Living on a budget in Hong Kong is not easy if you:
a) live in the Central/Western district on Hong Kong island.
b) like to go out, drink, dance, or party.
c) enjoy traveling.
Because all of these points prove true about me, I have to find ways to scrimp and find the best deals so as to make my paycheck stretch for as long as possible. Since my rent takes up about one-third of my monthly pay=cheque, I decided that my amenities would have to suffer (or, be rearranged to fit my budget). I only pay for wireless cable internet and through that get free television. As for the air-conditioning, I never leave it on unless I am home (and even then, I attempt to put it on the temperature just below me sweating). I wash all of my clothes in cold water and even take my towels and sheets to a launderer who charges a mere $7 a pound. And while I would love to buy all American food so as to continue my “healthy” lifestyle, I shop around for the best deals, including only buying fruit when it’s in season, cereal when it’s on sale, and milk when they sell them in bulk. Living on this side of the island with a rooftop and perfect location on a quiet street requires a bit of careful consideration on where and how to spend my money.
I do enjoy a cocktail or seven a few nights a week, so my fun money usually gets spent in LKF or on Wyndham Street. But even in the liquor department, I can usually find ways around doling out too much cash. First of all, happy hour is called happy for a reason: my wallet is always happier when I get to my favorite martini joint before 7 o’clock. I don’t need to be out late to have fun, so why not have a few cocktails after work? Not only does this make my wallet happy, it also means I can get home in time to fall into bed before 10. This going-out-early trick does not always work since many of my friends work late, so instead of going out, we stay in and enjoy that rooftop I pay so dearly for. With a bottle of wine in hand, my girlfriends and I enjoy a few glasses as a pre-party which means we pay less when we’re out because we’re already tipsy and don’t need too many more drinks to make to fools of ourselves on the dance floor. Usually us getting tipsy also means we’re getting flirty, so bring on the free drinks, boys! I’m not saying we wear our shortest dresses with the most cleavage, but my girlfriends and I use our feminine wiles and awesome dance moves to rustle up a drink or two from the male population.
When I’m not busy working or drinking, you can typically find me planning for or taking a vacation. I am no millionaire, but in the year I have lived in Hong Kong, I have taken six vacations. How does one minimally-paid employee do that you ask? First, I like to travel with friends. This means sharing a hotel room, taxi fares, and pitchers of sangria. We always search on-line for the best prices before purchasing any airfare or hotel and are content with living a bit on the edge of the fun. I have a friend living in Singapore and a budget was in place when visiting her: free accommodation, a built-in tour guide that knows all the best places to eat and to happy hour, and staying for only a long weekend (Hong Kong is full of public holidays, so take advantage of them!). While it is always more fun to travel with somebody, I have also done the obligatory everyone-else-is-at-home-for-Christmas-so-I-guess-I-will-travel-by-myself trip. There was no one to share any expenses with and I have yet to stay in a hostel, so instead of spending my hard-earned money on booze and food, I decided to splurge on a fairly nice hotel in a not-so-great location, get cheap massages, eat pizza, and lay around by the pool. My solo trip was probably the most inexpensive holidays I have had due to my laissez-faire attitude toward what I did and where I ate, as long as I was somewhere warm and somewhere not Hong Kong.
I am quite certain that a more frugal person who doesn’t mind not living in the heart of the expat area, doesn’t need alcohol to make herself happy, and is content staying in Hong Kong could easily save more than me. But since my lifestyle is pretty wonderful, I’ll stick to a third of my paycheck for rent, a third to fun, and the rest to savings. Hey, it’s more than I could have saved living in rural America and definitely way more fun!