An Australian father is working a fraction of the hours he used to and is living comfortably off $60,000 a year since fleeing the cost-of-living crisis, and he says thousands of other families do too.
If you look at Jimmy Mitchell’s social media, you’d almost think he’s reposting photographs from a holiday. But you’d be wrong, that’s his day-to-day as a permanent traveller. Not only is he spending his time laughing, exploring and creating memories with his wife Pauline, and their two young sons, he told Yahoo Finance his money troubles melted away when they decided to sell everything they owned and left Australia.
Rising costs and the expectation to work up to 15 hours a day “just to get by” on his $100,000 wage left Mitchell feeling like a “frog being boiled slowly”. The family has lived in four different countries in South-East Asia over the past year and there are no plans to make a permanent return to Australia, after a holiday back to see family revealed “how much worse” things had become.
“We have a perspective of how expensive it actually really is now,” Mitchell said. “It puts a sour taste in our mouth. It feels like we’ve been priced out of Australia at this point.”
Are you dealing with the cost of living in an unusual way? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The disillusioned digital marketer, who made his 15-person agency a remote operation, had thought his $185 rent increase was a big hit at the time. But the $585 he was paying in Mandurah, just south of Perth, has since hit $750. And that’s just one cost. Now, he's not fuming over supermarket prices jumping, or wondering how he's going to pay the electricity bill.
He's happy and has shared his seven best insights - from adjusting his family and finding new places to live, to homeschooling his boys and meeting up with other travelling families - to see if you can pull it off too.
“All the things I expected to be able to do as a family, we can afford to do over there as opposed to Australia, where we felt like we were just existing to pay bills,” the 36-year-old said.
“Right now, we make a little bit over $60,000 and that is enough for a family of four to live very comfortably. We get to spend pretty much every day going for a swim, to the movies, or theme parks.”
To feel rich in Australia, a recent survey found you'd need to be earning almost $346,000 – almost five times more than the typical income of about $70,000, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data.
This made the former Navy man feel like his family was “dropping out of the middle class” in Australia. Since then, he's lived in luxury villas and is more likely to eat out than cook a meal. He and his wife work about three hours a day on their online business and have the financial freedom to rarely think about their budget.
“In Australia, we used to have to constantly watch our money and really think about money. Money drove every decision we made,” Mitchell said. “Now, we don’t even think about it. If we want to do something, we just do it because it is all so cheap.
“I used to sit there and complain about the cost of living, but I was doing nothing about it so we decided to vote with our feet.”
He said the ‘great Australian dream’ of buying a property was now out of reach for so many, and the father of two has now reimagined what’s really important for his family.
“To me, the dream was spending more time as a family, building connections and having a meaningful life. And it’s sad we have to leave Australia to do it,” he said.
“There’s a lot of parents who think, ‘If I get the boat, the caravan, the car, I will be happy’. But it doesn't work like that because you have no time to use them. I had all that and it was sitting in the driveway becoming garden ornaments. What’s the point?”
‘Live now’: Mum’s devastating diagnosis prompts thirst for life
So many of us are told we can enjoy our lives in the golden years. But how many Australians are now struggling to afford a comfortable retirement, being expected to squirrel away at least $595,000 (and that’s without inflation)? Or, in worse cases, how many don’t even get there?
Mitchell said seeing his mother’s sudden deterioration in health was another trigger for him to upend his life here and choose to live now, rather than struggle to “chase some arbitrary Australian dream”.
“I watched my mum going from being healthy to having Alzheimers and needing full-time care in just two years,” he said. “It’s a brutal, brutal disease and I said to my wife, when I was working 12-15 hour days, ‘What happens if I get t-boned and I am not here anymore? What are the memories the boys will have of me? That Dad worked really hard to provide for us?’
“Now, if I died tomorrow, I know they would have very vivid memories of me and this time.”
So, how does he do it? Here's the nitty gritty.
7 quick-fire questions to help you understand if moving overseas is for you
1. Where do you live?
“We hire Airbnbs for a month or more at a time, which gives you a discount of anywhere between 30 per cent and 50 per cent. If we don’t like it, we move on.”
2. How many countries have you travelled to and how do you choose where is next?
“Last year, four: Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. We don't really have any set itinerary. We kind of just float around and go where the wind takes us.”
3. Do you think your kids suffer?
“They adjusted better than my wife and I. We’ve met a lot of families doing this. There are thousands out there travelling around and, because socialisation is important, connecting with those families is a big part of it. But, at the end of the day, they [the kids] are just happy to be spending more time with us.”
4. What was your biggest fear?
“Homeschooling our kids. But we have it penned in now and follow the West Australia learning outcomes on the website. We set up a learning plan each night and do three hours a day, focusing on Maths and English. Because of COVID-19, there are great learning platforms online so it’s easier than ever before. Plus there are international ‘world schooling’ hubs expats run that we drop into, where parents pool resources to hire different teachers or go on different excursions.
“Plus, unlike regular schools, we can tailor plans to our kids - their strengths. We can speed up and slow down based on their retention of the knowledge, or lean into their interests. The kids love space and Dragon Ball Z, so we can do a creative writing composition on that. The boys are both now a year ahead in maths.”
5. Are you worried about medical care?
“We have travel insurance and pay $3,500 a year for it, which is more than most people pay for health insurance but it’s not something we wanted to skimp on in case anything does happen. But we have been to hospital multiple times and paid out of pocket.
“My wife had a bad injury with a wound on her leg that wasn’t healing. There was an international section of the hospital, which was like a VIP area. She saw a doctor, had two ultrasounds and an x-ray before seeing the doctor again, which was less than $100. Then the antivirals were a few bucks. I needed two fillings and it was less than $20.
“If something big happens, we know our insurance can get us back to Australia.”
6. What was the biggest unexpected cost?
“Transport, we were so used to having a car in Australia but, obviously, we couldn't get one moving around so we used taxis and public transport. That was probably the one chink in the armour of South-East Asia. In Perth, the public transport is so good. Here, everywhere except Malaysia, the public transport isn't developed enough. We spent $5,000 in a year just getting around."
7. What are your biggest tips for someone who wants to do the same?
“Leave your conceptions of South-East Asia behind because it’s surprisingly more modern than you think. There are cities that are more modern than Sydney or Melbourne, from an infrastructure perspective.
“And don’t plan too far in advance. Just think about why you are doing it and go for it. You can always come back to Australia.”