An ALT's Monthly Budget in Japan
Long time no see! ひさしぶり! As usual, my laziness combines with my life to keep me from posting. I’m sorry... But here we go!
This has been one of the most highly requested posts for awhile now, so here it is! I’ve noticed that at home most people are kind of quiet about their budgets and salaries, but here everyone is pretty open about it. It’s all about helping everyone out if they’re thinking about making the big move to Japan or just relocating to another part of the country.
My city is definitely farm central, the supermarkets are well-stocked with fresh seasonal vegetables every morning and the only buildings with more than two floors are the schools. In the spring the entire place smells like fertilizer and in the fall everyone pitches in to help with the harvests.
This means that my expenses are a bit cheaper than bigger cities and the suburbs, but due to my proximity to Tokyo (about 1.5 hours by bus) there are also cheaper places to live that are even more rural. First I’ll give a rundown of everything in list format and then I'll explain how/why I spend what I do as well as tips on cutting down.
So here’s the breakdown of my monthly expenses from my first year in Japan in an easy-to-see list form (I’m a visual person, I need my lists!)
Phone ¥3,000 (every 2 months)
Res. Tax ¥15,000/mo.
Total Salary (minus withheld taxes): ¥249,378 (I get a few position allowances for having a car.)
Total Remaining/Month: ¥49,653
That’s a nice tidy sum to go where I want with!
***UPDATE: If you stay a second year, prices tend to go up. NHI medical insurance and your residence tax are based on your previous years' income and since you will now have one it won’t be as cheap. NHI health insurance for me personally went up to ¥14,300 a month and I started saving (rather, should have started saving) about ¥20,000 a month for the residence tax. If you don’t need all that, cool. You have a wad of fun money the month taxes are due (usually May or June). But you’ll probably need a lot of it. You may also have to start paying for the pension program, though talk to Interac and they might be able to help you waive it. I traveled less my second year and hiked more, but it was still the most amazing local experience! ***
To start, I should say that I don’t live in a Leopalace like so many ALT’s do. I have an ordinary, slightly updated (no tatami) 2-room apartment that came unfurnished.
And Japanese apartments do come truly empty. No washing machine, no light fixtures on the ceiling, no curtains, no refrigerator, no cooking stove, nothing! For the most part that’s what you get when you don’t have a Leopalace, but I do have room to move and breathe which I consider a nice trade off!
NOTE: At the time this article was written (November 2014) ¥100 is about US$0.85. When I moved here in March it was just a little over US$1 for ¥100 so keep in mind the numbers change and you may want to double-check the conversion rates found here. I usually used X-rates Currency Converter before my move. (In my head I still usually do the US$1 is ¥100 conversion for simplicity’s sake, just take off the last two zeros/digits!)
My monthly rent is ¥53,548 (~US $460.00 currently). This amount includes my parking space (parking is veeeeery rarely free here), and a rental furniture package (I get lights, curtains, a futon set, refrigerator, washing machine, cook stove, a desk, and a chair). Anyone not in a Leopalace was given the option of rental furniture, and since I didn’t know how long I would be here I figured it would be more economical (and easier) to get the rental stuff (and I was right!). On a funny note, anytime I see one of my fellow ALT’s apartments they look remarkably familiar… (We all have the same furniture and the same Daiso home goods/dishes/etc!)
My car rental (they don’t really do leases here) costs me ¥36,800 (~US $316 currently) per month, including insurance and twice annual required maintenance (plus replacement car during that maintenance). The company also handled this when I came, the day I moved to Hokota I picked up my car from the maintenance place I now use (friendly guy with a garage in his backyard). It’s a Suzuki Lapin, better known as the Rabbit Car because on the dashboard screen there is a bunny that welcomes and farewells you as well as tells you how economically you’re driving. Apparently many male ALT’s complain about this, but I say work it! It’s adorable and a really nice little car--on all of the (mis)adventures I’ve taken it on (that includes accidental off-roading in the mountains…. several times) it’s never failed! And the gas mileage would make anyone giddy. I’ve already gushed about my thoughts on driving in Japan in another post.
Electricity, water, gas, and internet are my main utility bills and they’re not as bad as I thought they’d be. I budget about ¥2,500 for electricity monthly, ¥1,900 for water (my apartment complex has a flat fee for everyone), ¥6,800 for gas, and my internet bill is ¥4,374 a month. My gas is MUCH lower in the summer (in the¥2k- 2.8k range) but as it’s colder now I do enjoy my hot showers. Long. Hot. Showers. I’m convinced I would have died of cold by now otherwise.
The heater isn’t too expensive to run and in the summer I used the dehumidifier instead of the actual air conditioning setting on my machine and that saved power as well. I’m also desperately in love with my kotatsu currently (a table with a blanket and a heater underneath to keep you nice and toasty). I don’t move away from it… ever, and that saves power as well (though it’s cutting down on personal productivity). I’ve always been a one-light-on-at-a-time person anyway and that hasn’t changed; my power bill has been as low as ¥1,700 and the highest was about ¥2,900 so it’s very manageable.
UPDATE: In winter my electric bill skyrockets! My apartment has little to no insulation so I left the heater and my kotatsu running at all times. The highest it got was about ¥12,000. I’m a cold weather wimp!
