Elizabeth Frantz Larson

Watching the pennies in Thailand

Keeping a tight hold of those purse-strings


Thailand has changed me - in more ways than one. But one of my most noticeable new traits is going to be a hard habit to break. Thailand has made me cheap. Like real cheap. So cheap that I am not sure if I will be able to enter the Western world again and not feel anxiety when spending 10 dollars on a meal. The baht has turned this girl who never really cared about budgets or sales into an expert haggler with less desire for material things. Okay, so maybe this is a good thing...

I just got back from a wonderful honeymoon on the island of Koh Phangan. It was a really amazing two weeks and we really enjoyed ourselves but we did it on a budget. We had a very simple wedding and stayed in budget, yet cute, places everywhere we went. We didn't go on any fun tours or go shopping. We didn't even really drink minus some champagne and a bottle of vodka we bought at Big C and brought with us. Yet somehow, between the wedding, travel and everything, we spent about 2,000 US dollars. That's a lot of money to me. A LOT. More than I make in a month. And we did everything on the cheap.

It turns out Thailand is not so cheap for a vacation if you're earning the local currency. I tried to enjoy my vacation, and I did, but every time I had a coke and it was double the price I would spend at 7/11, I died a little bit inside.

Before coming to Thailand, I never thought it would be expensive here. After traveling in Vietnam, we arrived and I was aghast at our first night's attempts to find a cheap place to stay and all the while comparing the room prices here to what you would get in Vietnam. It was much more, or much less in our case (a lumpy mattress next to a pumping nightclub for more than a cute bungalow on the beach, seriously!?)

Yeah you can live cheaply in Thailand, many people do it, including me now. But it is almost more common for people to live much like they do in my home country, paying the same prices and living a very materialistic lifestyle.

The current exchange rate for the US dollar to the Thai Baht is about 30 baht to the dollar. So for example, most meals I buy during my busy work week are about 30-40 baht. That's just awesome. Anytime I want a western treat I usually have to cough up at least 150 baht (which is like normal US prices, granted) but when you're paying those prices in Thailand, it just doesn't feel right. You can even go to a trendy Thai restaurant and spend western prices for a Thai meal, its all up to you. That is the beauty of it - you can choose to live cheaply, but any luxuries will cost you. Everything is relative I suppose.

My wise friend, who has lived in Thailand for many years, gave me this advice when I got my first paycheck and I was like "but it's only 20 bucks!" My friend reminded me I was no longer getting paid in dollars so instead of thinking "wow, this is so cheap" in dollars, think "man, that is a good portion of my paycheck." It has helped me spend a lot less here and turned me into the thrifty consumer I am today. The concept of money and values is totally skewed in my head and what used to seem like a small amount, now translated into baht is a huge sum I hate to part with.

The baht also does not travel well. When I want to travel around other countries in SE Asia it is fine, but just a one-way ticket back to my home country costs one months paycheck. I save about 800 USD every month, which is the most I have ever been able to save but I know that when I go home, those pathetic savings will go pretty quick when it comes to setting up a life in the "real world." It is an eye-opener to know that it is possible to live here on so little and bit depressing to know I can't do it back home as well.

Thailand may have a reputation for being a cheap country to travel in, and it is if you do it right and are coming in with a stronger currency to back you up. Living and working here are a different story though and while you can save a lot, you have to learn how to live cheaply, stop converting back into your home currency when shopping and try not to spend all your money at 7/11. Apparently it took moving across the world to figure out how to budget, but I am getting there and still enjoying myself along the way. But will never be the same again!




Comments

With you one hundred percent. It took me a month or so to get my head around being on the Thai salary - my first month here I spent easily £1500, all the while thinking everything was a bargain. When you're earning the equivalent of £600 a month in baht, your perspective changes a little. Great article.

By Robin, Thailand (29th November 2012)

I completely agree. I was so proud of myself for getting three bags worth of drinks and food, enough for almost a week, at the 7/11 for a mere 250 baht. At the time, I was thinking, wow... this is less than $7 for all of this!

Now, though, it occurs to me that 250 baht is actually a fair amount of money if you're living on a teacher's 30k salary. Let the second job hunt begin... :)

Good article!

By Sam, Bangkok (27th November 2012)

Great story, Elizabeth. Getting my pennies each month has also made me far more aware of money. In the US, we lived in a three bed, two bath house with a huge yard, cable, internet, and so on. Now we have a studio apartment and wifi supplied by the landlord. Our kitchen is a couple of chairs set up on the balcony with an electric burner sitting on one. Buying western food here is also a challenge to remind myself that my 30000 baht wage is low enough to qualify for welfare back home.

By Roy, Chiang Mai (26th August 2012)

Yeah, will not be traveling in Thailand much more... but I can't wait to come back as a real adult and stay in the super nice places that I can't afford now... (but who am I kidding, I will probably never be able to afford it..)

Yes, next vacation is out of the country for sure, let the saving begin!

By Elizabeth, Nonthaburi (26th August 2012)

"It turns out Thailand is not so cheap for a vacation if you're earning the local currency"

Travelling around in Thailand is something I very rarely do - and for one reason only - it's incredibly poor value for money. I would rather put the extra few thousand baht (and that's often all it is) to go and have a few days in Hong Kong or somewhere further afield.

I think you get to a certain age anyway when those 150 baht beach bungalows and those journeys by non-aircon bus just don't appeal to you anymore. Not that they ever did in my case.

By philip, (26th August 2012)

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