travel

Spend it or Lose it

Outside the Laws of the Space-time Continuum of Personal Finance-2

Typically the financial choices we make at different times in our lives all impact one another in a pretty obvious way. In other words, my net worth at this moment is largely a culmination of past choices I’ve made about spending and saving and borrowing and investing. That’s kind of the underlying principle of personal finance, right? I could even argue that if I hadn’t bought that $7 Jamba Juice last summer, I would have $7 more in my bank account right now than I actually do. And in the personal finance sphere we talk a lot about trying to make better choices with our money, such as saving and investing our discretionary income instead of spending it on Jamba Juice.

But here’s a thought experiment: what if the universe handed you a little pocket of time during which you had to spend ALL the money you earned…or lose it? No index funds, Roth IRAs, or 401(k)s allowed. Just spending. How would you spend it? What would you choose? And what might it teach you about yourself?

This happened to me once. And here’s what I chose.

When I was 25 I moved to China* to be an English teacher. I had $1000 in my American bank account when I arrived and knew about 17 words of Chinese. This may sound like it was a risky move, but honestly it wasn’t that risky—I had a round-trip ticket so I knew that if I ran out of money I could easily go back home, and as for the language barrier, a lot of people in my new city spoke some English. I spent my first 30 days taking a crash course in how to teach English, and I easily found a job and an apartment within a week of finishing the course.

Now, one weird thing about teaching English in China as a “foreign expert” (i.e., a native speaker) is that you get paid a confusingly high amount of money by Chinese standards, or at least you did in 2006-2007 when I was there. I’m certainly not suggesting that teachers in general shouldn’t be paid a lot—because they definitely should—I’m just saying it’s strange that a 25-year-old whose sole “teaching” qualification was that she happened to learn English while still in diapers was getting paid a roughly similar salary (or so I was told) as a college professor who had been working hard in his field for years. I didn’t feel good about it then, and I don’t feel good about it now, but there it is. It wouldn’t have translated into a huge amount of U.S. currency given the exchange rate, but it was a pretty decent amount in China: I was definitely being paid a lot more than I needed in order to live from day to day.

Another weird thing about my paycheck—and this is key to the “spend it or lose it” situation – was that there was no way for me to bring any of the money I was earning back to the U.S. when I left. There were strict limits on the amount of random cash that could legally be exchanged into dollars by one person, and my boss, in an effort to avoid the time and expense involved in procuring a visa for me that would allow me to open a Chinese bank account and legally exchange higher amounts of currency, insisted on paying me only in cash. On payday I would go to his office, where he would count out a gigantic stack of 100 RMB bills (the largest denomination there is), hand them to me, and say, “Now, go straight home.” I would divide this huge wad of cash up into several smaller wads, stuff them into my pockets, hop on my bike, and hide the cash in little piles underneath the shelves in my wardrobe as soon as I got back to my apartment.

So in terms of the space-time continuum of personal finance, this meant that my earning and spending habits while in China were effectively an entity unto themselves. No matter what, I would leave the country with the same net worth with which I had entered it. Of course, if I hadn’t gone to China in the first place, I could have earned and saved some money at a job in the U.S. during that period, and so you could definitely argue that that choice alone had an impact on my net worth today. But given that I did in fact choose to go to China, this was the result:

China off the grid

Figure 1. Due to unanticipated legal factors, my finances in China had no impact whatsoever on my finances throughout the rest of my life. Mind blown.

Now, this all happened long before I started to become financially conscious, so at the time my reaction was, “Cool, look at all this money I get to spend!” —which means that I did exactly what I wanted with the money, without worrying about what I “should” do with it. And this offers a really valuable insight, I think, into what was (and is) important to me, because people generally spend their money according to their priorities, whether they consciously realize it or not.

