Podcast – Amber Parr on GeoArbitrage to South East Asia

Captain FI Financial Independence podcast – Amber Parr

I first met Amber when I listened to the Money Madams Podcast. Amber and her co-host Katherine run an awesome podcast, sharing their experience with personal finance and interviewing interesting guests – I was lucky enough to be featured! After chatting to these two very knowledgable people, I knew I wanted to get them on the pod to discuss some areas of the FIRE movement they had first hand experience with – Katherine came on to talk about insurance, and now Amber is here sharing her knowledge with geo-arbitrage.

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Captain FI Podcast – Amber Parr on Geo-Arbitrage to South East Asia

Show notes

Transcript with Amber

Captain FI:[00:00:00] Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome aboard the financial independence podcast.

Get a and welcome to another episode of captain fire, the financial independence podcast, where I opened the cockpit to some of the best and brightest in personal finance, as well as those who have reached or are on their way to financial independence. Before we get started, remember nothing said, here is financial advice, and you should always do your own independent research before making any financial choices with that being said, I hope you enjoy the episode and learn something new.

Okay onboard. Today’s Amber we’re discussing [00:01:00] all things. Geo arbitrage and financial independence. So Amber, good morning. Welcome to the show. Thank

Amber: you for having me. It’s great to be here. I listened to your podcast. I’m a fan. So very happy to be on. Thanks for having me.

Captain FI: My pleasure. And of course. We got in touch a few short weeks ago when I discovered the money Madden’s podcast, which was, I thought was pretty cool.

Had a really good chat to you

Amber: and Catherine. Yeah. Thank you. So I am half of the money madams. I do a podcast with my friend, Catherine, and we really focus on financial literacy, especially for women. And I’m not sure if you’ve seen the stats, I’m sure you have, financial independence is important for everyone, but women retire with 40% less super than men generally.

And my friend, Catherine, who I do the podcast with she’s a financial advisor. And it was born out of years of discussions about how we really want to empower women to make better financial [00:02:00] decisions and set themselves up for financial freedom.

Captain FI: I think it’s wonderful.

Amber and you’re absolutely right. Financial independence is something that everybody needs to achieve. But the statistics when it comes to gender and finance are pretty alarming and I was pretty shocked when I first read about especially things like the super balance and different expectations when it comes to women and finance.

So I think it’s a really worthwhile thing that you and Catherine.

Amber: Yeah, thank you. Catherine and I have these conversations. I feel like our podcast is just recording the conversations that we already had for years and years.

But it came about, I’ve read an article a couple of years ago about women hitting that retirement age or in their sixties and retiring into homelessness. And these weren’t women who had, in that typical homeless person that you might have in your mind, these women didn’t fit that. They’d worked their whole lives. They were educated. They’d had children and it was divorce or illness or some kind of [00:03:00] calamity had struck them. And they were finding themselves in the latter part of their lives and homeless. And it’s terrifying and it’s happening too often. And so money madams was really a conversation, Catherine and I had over a glass of wine saying, what can we do this isn’t good enough.

And so it’s our small way of trying to help people. And I know it sounds a bit cliche, but trying to make the world a better place.

Captain FI: No, it hits quite close to home. For me Amber, because. My mom recently retired age 60 and, a couple of months after her retirement she was diagnosed with stage four cancer and, she had super not a lot.

She had some she was very fortunate in that, in her job as a teacher she was offered, what was a fairly good superannuation package. And over 40 odd years in the workforce contributing to that, she ended up having enough to basically pay off her mortgage, but not really much after that at all.

It certainly [00:04:00] hit close to home. And now at age 60, my mom is now learning. About really personal finance for the first time. So I think I’ll definitely be introducing her to money matters.

Amber: Ah, good. I hope her diagnosis and recovery goes well and yeah, look it’s a really unfortunate situation and it’s heartbreaking.

And there were just too many women that are finding themselves in that later part of life. Under financial stress,

Captain FI: especially when it comes to, my mum was a single mom. My dad, wasn’t a part of the picture financially. And, the responsibilities of childbearing was really a lot on her and, and that’s why she’s in the position she is.

But anyway, Enough about me. Let’s crack on.

So I’ve got a lot of really exciting questions. I want to ask you today, but before we get started can you please just tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from your family and what you do for fun?

Amber: Sure. I am from Newcastle originally.

[00:05:00] So Nova castration girl.

Captain FI: I guess he gone to enjoy a good surfer down at nobody’s

Amber: where the surf club. Yes, absolutely. Yes. I feel like that’s my spiritual home, although I really have not lived there for many years now. But most of my family is still around that area. So we do spend really as in that part of the world, which is beautiful and I love it.

So I’m from there, I am married and have two children, two girls who are 10 and 12. We’ve just moved to Bangkok, Thailand six months ago for my work hobbies., it sounds ridiculous, but it’s a bit of a hard question. I have quite a intense job, honestly, after my job and hanging out with my kids and my husband I sound so boring, but I like reading books, but right now, I feel like I’m so tired from work.

I don’t like books that are too hard. I liked books that are easy to read and [00:06:00] playing board games with my family. We’ve actually been in lockdown for a couple of months. And board games, card games, Watching Disney plus family movies. This is the kind of thing I do on my personal, downtime, which is really not very exciting.

I feel like a very boring

Captain FI: person. That’s great. That’s your awesome young family stuff? I’d say all day. Okay. Avoid instrument Graham, the intelligent investor. That’s not a fun or easy to read book. That one took me so long.

Amber: I have a couple of books like that, that those ongoing, that it takes me a couple of months to read.

Cause I read, a chapter, a half the chapter and then think of that’s enough. Yes, but before look down in Bangkok, we love. Going out and exploring and being where we are and really taking advantage of where we are and fingers crossed. We’ll get back to that soon.

Captain FI: Yeah.

And what a wonderful part of the world. I love Southeast Asia. I have a lot of fond memories. I’ve spent a lot of my working career around Asia and I actually used to live in Indonesia for a little while. [00:07:00] We’ve got some family over there and yeah, it’s a really fun memories for me over Indonesia and Malaysia and

Amber: Yeah, look it’s a great part of the world.

And that was part of the reason we wanted to move here was because when I was in university, I backpacked through Thailand for a month with two friends. And that was over 20 years ago now, but I had such fond memories of overnight trains and, took talks and having a great time.

So that was part of the reason we decided to come back.

