Money Talks At South Saigon International School


My wife and I love massages. 

From 2003 until 2014, we spent about $79,200 on this sort of pampering. 

Do you think we’re crazy?  Many people would.  But everybody has their “thing.”  Everybody enjoys a certain luxury or enjoyment that they refuse to cut back on.  If they don’t have such a thing, they should. 

Money, after all, is a means to an end.  We need to recognize how much we need to reach our financial goals.  Beyond that, what remains should be gravy, to enjoy as we choose.

Last week, at South Saigon International School, I spoke to students and teachers.  I gave four student presentations and three after-school teacher-presentations. 

One of my favorite teacher-sessions is one that I call, “You Can Afford Anything…but not Everything.”  I stole the title from my friend, Paula Pant, whose fabulous website and podcast inspire people around the world. 

At South Saigon International School, I showed teachers how to perform a simple calculation.  I wanted them to learn what our massages have cost our retirement. 

It was simple.  From 2003-2014, our investments earned a compound annual return of 8.14 percent.  If we had invested our massage money, instead of drooling face down on a table, we would have had $132,221 by the end of 2014.  That’s what I call the “short-term opportunity cost” of those massages.

But the long-term cost was greater. 

We left Singapore in 2014 to embark on a vagabonding lifestyle.  What if we kept that $132,221 invested in a portfolio of low-cost index funds?  Assume we didn’t add a penny to it. 

What do you think it would grow to, if it continued to average a compound annual return of 8.14 percent?  I was 44 years old when I left Singapore.  If I let $132,221 grow until I reached 65 years of age, it would have grown to $710,993 by the time I was sixty-five (if it continued to average 8.14 percent per year).

So… the massages we enjoyed over 11 years had an estimated opportunity cost of $710,993.  I’m not saying we regret that decision.  Far from it.  I would have been happy if we had doubled our massages (my wife keeps a leash handy when we’re walking past a spa).

My point, however, is this:  We paid $150 a week for massages.  And the opportunity cost to our retirement might be as high as $710,993.  You might enjoy a similar luxury.  But you might also be wasting money that you need for retirement. 

Document everything you spend, using an app on your phone.  Some of the expenses won’t fit your value system.  You might find that you’re spending more than you want to on eating out, drinks, hotels or some other habit that might not provide you with enough pleasure to warrant the cost.

When you see those items, cut back on them.  As for the others that you refuse to give up, it’s important to remember this.  Life is short.  You never know when you’ll have your final week. 

Don’t kill yourself in the hopes of a happier future.  Balance is key.

no one has more first hand experience helping expat investors

andrew hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School (2nd Ed. Wiley 2017) and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat (Wiley 2015). My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions. However, please read the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and the Comments Policy.

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