One of the best things about being in China is that the cost of living is lower than back home which allows us to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. However, there are high-cost temptations everywhere in the big cities, and it's easy to spend most of your teaching salary in China. In this post, we'll look at three common habits that can empty your wallet quickly, and the alternatives to ensure you never run out of money.
For new arrivals, the different culture can be a real shock to the system. Some may depend heavily on comfort food from places like McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and a variety of western restaurants to cope with homesickness. However, frequenting just one of these places every day can be very expensive and not sustainable for long periods (especially when you're not used to budgeting with your new teaching salary in China).
Some better alternatives might be to frequent the local baozi stalls instead. For example, a handful of steamed buns and a hot drink is usually much more filling than a McDonald's breakfast and for about half the price. If there's a fresh food market near your place and you have time, you can haggle for cheap fruit and vegetables and cook a western style meal at home.
Most EF staffrooms provide free coffee which can be a lifesaver. If you're not near the office, convenience stores such as Family Mart, C-Store and 7-11 can provide a good range of coffee for a fraction of the price you would pay at Starbucks or Pacific Coffee.
Many medium to large size cities mayalso have a good variety of western pubs, but the drinks are incredibly expensive, costing up to five times more than what you'd pay for the same brands in supermarkets. You'll find that you can save a tonne of money by buying beer, snacks and dried snacks from markets and supermarkets. Then all you have to do is meet your friends or have parties at home so you can save a bundle on entertainment costs.
I've found that it's not verydifficult to find English books and DVDs in my city. However, they're often very expensive and are rarely, if ever, discounted. One alternative in China is to shop online through Taobao or Amazon. But if you don't mind second-hand books, you could start a DVD/book exchange in your centre. We've had a book exchange at our centre for about 18 months and in that time, I've read about half a dozen books and watched as manymovies without having to spend a cent on any of them.It all began by starting a WeChat group and asking who would be interested in bringing in unwanted books/DVDs, so it doesn't take a lot of time or effort to get it up and running. If you're not into DVD's and you like streaming or downloading, then this is really easy in China. You can find tonnes of movies and TV shows free to watch online so you don't have to spend your teaching salary in China on expensive books or DVD's.
After arriving in China, there's a good chance you'll need to buy a new phone. Being a fan of Samsung or Apple is an expensive hobby, with new releases coming out every few months or so and they now cost more in China than in the US. Chinese brands like Huawei and Lenovo have been catching up quickly and offer quality alternatives to iPhones for about half the price. I did have an iPod for a short time in China but found iTunes difficult to set up. Then I discovered and downloaded Kugo, which has a good range of music that is easy to download onto my phone. The phone app, WeChat, is very popular in China and new staff at my centre are routinely added to our chat group. I also have some WeChat friends who regularly upload good articles on business, sport and living in China.
To sum up, you don't need to be frugal to live a comfortable life with your teaching salary in China - just smart. There are always a good range of alternatives for whatever you need and if you take the time to look at them, you can save some serious money.