Digital nomad on a budget

Time to bring some order in the flurry of expenses. Turns out that the uncool truth about a lot of things is that everything costs money. And if you’re like me where you don’t really care for money, you still need to recognise the usefulness of money.

So I care for money, but at the same time I don’t. That reads like a oxymoron but interpret that in the sense that I recognise the need for money and that I need enough of it so that I can live my life.

money-pesos

Budget crisis

Up until recently I just had a loosely defined budget and didn’t track my money at all really. The basic idea was that I rented a house for a bunch of money and could make a trip to the ATM once a week to get cash which I’d then spent during the week. Things like food and such.

The weak point in that system is that I didn’t give much thought to going to the ATM. And because of that I didn’t exactly remember the last time. The result, I kept going to the ATM 2 or 3 times a week, resulting in me going over ‘budget’ and them some.

Over the past 2 months I sort of mapped that out to come to this unhappy conclusion. I backtracked all my bank transactions and credit card stuff for withdrawals. Which I then logged in a spreadsheet along with all other electronic payments. And things were good again. Balance seemed restored.

It still didn’t tell me what I’d actually spent the money on and that was fine. After all I still didn’t really care yet. I just needed to get my ATM usage under control. Reasoning that as long as I could monitor my trips to the ATM and limit it to once a week that way I would be fine.

Insufficient

A few weeks ago I sort of realised that my new and improved system wasn’t really working as I’d hoped. I had projected some savings for the last 6 months and that sort of didn’t happen. I lost track of spendings left and right and overall wasn’t very happy with my spendings but couldn’t quite put a finger on the problem.

A more detailed system was required to see where my money really went. How much I spent on what and why. I can’t really rely on my bank statements since the country is 99% cash only so it would only show ATM withdrawals and the occasional larger payment. Thus, 2 weeks ago I decided that I should get some software to fix it all.

The right tool

Finding a application to track money in a somewhat convenient way is probably the most tedious task. Trying various apps, going through reviews of others to try and make a decision. Wasting a lot of time in the process. I’m a sucker for a good UI so the program had to be pretty, too. Which made my search much more difficult.

Another big big feature I just had to have was synchronisation – If the app can not sync to my iPhone, iPad and desktop it was not worth it. Not to mention I have to be able to have accounts in different currencies and the program should be able to use that in a meaningful way.

Then I found an app called ‘Money Pro’.

moneypro

It pretty much does exactly what I want in a way that I can somewhat comfortably use. It has a calendar view with day to day transactions. There is a category thing where you can enter where the money went, along with company/persons names. And it deals with multiple currencies and relevant exchange rates automatically. Neat.

As with any budget/money management tool you have to set up accounts and then keep a running total of stuff by entering all your expenses and income. I have a bunch of accounts for different money streams. So I went, again, through all transactions and logged everything of this month into the program. As much as I could find and remember anyway. The rest went into ‘Misc’.

Now at any moment, I can look at expense reports to see how poor I am making myself. This month isn’t too bad though. Still, I’m way over budget 🙁

moneypro-graph

I can access this information on my Desktop, iPhone and iPad. It synchronises automatically as long as I have internet. And that’s just cool.

This month is a awkward mess where ‘Misc’ gets abused a lot for backdating transactions. Obviously I can’t remember where I spent what for most cash payments. But next month onwards should give me a more clear picture of whats going on in and around my wallet.

The real budget

There still is no real budget for anything separate. But everything combined I want to keep it under 50000 PHP (~1000 EUR / ~800 USD) per month. Realistically it’ll probably be something like 65000 PHP a month. I guess we’ll see how that holds up over time.

The aim with all this is to be a bit more conscious about spendings and earnings. And of-course to go back to being a responsible digital nomad. Because I’m good at that. Really, I just need some guidance and oversight. I think I found both by using this money managing app.

However, at the same time I need to try and have more fun in my life… Which generally means to spend a little more money on stuff and activities. Or maybe learn how to enjoy myself without spending thousands of pesos on attractions and boat rides…

Oh well, we only live once I guess 😉

Top 5 places in the Philippines that I like

I’ve been in the Philippines for about 10 months this month and it’s been mostly great. I’ve been to a whole bunch of places. Not all very touristy. But I didn’t stray too far from the nice places I think. Anyway, this week I’ll write about the top 5 places I like in the Philippines.

