Unless you are independently wealthy, being freer tomorrow requires a way to make money. But if you are like me, you sometimes get stuck. This article is designed to help you get unstuck.
The last few months have been a tough time for getting work done. Between moving, spending 10 days in the USA taking care of my Mom’s estate, visiting my daughter, and getting married, it has been tough to concentrate on my writing. Especially when you consider that I was without Internet access at home for 6 weeks straight!
But all that is in the past. You can expect to see the FreerTomorrow articles flowing once again. I’ve broken through the delays and the procrastination and am back on duty.
To get things going again, we’ll talk about getting going again on your projects after an extended stop. I recently posted a message in a writer’s group looking for people’s tips on how they get and stay productive.
As luck would have it, right after I posted that message, I came across several tips that other creative people use to get the content flowing. While some of these tips are specific to a particular field, most of the information you will find here pertains to getting going again on anything that requires creativity and initiative.
In the interest of getting productive, I’ve decided to turn this into several posts. I planned on one big post, but seeing how my list of tips has grown, and how much there is to actually write about them, that seems like a bad idea. What I will do is give you a reasonably deep look at one or two tips in each post, along with one or more links to places where you can find more information on this topic.
This approach will let me get content out the door in a timely manner, and let you evaluate each tip more thoroughly than you could in the usual, “10 Tips to Productivity” list style article.
The first tip in this post is:
For many of us, distractions are a major impediment to getting started on our work and staying focused as the day goes on. A noisy environment, the lure of social media, even a messy desk can serve as distractions to keep us from getting productive. Fortunately, there are ways to at least reduce, if not totally eliminate, each of the common types of distractions.
Social media is a highly addictive, and very persistent, type of distraction. It can be very hard to ignore that beep, or buzz or whatever sound your social media apps use to notify you that there is something new and shiny to look at. Once you let social media grab your attention, it is very easy to burn 10, 20, 30 (or more) minutes before escaping back to doing actual work.
Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to cut down on social media distractions.
If don’t need to connect to the rest of the world to work, disconnect for a while. Disconnecting your computer from the Internet is all you need to do to prevent the problem. If you use a smartphone, you will want to disable its Internet access as well. This may seem extreme, but it is a sure-fire way to eliminate this form of distraction and be more productive.
What if you can’t disconnect? Maybe you need to use the Internet in your work. Or maybe you are on call for something and must always be reachable. We can deal with this too.
Try muting all or part of any social media apps that you don’t need to do your work. Pretty much every social media app gives you some way to mute individuals, or groups, or all alerts at once. This gives you the ability to customize for your specific circumstances. Sometimes all you need to do is mute one or two people or channels of communication to eliminate most of the distraction.
For example, on Whatsapp, I get more messages from my brother than from everyone else I know put together. They are useful, but can really interrupt my work flow and normally don’t have any urgency. That means I can ignore messages when I am working and read them when I have free time. So, when I want to really reduce my social media distractions, I can mute him on Whatsapp while still being available to other people.
Depending on what devices and operating systems you are using to connect to the Internet, you might be able to find some sort of app that blocks your access to most or all social media, without keeping you from visiting other sites.
Making this work does require some discipline, both from you and from the people you communicate with. In reality, most social media stuff is not time-sensitive, or even very important. Yet there is a lot of pressure to be online all the time, and to respond to alerts immediately.
Disconnecting from the Internet, or muting social media channels will keep them from interrupting your work. But you still need to convince yourself that you are not missing out on anything important by ignoring this stuff until later.
You also need to change the perspective of the people you communicate with regularly. If you and Sally chat a lot on some messaging app, she may become upset if you suddenly start ignoring her messages until the end of the work day. You may need to explain to some people what you are doing and why. Let them know that you still value your interactions, just not when you getting productive work done.
The second tip we will talk about today is:
It’s noisy where I live. Cars, kids, construction and other sources of random noise can be very distracting. Keeping external noise out is a tough job, unless you can sound-proof your workspace. I did that once, but it is generally not practical. Even so, there are ways to reduce the noise-related distractions you experience.
Many productive people reduce the amount of noise they experience by working when others are sleeping. I’ve found this to be a productive strategy. I tend to wake up very early in the morning (between 3 and 4 AM). When I have the discipline to do so, I immediately start working on whatever is my top priority for the day. As a result, I can often get in a couple of hours of work without external noise distractions because most people are still asleep!
The same idea applies if you are a night owl. Lots of creative folks are night owls, and are often awake until 2 or 3 AM. Most people are in bed long before then, meaning much less noise to distract you.
Of course, this tip requires you to be able to work at odd hours. If you have an office job, you probably need to be at the office when everyone else is. Likewise, you may not be able to confine your work hours to only those hours when other people are asleep.
NOTE: If you do work in an office, the book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” contains very detailed advice for eliminating a range of office-type distractions. From dealing with co-workers who want to chat, to dodging pointless meetings, this book can help you with getting productive in the office.
In cases where you can’t do all your work when the rest of the world sleeps, I recommend that you…
White noise generators create some kind of random sound that can play in the background while you work. “White noise” which is a type of noise produced by mixing together all the frequencies of sound a human can hear.
How does adding noise to your environment reduce noise-related distractions?
Because it contains all the different frequencies of sounds you can hear, the white noise masks the distracting sounds, making it harder for your brain to focus on them.
I used to think that the whole white noise thing was just some trendy bit of pseudo-science. But in recent years I have started using this effect to help me with noise-related distractions. That said, I cannot guarantee that a white noise generator will be effective for you. It appears to depend on how your brain works as well as the particular type of work you are doing at the time.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
“The effects of white noise upon cognitive function are mixed. Recently, a small study found that white noise background stimulation improves cognitive functioning among secondary students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), while decreasing performance of non-ADHD students. Other work indicates it is effective in improving the mood and performance of workers by masking background office noise, but decreases cognitive performance in complex card sorting tasks.”
Further confusing the issue is the fact that there are other types of noise generators available to mask noise. For example, I listen to “brown noise” from an app on my tablet. This app, Noise Wall, can generate 4 different types of noise targeted at different circumstances. The brown noise seems more effective for me, but your results may vary.
One more complication is that there are “white noise” generators that can also create a range of random-ish sounds taken from natural or human sources. Waterfalls, ventilation fans, and rain sounds seem particularly common.
