10 Steps to Become a Dram Millionaire

I recently reached my goal of becoming a dram millionaire. Now I can put on a terrycloth robe and join Wayne in the Parlor of Dram Millionaires to smoke some cigars lit by 1,000 dram bills. Of course, I am adding in the 350,000 from earlier to my current bank account balance.

I thought about creating an illustrated PDF on how to become a DM (not dungeon master) in order to help the future PCVs. Then I realized that would be a terrible idea. Most people just don’t really care I think. It would come off as elitist and preachy. My passion for saving and personal finance borders on the extreme and is definitely considered strange by mainstream society. However, I think the old icenugget will have the last laugh. Or perhaps multiple laughs, throughout my long early retirement. Anyway, here’s how I did it:

1. You’re a volunteer, stupid.

You are poor. Act accordingly.

You are not a college kid. You are not a middle manager. You are not a successful business owner. Your income is limited and basic BECAUSE YOU ARE A VOLUNTEER. Remember this. Live accordingly. (all other rules flow from this one simple rule)

2. You can have luxury after your service.

Try going without a couple luxuries.

Dram millionaires don’t buy washing machines, even though they could. They hand wash their laundry because they didn’t join the Peace Corps to buy washing machines.

3. Learn the ropes of public transit.

Master this beast. It’s heading towards wealth.

If you are not walking, then you are definitely not taking a taxi. You better be in some form of public transportation. If there is no public transport, then consider hitchhiking if it’s safe. Other than that, just don’t go. “But a taxi is only 600 dram! A crowded, inconvenient marshrutka is 100 dram. I don’t see how saving 500 dram gets me to one million Kevin!” Grasshopper, the million is saved 500 at a time. It’s not about the taxi vs. the marshrutka. It’s about your mindset. Your money should be going to what’s important, which is not luxuries like taxi rides.

4. Save on food.

Try quasi-vegetarian living for a while.

This is the easiest place to save in the Peace Corps budget. Every month I spent half of what the suggested food budget was. How? No restaurant or café eating at site. Prepare all your own food. Buy meat sparingly, like almost never. Look for wholesome foods that stretch the dram. Cream of wheat, oatmeal, and pasta. Bread and cheese. Buy the produce that is in season, and thus, cheap.

5. This is not a booze cruise.

Yeah, it’s only $1.50. But you only make $300.

Beer is the most expensive thing you can drink in my opinion. At 400+ dram a pop, you can easily drink a couple thousand dram in one night. Less bad, but still not good, is wine. If you really want bang for your buck consider vodka. But the best choice is to drink as little as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of drinking sessions here with friends, but it was never a regular thing. Don’t even get me started about going to bars.

6. Trip to Yerevan? Whoa.

Those mountains aren’t going anywhere.

Limit your trips to Yerevan. Yerevan has an insatiable appetite for your hard (or not so hard) earned dram. Not only is there way more to buy than what’s available at your site, but there’s also the transport to and from site, meals to buy, and lodging. The farther you live from Yerevan, the more painful it is for your budget each marginal trip you make.

7. Pump the brakes on the phone.

You are fortunate enough to be in a country with good telecom. Use it wisely.

There are many different options for you to make phone calls more affordably, yet many volunteers eat through several thousand dram every month just for phone calls. Buy an internet package and use Skype or other free VOIP to talk with people back home. Write letters. E-mails.

8. Track your spending, especially if you suck at saving.

Don’t turn a blind eye to your financial life.

People make fun of me for tracking my expenses in a spreadsheet. “That’s no way to live your life!” Actually, it’s a great way. It takes about 5 minutes a week. It makes you conscious of where your money goes. And now I can make fun of those people because they are eating shame meals at the end of every month while I have a million dram.

9. Avoid buying clothing and shoes.

Just say no.

Clothing and pointy shoes are ridiculously expensive. They are also incredibly poor quality. I made one purchase of a sweet Armenian Olympic jacket and it’s literally falling apart after 1 year of light use. Limit your buying to the absolute necessities. The stuff you brought from home will serve you much better than anything you buy here.

10. Make it a game.

Assign point values, if that’s your thing.

If you challenge yourself to save a million, and you see it as a series of small games to win, then you will probably make it. When I save 3,000 dram taking the marshrutka back to town from the airport instead of a taxi, I feel good because I won the game.

Summary Time
If you’re imagining me living some sad existence in Armenia the last 2 years in order to save the mil, just stop it. I did just as much as other volunteers in terms of seeing the country and having fun. But I constantly had #1 in mind the whole time. In fact, my savings rate was not that intense.

Since August 2010, I’ve received 3.8 million dram from PC. I saved 1.1 million. That’s a savings rate of 29%. In my previous job I was able to save closer to 45% while living a luxurious lifestyle. The personal finance blogs I frequent often shoot for a 60 or 70% savings rate. Still, my savings is almost $3,000! Not bad savings for a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Now, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be a millionaire again, so excuse me while I go enjoy this fleeting title.

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6 Responses to “10 Steps to Become a Dram Millionaire”

  1. Wayne Burt Says:

    Congratulations on a job well done. Oh, and also on being a dramillionaire!

  2. Peter Says:

    Dram millionaire… badass.

    But 60-70% savings? How can anyone justify that when inflation is between 2-4% each year in the US? I admit I save a fair amount, but why not spend it before it loses purchasing power?

  3. icenugget Says:

    @ Wayne – Thank you! You were the big inspiration, you know.

    @ Peter – The people who are saving 60% are putting that money in investment vehicles that have higher average returns than inflation. True, if you just let the money sit in your checking account then inflation will eat away at it over time. Spending the money is worse than letting it sit in a .1% checking account in my opinion because almost everything we buy instantly depreciates. Plus you are foregoing investment and the returns of compound interest over THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!

  4. Peter Says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more on that one actually. In fact I just started an Etrade account last week and already made a quick $70 bucks today (I know, I know, you don’t “make” the money until you sell the stock.)

    Check out these government bond mutual funds:

    http://www.minyanville.com/businessmarkets/articles/mutual-funds-mutual-fund-investing-us/1/27/2012/id/39075#ixzz1wSsHB09I

    I specifically bought VUSTX. These are great Kevin investments because they are very low risk but the return is actually really good!

  5. icenugget Says:

    Be careful on Etrade Peter 😉

    I know you will be, but I think some people get caught up in it.

  6. Peter Says:

    I will I will!

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