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Dariece Swift By
Posted 08 Nov, 2013 | 56 Comments
Posted in: Teaching English, Travel Blogs

We’ve received numerous comments on our website and lots of emails from people asking questions about our teaching jobs in China. How were we able to live comfortably in Yangzhou, China, while saving enough money to travel after working for a year?

When we say we saved $21,000 while teaching English in China, most people assume that we must have lived a very basic lifestyle. Not only did we live well, but we had great experiences, met amazing people and had wonderful students.

Oh, and did I mention we only worked 20 hours a week?

I figure it’s time to breakdown our lifestyle in China compared to how much money we earned (and spent) there.

These figures are all based on a couple’s salary and living expenses in China, and are in US Dollars.

*Note: If you need money sent to you while you’re living in China, check out this TransferWise Review and see if it’s right for you.

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Living Conditions

We like to think that we had a nice apartment. It was a pretty big corner unit (88 sq. meters), had lots of windows with a nice view, was newly built, had a private bedroom (instead of just being a studio suite) and it had a washing machine.

apartment in china
Our apartment in China when we first arrived

It was fully furnished as well. The apartment had a flat-screen tv, a bed with mattress (a very hard one), end tables, armoire/wardrobe, a futon couch, kitchen table with 4 chairs, some pots, pans, bowls, a kettle, rice maker, hot plate and…chopsticks!

Not too bad, right?

Monthly Breakdown:

Cost of apartment: $364/month (including monthly rental fee). The school covered $266 of this amount, meaning we spent $98 / month on rent.

Total spent: $98/month

Want to earn and save even more while living overseas and travelling? Check out our epic list of 101 Travel Jobs, learn how to find work, how much each job pays and what the work entails.

Entertainment

Our idea of entertainment may differ from that of other people. For us, our main form of joy was drinking red wine paired perfectly with aged cheddar!

bottles of red wine
This is our kind of entertainment! Our modest collection on the counter.

If we decided to go out, it wasn’t about the bars, we loved going out for dinners with a big group of friends.

We also would have parties at our house or get friends together to watch a UFC fight. In the summer, we had BBQ’s at our friend’s house as well as pool parties.

restaurants in china
A typical dinner out in China filled with great food and even greater friends

We went to karaoke, arcades, the movie theater and watched our friend play live music at different coffee houses.

Apart from going out for dinners (the cost of which I’ve included below in the “food” section, we enjoyed spending an afternoon in the park, having picnics, walking around the Old Town and riding our bikes.

arcades in china
Playing some basketball at the arcade on my birthday

Monthly Breakdown:

Bottle Of Imported Wine: $10

Watching live music with a drink: $5

Karaoke, Arcade or Movie Theater: $10 each

BBQ, Pool, Watching UFC, Park, Picnics = Free

Total Spent: About $50/month

Food

Oh, how we miss Chinese food!

They may eat some seriously strange foods there, but there are so many other delicious meals as well. We ate dinner out at restaurants 3-4 times a week and typically made breakfast and lunch at home.

Our cupboards and refrigerator at home were stocked with western foods.

chinese dumplings
Yes, we ate a lot of dumplings, but not because they were cheap…we love them!

Even though the cost of the imported food at the supermarket was equivalent to what it would cost at home, it didn’t matter, we wanted good cheese, meat, coffee, chocolate and snacks!

We bought our produce from our favourite street-side vendors and it was always fresh and delicious.

And yes…we ate a lot of dumplings!

Monthly Breakdown:

A Month’s Worth Of Western Groceries: $325

A Bag Of Fresh Produce: $3

Meal At A Restaurant: $4-7 (each)

Meal At A Street side Vendor: $1

Total Spent: $571/month 

Transportation

Although we did go on a lot of walks and chose to walk around whenever we could, we each bought ourselves a bicycle ($50) when we moved to Yangzhou and used that as our mode of transportation for a year.

riding bikes in china
Our sweet rides for the year

If we were going further outside of our neighbourhood, if it was raining, if it was cold, or if we were lazy, we wouldn’t hesitate to take a taxi.