To summarize, there are a ton of noise generators out there that can mask out noise-related distractions. I suggest you search online for some free apps that you can test. The odds are good you can find something that works for you.
That’s it for this post. Watch for the next post with more tips for getting productive!
If you have any thoughts or stories to share about these two tips or getting productive in general, please share them below.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big advocate of expatriation from expensive, unhealthy, collapsing locations like the European Union and the United States. But every part of the world has its benefits and drawbacks. Here in Ecuador, one of the biggest drawbacks is lying landlords. I’ve had 9 or 10 landlords in my time in this country, and it is no exaggeration to say that half of the them fit into the “lying landlord” category. The problem seems a lot worse than what I experienced in my decades of living and renting in the USA.
In this post I’ll start by giving you a few recent examples. I’ll wrap it up with a stab at explaining why this happens. Hopefully reading some of my experiences will prepare you for similar problems if you expatriate some day.
Anyone who has rented a house or apartment has probably experienced exaggerated claims about the property. Whether it is the landlord of a property or some kind of rental agency, the person trying to get you to sign the contract is a salesman. They’ll puff up the positives and downplay the negatives. And, honestly, they will often lie to you to get the deal. And at the end of the contract, the landlord probably exaggerated the wear and tear on the place in order to keep more of your deposit than was justified.
But this isn’t what I’m talking about when I refer to a “lying landlord.” Here in Ecuador I have experienced a whole new level of dishonesty from landlords and their underlings (I am including both in the lying landlord category). I am talking about blatantly violating the contract and fun stuff like that.
Let me give you some examples.
NOTE: I am writing about these things from memory, so I might have some details wrong. But I have tried to be as objective and fair-minded as I could. There’s no need to exaggerate with situations like these!
I rented one apartment for almost two years. It was in a very nice, upscale building, with all the amenities. Expensive, but at the time I felt it was worth splurging. I actually never met the owner of the apartment. All my interactions were with the lawyer representing her. He is a big-name attorney with private clients as well as a government contract for certain services. Seems like an ideal guy to deal with, right? Not so much.
After the year of my original contract, we agreed that I would rent month-to-month instead of doing a new contract. So far, so good.
When I decided I was ready to move to a new place, I contacted him. I told him I wanted to move out by a particular day and that I would pay the prorated portion of that month’s rent. He said that was unacceptable and that I would have to pay an entire additional month’s rent if I went past the 25th or whatever day the lease would have otherwise expired. So we agreed that I would move out by that day.
As we got close to that date, Ruth and I got everything moved to our new place, making sure to leave ourselves a few days leeway. There was no point in giving this guy a chance to screw us out of a month’s additional rent.
Two days before I had to be out of the apartment, the attorney calls me. He starts ranting in high-speed Spanish that I have trouble following. I put Ruth on the phone so she can try to find out what is going on. She tells me that he claims I have violated our agreement and did not vacate the apartment on time. He also tells her that my car is parked in the apartment’s assigned parking space and that my lock is still on the apartment’s assigned bodega (storage space). As a result of these violations, I need to pay him an additional month’s rent immediately.
Once she gets off the phone, we talk about the situation among ourselves. Our conclusions:
Ruth consults with an attorney she knows, who tells us that the guy can’t do what he is claiming and to fight him. We decide to go to his office and talk to him face to face. We go to the guy’s office and he and Ruth try to come to some sort of agreement. Eventually, they agree that if have the apartment clean and turn over the keys by the end of the day he will stop demanding additional rent.
So we scramble like crazy to get that done. Right at the end of the work day, we return to his office with the keys. The three of us go to inspect the apartment. There are a couple of minor things like scuffed paint that need to be fixed, but otherwise the apartment is good. Then we go to check out the bodega and the parking space.
The bodega is empty and so is the parking space. We have no idea what the deal was with those, but he is satisfied. Even better, he pays our deposit, minus the costs we have agreed for fixing up the apartment, in cash, right on the spot.
Another time, we rented a place for a year from a guy who was going to be living in Spain for a while. He said that we would probably be able to extend our lease after the first year. From our initial interactions with him, we were sure that he would try something sleazy at the end, but we wanted the place and figured we would deal with it when the time came.
A few months before the lease expired, he contacted me and asked if I wanted to extend the lease. I said yes. He said he would like to inspect the house and sign a new contract as soon as possible. We agreed to a date and time for him to come by. When he arrived, he carefully inspected the place. Everything was in good shape. However, he spotted that I had mounted a pull-up bar in one of the doorframes and immediately stated that this was going to be a problem. I told him that it was just screwed in place and would require a couple of minutes and a bit of putty to be good as new again. He merely grunted.
Then we sat down to talk about extending the contract. Except, that wasn’t why he was there. Instead of extending the contract, he demanded that we move out a month early! He said that his wife wanted to make changes to the place before they moved in, and that he needed us to get out of the house so his workmen could come make the changes. He then offered us the choice to leave voluntarily, without creating a new contract, or he would force us to sign a new contract stating we would leave early.
In places like the USA or Europe, renters are protected from bullshit like this. In Ecuador, the consumer is not as well protected. This guy comes from a wealthy family, and we were confident that they had an attorney on retainer to deal with annoying peons who wouldn’t do what they were told. We also concluded that his inspection of the house was aimed at looking for a reason to evict us and/or reasons to avoid returning our retainer at the end of the rental.
Fortunately for us, we found a new place within days. As a result, we were able to move out 2 months earlier than this lying landlord wanted us to. He protested vigorously, but since he insisted that we scrap the old contract and we hadn’t signed a new one, we were under no obligation to stay until he was ready for us to leave. While this may have caused him problems, he deserved it. He brought this upon himself by tearing up our original contract for no good reason.
These are the two most extreme examples of lying landlords that I have experienced. The rest have involved lying to try and keep the deposit at the end of the lease. In addition, I have heard dozens of stories like mine from other expats and natives here in Ecuador. The question is, why?
I think there are a few factors at work. They include:
As you probably know, this part of the world was colonized by the Spanish hundreds of years ago. This had many negative results, one of which I think comes into play for this issue. There is a definite class system here. The rich, who mostly have at least some Spanish blood, generally look down upon everyone else. Over the years I have heard from several landlords that they prefer renting to foreigners, because the locals (those with darker skin and more indigenous blood) don’t pay their bills and don’t take care of the rental units. On the other hand, non-rich people expect that they will be screwed by their landlords and all have their own horror stories.
