How much money do you need to save before you move to India ?

by neo

The most frequently asked question that this blog’s contact form gets isn’t “Are you really sure Neo isn’t single?”. No – that distinction goes to “How much money should I save up before returning to India” ?

(While on the topic of being single, here’s a good rule for married men to follow in pubs: When asked by a girl if you’re married, the first word out of your mouth should be some emphatic synonym of “Yes”. As Neo’s friend learned last Sunday during the IPL finals, “Well, .. (silly grin)” is not a synonym of “Yes”. Maybe a really assertive “Well!” could sort of approach a “Yes”, but it’s rather hard to make that case while simultaneously dodging several expertly aimed glasses of cold water from your wife.)

Now that we’ve closed that bracket, back to the question of “how much money..”, here’s the answer: you’re asking the wrong question!

Here’s why:

1. If you’re moving to India, it should be to make money, and to learn

yet another shot of the old tv in chinook motel

Thinking of India as a quiet place to retire after working abroad is as silly (and obsolete) as the 100-pound TV in Neo’s parents’ house (you know, the kind that sucks so much power, the lights dim momentarily when you turn it on).

Just because everyone is saying it doesn’t make it false. India is becoming the young and upwardly mobile country that you’ve always wanted. So if your “move to India” plan does not have a jargon-free section titled “My personal plan to grow intellectually, professionally and financially by taking advantage of India’s growth” in at least Helvetica (and not Arial) 14 font size, you don’t have a plan! Go back and write a plan!

Your plan will give you comfort when you read it in candle-light at 3am when there is no power, and (like the Pakistani government) you’ve conceded large ‘swat’hes of your body to the invading mosquitoes.

(Actually mosquitoes are not an issue, since everyone has a UPS and “Good Knight” – but still, if Neo can scare away a few potential returnees, he has done his patriotic bit in controlling inflation in India, speaking of which, …)

2. Yes, The Rupee could get even stronger

Dr. Deepak Chopra

The fact that the Reserve Bank of India keeps the rupee artificially low (to promote exports) is probably the worst kept secret in India. But in the long run, 1) we are all dead and 2) more importantly a stronger rupee is as inevitable (though not as imminent) as Deepak Chopra’s next meaningless Twit.

If the rupee appreciates, the money you have earned in India (see point 1) will be worth much more in absolute terms, and in terms of purchasing power. (It’s not like you’ve failed to notice Tim Geithner’s unsubtle tossing around (two) dollar bills at banks faster than a desi guy at his last strip dance before getting married).

But there are things in life more important than money, and so ..

3. What’s your time worth ?

Kitchen disaster

For Neo, moving to India was like cleaning his keyboard for the first time: he was amazed at the sheer volume of gunk that was cleaned out from his life. Neo’s household saves 40 hours a week due to all the cooking, cleaning and driving that’s now been outsourced. Also saved are the 911 calls, most famously because Mrs. Neo once decided to oven-heat a pizza in the original cardboard box (in her defense, she was on the phone with Sneha).

This time is worthless if all you’ll do with it is argue even more with your spouse or watch the Big Bang Theory (highly recommended btw). But if you can use it to start a part-time business, teach your kids, or even just to exercise regularly, this time is worth real money. Surely that deserves to be a column in your Excel spreadsheet (but seriously, you should support open source and move to OpenOffice).

4. Finally, the real question is, how much money do you need to move to Ethiopia ?

Harar wonderful street (Ethiopia) 1

Neo is all for keeping his kids on their toes by exposing them to new environments – but moving them to India just when they’ve finally figured out how to answer “do you speak Indian at home?”, or “do you speak Hindu?” seems a tad unfair.

So do consider the fact that by the time your slow-train to “enough money” gets to its destination, your kids might have as difficult a time adjusting to India as you would have in adjusting to rural Ethiopia. By then, your net worth in Indian Rupees is as meaningless as that in Ethiopian Birrs, since you’re not going to move to either of those places!


If you are still reading, perhaps you don’t have enough to live the life of a sheikh in India (of course, even sheikhs are suffering and need to be bailed out with your tax dollars).

So if you are still thinking of moving to India and, like a true Internet citizen, you’ve already forgotten what you read 10 sentences ago, here’s the plan in summary:

  1. Think of your current savings only as an initial safety net
  2. Figure out how to make money in India before you move
  3. Invest it according to the experts on CNBC wisely keeping an eye on the long-term dollar-rupee rate
  4. Start thinking in terms of purchasing power rather than dollar amounts, and
  5. Work towards converting your extra time in India into money and meaning.

And do get a move on. As Neo loves to say, “if you can’t decide, decide quickly”.

,., decision making

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