Monthly Breakdown:

Taxi: $1-$3 / journey

Bus: $0.16

Total Cost: About $16/month

Nights Out At The Bar

We aren’t exactly crazy partiers like some of our friends in China, we rarely went out to the local bar, preferring to go to house parties or dinners which inevitably led to plenty of drinking.

bars in china
At the bar in Yangzhou, we went there only 4 times in the whole year!

Oddly enough, some of our most memorable (or should I say, barely memorable) nights happened while living in China. We partied if we felt like it, and stayed home and watched a movie if we didn’t.

Monthly Breakdown:

Cost of Beer At A Bar: $2.50

Cost of a Cocktail at a Bar: $5

Big Bottle Of Beer From A Shop: $0.36 (You can bring store-bought beers into restaurants and some bars!)

Since we rarely went out to the bar, and large bottles of beer only cost $0.36, our drinking costs during nights out were quite low.

Total Cost: $17/month

Utilities/Bills

We had the best internet you could have in Yangzhou (which wasn’t saying much), we each had a cell phone on a pay-as-you-go talk & text plan. Plus, we paid for hot water, heat and air conditioning.

Monthly Breakdown:

Internet: $16/month

Phones: $8/month

Electric Bill: $50/month

Water Bill: $5/month

Total Cost: $79/month

Travelling Around China

We really wanted to go to Japan and Thailand while living in China, but since our holiday time is the same as the rest of China, the cost of flights was outrageous. We opted to spend our holidays closer to home.

We love Shanghai and travelled there numerous times. We had weekends away in Wuxi and in Nanjing. Plus, we spent a few days in Hangzhou and in Suzhou.

train station in zhenjiang
At the train station, ready to go to Suzhou!

With the great bus and train system in China, it was easy to get away for a couple of days.

Breakdown Of Travel Costs:

Fast Train to Shanghai: $13-$21 (per person, per way)

Bus to Train Station: $2.85

Bus to Surrounding Cities: $5

Hostel in Shanghai: $20/night

Total: Our travels outside of Yangzhou for the whole year cost about $800

Miscellaneous

I figure we spent about $500 total on random things throughout the year such as clothing, bottled water, toiletries and items for the house.

We also received a bonus at the end of our contract for $500 each. 

Yearly Breakdown Of Living Expenses

Accommodation: $1,176

Entertainment: $600

Food: $6,852

Transport: $192

Partying: $204

Utilities: $948

Travel/Vacation: $800

Miscellaneous: $500

Total Spent: $11,272

We earned $32,200 in the year and spent about $11,200, which means we saved $21,000 between the two of us!

Not only did we save a lot of money while living in China, we lived well during the year. We didn’t have to scrimp and scrape or be totally stingy with our money in order to save enough to travel after just one year of work.

This total doesn’t include the money we made from the blog, this is strictly income from teaching English.

We made a decision when we moved to China that we were going to save as much money as possible, without compromising our lifestyle, level of comfort or our experience of living in a new country.

living in china
Loving life in China!

Our goal was to have enough money at the end of the year to go on a backpacking adventure through Mongolia, Russia, Central Asia and Iran, and we’re fortunate to have been able to achieve that goal.

Teaching English is an excellent job for anyone who loves to travel and is interested in learning about new cultures. It’s also great if you want to save lots of money in a year while working minimal hours and having lots of free time!

For more information about a career in China, check out:

Is China Cheap? The Cost Of Living In China Revealed

10 Reasons Why Living Abroad Is Awesome!

Teaching English In China: Getting Started Frequently Asked Questions

Teaching English In China: FAQ’s About The Job

Have you ever taught English abroad? Were you able to save money as well? Share with us below!

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Teaching English In China- How To Save $21,000 In A Year

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Dariece Swift

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Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course… travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 10 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel. Her advice about long-term travel, remote work, and location independence has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider and Forbes.

