Tom Mullaly wage freedom

Tom Mullaly wage freedom

Wage freedom

Wage Freedom isn’t about getting by. It’s about the good life—as defined by you—and how to get there.  

It was great to be back in Bali interviewing Tom Mullaly for the second time here on The Mentor List.  If you haven't listened to our first interview with Tom you can catch it here  In today's interview we deep dive into the main question you the listener have sent through off the back of listening to episode 01.


"Instead of fixating on your next vacation, maybe you should set up a life you don't need to escape from" Seth Godin.

Recommended reading

Tom Mullaly II 

D: In our last interview, we talked about how in reality we can survive on a $1000 a month, whether that be AUD or USD, it doesn’t matter. What type of lifestyle are we talking about living on this budget, is it one that includes rent or a we talking about a life lived on the streets?

T: Usually when I throw out the $1000 figure I do so because I want to give out a lower range. I could say $3,000 AUD a month, I suspect that there are many people out there doing so comfortably. A lot of people that I speak to are in a transition, they have a little bit saved up but they are looking to come and buy in a cheaper part of the world but they want to still live a good quality lifestyle. I then think well what is the lower end of being able to do this and that’s why I throw around that figure. I know plenty of people who are in fact living on that amount. Let’s just say if you took the figure of roughly $1000 AUD, how can you live off this amount? Obviously the greatest living expense is accommodation. Here in Bali, things have changed over the last few years. You used to have to come up with say at least 6 months but usually 12 months, sometimes even a few years’ worth, of rent upfront. This is no longer the case, I know a lot of folks who without having to sign anything are moving in and paying by the month. This presents a great opportunity, particularly when you first arrive as you can’t be sure if and for how long you will want to stay. Whilst landlords may still ask for 6 month’s or 12 months’ worth of rent upfront, through negotiation you can work this period down. Everything is negotiable here, that is something you need to be very clear about in Bali.

You can get these great rooms around central courtyards, called Kost’s, for less than a million rupees or less than $100 AUD a month or up to say $300 AUD a month for something which is a bit more of an apartment. A lot of these costs have recently been upgraded from something where you probably would not want to be, into something quite liveable with modern facilities. When I was doing my book it became clear to me that you could get something for $200-$300 AUD a month which was quite liveable as an individual or as a couple. I am talking about an option for those who are finding that money is quite tight, if you need to be on this super budget.

From there you are moving up to apartments which cost between $500 to $800 AUD a month, you are talking about something quite comfortable for that price point. It may be that there is a shared pool or other facilities. I know compared to what I have rented in the US in this price range, what you are getting is extremely liveable. If you are looking for the more glamorous lifestyle for the long term, you need to move away from the tourist mindset and the tourist hot spots. Those who come over for a month or less are basically going to be paying tourist prices the whole time that they are here. If you are willing to come over and do the legwork to find a place to rent for 6 months, a year or even longer you won’t be looking at tourist prices. It may be that it has a few rough edges compared to a place you are renting as a tourist for a couple of hundred dollars a night. But you will get it for a fraction on a monthly basis of what you would pay for a tourist villa for say a week. It may be that you need to be willing not to be beach front, maybe you are a 15 minute drive on the bike from the beach. If you are needing to do it on the cheaper side you may go for an apartment, if you had a little more money behind you then you might go for a house with a few rough edges. It is just a matter of doing your leg work in order to shake off that $200-$300 a night tourist price tag. It all comes down to what you consider liveable and how much things like distance to the beach matter to you. It may be that if you are bringing your family and want to be close to the beach, that you are paying something more like $1,500 AUD for something that you personally consider to be liveable. But in reality you can do it for less.

D: What would your advice to the listeners be around landownership and leaseholds in Bali?

