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How Expats Can Save Money In The Most Expensive City In The World

Team Expat Finance, Lifestyle Leave a Comment

It’s official: As of June 2016, Hong Kong has been named the most expensive city for expats by consultancy firm Mercer in their 2016 Cost of Living Survey. Many expats who are currently living in Hong Kong have complained about the high costs of living, especially when it comes to securing accommodation and food. Understandably, if you’re moving to Hong Kong for work in the near future, you have good reason to be worried.

Guess what? Team Expat is here to tell you that there are also expats who have been living in Hong Kong for a long time, and enjoying it. The trick to living in the most expensive city in the world is to avoid spending extravagantly by practicing a minimalist lifestyle akin to the Japanese. Take a page from Fumio Sasaki, who only owns three shirts, four pairs of trousers, four pairs of socks and a meagre scattering of various other items – the 36-year-old editor became a minimalist “so he could let things he truly liked surface in his life.” Remember, you have control over your financial habits – read on for tips on how you can improve them!

1. Stay away (pun intended) from high traffic and popular entertainment areas

When looking for places to stay, avoid popular expat residential areas like Mid-Levels, Central, The Peak, Repulse Bay, and Jardine’s Lookout. These areas are expensive to live in due to their proximity to business districts and entertainment centres, easy access to facilities such as public transportation, schools, and hospitals, as well as spectacular views.

There are plenty of other expat-friendly neighbourhoods that won’t break the bank, such as Wan Chai and Lantau Island. It’s possible to acquire a fully renovated 3-bedroom house inclusive of rooftop access for HKD 36k on Lantau. These neighbourhoods may be located further away from most major entertainment attractions, but at least you’ll get to enjoy some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city after a long day at work. Additionally, with Hong Kong’s extensive railway system, getting around will be a breeze.

2. Get around via public transportation instead

Unless you’re earning big bucks, owning a car in Hong Kong can easily eat up most of your salary. To give you a better idea of the costs involved, driving a Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet would require you to set aside HKD 3k for insurance, HKD 2-4k for monthly parking, HKD 2-5k for bi-annual maintenance, HKD 10k for the Annual Roadworthiness Test and HKD 6k for Annual Vehicle licence (note that the numbers are rough estimates). Talk about paying through the nose!

As mentioned earlier, Hong Kong has an extensive railway network, known as the Mass Transit Railway (MTR). As of 2016, the system has 155 stations, with a 99.9% on-time rate on its journeys, and an integrated Octopus smart card fare-payment technology. With statistics like these, why wouldn’t you choose to travel by MTR? Not only will you save yourself a fortune on petrol, you’ll also save yourself a headache by not having to go through traffic and parking woes!

3. Embrace the local flavours

It’s only when you crave non-Chinese cuisine in Hong Kong that it starts to get expensive. However, with choices like dim sum, roast goose and pigeon, wind sand chicken, rickshaw noodles, sweet and sour pork, wonton noodles, Hong Kong-style milk tea, sago mix, and pineapple buns, it’s hard to imagine that there’s no local dish that you like. Best of all, you can easily find street vendors or hawker centres serving all these dishes for affordable prices almost everywhere in Hong Kong.

That’s not to say that budget-friendly international food options are not available. You would be surprised to know that Hong Kong actually has one of the cheapest McDonald’s in the world, plus they constantly serve up new and exciting creations every now and then! Examples include the Ebi Burger With Pineapple and Gudetama Food Items. Just remember to always, always order set meals when it comes to eating out in Hong Kong, and you’ll find yourself saving quite a bit.

Did you know: The complex combinations and international gourmet expertise have given Hong Kong the reputable labels of “Gourmet Paradise” and “World’s Fair of Food”.

4. Save even more by learning how to cook

Having said that, you can save EVEN MORE by preparing your own meals at home. You can easily find recipes online and buying ingredients from wet markets in Hong Kong is dirt cheap – for HKD 10; you can get a pound of tofu or a head of broccoli. Moreover, if you’re good at bargaining, you can get your ingredients for even lower prices. Yes, if you’re not used to it, shopping at the wet market can come as a shock as the environment is dirtier and smellier than supermarkets, but at least you know that you’re getting the freshest ingredients – the vendors will gut and clean your still swimming fish right before your eyes!

5. Adopt a greener lifestyle

They say, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”, but Team Expat says “one man’s green is another man’s reason”! Meet Hong Kong expat blogger Claire Sancelot: She and her family practices a waste-free lifestyle, which sees them eschewing tissue paper for reusable rags and excess packaging by shopping at wet markets or environmentally friendly supermarkets. Like Claire, you can save a lot by adopting a more minimalistic lifestyle in Hong Kong, not to mention reduce your carbon footprint. For example, if you don’t have a television, not only do you get to save on electricity bills, you also free up your time to do other things, like reading, exercising outdoors or learning a new skill.

6. Entertain yourself with mid-week/online discounts

All work but no play makes Jack a dull boy. Inject some fun into your routine without spending too much of your hard-earned cash with mid-week discounts. It’s common for most bars and clubs to offer Ladies’ Night discounts on Wednesdays and/or Thursdays; cinemas to charge cheaper rates when you catch movies on off-peak hours; and theme parks to offer discounts when you purchase entry tickets online or in advance – always check/plan first before heading out to ensure that you don’t end up splurging unnecessarily!

Additionally, there are some apps that can help you save money daily or just keep track of your spending so you can police yourself – all you have to do is download and make your purchase through them. Some of these apps are the Octopus App, MoneyWise, and Super Mondays.

So are you ready to live a more minimalistic and waste-free life in Hong Kong like Claire? If you have more saving tips to share with your fellow expats, leave a comment below!

Founded by expats, TheExpat.com provides city-specific news, expert advice and resources to expats, covering major cities across Asia & all things expat!


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