I was in China for ten months. Here are some expensive things I easily could have spent money on during that time, but didn’t:

  • tailor-made clothing (very popular among tourists and ex-pats)
  • Chinese art (as with all art, this can get really expensive really quickly)
  • specialty groceries from the Western grocery store (we’re talking imported Oreos for like $8 a package)

Here’s what I did spend it on:

  • rent
  • restaurant food or takeout pretty much every evening for dinner
  • some sweaters and a coat because there was no central heating anywhere and I was FREEZING.
  • a DVD player and approximately a gazillion DVDs
  • a month-long trip with friends around China and Tibet. This was really where the bulk of the money went. I spent it on hostels, hotels (for whenever the unheated hostels were too cold), train tickets, bus tickets, airfare, hiring a driver to take us to the base of Mt. Everest, and, finally…
  • a LOT of yak butter tea. Yak butter tea is the best thing in the world. Like, it’s tea + butter! And it warms you up in Tibet in February! Amazing! I bought and drank it at practically every meal during that part of the trip and it was SO WORTH IT.
approaching Everest

On the road to Mt. Everest

 

yak butter tea!

yak butter tea!

In looking at this list, I’d say my priorities involved food, entertainment, staying warm, and traveling. This all still resonates with me. I still love eating out in restaurants. I still generally have a lot of trouble staying warm. I definitely remember that watching American and British movies helped me to feel less a lot less homesick. And if I can ever get my student debt paid off and my retirement accounts looking a little healthier, I will definitely be doing some more traveling.

The main thing that’s changed since my China experience is that saving and paying back debt are now also huge priorities and therefore are a major part of the equation. But what’s the point of saving money and getting out of debt? To be able to spend your time and resources on things that are important to you. And so I’m glad to have had this little pocket of an experience outside the regular laws of the personal finance space-time continuum, because in looking back on it I’ve learned a lot about what’s not important to me, and what is.

What would you do if you knew that you had to spend all the money you earned in the next ten months, or lose it? What would you choose?

*Why did I move to China? Well, one day I was chatting with a customer at the bookstore where I worked and he told me about a memoir he’d recently read by an American who’d served in the Peace Corps in China. He said it was the best book he’d read in a long time. So I read it, and LOVED it, and decided that I too was going to go and live in China. Yep, that’s about the amount of thought that went into it! (The book is River Town by Peter Hessler, and I highly recommend it. That’s an Amazon affiliate link, but if I were you I’d save some money and just go borrow it from the library).

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like

45 Comments

  • Reply Taylor @ Freedom From Money November 8, 2015 at 10:27 PM

    Ahhh, I love this post! It’s such an interesting thing to think about. When I was 19, I studied abroad in London for about 4 months and was given a large amount of free grant money every month. Looking back, it was totally insane! But at the time, I didn’t really think about it too much. I spent it on what I wanted and for me, that meant 1) A crap ton of travel 2) Presents for the people I love 3) Date nights with my new British partner (who is now my partner of 3+ years 🙂 ) and 4) lots of savings. It’s awesome to realize that my financial priorities have always been the same, but even beyond that, It’s nice to know I’ve always been fundamentally the same person, despite the various levels of income (or lack thereof) I’ve experienced. Great post, as usual 🙂 P.S. I love that you went to China because of a book! As a former English major, I fully support all literature based decisions 😉

    • Reply Sarah Noelle November 9, 2015 at 8:07 AM

      Thanks for your comment, Taylor! I didn’t realize that you were also an English major, and, I have to say, it’s pretty cool to run into other English majors in the personal finance world, since it’s not a major that most people immediately associate with personal finance goals!

      That’s so interesting that you had a similar experience in London. It sounds like you definitely spent your money during that time according to your priorities (and met someone awesome — what a cool story!). I’m really, really impressed that you managed to save during that time as well; I don’t think many college students would have done that, or at least I wouldn’t have. You really have kept the same priorities, including the emphasis on saving!

  • Reply Our Next Life November 9, 2015 at 2:32 AM

    I’m so with you on being influenced to make decisions based on books and culture. The number of places I have visited because of books… it’s a little nuts. Thank goodness my husband is a good sport! I would love hear more about your time in China and Tibet — you must have experienced and learned so much.

