Teaching in China can be a money saver for foreign teachers. But have you thought about teaching in a small city could save you more than that in a tier 1 city like Beijing and Shanghai? That sounds untrue by instinct but for most teaching positions it is surprisingly true. Why is that so? Here are the article that explains why!
“We’ve received numerous comments on our website and lots of emails from people asking questions about how we were 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, 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.”
Our apartment in China when we first arrived
We like to think that we had a nice apartment. It was a pretty big corner apartment (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.
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! 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
A typical dinner out in China filled with great food and even greater friends
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! 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
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
Our sweet rides for the year
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.
- Taxi: $1-$3 / journey
- Bus: $0.16
- Total Cost: About $16/month
At the bar in Yangzhou, we went there only 4 times in the whole year
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: $2.50
- 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
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.
- Internet: $16/month
- Phones: $8/month
- Electric Bill: $50/month
- Water Bill: $5/month
- Total Cost: $79/month
At the train station, ready to go to Suzhou
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.
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.
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
- Our travels outside of Yangzhou for the whole year cost about $800
I figure we spent about $500 total on random things throughout the year such as clothing, bottled water, toilettries 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: $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.