T: I would advise people not to even think about land ownership if they haven’t lived in Bali before. What I tell people is to come over and rent, even if you are coming over certain that you want to stay here I would recommend that you still rent for 6 to 12 months. You need to get the lay of the land and avoid setting yourself up by booking a hotel whilst you think. To come and think that you are going to buy in a few weeks is just not a good idea. Even if you have been here to visit 20 times, you still haven’t fully grasped the situation here. Come and rent, what is the rush anyway? Most of the people that I know who have ended up staying for decades are still doing long term leases themselves. Just because you are coming to be here for a long time doesn’t mean that you need to do the nominee process where you need to nominate a local. It is their name that appears on the title as if you are not Indonesian you cannot legally own land in your own name. It is possible, you don’t ever need to meet that person again if you want to do upgrade or when you want to sell your house. There is though a bit of dancing around and there is a little bit of risk, so I certainly wouldn’t suggest trying to do this upon first arrival. That is one of the reasons why these long term leases are so common now, there are options for almost any price point. This wasn’t the case even five years ago when there were very few good options. We rented five houses before we got into our current condos, we didn’t want houses but we couldn’t find any apartments which we wouldn’t have had to sign a lease for at least 12 months. That is not the case anymore and I think that is the big take away from this.

D: For those Australians thinking about living in Bali long term, can you explain to them the visa process and what’s involved?

T: It is a pretty simple process. If you are here long-term and are interested in sinking more into Indonesian life then a tourist, then a social visa is perfect. This visa allows a maximum stay of 180 days, you must apply outside of Indonesia and once you get off the plane you get two months which you can then extend up to 4 times. You do need to do some legwork and some research, you will need an invitation letter from a local which is easier than it sounds. A lot of people will come over on the 60 day visa, find a local who is willing to invite them and they will then go to Singapore or Kula Lumpur to make the social visa application. You can also contact an agent before you ever come to Bali or you can go to the Indonesian Embassy in Australia to get your social visa issued to you. You do then have to leave after the 6 months but you can leave for a short period of time, renew your social visa and then come back.

D: Last time we talked about living in Bali and using the local currency when your income is being earnt in the Western World. Would you share with us what you have seen around the opportunity to work in the local economy and what you would recommend around this?

T: I certainly do have ex-pat friends who are running restaurants for big hotels or who own bars and other things. Long story short if you want to work in the local economy, you pretty much have to have your own business. I am not saying that you can’t otherwise get a job, you certainly can but it is rather expensive for an employer to organise your work residence papers for you. Employers would moreso be looking for those who bring experience that you can’t get here due to the cost involved for them. Some people do this but the majority of people have come over and started their own business. This is harder than you think, the competition here is fierce because so many people come over to do exactly this. If you stay just for a month, you will see places that only opened two weeks ago close down. The turnover of businesses is amazing. So if you are going to come over, please come over being aware of this. Those who I have seen come over and succeed are those who have experience running bars or restaurants back in Australia or they have such determination that they make it work. You have such an advantage if you do have that real experience. I would never want to dissuade anyone from pursuing their dreams, just come and be really ready to fight as it’s certainly not easy. There are a trail of people who have come before who are having to sublet out the premises they have leased for 3 years or 5 years for their business, with business leases usually paid upfront. You can see the Western influence in the quality of the fitouts, of the food and the service. I am amazed what people do, I am so impressed by the level of quality that they can achieve. A lot of these places are now on par with what you would find in Sydney or LA at still a fraction of the price. When you talk about food, you can still easily pay the prices here that you would be paying in Sydney or Melbourne. But you do still have the option of going to places where you can get a clean and healthy meal for $1 or $2 AUD, once again you have those options at every price point. You pick your spots, I know that I have 4 or 5 of my own favourite places. It is a case again of having those price options that you just don’t have in the Western World where the base price is pretty high. If you need to spend less, then you can without compromising your health or safety.

D: A lot of the listeners have asked how they can get this sort of lifestyle when they are working a corporate job where they have to physically be on location? How can they go about establishing an online business or creating an online income which is location agnostic?

T: I get asked this question weekly. To distil it down, what I am telling people in 2017 is basically the way I see it is you have two directions. These directions do not involve quitting your job and then starting, they do involve that whilst you are still working and earning a predictable income that you get started. This gives you a way of moving into a career which in a way you have curated and constructed for yourself. Because of the lower cost of living, Bali or South East Asia more broadly can be a part of that and is for thousands of people. When I talk about these two directions that you can go, you should start before you quit your job but you don’t necessarily need to be at a point of replacing your income in order to have a new viable career for yourself.