As a light-skinned foreigner, you would think that this would work in my favor. In some ways it does, particularly at the beginning of a contract. Landlords are usually anxious to rent to me. But that doesn’t prevent about half of them from trying to pull some sort of dishonest shit at the end of the contract. It seems to be just the way they do business.
Another issue here is that the consumer protections are weak. I don’t even know what the laws actually say. What I do know is that in practice it is foolish to go up against a landlord in any kind of legal action. The upper-class all know each other and look out for each other in a small city like Cuenca where I live.
The final factor that comes into play is the “screw the foreigner effect.” If you know anyone who has spent time in this part of the world, you have probably heard of “gringo pricing.” It is common for the price of a product or service to increase drastically if someone who looks like me is involved in the transaction.
Part of it is due to the perception here that gringos are rich and ignorant of what things are really worth. Because prices are so much lower here than where we came from, many gringos will pay inflated prices for things without even realizing it. They go away thinking they got a great deal on whatever it was, when in reality they paid 2 or 3 times what a local would have paid. Ruth will frequently negotiate prices for things while I stay out of sight just to avoid this problem.
However, this isn’t just a Latin American thing. As far as I can tell, anywhere you go in this world, some people will try to take advantage of you because you are a foreigner. It is something to be aware of whether you are moving to a new country, or simply vacationing somewhere far from home.
And one more thing. The screw the foreigner effect doesn’t just come into play between you and the natives of wherever you are. Sometimes the people from your own country are the worst crooks. Anyplace where there are lots of foreigners will have problems like this:
You go to scout out Upper Slobovia as a place to live. Right away you meet some guy (or girl) from back home who says they have been living in Upper Slobovia for years. What a relief! A friendly face. Someone who speaks your language and knows their way around the country. Even better, they offer to help you find a place to stay, show you around, whatever. This is too good to be true.
After a little while you discover that it was too good to be true. You discover that you paid way too much for your hotel, the clubs they showed you specialize in ripping off foreigners, they sponged off you for a month then disappeared, or even worse. Anywhere you go there are predators looking to rip someone off. Being a stranger in a strange land makes you more vulnerable to people like this.
If you come to Latin America, you need to be prepared for the lying landlords. Make sure you get someone fluent in Spanish (and ideally the local rental laws) to review any contract before you sign it. This will help, but expect problems sooner or later. And when you are tearing your hair out, or swearing about the jerk you rented from, remember that anywhere you go there will be good and bad situations. Also remember that as a foreigner, there will be people specifically looking to take advantage of you.
Also keep in mind that every country and region (not just Latin America) has its own good and bad points
These are not reasons to avoid travel or expatriation. Simply things to look out for when you start serious travel.
Do you have your own horror stories about lying landlords? Got advice for international travelers that can help stay out of trouble? Share your stories in the comment section below!
The Live Here, Hire There approach is the third type of geoarbitrage I want to cover. This will be a short post since I have little experience with this approach myself. So…
This approach takes advantage of the fact that pay rates vary drastically around the world. Data gathered by the Gallup organization a few years ago illustrates what I mean. It shows that in 2013, US citizens reported a median income of over $19,000 per person. Meanwhile, people in the Philippines were reporting a median income of $478 per person!
Add these facts:
The result is the outsourcing movement from the end of the last century.
The outsourcing movement is where I got to see the potential (both good and bad) of this form of geoarbitrage. I was working as a manager at a startup during the dot-comm boom. While I didn’t hire software engineers, my company did. Somehow I got tasked with reviewing contracts, including one that involved outsourcing work from our company in New Hampshire, USA, to some small engineering firm in India.
Without giving away any proprietary details, I can say that the engineers in India were being billed to us at something like one-fifth of what we were paying our own local people. It was crazy, and more than a little scary. Fortunately for our local guys, the people managing the project screwed it up and we gave up on outsourcing. But the potential savings were enormous.
About now you’re probably saying, “Yeah great Bill. Another war story from decades ago. Why should I give a damn?” The reason you should give a damn is that this kind of geoarbitrage or outsourcing isn’t limited to just businesses hiring businesses. You can hire people in other countries to do work for you too. There are a few ways to go about it.
And you don’t have to be looking for engineering help or similar techie skills either. There are companies like BrickWork India that provide what they call remote executive assistance. In addition to hardcore techie services, they offer virtually any service that can be done remotely across the Internet.
If you need someone to monitor your Outlook Inbox for you, or do some detailed research and analysis, companies like BrickWork can get it done for you. Rather than waste time and space trying to summarize their offerings in this post, I suggest you use the link above to visit their site and see for yourself.
Another way to implement the Live Here, Hire There approach is to go to marketplaces where people offer the particular type of work you are looking for. One such marketplace is Fiverr.com. Here, people offer a specific service, usually at a fixed price. I’ve used them for gigs like translating an article to a different language, or recording short videos for marketing purposes.
You can find people to do the kinds of things that BrickWork India and similar companies can do for you. But at Fiverr you are generally hiring a specific individual for a specific short project for a specific low price. It used to be that all the stuff at Fiverr was $5 (a fiverr) but now they are more flexible.
The other difference with marketplaces like Fiverr is that you are exposed to service providers from all around the world. Whereas BrickWork India provides you with people from India, anyone from anywhere on Earth can offer a service on Fiverr. You could end up working with someone from India, or anyplace else, including your own back yard. It is more of a coincidental geoarbitrage play.
Here you go to a network like Upwork and post a specification for the work you want done. People then bid on the job and you get to choose who you work with. I have used their service both as a buyer of services and as a provider.
In my experience, the lowest-price bidders are likely to be from low-paid countries like India, rather than from places like the USA or Europe. But for the kinds of work I was involved with, qualifications were much more important than where a person was from or how much they were charging. As a result, the live here, hire there approach didn’t really come into play.
Here’s your quick summary of the benefits of the Live Here, Hire There geoarbitrage approach:
While the financial benefits of this approach are clear, there are some non-financial drawbacks:
The Live Here, Hire There approach really doesn’t fit with my workstyle/lifestyle. Still, it is a viable way to do things. Outsourcing stuff at great prices can definitely make you freer tomorrow. If you want to explore this topic in more depth, I suggest you search for:
in your favorite search engine. You’ll find a ton of links related to the topic.
