Note: This post is about money. If you’re shy about discussions on earning, growing and spending money, you’re at the wrong place. If you understand the value of money, if you like money, and if you want more of it while keeping your freedom, continue reading this post.
Mid-2019 marked the completion of 2 kickasscular years of living my digital nomad lifestyle. I’m writing this post in September 2019 and as of today, I’ve traveled to 25 countries and ended up with 25 lakhs (INR) in savings at the end of 2 years. I am writing this article from a small island in Indonesia, still enjoying my time on the beach, with a location-independent, financially-stable, and boss-free lifestyle.
In this post, I will be sharing the exact steps I followed to make, save, invest, grow and manage my money without any BS.
P.S. This article is about personal finance and not about the nomad lifestyle. I’m writing this for anyone who wants to meet their financial goals can. By reading my story, you can see how I saved and invested my money and If I can do it – you can do it too.
Table of Contents
Quick points about Location Independence and Money to note before we get started
- Location independence is not for everyone. You shouldn’t want my life because it works well on Instagram. You should want it if you really really want it.
- Working remotely is not possible for everyone. Some skills cannot be manifested offline. For instance, My mother appreciates my lifestyle though she’s a doctor and needs to operate in a given location. Moreover, she doesn’t even want my lifestyle (Refer to #1).
- Income automation is real but like anything else which is desirable, it takes input to get an output. The input can be in terms of effort or money or time or resources. In most cases, and for me, it was all of these.
- If you really want this lifestyle, just know that anyone can do this. I’ve no special background in terms of education or upbringing. Even though I always got the best support possible, My family has a different mindset and often doesn’t understand why I would choose to live the way I live. I’ve no special support or mentorship from anyone else who has done this. My country doesn’t produce many digital nomads and our passport strength sucks big time. All in all, if I can do it – you can do it too.
- Building a stable online business (product or service) is the best way to scale this lifestyle. There are many other “hacks” or “shortcuts” which I’m not talking about here. A remote job is an another way which would work really well if you prefer a fixed income while being a nomad.
- Saving is useful only when it’s invested. There is no point in keeping money in the bank. Most of the process is about investing and not about saving. Money in the bank makes more money for your bank, not for you.
- Spending is key to this lifestyle, unlike common financial advice. Most financial advice is focused on saving but without spending it, you cannot live the life you were saving for! I know what I like to spend on and this lifestyle lets me 10x that expenditure. I’m from a middle-class family but I haven’t inherited the middle-class mentality.
Here’s how I’ve been living my life in the past 2 years
- I’ve been traveling constantly, mostly the local, slow way and a few times the more fast, touristy way. I appreciate both ways of travel – slow and fast, but slow more 🙂
- I’ve visited and explored 25 countries in these 2 years – Portugal, Spain, Thailand, France, Germany, Belgium, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Netherlands, Italy, Vietnam, Austria, Poland, Laos, and Cambodia have been some of my favorites.
- As you can see, I alternative between more expensive and budget travel. I also alternate between local homestays and luxury resorts. This helps manage the cost of travel while getting both local (more heart, connections, and cultural) and luxury (more relaxed, comfy beds, services, and facilities) experiences.
- Here are some of the best experiences I’ve had during my travels so far.
- I’ve been running many parallel revenue sources while traveling – all of them online – with a lot of focus on my online academy where I train marketers and entrepreneurs on growth hacking.
Like I mentioned earlier, this post is not going to be about my experiences, travels, or lifestyle. It’s going to be about my finances. I will share how I saved and grew my money with actionable steps you can follow as well.
- I started at ZERO and took no money from family after the age of 21. (I’m 29 now)
- When I was 21, my mother gifted me a new laptop and a train ticket to Bangalore – that was the last funding from family 🙂
- I have no investors or mentors and I won’t talk about the importance of mentors here.
- I didn’t start my journey with a nomadic lifestyle.
- I started by building and managing a full-time, all-the-time office-based business in Bangalore, India and slowly transitioned to the nomad lifestyle.
Lesson #1: It’s All About The Cash Flow
Remember what you’re looking for is not money, but cash flow. Here’s how I think about cash flow:
- Incoming (Revenue)
- Holding (Accounts should be near-zero)
- Outgoing (Expense)
- Investment (All savings go here)
The incoming is all the revenue streams you have. I don’t have a job or full-time engagement which helps me maintain my freedom so I don’t really have a “fixed income” revenue stream. This helps a lot as then I am free to generate multiple revenue streams.
