How to survive in Beijing on a budget

Let’s face the truth: Beijing has become a city in which life has become very dear. The average 50-80 sqm apartment within the Fourth Ring Road will cost you upwards of 5000 RMB rent per month with the actual price depending on its actual location and quality. If you need a place of comparable quality and size to an apartment in the developed world, you will easily face a monthly rent of 10000 and more. So, if you insist on living on your own, you will have to bite the bullet and budget at least between 5000 and 10000 RMB per month. That’s pretty hefty considering that the median monthly haul is around 15000 RMB for an expat. Spending more than 50% of your salary on rent is always foolish and you don’t want to be a fool.

Fancy Central Park Beijing apartments: be ready to spend

The only option you then have (unless you marry into a Beijing family) is sharing an apartment with several bedrooms. A 3 bedroom within the Fourth Ring Road starts at around 8000 RMB per month. Of course, you will sacrifice some freedom and living with others is not for everyone, but in this case you can get away with a monthly rental fee of about 3000 RMB including most utilities. That’s not bad in the Beijing of today.

Now, that you are only spending 20% of your 15000 RMB per month on rent, we can talk about how to wisely spend the rest 80%. If you are not too much into savings 12000 RMB per month spending money can still go very far in Beijing. As a rule of thumb, if you have 100 RMB spending money a day you can live a pretty comfortable life, unless you are into buying 50 RMB bottles of beer at upscale Sanlitun clubs. Some days you may manage with just 50 RMB in total by:

  • eating your breakfast 煎饼 jian1bing3 6 RMB
  • eating a lunch 盖饭 gai4fan4 15 RMB
  • eating a dinner McDonalds Big Mac Meal 26 RMB
  • riding a bike

In total, that’s 47 RMB, that’s 3 RMB to spare for an ice tea. Now, imagine what you can do with double that, i.e. 100 RMB, or even 8 times that if you have 12000 RMB spending money per month. I guess you see the opportunities here.

Ride it night and day if you want to save some cash

Of course, Beijing is a place where you can have a lot of fun – but fun costs money. However, if you can find a way to venture outside the Sanlitun style idea of having fun, you can definitely have a good time without much investment. Places like 香山 xiang1shan1 or the wilder parts of the Great Wall can be reached by public bus (remember to use a traffic card for a 50% discount) and make for a nice outing on weekends or days off. Equally, if you are into walking, Beijing offers so many walking routes with historic and architectural significance that it would be a shame not to make use of your time and check them out while here. While some of these suggestions may sound lame at first, if you keep an open mind, I assure you they will be worth your while and investment many times over than that beer at Vics.