Captain FI: That’s awesome. Okay. So the benefit of people who are listening, who may know. Heard the term before. So geo arbitrage or Jo arbitrage, it’s basically where you earn your money in a strong currency. And then you live somewhere that has a lower cost of living so that you can essentially maximize your dollars.

And it’s something that was popularized by Tim Ferris in, before our [00:08:00] workweek, where he talks about doing exactly that. He writes for a predominantly US-based audience and he talks about earning him us dollars and then spending in pesos. And by doing that, he was able to reduce his cost of living and reach financial independence sooner because we all know to reach financial independence.

You roughly need 25 times your annual spending invested. And therefore if you can reduce. Your annual expenditure. You can reach five much quicker and of course it compounds because of the effect of taxation on your income, the lower amount of money you’re able to live on. Really, it really accelerates your journey to.

So Amber, I want to know, how did you find yourself working abroad how did you come to the decision that geo arbitrage was something you wanted to do and you wanted to bring your family

Amber: along? Look, this was something I had always wanted to work overseas. And when I was even in university making decisions [00:09:00] about where I wanted to work after my degree this was a factor and this was a consideration.

What would give me the ability to work overseas? And I feel like I did it a little bit differently. Lots of my friends at around that early twenties age went and did the, jaunt pulling bees in Europe. But I didn’t, I don’t know why I didn’t think about that. I didn’t really want to do it like that.

I wanted to establish my career and then move overseas and work. When I was at a different stage in my career, so I could have done it earlier. I chose not to, I chose to focus my career and build it in Australia and move now. So this has been on my radar for a long time. And in the company that I work there is part strategy, but there’s also part, I would never work in a job.

I hated just because I thought it would look good on the resume. I’m not that person. Part of it was trying to get the experience that I knew that was valued. So I would be a good candidate, for these types of jobs. And look, it’s been a bit of a [00:10:00] bumpy road for me. In 2019, I was offered a position overseas in China starting early 2020.

Which we all know what happened in the first quarter of 2020, and COVID changed the world. It was a beat. I thought we were going we gave away up at dog rehomed him because we were leaving and we were packing up and then things changed and they said, actually, we don’t want you going over to China at the moment.

And it was crazy because I had moved into that preparing to go overseas role and they had actually brought someone in to fill my jobs. So I ended up in a position where I didn’t have a job overseas and I didn’t have technically have a job in Australia because they had back-filled me and my position didn’t exist.

So there was, it was a little bit scary and honestly I wanted whether I was doing the right thing and I thought about moving companies and. And just going somewhere else. And I looked into it for a little bit, but I had a really supportive, incredible boss who just said to [00:11:00] me, you weren’t, we weren’t.

Because instead of a job overseas, there was a stage where I thought I might get fired instead because I didn’t get back food, my position. But that didn’t happen in my boss said we won’t let that happen. We just need to take some time and see where the world ends, where it settles, but you will be offered something else.

So it actually put me in a position where previously you apply for these jobs and you will actually apply in a round where there’s several overseas options and you get what you get and you don’t get upset. You don’t necessarily have much negotiation power. They tell you what you get.

But for me, , and it happened to another colleague of mine as well. There were two of us. They actually had put five options on the table and said, What would work for you and your family? And it was a really great discussion to be able to have. And we were able to talk about what kinds of things we value and we can seated. For us my husband has a a heart condition and he needs to be able to get access to good [00:12:00] medical facilities. So that was the most important thing for us. But we also made decisions about closeness to home. Some of the positions were in Europe or really on the other side of the world, two from Australia.

And we actually wanted Asia worked well for us. We wanted to be that little bit closer to home in Thailand. There’s great medical facilities. And as much as it was terrible when I lost the China gig, we were really happy to when Thailand came through.

Captain FI: So part of that module was on the ground.

That sounded incredibly stressful. But I think from all accounts, it sounds like it’s actually really worked out possibly the best it could have for you.

Amber: Yeah. Look, I think so. I do joke and say, I upgraded to Thailand. There are always pros and cons and I would have been very happy to go to China, but very happy to be where we are.

So look, I think for me, even my husband was joking when we were talking about which posting should we take and what destination worked for us. [00:13:00] And I had forgotten when we were dating. Cause I said to him, are you sure this is what you want to do? And he actually reminded me of a conversation we had when we were dating when I said to him, I want to work overseas one day.

Are you okay with that? And he said, this has always been what you want to do, so let’s do it. And it’s a crazy thing to do, especially with COVID. We moved here not knowing what our apartment would look like. We actually moved not even having confirmation that my kids could get into the international school.

So we just got on a plane hoping for the best and everything has fallen into place. We found an apartment for school had an opening and my daughter could go and things worked out, but I feel like moving overseas to work. There’s gotta be a little bit of step off the cliff and see what happens.

You don’t have all the answers when you move, you just have to figure it out when you get

Captain FI: there. It certainly raises the point that there are some risks that are maybe hard to quantify [00:14:00] all of them, but,I think myself and probably a lot of the fire community as well, we probably can be guilty from time to time of, wanting to mastermind and strategize everything out, have all the numbers worked out on a bit of paper.

But sometimes there’s just no substitute for just going, look, we’ve done the numbers as best we can. Let’s just go and have that 80% solution on time. And it sounds like it’s really worked out for you.

Amber: Yeah, it has. And it’s funny you talk about numbers. Cause I talked to our HR department and said I accepted the job without really understanding the way.

And they sent me the contract, but it was all like, you are entitled to this allowance and it will be based on a percentage of your wage. And that is . And I’m like what will be my take home figure every week? That’s really what I wanted to know.

 And I’m salary sacrificing some. And there’s lots of balls in the air. And the best my HR department could give me was an estimate of what my take home wage would be. I remember saying to them, [00:15:00] take this job. What are you going to base my first week’s wage on could I have that number There was look the, earning Australian dollars and living with Thai baht definitely works out in your favor, but there was a little bit of risk in look, I knew we’d be okay.

I wouldn’t have taken it if the outcome was detrimental, but actually locking down what the final figure was, actually, didn’t get it till I got here.

Captain FI: Wow. So was there any opportunity there Amber for you to get a sneaky raise or maybe ask for the upper estimate?

Amber: Oh, I should’ve actually. No, I look, so there’s a base salary, but then cause they have people working from all over the world. There’s different allowances. So based on where you’re located. So basically you’d like hardship, allowances. If you’re in a tough place, if you’re in somewhere that’s harder to live than somewhere that’s not.

