How to Save Money in China – 9 Killer Tips (for 2024)

Best Ways to Save Money in China 💰 Your Guide for 2024

The standard of living in China is known for being extremely cheap in comparison to most Western countries and many other Asian countries, like Singapore, Japan or Korea.

In fact, China is a popular destination for expats hoping to save up money for a few years before returning home.

But every year rents are rising and prices of food are going up.

For those living on a student budget, LTL is here to help you pinch some pennies.

Save Money in China Tip #1 – Use Dianping

Save Money in China Tip #2 – Local Restaurants

Save Money in China Tip #3 – Take the Bus

Save Money in China Tip #4 – Use Shared Bikes

Save Money in China Tip #5 – Exploit Taobao/Jingdong

Save Money in China Tip #6 – Don’t Buy Movie Tickets at the Cinema

Save Money in China Tip #7 – Consider Living Location

Save Money in China Tip #8 – Bargain

Save Money in China Tip #9 – Travel Cheap

Save Money in China Tip #1 – Use 大众点评 Dàzhòngdiǎnpíng

This blogger’s favourite app is 大众点评, akin to Yelp or OpenRice.

What makes this app better those in other countries is that in addition to offering reviews and menus of restaurants in your cities according to type, they also will include deals that the restaurants offers you.

Deals generally fall into three categories:

How to save money in China - pay the bill
  • 套餐 – tàocān, set menu
  • 代金券 – dàijīnjuàn, akin to a coupon
  • 买单 – mǎidān, to pay the bill

Some are time dependent, only available on certain days of the week or times of the day. 

Dianping also has a “social media” component on the homepage where you can what other foodie’s are eating.

This is a great way to discover new foods in your area or around your city. 

HACK – 代金券 (Dàijīnjuàn) are probably the most confusing of 大众点评’s offerings, but usually the most lucrative. For example, If you buy one worth 100 yuan, it will cost you only 80 yuan (depending on the type of coupon). This way you can get 20 yuan of your meal. This works especially well if you’re having a big meal with friends, but check how many of these coupons you can buy. 

CHECK OUT OUR GUIDE – Learn how to master Dianping in minutes.

Save Money in China Tip #2 – Mom and Pop Restaurants

Don’t forget that some of China’s most amazing food can be on found on food streets.

Although with the local governments’ initiatives to clean up cities, these are disappearing. 

These days chain restaurants in malls can offer some really high-quality and relatively cheap meals (30-40 yuan). Don’t worry about MSG – let us clear that myth up for you.

However, the tastiest dishes with the most character can be found in little mom and pop restaurants located near residential neighbourhoods. Even in major cities, you can still find meals for under 20 yuan there. 

Avoid fast food chains you recognise from home though, because although we know them for being cheap, in China they’re actually a lot more expensive!

HACK – Speaking of food, restaurant delivery apps like, 饿了么 (èleme) and 美团 外卖 (měituánwàimài) often have discounts if you order to go through their app (满减, mǎnjiǎn, if you spend a certain amount, your order will be deducted a certain amount). This is a super convenient to get cheap eats. 

Save Money in China Tip #3 – Take the Bus! 坐公交车吧 (Zuògōngjiāochē ba)!

There are so many reason to take the bus in China and one of them is that it tends to be cheaper than the subway even (anywhere from 1 kuai to 3 kuai, although some distance-based fare buses will set you back more).

This compares to around 2-3 kuai as the starting price for the subway. A single kuai may not seen like a lot, but it can add up in time!

In big cities, taking the bus is one of the most convenient modes of getting around.

If it’s not rush hour or a super busy time, you’ll usually be able to find a seat (unlike on the subway).

Often, the bus can even get you to a place faster without transfers. It’s also a great way to observe the cityscape.

Map apps like Bǎidù (百度) and Gāodé (高德)can help you figure out what buses go to your destination.

HACK – Forget the days of looking for loose change! Most bus systems (city-dependent) have a way to use WeChat or Alipay mini-programs (小程序, xiǎochéngxù) to pay for bus fare.

Save Money in China Tip #4 – Or Sign up for Mobike (摩拜 móbài, now called Meituan Bike) 

In the battle for the market of bike-sharing, Mobike (now called Meituan bikes) has won out.

It’s a very cheap way to get around the city, especially for too-far to walk, too annoying to subway kind of distances.

Dīdī (滴滴, the Uber of China) also offers shared bikes.

These can be scanned through the Měituán app, Dīdī app or through a WeChat mini-app. 

Save Money in China Tip #5 – Become a Táobǎo/Jīngdōng expert.

Taobao and Jingdong are not only good for getting household items on the cheap, but you can also get affordable clothing and foreign food products and ingredients. 

A lot of stores on Jingdong give discounts, free shipping, etc. if you spend a certain amount of money.

This way you can stock up on non-perishable items at a cheap price!

Shop ’til you drop! Within your budget, of course. 

PRO-TIP: Instead of paying expensive prices at foreign restaurants, try your hand at making your own dishes with ingredients from Táobǎo. Many Chinese grocery stores also carry foreign products, including some fresh products like salad leaves!

BONUS – Want to become a Taobao master in minutes? Follow our guide!