The first direction is if you have an experience, a talent or a passion for a subject you can use writing or video, you do not have to be a writer, to convey this expertise or experience to other people. Regardless of how obscure your expertise or area of talent is, even if it is only of interest to a few thousand people around the world, that is enough. Put yourself out there and establish yourself as an expert on this topic to the point where you can provide people with knowledge, education and value. By communicating with people through webinars, through free coaching and through blogs, you begin to learn what people would want to learn about your topic. Eventually, you can develop a digital product which answers every single question you have ever gotten on that topic, from the beginning questions to the very advanced. If you look online it doesn’t take long to find experts on anything whether it be cooking, fixing things or motorcycle mechanics. This is also a great option for older people who may have 20 or 30 years’ worth of work experience or otherwise, which is often discounted as being obvious or ‘common sense’ knowledge. People out there do care, people might be wanting to break into that career that you spent so much of your life doing. Help people do it, give them a foundation and you will find that as you put out free content, no matter how narrow your topic, you will start to get search engine traffic for free. As these folks come, you will be surprised by how many do come and join your mailing lists. You can then communicate with them directly and answer their questions one-on-one.

These are all methods that you can do for free or for a low cost, very minimal resources are needed to start doing this. Getting the list going is a big part of this and you need to get it going as soon as possible. When you eventually put a product out there, there will be enough people at that point to have a product launch. This rough sketch that I have given you is now a well-worn path, people have done this with the most obscure niches that you can imagine. It is a very doable thing if you have an expertise or a passion, there are plenty of people who do it without having an expertise but who are really curious. They then document their own path as they go from knowing nothing to knowing a lot about their chosen topic. If you think for example that you wanted to learn how to play the guitar, you would think that there are too many people out there who already know how to do this. But you can still enter this niche as someone who is just getting going, give it a shot and document your own journey. Once you get to that intermediate level, people will see how you have reached that point from starting with no skills just like them. This is often more valuable than the knowledge of an expert because you bring these people along as you bring yourself along.

Even if you look at The Mentor List for an example, people would look at you now and think ‘yeah but you are an established podcaster’, not realising how far you have come from 12 months ago and the journey of learning that has taken place. I have done too many things, I have been told by many people that I respect that I make the common mistake of trying to grab too many shiny objects at once. I am living in a place that is pretty cheap which has meant that I am able to afford to pursue these many different areas of interest. What I need to do is to find a foot hold from which things can then branch out from, like The Mentor List has done with the podcasts before it does branch out. To be here 12 months later really impresses me as so many folks start something and then soon after lose interest, that’s fine but you have stuck with it which is a beautiful thing. Having this foundation is a great thing to build on as people start to come to you, that is the pay-off for all the things you do in the first 12 months which have no immediate pay off. You can then look back after 12 months and see how it has all come together.

I would encourage anyone who has that side hustle going on, to keep doing it. If it then turns into something bigger that’s great and if it doesn’t that’s still great. I would just recommend not having 8 side hustles going on at once as there is more to gain by going deep as opposed to going broad. Find an interest that you do have and do pursue it. Any success that I have had in life has come from doing exactly that, when it becomes no longer fun then it gets hard to keep it going. Those are the activities that I can look back on and be glad that I did not continue with them, that I moved on to the next side hustle. These are the hurdles that most people hit but don’t plough through, that is something that you need to realise. The hardest things that I have done, if I have ploughed through them, I have found that these are the things that have paid the biggest dividends. Maybe it is because so many people have hit those walls and not continued, I certainly know that in other areas I have hit walls and not continued.

The second direction, for those who do not have an expertise or a passion jumping out at them, is to learn a skill which sounds interesting enough to be able to spend 50 hours on. I am talking about the sorts of skills that you can learn thoroughly enough to help small to medium size businesses to market themselves online. We are talking about the skills that business owners need and often know they need but simply do not have the time to learn well enough to implement on their own. You target businesses whose offline business is running but is not running as well as it could be because their online presence just isn’t there or isn’t professional enough. It may be that they have a website but it is not a website that is actually generating any leads or they have an ecommerce opportunity but they are not actually selling any product. These business owners often know that their online presence is under-optimised and you can learn a niche marketing skill where you can help them build out a part of their online marketing presence. There are a lot of sub-disciplines that exist today that you certainly don’t require a college degree to do, most of the time universities don’t offer these skills. These are skills which if you are motivated, you could learn in 4-6 weeks well enough to provide value to these small and medium businesses who often know they need these things but don’t know where to turn to. Some of these skills include things like local SEO, Facebook Advertising, Mobile Ads, Google Adword Campaigns and retargeting/remarketing campaigns. Will you be an expert in 6 weeks? No, but you will know enough to be valuable to a small business which is not yet running Facebook ads. I would start by going to friends, family and friends of friends who have real businesses that are running but who know their online presence is sub-optimal. To begin with do this work for nothing, show them as well as yourself that your skills are actually there and workable. Go from there, you will know when you are ready when you can look at someone’s online presence and know what it is that they need and how you can help them.