And then there’s also allowances for if you living somewhere that’s more expensive. Cause we have people in Europe where the Australian dollar doesn’t go as fast. Anyway, it was hard to work out, but I [00:16:00] probably didn’t negotiate as hard as I should have, but I was pretty happy where I landed anyway.

Captain FI: Okay. So just on that then, how does the cost of living compare in Thailand versus where it was when you were living back in

Amber: Newcastle? I think some things are super cheap and some things are a much more expensive. So for us if you ate the local food you can eat out or shop really cheaply.

But for a comparison, I really like old gold chocolate dark chocolate. And that is 40 Australian dollars a block here.

Captain FI: Sorry. Was there a glitchy?

Amber: Yeah, I know. Can you believe it? It’s cheap if you eat as the local age,

Captain FI: it is

Amber: really, it is cheaper to eat lobster than it is eight. Oh, go chocolate. So there are some things that are surprisingly more expensive. I would say, though, if you’re thinking about moving overseas, things that are [00:17:00] really important that you need to consider and hopefully get part of your package.

It’s things that you almost take for granted in Australia. And that is if you have children’s schools and depending on where you are, if you go into Europe or you’re going to America or somewhere, you might decide that the local school is equivalent to an Australian education and that’s fine.

It’s not the same here. And so our kids go to a international school. And , that’s really expensive. And I think you also need to consider if you’re thinking about moving overseas health care. In Australia and we know it’s not perfect, but you can get into CGP. You can have, emergency, if you’re in a car accident, you can go to the emergency and, if you’re living somewhere like America, you need to have really good health insurance and somewhere we’re where we are in Bangkok as well.

We would go to a private hospital and it’s actually. Not very expensive if you comparing American health service to Thai health service, but it’s still a cost and an ongoing cost. My daughter [00:18:00] tripped over and broke her foot and we needed to take her to hospital and get a cast on and she needed x-rays and things like that.

And as I said, my husband has an underlying condition, so he needs to see a cardiologist and we need to make sure he’s he’s been looked after and managed. And all those things add up and his cost that you don’t necessarily have when you’re in Australia. So the need that came down to what’s part of your package.

When you move over here. So even the, Maya was saying, I didn’t really know the lockdown number of my weekly wage, but I did need to make sure that some of those things were included because it just wouldn’t have been financially viable to live over here without some of those things being in my

Captain FI: package.

 So I can understand that with a family, you’d have this specialty concerns about, their health and welfare and safety. And so yeah, private health insurance sounds like it’s a no brainer for you in this situation. I guess you do take for granted a lot of the things that we have [00:19:00] in Australia.

You just say the Medicare system I guess in Australia, there’s, a fairly decent or I shouldn’t say fairly high level of taxation. And that pays for all of these public services. And I would probably go so far as to say that when you factor in just what you get for your tax dollars, it’s pretty reasonable in Australia.

Yes, the taxes are high, but you get a lot of public services for that tax. So when you’re now living in Thailand, you probably don’t have that same level of public services. So how does the taxation work? You still pay tax in Australia, you still let Australian resident for tax purposes or, how

Amber: does I am so I do pay tax.

In Australia. And I am a Australian resident for tax purposes. So I think for me, this is part of being paid in Australian dollars is that I pay Australian tax. That’s just the way it is. This may be controversial. I remember years ago reading a finance book and they were talking about, tax won’t make you [00:20:00] broke, don’t necessarily focus on creating wealth in a avoiding tax strategy.

 You can have strategies that will minimize your tax and that’s okay. But I’m actually about building wealth. I’m not about not paying tax if that makes sense. Oh yeah.

Captain FI: The easiest way to reduce your taxes just to earn less money. But then you have less money.

That’s

Amber: right. Who wants that. Just make more money. So yeah, look, I do pay tax in Australia. One of the things though, sorry, I didn’t get to it. Captain, but one of the things I wanted to talk about with the cost of living over here as well is that we have a full-time housekeeper now. So she lives with us Monday to Friday and she does all of our housework and she washes our laundry and she makes us dinner five nights a week.

She actually goes and leaves with her niece on the weekends so she can see her family. And for us it’s such a strange thing. So I actually struggled with this [00:21:00] my predecessor, whose job they left and I took she spoke to me about it and I said, oh, I won’t need a housekeeper.

It’s fine. Cause I’m used to working full time with having two kids and doing my own laundry and that kind of thing. And I realized Australians value independence. And we value the, no, I do it myself. And she actually spoke to me and said this is this lady’s wage in her employment.

And if I say no to her, she’s unemployed and there’s no social safety net here like we’re used to in Australia. And so she’s unemployed. And then she’s trying to find work in a really difficult time where there’s Covid and ex-pats might be leaving and it’s harder to get a job. And with my pride in my independence, I might actually be forcing someone else into poverty.

And I feel like it was a real wake up call for me and I can afford it here. When I pay her to do this job, I couldn’t afford it in Australia. She’s a cleaner and a cook can and everything, [00:22:00] but I can afford it here. And I feel like I have a social responsibility. I’m a guest in this country to make sure that, I’m also helping the people that I can while I’m here now, I don’t have responsibility to help everybody, but for her I could.

And so I’ve just decided to embrace it. And I do laugh that I haven’t cooked dinner in six months. And I haven’t done my own laundry and I’m just going to enjoy it while I’m here, coming back to Australia will suck. But for right now, when do you ever get to do this or live this life? So we’re just embracing it.

It’s

Captain FI: actually a really interesting sort of ethical dilemma. And I remember from my time in Indonesia our family had the same thing, employed as a driver and made and opere basically, it was really a bit of a culture shock for me. I’ve heard when people criticize Yeah, the Tim Ferriss and the four hour work week and they talk about you’re just leveraging the wealth gap or the wealth inequality [00:23:00] in order to do jet arbitrage, because these people live in poverty and you have money and essentially that’s why you’re able to live so cheaply over there.

But, it’s a really interesting counter point. You actually are creating jobs and supporting people when their livelihood and I totally get it. So yeah, I don’t think it’s a, it’s just a clean sort of open and shut case at all. So I think it’s great. What you’re

Amber: doing. Yeah. It is a culture shock.

