Coming Home Sticker Shock

Hey everyone. I just came back to the U.S. from Thailand and I’m hit with sticker shock. The news tells me inflation is slowing down, but I’m still appalled with how much everything costs. Yesterday, I walked by the neighborhood Burmese restaurant and they were charging $19.50 for the tea leaf salad. Two main dishes, drinks, and tips would bring the price up to nearly $100! That’s too expensive for a casual meal out. I’d rather cook at home than spend that kind of money.

We are comfortable financially and we can afford to splurge occasionally. However, the problem is I recently spent less than $2 for an awesome tea leaf salad in Thailand. The sticker shock is making me very reluctant to go out. Mrs. RB40 has been telling me about all these new places opening up in our neighborhood, but I don’t want to go anywhere. I guess I’ll adjust to these prices eventually, but wow! Life is expensive in the U.S.

U.S. sticker shock

When I was in Thailand, I met up with Jason Fieber. He blogs at Mr. Free at 33 but spends most of his time making YouTube clips these days. He moved to Chiangmai 6 years ago because the money goes way further there. However, he is planning to move back to the U.S. soon. The last 6 years gave his net worth a big boost.

Now that he is wealthier, he thinks he’ll be more comfortable in the U.S. It’s too hot and humid in Chiangmai for him. In addition, the air quality is horrible from February to April every year. The burning season puts a ton of fine particles in the air. He also misses the variety of food in the U.S. He said Thai food is good in Chiangmai, but other cuisines are overpriced and unpalatable. I disagree because other Asian (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc…) cuisines are quite good there. But he’s probably right about western cuisines. I don’t eat pizza and burgers when I’m in Thailand so I don’t really know.

Life in the U.S. is good, but he’ll get a big sticker shock when he moves back. Housing, food, and transportation are so much more expensive here. An apartment in Portland cost 3-4 times more. An average new car cost nearly $50,000! And as we all know, groceries and eating out are much more expensive than 6 years ago. The same lifestyle in the US will easily cost 5x as much as in Chiangmai.

RB40 household

Fortunately, we’re relatively shielded from inflation because our housing and transportation expenses are stable. We purchased our home 10 years ago and refinanced when the rate was low. Also, it’s a duplex so the rental income is helping out a lot. The utility bills are going up, but we can handle that. Our transportation expense is also way lower than average. We already have a car and we don’t drive much.

Groceries and eating out are much more expensive and we feel that. We used to spend less than $50 when we go out, but that won’t go far these days. That’s why I’m cooking at home as often as I can. Groceries are more expensive too, but it is still way cheaper than eating out.  

Jason expects he’ll spend more when he moves back to the U.S., but I think he’ll be surprised how much more. Everything is so much more expensive than when he left 6 years ago. He’ll get a sticker shock, for sure.

Retirees & Inflation

Inflation is a big problem for everyone, but it is worse for retirees. Workers can change jobs or ask for a pay raise to help deal with inflation. Retirees don’t have that luxury. They have to depend on passive income which might not keep up with inflation. Fortunately, Social Security benefits will increase by 8.7 percent in 2023. That’s just part of the equation, though. Retirees also have to depend on personal savings. That part needs to keep up with inflation as well.

Last year, our passive income grew by 32% from the previous year. That’s much better than inflation, but we won’t be able to grow at that pace for long. The main reason why it grew so much was that Mrs. RB40 is still working. We kept investing and grew our passive income. Once she retires, we won’t be able to invest as much. By then, our passive income should be much higher than our expenses. Hopefully, we can reinvest and stay ahead of inflation.

In conclusion, I’m still shocked by the high prices, but I should be able to readjust soon. Our passive income outpaces inflation by a large margin. I shouldn’t feel guilty about splurging occasionally. I’ll probably make my own fermented tea leaf salad, though. $19.50 is ridiculous!

Has anything given you sticker shock lately? I heard eggs are pretty expensive these days.

*Passive income is the key to early retirement. These days, I’m investing in commercial properties with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the United States. It’s been working so well that I’m planning to sell our rental condo so I can invest more. Go check them out!

More about tea leaves salad

Fermented tea leaf salad is a dish from Myanmar (Burma). It’s delicious and very healthy. Here is a really nice version I had in Chiangmai.

It’s a mix of fermented tea leaves, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, mango, cucumber, carrot, sesame seeds, crunchy nuts, scallion, honey, and other herbs. It’s one of my favorite things to eat in Chiangmai. It’s way better than the $19.50 tea leaf salad in Portland, IMO.

Anyway, the internet tells me I can make my own fermented tea leaves at home with green tea. I’ll try it out and see if I can replicate this dish at home.

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Image credit: OSPAN ALI

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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22 thoughts on “Coming Home Sticker Shock”

  1. That’s cool you met up with Jason. I totally forgot about him after he sold his website.

    What are the great things about living in San Francisco? Is that basically anywhere else you go to, it’s cheaper! Even Hawaii, where we plan to eventually end up.

    But as one of your commentaries mentions below, text salaries, and other sellers have really increased over time.


  2. Even though prices are going up, tech salaries have increased manifold in recent years. Someone with 4 years is commanding. 300K+ and with a similar partner household income is more than half a million. People are a lot richer nowadays. The prices are here to stay

    • The internet said you can use dried tea leaves. Get some loose-leaf tea from an Asian store or maybe Amazon.
      You can brew tea as usual and collect the leaves to ferment.
      Check the internet for how to ferment tea leaves. I just chop them up, add minced garlic and salt. Then stick that in the fridge. We’ll see if it works.

