Early in my career, I was making HK$ 20,000 Hong Kong Dollars. (19K after MPF deductions. For those not in the know, MPF (Mandatory Provident Fund) is basically a pension saving scheme that is matched by your employer) I wanted to see if you could actually live on HK$ 20,000 in today’s Hong Kong. This will largely depend on your spending habits and a host of other things but I am going to show you that it is entirely possible based on my own approach. (This example will be based on 1 person living alone. If you have a family, you will have to extrapolate this to encompass them too!) This should go without saying, but I am not a financial advisor and this information and approach should be used for reference only.
Budget, Budget, Budget!
This is what I use to budget. There is an awesome App that I use on the iPhone called MoneyLover. (Another awesome one I used to use on Android called FastBudget) If you don’t budget, you really should. There are a million reasons as to why you should but I’ll leave that one up to you.
These are based on my real world spending habits over the last 6 months.
For the mathematically astute of you, over 6 months, this averages out to HK$ 6,800 for rent per month. Rent is probably one of the biggest expenditures in Hong Kong and will in large part determine if you can live off of HK$ 20,000 a month or not. Hunt for somewhere cheap. I live on the Kowloon side in an area that doesn’t have an MTR station. It’s still super convenient though with buses to MTR stations. If you feel like walking, I have MTR stations all around that are about 10 minutes walk from where I live.
HK$ 20,000-1000 (MPF, 5%) = HK$ 19,000
HK$ 19,000–HK$ 6,800 (rent) = HK$ 12,200
New Total = HK$ 12,200
There are a few things I need to break down here.
Phone Bill = HK$ 331 (monthly)
Electricity bill = HK$ 515 (averaged over 6 months, comes every 2 months) Generally speaking, electricity is quite cheap in Hong Kong and will obviously vary depending on your use cases. I have a dog so I leave my air con on all day. Your usage might be much lower than that.
Water Bill = HK$ 53.3 (monthly average over 6 months, comes every quarter) Water is dirt cheap here, you do need to boil it though.
If calculated on monthly averages, we get something like this
HK$ 12,200 -HK$ 331(phone bill) -HK$ 515(Electricity) -HK$ 53(Water bill rounded down)
New Total = HK$ 11,301
By shopping, I mean grocery shopping. I have to admit, I don’t do much shopping so this is somewhat of a difficult number to pin down. Averaged out it comes to HK$ 572.80. This is really low and borders on unrealistic. That means per week you would be spending HK$ 143.2. (which some people could do but it might be a bit spartan for most) I think, per week, bumping that up to HK$ 300 would be more reasonable so you would have a total of HK$ 1200 per month. (so that’s what we will do)
HK$ 11,301- HK$ 1200 (shopping) = HK$ 10,101
New Total = HK$ 10,101
Gulp. This is for eating out. (accounting for trips to 7–11, snacks, as well as eating out at restaurants) This can be, by far and away one of your biggest cost in Hong Kong and can get out of control fast if you don’t put a leash on it. Averaged out over 6 months, I spent HK$ 1,257 per month (rounded up). Again, this could be way more for some and way less for others. HK$ 10,101- HK$ 1,257 (food and beverage) = HK$ 8,844
New Total = HK$ 8,844
Travel varies depending on where you work. If you really wanted to save money on travel, you could walk or ride a bike to work. The latter might cost you your life though. An Octopus card classed as an essential item in Hong Kong then, trouble is though, you can use it to buy stuff too like food and groceries. I will explain my use case below
The main place you’ll more than likely be going to is work. As that’s the case for me I am going to calculate my transportation cost out of the equation. My minibus costs me HK$ 7 each way. 14 x 6 = HK$ 84(because I work Saturdays. Booooo!) Per month that works out to HK$ 336. Over 6 months that’s HK$ 2,016 for travel. Obviously, you might be going to other places besides work but I am just using the most common example available and relevant to me. Taking the cost of travel out of the Octopus equation means I use HK$ 2,884 (divided by 6 months= HK$ 480) on other things. These most likely go on eating out, restaurants, snacks and trips to 7–11 meaning the numbers in the previous category (food and beverage) are actually higher than my calculations suggest for that category. Anyway, averaged out, we are looking at approximately HK$ 817 per month. (rounded up)
HK$ 8,844- HK$ 817 (octopus) = HK$ 8,027.
New Total = HK$ 8,027
Other Costs to Consider
I am putting things in this section that are not really essential to day-to-day living but these are costs you might have.
You’ve got to treat yourself, right!? In my early years, I spent far more on myself than I do now. In the last 6 months, the only real recorded amount of money I have spent on myself was when I bought a pair of wireless earphones. If you saved for these over a period of 6 months, that would work out to HK$ 431 per month. This section has to be taken with a pinch of salt because it is unrealistic for most people to actively save HK$ 431 per month and more likely that you would splurge on a treat for yourself. Still, it is valuable to know what it costs over the period of 6 months if you were to save for it. Perhaps it might be wise to have a “treat” budget which I have. I allocate myself HK$ 1,000 per month but quite often don’t use it. After living here for 10 years, I have accumulated most of the essentials one would need. (Obviously, if you’re new to Hong Kong, you will be buying clothes, shoes and a host of other things.) For the sake of clarity, I will average the cost of the headphones out over 6 months.
HK$ 8,027 -HK$ 431 (myself)= HK$ 7,596
New Total = HK$ 7,596
It’s always a pretty big decision as to whether to get a credit card or not. For me, I manage my money fairly well and control my spending. I think it would be wise to know if you can control yourself or not before you get one of these. Again, a personal choice. I have one for making online purchases, using Paypal and for life insurance. Averaged out, this spending accounts for HK$ 3,418 per month. As you can see, activity on this card has been a bit busy over the last 6 months. However, I did pick up a new computer so that will account for some of the cost. Typically, over the last few months, this average is cut in half so I don’t actually use my credit card as often as this average portraits.
HK$ 7,596 -HK$ 3,418 (credit card) = HK$ 4,178
New Total = HK$ 4,178
We have just over HK$ 4000 left. There are a million things you could do with that but I am just going to give you some examples of how I’d use the remainder. If you have a jumping social life, chances are you won’t have much money left. Also, it’s worth to note that the credit card and “myself” sections aren’t necessary so you might end up having even more left over! Yeah!
Hong Kong is in close proximity to many other countries in Asia. The HK$ 4000 you have left would easily take you to Thailand or a few other countries in South East Asia. I had a colleague recently get a cheap flight to Bangkok for a couple of days and it came under HK$ 2000.
Especially if you are here on your own, you will want to have some money set aside for emergencies. There is a nice video on Investopedia that will act as a good beginner guide.
Your health is important and you shouldn’t neglect it to save money. Having said that, there are actually cheap alternatives out there and I was pointed in the direction of some useful examples over on the GeoExpat Forums by Shri @ GeoClicks.
There are so many ways to approach this and my approach is just one. As you can see though, if you plan where your money goes, you can easily live on HK$ 20,000. It’s important to state that you shouldn’t be making this amount forever. I sincerely hope that you progress throughout your career and your salary grows with your expertise and experience. This has been a fun little experiment for me and a sober lesson as to why it is wise to live below your means. This approach doesn’t work for everyone but it works for me. I would love to hear what you think about this approach and if you think you could live on HK$ 20,000 a month as a teacher in Hong Kong.
This article originally appeared on Medium.