It’s no secret that teaching English in China pays pretty well, and with the generally low cost of living, you shouldn’t find it difficult to save money while you’re here. But, we’ve all got that friend (or maybe you ARE that friend) who can’t seem to save money no matter how much they earn. So if that’s you, or you’re just looking for what NOT to do when trying to save money in China, read on to find out …
Shop constantly at the import store. Sure, you’re missing certain foods and drinks and it’s such a nice comfort to have something from home, but shopping constantly in an import store in China is a sure fire way to burn through your cash. Import stores here are much more expensive than the local supermarket or produce market, so you’re much better off spending your time and money there (and it’s way more fun discovering the local food and drink too!)
Eat and drink at the expat bars and restaurants. Again, it’s lovely to be surrounded by familiar things (and sounds: hello English!) when you’re feeling a bit homesick, but these things come at a price! Expat bars and restaurants tend to offer great comfort food and drinks, but the costs of importing these can be high, and this cost will, of course, be passed on to the customers. My advice if you’re trying to save money is to cook at home, or if you are going out, to head to the smaller, local bars and restaurants for some Chinese food and drinks. It’ll not only be better for your wallet, but you’ll get to sample awesome food, practice your Chinese, and maybe make some new Chinese friends!
Buy your clothes from international chain stores. Many people think that because much of the world’s clothes are made cheaply in China, that China must have incredibly cheap clothes to buy, but that’s just not true. You’ll find many of the stores you’re used to from home (GAP, H&M, UniQlo, and so on), but the prices here are pretty similar to those at home. Sure it’s easy to shop at these stores, and you’re likely to find your size and fit, but by shopping at a local market you’ll find much cheaper clothes, without the brand name. I love shopping at local markets for the experience, and a chance to practice Chinese.
Run your heating/cooling all the time. With some bitterly cold winters and some steamy hot summers, it’s tempting to run your heating or cooling all the time in China to stay comfortable. Whilst, of course, costs of living are low (especially compared to your home country), using your heating and cooling all the time will quickly run up your utilities bills. Try to hold out as much as you can when it’s hot or cold, and put more (or less!) clothes on, or head to the mall where you can be sure the heating or cooling will be blasting during the uncomfortable weather!
*disclaimer: I am definitely an advocate of the in-floor heating offered in the northern part of China. Although a seemingly large upfront cost, it works out much cheaper divided over the winter months than using an air-conditioning unit.
Take taxis everywhere. Taxis are definitely much cheaper in China than back home, but public transport is exponentially cheaper. Taking taxis everywhere will quickly drive up your living costs (see what I did there?!) and you could be spending the money you spend here on a whole meal! For example, when you get in a taxi in Tianjin, the minimum fare is 9CNY. At a small, local restaurant I can get a plate of dumplings for that price! The subway or bus will only set me back 2CNY for the same trip in a taxi. So try getting around by walking, cycling, or catching the bus or subway.
China is currently one of the best places to be in the world to teach English, travel, and save some money. But having more disposable income than you did at home can make it tempting to spend more of that extra money. My advice is to ‘keep your eye on the prize’ and try to strike some sort of balance with your saving and spending, and of course, follow my tips!
Do you have any advice on what not to do in China if you’re trying to save money? Tell us!