5. Panglao, Bohol

I’ve been here twice over the past few months. I’ve driven an ATV into the Chocolate Hills. I saw all the Tarsier and went on a river cruise. Of-course there were beaches too. But there were too many tourists there for my liking.
Panglao is a popular destination for tourists. So most of the hotels are there. From there you can take tours onto actual Bohol with a rented car or van, with or without driver.

tarsier1

4. Bantayan, Cebu

Bantayan Island, just north west of Cebu Island. A great place to relax and it has nice beaches too. If you like the beach. Go there. I’ve been to Bantayan once. And found that the nicer beaches are near Santa Fe. Where most hotels are. Up north there is also a place called Kota Beach which has some nice swimming areas too.

beachchairs

3. Sipalay, Negros Island

Sipalay is a municipality on Negros Island. Which holds a small town called Sipalay. There are some beautiful beaches and scenic locations there. The place is a must go if you like that. Besides beaches and scenic views there is not much to do. But if you see the beach and enjoy the weather that doesn’t matter at all. I’ve been to Sipalay twice and both times were great.

sipalay-punta-balla-beach

2. Iloilo & Guimaras, Panay

Iloilo City is not much of a tourist place. Or, during the 2 months I’ve been there I didn’t see so many. But it’s a nice city to visit. There are lots of things to explore in or near Iloilo and the whole atmosphere is just nice there. The people are friendly and most facilities seem to just work.

If you’re tired of the city you can make your escape to nearby Guimaras Island and take a island tour there or just sit on a beach. Its a great balance of city and province if you combine the two.

lapaz-market

1. Puerto Galera, Mindoro

I’ve been here for almost 2 months. The first place to go when I arrived in the Philippines. Culture shock was very much a thing. But overall I had a great time in Puerto Galera. Once you know your way around the place you can avoid the crazy tourism a bit and go your own way to the beaches and surrounding areas. I would love to go back here soon-ish.

puerto-galera-view-from-ponderosa

It took me a while to ponder if Puerto Galera should be my number 1. I kinda left in a hurry there after being fed up with the ‘white populace’ that lives there. But now that I have a bunch more experience with that I think it’s not all bad. Plus, culture shock. Which is gone now, too.

As I travel around more in the Philippines I’ll probably create new posts with updated lists and stuff. But for now this is my top 5 places in the Philippines I like – So far…

I can’t nomad because stuff

Because stuff, very much a first world issue – Having too much stuff. And as a result I can’t nomad. So, earlier this week I cleaned house and threw away everything I didn’t care for. Which was a surprising lot of crap. I’ve been renting this house for almost 4 months now and with 2 months to go on the lease I figured it would be nice to clean up a little.

bin-bags

Basically what happens when someone has “settled” stuff starts to accumulate. A box here, a cable there. New curtains, replaced a thing and the old one goes in the closet. Nonsense like that. So I went through all my items and known ‘gathering places’ for miscellaneous things and collected 2 large bin bags full of stuff that I didn’t care for. Including some old(er) clothes, boxes, packaging, kitchen thingies and just random items I never used.

I’ve also ordered and bought some new things. Like my Leatherman Multitool which I lost a while ago. I’ve replaced pretty much all my clothing over the past few weeks. More lightweight shirts and shorts that actually fit me…

backpack-empty

Part of this is just me throwing things out. But it’s also to prepare for my departure from this place. As I mentioned earlier, my lease ends in 2 months or so. I can’t wait to leave. I think all my travel stuff fits in the large backpack again. With some room to spare! Which basically means less weight. A lighter backpack is always good…

The variable income degradation

Last month was a bit of a sketchy month for money. Not that I did poorly but suffice to say that I spent a little too much money while earnings were at an all time low. And that’s scary. Sure there is a dip in earnings every year around this time, but never as deep as last month.

money-pesos

Living on a variable income is a uncertain and sometimes stressful way to live, as last month sort of underscored. I always knew this, but it’s easy to know (and forget) such a thing when your salary is comfortably three times the average while living an average lifestyle.

To me that just meant there was lots of room for occasional big spendings and lots of savings to be built-up. So then when earnings dropped significantly while spendings crept up it caught me with my pants down.