Have you tried the “Live Here, Hire There” approach? If so, leave a comment below and let us know how it worked out for you.
A while back we were talking about how to know what you really want in life. I said that I couldn’t give you good advice on how to figure it out. And I suggested you consult with other people who were have more expertise than me on the subject.
I’ve changed my mind. Sort of.
While I still don’t claim to be an expert, nor to know the best path to figuring all this out, I do want to describe one approach that has greatly improved my life.
It is called visualizing your ideal day.
Before you shake your head and click away from this post, understand that I am not a believer in mystical forces or psychic powers or anything like that. Visualization is a very practical, real world technique you can use to achieve real results. Granted, there is a lot of hocus pocus wrapped around the idea, but at the core it is pretty simple.
See if this makes sense to you…
We are barraged with huge amounts of stimuli every day. Our senses bring in information constantly, far more information than we can consciously handle. While you are reading this, your brain is receiving information on the position of every one of your joints. It is receiving touch and temperature information from every millimeter of your skin. The background noise all around you. The amount of pressure on your right butt cheek as you sit in your chair. And much, much more. But most of the time, most of this information is of no importance and you simply don’t notice it.
Our subconscious mind has the job of processing all these inputs and filtering out the stuff that doesn’t matter. We are only consciously aware of the information that the subconscious passes along. That’s why you can concentrate on this post instead of the sensations in the toes on your left foot, or the fact that your stomach is hard at work digesting your lunch.
This subconscious filtering is a basic survival strategy. If we had to think about, or even be consciously aware of, everything that was going on in our bodies and our environment every moment, we would be overwhelmed.
Imagine if you were out in the wilds and you had to deal with all this stuff consciously. By the time you got done sorting through the sensation of the blades of grass on your legs, and the wind in your hair, and all the other thousands of stimuli bombarding you, the tiger that was watching you from the bushes over there would probably be having you for lunch.
So something needs to quickly filter out all the irrelevant stuff, so your conscious mind can deal with the little bit that gets past the filters. It is the job of your subconscious to sort and sift and filter that flood of information to find important stuff to pass on to your conscious mind.
The stuff that gets passed on to your conscious mind is normally stuff like pain. If you drop a kettlebell on your left foot, you will suddenly become quite aware of the sensations in those left toes. When the background noise that you have been ignoring turns into a fire alarm, you will suddenly become quite aware of it. In effect, your subconscious mind looks for stuff that you need to pay attention to. Then it slaps your conscious mind and tells it there is something important to attend to.
Remember when I said that your subconscious mind only passes along important stuff (stuff that needs to be consciously attended to) to your conscious mind? Your subconscious has a built-in bunch of things that it automatically classifies as important. Things like pain and hunger. When you break your leg or are starving, your subconscious lets your conscious mind know it.
But your subconscious also responds to input about what is important from your conscious mind. When you focus your attention on something, your subconscious treats that thing as important. The more you focus on it, the more important your subconscious considers it. After all, you are spending all that attention on whatever it is.
In response to this conscious focus on X, your subconscious mind starts passing along anything related to X that it finds.
For a trivial example, you’ve probably had an experience like this:
You decide that you are going to buy a convertible sports car. But instead of buying a red one like all those guys who are going through a mid-life crisis, you’re going to buy a black one to show you are different. So you do.
But that very afternoon you head out to some No Name bar to celebrate your purchase, and what do you see? A black convertible!
The next day on your way to work you see a couple of them too. There’s even one in the parking lot at the office now. What’s going on? Did every Tom, Dick, and Harry out there decide to copy you and buy a black convertible?
This is a perfect example of how you can reprogram your subconscious by focusing your attention. Focusing so much of your attention on your black convertible sends your subconscious the message that black convertibles are important. So your subconscious passes along anything related to black convertibles to your conscious mind.
There are NOT suddenly more black convertibles on the road. You are simply noticing them more. Your subconscious got the message that they are important to you so when it detects one, your subconscious signals your conscious mind so that you notice it.
SLAP! Hey! Look at that! Another black convertible!
That’s all great, but what does it have to do with visualizing your ideal day?
Visualizing your ideal day involves thinking about what your ideal day would be like. In detail. The more detail the better. By focusing your attention on your ideal day like this, you are telling your subconscious mind that this is important stuff. As a result, your subconscious mind feeds your conscious mind any information related to your ideal day it happens to come across. This increases your chances of making that ideal day come to pass.
Say your ideal day starts with waking up in your beachfront condo in some tropical paradise. Because you visualized your ideal day so intensely, your subconscious knows that “beachfront condo” and “tropical paradise” are things that are important to you. So if some guys on the train happen to be talking about Curacao, or you drive past a billboard advertising timeshare condos, your subconscious is much more likely to pass that information along to your conscious mind.
The more you notice information related to your ideal day, the better. You may notice something that will help you achieve it. If nothing else, noticing things related to your ideal day makes you think about it. And that tells your subconscious it is important to you. This feedback loop helps keep you on track.
In short, visualizing your ideal day focuses your attention on it. And focusing your attention makes you more likely to achieve the results you want.
Now that you’ve seen how visualizing your ideal day helps you get what you want in life, let’s talk about how to go about it. Here are the steps:
The idea is to think about your ideal day frequently enough and deeply enough to embed the details in your subconscious. Once you do, your subconscious will go to work scanning and sifting and filtering the stimuli you receive, looking for anything that will help you achieve your ideal day. You’ll start noticing things that you might have overlooked before. Ideas will “pop into your head out of nowhere” that can help you get what you want.
You’ll be putting your subconscious mind to work to help you achieve the ideal day you visualized.
This is what I did. I spent quite a lot of time figuring out what my ideal day would look like. This vision eventually became so embedded in my mind that I don’t have to review what I wrote any more. Doing this has helped me to notice things that have helped me get closer to what I want. It is a powerful technique and definitely worth trying.
Have you tried visualizing your ideal day? If so, let me know how it worked out for you in the comment section below.