The holding is the bank accounts, savings, cash on hand, and any other channels where you “hold” the money. My goal is always to keep the holding = 0.
The idea is to split the holdings (#2) into #3 (outgoing) and #4 (investment). The outgoing is everything I spend to drive my incoming (#1) which includes technology, tools, marketing, and salaries (I have freelancers and remote teams who work for me – yes I didn’t say “with me” – sorry HR executives – because I am an old-school boss operating in a modern startup ecosystem getting process-oriented results without all the bloated beer and dry pizza).
Everything that’s left goes into Investment (#4). This is where a big difference is. Most people are holding this amount in #2 while I make sure my holding is always 0 by moving all of it to #4.
Lesson #2: Creating Multiple Revenue Streams
When you work a stupid job you don’t like, you can’t have #2. Don’t listen to the IIT and IIM grads who message you on LinkedIn for those network marketing scams. They should be the first ones to know what really works is building stable revenue streams. You need these streams only until you have enough to start investing and making your money work for you.
My revenue streams (not in the order of value generated):
- My online academy for startup growth (online courses and books)
- Online services – marketing, websites, design
- Growth Hacking consultation service
- Affiliate marketing commissions
- Google Adwords on multiple blogging websites
These are the top 5 sources of revenue for me. #1, #4, and #5 are mostly automated in terms of operation. However, I spend a lot of energy and focus on #1 for new content creation and marketing. For #2, I work with a team of freelancers and highly-skilled remote employees. For #3, I exchange my hours for a high fee. This is the least scalable but the most fun. I love it.
Talking about passion, I do not necessarily love everything I do. But here’s what I do love: CASH FLOW. I love cash flow and hence, I have no regrets in working for my cash flow.
Lesson #3: Being Debt-Free & Managing Income Instability
I never cared about a monthly stable income. I only care about how much money I can put into an investment every year and make it grow. This is one of the reasons I have no issue when I make 50% less this month than last month.
I also have no loans or EMIs. I never got into that shit.
I also never took money from my family as I started blogging while I was still at school and eventually moved into multiple other online avenues – all roads eventually leading to becoming a startup growth hacker which is my main role now.
It’s important to have no debts in order to live a lifestyle which is initially financially unstable. If you’re engaged in a full-time business operation, then debt might be required and useful – and even desirable for growth. But in independent nomadic life, it can ruin the entire experience.
So the key is to start with no debts. If you’re new to personal finance or the digital nomad lifestyle, remember that for both you should start from a place of 0 financial debts.
Here’s an example of the instability of revenue from the past 2 months (July vs August 2019) from one of the revenue streams:
The point here is the revenue is not regular or fixed. It might be even lower or 4x higher in September.
I don’t have too many monthly commitments (no loans/debts) and my investment and expense on a recurring basis are manageable. Most importantly, I have other revenue streams which can fill in for any critical requirements. This is how multiple revenue streams help manage instability of finances.
Lesson #4: Financial Foundations for a Digital Nomad Life
There is a set of financial foundations you should have in place before you can manifest a comfortable digital nomad lifestyle. These are also applicable for a regular way of life or any other special lifestyle (FIRE, etc).
Before you start with the following checklist, you should also consider selling everything you own as doing that puts you ahead of the things you own.
- Start Debt Free (Lesson #3)
- Get a life insurance
- Get medical insurance with international coverage
- Max out on the basic tax investments
You should have the above in place before you start using the money for traveling. These are essentials and cannot be ignored.
For #4, you can use LIC or tax-saving mutual funds (recommended) and invest there to get the maximum tax benefit. The worst thing you can do for your personal finances is to pay high taxes.
I prefer ELSS funds over the other instruments available under Section 80C, Income Tax Act. I’ve also been seeing an okay growth in my ELSS investments apart from the tax-saving advantage even when the market is down.
Lesson #5: Leveraging Credit Cards – Float Money and Rewards
A credit card, when used properly, is a great tool for saving and growing money. It acts as an “interest-free loan” for around 45 days which is what we call “float money”.
