China can be a great place to enjoy life because the cost of living is lower than western countries; however, before you come over you should know which expat group you will belong to get an idea of how much money you’ll need during your stay in China. Although most budgeting advice in the West is the 50/30/20 rule, in China you’ll most like spend 35% of your salary on needs, 25% on wants, and be able to save 40%. This is one of the reasons China is a great place to work! Since you’re just renting and don’t have a car, you can save a lot of money you’d normally spend on those things.
The first expat group normally consists of recently graduated young adults or current students. This group has little money to spend on extras and will often live on campus or in shared apartments. Rent is by far the biggest expense in China and the best way to scrimp money is to share an apartment with 1-3 other people. You can find a very nice apartment with several rooms for RMB6,000-9,000 (USD$1000-1500) a month and then each person will only need to pay RMB2,000-3,000 (USD$300-500) a month.
Another great way to save money is to eat at local Chinese restaurants instead of Western restaurants. You will save between 60-180rmb (USD$10-30) per meal this way. You can also save a great deal of money by rarely taking a taxi or Didi (the Uber of China) and instead, use only the subway, buses or bike sharing.
Most expats in this first group have monthly expenditures that do not exceed 6,000rmb (USD$910). If you’re in this group, you might want to budget one or two hundred over this amount to allow for some extra money for occasional shopping, emergencies, and fun activities.
The second group of expats in China is young adults with several years of work experience. They are either working as English teachers or in a business setting and make between 10,000-25,000rmb ($1500-3800USD) a month. They usually rent one or two-bedroom apartments at around 3,500-7,000rmb (USD$530-1060) a month. Expats in this group are more likely to frequent places like Starbucks, Western restaurants, and bars as well as take taxis on a regular basis and travel on the weekend. Their monthly expenditures are between 9,000-15,000rmb (USD$1400-2300).
The last group of expats in China is middle-aged experienced business professionals who most likely have been sent over to China for a two-year assignment and have also brought their family with them. Their salary package includes a villa on the outskirts of town, a car and driver, international private school for their kids, and a very nice income.
They most likely do not need to budget their expenses too carefully. If you are in this last China expat group, good for you! Perhaps if you ever have a day off of work, you could go find some less fortunate young expats from the first group who are living on a very tight budget and treat them to a big meal!