Tips on Saving Money in Japan
By Liam Carrigan
On November 29, 2015
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.
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.