Save Money in China Tip #6 – Never buy a Movie Ticket at the Cinema!

Going to the movies in China is a lot cheaper than most Western countries, including tickets and popcorn. 

Buy your tickets through social media app WeChat, Alipay, or Dàzhòng Diǎnpíng for the cheapest prices.

You can also pick up on some great deals for snacks!

Save Money in China Tip #7 – Live in the Suburbs for Cheaper Rent

Like in any city in the world, rent is cheaper as you get farther from the center.

Considering where you work or what metro line you live on, it make sense to live farther outside the city.

Although if you imagine you will be going out a lot in the centre of the city, you may consider the taxi price of living further away.

(There is very little public transportation at night in China).

Chengdu Street Food - 5 Must-Try Street Foods in Chengdu Thumbnail

Chengdu Street Food – 5 Must-Try Street Foods in Chengdu

Street Food in Chengdu – Five Top Foods That Aren’t to Be Missed Chengdu Street Food – oh it’s good! It’s so, so good! Sichuan province is famous for its food, it is the home of the comforting hotpot, after…

Save Money in China Tip #8 – Bargain! 

A lot of foreigners who come to China are not too familiar with the concept of bargaining.

Once you get the hang of it, you may not be able to stop. Bargaining is usually acceptable if prices aren’t listed, often in areas like street, electronics, and clothing markets.

Common advice for a newbie bargainers is to make sure to research reasonable prices for products your interested in beforehand (Taobao is a good place for price comparison) and think about what you are willing ot pay for a product.

Another popular bargaining strategy is walking away when the seller won’t budge anymore. 

Watch out for places that get lots of tourists, where starting prices can be outrageous. 💸 

Bargaining can be fun and a great way to practice Chinese, but remember to be respectable; the sellers are trying to make a living, after all. 

Don’t try bargaining in a mall or a supermarket! 

Chengdu Street Food - 5 Must-Try Street Foods in Chengdu Thumbnail

Chengdu Street Food – 5 Must-Try Street Foods in Chengdu

Street Food in Chengdu – Five Top Foods That Aren’t to Be Missed Chengdu Street Food – oh it’s good! It’s so, so good! Sichuan province is famous for its food, it is the home of the comforting hotpot, after…

Save Money in China Bonus Hack: Travelling 

If you have some time off, you’ll want to travel around China.

There are some truly amazing destinations. Travel in China, though, can get pretty pricey really fast, along with entrance tickets to famous parks and plane rides.

If you’re patient, excited to observe the Chinese countryside, and wanting to practice your Chinese, long-distance trains (usually overnight, depending on where you’re going) are a great option. 

Train prices don’t vary based on season, but if you travel during tourist off-season (non-Chinese holidays and outside of summer), you can often get some pretty good deals on airfare.

Want to learn more about transport in Chinese? Check out our Ultimate Transport Guide here!

There we have it, nine super useful hacks for cheaper living in China!

What was your favourite? Drop us a comment below telling us your favourite hack. Maybe we missed a trick? Tell us below and we’ll add it!

If you want to get your Chinese language journey on the move now, at a discounted price, our online courses are a great way to get going, you can even ask to study the Taobao and Dianping apps if you want!!

Save Money in China – FAQ’s

Which is the most expensive city to live in China?

Whilst it depends on your individual lifestyle, Shanghai is generally considered the most expensive city in China to live in.

Can I travel cheaply in China?

Absolutely! Using the bus, slower trains, overnight transport and the metro are just some of the ways that allow for cheap transport.

What is a ‘good wage’ in China?

This question depends on a lot of factors, including where you live, your hobbies and lifestyle, whether or not you have any dependents, etc.

For instance, 15,000 rmb in somewhere like Shenyang would be considered a very good salary, whilst 15,000 rmb in Shanghai would be considered on the lower end of the scale.

Is Chengdu a cheap place to live?

Chengdu is widely considered a great place for foreigners to live in China due its relatively lower cost of living compared to top-tier cities – and that’s without considering the great weather, delicious food and slower pace of life.

Is Western food cheap in China?

Generally speaking, Western food in China is more expensive than local food, but the quality of the restaurant is an important factor.

Do you have to tip in China?

No, tipping is not a common practice in China.

Do English teachers earn a lot of money in China?

Generally yes, English teachers can earn a very high salary in China, especially in larger cities and in international or private schools.

Want more from LTL?

If you wish to hear more from LTL Mandarin School why not join our mailing list? We give plenty of handy information on learning Chinese, useful apps to learn the language and everything going on at our LTL schools!

Sign up below and become part of our ever-growing community!

BONUS || Want to study Chinese with us in Chengdu? Why not check out our group courses or individual Chinese classes.



Leave a Reply

You will get a reply from us
Your email address will not be published. Name and Email are required.

  1. I found China really cheap except Shanghai which is far more indicative of western costs

    1. Max Hobbs

      Yes Curt, in general it’s actually a pretty cheap place to live but for sure it does depends on where you are.

      Outside of the big few, it can be really affordable.

  2. Alipay for Foreigners // (Amazing 2021 Update for Everyone)

    […] to book some train tickets through the App itself? Use […]