My colleague at, Scott Burns, writes one of America’s most popular syndicated money columns. 

After four decades of financial writing, many of his long-time readers are entering retirement.  Some fear they’re running out of money.  For them, Scott has a viable answer. Find a great U.S. city where costs are low.  Occasionally, he explores retiring in a low cost foreign haven.

My readers tend to be younger.  They’re building their financial resources, paying off debts, and perhaps looking for a bit of adventure along the way.  Some don’t make a lot of money.  But like Scott’s retirement advice, the right location can make all the difference.

Canadian Andreas Clesle proves the point.  He makes just $35,000 a year.  But he saves most of it.

Here’s his story:



The author, Andreas Clesle, at Bagan


How would you feel about treating 7 friends to delicious Indian food—for just $11?

What about taking an hour-long taxi ride—for just $3?

A kilo of tomatoes?  Just 50 cents.

These are a few of the perks of living in a country with a low cost of living.

I moved to Myanmar (Burma) for the mysterious allure of a country that had been shut off from the rest of the world for 50 years.  

But I wasn’t expecting to save so much money. 

Having signed a teaching contract at an international school for $35,000 a year tax free, I figured I could live well, travel, and save.

However, after adopting a pay-myself-first mentality, I blew my expectations out of the water and have saved roughly $22,000 a year.

A married couple could feasibly save $40,000 a year.



Train station market


As is the case with most international schools, my contract includes furnished housing.  And my work commute is about 27 seconds.

Each month I save $2,000.

That leaves me about $900 a month for living expenses. Here’s how my monthly costs stack up, to give you a sense of how I achieved my savings:

  • Food costs: $150 per month
  • Eating out costs: $100 per month
  • Transportation costs: $40 per month (average taxi trip is $2-$3 and usually split with friends)
  • Insurance costs: $150 a month covers my share of the premiums
  • Maid: $100 per month full-time

The part that makes my friends back in Canada really jealous is my full time maid, who does my laundry, grocery shopping, and makes lunch and dinner.

Long gone is my old staple diet of kraft dinner and shwarma.

With a bustling local market 400 meters from my door, my maid spends roughly $20 a week on groceries.

When I’m at the local supermarket I’ll pick up a few Western products, which cost roughly what they would in Canada.



The neighborhood


A meal at a local roadside stand costs less than a dollar, a nice Myanmar restaurant would set you back about $3-6 a person. 

And a meal at a good expat restaurant totals $5-$10.

Are there a couple high-end places where you can spend $30 or more a person?

Sure, but when I can get the best burger in the country at a nice Western restaurant for $10, what more do I need?

Finally, with a surprisingly good national beer, a glass of the frosty stuff at my local beer station goes for a paltry 60 cents.



Stepping out of the front door on a random Saturday


Other than that, my tastes are simple. 

I spent $400 on a mountain bike–which reduces taxi trips.  I spent a few hundred dollars on art (a soft spot of mine).

At 6 foot 5, finding clothes is difficult in a country with an average height of 5 foot 6.

But I recently got a custom suit tailored for $80 and dress shirts at $10 apiece.

When all is said and done, I usually end up with $300 left at the end of the month, leaving me with plenty for the October, December, and April holidays.

Staying at guesthouses for 2 weeks of in country travel cost me about $400 last year. 

My general rule for South East Asian travel is $30 a day, even less if you’re okay with dorm rooms.



Traditional fishermen in Eastern Myanmar


With the exception of a few new ATMs, Myanmar is a cash-based economy.

I never dig into the money I set aside (at the beginning of each month) for saving and investing.

If I near the end of the month with dwindling cash resources, I just stop doing stuff. It’s the best budgeting strategy ever.

Does everyone I work with save as much as me?

No, I have colleagues who prove no matter how low the cost of living, it’s possible to burn through money.

However, most of my money-conscious friends still save around $18,000 a year. 

While being frugal and paying yourself first are key, if you have an opportunity to move abroad, consider a lesser-known developing country.

Living in a developing country (they’re not all as cheap as Myanmar) is not for everybody. 

But it’s an adventure of a lifetime. 

And it could turn out to be one of the best financial decisions you ever make.