 I was almost embarrassed when it first started and I was talking to my friends and family in Australia about having a housekeeper and it’s just not who I am in Australia, if that makes sense. And over here my husband, isn’t working at the moment so we could totally manage the housework and cooking we manage in Australia when we both work full time, but it also is an opportunity for him.

He’s hoping to work here. He’s hoping that he can do something similar to me and work remotely into his job, back in Australia. But he did take some time off though, to help the kids [00:24:00] settle in and to get us started here. But honestly, it’s been great. We’ve been in lockdown and the kids have been doing remote learning and he has been available for them.

And it’s almost like I’m able to give my husband a little pre-retirement taste of free retirement. He’s never had time off work. And if we were in Australia, he would definitely be working full time. But over here I can work and support the family and , before the lockdown happened, he was meeting guys for coffee and going to the gym every other day.

And just, I did tell people, he adapted alarmingly quickly to being retired

his best life. And I wonder if I’ve made a mistake, perhaps he should have been the one to get the job, but I could have been the the one who got to be retired

Captain FI: that’s cause you’re the Money Madam.

This is great. I need to find myself a money.

Amber: I know I have heard him talk to his friends and his friends. Like we’re [00:25:00] jealous. You get to not work and just, be a kept man. Sorry. I know. I think he played the long game though. We’ve been married for about 18 years, so it’s taken a while for him to get there, but yes.

Yeah. So when we talk about what does living overseas give you for me? It’s that I’m really happy to be able to let my husband have that experience. That’s great. And we would not be able to do it in Australia. It’s just, you get to unlock some things and some experiences that you wouldn’t necessarily get to do back

Captain FI: home.

Oh, I remember one of Lacy, Filipich’s,, Ted talks on in a way you should think about financial independence in terms of like mini retirements. And that was really impactful for me. And it sounds like what you’re sharing with your partner now.

These many retirements.

Amber: Yeah. Look why we’re here. As we said, he might work, but it is, as we talk about with that financial independence, he doesn’t have to if he worked, it would be for other reasons, it’s to help him keep connected back into his company in Australia and keep [00:26:00] up-to-date in where the work is up to.

He’s in IT. So things change. And he doesn’t want to come back after a couple of years and feel disconnected and out of the loop. It’s an opportunity for him to do something that’s intellectually stimulating. But he doesn’t have to, if he doesn’t want to, he can, meet his mates for coffee and watch the kids in their swimming carnival and just, live the life.

That’s a totally valid option as well.

Captain FI: Ha ah, you said the magic words, IT I knew, there had to be some connection. Normally everybody in the fire community is somehow loosely related to IT.

Amber: Yes, he’s my help desk. It support. I am not, I’m

Captain FI: terrible at IT.

Amber: So

Captain FI: Would you guys consider doing this permanently or you’re going to do this role for a few years and then head back, or what’s your

Amber: plans?

I have signed a contract that is a three-year plan with a plus one option. So we are here for three years. And maybe four if I need to agree to the fourth year and so does my company. So if that [00:27:00] lines up we might get the fourth year option. And honestly, we don’t have to make that choice right now.

We probably have to make it about a year’s time. But right now we would take the plus one option and it’s funny it’s this has been challenging. COVID has happened. We’ve been in lockdown. The kids have been working remotely. This hasn’t been unnecessarily, an easy thing to do. But moving back to Australia, isn’t an easy thing to do either.

So we’re here and honestly, this is our opportunity. My kids are in a good age. I might take another overseas job if it came up in the future. But with the age of my kids, there’ll be 16 or 15, the oldest, when we get home. And at that point, we’ll probably let them finish school in Australia and establish themselves after that.

So I wouldn’t be looking at another job overseas after this one. I don’t know, maybe for six years or eight years or something like that. And I’m actually hoping I’ll reach fire by then. So I might not even want to at that [00:28:00] stage. And for me, and like with my kids’ age, this is our opportunity.

So we want to make the most of it. It has been really challenging. Especially with quarantine, forget going home initially pre COVID, you could just get on a plane and go home. At the moment, Australia has two weeks quarantine and so does Thailand. So for us to go back to Australia, we need to spend a month in quarantine.

And that’s a lot and it’s a lot to put my kids through. And so it also means we miss things. My brother’s wife has had a baby and we haven’t seen the baby. And God forbid, if something happened and a relative passed away, it’s basically three to four weeks before we can get there because the flights aren’t regular.

So we can’t just jump on a flight tomorrow. It would probably take a week to organize at the soonest. And then you have two weeks in quarantine when you get there. So it is definitely It’s isolating. And I actually didn’t live really close to my family. It’s not like we all saw each other for Sunday night dinners or [00:29:00] anything like that.

And so initially I thought, oh, this’ll be sweet. We only see them a handful of times a year, so it’ll just be like that. And it’s been six months and I miss them. I wish I could just jump on a plane and see them. Tomorrow. And so I think for us we’ve got a time on this and then we’ll head back.

And I also think about people who do it well, when I was saying health care can be expensive. People that do it as they get older. I think it’s difficult with the healthcare. I honestly think I want to grow old in Australia and not in an overseas country, but that’s my personal opinion. I know lots of people do it and especially pre COVID people were retiring to Bali and Bangkok and other places all the time.

But I think for me I would prefer to see my old age out in Australia.

Captain FI: It’s a really interesting reflection. And I guess it points out that you’re more doing this as a career thing, rather than a deliberate, on Goa arbitrage. Strictly for the the [00:30:00] benefit of being financially independent.

So it’s something that’s helping you on your journey to fire, but it’s not something that you would do. That makes sense.

Amber: Yeah. I think that’s exactly it for us and everyone is different and in different situations and would consider and do this for different reasons. But I think that’s this is a career boost for me, and it does have some geo arbitrage benefits, which are great.

But I wouldn’t necessarily consider this as a long-term option for

Captain FI: us. So we’ve touched on a few things there, the bloody $40 block of chocolate being one.

Amber: Old gold chocolate, someone please. Now I kidding. a friend of mine. He’s sending me over package with chocolate in there.

Oh,

Captain FI: that’s funny. Actually, I sent in a friend, some licorice recently I went to Wales and, I think the licorice was like five bucks and the postage was like, I don’t even want to know. I just was like, oh, I’ll just tap in and walk away. And my dad always wanted me to bring over salt and vinegar.

Apparently that was something you couldn’t get in Indonesia very easily either. So yeah.