    As for the thought experiment, it would NOT be hard for us to spend all the money we earn, if we allowed ourselves to do it. There’s no stuff I’d especially want right now, except maybe the small travel trailer that we plan to buy one day, and that I dream about daily. I love the romantic notion that we can just think to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be in X place?” and then basically start driving there right away with no place to stay and no plans, but know that we are bringing our shelter with us. But again — that comes back to the same thing we care about — which is true for you, too — travel. We’ve spent loads of money on travel over the years, and it’s the only money I don’t ever regret spending. With dining, I don’t regret our most extravagant meals (like eating at Per Se in NYC), because those were once-in-a-lifetime experiences that we’ll remember forever, but I for sure regret all the random takeout and mindless meals over the years. And as for stuff, the only things I don’t ever regret spending money on are a good mattress, my road bike and skis, an awesome comfy couch and my big puffy down jacket for our cold mountain winters. With just about everything else, I’ve wondered, “Did I really need this?” Though I’m realizing that maybe the language I’m using here — highly infused with notions of regret — is telling, too. So in this thought experiment, I should spend the money on the only thing I never regret, which is travel. 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle November 9, 2015 at 8:17 AM

      Ah, regret…definitely something I can relate to when it comes to past money decisions. But, like you, I somehow never feel regret about the traveling. Probably because saying “I wish I didn’t take that vacation” would be like saying “I wish I hadn’t lived that part of my life, and I wish I hadn’t learned those things that I learned during my trip, and I wish I didn’t know anything about that part of the world.”

      I’ve been doing a ton of downsizing/decluttering lately, and while I didn’t actually have *that* much stuff to begin with, I’m realizing that I can still get rid of most of it and not even notice. I did actually sell my skis, not because I don’t love skiing but because realistically I hadn’t gone in about five years. But yeah, down jackets and good mattresses are key. Other than the mattress, my dream is to be able to fit everything I own in the back of a station wagon. Kind of like your future travel trailer, except not quite as cool. 🙂 But either way, the idea of being instantly mobile is very appealing.

  • Reply Des @ Half Banked November 9, 2015 at 9:12 AM

    I LOVE this! Oh my gosh Sarah, this is brilliant. I’m a huge proponent of the “what you spend money on is what you really value / prioritize” concept and this was such an interesting way to look at it!

    Also, moving across the world based on a book sounds like exactly the kind of decision I would make too. My entire decision criteria for studying abroad in Australia? I was born on Australia Day. Oh, and they spoke English, but that was more of an afterthought if anything. I think it’d be really interesting to think back about my spending patterns while I was there, especially given how that experience has clarified my priorities since then. I was really, really homesick almost the entire time I was there, and I spent a lot on comfort – whether it was comfy clothes or yummy food, I spent a TON of money trying to be comfortable there. Also I put on a ton of weight, lol. Tim Tams and pad thai takeout will do that to you. When it came time to stay or go (I had met someone there and considered staying for him!) the decision really came down to whether or not I could handle being that far away from my family, and it turns out, I couldn’t. Even though it was an EXPENSIVE trip (oh my god Sydney prices for everything are astronomical) I think it’s saved me money in the long run by clarifying that being close to family is my #1 location priority – so I haven’t moved abroad long-term since, haha.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle November 9, 2015 at 6:16 PM

      Hahahaha, Australia Day, I love it! So you can definitely understand where I’m coming from here. Yeah, homesickness can definitely be a factor in these decisions. I almost left China about ~2 months into my stay, half because I was super homesick and half because the air pollution was SO TERRIBLE (I lived in “one of the cleanest cities in China”, air-quality-wise, and still the smog was so thick most days that the buildings across the street looked hazy). I still kind of wonder what that did to my lungs long-term…

      I didn’t get into this in the post, but I actually think that the way people spend their time — in addition to how they spend their money — is also indicative of their priorities. And so I think your decision to choose to spend more time with family by moving back to Canada says a lot about how you prioritize that part of your life. I hope you get to see them often! 🙂

  • Reply Maggie @ Northern Expenditure November 9, 2015 at 12:59 PM

    What a fascinating situation to find yourself in! I would do the exact same thing as you: Travel, DVDs, and food! Excellent priorities. When I lose motivation for saving, I think about the amazing trips I plan with my children and the amazing food we’ll eat along the way!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle November 9, 2015 at 6:06 PM

      That does sound motivating! I have mixed feelings about a lot of things that I’ve spent money on in my life, but not travel. And hey, DVDs are not bad either. 🙂 (Although at this point in my life I’d try to just borrow the DVD from the library for free instead.)