There were days without sales while the expectation was at-least to have one or two. And after a few of such days depressed thoughts about people finally having enough of my software and services popped into my head. Or that my software was being outpaced by some unknown competitor.

Meanwhile there was no real reason to panic, but it did gave me pause and re-evaluate some things. I made a spreadsheet where I now keep track of spendings in general. Nothing super detailed, but just a general overview of where the money likely is spent. Like I said, no real reason to panic (yet?).

Then I kept a close eye on sales and traffic. Sales were way down. So much so that there were moments in the day where I just sat at my laptop and willed sales to happen. It didn’t work very well. My girlfriend Jovelyn tried to cheer me up every time…

Traffic didn’t change much and according to Google Analytics everything was going smoothly too. Same kind of people, same kind of audience via the same channels.

So, what to make of this? I’m not sure, but given the fragile state of the world it’s probably prudent to keep a close eye on things.

After-all I’m not just doing this to pay for today, but to pay for the future, too.

Getting online in the Philippines

If you’re coming to the Philippines, which is widely regarded as the country with the slowest internet, for any period of time do not rely on your ‘home-sim’. Roaming charges are too expensive and any deals your provider at home may have with most countries probably do not exist in the Philippines.

For a few Euros/Dollars you can get decent 3g/4g internet in the Philippines.
I spend about $20-50 USD per month on mobile internet these days. Depending on what I’m doing and how good coverage is. But you can make it as expensive and crazy as you want.

This post is useful for people coming on a vacation/holiday. Or for people staying for a longer period of time, like me. You’re gonna need internet at some point. Better to get it right the first time 🙂

Internet on your smartphone

If you’re just bringing your smartphone then things are very easy. Grab a local simcard from any outlet and activate it. Buy some credits (called “Load”) and activate a promo code for whatever you need. I prefer a simcard from the Smart network. I find that coverage overall is a little better than Globe. But for Internet I generally prefer Globe as they have more 4g coverage.

smart

All providers have a whole bunch of promo codes for bundles of megabytes, voice minutes and text/sms. I mainly use data and don’t bother so much with voice and text anymore. To get internet on your phone you need a simcard and some cash. The two larger providers who control all the networking in the Philippines are Smart and Globe. I use both in various capacities.

My iPhone has a Prepaid Smart simcard which is enabled for Voice/Text and data (there are Data-Only sims too). Currently I only use data. I activate Promocodes worth about $2 for internet a few times a month.

Good Promo codes are:

  • MEGA250 for p250 (~$5 USD)
    180 minutes to Smart/TNT users, Unlimited SMS, 100MB 3g/4g data for 30 days.
  • SAKTODATA99 for p99 (~$2 USD)
    70 minutes to Smart/TNT, 500MB 3g/4g data for 30 days.
  • BIG99 for p99 (~$2 USD)
    200MB 3g/4g data for 30 days
  • BIG299 for p299 (~$6 USD)
    1700MB 3g/4g data for 30 days

Currently I mainly use the SAKTODATA99 promo just because I primarily use data and do not make calls. I got something like 500+ free SMS which are still valid from earlier promos. But I rarely use those. If you need to make some calls I’d recommend using the MEGA250 and BIG99 promo’s as a combination.

Globe has similar promos, but I don’t use Globe for my Phone. Both Smart and Globe are direct competitors though. So whatever one is offering, the other will have a counter offer to compete. Pick whichever network has better coverage in the area you’ll be in. If you have a dualsim phone then you can of-course use both. My girlfriend uses TNT (A subsidiary from Smart) for calls and Globe for data.

Some smartphones can share the internet they get to laptops and tablets via Wifi. This feature is called “Personal Hotspot”. This works fine in my experience, but drains the phone battery very quickly so I prefer to use dedicated hotspots for that.

Pocket Wifi

A Pocket Wifi is a small device meant for converting 2g/3g/4g internet of various signal types into Wifi for your other devices such as laptops, tablets, phones etc..

If you have a bunch of devices such as a laptop or tablet and want to connect those to the internet as well It’s a good idea to get a Pocket Wifi. This is a big thing in the Philippines. Available almost everywhere and it’s cheap too. You can share the Wifi with your friend and family which makes it a good choice for any group of people who want to go online for only a few dollars.

pocket-wifi

Because of geographic difficulties in this country, building a proper wired network is quite a task. So all providers rely on wireless technologies. From my understanding there are some cables to larger/prominent islands which then distribute signals from tower to tower wirelessly to local networks.