Amber: Salt and vinegar [00:31:00] chips, pizza shapes and dark chocolate.

Captain FI: I’m sorry to say, Amber, I’m not flying anymore. I don’t know if I can do a supply run for you, but you never know, might get back into flying and

Amber: oh one day, you can come over and yeah. Bring salt and vinegar vinegar chips.

Captain FI: I saw her actually on the news the other day, a couple of pilots got themselves into strife or flouting some of the quarantine restrictions.

So I think you’ve gotta be very careful these days.

Amber: Yeah. I’m sure you do. I do have some friends who will send us over suppliers when things get desperate. So that’s been good.

Captain FI: Some of the really expensive consumer items. Are there any other sort of major things that you didn’t realize about working and living overseas until you got there and started doing it?

Amber: That is a really good question. I think it’s all been an adjustment and everything is different. And as I said we live a different life. He, so even things like I buy my lunch every day when I’m in the office, I would never [00:32:00] do that in Australia. How expensive is it buying your lunch?

But some of the local cafes around our building you can get a hot meal, which would be $15 plus in Australia for $4 here four Australian dollars. And so for me it is balancing this. I’m definitely making money any, it is a good financial decision to take this position. But I also feel a level of privilege and responsibility here we would, just regular people in Australia.

I wouldn’t buy my lunch every day. My kids went to the local government school, we were just very ordinary and he it’s different. The opportunities are different. And we’re trying to consider how we live and we spent our money here as responsibly as

Captain FI: possible. It sounds like it could be a bit of an adjustment for you when you do come home though. .

Amber: I don’t remember how to cook. You know what? Our housekeeper makes incredible chicken satay. And my [00:33:00] daughters were saying to me, mom, can you learn how to do this? So when we get home, we can have this meal again. And I said, no, I think you should learn how to do it. Because when we get 15 or 16, you can make chicken saute for dinner.

So I have a plan. I don’t think it’s going to be a very good one, but my plan is to let my children be mastered Thai cooks by the time we get home.

Captain FI: Oh, fantastic. That sounds like a reasonable way to you pocket money, doing the.

Amber: Yeah, I think so. Although I’m not having much success at these time, but there is still time for them to learn.

Captain FI: Are there any tips that you can provide for people that are potentially looking at doing something similar to yourself?

Amber: I think to go for it for me personally, my road was longer than others. I know people that I said do this in their early twenties and go to Europe and working pubs. In my organization, there are people who have done this sooner.

And for me, perhaps I should have pushed harder sooner, it’s all a balance. And I had children, [00:34:00] I took time off with both of my kids. I took maternity leave and then I worked part-time for eight years. Why my kids were little to support them. And so I didn’t really start focusing on this as a serious option for myself until a couple of years ago.

 Those are the decisions that I made and they worked for us and I’m happy that I made them, but I think if you’re starting out. I’m also always really happy to talk to people about my experience and support them and mentor them. And I think it works for my company if we retain good people.

And I think that’s an attitude that is across a lot of companies. And so if this kind of opportunity was available to you where you were working or you’re interested, I would reach out to people and talk to them about the decisions that they made, the challenges that were there.

Look, I had to persevere a lot for this job, as I said, I want to be paid shapes there for a little while, but I didn’t give up. And I think that has been really helpful for me, but that’s easy to say in hindsight, I didn’t give up and it worked out great, but when you’re going through it, that’s [00:35:00] tough thing to go through.

And I was not as upbeat about it when I was in the midst of it. And I needed the support of my colleagues and mentors and friends around me. And so I would really encourage someone. If you’re thinking about that working overseas would be something that you were interested in and someone who’s done it or within your company, they have that as an option, reach out to people, talk about how they did it.

What lessons they learned, because I actually find in these jobs. It’s not a normal recruitment process in that I am a long way away from my boss. My boss is in Australia. I talk to them most days and I report back in things,

so they, they put people in this, these positions that they trust and they trust beyond just, I work really hard and I do a good job. There’s actually a level of, I need to represent the company. I need to be trustworthy in how I use my time and what I do. And so it’s, it is I feel like it’s a privilege and it’s a [00:36:00] fabulous position to be in and a great job.

But I’ve found with getting these jobs you have referees usually, but it’s almost like you needed advocacy. I needed someone , who was respected within the organization to speak to the people who make these decisions and say, Amber we’ll do a great job.

You should give her a go. Because I didn’t actually know the people personally who made these decisions, but I had an advocate who knew me and knew how I worked and knew what I would bring to this role who spoke to them on my behalf. And I think that was a really critical step in me being successful.

Captain FI: Networking is really powerful and that it was something that I learnt. During my time in aviation, I sidesteps through a few different roles before I finally got the flying gig that I wanted. And it sounds like there’s a lot of parallels between your journey to get, your overseas gig and the stuff that I went through.

So yeah, I think that’s really good advice Amber. So if, if anyone’s listening and they’re thinking they want to get an overseas position don’t give up, keep [00:37:00] persevering. I think how wonderful, you basically, you’re getting paid to explore the world

Amber: Yeah, absolutely. And look, my boss, as I said, I speak to them quite regularly in they’re very supportive. And so it is, and I think that was it for us. The pays good, but the experience and the adventure is really what we were after even the school that they go to they went to the local government school in Australia and that was great.

Here one of my kids’ best friends is from Italy and is, trying to teach her Italian so the kids that, that they’re exposed to a totally, they’re still kids don’t get me wrong. Kids are kids, but their backgrounds are really different.

And it’s been great for my kids to explore the differences and the similarities of the people around them. But you’ve got to make the best of where you’re at. We’re in eight weeks, school holidays were on the Northern hemisphere school system. We’re in lockdown.

We can’t really do much in Bangkok at the moment. And so I spoke to my boss about. Can we [00:38:00] go to a little beach village. That’s a couple of hours outside of Bangkok. We’ll stay somewhere small. So we might be around a whole lot of people and my husband and the kids can swim at the beach and go to the pool and I can work remotely because I’m working remotely from home kind of any way.

And they were really supportive of that.

Captain FI: So Amber, I want to switch gears a little bit now. We’ve talked a bit about, living abroad and your experience. But something I love to ask everyone is mostly the nitty gritty of the finance.

Cause I, I want to suss out what you’re doing with your money and I want to figure out if doing the right thing with mine. Overall, like what has been your personal financial strategy or your investing preference? So

Amber: far a couple of years ago, we started focusing on debt recycling and paying down our mortgage as quickly as possible.

So you I’ll go through some of the strategies we use, but I’m assuming you’re familiar with debt recycling and how it works.

Captain FI: Yeah. I haven’t done debt recycling. I have been seeing. Yeah, [00:39:00] whether it’s appropriate for me or not. But I do think if for people and if it suits their risk tolerance it sounds like a great way to speed up the payment of the mortgage.

Amber: Yeah. So what we did was that we took out an investment loan against our mortgage, and then we invested that investment loan. And then the distributions that we get from that loan, they go into as additional payments against our mortgage. So the investment loan itself is tax deductible and it means at the end and you can increase your investment loan as your mortgage goes down.

We have increased it to what it was initially, but it’s not one for one with our mortgage. And there’s a bit of flexibility in in how you do that and when you increase it. So for us, we’ve nearly paid off our mortgage. It’s been a really successful thing to do.

And so then in the end, you end up with no mortgage and investment loan, and then you have some options you can continue to, you can pay down that loan, you can sell some shares and pay off the loan [00:40:00] or, pay half the loan and pay it out or continue whatever you do decide.

So at the moment, we earn more in distributions yearly than we pay in interest on the loan. That we have. And it’s been a really great tool for us, but I’m not sure you’re going to like this captain, because when we set that up normally we love and good indexed funds, but we went here for a managed fund that had a good history of distribution payments because we wanted that money to come in so we could make additional mortgage payments.

And we also went for franking credits on those. So we didn’t have to pay tax on them again. It’s perhaps not a normal fire thing to do. And , I’m all for index funds and I love them. But in this case it helped our strategy to go with a managed fund

Captain FI: option.

. I actually started out with managed funds and I do actually have investments in a couple of online managed funds myself. I don’t think like broadly speaking they’re necessarily bad or one asset [00:41:00] type is better than the other, but I’m certainly not an expert in this, but I guess I’ve noticed that a lot of these listed investment companies or, some managed funds they may be, slightly more expensive.

Or slightly underperform the index ETFs. But as you say, they have that really strong cashflow. And a lot of them are designed around increasing the dividends higher than inflation. So for something like debt recycling, I think Peter Thornhill he has a book all about this and he, he, he’s a very big advocate on using the LSes for debt recycling because of that strong focus on dividends.

So I guess it’s just about weighing up the risk and in terms of, the debt recycling mortgage strategy, it sounded like that dividend focus was really valuable for you guys.

Amber: Yeah, absolutely. We also have an investment bond as well, which is where we do our long-term dollar cost averaging in our portfolio.

So in this, we have a mixed of index funds and managed funds, [00:42:00] although we haven’t geared this at all, so there’s no borrowing against this investment bond. This is just all out of our cash flows. So this is what we invest into. And there’s also with these investment bonds there capital gains tax free, if you hold onto them for 10 years or more.

So this is part of our fire plan that we want to build this bond. And because I’m also part of a defined benefit, super scheme. And so for me, when I’m talking fire in early retirement, once I can access my super I’ll have money coming in regular money, but if I want to retire before I can access that pension, then I need to sell funds.

So part of the strategy for that is in this investment bond that we will be able to access this money when we’re ready to retire early. And it will be capital gains tax-free

Captain FI: yeah. It seemed to find benefit. Those annuities are worth their weight in gold.

Amber: I know. I feel so lucky that we got in when we did so as is [00:43:00] CPX indexed.

So I can actually access it at 55. And then it I’m, but I’m taxed and then it goes up to 60 and the texts decreases. So I get more. So it is really worth its weight in gold. And it’s so funny. Cause when I started in the company, there was a super scheme that was much better than this one.

And they’re like, oh poor you’re in the crap super scheme. But there’s a crop of one now where in the quarter one, everybody goes, oh my God, you’re in the good one. I’m like, he wasn’t the good one when we signed up. But now it’s certainly is

Captain FI: Companies will never voluntarily give you a better retirement scheme.

 They’re just going to get slowly eroded over time. So look, Amber, I don’t know a lot about investment bonds myself. I mean saying it’s capital gains free. That sounds almost too good to be true. Are you able to elaborate a little bit more on what the investment bond is and the structure?

Amber: Not really.

I have a financial advisor who has set a lot of these things up, any emotion for me. So talk [00:44:00] to Katherine about investment bonds. She does love them because of this capital gains free status that they have. Look she will be able to go into the nitty gritty of exactly what it is, but for me, , I put a lump sum of money down in the beginning, and then I pay a monthly into this and it increases every year.

I pay a little bit more into it. And then you can access it at any time, but if you wait for 10 years to access it, you do get the tax benefits of that.

Captain FI: Wonderful. Also just circling back to the debt recycling.

When you decide to sell those managed funds that you have in your loan for the debt recycling scheme, you presumably have to pay CGT on that. We do. Okay. So that’s just something you need to factor into that as well. But Hey, if it’s providing you more income at the moment, then happy days, it’s paying for itself,

Amber: It really is paying for itself. And because we’re overseas at the moment, we are also renting out our house. I know everybody has a preference. I don’t love property as an investment [00:45:00] vehicle. And I feel like an accidental landlord, because it would not necessarily be something I would do actively in Australia, but we want to keep our house for when we come back.

That is currently being rented out as well. So the interest on our mortgage is also tax deductible at the moment.

Captain FI: Oh, that’s awesome. So do you have a property manager who looks after that for you?

Amber: Yeah, we do. . And we found someone that we really liked and trusted because it’s also strange.

It’s not an investment property, it’s my house. And so I feel a little bit more attached to it than I think I would if I just bought it as an investment wealth creation vehicle,

Captain FI: oh, you’re breaking the first rule of property.

Amber: Oh, I know her ride and he gets worse. We’d recently renovated it the China geek fell through and we didn’t think we’d be moving.

And so we renovated this house and then I was offered something else. And yeah, I do like it much more than I should if it was merely an investment property.

Captain FI: That sounds like your renters might be getting a very good deal

Amber:[00:46:00] yeah, they are living in a really newly renovated house.

Look, I’m hoping that they enjoy it, but honestly, there was an option to lock the door behind us and not rent the house out that we could just keep it for us. But the tax incentives are so good to rent it out. It seems like a crazy thing to do. So we decided just to go with it,

Captain FI: of course.

And it’s now an asset that’s creating you cashflow, whereas otherwise, before it would just be a liability that’s sitting there costing you money. Yeah, exactly. And also, , I feel that there is some sort of social obligation as well to provide housing. We’re in this bit of an accommodation crisis.

Australia. Gee, it took me a month plus to actually secure an apartment, even Adelaide. So I imagined that there are similar things going on in other parts of Australia. So it would seem a jerk move to just, have an empty house sitting there that could be being a combination for a family.

Amber: Yeah. Look, I agree as well. We were careful with who we got in as well. And my real [00:47:00] estate agent, we got made that point because I say, do you know how many inspections you do? I’ve also been a renter and I didn’t want to be a jerk landlord that was like, we don’t trust you. And the real estate agent we got was really clear and said, if we get the right people in, they won’t be a problem.

They still do inspections of course, but it won’t matter how many inspections they do because the right people will treat it with. And so far so good. They seem to be treating the place, with respect and exactly the kind of tenants that you would want.

Captain FI: That’s good news. Out of interest what kind of management fees are you paying to your realtor?

Amber: He’s a good question. And I can’t remember off the top of my head, honestly. I think they weren’t too bad, but we’ve also got a deal with them when they pay costs out of the rent before we see them.

My husband gets the receipts from their monthly, so I haven’t actually set eyes on what it is. It was a percentage though, and it wasn’t too bad, but I cannot remember,

Captain FI: oh, that’s okay..

The lowest, I think I’ve seen is around the 4%. But I’ve seen some people have told me that they’re paying [00:48:00] 15%,

Amber: No, we’re not 15%. Yeah, I think we’re more in that four to 6%, I would say, but certainly not double digits

Captain FI: at all. Yeah. It sounds reasonable.

And for peace of mind, you can’t really be there to do it. I’ve a really close friend who, unfortunately I haven’t seen for a very long time. And he has an investment property in Brisbane and he’s like just dead set that he’s going to manage it himself. He lives in country Victoria.

And whenever there’s something wrong with the house. He literally flies to Brisbane and he was fixing a deck and doing plumbing and all sorts. Cause yeah, he just thought that. Property managers were crooks and, he wasn’t gonna pay someone 7% say, so I guess it’s different strokes for different folks, but, I’ll certainly be using a, property manager.

If my place in UK.

Amber: Definitely. I think they changed the rules around whether you could travel to your investment property and whether it was text deductible, I think that has changed. And even if you want to manage it yourself, I don’t think you can claim the travel to the property on your tax anymore.

 Traveling to our properties is much more difficult, but, look, there is an element of ease we have [00:49:00] left some keys with some friends if something happened and they needed someone to represent us and go in and check something so we do have some friends who will keep an eye out, but we haven’t needed to use

Captain FI: those at all.

So putting this all together, you’ve basically got a. Paid off mortgage, like massive tick. You’ve got a investment bond bristling full of index funds and manage funds. So that’s another massive tick. You’ve got this awesome. Annuity, that’s going to be kicking in around a conventional retirement age.

It sounds like you’re really well positioned. So what’s your bottom line Amber , is there a time or a certain level of passive income that, you’re just going to decide to leave the workforce? Or how are you planning out with

Amber: your partner? Yeah, there is. as I said, my partner has had some health concerns and honestly, I didn’t really know much about the fire movement and we were always building wealth for the future and I want it put in a a plug here for financial advisors.

We [00:50:00] had good intentions and we wanted to do the right thing, but we actually needed an advisor to help us set this up. I’d heard of debt recycling, but I wouldn’t know how it works. I didn’t know in bad investment bonds at all. And so they really helped put together a strategy for us.

And now we’re at the point where this isn’t, there’s a bit of a downer. I don’t mean it to be, my husband has some health concerns. I don’t know if he’s gonna make it to old age. I don’t know if we’re going to be 90 sitting on our little deck together. So I want to retire as soon as we can. So we have as much time together as we can, and we can enjoy that part of our lives and we don’t have to wait.

And so at the moment I’m in my fourth. And we’re aiming to retire at 50. And maybe before he’s he’s a little younger than me, so he would be retiring at 48 or something like that. If he want to do that’s the aim. If we can do it sooner, we’ll do it sooner.

We’re, very happy to stay here. And as I said with the plus one option, if we can thank you [00:51:00] for years and then I want to retire really as quickly as I can after that.

Captain FI: That’s awesome. So maybe you won’t have to get used to a bit of a lifestyle shop because you’ll be coming back to Australia for an early retirement.

Amber: Maybe that’s the plan if it’s possible. So paying off our mortgage is a really important part of that. And we’re, we’ll do that soon. And then it will be really focusing, cause we’re picking additional payments and we’ve got these, distribution payments going into our mortgage and rent

once we pay our mortgage and all that additional money is freed up. I feel like we’ll have a couple of years to we’ve started the process already, but to really focus on building those investments and then we will track our progress and we’ll make a decision around when we can retire.

But retiring early is really important for us. And it’s something that I really want to be able to enjoy the time that I have with him. And if it’s 50 years hooray. Who knows how long you have any way.

Captain FI: I think it’s a really noble . Goal to have especially, you want to make the most of the time with your partner.

So[00:52:00] fingers crossed everything works out for you guys.

Amber: Yeah. That’d be great.

Captain FI: So along your financial journey, you said maybe you haven’t been the most savvy. And so you’ve recruited specialists to help you in this area, which, I think is a great idea. I’ve had a few bad interactions with advisors but I’m slowly warming up to them.

I actually do use a financial advisor as well. But I’m just wondering, what other tips do you have for people on the path to financial independence now? What can you share that you’ve learned when you’re.

Amber: I think it’s really important to start and to get some balls in motion. Even when we started our investment bond, we actually didn’t know what we were going to use that money for.

I had not yet been introduced to the fire movement and , we thought what are we gonna use this money for? And our financial advisor said to us after 10 years, when you get there, you’ll have a bucket of money and you’ll be able to decide, and it’s gone from that to being actually a really crucial part of our pre retirement plan.

[00:53:00] So I think for me start and do the best you can, where you’re at. I’ve not come from a wealthy family. When I wasn’t working, we were on maternity leave and we had two young kids. We struggled financially. I think for us we stayed away from debt as much as we could.

And that really helped us. And we’ve had really important conversations about what’s important to us. And for me and our family we decided that the local government public school was great. And we were happy for our kids to go there. We also decided that we don’t love cars. We don’t need new cars, we buy second hand cars and then, saving as much money as we can and this is what I think of when I found the flyer movement.

I like it because it’s about that finding joy in other things and really deciding what does make you happy. And so for us it’s always been travel. We’ve done big trips. We’ve taken the kids on big trips and that’s, I think why we were drawn to and loves the idea of [00:54:00] working overseas.

Cause it’s that, living somewhere and experiencing different culture and different things for us and for our children was really important. But I think do the best with the stage that you’re at and with what you have now. I feel like we’re hitting this stage where, we’re about to pay off our mortgage.

We’re about to, perhaps in a few years we’ll be retired or a few years off retirement and that’s amazing. But it was the little chipping away cause I remember talking to a friend and she’s made different decisions for kids go to private school, they buy a new cars and I was talking about investment bonds and she said, oh yeah, but how do you find the money or how do you do it?

Cause when we started the money on that investment bond was a lot and it felt like it hurt now. I’ve paid double that amount of money into it. And , I don’t even think about it. It just goes. I think just do what you can, where you are. And it builds. My kids were shocked the other day.

Actually we talked about not having money for something. And they looked at us and said, did we not have money? Like you’d [00:55:00] use to living in it now we don’t leave as much as we live overseas and we have a housekeeper and I said we don’t live extravagantly. We don’t buy branded things or do fancy stuff necessarily, but they’re used to us being able to say yes to things now, but they’ve forgotten that it was ever not like that.

So I think you just moved through stages and just start, do the best you can. And if you need help, if you’re not sure. Go see someone because honestly the money that I’ve spent on financial advice has. Put us where we are today and it’s been such a good investment.

Captain FI: Good quality financial advice is almost invaluable, but I would say that it sometimes can be tricky finding the right advisor for you. But overwhelming, I’d say most financial advisors do the right thing, but that’s really good. Thanks for sharing. So Amber, who, or what has been the biggest influence for you on your path to

Amber: fire?

It has been my money madams partner Catherine. She is [00:56:00] a financial advisor and she has been the one through the last 12 years or whatever that we’ve been friends. Talking to me about these things and challenging my view on money and educating me and walking me through it. And as we said, we started money madams.

Cause these are just the conversations that we have, but she is the expert. And I am the one who asks all the silly questions because that’s what we do in our regular conversations. When she talks to me about things. I didn’t even know. There was such a thing as like personal insurance. I didn’t, oh, you could get trauma insurance.

I didn’t know. You could get income protection insurance until I spoke to her. I just feel like she has opened my eyes to how we can use what we have now to set ourselves up for the future in a way that nobody else has.

Captain FI: They say there’s no dumb questions. The only dumb question is the one that doesn’t get asked.

Amber: Yeah, that’s right. And I feel like that’s certainly my job on our podcasts, but she’s used to it now. Cause that’s what up in slope we talk, I think, what about this and what do you [00:57:00] mean by that? And and just being able to have those conversations with her have been wonderful.

Captain FI: Yeah. And the thing is, if you’re thinking about that question too, Amber, there’s probably hundreds, if not thousands of people that are wondering the exact same thing and they might just be too shy to ask. So, , It’s good that you actually have the moral courage to get up and put yourself out there and actually ask those hard

Amber: questions.

Yeah. Look we joke a little bit about it, but that’s exactly. I asked for me, don’t get me wrong, but I also ask for our listeners as well. Yeah, that’s

Captain FI: awesome. How can people get in touch with Catherine and yourself and where can they listen to the money Madams podcast?

Amber: The money madams podcast is on your favorite podcast platform. You can find us there. We also have a website which is www money, madams.com, and we are on Facebook and Instagram.

Captain FI: Awesome. I’ll make sure to link all of those in the show notes too. If anyone wants to jump onto the CaptainFi blog, there’ll be links to all those areas and you can get in touch with them.

both [00:58:00] Catherine and Amber. And if you have any questions from the stuff we’ve talked about today, or, you just wanted to get in touch and chew the fat by all means, please hit them up. I’m sure they’ll they’ll welcome. The chat and feedback.

Amber: Absolutely. And thank you for having me today.

It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Captain FI: Oh, it’s been great. It’s a really interesting insight that you have. I guess I built up this year arbitrage thing to think that I know it’d be the second wonderful. Cure all like you’re going to be moving to a tropical paradise and everything will just be fancy and fantastic.

But I think like you’ve certainly brought the realism side of the house. There are a huge number of things that, that you need to weigh up and it’s really not as simple as oh yeah. The cost of living is cheap, so we’re going to retire early. You got to think about the schooling.

I think about the healthcare. You gotta think about the cost of living and it’s not as straightforward as maybe most

Amber: people think. Yeah, that’s right. I love it. I’m glad we’re doing it, but I really think that you should consider these things and going eyes wide

Captain FI: open. Yeah,

, all the best. I know we were just chatting earlier and you guys were frantically packing for a much deserved getaway [00:59:00] to a local beach village. So . Thank you for making time.

Amber: Yeah, thank you. Well, tropical does make packing easy. There is no winter clothes it’s throw in some dresses and some swimmers and my laptop and we’re

Captain FI: set beautiful. Well have a great time and yeah enjoy the valuable time with your kids, I mean it’s the golden days.

All right. Beautiful young family.

Amber: That’s it. Thank you so much for having me and yeah. Look, please be in touch anyone. If you have any questions I’ll we can

Captain FI: help my worries. And also do check out the money madams podcasts, because we had a discussion on the financial independence retire early community a couple of weeks ago.

So yeah, have to listen to that and please support Amber and Catherine and and tell him what you thought. Leave rating on

Amber: iTunes. Wonderful. Thank you for having me and goodbye.

Captain FI: Thanks for listening to another episode of the captain fire financial independence podcast. So read the transcripts or check out the show notes, head over to www. Captain fi.com for all the details. If [01:00:00] you have a question for the captain, make sure to get in touch, you might even make it on the airwaves.

You can reach me online through the captain fire contact form. Get in touch through the socials. I’m active on Facebook and Instagram as well as a number of online finance and investing forums. And finally remember the information presented on the show and the links provided for general information purposes only they should not be taken as constituting professional financial advice.

You should always do your own research when making any financial decisions and make sure it’s appropriate for your personal circumstance.

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