[Estimated time to read: 6 minutes]
As well as travelling the world with his wife Pele on a tandem bike, Andrew Hallam gives his time freely to educate expats about money.
He has authored two of the world's best selling personal finance books on Amazon and is colloquially known as ‘The Millionaire Teacher’ – the school teacher who became a millionaire and now teaches others. The personal learning he shares — about investing, indexing and living the best life you possibly can — has helped improve the future for thousands of expatriates already.
With just a month left in the Middle East before he heads off to Africa and then Thailand, I caught up with Andrew Hallam to talk about what he’s achieved on his current teaching tour, what’s left to do, and why it’s never too late to make a positive change.
Sam Instone: Ahead of some of your talks in the Middle East, you were recently trolled by some in the financial services industry who don’t want you uncovering their tactics…how did that make you feel?
Andrew Hallam: At first, it was a little disheartening. I didn’t think there were people in the financial services industry who would stoop that low.
But it has a silver lining. I’m obviously making an impact. I’m negatively affecting income streams for those selling expensive offshore pensions.
Some of those proceeds are now getting redirected into the pockets of the everyday person as they learn to make smarter investment decisions. Of course, that has annoyed plenty of people who make their living (and huge, hidden commissions) selling outdated investments and pension schemes.
Ironically, the trolling has actually created more interest. People are now even more curious to hear me speak.
SI: Among the many people you’re talking to on your tour of the Middle East, I’ve noticed many are in their 40s and 50s, and for whatever reason, they haven’t got a handle on their finances yet… is it too late for them?
AH: It’s never too late. You’ll never be younger than you are RIGHT NOW. Plus, expats are fortunate enough to see the world through different lenses. Our retirement options are broader.
Fewer people in our home countries see the multitude of options. If we haven’t saved enough, we recognize that we could retire in Mexico, Vietnam, Malaysia or Thailand on a fraction of the amount that we would need in the UK, for example.
When my wife and I were in Mexico, for example, we were so impressed by the lifestyle that people could enjoy on just $1,600 a month (£1,200).
Even if you spent just 6 months a year (preferably the warmer months) in a low-cost location, your retirement costs for the year could be cut in half.
If you’ve started your savings plan at a later age, there’s still plenty of hope. Just keep adding money to a portfolio of low cost index funds.
Track every penny you spend on your smartphone. By doing so, you’ll end up spending less. That will free up more money for saving.
SI: So, is it ever too late to get your financial life on track?
AH: Honestly? I don’t think it’s ever too late.
If you can fog a mirror, if you’re living and breathing and thinking, it’s never too late.
I used to think I needed plenty of money to retire, but I’ve met people who retired (even at relatively young ages) with surprisingly little.
Because they have their minds and their ingenuity, they’ve found some really cool, creative options.
I know one woman who house-sits fulltime. She lives like the rich and famous. But somebody else is paying the bill.
She spends a few months every year in a gorgeous home overlooking Mexico’s Lake Chapala. Then she jets off to Ecuador or Malaysia to do the same thing.
In some cases, she gets paid for living in other people’s homes. The homeowners tend to be wealthy — with multiple homes and (sometimes) pets that need to be taken care of. I’ve learned that a lot of people do that.
SI: Based on everything you’ve learned on your travels and through your teaching, why would you say people find it hard to face their financial reality?
AH: I think it’s for the same reasons most people find it really hard to embrace a 100% healthy lifestyle.
We all know what we need to do – eat more vegetables, don’t smoke, eat less junk, drink less alcohol. We all know this – but it comes down to the concept of deferred gratification.
People are reluctant to defer gratification – they want something that makes them feel good right NOW!
But there’s a far bigger reward down the road, if they’re patient.
Whether that’s exercising, eating properly, or investing, people sometimes get overwhelmed and think “oh, it’s too late for me anyway.”
Whether that’s a healthy lifestyle or a financially healthy lifestyle, we often stick our heads in the sand and say: “you know what? I don’t think I can do it. I’m just going to enjoy every little moment that I have currently, and I’m not going to think about tomorrow….”
SI: How do you, personally, find the strength to get past mistakes or see beyond negatives without feeling sorry for yourself? I ask this, because a lot of people you speak to have made financial mistakes in the past, like trusting the wrong people, or buying the wrong investments, and they are stuck, unable to move forward, because they are so unhappy about what has happened.
AH: I think about the futility of putting our failures into our future. The future is a blank slate. We have the tools to paint that future bright.
Often, those tools have come from the mistakes we’ve made in the past and what we’ve learned from those mistakes.
If we learn from all of those experiences, we can become more productive. More importantly, we can become better people – more loving and accepting.
SI: I hate to ask this! But, what’s the one thing we could be doing better at AES?
I used to think you could lower the costs on your simple investing platform. But your hands are tied based on the high costs of the regulatory environment, and lower volumes that you’re dealing with.
Dealing with expats around the world, you don’t have access, at this stage, to every single index fund or provider (such as Vanguard)…but once you do, and it will happen as investors learn about this better approach, you’ll have the opportunity to reduce costs even further.
So, I think you’re doing all the right things and moving in the right direction. You’re always looking for the best and lowest cost options for expats, and I think if you keep doing what you’re doing, more options will come, and it will help investors a lot.
SI: Finally, can you tell us something you’ve never told anyone?!
AH: When I earned my first $4, I washed them in the sink and blow-dried them. [Laughs] I had earned them delivering newspaper – my first sweat equity.
SI: Then what did you do with them?
AH: You know what! I’ll tell you what I did. I know exactly what I did!
I kept on saving the money from delivering newspapers, and I actually saved up a total of $350. My mum decided she wanted to send me with a British based organisation called NewWorld Educational Cruises. It organised educational trips to the UK and throughout the Mediterranean.
So, I joined a group of (mostly) rich kids from my hometown in Canada. We had to take night classes with a retired school teacher to learn about the regions we’d be visiting. But our family wasn’t rich. My dad was a mechanic. My parents had four kids.
My mom stayed at home to make sure we didn’t get into trouble. But to pay for my trip, she took a part-time job, earning the minimum wage. Every penny she earned went to cover the costs of my trip. The trip was going to cost $2,800 – and my contribution to it was going to be $350…that was the idea.
So, that’s exactly where those $4 went, they went into the bank, and I kept on adding my monthly paper round money until I made my $350 target.
I’m still travelling around the world, so I suppose that first $4 (especially that trip) helped to shape who I became.
My sincere thanks to Andrew Hallam: an inspirational gentleman, alongside whom is the equally inspirational Pele Hallam.
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