      • Reply Maggie @ Northern Expenditure November 10, 2015 at 9:41 PM

        We do most of the DVD borrowing from the library these days… but we also have binders full of fifty cent DVDs from Cambodia. We were smart enough to stock up on kids movies… it’s always worth it to have those when you have kids!

  • Reply DC @ Young Adult Money November 9, 2015 at 7:24 PM

    This is a great way to think of spending. Recording my expenses each month has become so routine that I barely even think about it anymore. I’m struggling to tell you what I’d spend my money on if I had to spend it ALL, especially since you ruled out investments 😉 Is a home renovation out of the question? If not I would pour all my money into that.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle November 9, 2015 at 10:43 PM

      Haha, I don’t know about the home renovation…It sounds great (and smart), but the strictest version of this thought experiment would be to think of things that don’t involve the future, just the now. Like what you’d do if you knew you would be getting your current income for the rest of your life, guaranteed, without having to work or save. But I totally hear you about your expense recording being routine — I’m getting to that point myself, even though I’m relatively new to it. 🙂 That’s why I think it’s interesting to shake things up a bit by thinking about priorities in a different way.

      • Reply DC @ Young Adult Money November 10, 2015 at 11:39 PM

        In that case I’m headed to Hawaii for a month! Talk to you later : P

        • Reply Sarah Noelle November 10, 2015 at 11:50 PM

          Haha, that’s the spirit! So I guess that means travel is a priority. Good choice. 🙂

  • Reply Laura Beth November 10, 2015 at 1:45 AM

    Hi Sarah,

    I would have done much the same, although I think I would have given some to charity. Like you, I enjoy travel so I would have done that as well. It sounds like you had an amazing experience that you will remember for the rest of your life.

    Enjoyed the post!
    Laura Beth

    • Reply Sarah Noelle November 10, 2015 at 7:22 AM

      Ah, that’s a great point, Laura Beth; giving to charity is something I’d totally forgotten to discuss in the post. I think what was difficult in my particular situation was that finding a reputable Chinese charity that would accept a cash (like, literally cash) donation would have been challenging, especially since my spoken Chinese was limited and my written Chinese was nonexistent.
      I will say that it was really difficult to see all of the poverty in China, and even more so (in my experience) in Tibet — groups of children begging for money was probably the most difficult. I occasionally bought food for them, but beyond that it was difficult to know what to do. Thanks for the comment; that’s an important topic.

  • Reply Erin @ Journey to Saving November 10, 2015 at 4:01 AM

    What an interesting way to frame spending on your values! I love that you went off to China so spontaneously, too. Honestly, I’d like to think that nothing would change. I already make it a point to spend according to my values, which are family, travel, and learning (for the most part). So if I had to spend all my money, I’d probably take a few trips. I’d visit family back home, go to places I’ve never been before, and continue improving my knowledge on certain subjects by taking courses and reading books. Pretty simple! I definitely wouldn’t blow it on clothes or anything too material as I value experiences more.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle November 10, 2015 at 7:28 AM

      Thanks for the comment, Erin! I like your idea of spending some of your money on taking courses and reading books so that you can learn more about subject you’re interested in. Come to think of it, I did buy a few English-language books after I finished reading all the ones I’d brought with me, and I also bought a few books to help me learn Chinese. I forgot about that when I was writing the post. I actually happened to discover the Harry Potter books when I was in China, which was the beginning of a long obsession! 🙂

      In any case, that’s pretty great that you feel like nothing would really change. It sounds like you’ve thought a lot about what your priorities are and where you want your money to go. It took me a long time to get to that point in my life — I definitely spent quite a few years spending my money without really thinking through why I was spending it the way I was.

  • Reply Jen @ KeenConsumer November 10, 2015 at 3:53 PM

    I love to read about those who decide to live in China. I’m Chinese and have never been there myself. But I hear a lot of unfortunately negative things. I know how hard it is to take your money out of China because the ex-boss I worked for had problems investing in his business here because China had such strict limitations.

    Another thing is, I’m glad China allows the use of WordPress, I hear a lot of websites are banned from their citizens!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle November 10, 2015 at 4:01 PM

      Hi Jen, thanks for your comment! That’s interesting to hear that China does allow WordPress — I wasn’t sure one way or the other since I wasn’t using it when I lived there. I do remember that Wikipedia was banned, though I’m not sure if it still is or not (?).