In this post, we will talk about the “Live Here, Retire There” approach to geoarbitrage. This is in contrast to the “Live Here, Earn There” approach we covered last time. With the Retire There approach, you follow many of the same steps as before, except that you move to a new location after you retire. This will be short and sweet so let’s get going.
If you’re old enough to be contemplating retirement, chances are good you have been thinking about something like this. For an awful lot of people, moving to a less expensive location after you retire is a necessity. Typically, a person’s post-retirement income is much less than their pre-retirement income. Moving to a less expensive location after retirement is a must for millions of retirees every year.
Many people calculate how large their retirement incomes must be to survive. This retirement money equation then governs their lives in the years before retirement. To avoid misery after retirement, they plan on saving enough, and working long enough, to make the equation balance. That makes sense.
The trick is hitting the numbers you need to hit. In the US and Western Europe, interest rates are ridiculously low, crippling retirement savings. And payments for programs like Social Security aren’t keeping up with real-world cost of living increases. As a result, many people have to work longer and longer to make the math work. Or they find themselves working minimum-wage jobs into their 70’s and 80’s just to put food on the table.
Working longer and harder to earn more money for retirement is one way to make the equation work. The other way is to reduce the amount of money you’ll need. The “Live Here, Retire There” approach can make this possible. By retiring to someplace where the cost of living is much lower, you reduce the amount of income/savings you will need to live comfortably.
I know several expats who live comfortably in Ecuador on pensions of less than $1,400 US per month ($16,800 per year). What does “live comfortably” mean? It means:
In most cases, these folks would be in deep trouble if they were back in the USA or Europe. The US Poverty Level for a family of 2 in 2017 is $16,240 so these folks would be living not far above poverty level. Not what most of us picture for our retirement years.
We’ve seen that the Live Here, Retire There approach is a powerful way to make the Retirement Money Equation work. You can actually take things one step further than that. This geoarbitrage approach makes it easier to retire when you expected to. But why stop there? This approach can let you retire years earlier than you ever thought possible!
I’ll use my brother Tom to illustrate this. He worked as a computer tech at a community college in Morris County, NJ for two decades. It sounds like he would be all set. Unfortunately, that is a very expensive place to live. And state budget cuts resulted in budget cuts at the college, along with pay freezes and other fun stuff. As a result, even though he was working full time, money kept getting tighter and tighter.
What about his retirement? What about that annoying equation? When we looked at this, he was only 52. He had a long time to go before retiring, but the numbers didn’t look good. It seemed that Tom would be one of the tens of millions of Americans for whom a comfortable retirement would be out of reach. It looked like he would have to join the folks on the “work your ass off and hope your pension plus Social Security will be enough to live on someday” plan.
But that didn’t take into account the Live Here, Retire There approach. I was already living in Ecuador at the time. Tom had visited me here and liked what he saw. He had also just recently reached the 20-year milestone at work. That meant he was eligible for early retirement at a reduced pension. This wasn’t an option he could consider if he stayed in the USA.
So we ran the Retirement Money Equation using his early retirement pension and my cost of living for Ecuador. Those numbers worked nicely. In other words:
Not surprisingly, he filed for early retirement shortly thereafter, got his Ecuadorean residency, and left all the ugly stuff behind him.
Let that sink in for a minute. Because Tom was willing to think outside the box and apply geoarbitrage to his own life, he was able to retire 13 years early.
Now moving to another country certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you want a better retirement, or if you just can’t make the Retirement Money Equation balance think about this approach. Even moving to a less expensive part of your own country could make the difference between a comfortable retirement and eating cat food in a shack during your golden years.
This approach can be very easy to use. Your pension will normally follow you wherever you move within a country. So you could, for example, work in New York City until you retire, then move to someplace like South Dakota, where the cost of living is much lower.
NOTE: I don’t know the exact rules that apply to your retirement income. You need to confirm the details for your specific situation before retiring to someplace far away and discovering that your retirement income can’t follow you there.
Where things can get tricky is if you want to retire to a different country than the one where you earned your pension.
There is usually no problem getting access to your pension money or savings when you are living in the same country as your accounts. But that may not be the case if you want to retire outside the country where you earned your retirement.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you specific advice because the rules vary depending on the source of your income, as well as the country you are starting out from and the country you end up in. What I can tell you is that who your income comes from and what your exact residency status is, could affect whether or not you can receive it while living outside your home country. For example:
I’ve touched on this topic before, but if you are a US citizen, the law called FATCA makes following this approach much harder. The law has made it much harder to find a non-US bank that will open an account for US citizens. It also imposes extra reporting requirements with brutal penalties for non-compliance or even for making a simple mistake filling out a form. As a result, many US retirees will be better off simply leaving all their money in the USA and using ATMs or wire transfers to get money as needed. The ATM fees and wire transfer fees and exchange rate risks hurt, but allow you to avoid the problems caused by FATCA.
Here’s your quick summary of the benefits of the Live Here, Retire There geoarbitrage approach:
While the financial benefits of this approach are clear, there are some non-financial drawbacks:
In my experience, the Live Here, Retire There approach to geoarbitrage is the most commonly used approach. It is one of the few ways that people can improve or even maintain their standard of living after retiring in high-cost places like the USA or Europe. If you are approaching retirement age, this is definitely something you should consider too. You can’t be freer tomorrow if you can’t afford to live after retirement!
As promised, I am going to describe various approaches to Geoarbitrage in some detail. We’ll talk about the approach and how it works, then cover the Pros and Cons. By the time we’re done, you will have a good handle on which approaches (if any) fit into your future.
Ready? We’ll start with…
The “Live Here, Earn There” approach is my favorite approach to geoarbitrage. That’s because it is the approach that allows me to lead the wonderful life I have now. Consider this:
“So how the hell can I pull this off?,” you ask. It isn’t that hard to do if you apply the Live Here, Earn There approach to geoarbitrage. The idea is that you earn your money someplace where the cost of living is high. But you live someplace where the cost of living is much lower.
For example, I earn most of my money doing work for companies based in the United States, where the cost of living is pretty high. So the companies I work for pay me what they would pay someone who is based in the USA.
But I live in Cuenca, Ecuador, where the cost of living is a fraction of that in the USA. So my expenses are much lower than they would be up north. This allows me to live nicely while only working a fraction of the time I would in the US.
