutdown due to the pandemic, we couldn’t spend money even if we wanted to (and believe me, we wanted to). As a result, we’ve been cooking more often than we ever have in the past 5 years . I’ve never been this domesticated in my life. *shakes head in disgust*

As a result, the cost of food, which would normally be around $1000-$1200/month (mostly due to eating out) ended up plummeting down to $600-$800/month. Plus, our food quality has gone up, as we’ve learned how to make authentic Sichuan dishes, as well as use healthier organic ingredients.

With nowhere to go, transportation and entertainment costs also dropped by 50-70%. And with no bars to go to, we found a place that lets us bottle our own booze, saving us another $150/month.

So, in the 5 years we’ve been travelling, this year’s expenses ended up being the lowest, despite spending 75% of the year in the most expensive city in Canada. I guess that’s one of the very few bright spots of the pandemic: forced austerity. So, if you’re worried about hyperinflation from all the government quantitative easing/money printing around the world, the opposite turned out to be true. We experienced deflation instead.

Here’s a breakdown of how much we spent this year:

RegionDuration% of YearCost (CAD)Cost (USD)
Asia (Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia):3 months25%$2,917 + $3225 + $2632 = $8774$6597
North America (Canada):9 months75%$2629 + $2523 +$2548 +$2858 + $2979 + $3093 + $2907 + $2721 + $2933 = $25,191$18,941
Total:12 months100%$33,965$25,537

This is $6000 below our normal yearly withdrawal of $40,000 and since our portfolio has gone up since we retired in 2015, despite not having a job, we’re at less than 3% withdrawal rate, which gives us a 100% success rate on FIRECalc.


Portfolio B Expenses

As you know, since we want to keep this retirement experiment pure, we live off the original portfolio we built when we retired in 2015, and any additional income from passion projects post-retirement have been segregated into Portfolio B. We don’t touch Portfolio B for any living expenses, only for business expenses, donations, gifts for family and friends, or extraneously expenses like online courses or tools for learning/education.

That way you can see that you can, in fact, live off your portfolio in retirement using the 4% rule, even if you don’t earn a single cent in retirement.

And if you do choose to start a passion project, sometimes unexpected income comes when you’re not even looking for it. When you enjoy what you’re doing and give value away for free, sometimes money comes your way. In our case, an editor from Penguin Random House reached out to us to write a book—and how can you possibly say no to Penguin—so we spent the past 2 years working on Quit Like a Millionaire. That book, along, with this blog, ended up earning us an unexpected income in retirement, which we have been investing into Portfolio B.

And here’s how much we spent this year from Portfolio B:

CategorySpending (CAD)Spending (USD)

This year has been a, shall we say, imperfect year. But it’s been a perfect test to see if financial independence still works in bear markets, and I’m happy to report, not only does it work, it has exceeded all expectations.

Stay tuned for the part 2, where we breakdown how our portfolio did in 2020 and how much we earned from passion projects.

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45 thoughts on “Our 2020 Finances”

  1. “I’ve never been this domesticated in my life. *shakes head in disgust”


    LOL. I wouldn’t be surprised if you two become homeowners sometime in the near future, considering all the good real estate deals there are now in Toronto. (And maybe become parents soon, too?)

  2. Amazing job guys! Sub 3% withdrawal rate is the ultimate dream. To me, what makes you FatFIRE is your withdrawal rate, not spending amount, and you’re there! Looking forward to math nerd out more in next weeks post.

  3. Happy New Year! It is super helpful to see the cost of living breakdown in Toronto. I’m a dual citizen Canada/US and currently live in a sweet rent-controlled apartment in San Francisco. I’m eyeing Toronto as a possible place to relocate as a home-base if the US and/or the ACA fall apart after I leave my job. Love your content!

    1. Happy New Year! Well done on the rent-controlled apartment in SF. The weather must be so nice there. Sigh. I miss summer weather…

    1. I know right? It’s nuts. And you can get a full massage for the price of just the massage tip here. I miss SE Asia.

  4. I’m soooo looking forward to the post about additional income earned. This was reassuring to read and gets me even more excited for my retirement date (10 years from now). Also I loved your book! As an immigrant myself, I found it very relatable.


    1. Thanks, Maisal! So nice to hear from a fellow immigrant 🙂 Rooting for you on your FI journey!

      If you enjoyed our book, would you mind leaving us a review on Amazon? That would help us reach more readers. Thank you!

  5. I had a question about when you make your withdraws from your main portfolio. Do you withdraw at the end of the year to spend the money through the following year? Or do you withdraw funds as needed through out the year?

  6. Hi,

    Love how you guys were able to save money in Toronto during the pandemic. Did you end up using AirBnB to negotiate these cheap rentals or directly with the landlords?

    1. You read my mind. There’s a whole process to this. I was just thinking about writing a post on this called “How to Negotiate a Lower Rent”. Stay tuned!

  7. I really appreciate your articles and thanks for sharing. Also I hope your father in law is stable and ok.

    Your taxes federal and provincial will be increasing now as you’re considered a Canadian resident for tax purposes having lived in Canada over 5-6 months. Also you’ll have to pay taxes on all your worldwide income both business and personal.

