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How I save half of my income living in Bangkok
If you’ve read my goals for this year, you’ll know that I’m aiming for an ambitious savings rate of 60% this year. While my past two savings reports (here and here) show I’m clearly going to fail on this, I do think I’ll be able to meet a 50% savings rate quite comfortably this year.
Although people might assume it’s easy to save money in a low-cost of living city like Bangkok, it’s taken me a while to cultivate habits and find little hacks that allow me to save this much. When I moved here from my previous job in the north of Thailand a few years ago, my income doubled, but my spending multiplied by 5!
I went straight into renting a condo for two people even though my partner hadn’t yet moved down to Bangkok. I got an expensive box of organic veggies delivered to my door each week, and tried every brunch place in the neighbourhood. I fell DEEP into the lifestyle inflation trap. But over time, I’ve managed to optimise my spending so I can save for financial independence without feeling any sense of deprivation at all.
How I save half of my income each month
As I wrote in an earlier post about the cost of living in Bangkok, I don’t believe that people should budget the bare minimum in Bangkok. But I do think there are ways of getting more bang for your buck when living here. Here’s how I keep my expenditure low in the main categories, while still maintaining a great quality of life:
I’m still in the same condo as when I moved to Bangkok, but now I share the rent with my partner, which leaves me much more room for saving and other expenses. My housing now only comes to 15% of my income instead of 30%. But if I was smarter when I first moved to Bangkok, I could have just rented a studio for half the price, and then moved into the one-bed once my partner moved here full-time.
INSIDER TIP: If you happen to be looking for a cheaper apartment in Bangkok, look for units in older buildings as you tend to get more space for your money. Also make sure you have a good look around – Bangkok is a renters’ market – there’s lots of choice, and you can try to negotiate the rent with the landlord.
I keep my travel in Bangkok low by mostly keeping to mass public transport. I use the BTS and MRT to get around, and I tend to avoid taxis and motorcycles unless I’m going to a place that doesn’t have a station nearby.
INSIDER TIP: Using the Grab app can be really helpful at times. If you’re running late and you do need a motorcycle taxi, using GrabBike is cheaper than hailing one on the street. Also, if you’re having trouble finding a taxi driver to take you somewhere using the meter, get a GrabTaxi instead – it’s slightly more expensive than using a regular metered taxi, but they won’t rip you off. If you fancy trying it out, use my referral code to get 150 THB off your first ride.
I’m a vegetarian, so I tend to cook a lot at home. This means lots of beans and vegetables, which keeps our grocery shop quite low. When I first moved here, I was really missing Western food, so I bought lots of imported food, including crazy expensive cheese. Now I’m a bit more selective about what I buy. Also I usually just wait until either me or my partner go on a trip back home, and we literally stuff our suitcases with cheese, tea, and chocolate.
Whenever we’re feeling organized/motivated, we go to the local market to pick up eggs and vegetables. Not only does this mean supporting and interacting with local market vendors, and it also costs about 1/3 of the price compared to the supermarkets!
INSIDER TIP: If you are really desperate for a bite of cheese, the food hall at Emquartier usually has a few samples out 🙂 If you want some decent bread, lots of bakeries and supermarkets halve the price of baked goods after a certain time. We usually find half-price baguettes at Emporium after 6:30pm, and at Childlom Central Food Hall after 8pm.
The peculiar thing about Thailand and much of South-East Asia is that a lot of the time, it’s cheaper to eat out than it is to cook. Most of my lunches are eaten at the canteen at work, which cost about 35 THB each ($1!).
We also eat out at more expensive places at least twice a week, paying on average 300THB each per person (yup that’s almost 10 work lunches). But because our other meals cost so little, our food cost still stays low. Plus over time, we’ve found places that we love, and that we think deliver value for money.
INSIDER TIP: Check out Eatigo, which is an app where you can get up to 50% off your bill at loads of restaurants. We use it quite a lot, especially for hotel buffet deals.
I don’t drink as much I used to. This has less to do with saving money than the fact that I wake up with a raging hangover that stays with me for a whole week. Three drinks is my limit, which means I don’t end up blowing up my budget each weekend.
INSIDER TIP: Make friends with someone who works for an Embassy and can invite you to their events, or go to exhibition openings. There is seriously a lot of free good wine being served at these things. If you’re a lady, there are a bunch of ladies nights with free booze happening throughout the week. If my friends and I could still handle drinking on a weekday, we’d be definitely be regulars.
Our entertainment usually means going to the cinema, and we go to independent cinemas where tickets are actually cheaper. As I’m into politics and current affairs, I tend to go to a lot of the free events at the Foreign Correspondents Club, SEA-Junction, and the Asia Centre. We also check out free art exhibitions.
INSIDER TIP: Check out Meetup – there are an incredible number of active groups out there that range from fitness, to language exchanges, and blockchain discussions. I’ve used it mostly to join walking tours around the city, and to meet with fellow environmentalists.
We only use the AC for a bit in the evenings, and sleep with a fan. This keeps our bill super low. Water is crazy cheap.
INSIDER TIP: Before renting a place, make sure you’re paying government rates, not an inflated rate you pay to the building owner.
There are so many free fitness options in Bangkok. You can run in the parks, use outdoor exercise equipment, or join in the free aerobics or tai chi classes. There are also public swimming pools and public indoor gyms you can use for a pittance a year. I used to go to Muay Thai classes, which cost 6,000 THB for 15 sessions and thought it was well worth the money. But right now I’m just alternating running outside with YouTube videos at home. We have a gym and pool in our condo, but for some reason I hardly use them.
INSIDER TIP: Ok this tip is courtesy of someone else. Have a look at this fellow blogger’s post for the full range of fitness options in Bangkok.
Health and beauty
Tourists in Thailand love to take advantage of the cheap massages, beauty treatments and spa packages here. But being here full-time, these sorts of treats end up costing a lot of money. I used to get a massage twice a week, but realized that I was feeling even achier than before from being stretched and prodded so much! So while I still love massages, I’ve scaled them back to maybe once a month if that. Regular hair cuts, mani-pedis, and spa treatments are all a bit meh to me. I get super bored and frustrated just sitting there, so I don’t bother with them very often. They’re also not as cheap as you’d imagine – a mani-pedi usually costs between 800-1,000 THB – so basically a month worth of lunches!
INSIDER TIP: One thing I do enjoy is a trip to the Japanese onsen. For example, you can go to Yunomori onsen and pay just 450 THB and hang out all day reading, napping, or even working on your laptop between trips to the baths.
That’s a wrap
So that sums up my champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget strategy (ok maybe more like a nice chilled glass of rosé – I’m not exactly going around dressed in Gucci).
Any questions or comments? Any Bangkokians have any further insider tips to share? Sound off in the comments below!