Nomhla Mahalia Macingwan

We live on a budget for various reasons. Maybe we want to gain control of our finances, achieve some financial goals, or improve personal habits. I've challenged myself not to spend more than 50RMB per day (around $7.5) on food for an entire month. I wanted to make a plan so I could keep myself accountable for my spending, the food that I ate, and my overall living expenses in China.


Typically, I'm a spender. I love investing in my health. I love trying out the amazing health concept restaurants Shanghai has to offer. On a normal month, I would spend anywhere between 2,500-3,000 RMB on food. However, I sacrificed that lifestyle for this month's challenge.

Turning down invitations that I knew would require me to go over my budget took great self-discipline on my side. These would range from:

  1. Art Exhibitions.

  2. Musical shows.

  3. Going to the movies.

With that said, I should note that there are tons of recreational activities in Shanghai that require no money. For example, The Shanghai Museum, which is on the tail end of People's Square. Parks in the city don't charge an entry fee. Those that do, usually start from 5RMB ($.075) and won't be more than 20 RMB ($3).

It doesn't matter where you Teach English in China, you will find something to do that doesn't cost the earth, and you can cut your expenses considerably. But for this challenge, I will only focus on food.


Fortunately for me, I had already bought two boxes of sugar-free cornflakes from Carrefour before the challenge started. I had also stocked up on almond milk.

One meal for the majority of the month was sorted! If I got tired or bored of the cereal, I also had some oats in my cupboard.


For lunch, I bought cold Liang pi (a type of wide noodle). They are delicious; topped with grated carrots and cucumber plus some peanuts and tofu. To top it off, the dish comes with the most amazing spicy sauce. This was all for 12 RMB ($1.81). Not only were the noodles quick, but the location is convenient too! My school is in a shopping mall which makes grabbing lunch super easy.


There are those of us who like variety, right? Well, there is a Chinese food app called e'le ma. It mostly has local food restaurants. Sometimes I would splurge on lunch and dinner by getting a huge bowl of rice, red Thai beef curry plus a seasonal fruit juice for 38 RMB ($5.73).If you're thinking of coming to China, you need to get this app!


If your preference is preparing your own food, rest assured vegetables are very affordable. You can get two whole sleeves of corn on the cob at Carrefour for 3 RMB. A pack of Tysons 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts are 14 RMB ($2.11). Peppers are very cheap here too ranging from about 2.5RMB to 5RMB for two peppers. Season with your favourite spices or even those sauces and condiments you might have in your fridge- you've already got multiple options on how to flavour your chicken!

In-season fruits are usually very cheap. For example, I bought a watermelon and some peaches for less than 20 RMB ($3). There are tons of Fresh Fruit stands on almost every square meter in Shanghai and other major cities. The nice thing about watermelon is you can cut it up, stick it in a container, and refrigerate for later. The key is to purchase food that can be cut up into portions and saved for later meals.


My meals totalled 32RMB ($4.83) on most days. I met my target, and even underspent what my allotted budget was; except on the days where I opted for Thai beef curry! This was ok because like any challenge you are bound to hit the floor once, twice or even three times. What worked for me, was to balance the bad days with another day when my self-discipline was on turbo.


Although this experiment lasted a month, I learnt so much about myself which really resonates with one of EF's core values; nothing is impossible. At the end of the month, I felt better not only about what was in my walletbut also my well-being.

That being said, I packed my bags at the end of the challenge, and treated myself to a vacation to Macau and Hong Kong!

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