  3. You are not kidding Joe, everything is outta sight price-wise. Not sure if this is the new normal or if people will just stop doing/buying things which will eventually cause demand to drop, and then they have to lower prices. We’ll see! Thats cool you met Jason, I like watching his youtube videos!

    • I met up with Jason almost every time I go to Chiang Mai. He’s been there for a while.
      I don’t know if eating out will ever be reasonable again. It’s just too difficult to find workers.

      • I don’t understand how inflation rate is 7%-9% in 2022 while groceries and eating out has gone up 20-30%. Eating out is my joy but I’ve had to adjust and minimize it. I can make most things at home but sometimes when you just don’t feel like cooking it’s so convenient to order something. Also travel is more fun trying new food. I think you are right about the labor shortage in restaurants contributing to the costs. I think as demand goes down, restaurants will have to adjust or maybe the whole system will just reinvent itself like more walk up places, less sit down style.

  4. In my area housing had been going nuts since covid, then last summer with the interest rate hikes and increasing inflation it tempered quite a bit. Well, so far this year it’s going bonkers again. A house on my street just sold at $21k over the asking price in a bidding war. Nuts.

  5. Yeah, the stuff is getting way expensive in US. When the market goes down like 2022, it’s double whammy. Such a pain. I don’t know how people could afford buying a house now.

  6. I wish Jason good luck. I think it will depend on what his living situation is.

    You made a great point that your personal inflation rate (like ours) is lower than what many people are experiencing. Our house payment is mostly the same and our car payments have been gone for several years now. Aldi helps us eat cheaply – eggs are back to $3 – down from $5.50/dz.

    I don’t know if solar makes sense where you are, but there may be new government subsidies coming and energy prices have been going up. It’s worked very well for us and seems like it will be even valuable going forward.

    • I think he’ll be fine. He’s naturally frugal so he’ll adjust. Eggs are about $3 here too.
      I’ll check into solar. But our electric bill isn’t that high so I don’t know if it will be worth it.

      • Our electric bill wasn’t that bad 8 years ago, but I loved the idea eliminating any bill. The math showed that it would pay for itself in 7 years, so we’re in the black now.

        I think almost everyone (who is not moving) would likely come out ahead if they have a decade timeline.

  7. Nice job on growing your passive income so much last year – that’s fantastic!

    We do notice the higher prices on groceries (even at Aldi!) and our rent is higher than we were hoping for when we moved back. It’s making me miss the prices in Panama without a doubt! 🙂 But we’re still keeping a relatively low profile on our spending (outside of travel) so inflation hasn’t affected us too badly.

    Btw, I emailed you back – not sure if you got it.

  8. My wife and I contribute a big chunk of each paycheck to a joint account that covers anything remotely shared (everything except clothing and small stuff, really). We’d kept our contributions the same since January 2013. This past January we finally bumped it up about 15% to cover how much more everything costs now than it did back then.

    If we were retired it would honestly be easier to bring costs down; I’d have more time to hunt for deals, I could more easily craft meals around whatever is on sale, that sort of thing. I do sincerely agree with you that living overseas part of the year for climate and financial reasons is looking better and better. Spending December 27 through mid-March in Mexico would be wonderful!

    • I think we’ll spend about the same amount of money as 2022. Last year, we traveled a lot. This year, we’ll mostly stay home.
      Mexico sounds like a great escape for winter. It’s too wet and cold in the north west.

  9. Everything here in Sweden has become very pricy, aspecially things like coffee, dairy products, electricity. Food in general has gone up say 20-50%. Electricity 300%. Inflation is like 10% generally, but salaries are likely to stay at a moderate 2-3% for most white collars. Today Ericsson, a major IT employer in Sweden are laying off 1300 people. I know blue collar workers and their unions are expecting a 4-5%, but I doubt that will come true.

    I am a bit surprised as to why prople that love it in thailand and other countries with low costs, nice climate and a more simple way of life want to return to the cold, expensive western countries? I watch TeslaBjorn on youtube, and he recently went on a trip to thailand for 2 months or so, and he is enjoying every minute of it. Now he is back in Norway. Why?! Sure, it may be boring there as well, but still, the positives outweigh the negatives…

    I lived a year in China when I worked in Shanghai, climate was ok but too noisy and expensive. I found no problem with the food. I ate mostly local cuisine, but if I wanted a burger or pizza, I could make it myself or I just went to KFC or McD. Asian food in general is healthy, inexpensive and tasty. I am surprised why Mr Free have to return to the US just to have a burger? Just make it yourself! Since he is unemployed he has all the time in the world. A nice barbecue by the beach… awww

    Yeah TeslaBjorn also complains a lot about burning in changmai, wtf is going on there? Why are they burning stuff, it creates alot of pollution, and the whole area looks hazed like Beijing smog. Very strange.

    If I ever move to Thailand, i would like to live in the middle, northern part, to escape the worst heat in the summer. Is that not an option?

    • Oh wow, 300% inflation on electricity. That’s really high. Hopefully, it’ll come back to normal at some point.
      Thailand is great, but I probably can’t live there full-time. It’s just more comfortable in the U.S. Some months are too hot and humid in Thailand. The burning season is pretty bad. They burn the fields to get ready for new planting. The poor farmers can’t afford modern agricultural practices.

  10. First off, I love tea leaf salad. I used to live in Yangon and it was incredibly good and super cheap there! It is funny how expensive Burmese food is. We live in Indonesia right now and are just amazed by how expensive Indonesian food is in the US and the UK when we travel. We are FIRE and plan on staying here in SE Asia until our kids are school age, then we have a big decision, because one thing that is NOT cheap here are schools. We own a house in New England in a great school district and plan to rent it out until the kids are ready for school, but then it will be a tough decision.


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