For example, according to Numbeo, the cost of living here in Cuenca, Ecuador (excluding housing) is less than half that of living in NYC. And the cost of housing is only about 11% that of NYC! Adding to the fun, Cuenca is one of the most expensive places to live in Ecuador, due to all the publicity it gets internationally.
If you are still reading, I bet you are thinking either:
It really is possible to live here, earn there if you set things up right. In fact, it is much easier than it was even a few years ago when I started. These days, companies are frantically outsourcing work, hiring contractors, basically doing anything they can to reduce headcounts. The old style job (where you had to be in your desk at 9am every day so the boss could see you and lord over you) is quickly disappearing. You might even be able to convert your current office job into remote work and implement the plan without changing gigs.
Let’s take a look at how you could take advantage of this form of geoarbitrage. You implement this approach as follows:
NOTE: Tim Ferriss has a much more detailed plan for making this happen in his book, “The 4-Hour Workweek.”
This is pretty easy. You know how much money you are making now, and how much you are likely to make in the next few years. So all you need to do is figure out a few places where you might want to live and can afford to live. Then go scout out your top choices and pick the one you’re going to move to.
This is the situation I was in. I had a full-time job and a side business that was location-independent. In this situation, it should be just as easy as if all your current income is from a location-independent business. But it can get tricky.
Assuming you plan to live on your location-independent business income, you have to be careful of your assumptions. It is easy to assume you are going to increase your income a lot once you move. After all, you won’t be wasting most of your days at your office job anymore.
This can be a dangerous assumption. You would be much better off assuming that your income is not going to go up. Plan to live on what you have been making with your side gig. If you do make more, that’s great. But if you don’t, you could find yourself in a strange place with not enough money to pay your bills. Imagine getting evicted from your apartment in some foreign city with no friends, no options, and not even enough money to buy a plane ticket home. That would really suck.
With all that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of this approach before wrapping up for the day.
In the next part of this series we’ll talk about the “Live Here, Retire There” approach. It is a form of geoarbitrage that my brother and millions like him are already taking advantage of. While the retiree lifestyle isn’t really a theme of this blog, the approach allowed my brother to retire at 52 instead of 65. The super-early retirement angle is definitely one way to become freer tomorrow, so we’ll talk about it next.
Geoarbitrage is a strange word. It doesn’t appear in any dictionary I’ve seen, but it is used a lot in certain circles. In this short post, I’ll give you a usable definition of the term and show you why it can be a key to your freer tomorrow. This will set the stage for the following posts. There we will look at the different aspects of geoarbitrage in more detail.
Geoarbitrage is a “blend word,” made up of two words combined together, like brunch (breakfast + lunch), or spork (spoon + fork). It is a blend of the words Geographic, and Arbitrage. Unfortunately, that still doesn’t explain much, so let me give you a good working definition. For our purposes:
Geoarbitrage is taking advantage of the differences in incomes, costs, or investment returns between two or more locations.
Great. So what does that mean?
It means a few different things. Instead of trying to give you formal definitions of different types of geoarbitrage, let me give you some examples:
Seeing the examples above has probably given you an idea of how this can make you freer, but let’s be sure it is clear. You can use geoarbitrage to take advantage of the differences between locations to get more benefit than you would get if you did everything in one place.
In example 1, your paycheck goes farther in a place where the cost of living is lower. You are not getting paid any more than before, but you can buy much more for that same amount of money. The leverage you get can be enormous. I used to pay $1400/mo. for a nice 2-bedroom apartment in the USA. Now I pay $390/mo. for a nice 3-bedroom house in Ecuador.
Example 2 works the same as example 1, except you are living on a pension rather than a paycheck. This has been the salvation of vast numbers of retirees from North America and Europe. A pension that would leave you sleeping on someone’s couch in those areas can support a nice lifestyle in many locations around the world.
Example 3 shows that you don’t have to pick up and move to South America or Southeast Asia to take advantage of geoarbitrage. Big companies have been outsourcing work to lower-paid places like India for years. Now regular folks like you and me can do this too. A competent, inexpensive personal assistant may be just what you need to achieve your freedom dreams.
Example 4 is another area where you can benefit without having to leave your homeland. If you are from Europe, Australia, or pretty much anywhere other than the United States of America, there are many banks all around the world that will hold your money for you. And with none of that negative interest rates crap either. Many banks in Ecuador, for example, pay more than 6% interest on insured accounts. And there are places that pay much more than that.
If you’re from the good old USA, taking advantage of this kind of offshore banking is much harder. Uncle Sam’s FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) law has caused most banks in the world to stop dealing with US citizens completely. It is still possible to find a bank that will work with you, but the cost, hassles, and extra tax paperwork (complete with brutal penalties for any mistakes) may make this impractical for you.
That’s my introduction to geoarbitrage. In coming posts I will go into more detail on the subject, including showing you how I use it to give myself a far better and freer life than I could otherwise lead.
Did you know that governments and their central banks are deep into something that can realistically be called a “global war on cash?” If this is the first you’ve heard of it, don’t be surprised. Most people, particularly in the USA, have no idea this is going on. While this might sound like no big deal, in reality, it could have a huge impact on your dreams of being freer tomorrow.
At the end of this post you’ll find an impressive infographic that lays out the facts about the global war on cash far better than I ever could. What I want to do in this post is quickly summarize the situation and how this “war” conflicts with your quest for freedom.
Governments hate cash. Bankers, particularly central bankers, hate cash too. That seems weird, since cash is so useful and practical for regular folks in day-to-day life. But governments and central bankers (I’ll call them “those guys” for convenience from now on) see things differently. To them, cash is a major headache.
Cash has several characteristics that make it annoying to those guys. The big problems are that cash:
Cash, being physical stuff, requires effort to print, transport, and so on. Digital transactions have none of those problems. Those guys could save a lot of money and hassles if all transactions were digital.
If you have cash, you can use it without going through the banking system. If I want to buy a computer from you, I just hand you the cash, and we’re done. No need for anyone else to be involved.
You would think that this would be a positive for those guys, since they don’t need to touch the physical cash. But those guys don’t think like we do. Instead of being happy that people can do stuff without burdening the financial system, this really pisses them off. Why? Cash is out of their direct control. The central bankers in particular believe it is their job to manage economies by manipulating the money supply. It is very hard for them to manipulate cash. Let’s look at one way this is playing out in the global war on cash.