      As for other negative things, I really think that China is so different, both culturally and politically, than most English-speaking countries, that it’s hard to make an unbiased judgment. One thing I know for sure is that I had a fantastic time there and met a lot of really kind and generous people (and learned a lot about what it’s like to be instantly perceived as a foreigner). If you haven’t read River Town, I’d definitely recommend it — Peter Hessler’s writing is so beautiful, and he describes China in such a fascinating way, all through the lens of someone who is trying as hard as possible to understand a culture that is totally new to him.

      Oh — and as a side note, I should say that I did know other foreign teachers who succeeded in getting their money out of the country. I think if my boss had been willing to take the extra step to get me a different visa, I might have been able to as well.

      • Reply Jen @ KeenConsumer November 18, 2015 at 7:54 PM

        Hi Sarah,
        I’m sorry I had thought you were still in China and teaching? And I thought your blog was on WordPress but maybe I misunderstood. =) Either way I hope you had no problems in the end to withdraw your money. Thanks for replying!

        • Reply Sarah November 18, 2015 at 8:38 PM

          Hi Jen, no problem. 🙂 My blog is on WordPress, but I only started it recently, after getting back from China. It would be interesting to know if they allow that site or not! 🙂

  • Reply Jason November 11, 2015 at 7:49 PM

    This post reminds me of the movie Brewster’s Millions with Richard Pryor. Brewster inherits 30 million dollars that he has to spend in 30 days. He spends so much that he comes to hate money, but ultimately gets his real inheritance of 300 million. I wonder if you could come to hate money. In some respects that did happen to me when I was in China. I was only there for 2 weeks giving lectures to university students but they paid me in wads of cash. And I came to hate having all of that cash on me. BTW, love the blog.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle November 12, 2015 at 9:37 AM

      Hi Jason, thanks for commenting, and I’m happy you like the blog. 🙂

      I actually have never heard of that movie before. I bet if I had been paid $30 million, I would have had trouble spending it too (and maybe ended up hating it?), but since in reality it was just enough month to have a nicer lifestyle than I was used to, and go on an awesome travel adventure, it worked out okay. 🙂

      That’s so interesting that you were also paid in wads of cash, even as a visiting lecturer! I don’t know why this is such an issue in China, or what precisely the restrictions are. I’m curious to know if you were able to exchange any of it upon leaving the country.

  • Reply Harmony @ CreatingMyKaleidoscope November 12, 2015 at 2:31 PM

    Very interesting post. I’ve always agreed with the idea that it is better to spend money on experiences as opposed to stuff. You used your money to go an adventure and make amazing memories. Sounds like a pretty good way to use money 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle November 12, 2015 at 2:42 PM

      Thanks, Harmony! I definitely tend to favor experiences over stuff…too bad experiences can (sometimes) be so pricey! But there are also a lot of great cheap experiences too, like spending time with family and friends. 🙂

  • Reply Jennifer November 13, 2015 at 4:40 AM

    Hi Sarah! I love that you’ve shared your China story! I can completely related and I’m going to admit (sheepishly) that I moved to the UK because I was fascinated with ‘Brit-lit’ (the whole ‘Bridget Jones’ thing …)

    I’m also really fascinated by the whole spending/values thing, although I think sometimes our spending can reflect the values of society instead of our true values (ie: we buy what we think makes us look good instead of what we really care about.) Although I think in your case that being in China – somewhere so foreign – added another layer of authenticity to your experiment! x

    PS: I really want to try that tea …

    • Reply Sarah Noelle November 13, 2015 at 7:30 AM

      Hey Jennifer! Oh, man, I definitely hear you on the Brit Lit thing — that’s actually the main reason why I studied abroad in London!

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I think your point about society’s values vs. our own values is a really good one. I thought about it a bit while writing the post but didn’t end up including it, mostly just because I think the thought experiment of “spend it or lose it” is interesting and I wanted to focus on that. One thought I do have, though, is that maybe when people spend money according to society’s values (as I agree they/we do sometimes), it means that their priority at that time in their lives really is to feel accepted by society…even though if they were to examine this priority a little closer, they might decide that they want to rethink things. So I guess I think that people spend their money according to their *current* priorities, which may or may not be their *true* priorities. An unexamined priority is not worth having….or something like that. 🙂

  • Reply Vic @ Dad Is Cheap November 14, 2015 at 1:28 AM

    Sounds like you had a great experience! Even though you had an interesting situation where you couldn’t use your money outside of China, you were able to have some great memories, which is what life is about. Your time in China wasn’t too long, so it didn’t make too much of a dent on your overall financial picture when it’s all said and done.

