Tracking our spending as digital nomads… what does it reveal?

How does our spending change as we move to different cities around the world? We now have two years of data to look at, so it’s time to start delving!

Damn you, New York and your irresistible breakfast-at-dinners: you're ruining our spending patterns!
Damn you, New York and your irresistible breakfast-at-dinners: you’re ruining our spending patterns!

This week it’ll be two years since we started tracking our daily spending. An unusual anniversary, some might say, and one which has to be celebrated carefully if we’re to avoid any irony.

Using The Birdy, we record not only how much we spend each month, but also what we spend the money on: we apply tags like #transport to a certain amount of spending, and (if we want) can also provide extra information too – like “Bonobus travel card in Valencia”.

And now that we have data from 730 days across numerous countries, we can get a good idea of our priorities and obsessions at any point in time – and we can also do a pretty good cost-of-living comparison across regions.

Here are some insights:

  • Throughout two years of living in multiple cities around the world, our outgoings have been remarkably consistent – even though our income levels have changed dramatically and the types of things we spend money on differs between countries. We spend about £2,000 ($3,000) a month, wherever we are. That price includes accommodation, transport, food, entertainment… everything. We’ll usually spend longer in further-flung destinations (which are often cheaper places to live) to offset the cost of the flights, which partially explains how we’re able to achieve such consistent spending.
  • At the moment we’re living in New York, which is a complete anomaly that will somehow have to be factored out of future analyses. The flights to get here weren’t cheap, the accommodation is pricier than anywhere we’ve ever lived (including London), and we’re spending an awful lot more money on eating out and coffees because it all looks so darn good. Our spending here will work out at over £3,500 a month (once we’ve taken the cost of the flights and spread it out across the amount of time we’re spending here).
  • In Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia we spent a higher proportion of our outgoings on wine than we did on coffee, eating out, or pretty much anything that didn’t involve groceries. Which makes sense, when wine is cheaper than soft drinks and you get vast quantities of free tapas with every order.
  • July 2014 (in Valencia and London) could have bucked the £2,000 trend and been much cheaper. But Rob’s laptop went tits up and we had to spend a fortune on getting it repaired. (It’s OK everyone: he now has a Mac so we’ll never be in this situation again.) As Amy Schumer would say, it’s like the universe was telling us that we have a commitment to spend £2,000 a month whichever way possible.
  • In South East Asia, a whopping 45% of our spending (not including flights or accommodation) went on eating out, and – we’re quite proud of this one – 8% went on massages.

 Only 4.5% went on groceries, while a disproportionate amount (about 10%) was spent on coffee: cafes in Chiang Mai are geared towards tourists and often charge as much for a hot drink as local restaurants will charge for a meal.
  • During one particular month in South East Asia, quite a large proportion of our spending went on “health”. After clicking on the tag in The Birdy to reveal more information, I was able to see some extra notes we’d applied to the “health” spending during that time: turns out it was all down to the full-body checkup that Rob decided to splurge on, which cost £60. In any other country, that health checkup at that price would have taken up a far smaller portion of our spending pie (a visual that’s available in The Birdy for at-a-glance analysis). But we were in Chiang Mai at the time – where £60 could also buy us 20 separate meals. In London, the equivalent health tests and screenings cost £800.
  • Returning to a city we know and love is an excellent way to spend money more wisely. The first time we were in Barcelona, we had a very cheap and tiny apartment but spent a lot on tourist attractions and restaurants. The second time, we’d figured out our priorities: we rented a larger and more expensive apartment, didn’t bother with many of the tourist attractions, and ate at home a lot more because we’d discovered some amazing local markets. We still spent a heck of a lot on wine though: about 15% of all our purchases (excluding accommodation and flights).
  • We tend to walk places as much as we can. It’s harder to do that in Berlin because it’s humungous, so a lot more of our money went on public transport than it normally does. (And that’s even after factoring in our insanely good deal of renting bikes for 30 euros a month each.)
  • The most “no spend” days we’ve had in a row? Four. (We enter them in The Birdy as £0.01 so that we don’t lose our streak of recording our spending.)

Ever since we started tracking and analysing our spending, we’ve realised how useful it’s become. It forces us to think twice about spending any money (because we know we’ll have to record it later), and we seem to have developed some sort of sixth sense that enables us to spend roughly the same amount of money wherever we are.

It’s also useful for proving to ourselves (and showing others who want to live this sort of lifestyle) that full-time travel doesn’t have to be crazy expensive. Even after factoring in flights, we travel the world extremely comfortably (lovely apartments, great food, airplanes rather than coach trips…) on £2,000/$3,000 a month.

Except when we’re in NYC, of course.

Your turn!

Do you track your spending? If so, what tools do you use to do so? And have you noticed anything interesting or strange about your spending habits? Let me know in the comments!

(Note: a slightly different version of this blog post first was sent to our newsletter subscribers last week. To sign up for future newsletters, click here.)