Andrew Hallam isn’t an American, isn’t a missionary, isn’t a nonprofit worker, and isn’t even paying Vagabond Finances under the table for our “fandom.” That being the case, why has he been given a free link to his books and website, been posting on our blog, and been discussed on Vagabond’s Facebook page.
Vagabond Finances exists to help US expats who are missionaries, nonprofit workers, and other limited-income workers abroad. At first blush, Andrew, seemingly has very little in common with us, so why do we consider him to be the best guide to US expat investing? Let’s ask six “Whys” about Andrew Hallam and his writings that should make it all clear…
Why is Hallam so good for US expats?
Well, Andrew was an expat teacher in Singapore whose subject matter was personal finance. Yes, he was an expat, he lived on a limited-income as a teacher, he studied and taught personal finance, and he followed his own plan to successful, early-retirement.
Andrew’s advice is straight-forward and nicely conservative. He talks about getting out of debt, choosing low-cost, diversified index funds, calculating how much money you’ll need in retirement, and so on. Yet, this level-headed guy writes books with extravagant-sounding titles like The Millionaire Expat and The Millionaire Teacher. He seems to use the “M-word” a lot. What’s up with that?
Why is “Millionaire” not a bad goal?
After reading some of Andrew’s articles online, I joked that Andrew Hallam and Mark Mason should write a book together called The Millionaire Missionary. As a missionary myself, I thought it had a nice ring to it. (The Millionaire Limited-Income Worker just seemed a bit too cumbersome.) Even as I said it, I realized that no missionary, nonprofit worker, teacher, or limited-income worker would aspire to save a million. It’s too much to save in even a lifetime of limited-income work overseas, right?
But do we really need a million? Well, just take a look at what it will cost us to live in a US home for 30 years after retirement. A lot of the retirement calculators will show tell you that you’ll need a million dollars or more to retire in the States! I’m not advocating for a million-dollar retirement and each of us has to do our own math and prayerful planning, but the outrageous term of “Millionaire” has lost a lot of its wow-factor over the years.
So, while we might be tempted to set aside Andrew’s work because we feel like being a “Millionaire” is over the top, the truth is we need to save hard, invest wisely, and aim at – if not a million – then some other lofty sum which will pressure us to be disciplined. Andrew’s work applies to US nonprofit workers, limited-income workers, and missionaries abroad.
Why can’t you get this information elsewhere?
One of the reasons that Vagabond Finances has become such a fan of Andrew’s is the death of alternatives (sorry, Andrew!). I’ve been a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) saver and investor all of my life. But when expat accounts started being closed, FATCA came into play, and retirement started appearing upon the longterm horizon, I began looking for some help.
Frankly, our organizations, tax preparers, and colleagues aren’t always all that helpful when it comes to saving and investing, so why not just Google it, right? Unfortunately, just doing a quick Google search isn’t going to help us invest on our own. Try your favorite search engine and you’ll quickly see the problem.
The vast majority of blogs, financial journals, self-proclaimed gurus for saving and investing are Americans writing to Americans who live in…yep…America. As we’ve seen over and over again, many of those rules just don’t apply. Even if you are skilled enough at surfing the net to find some financial materials for US expats, you’ll likely also find out that your new-found wealth advisor takes clients who have a million or more. They may have the greatest advice in the world, but you can’t afford to be their client.
Any of us, I hope, can afford to be Andrew’s client. Online articles are free and his books usually run less than $20. Still too much. Read to the bottom for a special offer.
Why make it so complicated?
For years financial advisors, magazines, and television programs have taught us how complicated investing is. It was scandalous to think we could invest on our own.
What turned out to be scandalous is that we actually believed that storyline. In recent years, it has been shown that the stock-pickers behind most mutual funds have been generally outperformed by low-cost, well-diversified index funds, by a dart-thrown at a wall of investments, and by a cat named Orlando. (And, by the way, Orlando’s fees are quite reasonable!)
Thankfully, it has now become popular even in major journalistic sites to see one-fund, three-fund, or ten-fund portfolios that people like Andrew, Paul Merriman, and the Bogleheads have been touting for years (see our Freebies page for their links). Opening an account can be difficult for US expats but we can help with that and so can Andrew. Investing in mutual funds is technically a no-no for US expats, but Andrew, Merriman, the Bogleheads, and others have great ETFs (exchange-traded funds) that work just as well and are totally legal for US expats to buy through US brokerages.
Few things are simple for a US expat. Let’s rejoice that investing in low-cost, well-diversified, US-based ETFs is really so simple and, as Mark Zoril says, when using good funds in a good US brokerage, investing is free (or almost).
Why plan and save?
Though many of us work for charities that are starting to emphasize retirement planning and have donors that require us to plan for retirement, some of us have co-workers who think it is scandalous to plan for our financial future. They’re living with a mentality that says, “I’ll leave that to the Lord” or “Someone else will take care of me in my old age.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some of us also have co-workers who seem to jet-set around and have money to burn. We know they are making the same wage we are, but they are obviously spending more, a lot more. Like many Americans, they think talk of planning and saving seems silly. They are making a decent wage and living overseas. They should enjoy it! That works for a short stint overseas, but when it is your career, you cannot afford to not plan or save for the future.
The US expat will often have a more expensive post-retirement life and will often lack some of the benefits most Americans take for granted. It is not scandalous to plan and save. What is scandalous is not planning ahead, finding ourselves with too little, and putting the burden of our financial future on someone else’s shoulders.
Retirees who worked hard all their lives have returned to the US to be forced to live in their adult children’s basement or, as Andrew recounts in The Expat Millionaire, to live nearly penniless in a one-room apartment. Do we want to have to live in a dilapidated apartment in some town, state, or even country that we don’t like just because that’s the only place we can afford?
Ok, so the most pressing “Why” is this last one which is…
Why aren’t you reading his latest book right now?
Andrew Hallam has lived, taught, and written about being an expat investor. It works! So the biggest why is “Why in the world aren’t you reading his latest book?”
In many ways, his site and books are ideal for us. He teaches us as limited-income workers to invest generously, legally, and cost-effectively so that we can Win Financial Freedom and Give Recklessly. It all fits our situation so well. I almost did cartwheels when I discovered his site, saying to myself, “Finally, someone who fits my situation!”
Neither I nor Vagabond Finances has been asked to write this review, has been compensated for writing it, or profits from the sale of Hallam’s materials. Some things are just too helpful not to promote!
If you don’t want to fork out the $10 or $20 cost of a book or two, contact Vagabond Finances on our contact page, and I’ll see if I can get you a copy at no cost to you. (Just mention that in the comments section.)
So, there you have it, who is “The best guide to US expat investing?” My opinion is that for many of us, it is probably Andrew Hallam.
This post was written for VagabondFinances by our frequent contributor, Michael A. Carlson.