    Great post!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle November 14, 2015 at 1:48 PM

      Thanks, Vic. It’s true — it was only ten months, so I’m not too worried about the long-term financial impact, especially since it was such an awesome trip. I think I really learned a lot during that time, and grew up a lot, so it was worth it in lots of ways that have nothing to do with money. And, as you point out, great memories are part of what life is all about.

  • Reply The Friday Feast ~ the 20th of November - ThinkSaveRetire.com November 20, 2015 at 6:01 AM

    […] Honorable mentions: How To Get Rich Slowly wrote about how financial blogging changed her, Freedom From Money discussed alternatives to driving inefficient automobiles and The Yachtless asked what you would do if the laws of the space-time continuum of personal finance were temporarily suspended. […]

  • Reply ★ Spend It or Lose It | My Money & Health December 1, 2015 at 7:25 AM

    […] Read the full article here […]

  • Reply Free to Pursue December 1, 2015 at 12:51 PM

    Fun question to pose. My list would look very much like yours: more on experiences than stuff. I’d travel, and travel, and travel some more, which includes transportation, lodging, eating out and exploring new places while avoiding the tourist traps. I also love the idea of immersing myself in a new culture and language.

    BTW: where were you in China? I’ve had the chance to spend a short time in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. Were you in one of these cities?

    • Reply Sarah Noelle December 1, 2015 at 1:50 PM

      That’s great that you got the chance to travel around in China too! I lived in Suzhou, and I also spent time in Shanghai since it’s only an hour away on the train. I really, really loved Beijing and all the history and architecture there, but I only ended up going there a couple of times because it was a longer trip and there were so many other places to explore. I never made it to Hong Kong because I had a very odd and restrictive visa that didn’t allow me to go there (even though it’s technically part of China).
      Thanks for visiting and commenting. 🙂 I agree with you — travel all the way! (Preferably without tourist traps.)

  • Reply Elizabeth December 1, 2015 at 8:20 PM

    Love this post. How you spend your money – like how you spend your time – is an inescapable demonstration of your values. I just wrote a post on this topic actually called How to Figure Out What You Really Value http://www.worldofwealthblog.com/?p=459

    I have to object to the caveat that no savings or investing are allowed though. I have been a saver since I was young and have always stashed away some portion of what I made since my very first job. The safety/independence value in me is strong, and nothing makes me happier or feel more accomplished than seeing my net worth tick up every month.

    Had I been in your shoes in China, I’m sure I would have plotted to stash some Chinese currency away and attempt to bring it back to America with me to covert there to dollars later. I would never be comfortable spending all my income and knowing I had no savings or backup plan. Although If I had to during the last week in China I would have spent the money on valuable hard goods I could transport or ship such as jewelry, furniture, or at least clothes – anything that could retain value that I liked and could keep once I left the country.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle December 1, 2015 at 9:16 PM

      That’s a really good point, Elizabeth — I probably could have found some creative way to stash some of the cash in my suitcase or disguise it as purchases that I could later liquidate. 🙂 Unfortunately, at that time in my life I was not in much of a saving mindset, so these options were not ones that I seriously considered for any length of time. I will also say that while I don’t remember the exact amount I was making or the exchange rate, I remember thinking, wow, this is really very little in USD. So I figured I’d rather take a trip to Tibet than worry about how to smuggle a couple of hundred dollars back to the U.S. These days I’m with you though: I definitely get a kick out of saving! I’m not sure what I would do if I were in that same position now.
      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  • Reply Stephanie December 2, 2015 at 12:22 AM

    I have never met anyone else who has had yak butter tea! It’s not my cup of tea (pun intended) but it’s for sure a unique experience. I was in Tibet almost 10 years ago and every once in a while I still get a whiff of yak butter, like in the Potala Palace. There’s no describing that smell to anybody who hasn’t been there!

