Sunday, October 28, 2007

Economy, class.

Another good thing about Bangkok I discovered as a result of buying the Fortuner: it’s a very good place to live on very little money.

Usually in Thailand, a car requires a 20% downpayment. However, for a foreigner who does not want the bother of being indebted to a Thai guarantor, that figure rises to 40%. This was not a particular problem – until the car was delivered a month ahead of schedule, one pay day too early.

Unable to bear the thought of the car standing unused in the showroom until the next infusion into my account, I cobbled the money together and drove it away as soon as it was delivered from the factory.

In the process, I left myself very little to live on until the next salary injection; and, by necessity, discovered a lifestyle just as enjoyable as the one where spending thousands of baht in one night out is a regular occurrence.

Eager to share the benefit of my experience, I present here my seven tips for living on less than you do now and enjoying things just as much.

Tip one: entertain at home. You can get a decent bottle of wine at the supermarket for less than 500 baht. A beer is only 25 baht. These prices are about a quarter of what you pay when you go out. Invite some friends over and sit around imbibing in the comfort of your own home. You can afford to be generous: playing the perfect host and paying for everything, you’ll still spend less than you would if you went out and split the bill. And your friends, being the honourable sorts that they no doubt are, will certainly reciprocate your hospitality at some time in the near future.

Tip two: cook for yourself. Thanks to Bangkok’s unfathomable economics, the ingredients for your meal will probably not cost less than you would pay for a single dish at a restaurant. But you will avoid the attendant expenses like chocolate cake, espressos, amaretto, parking fees and the couple of pirated CDs from the stall outside the restaurant that invariably accompany each meal.

You will probably end up eating more healthily, too. Over the couple of weeks of enforced economy, I perfected Bangkok’s best rocket salad, which has been directly responsible for at least a kilo of weight loss.

Tip three: lay off alcohol. During my enforced period of penury I went with two friends to a very pleasant al fresco Thai restaurant. Usually, this sort of excursion would automatically kick off with a couple of jugs of draught beer, followed by one or two more during the course of the meal. This time, we stuck to water, ate until we were fit to burst, and were shocked at the end of the night to discover that we had spent less than 300 baht per head. An attendant benefit: I was able to get up early on Saturday morning and enjoy a run through a city not yet solidified with traffic.

Tip four: eat at street stalls. Bangkok is full of stalls where people gather day and night for superb food freshly cooked in front of them. Quality is at least as high as more upmarket restaurants, and often higher, and the atmosphere is certainly much more vibrant; but individual dishes at these stalls come with price tags so low that I wonder how their proprietors make any sort of living at all.

Tip five: spend money on little things. If, like me, you’re not satisfied if you don’t spend something every time you step out of the front door, redirect your need for consumption towards smaller and longer lasting things. The weekend after taking delivery of the car, I bought some vanilla incense. Nothing very dramatic. But I scratched my itch to spend just as well as if I had spent ten times the amount; I was satisfied, and my apartment smelt delicious.

Tip six: make use of things you have already paid for. In my case, that meant the gym membership, the unlimited yoga package, and finally watching some of the dozens of DVDs I had bought over the past few months without taking them out of their plastic sleeves. I became slightly fitter, a bit more flexible, and suddenly knew what people were referring to when they quoted witty snips of dialogue from ‘Sideways’ and ‘The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.’

Tip seven: sit at home and think. I started to spend more time with my layout pad, jotting down ideas for movies, Playstation games and regional franchiseable food stalls. Who knows? Spending one night a week at home thinking creatively might mean that as well as spending less, you’ll end up making much more.

The next payday came and went quickly, and I soon returned to my customary profligate ways.

But going out every night can be just as uninteresting as staying in all the time. So, ever since then, I have been making efforts to balance things out by regularly enjoying the more economical way of living, and enjoy both modes all the more for it.

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