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10 ways to save money in Tokyo


Tokyo ranks among the top 5 most expensive cities in the world, along with Zurich, Hong Kong, Singapore and Luanda, if it’s not yet clear. It’s expensive, but it’s a clean, efficient place and you know where the taxes are coming from.

I have lived here for almost 2 years. The first year was a bit of a struggle financially. Besides the fact that the cost of living is quite high, I love Japanese food. I’m always itching to discover new places, and discover everything around kawaii. I somehow found my home. So now I want to share 10 ways on how to save money in Tokyo.

1. Check the appliance’s voltage consumption. Hair dryers, air conditioners, and microwaves usually consume a lot of energy, and if you’re not careful, your electricity bill can go up significantly. Getting a portable heater would be a good alternative this winter as opposed to choosing a heater mode for your air conditioner. It also pays attention to the appliance you leave. I know someone who left her heater on for a month (intentionally) and her electricity bill went up to 20,000 yen. I’m not kidding. Now you wouldn’t want the same thing to happen. right?

2. Need a snack now? Go to the pharmacy. Convenience stores are everywhere, but there are also pharmacies, so it’s a lot cheaper. Better yet, buy a light snack from the supermarket ahead of time and carry it with you. I started doing this recently, and it has really helped me save money on a daily basis. I also try to stay away from vending machines.

3. Buy only what you need. Especially when it comes to furniture and electronics. Otherwise, you will have to pay for disposal once you realize you no longer need it. In places like Tokyo, space is limited. Sooner or later, it will be too cramped to just buy things in the house!

4. Select second-hand items as in line 3. Being an expat, I don’t want to invest too much in stuff when I’m not sure how long I’ll be here. I’ve been told that you shouldn’t be concerned about second hand items being screened first before they are sold in stores and break easily. Most appliances (such as rice cookers, steamers, and kettles) are from Book-Off, so they work just fine. Check out Sayonara Sale or Craigslist Tokyo for cheap second-hand items. Some are provided free of charge.

4. Cook your own meals. This may seem quite obvious, but sometimes choosing to eat out is guilty of being late for work. I don’t think I’ll have enough energy to cook, especially for myself, so I want to finish up with dinner. Or it’s hard to get up early in the morning to cook in cold weather. There is always a way around. My favorite quick but healthy meal would be natto and kimchi with rice. I also get microwaved packaged food from the supermarket. Another friend thought about having a slow cooker so you can at least have your food ready when you get home. Cooking your own meals means you can bring your own food and get to work.

5. Are you planning to go back for the weekend? Use the subway pass. I do this if I plan to go to more than three places in a day, especially if I have guests who want to do some sightseeing around Tokyo. It’s a good idea to plan ahead so you know in advance what trains like Tokyo Electric Railway, Toei Subway or JR. (For more information on transportation in Tokyo, you can see another article here)

6. Consider biking. I haven’t done this but I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. The stations are usually close to each other, so you can definitely save money on the subway. You should at least finish the workout!

7. Speaking of exercise, you get to know your neighbors if you’re the type of person who wants to stay healthy and comfortable. Gyms can be quite hefty on a budget, but parks are ubiquitous and usually have gear for everyone… it’s free!

This particular random exercise space was not in the park (see photo above). It was under the train tracks! I found this while walking around the grocery store before eating. There are also pictures of how to use the equipment. And again, this is free. I’ve heard that each ward has a sports center, offers inexpensive group classes, and even has a swimming pool. I still had to find myself close.

8. Make budgeting a habit. I bought plastic bags with dispensers labeled “PASMO”, “BILLS”, “GROCERIES” and “TRAVEL” which are “commuter passes”. Whenever you receive your monthly salary, you immediately withdraw the amount you need to put into each category. For example, I automatically set aside 5,000 yen for PASMO. My bill is 20,000 yen; 10,000 to the grocery store; Travel 20,000 won.

9. Create a second bank account. In addition to putting money in my little plastic bag, I also transfer a certain amount from my company bank card to another savings account. This includes savings. Even putting in 10,000 yen a month will go a long way.

10. Choose a battle. Japan is crazy. Thanks to efficient transportation, the place is easily accessible, so there are various festivals and attractions depending on the season. Besides, delicious food is available everywhere. As mentioned before, saving money was quite difficult at first because you try and do everything. I know I have to do it one step at a time, but I also have to consider taking a break from home on the weekends.

What do you think of this list? I want to hear your thoughts. Feel free to share how you can save money in Tokyo!

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I am a contributor to Advancetec.co.uk. I am fascinated by technology overall, especially crypto and it's potential to disrupt the global financial system. But until that future comes, I am perfectly content immersing myself in gaming, movies, gadgets, and all of the other wonders of the modern world.