How to Save Money in China – 9 Killer Tips (for 2022)

Best Ways to Save Money in China 💰 Your guide for 2022

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.

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.

How to Save Money Tip #1 – Use Dianping

How to Save Money Tip #2 – Local Restaurants

How to Save Money Tip #3 – Take the Bus

How to Save Money Tip #4 – Use Shared Bikes

How to Save Money Tip #5 – Exploit Taobao/Jingdong

How to Save Money Tip #6 – Don’t Buy Movie Tickets at the Cinema

How to Save Money Tip #7 – Consider Living Location

How to Save Money Tip #8 – Bargain

How to Save Money Tip #9 – Travel Cheap

Save Money Hack #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:

Basic Chinese phrases - 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 Hack #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 Hack #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 Hack #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 Hack #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 Hack #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 Hack #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 Of The Best 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 hot pot, after all. Yes, it…

Save Money Hack #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 Of The Best 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 hot pot, after all. Yes, it…

Save Money 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.

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!!

Living in China Cheap – FAQ’s

Which is the most expensive city to live in China?

Shanghai is the most expensive city in China to live in.

Can I travel cheap in China?

Absolutely, using the bus, slower trains, overnight transport and the Metro are just some ways that allow for cheap transport.

What is a “good wage” in China.

This is really quite difficult to answer because it entirely depends on factors such as:

Your lifestyle
The city you live in
How many of you are there
Your hobbies

For example 15,000RMB might be a higher wage in somewhere like Shenyang, but in Shanghai this would equate to average, or lower for a foreigner.

Is Chengdu cheap to live?

Chengdu is widely regarded as one of the best places in China for foreigners to live due to slower pace of live, good weather and cheaper costs compared to top tier cities.

Is Western Food expensive in China?

Generally western restaurants would be more expensive than local Chinese restaurants yes.

Do you have to tip in China?

No tipping is not common practice in China.

Do English teachers earn well in China?

Generally yes and this is even more so for cities like Beijing and Shanghai where teachers can be some of the higher earners as demand for native English speakers in China is strong.

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  • LTL Avatar Alexander Krasnov
    Alexander Krasnov , Student Advisor

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