The last time I went to visit my cousin in New York City, I asked him if he’d saved any money after his first year working as an engineer. “Nope” was his reply. In fact, he’s had to get into credit card debt to afford a very basic lifestyle. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d saved 10,000 dollars after a year teaching in Shanghai. I know what you’re thinking. New York is one of the most expensive places in the world. That being said, mid sized cities in America are only marginally cheaper. And in New York you don’t need a car so the expense evens out.
What your career advisor hasn’t told you is that you can save serious money by teaching English abroad. It doesn’t seem that way when you’re browsing the job boards though. It’s easy to dismiss teaching abroad as little more than a way to make money while traveling. After converting obscure Asian salaries to USD it seems like peanuts. But that’s only part of the picture.
What if you didn’t have to make payments on your car, insurance, expensive rent, and cell phone? Your disposable income becomes most of your salary after rent. That’s when real savings are possible. In most Asian countries, for example, the local salaries are a fraction of those in the United States, so things like taking a bus, having a meal, and seeing a movie need to be affordable to local people. A car insurance payment in America is enough for one month’s rent in Southern Taiwan. So everything after that is beer money. Lets take a look at the numbers from numbeo.com between my hometown of Tampa, Florida, and Taichung, the second biggest city in Taiwan.
Consumer Prices in Taichung are 12.26% lower than in Tampa, FL
Consumer Prices Including Rent in Taichung are 31.45% lower than in Tampa, FL
Rent Prices in Taichung are 69.25% lower than in Tampa, FL
Restaurant Prices in Taichung are 62.41% lower than in Tampa, FL
Groceries Prices in Taichung are 7.32% higher than in Tampa, FL
Local Purchasing Power in Taichung is 54.76% lower than in Tampa, FL
One of the things I learned after my first year teaching in China is that the American lifestyle is designed for us to be in debt. This is how banks and Wall Street can make those gigantic profits. It started with student debt because you need a decent job. Then a car loan because you have to get to work. Then the car insurance. If there’s anything left you’ll want to go for a burger and have a beer every now and then. And after treating yourself, where have your savings gone?
It’s easy to fall into a habit of eating expensive Western food and drinking beer when living in Asia as an English teacher. This is where your ability for self control comes into play if you’re serious about saving money.
Stay disciplined on weekdays and give yourself a budget for the weekends. It’s easy to burn through money by eating out and drinking on weekdays. Then doing it again on weekends. Save it for the weekend and be a monk on weekdays. You’ll thank yourself for it. Discover the benefits of having roommates again. Just like back in college, having a roommate can be a blast. It’s like having a partner in crime to share stories, get your back, and be your bestie while you’re alone in a foreign country.
Ride a bicycle. You might be surprised to learn how dense Asian and European cities are. Unlike the United States, in most Asian cities you can easily and quickly ride a bicycle to work, cafes, bars, just about anywhere in a few minutes. And it’s free. Cook at home like the locals do. The cheapest and healthiest way to eat is cooking at home. Local traditional markets sell everything you need at a fraction of the price of a restaurant. And as a bonus you’ll learn how to cook. So instead of living the rat race, and going into debt just to pay off your debt, consider making a move to abroad to start enjoying having savings in the bank.