Lately we’ve been getting lots of comments on our website and lots of emails from people asking questions about how we were able to live comfortably in China, while saving enough money to travel after working for a year.
When we say we saved $21,000, 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 we mention we only worked 20 hours a week?
So, I figured it was time to breakdown our lifestyle in China vs. how much money we earned (and spent) there. Here are some answers to the mis-conceptions about how we lived in China:
*Note: These figures are all based on a couple’s salary and living expenses in China, and is 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.
We like to think that we had a nice apartment. It was pretty big (88 sq. meters), had lots of windows with a nice view, was newly built, had a private bedroom (instead of just a bachelor suite) and a washing machine.
It was fully furnished as well. The apartment had a flat screen tv, a bed with mattress (a very hard one), end tables, armoir/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?
Cost of apartment: $364/month (including monthly rental fee). The school covered $266 of this amount.
Total spent: $98/month
Our idea of entertainment may differ from that of other people. For us, our main form of joy was drinking bottles of delicious red wine paired perfectly with aged cheddar!
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.
We went to karaoke, arcades, the movie theater and watched our friend play live music at different coffee houses. Apart from spending money and going out, we enjoyed spending an afternoon in the park, having picnics, walking around the Old Town and riding our bikes.
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
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.
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.
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
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 there and used that as our mode of transportation.
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.
Taxi: $1-$3 / journey
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.
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.
Cost of Beer At A Bar: $2.5
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, our drinking costs during nights out were quite low.
Total Cost: $17/month
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 plan. I know it’s hard to believe, but we even had hot water, heat and air conditioning.
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 were outrageous. We opted to spend our holidays closer to home.
With the great bus and train system in China, it was easy to get away.
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
Our travels for the whole year cost about $800
I figure we spent about $500 on random items like clothing, bottled water and items for the house. We also received a bonus at the end of our contract for $500 each.
Yearly Breakdown Of Living Expenses:
In Total, we earned $32,200 in the year and spent about $11,200.
Which means we saved $21,000 between the two of us!
We didn’t live like total hobos. 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.
Our goal was to have enough money at the end of the year to go on this current trip 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:
Have you ever taught English abroad? Were you able to save money as well? Share with us below!