    So all the money you saved may end up being collected by the Government

    1. Thanks for the kinds words, Monterey.

      Actually, we never became non-residents of Canada (since we don’t stay in any one country longer than 180 days, so we haven’t established tax residency elsewhere), so we’ve been paying Canadian taxes this whole time.

  8. This parallels my own experience to a T. First time not out of the country since at least 2002, cheap short-term rentals galore, lots of exploration of my own country (western United States), spend way less money in general, forced to reflect a lot about life without so many external distractions as when living and travelling abroad.

    All good, but I hope we get back out there living our “normal” nomadic lives soon!

  9. Happy New Year to both of you, I hope that Wanderer’s father is faring better. At the end of the day, health is what matters most…

    Best wishes for 2021!

  10. Nice job of budgeting in 2020!

    Mine came in at $25,905 USD, although I’m a solo traveler.

    Hope to see you out in world again in 2021! Continue to stay safe and healthy. =)

    1. Nice work! Yeah, I definitely have the travel itch. Hopefully 2021 will be better than 2020. Hope you stay safe and healthy too!

  11. Awesome guys! I know there is still a part two to come, but I would really be interested in what you’re planning on doing once you are vaccinated/the lockdowns end.

    I’m considering working from home in a foreign country for a month, as my office probably won’t open again right away.

    1. We are getting itchy feet and definitely aching to travel again. It’s mostly the family obligating keeping us in Canada. Hopefully things will stabilize, we’ll get the vaccine and get to travel in 2021. Who knows. All I know is that 2020 has shifted all our priorities. Family comes first. Everything else is secondary.

      Great idea for thinking about working from home in another country. We would definitely be doing that if our family didn’t need us here. Have you considered Barbados? Or Taiwan? Our friends really like Taiwan and they got a Golden Visa to live there for 3 years. No lockdowns at all. I’m super jealous. Here’s their post on how to apply: https://www.nomadnumbers.com/taiwan-employment-gold-card-application-guide/

  12. Really good article that helped allay/ address most FIRE chasers fears… what will happen during a downturn and will I be ok? Love that you put actual figures/ real world examples in there. Thanks!!!

    1. Glad the post was helpful, Carol! It’s normal to have fears before retiring. If I could change anything, I’d go back to myself 5 years ago tell myself not to be so anxious. It’ll all work out.

  13. A few thoughts about this post:

    1. Personally I include charitable donations, gifts, self-improvement, self-care as part of my living expenses. If I was only budgeting for a roof over my head and food on the table post-FIRE, that would be existing, not living.

    2. We are all damn lucky that the bear market was short lived. Otherwise these spreadsheets would be U.G.L.Y.

    3. Maybe “Ladies and germs” should morph into “Ladies and sperm”?

    Happy New Year.

  14. Happy New Year and thank you so much for everything that you do and publish. You continue to be an inspiring light in an otherwise potentially very grey (English spelling, as you previously highlighted – educating and supportive as always) time. You make such excellent points and deliver them so well. x

  15. Thanks for continuing to share so openly – I love seeing the numbers and also everything that’s behind them. Here’s hoping that 2021 brings you the chance to forget any of those…what’s the word…”cooking” skills? In its place we might have to relearn how to hug, though…

    1. Haha, the domestic knowledge is already draining from my brain as we speak….

      Yeah, I definitely need to get over my new fear of hugging. Do you cringe too when you watch TV shows with big crowds now? I’m like “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? DO YOU ALL WANT TO DIE?!”

      1. Yes. It just doesn’t seem right anymore. Some ads even have warnings, like, “This advertisement was made before the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic”. I guess they should add “do not try this at home”.

  16. Hi FC,

    Happy New Year to U. Your post continues to be an inspiration to me.

    I look forward to your and Wanderer’s next post as always.


  17. 99% of us will become the victims of our own successes or failures.

    Make sure you have proper future targets toward (Finance, Relationship, Health and Humanity).

    I have written an article “Stagnation is the Number One Killer to Your Happiness”, please read it and readjust your game plans.

    Don’t be a victim of your own success, experiencing it!

  18. Wow negotiating $255/month off their rent is no easy task to do. I would be interested in learning more about the process and the rationale behind how they were able to do so, that does sound interesting.

    I only negotiated a one-time $125 concession for re-signing my lease. I wonder if I should have asked for more but I’ll never know the answer to that question. I thought I did really good because I live in a really cheap place that probably has the best value in the entire part of the town I live in.

  19. Hello,

    Just to let you know Estonia is more considered to be Northern Europe rather than Eastern Europe. Even totally different culturally.

  20. Since Canadians that live outside of Canada don’t have to file taxes, now that you’ve been back in Canada for a period of time, how has this impacted you Canadian residency status and your tax reporting requirements? Will you see an impact to your FIRE budget with the need to possibly make annual tax payments?

    I’ve recently return to Canada as a dual citizen of Canada and the US and I’ve found myself confronted with a lot of residency/non-residency “joys” addded to by my FIRE plans.

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