D: How can people find out more?

T: If people have more questions, they can get in contact with me through I am very busy but I do try to respond to comments and emails. I am not offering coaching at the moment but if you send me an email, maybe I can help you.



Tom’s story;

It’s always clearer in retrospect, there was no grand plan, but looking back I can divide my life into two phases.  I was a dissatisfied guy doing engineering contracts in the aircraft for about 15 years.  I fell into it and it helped me to fund budget travel.  Having a job I didn’t particularly like meant I had real motivation to leave and when the job was over I would take the backpack and go.  Then came this thing called the internet happened, I remember in the 90’s people started to use it for business and I started to hear anecdotes of people making money.  I never saw it as much of an opportunity for me, I never saw myself as a business guy, I saw myself more as a writer.  There is a lesson there that your self-image can really drive your motivation and your life on a real level.  I don’t regret viewing myself as a writer, but that was just where I was until about 2005.  With the advent of word press and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) I started to see that maybe the internet a way that I didn’t have to keep coming back to these jobs that I didn’t like all the time and working 80 hours a week.  It was organic interest, it seemed like a challenge.  I’d build niche sites, get traffic, and through google AdSense and a few affiliate links and the money starts coming in, and it’s not very much but you realise not only can you have an effect on the google search results pages but you can also actually get a click and make money.

I was coming to Asia a lot, life is cheap here, I met my wife in 2003 and in 2005 we bought a place here in Bali and basically I realised instead on needing five or six thousand dollars a month to live in Seattle or California, you can live quite well for one thousand dollars a month.  It’s a good quality of life and regardless of how much money you have its good value.  For me I could see then that solely from google AdSense I was in striking distance by 2008 to make enough to live here and not have to go back to work.  That for me was life changing.  What’s a thousand bucks a month? Well in the US or Australia it's nothing but for me it wasn’t about the money it was about changing my life which was a big deal.  I never wanted to go back to selling my time for money and I finally had a way out of it and I seized it.  To be very honest with you it wasn’t actually that hard once I saw the opportunity in front and I just went forward.  So here we are, now I’ve done many different things in internet marketing broadly, SEO, paid traffic, content marketing etc. 

Wage freedom started out as a passion project and not really commercial at all, but I realised that overtime as the world changes and not everybody recovers from the recession we had in 2008/2009, there is a real need for people to hear that they are not restrained or constrained to the cubicle or the barista station.  I started wage freedom when I was still working, which I think is important to do.  For clients, I always suggest this.  I made a plan and bought a big site and ended up making several dozen niche sites.  It initially started out as a place for me to write about themes in my life and pursue this idea of breaking free.  Because I did it basically after each contract I had.  A lot of my digital nomad friends broke away once on a tangent of which they were not coming back.  I applaud that, but that was not my path.  I became very familiar, with breaking free and had to reaffirm myself with every job why I was doing it.  It wasn’t to go to the mall on the weekend, it was to go and see India, the Greek islands etc.

To free yourself, it doesn’t happen when you go to buy the airplane ticket to go somewhere, even to walk into your bosses office to quit that job.  The victory happens well before that, it happens when you are still in the cubicle.  When you are having to constantly re-affirm to yourself that, yes you are dissatisfied but you will make this into a good situation and will have to change it, possibly radically.  Coming to Bali is not the answer for everybody, even travel is not the answer, but whatever the next natural step in your life is for you, you are going to have face that dissatisfaction, there’s a good chance it’s not going to go away especially if you have felt it for years and years.  Improving your life requires a level of focus to break out of it.  Wage freedom started out as a completely non-commercial site, I wanted to clearly define these themes for myself.   What has happened overtime is people have connected with a lot of these themes.  Even though I living here in Bali I look like I have made the leap, the themes are still very much alive in my life.  I don’t regard Wage freedom as particularly commercial even now, my passion and focus is the mindset which we all need to breakthrough, it’s a constant challenge in our lives and a challenge that changes overtime.  That’s what I continue to be interested in and that’s what Wage freedom is about. 

