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Tweet of the Week #89: Budget Savvy Mom Shares Tips to Keep Monthly Food Expenses at ¥20,000

Just how far can you stretch your yen?

By 5 min read

Japan’s painful economic stagnation since the early ’90s taught Japanese families to keep their grocery expenses in check in order to save money.

This life skill is learned from a young age thanks to compulsory home economic classes (家庭科かていか) in elementary schools, junior and senior high schools. From sewing, child-rearing and elderly caretaking, to food and living, Japanese kids study how to manage a household budget. In particular, they train themselves to use a 家計簿かけいぼ (budgeting notebook or ledger) where you can keep track of everything and see your expenses habits.

But when a Japanese mother of three shared her tips to keep your monthly food budget at ¥20,000 (roughly $187), a lot of folks felt the line between savvy shopping and survival was maybe crossed.



“A family of three with food expenses amounting to ¥20,000 isn’t being good at saving, it’s regular poverty.”

One sure thing, there’s no two food budgets alike. So can ¥20,000 really feed 5 people?!



“Today’s topic is apparently ¥20,000 of food expenses [a month]. Yesterday, we spent ¥8,000 on food in one day. To all housewives, please ease up. ¥20,000 worth of groceries per month is an urban legend.”

What’s the average grocery bill for a household in Japan?

In a survey conducted on the average cost of living in Japan in 2019, the Statistics Bureau of Japan revealed that a single-person household spends approximately ¥40,000 per month on food on average, while a married couple’s grocery budget is closer to ¥75,000. We’re far from that family’s strict ¥20,000 cap, while admittedly, regional differences as well as which supermarket you go to play a huge role in how much you’ll spend on food in Japan.





“Sometimes I read magazines on savings but many look like a made-up story. I don’t think it’s impossible to keep your food expenses at ¥20,000, but seeing the article’s shopping content it seems to be over ¥30,000, so if it’s inside the budget (¥20,000), not only the person who cooks but the supermarket is also efficient. ”

In the article, our savvy mum explains how to shop smart, double checking the price per gram, looking for special discounts and time sales, as well as utilizing profit from point cards. Many praised the mother’s incredible efforts in lowering the household expenses.






“I’d like you to understand that the person doing the housework managed to keep the food expenses at ¥20,000 after making unimaginable efforts.

It’s a level you reach for example when you go from one supermarket to the next, looking for food ¥10 yen or cheaper, without buying stuff that’s easy to make like steak or sashimi.

Casually asking for this is like asking ‘to work double from tomorrow.'”

The need for a family to cut their food expenses also raised concerns, with netizens angry that in today’s Japan, families have to control their living expenses down to the last yen.




“Somehow there are a lot of tweets going around about ¥20,000 of food expenses and savings, but Japan shouldn’t aim to be a society where the household budget is cut down to the limit of ¥20,000 for food, but a society in which salaries can be used to spend a good margin on food without having to save money. I feel we’re heading toward hell.”

Talking about the cost of living and expenses in Japanese

Wherever you are at the moment, the best way to control your spendings and save up money is to sit down and check everything incoming and outgoing. We know it’s easier said than done, so here’s some Japanese vocabulary to help you get started.

When it comes to your expenses, you’ll frequently encounter the kanji , which stands for “cost,” “allowance,” or “expense”. To budget your 生活費せいかつひ (living expenses), you’ll have to list them all up and maybe cut the non-essential spending.

  • 食費 = food expenses
  • 交通こうつ = transportation expenses (general)
  • 通学つうがく= commuting expenses for students
  • 住居じゅうきょ = housing expenses
  • 雑費ざっぴ = miscellaneous expenses

When it comes to taking a closer look at your utilities (光熱こうねつ) individually, you’ll meet the kanji りょう (with or without きん meaning “money”), which translates to “charge” or “fee.”

  • 電気料金でんきりょうきん =  electricity fee
  • ガス料金 = gas fee
  • 水道すいどう料金 = water fee
  • 保険ほけん料金 = insurance fee
  • 電話でんわ料金 = phone fee
  • インタネット料金 = internet fee

A good tool to keep track of all your spending is certainly to invest in a 家計簿. It might be emotionally hard to have a closer look at all your expenses, but over time you’ll gain better control of your budget and be better prepared to face what life throws at you. If you’re considering living in Japan, check out our Japan 101 section where you’ll find more about the initial move-in costs, how to set up utilities, and other useful tips.

Can you keep your monthly food expenses in the ¥20,000 range? Let us know if you’re supermarket savvy or cashing out every chance you get in the comments.


Japanese Romaji English
家庭科かていか kateika home economics
家計簿かけいぼ kakeibo household budget notebook
食費2万しょくひにまん shokuhi ni man ¥20,000 of food expenses
setsuyaku jyouzu good at saving
貧困ひんこん hinkon poor, poverty
のようです no you desu seems like
1日いちにちだけで ichinichi dake de in only one day
shyufu no mina san to all housewives
都市伝説としでんせつ toshi densetsu urband legend
貯蓄ちょちく雑誌ざっし chyochyaku no zasshi magazines about savings
創作そうさく souzaku literary creation
shokuhi niman en dai within the ¥20,000 range
不可能ふかのう fukanou impossible
もの内容ないよう kaimono naiyou shopping content
える koeru exceed
おさまる asamaru fit
有能ゆうのう yuunou competent
家事かじ kaji housechores
想像そうぞうぜっする souwou wo sessuru unimaginable
努力どりょくしたうえ doryokushita ue de after making an effort
数値すうち suichi number, numerical value
数十円すうじゅうえんやす食材しょくざい suujyuuen yasui shokuzai ingredients several ten of yen cheaper
ハシゴし hashigoshi going from place to place
のかからないもの te no kakaranai mono easy thing (to make)
到達とうたつするレベル toutatsu suru reberu level to reach
安易あんいに求める ani ni motomeru ask easily
ばいはたら bai hataraku work twice more
同意義どういぎ douigi same meaning
大量たいりょう tairyou ni massively
まわってくる mawattekuru come around
目指めざすべき mezasu beki should aim
限界げんかいまで genkai made until the limit
家計かけいまわ kakei wo kirimawasu turn around the household budget
余裕よゆう yoyuu margin
方向性ほうこうせい houkousei direction
あきらかに akirakani clearly
地獄じごくほういている jigoku no hou ni muite iru heading toward hell


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