Recently central banks in several countries have experimented with negative interest rates. This means that instead of the bank paying interest on the money you deposit with them, you pay them money. In other words, if you deposit $1000 in a bank with negative interest rates, a year from now, you will have less than $1000 in your account instead of more.
Governments are doing the same thing with bonds. There are trillions of dollars worth of bonds with negative interest rates out there right now. It sounds insane, but there are economists around the world who are convinced that the secret to reviving the global economy is imposing negative interest rates. The idea is that once negative interest rates get high enough, you will stop hoarding your money (saving for your retirement or whatever) and spend it right now to boost the economy.
But there’s a problem. Regular folks like you and me aren’t stupid. If those guys decide that we are going to have to pay them to keep our money in the bank, we’re going to take our money out of the banks. Cash doesn’t earn any interest, but at least we wouldn’t be paying the bankers to hold it for us.
The solution being promoted by some economists and related ‘experts’: outlaw cash so people have to keep their money in banks. That way we can’t escape negative interest rates or whatever else those guys decide to do to us.
This is another thing that really pisses off those guys. People can use cash to do things without the government or the bankers knowing about it. You could sell me a computer for cash, and those guys might never find out.
They hate the idea of people doing stuff without them knowing about it. We might have just made a taxable transaction. Or we might have made a transaction the government doesn’t approve of. In a world where governments spend trillions of dollars a year to capture, record, and analyze our every tweet, instant message, and email, letting people buy and sell stuff anonymously is simply unacceptable.
Now let’s talk about why I’m writing about this on Freer Tomorrow. The end goal of the global war on cash if to eliminate it from the world. To force every financial transaction to go through the banking system. What you do with every penny you earn and spend will go into a government database for analysis. You will have no financial privacy.
More directly, your government will have total control over your money. Everything you do with your money will be at the sufferance of those guys. Look at what happened in Cyprus a few years ago. The government shut the banks down so they could skim off money from everyone’s account to save their banking system. People who had cash on hand could continue life in some manner. People who had all their money in the banks were screwed until the government chose to give them access to their money again (the portion of it that the government didn’t confiscate first).
To me at least, part of being free is knowing that you have the resources to survive in a crisis. Having cash on hand is a major part of being able to do so. In a world where there is no cash allowed, all you can do is pray that those guys rescue you before it is too late.
Now that you have seen my take on why you need to know what’s up with this global war, I urge you to check out the infographic below. You and I have little power to influence the outcome of this cash war. Even so, once you understand what is going on, you can take steps to protect your freedom. We will talk about some of those steps in the future.
The recent election season, and its aftermath left me thinking about speech. It nicely illustrated the old saying that, “talk is cheap.” At the same time, I had some non-political conversations with people that illustrated the same point. These events emphasized over and over how talk is cheap but action is hard. And they showed why most people will never achieve the freedom they seek.
So let’s look at some examples of cheap talk, how cheap talk substitutes for action, and what you need to do get past the “talk is cheap” stage and build yourself a freer tomorrow.
We’ve all heard that talk is cheap throughout our lives. But watching the people opposed to Donald Trump’s campaign for President of the United States really got me thinking about the subject.
When Trump first announced he was running for President, most people laughed. It had to be some kind of publicity stunt or ridiculous ego-driven fantasy. Surely there was no way that Trump could actually be a viable candidate. But over time he gained stature and began to eliminate his Republican competition, and it was clear that he was in it to win it.
The idea that Trump might become the Republican presidential nominee upset many people. They were very vocal about it. They told the world in no uncertain terms that allowing Trump to be President was unacceptable.
You might expect such people to take strong action against Trump. And maybe they thought they were. They threw a collective hissy fit. They screamed and whined and gnashed their teeth. As further evidence, they flooded social media sites with angry messages.
They told the world how serious they were by sharing and re-tweeting angry messages from each other. Some of them made up lies and slanders and shared them as if they were true. They protested inside and outside of pro-Trump events.
They told the world how really, really serious they were by rioting, destroying other people’s property, and physically attacking Trump supporters.
When Trump was nominated, these people became even more incensed. So they threw a collective hissy fit. They screamed. They whined and gnashed their teeth. And they flooded social media sites with angry messages.
They told the world how serious they were by sharing and re-tweeting angry messages from each other. Some of them made up new lies and slanders and shared them as if they were true. They protested inside and outside of pro-Trump events.
They told the world how really, really serious they were by rioting, destroying other people’s property, and physically attacking Trump supporters.
When Trump won the election, these people became even more incensed. So they threw an even bigger hissy fit. They screamed louder, whined more and gnashed their teeth more forcefully. They once again flooded social media sites with angry messages.
They told the world how serious they were by sharing and re-tweeting angry messages from each other. Some of them made up even newer lies and slanders (along with some truly shameful accusations) and shared them as if they were true. They protested everywhere.
They told the world how really, really serious they were by marching on Washington, DC in their hundreds of thousands. To further prove their point they waved signs and screamed and rioted, destroying other people’s property and physically attacking Trump supporters.
Somehow, despite all the fury and social messaging and screaming and violence, Donald Trump won the election. There are lots of reasons why Trump won, but one of them is surely that his opponents didn’t take effective action against him.
While all the screaming and carrying on and wrecking stuff made the headlines, it didn’t have much of an effect on Trump or the people that supported him. Leaving out the violence for a minute, those opposed to Trump were all talk and no action. Sure, they posted millions of messages on social media sites. They tweeted their rage to the world endlessly. And they supported each other with likes and re-tweets.
They also shouted down anyone who had a kind word to say about Trump. In the end they burned billions of hours posting against Trump. And wasted untold hours telling anyone who would listen why Trump sucked. And why he couldn’t be President, or shouting down anyone who disagreed with them. Surely Trump couldn’t possibly win after such an outpouring of hate.
But they were wasting their time. Words, by themselves don’t accomplish anything.
All too often, we confuse talking about something with actually doing it. It happens to everyone, and far more often than is good for us. How often has someone told you their grand plans and assured you that they were going to do them? How often do they actually follow through?
Proverbs like, “Talk is cheap,” and “Actions speak louder than words,” exist because this is such a common phenomenon. It is so easy to talk about what you are going to do, then back down when confronted with the time and energy it will take to make it happen in the real world.
