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Personal economy

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Even though you might not notice (and indeed, I don’t pay too much attention myself), progress on the 101-in-1001 list is slowly made in the background. For the past three months, I’ve been trying to write down everything I’ve bought and also tried to make some kind of interesting note about every purchase. I believe the traditional division into various areas such as food, clothes and entertainment is bunk, instead I propose a system where each purchase is graded according to how motivated it was. Highly planned purchases rank higher than impulse ones. Food rank higher than entertainment. Food bought in bulk (and thus cheaper) rate higher than fast food bought expensively. Everything ranks higher than cookies.

This is the result after three months (March, April and May 2011). The currency is Swedish crowns (SEK), 1 SEK = 0.16 USD  = 0.11 EUR = 4.6 TWD).

Rank 3 – Essential – Average: 4315 SEK/month – This category includes things that I would die without, or at least things I would be very unhappy if I lacked. It involves things such as rent, internet bill, phone bill, food bought in bulk, transport essential for my upkeep and/or education.

Rank 2 – Non-essential – Average 771 SEK/month – In this category, I’ve sorted everything that I really need, but that isn’t essential, such as hobby-related purchases. I also sort essential things bought at suboptimal prices here, such as food (which I need) bought at a bad price (because I’m bad at planning).

Rank 3 – Waste – Average 380 SEK/month – Here goes everything that I consider pure waste and that I would remove entirely if I were superhuman. Since I’m not, I still spend around 10 crows/day buying cookies, candy and so on. Some of these things would have to be replaced if removed, so the costs in this category can’t just be removed (cookies contain calories that would have to be bought in some other way).

Sum – 5480 SEK/month

Maintaining a life similar to the one I lead now, I have long believed 5000 to be some kind of minimum. Of this, about 3/5 is rent and 1/5 is other non-negotiable fees and payments. This belief seem to be justified. They only thing not included in the calculation above are costs related to my recent publication of a book, Magneter och mirakel, which I consider to be a very unique event that isn’t likely to recur any time soon. On the other hand, I spent a couple of thousand going to and from Lund this semester (I took courses in a different city), which is quite out of the ordinary.

I’m also a bit surprised that the waste category isn’t bigger. It feels like I buy cookies or something similar more or less everyday, but obviously, I don’t. I might have forgotten a few times, but I doubt i would change the average figures much. Since my weight has been extremely stable over the past year, I don’t have much to complain about, even though I realise it would be better to eat the same amount of calories, but distributed more in favour of more wholesome food.

I decided to monitor my expenses simply because all I had before was a guesstimate. Now I know, or at least I know a lot more than I did before. Calculating on yearly minimum of 60 000 SEK is probably a bit optimistic. Adding a margin of about 1000 per month for occasional electric devices, clothes and so on would raise the monthly cost to around 6500 or close to 80 000 annually. That is still a lot more than the student loan, especially considering that I pay no rent during the summer months.

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For a lot of people going abroad to study at university, money one of the most important factors. Before I left for Taiwan in 2008, I thought it was very hard to estimate how much money I would spend during my first year in in a foreign country, so I decided to at least jot down some notes concerning the impact of studying in Taiwan on my personal economy, and publishing it here, I hope that other people might benefit, people who want something which is better than nothing to base their calculations on. This estimation is divided into three parts: expenses in Sweden, expenses in Taiwan and income in Taiwan.

Expenses in Sweden

This part of a year abroad is of course wildly different depending on where you live. Generally speaking, the embassies (or offices) of the Republic of China require a lot of documents to allow you a resident visa, which you need if you want to stay for an extended period of time. These were my expenses prior my departure for Taiwan (in Swedish crowns, 1 SEK = ~$4.5 NT).

Flight tickets: 8000
Prophylaxis: 2500
Health examination: 700
Chest X-ray: 500
HIV test: 250
Visa application: 600

Total: 12 550 SEK (~ $55 000 NT)

Expenses in Taiwan

Expenses in the country are of course also going to vary depending on where you live, where you study and where you eat. Different people have different habits, so to put things in perspective, I’ll tell you that I’m quite thrifty, didn’t travel a lot, but bought a lot of books and some gadgets (like an electronic dictionary for $6600 NT and a phone for $5 000 NT). If forced to hazard a guess, I think most foreigners spend more money than I did. All expenses are now in New Taiwan Dollars (NTD), being worth roughly 0.02 EUR).

Autumn (in Xinzhu)
Tuition fee (Chung Hua University ): 44 000
Accommodation (single room): 16 000
Miscellaneous spending: 73 000
Subtotal: 133 000

Spring (in Gaoxiong)
Tuition fee (Wenzao College): 38 000
Accommodation (single room): 24 000
Miscellaneous spending: 80 000
Subtotal: 142 000

Total: $275 000 NT

Income in Taiwan

The reason I went to Taiwan in the first place was because I managed to acquire a scholarship, the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship, to be more specific. This gave me $25 000 NT every month, and for the ten month I studied, it gave a total of $250 000 NT.

Final calculation and some comments

Expenses in Sweden: $55 000 NT
Expenses in Taiwan:
$ 275 000 NT
Income in Taiwan: $250 000 NT

Total: -$80 000 NT (roughly 17 600 SEK)

I always knew that the scholarship money wouldn’t cover all my expenses, but my gut feeling has been that it would be enough to pay for expenses in Taiwan (i.e. excluding visa application, flight tickets and so on). As we can see above, my estimation was almost spot on. If we disregard the more expensive things I bought, the scholarship money would’ve matched my spendings more or less exactly.

One of the questions one might ask is whether the scholarship money is enough to live and study in Taiwan for one year. My answer is yes, it is. It would even be enough to cover flight tickets from Europe or America if the student was prepared to live in the univresity dormitories (I wasn’t). On the other hand, the money isn’t enough if you plan to travel a lot and go shopping twice a week, but I suppose that wasn’t the idea anyway.

So, what does this say about my next year in Taiwan, which I will have to manage without the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship? I think my expenses will stay roughly the same, because even though the north is more expensive, the tuition fees for the two semesters are about half of those I paid last year. Also, I already have a well-established existence in the country and I don’t need to buy a lot of stuff that was essential to buy when I first arrived.

Even if I failed to extend the scholarship from last year, I still have the National Taiwan Normal University Freshman Scholarship, which will give me a total of $100 000, which will of course cut my costs a lot. I’ve also worked a lot this summer, improving my financial stuation a great deal. I guess we’ll see in a year if I’m correct, but I think $350 000 NT out and $100 000 NT in seems reasonable, which will leave me with a cost of $250 000 NT or 55 000 SEK. That’s quite okay for one year of full-time studies abroad!

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