Advice to self;

I would have told myself in my 20’s when on some level I thought something was wrong with me because this dissatisfaction wouldn’t go away, that I never seemed to quell and it left me reaching for that backpack when the job was over.  Face the dissatisfaction sooner because you could spend too much time and waste a lot of trying to convince yourself that what’s in front of you should satisfy you, and that can be on any level, there is a huge world out there and by definition opportunities that you do not know about.  Give yourself a chance especially if you are young, but no matter what your age is, to go off on a tangent that tempts you.  I’m not talking about quitting your job today, but admit to yourself, that if you are dissatisfied to embrace it and look constructively for whatever the next opportunity may be.  You don’t need to look ten steps in front of you just follow something that interests you.  In my life as in everybody’s life we can see certain pivot points where we have moved towards something we are interested in and it has opened up an entirely new world for us.  Until I was about 30 I was still trying to convince myself that I was the misfit and that satisfaction was somehow down at the mall, and spending money at the mall was an effort to placate an inner drive you had.  If you want more than that, firstly it’s out there, and secondly, don’t kid yourself that you don’t really want it.  If you do, face it, you can productively and creatively approach it and that is the means by which you can change your life


The one that has really worked for me is writing every single day.  Writing can be constructive, it can be therapeutic for me it helps to focus me, it’s almost like an affirmation.  If I spend 20 minutes writing out here’s where I am, why I’m doing it, better ways I could do it or what I shouldn’t do and things like that.  In the pursuit of clarity and focus writing is really what does it for me and sets me on the path for the rest of the day.  In the age of twitter and all the rest of it seems more important than ever.  The thing that enriches our lives is also the thing that distracts us profoundly.  You need to have a process where you can grab some mind space or attention for yourself.  I think of it as attention autonomy where you need to overtly takes steps to grab this focus for you and writing again makes things stickier and helps me keep things top of mind.  If I don’t do this daily and make it a point to do every day, it’s just too easy for your focus to unravel in my experience which is an extremely high place to play and is unacceptable if you are trying to accomplish something every day.  When we are employees and we get our butts in the chair everyday theoretically we are going to get paid and everything is going to be OK, if you are trying to be an entrepreneur you have to have a different mindset and you cannot accept having your attention and intent unravel.  Intent follows attention and focus and if that intent unravels then you are lost, not just for today, these are unacceptable setbacks.  This concept of distraction is a big theme in my life now as it is for a lot of people.  We must develop a new muscle where can switch everything off.  We must be able to filter what is worthy and what is not because the future will not bring less, it will bring more, so each of us needs to develop this muscle to filter the good from the bad.  Pushing this to the future, all these enriching distractions are seductive today , but within about two years or less with virtual reality and augmented reality we are going to go from seduction to immersion.  So what happens if you don’t today start to develop your ability to grab your focus to grab your attention back to get a baseline level of consciousness of yourself.  You need to find a way to embrace it but maintain your agenda.


In keeping with the themes of wage freedom a favourite person of mine is Seth Godin.  “Instead of fixating on your next vacation maybe you should set up a life that you don’t need to escape from”.


An author that I have enjoyed a lot in the last few years, has a great blog, a very funny guy and a wise man.  James Altucher, Choose Yourself.

It’s never been more possible to pick a direction that you may have zero experience in but you have this sincere interest in and move towards it, whether that’s writing that book you’ve always had in your head all of your life or some new way to make money, build an app, whatever it might be for you.  The basic idea is thinking of yourself as having more agency than you ever did.  The tools are available and out there to learn.  You don’t need any OK or approval from a third party to move towards your dreams.  You can choose yourself, don’t wait, don’t kid yourself, you have more agency and freedom than you may realise, don’t hide from it.