And this isn’t something that happens just to neer-do-wells. I am an expat in a city full of expats. In other words, I am surrounded by people who have taken massive action in the past. Picking up and moving to another country is something that the majority of people just don’t have the drive to do.
Even among this group of above-average doers, I frequently run into the “all talk, no action” phenomenon. One guy I know insisted he was going to find himself an Ecuadorean wife. He failed, even though he had once been a high-powered executive. And he had just expatriated months before. Clearly, he could get things done when he tried. But as far as I can tell, all he did was talk about how he was going to find a wife. I never saw him do anything to implement his plan.
Another example: One night, a friend told a group of us how she was fed up with her life in Ecuador and was going to try living in another country right away. We all listened, and tried to convince her not to give up her life in our city. But she was adamant.
A few days later I was talking to her and asked about her plans. I offered a couple of suggestions from my own experiences on moving from place to place. She made some kind of non-answer and changed the subject. The next time I made a suggestion, she became furious, at me!
Apparently, all her plans to move were just words designed to gain her sympathy. By suggesting action instead of meaningless talk, I was putting her in an awkward position. She could either do something, admit she was just blowing smoke, or yell at me to get me to stop asking awkward questions.
While talking instead of doing has probably been a problem since people learned to talk, I believe the problem has gotten a lot worse in the last few years. The reason, of course is social media.
Before social media, you had to have someone there to do all your talking, complaining, screaming, and general carrying on. That limited how much time you could spend blabbing about whatever. Sooner or later the person you were blabbing at would find something better to do than listen to you. With social media sites, you can blast your opinions to vast numbers of people instantly. They might not listen, but you can at least get your thoughts in front of far larger audience than before.
Besides giving you reach, social media gives you a measure of protection. If someone doesn’t like your opinion on social media, the worst that will usually happen is that they will call you names, then block you. If you annoy someone badly enough in a face-to-face setting, you might get yourself punched in the mouth. As a result of this protection from real consequences, you can go totally nuts on social media, saying all sorts of horrible things without paying much of a price.
Combine these two characteristics and social media becomes an ideal environment for ranting on about anything and everything, without having to back up your words with actions, or face any consequences.
These sites suck you in. You go online, people like, share, re-tweet your snide comment about someone, you argue with some jerk who clearly knows nothing, and discover that you’ve just squandered 3 hours of your life. You may have won every argument and impressed all your followers with your wit, BUT YOU HAVEN’T ACCOMPLISHED A DAMN THING IN THE REAL WORLD.
You have probably guessed where I am going with this. Thinking about what you need to do to become freer tomorrow is vital. Planning things out makes you much more likely to succeed. And talking to someone else (like an accountability partner) about your plans can make them more concrete and practical.
But at some point, all the thinking, and planning, and talking has to end. It doesn’t matter what you plan to do to become freer, at some point you have to sit down and actually take effective action. Once you get to that point, you would do well to remember those old sayings. Talk is cheap, and actions do speak louder than words.
Get to it. The sooner you stop talking and start doing, the sooner you will be able to enjoy the freedom you are looking for.
Last time we talked about some of the reasons that old media can be better than new media. They are all good ones, but what really got me going down this road was the old media perspective. Today I will explain what I mean by the old media perspective, and explain why I think it is important for anyone who wants to be freer tomorrow.
Most of the writing that survives from ancient times seems to deal with good people (heroes) overcoming adversity and challenges (monsters) on some sort of journey or adventure. Likewise, the really popular stuff from the last few hundred years, like Huck Finn, Don Quixote, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes also deal with people and the adventures they have as they overcome great problems.
When I was growing up in the USA in the 60’s and 70’s, I mostly read, watched, and dreamed about science-fiction and adventure. Books like Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys. Authors like Heinlein and Azimov. Shows like Star Trek and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Stories where heroes overcome adversity while on an adventure.
Out in the real world, real people were having incredible real adventures, even walking on the face of the moon.
Stereotyping outrageously, I would say that the old media perspective is a basically optimistic one. Brave heroes conquering great problems while having incredible adventures. It is an inspiring, optimistic view where good, strong people achieve great things by overcoming great dangers and challenges.
Tell me, does, “…an inspiring, optimistic view where good, strong people achieve great things by overcoming great dangers and challenges,” sound much like the most popular stuff being produced today? I would argue that it does not. I feel that new media has become darker, more negative over the last few decades.
Heroes are being replaced by anti-heroes. Clean triumphs (the monster is slain, the world is saved) are being replaced by ambiguous results (the zombies haven’t eaten us yet, we escaped the cops and kept the loot). Bright, strong messages like good conquers evil are being replaced with ambiguity and meaninglessness. Instead of crafting inspiring stories that lift everyone up like the old adventures did, publishers today seem fixated on pumping out dark, dreary crap pushing a progressive political line.
If you want to be freer tomorrow, you need to be brave and strong and optimistic, willing to fight for what you want in life. You need inspiration. You need stories that lift you up, give you hope. What you don’t need is the negative, limiting messages and images that new media is delivering.
The more negative, ambiguous, hopeless junk you put into your head, the harder it will be to move ahead. Dump this trash and look to the past for inspiration. It can only help.
Got any old media that you would recommend to other freedom-seekers? If so, please tell us about it in the comment section.
The new media crap is bad for everyone, and if you are a middle-aged white male like me, it is absolute poison. Without getting into race, gender, and equality issues (or even how realistic this old portrayal was), when we were growing up, guys like us were the heroes. We were the ones that invented stuff, beat the Nazis, flew to the moon. It was inspiring to me, and probably to you too.
But look at the way the new media portrays guys like us today. Ignorant slobs. Helpless bumblers waiting for some macho woman to come along and save us. Pajama boys sitting around whining and waiting for some government bureaucrat to take care of us.
Talk about depressing. Is it any wonder that guys like us are suiciding at ridiculously high rates in the USA right now?
Tune out all the depressing new stuff. Go back and re-read those books you loved when you were a kid. Watch the old movies you saw with your friends or your dad when you were young. Listen to the music you used to listen to in college.
Go back to the old media that made you feel good, and strong, and inspired. Then come back here in a month and tell me how your attitude toward life has changed.