Float money is what you can use for your expenses without having to keep a lot of “holding” money. As I mentioned in Lesson #1, the goal is to have near-zero or minimal holding amount. That is, you need to push your money from your bank accounts to investments and use the money from credit cards for expenses as much as possible.
Apart from the float advantage of credit cards, they also get me amazing rewards which fuel the digital nomad life – including free flights and hotel stays.
Here are the 2 credit cards I use currently:
- HDFC Regalia
- American Express Platinum
Both of them are premium cards with high limits so I can get the maximum advantage of float and reward points. Both have reward programs with great benefits, especially to the nomad life. If you’re going to be traveling, you should skip the “shopping” credit cards and focus on ones with more benefits on travel. (Unless you’re traveling for shopping!)
The important thing is to pay your credit card bills on time. Credit card companies will start winning and you will lose all the advantage once you start delaying your payments.
2 important takeaways:
- Pay your bills on time
- Max out on the float amount and use it 100%
For example, it is mid-September 2019 now and I’ve used close to 50% of my float already. This is perfect considering I still have half a month to go. I’ve also never delayed a credit card payment.
The standing on the Amex card is similar though the limit is higher and I’m usually not able to use the entire float amount in which case, I use the float money for investments when I can forecast an incoming in the coming weeks.
When it comes to rewards, I’ve had the last 2 flights and my last hotel stay for free and I still have enough points to book new flights using my previous Jetprivilege points, which are now really ‘more powerful than ever’ as you can use them for almost any airline.
Lesson #6: Investing is the Key to Growth
While all the above lessons are important, #1 and #6 are probably the most important of them all.
You already understand that your holding amount should be 0. This means you need to move all the money so it can work for you and make more money for you. Your money needs to go out in the world – work for you, make babies for you, multiply for you. You’re not going to get wealthy by sliding it under your bed.
I talk about the law of unavoidable variation in my upcoming book on ‘The Art of Growth Hacking’ where I explain how variation, either increase or decrease, of any metric over time is unavoidable.
So If you keep INR 1000 cash under your bed and forget about it, don’t expect to get INR 1000 back the next year you look under your bed.
Your INR 1000 would now be either more or less than INR 1000 based on the inflation and the value of the money itself.
You would’ve also lost the money this INR 1000 could’ve made for you by being invested in the right assets.
This is true even on a more micro-timeline. Every day, you’re either losing or gaining money. If your money is in your savings account, you’re pretty much always losing it. If you pay a bill from your credit card (as explained in Lesson #5) over using a debit card or cash, you’re probably gaining a little as you’re using the “float” money from your credit card which can be paid for after 45 days.
Now, I’ll share the asset classes where I’ve invested this money is saved over 2 years with the % split of the current total amount.
- Equity Mutual Funds (50%)
- Mobile Apps, Startups, Side Projects (20%)
- Stock Market (15%)
- Sovereign Gold Bonds (10%)
- P2P Lending (5%)
- Sweep-In Deposit (For temporary holding)
Regular deposits (FDs, etc) are for the middle-class mindset and they’re definitely not going to make your money work for you (the idea of the middle-class is to work for money instead) but you can still activate a sweep-in deposit on your bank account for the temporary duration you keep the holding amount for.
Just a note here: I’m middle class and from a middle-class family but I don’t wish to maintain or carry forward their mindset. The mindset shift if more important than your current situation.
I’ll talk briefly about all my investments here and a more detailed version will be available in this course.
Lesson #7: Building a Solid Investment Portfolio
Before I get into the details of my entire investment portfolio, let me answer the most common question first:
Why I have 50% of all my money in Equity Mutual Funds?
People are often talking about the market being down and the fall of mutual funds in the current Indian market situation. However, this is not a valid argument as “the current value” of mutual funds doesn’t matter. A mutual fund is for long-term wealth creation and not for a short trade.
I started investing in mutual funds around 3.5 years ago and I only review my funds once or twice every 2 years. While everyone is worried about their fund value going down, I’m just adding more units as swiftly as possible as this is what will grow in the future and the market will come back up as we’re a growing country of young people.
I have close to a 50:50 split between diversified and large-cap mutual funds and I’ve almost never seen a negative return on my funds. That’s probably because I don’t check in with the funds’ status often. The amount is close to INR 27 lakhs currently and I have a target to grow the equity funds to 1 Crore with regular investments every month.
