How To Spend and Save on a TEFL Teacher’s Salary

Teaching English as a foreign language won’t make you financially rich, but a TEFL teacher’s salary can allow you to experience things that you perhaps wouldn’t do in a “normal” job back home. If you spend wisely, you can live comfortably, travel and pay off any lingering student loans. Consider this post as your blueprint for success.


I am no expert on the subject of finances. However, I’ve lived just about long enough to have incurred debt, used money senselessly and thrown caution to the wind. Fortunately, the opportunity to teach abroad handed me a clean financial slate, which I am using to learn from past decisions, and hopefully I’ll be smiling on the other side of my contract.


There’s something about leaving familiar systems to work abroad that sparks some anxiety around the subject of money. Maybe it’s the idea of earning in a different currency and constantly converting values between the two worlds to justify whether the move is worthwhile financially.


I often get asked this question: “Is living and working in China a good financial decision?” Here’s my take on it…

I think the question should be “Will I make sound financial decisions while living and working in China? If you did a poor job of managing your pound/dollar/rand etc. you will probably do the same with your hard earned RMB. The change needs to come in how we approach money, and how we want the money we make to serve us.


In order to determine how far your Yuan can stretch you will need to get clear about your goals. Do you want to pay off debt? Travel? What about saving and the cost of living?

To achieve your goals, skilful budgeting and wise spending habits will go a long way in making sure you’re able to afford to live, travel and have a good time during your stay here without compromising your ability to save.


Here are some practical things you can adopt to make sure that your money works for you as much as you work for it…




Live on Less Than You Earn

Keep your expenses significantly lower than your income. I pretend I only earn 60% of my salary. From it, I pay rent, food, transport, clothing, entertainment etc. The 40% is reserved for travel, debt, emergencies, savings etc. Having two separate bank accounts can make this easier to manage.


Sharing Vs. Living Alone

Sharing an apartment will make rent cheaper depending on the area you choose. Central areas are generally more expensive. If you prefer to live alone I’d advise that you consider less central areas, which would mean a slightly longer commute to the central parts of town. Apartments on the outskirts tend to be more affordable whether you’re sharing or living alone.


Shop Where The Locals Shop

The sooner you get plugged in, the better. Locals know where to get the best deals, learn to shop where they shop for food, clothing, gadgets etc. This will save you a lot of money because western establishments tend to have inflated prices, where the equivalent is available for much less.


Reward Yourself

It’s easy to get so obsessed with saving, bills, and work that we forget to say “thanks” to ourselves for all the hard work we put in. It’s okay to reward yourself – whether it’s a day trip to Disney or a pair of socks. Celebrate the efforts you make so that you don’t end up feeling like a machine.


Ultimately when payday comes around, it doesn’t matter if you’re earning 500 or 1000 RMB, it’s how you manage your goals vs the money you make, this determines the value derived from your time working abroad. Teaching English abroad is a great way to earn money, explore, travel and experience all that China and Asia have to offer.




Teach, travel and work abroad with EF English First




Post by Perpetua Mbali

Perpetua Mbali - Head Shot 1Trendy geek who sneezes alphabets and cries sentences for a living. South African writer, blogger, speaker. Find me Instagram/Facebook/Twitter @africanredhead

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