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Author: A Potato in a Rice Field
Wanderlust Travel Blog of the Year ’13
The original plan for this somewhat extreme budgeting challenge was for one full month, living cheap in Bangkok. A plan which was quickly scuppered with impromptu travels to Kuala Lumpur for VISA renewal, and taxi fares for Fanfan’s university exams. In total we manage a week, but we are still proud. What first prompted this situation was our upcoming travel plans for China and Japan which we’d not considered budgeting for before booking. So we had little choice but to squeeze the budget, as tight as possible. To make the experience more palatable we take the budgeting as a challenge, and it turned out quite fun. So we find that living cheap in Bangkok is possible, but it is still not what many others may make it out to be. For a week we set a budget of 300 baht a day and we follow it for 7 days (2,100 Baht per week). In writing this does look relatively simple but in reality… not so much. The plan was to eat cheap, and do nothing, and we didn’t stray too far from this. Working from home of course made this easy and the nice facilities in our condo made for a relaxed hibernation. For the week we scraped pennies, traded twenties, and made the most of our 7-11 stamps. Note, all overheads of electricity etc, are paid by this point, so our 300 Baht a day budget was for little more than day-to-day living. We also know where everything cheap is in the area so we no doubt have the advantage.
So you might say our spending is based on two of us… it’s guaranteed to be more expensive right? Again, in reality this isn’t true, at least from my own experience. My life is cheaper now than ever; with no frivolous splurging on nights out, relationships, dating, socializing, or just escaping the loneliness of being alone. My monthly overheads (3,200 Baht on water, electricity and internet) would be no different if I was single. Now I don’t own a phone, and have zero interest in socialising. I can cut most costs of single living. Also we both live on the same lax schedule which allows us to make the most of off-peak offers, and the affordable luxuries of Bangkok city (e.g. every Wednesday is 60 Baht cinema day). Living cheap in Bangkok was already a reality with us; this challenge was just pushing it a little further.
It’s cheaper eating out in Bangkok… this is a fact. So for the week we cut the Tesco shopping bill and instead opt to eat out in our local area. Each day I make two, maybe three runs to the local street food and cheap eat restaurants (our comprehensive street food guide here) and almost every meal comes to less than 50 Baht each. On most days we both eat Kaprao Moo Zaap (30 Baht each) or similar, for lunch. At the higher end of lunching we opt for Tom Yum Kai (60 Baht each). Come the evenings we eat at our local Isaan Barbecue with Som Tam and sticky rice (40 Baht each). Again at the high end here is Namtok for 60 Baht. Other eats include 15 Baht bags of fruit from the local street vendors, and when desperate we resort to 7-11 foods (in doing so I wrote up this comprehensive 7-11 food guide: Beyond the Ham and Cheese). So on average we eat 40 Baht meals throughout the first six days and are happy in doing so. Of course we are slightly fortunate here, we do have amazing food surrounding us, and without this, living cheap in Bangkok would be completely miserably.
These are the costs that no-one ever budgets for. The costs that make you say “How the **** did I spend so much?” We all have them, but few recollect them. They are also ongoing costs as something always seems to be needed in day-to-day living. During the week we need deodorant (50 Baht), toilet rolls (60 Baht), haircut (150 Baht), instant coffees (60 Baht), washing liquid (20 Baht), laundry machine (80 Baht). Probably many, many more which we neglect to write down. Again, 3 Liters of water a day costs 27 Baht. The small numbers do add up.
Through the week we do scrape along; surviving, not really living. Living for me offers financial freedom to afford things you can enjoy. However, from the 300 Baht each day we were able to save a few Bahts aside to splurge on nice things at the end of the week. On some days we save up to 60 Baht, hiding them in our own individual kitties. Technically we were ‘living’ on 180 Baht a day at times, but again surviving is the better analogy. With the money saved each day we could then afford a night out in the week to relax with restaurant food. Keeping it simple we visit the neighborhood Pizzeria (Big Mamas, Sukhumvit 21) and order the cheap stuff on the menu. I go with the cheapest pizza while Fanfan has her favourite spicy pasta. It came to roughly 500 Baht for the two of us (sorry no tip). So come the end of the week we have just enough pennies hoarded away to allow me a final beer at the pool. A week with no alcohol was probably the hardest part of living cheap in Bangkok. Embarrassing I know.
I cheated slightly here. During the week I do leave the area once when travelling by underground (MRT) to Chinatown for the vegetarian festival with my P’sao (Big Sister). I explain the challenge to her and she is happy to fit the bill. To be fair it was her who invited me, and with the tiny budget I had, the last thing I’d squander my pennies on is vegetarian food… So it was a cheap night out for me and it was a reminder of just how amazing Bangkok is; always alive and always exciting, regardless of how much money you have in your pocket. Festivals like this happen all the time in Bangkok and for me even people watching at local parks, or on street corners, is exciting enough. I love Bangkok, and most of what I love about it doesn’t come with a price tag. The people, the smiles, the bustle of big city life….
So after a week of living cheap in Bangkok; I can say that 300 Baht is the furthest we could go. Any further and we’ll be closing in on poverty. I would therefore take this week as a constant figure; 300 baht a day, for one month is 9,ooo Baht. The base figure for living in Bangkok. Regardless of where you live in the city; the street food will be the same, 7-11s and Tescos will be the same, the electricity, water and internet will be the same, taxis, transport… all the same. It’s when we look at other variables where the cost of living becomes skewed. While 9,000 Baht is the basic day-to-day living in Bangkok; the actual cost of living depends on too many other variables.
Living in Bangkok is cheap, but it is also expensive. There’s no exact answer to this. Any answer will depend on who you are, and what you desire in living and lifestyle. However, the real cost of living will generally depend on three influencing factors; the area you want to live, the lifestyle you want to lead, and the VISA your living on. All three can change the cost of living dramatically. If you plan to retire and live a simple life in the outskirts of the city then life can be cheap. If you want to mingle and be part of Bangkok’s big city social scene, then not so much. Add in hobbies? Interests? Travel and vacations? Medical conditions, health plans and insurance? While health care in Bangkok isn’t terribly expensive, it makes you value the ACA in the United States, or the UK’s NHS a bit more. The list is potentially endless and there is in no way a quick yes, or no answer will suffice.
For better analysis of living costs in Bangkok we have compiled a basic breakdown of expat expenditures. As everyone is different, with different comfort levels, and reason for being in Bangkok, we have taken lifestyle and varying budgets into consideration. From a basic living in retirement, to big city life and the so called ‘VIP’ lifestyle. Get the free eBook below and subscription to our quarterly lifestyle and travel newsletter in Bangkok and Asia.