I’m also sure there is cheaper internet out there but the only phone number I had was for NTT East and they have an English hotline; that’s basically how I decided that whole setup when I got here. They’ve worked well for me, no complaints here.
I pay ¥1,900 a month for National Health Insurance (see update above for price raise after the first year), and while I haven’t used it yet, my unending cold may necessitate a visit soon. I hear from other people it is very easy to use and health care is very cheap with it so that’s nice.
My phone is a pay-as-you-go flip phone. I’ve never had a smart phone and didn’t plan on shelling out a few hundred dollars for one here. Every two months I top it up with either ¥3,000 or ¥5,000 cards (only once have I had to top-up early--I ran out of money right in the middle of the phone call where I was reserving a spot in a mountain hut on Fuji after they’d spent like 15 minutes trying to find their staff English speaker… Rather inconvenient timing, huh? But it led to a cool adventure near a payphone! And that’s another post.). Usually I get the ¥3,000 card and each month about ¥300 is taken from it for unlimited texting and phone mailing (that’s what is popular here in Japan, SMS not so much).
Now come the variable expenses. Gasoline so my car will move out of its parking spot and food so I stay my happy self! I pay ¥4,500 a month to my school for lunch every day. This carries over to my ES’s too so I don’t starve there either. I’ve found lunch to be (usually) delicious and a good way to try a bunch of different Japanese cuisines and a slew of new things! Yesterday I had takoyaki and today I had a (big) sardine. I usually eat with the kids (so I have to clear my plate) but it’s usually my big meal of the day and I come home, have a bit of a snack, wait, have a dinner (usually smaller) and if I ever wake up in time I have breakfast too.
I did budget the same however a few months ago when I ate lunch at school, ate snacks, and had a big dinner. It just depends on where you shop (I went to about 3 supermarkets before word of mouth gave me the cheapest one) and what you buy. I rarely buy anything at the market that costs more than about ¥250. Yeah. Vegetables, ramen, curry, eggs, milk, chicken, pork... The trick is to shop at the end of the day when they’re trying to get rid of stuff and they put it all on sale (usually after about 5pm).
Anyway, I usually budget around ¥20,000 a month for food for just me. If I go to a konbini (convenience store) I usually blow it a bit because the amount of delicious snacks in those places is astounding! And addicting. Beware. I saved a lot of money the first few months I was here because I’d never gone to a konbini…. But it is a very Japanese experience so what can you do, really? Paying bills usually calls for an onigiri or two.
As for gasoline, it depends on my plans for the month and how many driving trips I’ll be taking but I usually budget between ¥8,000 and ¥12,000 a month. The average price to fill my tank is about ¥4,300 (I drive 'till the light comes on, just ask the people I know who hate that). I didn’t drive as much in the beginning and only filled my tank twice (sometimes once) a month but now I drive everywhere and have been taking plenty of long weekend road-trips so it tends to be in the upper region of that range.
It helps if you drive other people too, they’ll usually chip in for gas or tolls (which I do usually avoid, but for the sake of time over scenery and budget I’ve taken a few) and you gain a friend to sing/scream “Let It Go” at the top of your lungs with and to have random driving dance parties with! Is there a down side to this?
My budget for travel/entertainment/random other expenses varies a lot month by month. In months I have a trip planned, I cut down on “others”. Usually for those “other” expenses I give myself about ¥10,000. That’ll include toiletries, clothes, gifts, souvenirs, stuff for my fish or my apartment, Daiso trips (because you never come out with just what you went in for. It’s like Japanese Target--a money pit of awesome stuff for only ¥108) etc. etc. But I’m a pretty simple person living a pretty simple lifestyle. I don’t need much (and the clothes here don’t fit me, no matter how cute they are…)
As for entertainment, I don’t go out much. Even if I did I’d have to drive and therefore could not drink anyway. I save a lot of money with my general disinterest in bars and clubs because:
1.) I’d have to travel to a bigger city to find them, and
2.) those things get expensive man!
I go places when it’s someone’s birthday or if pretty much everyone will be there… which is usually for someone’s birthday. So my nightlife isn’t super existent. I would much rather put all that aside to take the shinkansen south for a 3-day weekend in Hiroshima than a few beers. It's hard for me to spend money without calculating the number of train tickets or onsen trips I could use it for instead. Your results may vary, sometimes it feels like I’m back in college here with the number of people who go out and drink regularly and in quantity! So this part is completely up to you, but in my budget it’s maaaaaybe ¥5-7,000 and most of that is spent for day trips around the prefecture with friends (usually I just add ~¥3,000 to my “other” budget and go from there). I haven’t been to a movie either--the theater is about a 40-minute drive from here and it’s about ¥1,800 for a ticket! I’m holding out for The Hobbit and Mockingjay, that’s it.
As for my savings, I always put away at least 10% of my paycheck (more if not much is happening that month) and every month I put aside ¥15,000 for a tax I’m going to have to pay next year. I think it’s a resident tax, not completely sure, but I’m just putting aside the recommended monthly amount told to me by my company.
So that’s it! Anything I have left over I save to go travel the country on and for my end of the school year trip to China I want to take. As always if you have questions about anything regarding this topic (or any other) please feel free to ask away.
Comment or email me, and comment if you live in Japan and have radically (or slightly) different expenses or if they’re relatively similar. Curious minds want to know! Stay warm (I’m already FREEZING over here) and I’ll keep you posted on all things Japan.