I don’t keep a SIP since I don’t have a fixed monthly income but I add instructions to the investment in advance based on my forecasting of the incoming and holding amounts (refer to Lesson #1).
I will share the names of all the mutual funds I’ve invested in if you want (just ask in the comments on this article) but I have no clue if the same will work for you or not. It’ll depend on how you manage it and how regular and systematic you are.
Here are 2 of the largest investments in the large-cap category which I would definitely recommend though:
Overall, I would like to say “Mutual fund sahi hai” 🙂
Mobile Apps, Startups, Side Projects (20%) – I often get ideas for new apps or side projects. I ideate them and find freelancers to work on the same. Once it’s ready, I either launch it for growth hacking or for revenue.
Stock Market (15%) – I hold stocks long term. I don’t do day trading. I want to sip a drink on the beach and not worry about the price of a share going up or down. I invest in companies which either I use myself or see many people use every day after doing a fair amount of research on them. I don’t subscribe to or listen to any market calls.
3 companies that I’m holding shares (long-term) are listed below:
- BRITANNIA: snacking is cool in our society for some reason and Indians love milk
- ITC: smoking is addictive like processed foods, people have a hard time overcoming their addictions, and Incense Sticks are a religious necessity in a religious country
- CIPLA: people get sick all the time
Professionally run banks are also good options but I prefer the above. I’ve never been disappointed with the returns from these 3 companies.
Disclaimer: I don’t recommend any stocks to anyone as your timing and situation could be wrong and you might lose money. I am not a broker and I have no interest in telling you where to put your money. I am only sharing what has worked for me.
Sovereign Gold Bonds (10%) – This is the only investment issued by the government of India that I have. I get 2.5% annual return and I can sell the gold bonds at the market value after the holding period. It’s a great investment especially if you’re not someone who wants to keep physical gold with you (which is usually the women).
P2P Lending (5%) – High-risk, high-return. I’ve got an average 25% return through P2P lending over the past year with no default so far. I keep 5% here and diversify by allocating small amounts to people with good standing and rating.
Note that for a digital nomad, real estate investment is not recommended however an Airbnb live-in and flip strategy is a good idea (as a revenue stream and not an investment) and can work wonders if done right. I’ve done this in Vietnam and my listings can be found here. However, I chose to give away all the earnings from this strategy to the local families in Vietnam I love.
Tools I’ve Used:
Here are the tools I’ve used in this journey and you can also give them a try to help your financial journey. The tools you use will be up to you but I’m mentioning these here because all these tools have worked wonders for me and they deserve a shoutout.
- Scripbox (mutual fund investments)
- Kite by Zerodha (stock market investments)
- Walnut App (tracking personal expenses)
- LendBox (P2P lending)
- Yes Bank (savings account) and Kotak Bank (auto-sweep account)
I will also add a more detailed list of tools in the course. There are probably around 10 personal finance apps on my phone right now. Technology can help us make money if we use it properly. I also want to give a big shoutout to Finology by Pranjal Kamra who I’ve learned a lot from about investing in India.
My current process:
- Step 1: Work on multiple revenue streams
- Step 2: Review holding amount regularly
- Step 3: Pay bills and people
- Step 4: Move the rest to investments
I repeat the above and it helps me keep growing my income. This is the same process I’ve been following over the past 2 years. The idea is to always try to keep the holding amount near-zero. It is really that simple.
I know many of you may have questions about this post – feel free to leave a comment on the article and I promise I will answer them.
Going forward, I will publish 3 tutorials like these (both articles and ebooks, possibly also videos) at the following milestones:
- INR 25 lakhs (achieved)
- INR 50 lakhs
- INR 75 lakhs
- 1 Crore
- Every crore until $1M
Note that the target is in terms of liquid investments so it is like cash I can take out and use at any time.
This will help you follow my journey to INR 1 Crore and ultimately to $1M. This should be more helpful than watching those you’ve already made it or reading articles from those who haven’t even made it and just write from research.
I invite you to be part of this journey with me.
When you sign up for the course, I will also share regular updates on my personal finance journey and all the milestone updates from my financial goals.
Till then, let’s talk in the comments.
All the best,