Learn more about Dariece Swift on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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56 thoughts on “How We Saved $21,000 in One Year Teaching English in China

  1. Goats,
    I’ve been teaching in China for a little over a month and I can already tell I’m gonna struggle to save money like y’all managed to. Saving 21k?! That’s impressive. Nice breakdown of expenses – I’ll try emulate your spending from now on.

  2. Great breakdown, and really useful! It’s good to know you can live comfortably and still save in China: from EFL jobs I’ve seen there (which is not a huge number and I haven’t looked for a while), it seemed you could only do one or the other, not both!

  3. Great breakdown. I’m always interested in seeing how others are living aboard, how much it costs, and what they were able to save. It’s really helpful for trying to figure out where would be the best country for me to teach English in.

  4. Hi Kevin!
    If you really want to save money, then you totally can. However, if you don’t really have a goal of saving money while in China (which many people don’t), then it’s very easy to just spend all of your earnings on nights out, drinking, travel, etc. – which can all be great as well.

    Good luck with the savings.

    ps, I can’t open your video here in Iran, but would LOVE to see it haha

  5. Thanks Sam. We really found that we could live comfortably and save money. If you were to teach in Japan or Korea, it’s possible to save a lot more than we did!

    Cheers 🙂

  6. Thanks Kimmy, glad we could help. Teaching English is a great job, we loved it!

    Cheers

  7. Nice! I have a blog post about how we saved $20,000 in 1 year living and working in Canada. You guys definitely lived more comfortably than we did. 😀 I wonder if you’d be able to save as much if you were to live in another city. I’m not very familiar with the cities of China, but I’m guessing Yangzhou isn’t as expensive as Shanghai or Beijing?

  8. It’s really good you made that commitment and stuck to it. When poi and I lived in Thailand we ended up spending a lot more money than we planned! We loved ever minute of it but we weren’t se to save anything!

  9. Thanks for the comment Deia!

    Well done saving $20,000 working in Canada. Where were you living?

    You’re right, living in Yangzhou is definitely cheaper than living in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu or another bigger city. In some cases, we’ve heard of schools paying English teachers more to live in the more expensive cities…in other cases, they’ve paid less because the jobs are so sought after in those places!

    We lucked out though and really enjoyed Yangzhou, lived comfortably and were able to save some $$.

    Cheers!

  10. haha, ya, that can definitely happen…especially in Thailand 🙂 But ya, we had a goal and we really wanted to save money, enjoy our time in China and have enough money to travel as well. We’re very happy that it all worked out.

    Thanks for the comment Kirsty, happy travels!

  11. This is enlightening. We have looked at this pretty hard too…. mostly in South America and Northern Thailand. It is really amazing to me how little it costs to live outside of America. $11,000 for two people is incredibly lower than what we are spending to live in America right now! However, we’ve managed to cut a lot of expenses and sold lots of stuff to save $40,000 over the past year. 🙂

  12. That’s awesome!! Isn’t it amazing how much you can actually save when you cut out the unnecessary stuff? Especially when you have a goal in mind (like you guys do!). Congrats on the saving 🙂

    Cheers

  13. You guys are saving pros! We found that it was much easier for us to save when we lived in smaller Chinese cities, even though we make more money now living in Shanghai. There are so many more temptations here between western restaurants, bars, and events, and we don’t want to miss out on all the fun! We’re still trying to find a balance so we can experience all that this incredible city has to offer but still save enough to travel. This article was a good reminder on ways we can save more.

  14. Hey Jen,

    You’e absolutely right, there are so many more temptations in the big city! I think if we had more western restaurants, concerts, shows, bars, etc. in Yangzhou, then we wouldn’t have saved as much money…or at least it would have been harder to.

    Also, great point about not wanting to miss out on all that the city has to offer, otherwise, why are you living there, right? I think it’s important to find a balance. Saving as much money as we did may not be a priority for many people. For us, we really wanted to go on this 5 month trip and have a bit of money left in the bank, so we tried hard to reach that goal.

    So, enjoy all that Shanghai has to offer, but maybe sometimes you can stop to think “hmm, do I really need to buy this?” haha.

    Cheers 🙂