Tips on Saving Money in Japan

With just a few simple changes, you’ll soon find your bank balance looking considerably healthier than before

By 5 min read 10

As someone who has lived in Japan for many years, I have heard the same thing being repeated all too often recently. “It’s not as good as it used to be here.” is the common lament. Indeed, salaries are lower here than before, particularly in what, unfortunately, remains my primary source of income, the English teaching industry.

As a result, I see many of my friends taking on additional extra work to top up their paychecks. Naturally, overworking isn’t good for either their physical or mental health, and despite what some politicians may try to tell you, I don’t believe it should be necessary in a modern civilized society either.

I’m lucky that I make enough extra with my writing work and a few other things here and there, that I don’t need to take on an evening job. However, I also earn an above average salary from my regular teaching job too, and I know I am considerably better off than a lot of English teachers in Japan these days.

However, whether it’s a case of not being able to do more work, or simply wishing to maintain a fair work/life balance, for those of us who have to rely on only a single source of income, balancing your monthly budget in Japan can be really tough sometimes.

So today, I thought I’d present a few simple hints and tips to get the most out of your money, and to perhaps even save a little bit.

Be eco-conscious with the electrics

Ok, whether you are a rabid environmentalist, or a climate change denier, being careful not to waste electricity makes a huge difference in Japan. For example, I switched to LED lightbulbs in my house, and I tried, as much as possible to limit my use of air conditioning to no more than a few hours a day.

As a result, my monthly electric bills have dropped from around 10,000 yen per month on average to just over 5,000 per month. It’s a small thing, but also don’t forget to turn off the lights when you leave the house too. It may seem like a small, trivial thing, but the savings soon mount up.

Use one provider for all your communications

In many other countries, it pays to shop around for the best individual deal. For example, when I lived in Scotland, I found that Vodafone gave me the best mobile phone deal, but Virgin was the best for TV, and BT gave me the best deal for home phone and internet.

However, in Japan, where the “big three” of AU KDDI, NTT Docomo and Softbank have enjoyed a virtual monopoly for years, the price difference between them is practically non-existent. I learned this first hand when, last month, I was shopping for a new iPad and I found all 3 of them offering exactly the same price and same monthly contract rates.

With this in mind, the best way to save money is to go “all-in” so to speak and get your phone, internet, tablet and TV all through the same company. Take for example, the arrangement I have with AU.

I currently pay about 9,000 yen per month for my phone, and 7 GB of data usage. I would pay a little over 7,000 per month for my iPad, however this comes down to less than 6,000 as I am also a phone subscriber. Likewise, I currently use a different company for my internet, and I pay around 8500 per month. For this price, I get cable TV, and internet with a speed of 30Mbps.

However, since I am already an AU phone and tablet user, I have been told recently that AU internet is now available in my building too. If I switch over, I will be able to enjoy internet at a speed of 100Mbps and all the same TV channels, for just 6,000 yen per month.

So, when you factor in the different savings I have made by rolling all my telecoms into one company, I make an all-round saving of about 4 or 5,000 per month. I’m only using AU as an example here, I’m sure you will find Docomo and Softbank, and possibly Yahoo as well, offering similar, if not identical, deals.

Loyalty Points Cards in Japan are actually worthwhile

If you are anything like me, after a period of time you will probably settle on one particular supermarket or convenience store that you use regularly. If that is the case, then it really does pay to get signed up on their loyalty point scheme as soon as possible. In addition to point savings, you’ll also get regular books of vouchers you can use for even more discounts.

Commuter Passes

Again I am lucky in this regard, my company pays for my travel to and from work in its entirety, saving me about 15,000 yen a month. However, not all companies in Japan do this, and some, instead of paying the actual expanses will just give the teacher a monthly travel allowance and any shortfall must be made up by the teacher themselves.

With this in mind, it is important to firstly sit down and work out the most economic route to work. Is it worth an extra 5-10 mins commuting each day if it can save you an extra 3 or 4000 yen per month? That’s your own call to make. Sites like Hyperdia, as well as the excellent smartphone app “Japan Trains” will help you work out the best deal in this regard.

Once you’ve found your optimum route, if you can afford the upfront payment then getting a 3 or even a 6 month pass will allow you to save even more. Bear in mind also that train passes in Japan apply not just to traveling to and from work, but they also cover any additional routes in between. Again I benefit here as I do most of shopping and weekend hanging out in Umeda, which just happens to sit nicely between my home station and my current base school!

With just a few simple changes, you’ll soon find your bank balance looking considerably healthier than before. But how about you, dear readers, do you have any extra hints and tips to save money in Japan? Let me know in the comments section below.

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  • Andrew says:

    Dont actually use a Suica just put your wallet on the scanner and walk really close to the person in front if you. If yourcompany pays for travel you are not just saving money you are actually making money!

  • Charles Burks says:

    There are some banks that offer a service for transferring an amount of your choosing automatically to another account at that bank each month. It couldn’t hurt to check with your bank. It’s a good way to save up without putting much thought into it.

  • Joshua Meade says:

    Don’t forget:
    Make your own lunches. Buy a tea bottle and bring it with you (vending machine expenses taken over a month can add up).

    Walk or cycle… Riding a bicycle can save you heaps when traveling even on trains 280x2x5x4 adds up. If you cycle it’s 0.

    Further, shopping for food. If you want to save on your groceries, shop after 7 or 8pm. This is typically when the discount stickers come out and you can get 30-70% off many perishables and convenient foods as well as fruits and veg.

    Further, if you bathe regularly don’t flush the water down the drain, use the pumping mechanism in your laundry machine to pump that water over and use it! Saves on your water bill.

    An even further way to save is to hang your laundry l, never mechanically dry it unless absolutely necessary.

  • blondein_tokyo says:

    Don’t go out drinking. Big “duh”, but I also see a lot of people complaining about costs yet every other night and most weekends they’re at the bar. I drink at home…like a good alcoholic. 😉

  • Aldo says:

    Liam, your article is good because of your nice writing skills otherwise you don’t go deep enought.
    There is many way to enjoy life in Japan without spending any money (or only a small amount).

  • BJ Lightvoet says:

    I don’t spend my coins – they go in my pocket and get dumped in a can when I get home. I have a little over 30,000 saved each month.

    • Feeyonah says:

      Likewise – my partner & I don’t spend our 500 yen coins. We simply collect them in a piggy bank. Since starting this about five or six months ago, we’ve reached well over Y100,000. Simple habit!

    • Hank says:

      Excellent way to SAVE, coins are no longer spendable and only savable. Those who spend their coins making change at every transaction will spend all they have and save nothing. The more transactions the more you save for yourself. It is a simple habit, but a very effective way to save money. Taking 30,000 from you hurts at one time, but a little bit every day over the month is hardly noticed and results in the same amount saved with no pain.

  • JOA says:

    Something that’s growing popular in JP : Buying hot/cold cup of coffee at a conbini (about 100Y) instead of Starbucks (300 to 450Y). Of course that only works if you drink regular coffee and take it away. That said, if you do the math and buy 1coffee/day every month (sounds a lot but actually it’s not), you may save around 9000Y a month !

  • Brian Grant says:

    A student discount for a bus/train pass if you are on a student visa.



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