From my experience there usually is decent 3g internet available in most areas of the Philippines (where I’ve been anyway). 4g connectivity is a bit more spotty but is available in a bunch of urban areas, progressive municipalities and popular tourist spots. Both my Pocket Wifi devices are 4g capable. 4g access usually costs nothing extra compared to 3g internet.

I have a Pocket Wifi from both Smart and Globe, both work very well with speeds ranging from 5-10 up to 20-25MB depending on where I am. Sometimes the one from Globe has no reception and Smart is the better choice. Other times it’s reversed. Hence why I have both 😉

Where to get a Pocket Wifi

Most cellphone shops sell at least one of the networks. Often both. Outlets are pretty much everywhere. You can buy credit (or “Load”) pretty much everywhere too. Just look for a big Smart or Globe sign/banner outside or a sign saying “Load na Dito”, which means “Load available here”.

If you want a Smart Pocket Wifi ask for a “SmartBro”, if you want a Globe Pocket Wifi ask for a “Globe Tattoo” or “Globe Pocket Wifi”.

You buy the device for p1500 (~$30 USD), this usually includes a free simcard. If there is no simcard included make sure it’s a Data-Only simcard. A simcard costs something around p40-70. Most simcards come with a bit of free data. For both of mine I got 1GB free for 7 days or so. This is a one-time-use promo for the simcard.

After that, you add more load and activate promo’s like on a phone.
The Promo’s I usually use when going on a trip are either of the following.

SmartBro:

  • SURFMAX995 for p995 (~$20 USD)
    Unlimited data (800mb per day) for 30 days.
  • SURFMAX299 for p299 (~$6 USD)
    Unlimited data (800mb per day) for 7 days.

Globe Tattoo:

  • SUPERSURF999 for p999 + p20 (~$20 USD)
    Unlimited data (800mb per day) for 30 days.
  • SUPERSURF200 for p200 + p20 (~$4 USD)
    Unlimited data (800mb per day) for 5 days.

Of-course the more expensive promo is more cheap in the long run… But I let the length of the trip and my hunger for internet decide which is more useful at the time.

A annoying cave-at with globe; Since their pocket wifi for some reason always uses a few kilobytes when you enable it. You may use a few kilobytes of data outside your promo (if you didn’t activate one yet) this may have you waste up to p15. Which then results in you not having enough money to activate the promo. Hence the extra p20. This ensures you can safely use a few kilobytes and use up p15 but ALSO the activation SMS is not free and costs p1.

I ran into this issue a few times, the guys at Globe know about this and their solution is to top up and activate the promo from a phone that has no internet option. Most shops selling load have such phones. So you may want to bring the device with the simcard there and have them set things up for you.

Using the Pocket Wifi

Pocket Wifi devices create a small Wifi network for up to 8 or 10 devices. The signal range is usually around 10-15 meters. Enough for a hotel room. The battery should last 4 to 8 hours (depending on signal strength and how much you use it).

Every wifi capable devices can log in and use it. I hook up my AppleTV to them 🙂 To make your Pocket Wifi more personal and user friendly in terms of wifi and security check out this post: Make your pocket wifi more personal.

As for positioning the thing so it has good reception. Near a window is a good place but be careful if the window frames are made of metal/aluminium. Conductive materials suck up the signal like an antenna, not good.

pocket-wifi-cables

In that event, make sure the device is not touching the frame and is not within 10-ish centimeters (4 inches). A trick I use to prevent signal loss like that is to use a USB Extension cable and hang it in the middle of the glass pane, down from a curtain rod. Or if you have panel windows, open it slightly and just slip the modem outside on a slat in the middle of the window. Obviously, if at all possible pick a window on the side of your accommodation where you know there is a cell tower.

I have a bunch of USB extension cables for the Pocket Wifis to connect them pretty much anywhere in the room. Sometimes it’s a bit fidgety or annoying, and often it requires some moving around the room to find a good spot. But I think it’s worth spending a few minutes to test things out and get a good signal.