    But to return to your point, I like what you said about the point of personal finance is to have the time and resources to do what’s important to you. I probably would’ve done close to the same, in terms of spending lots of money on traveling and eating, but I would’ve been tempted by the tailored clothes as well. What a neat experience and thank you for sharing your insight!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle December 2, 2015 at 7:29 AM

      That’s cool that you’ve had yak butter tea, Stephanie! I agree that it’s probably not for everyone, but I somehow just really loved it. How great too that you got the chance to go to Tibet. What an amazing place. Thanks for commenting, and I’m glad you liked the post! 🙂

  • Reply Revanche December 2, 2015 at 12:28 AM

    Well met, fellow English major, circa the sameish era! 🙂

    I love that you actually lived this question because I suspect that what I want to do and what I would actually do differ at least a little. We match on 3 of 4 priorities: food, travel, staying warm! High five for sweaters! I’m too easily and cheaply entertained to spend on much entertainment, though. Aside from that book habit which doesn’t come cheap.

    I also have to admit (under the safety of anonymity) that I would have spent at least several days trying to think of how to bring that income home, because I developed a serious cash-hoarding mentality during undergrad.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle December 2, 2015 at 7:38 AM

      Hey Revanche. 🙂 I think that for me too, what I would have *thought* I would do with the money and what I *actually* did with it might not be precisely the same thing. I’m kind of shocked in retrospect at how many DVDs I bought…I think they were largely an antidote to homesickness, which I had a lot of at various points.

      I think it’s pretty cool that you were into saving in undergrad. I wish I had been. And regarding the China money, I bet there would have been a way to bring it home if I had thought about it more. I did briefly consider stuffing cash into my suitcase, but I was too nervous about getting caught, and anyway it wasn’t that much money by U.S. standards.

  • Reply The Roamer December 2, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    Wow what an amazing story.

    That would definitely be an experience. I would also have spent it on travel. So did you pick up any Chinese.
    Ni Hao?

    🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle December 2, 2015 at 2:46 PM

      Ni hao! Oh man, I wish I had learned more Chinese. I learned enough to order in a restaurant and tell the taxi driver where I wanted to go, but that was about it. Plus I forgot most of it. Too bad…
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Reply Mrs. WW December 2, 2015 at 4:54 PM

    This isn’t that odd of a thought. The truth is that we have to spend 100% of the money we earn. We can’t take it with us when we go, as the story goes. Either we buy things or we leave it behind when we shuffle off this mortal coil.

    I’m a big fan of experiences and generosity. Don’t spend it all on junk (like a nice pair of dress shoes that will scuff the second time you wear them), but let it slide through your fingers easily for important purchases like a trip to a prison in Malawi or to give the prisoners there a real soccer ball to replace the one made out of waded plastic bags. (Been there, done that. Just this last summer with the two kids in grade school to boot.)

    Of course I think that retirement funds are important purchases. I want experiences and to live generously when I’m older too. ; )

    • Reply Sarah Noelle December 3, 2015 at 12:16 AM

      That’s an excellent point, Mrs. WW. I think that subconsciously (!) this is what I was trying to get at in this post — that we are all actually in this position all the time, but that we often forget about it because it’s too difficult to zoom out and think about a whole lifetime. It’s much easier to think about it in the context of a thought experiment like, what if you had to spend all the money you made in 10 months? But ideally I think we’d try to take our answer to that thought experiment and see if it lines up with how we’re actually spending our resources.
      Your Malawi experience sounds like it must have been amazing!

  • Reply Pengepugeren December 25, 2015 at 5:08 PM

    I didn’t realize that you can’t take much money out of China. That makes med wonder what my friends and acquaintances living in China for many years are doing about pension savings.

    Personally, I’d probably find a way to exchange money to Bitcoin and bring it home that way.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle December 25, 2015 at 9:13 PM

      Well, you can’t take much *hard cash* out of China, or at least you couldn’t in 2006-7 when I was there. It also has to do with visas. I was on a sort of foreign consultants’ visa that did not afford me very many privileges, but I definitely knew other foreigners on different (i.e. better) visas who were able to take money out via bank accounts and so forth. So it was less about China in general and more about my specific situation.

      Too bad there wasn’t any Bitcoin in 2007! 🙂

    Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: