Work Provided Housing House Hacking with The Happiest Teacher Zach:

This week we have one of the most interesting house hacking stories yet this season. We are going to be going across the globe to hear how The Happiest Teacher Zach has hacked his housing expenses entirely through teaching allowance.

Zach started his international teaching in Thailand after receiving his TEFL in America. After paying close to nothing to live in Thailand, he decided to go back to the States to receive his master’s in teaching. From there, he went to the Middle East to teach. While living in the Middle East, Zach received a housing allowance that allowed him to share a villa with a friend. The housing allowance turned out to be more than enough because at the end of the month Zach was pocketing almost $400 just from the stipend.

Teaching overseas was a very effective way for Zach to live for free AND travel. His teaching income allowed him to save the money to pay off debts he owed in America. Check out Zach’s full story here:

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Books Mentioned in this Episode

03/20/2023 12:02 pm GMT

Notable Mentions:

Millennial Revolution Blog:

Mrs. Frugalwoods Blog:

JL Collins Blog:

Mr. Money Mustache:


Paula Pant Afford Anything:


How to get in touch with today’s guest:

The Happiest Teacher Zach:


Transcript of the show:

Intro (00:03):

Across the world. People have their housing costs taken away as much as half of their income. Have you ever thought of trying to change that? The good news is there is a way house hacking is real and we are here to show you how other people just like you have made it happen. Welcome to the house hacking podcast and here is your host house hacking expert, Andrew Kerr.

Andrew Kerr (00:30):

All right, so if you’re just joining us for the first time, I just wanted to let you know briefly about this podcast. The idea is all about helping the average individual reduce or completely eliminate their housing costs. We do this by featuring guests that have actually hacked their housing so you can hear how they did it and learn from them directly. I also want to give a big thank you to all of our listeners. At this point. If you’ve been enjoying the show, please take a minute and leave us a review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to your podcasts. The more reviews we have, the bigger we can make this house hacking community and the more folks that we can actually help. Now I’m really excited about today’s guest. He’s coming all the way from Dubai. Coming up, we’re going to have Zach. Zach is a professional educator and writer who’s been teaching for well over a decade. And in his own words, he became obsessed with personal finance in dove in head first in the past few years he’s launched a website and blog called the Happiest Teacher. He’s got involved with a group called Simply FI and several local local personal finance groups. They’re in Dubai. He’s been featured multiple times in local newspapers, radio, financial forums all around Dubai. So at this point I want to go ahead and welcome Zach. Zach, thanks for dialing in all the way from Dubai.

Zach (01:50):

Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Andrew Kerr (01:52):

Yeah. So uh, Dubai, how far are you ahead? Uh, time wise from the States?

Zach (01:59):

Uh, well from your time zone. I’m seven hours.

Andrew Kerr (02:01):

Awesome. Just to end in your, your, your day. Um, and in Dubai you guys usually have, is it Friday and Saturday off and then work Sunday through Thursday? Is that right?

Zach (02:11):

That’s exactly right. So today was the end of my weekend.

Andrew Kerr (02:13):

Oh, awesome. Well, I appreciate you taking the equivalent of our Saturday or Sunday evening to come on and share your sort of house hacking story with us. So let’s just start off, could you just give us sort of a high level summary of your situation and the house hacked a story that you’ve done?

Zach (02:32):

Sure, absolutely. Um, so basically our school gives us a housing allowance if we don’t want to live in teacher housing. And that’s about $18,000 US and they’re really nice about it. If you don’t spend it, they just give you the difference. So all the previous years I had lived in a service department, which is like living in a hotel. Um, but it was costing me a couple, few grand out of on top of what they gave. So then I, I decided that I wanted to do a house hack and I found a room, like a big master bedroom in a giant mansion by the beach basically. And uh, decided to live there instead and it saved me a whole bunch of money.

Andrew Kerr (03:15):

That is really, really cool. So let’s sort of go back to the beginning there. I feel like there’s a lot in that, that overview that we can cover. So you obviously definitely sound very American. Are you originally from the States or did you grow up in Dubai and decide to move there?

Zach (03:29):

No, um, I have, I grew up in the States. Um, I’m a Navy. My dad’s in the Navy and then as soon as I graduated college, I moved overseas. I knew that I wanted to be a teacher and do it internationally and I’ve basically been doing it since I was about 21. And so this is my fifth. Yeah, this is my fifth country at this point.

Andrew Kerr (03:47):

Oh, very cool. So when you were first thinking about moving overseas and teaching, did you realize that there’s this idea of being able to get your housing covered or how’d you first sort of learn about even teaching overseas? Or did that idea really sort of come up in the first place?

Zach (04:06):

Yeah, well when I first got my first teaching job, I was basically teaching English. I was teaching sort of at a regular school, but it wasn’t accredited, so it wasn’t officially like an international school or anything like that. So they didn’t provide your housing. Um, but I heard about teachers who weren’t teaching in international schools, proper ones like I’m in now. And I heard that they were making, you know, way, way, way more money and their housing was covered. And that sounded like a really good deal to me. And so I went back, I got my master’s, got properly certified, taught in the states, um, and then I came back overseas as soon as I could to work in international schools and there where they were providing my housing. And then one time when I was in Bahrain, I actually sort of house hack before I ever knew house hacking was a thing. I just basically, my friend and I split a Villa, um, and it was like, again, probably, How much did I save a month? I think it was about $400 a month. I pocketed off of that deal too.

Andrew Kerr (05:04):

Okay, great. So your sort of first job out of college, you actually went and moved overseas, you said, and that was at a non-accredited university. Where, where was that at? Where were you teaching?

Zach (05:14):

Yeah, it wasn’t a university, it was just a middle school. Well, it was a K to 8 at that point. Um, it was in Thailand down in a Hat Yai, city about 45 minutes from the Malaysian border.

Andrew Kerr (05:25):

Oh, wonderful. So when you were in Thailand, they obviously weren’t covering your housing at that point, but what were you actually spending for, for housing costs?

Zach (05:34):

Uh, it was cheap. I was in basically like a studio apartment without a kitchen. And you know, I was straight out of college. I didn’t know any better. You know, I was just happy not to be living with, you know, five other roommates and a dog in a three bedroom apartment like I was back in college. And so I was happy with my own space and it was about $125 a month for rent, if I remember correctly.

Andrew Kerr (05:54):

I mean, even at that, compared to what most people were just out of college and still having roommates or spending way, way more than $125 a month. So even from that standpoint, I mean this whole idea of geo arbitrage is really starting to get big in the personal finance community where you can take a job abroad, get really great income, you’re able to save more because the cost of living’s are so low or this idea of you’re trying to retire early, move overseas, your dollar goes just so much further. So you moved over to Thailand, you had cheap housing, $125 a month, and then you said you decided to go back to school to get your master’s. Did you actually do your master’s overseas or did you come back to the US for that?

Zach (06:36):

No, I went back to the States for that. I was, I did at Christian brothers University in Memphis.

Andrew Kerr (06:40):

Oh, awesome. Did you realize that you had to have a master’s to keep teaching overseas and get into those accredited universities or did your normal four year degree not qualify you for that? Or was this sort of a strategic thought of I want to teach more overseas, get the better, more lucrative jobs and I need the masters? How’d that all work out?

Zach (07:00):

Yes, that’s exactly right. Yeah. Basically, I mean I, after college I wanted to make sure that this was really what I wanted to do. And I had a TEFL certificate, which was a three week course that I did when I was 20. Um, and that was enough to get me the job in Thailand. Um, but it’s not enough to get me a job at a proper international school. So once I learned about international schools and realized that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life, I knew I needed that master’s. Cause I didn’t have proper certification. Um, so I went back and I got my master’s of arts in teaching. Um, and I taught for a year in the States as well. Um, and then I immediately went right back overseas.

Andrew Kerr (07:37):

Okay. Well one thing I want to touch on real quick is the TEFL certification. You mentioned it was good enough. It was three weeks and it was good enough to get a job overseas. I’ve seen that quite a bit as a way for folks to go overseas is Hey, you know, go get your TEFL certification. It gets you overseas. But is that really more meant for sort of short term, if you just want to go teach for a year or two overseas and sort of have fun traveling and then come back and start a normal life? Or could you actually make a longterm career with it?

Zach (08:07):

You can. You can do either way. I’ve got friends that have taught with their just, they’re TEFL for decades at this point. Um, I mean me, you’re not gonna make a ton of money, but you can make plenty to live on. Um, and some places you will make good money. Uh, Vietnam, South Korea, uh, parts of China. You can make really good income with just a TEFL and a bachelor’s degree in pretty much anything.

Andrew Kerr (08:29):

Okay. So it’s, it’s worthwhile. But what made you say, I want to go back to the States and spend this money? Was it, you know, tell me just a little bit about your thought process of why go spend this money on higher education for a lifelong career if Tefl could get you, you know, through, through a decade overseas.

Zach (08:50):

Sure. Well, it’s TEFL just so people don’t get confused. Um, and it’s just the TEFL. Um, and basically what I was seeing was that when I was doing what I was doing in Thailand, I was only getting about a thousand US a month, which was fine to live on. I, I was even able to save about half my salary doing that cause life was cheap there. Um, but I, I knew that the, the proper international school teachers were making three or four times that. Um, so I knew that that would have been a lot better even than what I was doing. And I, I, you know, I felt like I probably wanted a family at some point. Um, you know, and I couldn’t do that on $1,000 a month. But you know, you can definitely do that on three or $4,000 a month.

Andrew Kerr (09:33):

Absolutely. So you came back to Memphis, you did your masters and then you spent a year teaching in the U S was that also there in Memphis?

Zach (09:42):

It was, it was while I was getting my master’s.

Andrew Kerr (09:44):

Oh, wonderful. So while you’re living there and Memphis, what was your housing situation like?

Zach (09:51):

Uh, I, Oh, for the first couple of months I lived with my dad. Um, and then I got a place with some friends. Um, and then I moved into a different place with just one friend and then he moved out, he got married and it was just me for like the last six months there.

Andrew Kerr (10:04):

And then what do you think you were averaging for your housing costs during that point while you’re going to school? And those couple of different living situations.

Zach (10:11):

I think it started around $300 a month for the room. And then I think I was probably about $400 when it was with a roommate and then maybe $800 when the roommate left. I could be wrong about that. That was a long time ago.

Andrew Kerr (10:26):

Okay, great. Yeah, that just sort of gives us a good, good range. I mean, even when you compare it to your 125 a month in Thailand, now you’re back in the States and you’re three to 400 you know, seven, 800 or so when you’re living in a place on your own. And then how old were you when you finished that year of teaching in your masters?

Zach (10:46):

Um, I would’ve been in 2008 I would’ve been 25.

Andrew Kerr (10:49):

How’d you decide where you wanted to go after that? So you knew you wanted to go overseas and teaching, but if there’s someone that’s listening that’s a teacher and they’re thinking of going overseas, you know, how do you actually get started in that process? Obviously you had been in Thailand, but now you’re looking for these more lucrative jobs. You have the masters, you know, where’d you look and what was your decision place on where you wanted to go to just tell me a little more about that.

Zach (11:11):

Yeah, absolutely. And if you want, there’s a link on my blog for how I got the job overseas and it has all the links for resources. But, uh, I don’t know if you have show notes or whatever but basically, uh, I went to a job fair for a organization called ISS International School Services. Um, and I went to their job fair in New York and it’s sort of like speed dating for teaching jobs. Um, and they’re not the only ones that do it. And a lot of them are going more online now. But this is back in 2008. So I was a little different back then. And you sign up for a bunch of schools and then hopefully you get a job. And by odd coincidence had gone on vacation in the middle East and enjoyed it. And, uh, when I walked up to the table of this school that eventually hired me, they said, Oh, we’re in the middle East. I said, Oh, that’s fine. They may said, you’re not afraid of the middle East? I said, no. And they said, but you’re American. All Americans are afraid of the middle East. I’m not. And that was pretty much what got me the job.

Andrew Kerr (12:12):

that that’s a lot of people’s impression. Even, you know, just before we started this show, Zach and I were chatting about where he was living now and my wife and I just did a big trip to the Middle East. We were in Qatar, Egypt, and Jordan. We had a lot of those same reactions. Even now in 2019, our family is like, you’re going in the Middle East? Oh my goodness. You’re really going to take that risk. And then after we came back, it was, are you, were you safe? I mean, I’m so glad you got back. Okay. It was just this disconnect where a lot of times I think our cities here in the US are more dangerous than a lot of other cities around the world.

Zach (12:45):

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, people in Memphis asked me if I’m safe in Dubai and I just laugh at them. I’m like, uh, I was one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Look at yourselves in Memphis.

Andrew Kerr (12:55):

Absolutely. All right, so you’re in New York at the ISS you met with this company, they said they’re in the middle East. Where was that first position too?

Zach (13:05):

It was in Bahrain.

Andrew Kerr (13:07):

Gimme a little bit of context on, on this situation. Was it specifically, were they the first company that you met with or were they the one that basically said, you know, we’re in the middle East, here’s the best package. Did that draw you in or was it the fact that it was actually in the middle East that drew you in? Why did you choose that organization?

Zach (13:25):

I really liked the director. The one that did the interview with me. I just felt a really nice connection with him and you know, the package seemed good. And the only other place that offered me a job that year was in Myanmar and I just wasn’t feeling good about it back then. It’s a little more liberal there now. But back then it was still pretty repressive. Um, so Bahrain seemed like the better option, so I took it.

Andrew Kerr (13:48):

Very cool. Very cool. So do you have any sort of best practices or tips for folks that are maybe their teachers here in the U S and now they’re thinking of going overseas? You know, was there any negotiation room in that package or was it sort of set, here’s what it is, you take it or you leave it, you know, what were some, any best practices on how to vet schools?

Zach (14:10):

Yeah, well there’s, those are different questions. Um, the first is you don’t negotiate for schools, any international schools really, they have salary ladders. Um, and you can go up the salary ladder by getting more advanced degrees or more years of experience, but you’re not, they have a pretty boiler plate contract of benefits. So there’s, I’ve never seen or heard of anybody successfully negotiating a package with an international school.

Andrew Kerr (14:37):

So it’s pretty much a take it or leave it situation.

Zach (14:40):

Absolutely. And if you don’t like it, you can find another school and there’s a lot of schools out there. So you know that that does work out. Um, and the other question was, what was the other question?

Andrew Kerr (14:52):

Yeah. So you really liked the director, but then how, how’d you decide on the geographic area or was it you, you met the director and you liked what the school is offering and just happened to be in the Middle East and you are comfortable traveling and living there.

Zach (15:04):

Yeah, that, that’s, that’s exactly it. Um, it was already comfortable cause I’d been on a holiday to the region and liked it and uh, um, and then I liked the director and I just wanted to get out of Memphis. Really. That was pretty much, I knew I wanted to be overseas. I knew wanted to be out of Memphis and it was a decent job and it paid fine. And, uh, you know, I, so I left and it worked out well. I was able to pay off like $26,000 of student loans. I was able to buy about $20,000 of photography equipment and I came out $20,000 in the, in the black instead of the red after just four years there

Andrew Kerr (15:40):

in just four years. You did all that. That is pretty amazing.

Zach (15:44):

Yeah. Well I was, I was, I’ve always been a bit of a hustler too. I was running photography courses for the community. I played in the orchestra. Um, I shot photography as a business there as well. So, you know, I had some side hustles going on back way before I knew the word for side hustle. Oh. And I tutored, I tutored as well.

Andrew Kerr (16:03):

Okay, great. How was the pay set up in a situation like that? Do you have to do a bank account in, in country or do they send them on money to a US bank account? I mean, just expand a little bit on the pay situation, how you get paid. The frequency.

Zach (16:20):

Yeah, pretty much every international school I’ve worked at, they pay you once a month, um, which you get used to. It’s a little weird at first, but you know, you just, it helps you learn how to budget honestly. Um, and then you usually have a local bank account and then when you want you can send money back through an electronic wire transfer and depending on what, how big your bank is in the States, that can be more or less automatic. I still have to go and fill out paperwork. It’s kind of a pain in the butt. I usually only do it about four times a year. Um, but I’ve never lost, they’ve never lost my money, so that’s, that’s good. And then for my US bank account, um, I transfer that into my investments.

Andrew Kerr (16:57):

Very cool. So with your pay package in Bahrain, did that include a housing stipend or did they have like dormitory style housing for you? Can you explain that a little bit for us?

Zach (17:10):

Uh, what they had for us, the teacher housing was actually quite nice. It was a two bedroom apartments, um, sometimes two bedroom and an office for each teacher. But then one year there, uh, I did take the housing allowance and I split it split a nice little Villa with a friend of mine. And uh, we both ended up saving about three or $400 a month that way, uh, based just on our housing allowance. Um, but then I went back into teacher housing cause I liked it and my friends were there.

Andrew Kerr (17:38):

I mean that’s incredible. Even with the teacher housing, you’re getting a two bedroom place or a two bedroom place with an office to yourself. And then even when you moved out with a friend, you’re getting this cool Villa, you’re even using the whole stipend to cover that cost and you’re saving money on top of that.

Zach (17:53):

Yeah. It’s basically just giving yourself a raise to live in a cool little spot with a friend. It’s not too bad.

Andrew Kerr (18:00):

Yeah. Definitely a good way to hack housing. And then tell me a little bit about the tax situation. So if you are overseas for a long enough period of time, do you actually have to pay, you know, federal taxes here in the US on that money you earn overseas or are you exempt at all?

Zach (18:17):

You’re exempt for I think the first 105,000 US per year. Uh, the foreign earned income exclusion, uh, FEIE I think it’s, it is. Um, and after that you do have to pay as long as it’s for a foreign company. Um, all my international schools have been foreign companies, so, and I’ve never made $100,000 as a teacher. That’s just not something you do generally. There are some places where you can get up into that range, but it’s pretty rare. And because of that, I have not paid federal taxes for my pretty much whole career, uh, as long as I’ve been overseas.

Andrew Kerr (18:54):

That is absolutely crazy and I love it. I, I’ve heard about the FEIE before. I’ve never been overseas long enough to where I’ve been able to do that and been paid by a foreign company. Now when you were in Bahrain, so you didn’t have to pay federal taxes, did you have to pay any local income or payroll taxes or whatever the equivalent might be there in the local country?

Zach (19:18):

No, I mean if we did, they took care of it. Um, so we didn’t really ever have to file taxes or anything like that. It was the same in China where I worked. It’s the same here in the UAE as well.

Andrew Kerr (19:30):

Wonderful. So you were in Bahrain for four years, you just mentioned China. Is that where you went next after Bahrain?

Zach (19:36):

Yup, exactly right. I was going for two years.

Andrew Kerr (19:39):

And then how’d you end up deciding on that? Was this a sister school that you went to or did you go back to a job fair again or how’d you come across that option and tell me a little bit about your, your compensation package did include housing, not housing?

Zach (19:54):

Yeah. So in China, um, I got the job through the same organization. ISS, I actually sort of had the job before the job fair. Although I did go to the job fair. We basically had a Skype interview, which is how more and more of them are happening. So basically I got the job in China and again, I had a nice two bedroom apartment with an office, uh, by myself. Um, and we lived on campus there and I was out a little bit far out from the city about an hour and a half from the city center, uh, down in Southern China near Hong Kong. Yeah. So our pay there was a bit higher than Bahrain, but not a huge amount, but I was still able to save about 20,000 US a year there.

Andrew Kerr (20:37):

That is absolutely crazy and I think it’s just phenomenal. You know, folks in the US sometimes struggle and live paycheck to paycheck and with house hacking you can help reduce or that, but here you are, you’re going overseas, you’re getting this really cool international experience, your housing’s covered and that’s helping you save, you know, 20 grand a year while living in China is really, really cool.

Zach (21:00):

Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve gotten so good at it here. I just say 43 last year.

Andrew Kerr (21:05):

Oh, while you working in UAE?

Zach (21:07):


Andrew Kerr (21:08):

Man, that is phenomenal. That is phenomenal. That is really helping you get ahead financially. So if you’re saving 40,000 a year, what are you actually doing with that money? Because I’m guessing you’re not getting with these jobs, any sort of 401k or sort of retirement pension, anything like that? Or are you sort of left to do that on your own and is that what you’re investing in?

Zach (21:29):

Yeah, basically. Um, and they do every year they have to legally get set some money aside that they give you at the end after when you leave the job. Um, so when I left I, this is my second job in Dubai. I had my first one, I was there for two years and I got about, I don’t know, 3 or $4,000 that way. And then I’m going to be leaving at the end of this school year here and I, it’ll probably be closer to 5 or $6,000.

Andrew Kerr (21:54):

And is that geared more towards the retirement or more just to help you transition back home and have some money to live on for a couple of weeks or a month or two until you find your, your new job?

Zach (22:06):

They call it, they call it like an indemnity or the retirement payment. So I dunno, you can use it however you want.

Andrew Kerr (22:13):

And when your contract ends to they actually cover a flight to your next destination or do they give you a certain allowance?

Zach (22:20):

Yeah, they, they will give you the amount of um, they will either buy you a ticket to your home of record or they’ll give you the amount of money for a flight to your home of record.

Andrew Kerr (22:29):

That sounds like a pretty good deal overall. They pay to get you there, they pay you a decent salary, give you a place to live, you’re able to save a bunch of money and then they give you a flight back home.

Zach (22:39):

Yeah. Every year they give you a flight back home.

Andrew Kerr (22:42):

Oh, that’s wonderful. So you can go back and see family for the holidays.

Zach (22:46):

Yeah, they do it in the summertime. But you could always stay around in the summer. Like you don’t want to stay around in the summer in Dubai. It’s too hot. You die.

Andrew Kerr (22:53):

I can believe that. I can believe that. What are your plans now? You had mentioned your contracts getting ready to come up. Are you going to still stay overseas teaching or are you thinking of transitioning back to the States? What, what’s next up for you?

Zach (23:06):

I, I never intend to live in the States again. Quite frankly. No, I’m looking to move closer to my girlfriend who is actually in Guang Jo, um, at back in China. Um, so I’m looking at some schools there and I’m contact with them and I’d love to get the same school, but I don’t think they need an English teacher as this year. So I’ll probably be looking at other schools in the region.

Andrew Kerr (23:24):

Yeah, that’ll be really good if you can at least get somewhat closer to the same country so you don’t have to take international flights to see each other.

Zach (23:32):

Yeah, exactly. I just bought my, uh, my plane ticket to China, uh, for Christmas. I just bought that a couple of days ago. So, yeah, I totally agree.

Andrew Kerr (23:41):

Awesome. Well, I really appreciate you being on the show, but sort of the wrap up, this hacking portion, when you sort of think back through this experience of moving overseas and having your housing compensated for you, what do you think your biggest win or your biggest sort of success from from that time period has been?

Zach (23:59):

Well, I haven’t even gotten to talk to you about what I’m doing in Dubai yet. Did you want me to talk about that?

Andrew Kerr (24:03):

Yeah, absolutely.

Zach (24:05):

Okay. Um, so basically, uh, again here they give, they give you a housing allowance or did I talk about, I don’t remember. I think I did. Uh, but the way it works is, uh, the here you can live in an apartment, um, and uh, basically a one bedroom apartment will cost about as much as your housing allowance unless it’s really far out of the city and you then you can get a studio, a furnished studio for a little bit less, but then you can go cheaper and do what I’m doing, which is you’re sharing a Villa. And Villa is just a nice word for a mansion. And uh, basically the one that I found was it allowed me to save about, I don’t know, $10,000 over what I was paying before.

Zach (24:51):

So I got to pocket a lot of that. And uh, I was a little worried cause I hadn’t lived with people in a long time. Um, but the room is huge and I share a kitchen, um, but it’s a lot cheaper than living on in an apartment, um, by myself and it’s also a third of the commute. So I’m saving money on gas and not having to spend as much time in the car. And I live closer to the beach now, which I like. I was just there today. Um, I like to go as often as I can and uh, it’s kinda fun cause I live in this weird fancy room with a chandelier and the giant King size bed with a velvet back. It’s really kind of interesting and unique.

Andrew Kerr (25:30):

That sounds really, really cool. Do you have any pictures of that up on your website?

Zach (25:34):

Uh, yeah. Uh, on that original, um, that original blog post that you saw me from, there’s some pictures there and I look right over the Dubai skyline. It’s really close, uh, almost a stone throw away. So, you know, Burj Khalifa and all the crazy giant buildings. So you get to see all that too. It’s cool.

Andrew Kerr (25:50):

Well, we’ll make sure to link to that in the show notes for everyone. So you can go check, check out the mansion that he’s living in and see the skyline. I think that is phenomenal. You’re saving money, you’re living in a foreign country, you’ve got this beautiful skyline. Your commute to work is shorter. You’re near the beach, which you love. I mean, you’re sort of building this ideal lifestyle and having someone else pay for it. I don’t think you can get any better than that.

Zach (26:15):

It’d be hard. It’d be a challenge.

Andrew Kerr (26:19):

Awesome. So maybe that’s the answer to that, that the first sort of big question there is, is that your sort of biggest win, your biggest success is living in this mansion and having this really picture perfect lifestyle?

Zach (26:32):

Well, I, I think it was overcoming my own fear, really, because I had been living in apartments by myself for years at this point. And, um, I didn’t know how I’d be able to handle having other people around and things like that, but, you know, and I think that inertia stops people from taking those sorts of, of risks. Um, but I had seen a couple of my friends who had been doing the same thing and they were both, uh, FI and they’re both in their thirties. So, you know, I knew this was a big needle mover and I wanted to move myself in that direction as well. And, uh, so I, uh, you know, kind of overcame my fears and took the leap and, you know, built in a little part of my contract that, you know, if I didn’t like it after three months, I can leave without any penalty. Um, but then I did like it, so I just paid the rest of it and now I don’t afford about it for the rest of the year.

Andrew Kerr (27:27):

Very cool. Very cool. Yeah, I know a lot of times, sometimes we’re our own worst enemy or we create these fears in our head that we have to overcome or push ourselves outside of our comfort zone really to sort of get ahead and in any big area.

Zach (27:41):

Yup. Yeah. And it’s sort of like hacking the hedonic treadmill, right? Like the hedonic treadmill can make us, you know, get used to more and more expensive things, but also you can go the other way and you can get used to what you could consider to be less, uh, than you had before because you can get used to pretty much anything. So you can use that to your advantage to save money and build towards your financial future if you just kind of realize that about your own psychology that you can get used to pretty much anything.

Andrew Kerr (28:08):

Absolutely. So that brings me to the sort of the second question, wrapping up the house hacking section, what do you think your biggest failure was through this experience of living overseas? Taking teaching jobs, having the housing paid for? What was, if you could go back in time, what was the one big thing you would change or do differently?

Zach (28:27):

One thing that I think is a great idea, and I know people that do it. Uh, like my, my assistant principal has been here for about 10 years I think. And what he’s done is he’ll have the housing allowance from the school, pay his mortgage, so he’ll buy a place and then the housing allowance will pay his mortgage instead of just rent. Um, and then he’s left with the property after that and then he just rented out. So he’s gonna come out of Dubai with three or four properties in Dubai where he’s just paying there are paid off and they’re just generating that cash flow. Um, I kind of wish I had done that.

Andrew Kerr (29:02):

So he’s really leveraging that housing allowance into creating a little mini real estate rental empire. Really cool. And then last question is, would you do it again? I sort of feel like we know the answer to this, but I’ll, I’ll let you, uh, officially answer. Would you do it again?

Zach (29:22):

Yeah. I wish I had done it a year before. Um, I was actually kinda kinda caught up in this real estate scam last year when the real estate company that we paid our rent to absconded in the night with like 400 people’s rent across the city, like millions of dollars of rent. Um, and uh, they left back to EMEA and the, the building that we were renting from tried to sue us and have the police kick us out. It was really nasty. So I kind of wish I had done it last year and then not had to worry about that stress.

Andrew Kerr (29:53):

Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a fun situation. Did this school offered a step in and help with that situation or give any advice?

Zach (30:01):

They did. Uh, they offered to help, but in the end, uh, the police actually helped us, um, and said, told the hotel that they couldn’t kick us out because we had valid contracts. Even if the company that we had made the contracts with had dissolved and gone away.

Andrew Kerr (30:18):

That that really worked out well from your standpoint then.

Zach (30:21):

Yeah. Not for the building, but definitely for us.

Andrew Kerr (30:24):

Well I’m sure the building probably has more resources than all of you folks as individual teachers do. So I’m sure in the long run though, there’ll be quiet. Okay.

Zach (30:34):

Yeah, there’ll be fine. There were, they were a multinational chain.

Andrew Kerr (30:39):

Awesome. Well thank you for being on the show, but before we go, I like to ask everyone the same six questions that we sort of called “The Famous Six.” It’s just a draw it a little bit more about who you are and a little bit more of your personality. And it’s something we ask all the guests the same question. So you’re ready for it?

Zach (30:59):


Andrew Kerr (31:00):

Cool. So number one is, do you have a favorite personal financial blog or book that you’ve read in the recently or past year?

Zach (31:10):

Uh, yeah. I mean they’re, some of the best blogs are the ones that got me to start. Like Millennial Revolution is probably my favorite. Uh, mrs. Frugal Woods I think is one of the most well-written blogs out there. JL Collins is fantastic. And of course, Mr. Money Mustache, you know, personal hero of mine. Um, and uh, yeah, and mine of course, I love my own blog. I put a lot of work into it.

Andrew Kerr (31:31):

I spent some time reading through your blog. It’s pretty phenomenal, especially if I think you’re interested in teaching abroad or just have, want to learn a little bit more about what he’s doing. Definitely check it out. We’ll put it in the show notes and all the ones you mentioned. The JL Collins Frugal Wood Millennial Revolution. I’m big fans of all of those as well.

Zach (31:48):

Yeah, absolutely. And uh, I run a millionaire teacher club at my school. Uh, we’ve got Andrew Helmets speak and then I kind of followed up and we have savings challenges and I have everybody, well, I try to have everybody read the simple path to wealth. So if I’m gonna talk about a finance, personal finance book, Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins is going to be definitely my top number one choice

Andrew Kerr (32:08):

when I ever have anyone asked me about getting their finances in shape or how do I think about saving for the future or planning for retirement? That’s the book I pull off my shelf and give him his JL Colin’s book.

Zach (32:20):

Yup. And he’s actually a really nice guy. He contacted me when he read one of my blog posts and we’ve been sort of emailing ever since and he’s just a phenomenally nice human being as well.

Andrew Kerr (32:28):

Wonderful. Wonderful to hear. All right, so the second question might not directly relate to you. You’re sort of this unusual house hacking story that we wanted to include. Most of the big ways to house hack are very real estate related. But I’ll go ahead and ask the question to see if anything comes up, but do you have a favorite real estate related blog or book that you’ve read?

Zach (32:50):

Um, I mean Bigger Pockets is fantastic. In my heart. I would love to get some rental properties, but not having a W2 income makes that a little tricky, uh, in terms of getting the mortgage. So, you know, but I, I, I’m kind of obsessed with real estate and also Paula Pan. Um, you know, her blog is fantastic for real estate as well.

Andrew Kerr (33:10):

Yeah. I wish you would still spend more time on real estate. I really liked the early years of her blog where she really went through everything that she, she’s done. Uh, but bigger pockets is the one that I love as well. I’ve been following them for, for years. Early on when I was learning to invest, I jumped on their newsletter and all the different webinars that they had. Yep. They’re phenomenal. All right, so number three, what is your favorite travel destination that you’ve been to so far?

Zach (33:36):

Oh man, I’ve got so many. Probably the most interesting would be Gili Trawangan off of Bali. It’s a little Island. Uh, they, there’s no motorized vehicles. At least there wasn’t when I was there. Uh, it’s just a little like surfing and diving community and it’s super pristine and it’s just gorgeous.

Andrew Kerr (33:54):

Wonderful. And then what’s next on your travel vacation list? I know you had mentioned going to China to see your girlfriends. So outside of that, are you two planning to do anything together anytime soon or is that your big next travel destination?

Zach (34:08):

Yeah, that, that’s Christmas. I kind of, I might be going to Grayson Spring Break to meet up with family there. I’m on Cretes, but I’m not sure about that. That’s a possibility. I really would like to get, I wanted to do a, a yoga and surfing retreat in Sri Lanka as well. But I think that’s not going to happen this time around. But those are tops of lists right now.

Andrew Kerr (34:30):

Yeah. I imagine one of the other benefits of living in Dubai is having these big worldwide air carriers where you can get some pretty decent airfare and direct flights to a lot of different places.

Zach (34:41):

Yeah, it’s a big hub.

Andrew Kerr (34:42):

Great. And number five, what is the biggest bucket list item that you have yet to accomplish?

Zach (34:48):

Uh, well I, I think that that’s uh, coming up in the next year, if everything goes right, will be my Southeast Asia FIRE number. Basically I have my FIRE numbers set up by geographic arbitrage and I know how much it would cost me to live in Thailand again or somewhere like that. Um, and if everything goes well, that’s about 12 months away from me.

Andrew Kerr (35:09):

Well an early congratulations. Definitely ping me when you hit that number. We can definitely do a little write up on, on our blog, uh, linking over to any special posts that you do to celebrate that. And my wife and I, we’ve actually looked at, as we sort of built our real estate empire here in the States, we started thinking about, okay, what’s our FI number if we are to be in Asia in central and South America and then Europe. And that’s the way we sort of looked at it was we’d like to end up in Europe, but where some places around the world that we can live for two to five years and have our real estate cash flow pay for us to live over there.

Zach (35:45):

Yeah, absolutely. I mean when I was living in Thailand, you know, I was living just fine for 500 a month US, you know, and I, I know that now I could probably do it about the same for about $750 a month US. So that makes your FI number a lot lower.

Andrew Kerr (35:59):

Absolutely. Really, really low. And then our sixth and final question is what is your sort of favorite life hack that you have?

Zach (36:07):

Mm, probably a batch cooking. I’m a, I’m a big believer in uh, the power of what you eat and if you only have to cook twice a week because your batch cooking, um, your life gets a lot simpler and easier and a lot more time to do whatever you want and you can also stay healthier that way.

Andrew Kerr (36:27):

So I like to call that selective laziness. Let me group stuff together, do a bunch of hard work so I can be lazy the rest of the week.

Zach (36:36):

Exactly. If I can just throw something in the microwave, you know, it’s a lot easier than having to cook and clean up a meal every other day.

Andrew Kerr (36:43):

I completely understand that. Was that, thank you so much for being on the show. I’m really loved this unique story of how you went abroad. We’ll be sure to link to your website in the show notes and we’ll also post some of the other websites and organizations that you mentioned. That way. If we have any of our listeners that want to teach abroad or are teachers that want to go abroad, they can find those references in the show notes. So thank you again, really appreciate you being on the show.

Zach (37:11):

Absolutely. And if you know on Facebook, on The Happiest Teacher group, you know, they feel free to join in. You know, if they want to ask any questions, I’m happy to answer.

Andrew Kerr (37:19):


Speaker 1 (37:19):

Thanks so much. Thank you for listening to the house hacking podcast. For more up to date information on house hacking to access links and resources mentioned in today’s show, and connect with the guest and host, head over to that’s where your house hacking journey begins.



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