lifestyle

Life on a budget: How salarymen and women make ends meet

32 Comments
By Philip Kendall

Whichever way you look at it, life in Japan is expensive.

As well as Japan’s food, drink and fuel ranking among the world’s most expensive, compared to many western countries, land in particular is sold at a premium, meaning that accommodation can be costly, and even those with enough capital to consider purchasing a car often abandon the idea when they realize that they cannot afford to buy or rent the necessary parking space.

CNN’s “World’s Most Expensive Places to Live 2012” placed Tokyo and Osaka first and third, respectively, and thanks to the strong yen and weak dollar/euro/everything, coming to live in Japan has never been more financially challenging.

With this in mind, budgeting expert Yoko Hanawa at Yahoo! Japan shares some ways in which Japan’s businessmen and women tackle everyday life in this tough financial climate, and introduces a few ideas of her own that are worth paying attention to.

According to a recent survey conducted by Shinsei Banking Corp, the average salaryman’s daily spending money is now almost half of what it was during Japan’s economic golden age in the 1990s, coming in at around $500 per month.

In many Japanese households, the wife is in charge of the finances, and doles out her husband’s “pocket money” that he must use for small, day-to-day expenses like lunch, snacks, drinks, cigarettes and the like.

According to the bank’s data, the average amount spent on lunch, social drinks, snacks and day-to-day necessities has fallen almost 50% in 20 years. While in the past, salarymen and women would duck in and out of taxis on a regular basis and dine out sometimes up to six times a month, the average city worker now treats themselves to an evening meal in a restaurant just once or twice every four weeks, and relies on the, thankfully, ever-punctual rail network to get around town.

As a man who spent the entire of 2011 as a full-time student living in Tokyo, I can say from personal experience that life on a budget here is tough. Rent, utility bills, groceries, a mobile phone and commuting costs soon add up, and at one point I was getting by on around 100,000 yen a month, so it’s a shame that Ms Hanawa’s sage advice hasn’t cropped up until now.

All the same, for those of you planning on moving to Tokyo, or simply interested in how the average city-dweller gets by, there are some genuine gems of info here, so listen up.

“The average businessman spent an impressive 746 yen on his weekday lunch in 1992, compared to just 500 yen today,” tells Hanawa. “As a result, today’s businessperson has to be incredibly frugal if they want to make their allowance stretch.”

While 746 yen might not sound like all that much, bear in mind that this amount would have been spent five or six days a week, and this figure is taken from the 1990s, at which point the yen was worth much more than it currently is.

It’s interesting to think that, with salarymen spending so little on their workday lunch, stores like Yoshinoya and Sukiya have, in the hope of improving sales, recently introduced new items to their menus that cost more than this amount. Will the average salaryman take to them, or simply stick to regular-old gyudon in an effort to save the pennies?

So how do people save money these days? Are they simply cutting the amount they spend on their lunch, much to the detriment of their health?

“Nowadays, people carry personal water bottles or tumblers,” comments Hanawa. “By doing so, they avoid the need to buy soft drinks from convenience stores and vending machines.”

Although vending machines are part of what makes Japan, and stories of machines selling everything from drinks to underwear have been told so often that they’ve seemingly become fact, it’s true that Japan has seen a sudden boom in personal drinks bottles, with a whole host of sizes and designs hitting store shelves in the last couple of years.

In addition to being marketed as “eco” and kinder to the environment than one-use plastic bottles, personal drinks bottles no doubt help cut small expenses, with the average bottled drink costing 120 yen.

According to the expert, while economising is essential in today’s society, it’s important that we judge how and when to save money, warning that the way we economise today will shape our life tomorrow.

“Lots of young people target their daily lunch allowance or try to control the amount they spend on going for social drinks with colleagues, but this could have an adverse effect on us. If we rely on nothing but cheap junk food every day, we put our health at risk. On the other hand, if we remain at our desks eating a meagre packed lunch while everyone else going out to eat or buy a snack, we risk cutting ourselves off from our peers and missing out on important information.”

So while we should be careful of how we spend our money, we should be equally focused on how budgetary cuts affect our social and work lives?

“Everything in moderation; have lunch out twice a week, bring a packed lunch the other days, but don’t be merciless since it will ultimately have a negative effect on your health.”

The lady makes a good point; after all, what’s the point of saving money every day if it means we wear ourselves down and get sick because we’re fuelling our bodies with little more than salt, carbohydrate and fat? And if we do get sick, who will show sympathy or pick up the slack at the office while we’re out when we no longer socialise with our workmates? It’s a vicious circle…

Some other tips that Hanawa has for readers include shaving unnecessary costs by removing additional services our mobile phone providers offer like call waiting or voicemail, or those additional “lifestyle” applications that we’re tempted to sign up for for just a couple of hundred yen a month. They all add up…

“Make use of store point cards,” advises the mistress of money. “If you frequently go to a convenience store, use their card; it’s free, and you rack up points that you can redeem later on things that you need.”

That last tip might be a little trickier than it sounds. While point cards are certainly very useful, and places like large electronics stores offer as much as 10% in loyalty points of the value of any item bought, it’s not unusual for everywhere from cafes to convenience stores to offer their own unique card, so keeping track of them all or finding the correct one in a stack of 20 can become something of a headache.

That said, the rewards with these cards are genuine, and it’s a great feeling to be able to say “I’ll pay for it with my points” every so often.

For all her sensible advice, though, Hanawa’s last few tips came as a bit of a surprise to this writer, as she paints a – shall we say “traditional” – image of the typical household, in which the man goes out to work while his wife stays at home with the child, buying expensive things with his money.

“The man alone shouldn’t bear the financial burden; while things like imported strollers, shoes and livingroom water dispensers look nice and convey the image of being well-off, they are often the cause of financial trouble.”

A living-room water dispenser? Does anyone have one of those? I must not have rich enough friends.

Source: Yahoo! Japan

© RocketNews24

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


32 Comments
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“World’s Most Expensive Places to Live 2012”

Most of these polls that say "most expensive places to live" are taken by business executives living their western lifestyle in Japan. Just research some of the questions and answers often given. In the poll a western businessman said he he usually spends 10,000 yen on dinner, buys 5000yen foreign magazines, and lives in a 300,000yen a month accommodations.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Yeah. Certain food is expensive, but you can get a meal at restaurant for 500yen. I saw this week on tv, a town 1hour drive from Sapporo, they were selling land at 1yen/m^2. That's incredibly cheap.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Whichever way you look at it, life in Japan is expensive.

This article is based on a false premise. If you're a tourist spending US dollars Japan might be expensive, or a fat-cat expat who insists on living within spitting distance of the Tokyo American Club. But the only way to make an accurate assessment of cost of living in any country is to calculate the costs of consumer durables, food items, etc. relative to the amount of labor a person must perform to purchase them, and in that regard Japan fares reasonably well. (I admit I haven't seen the most recent figures.) For example, it used to take a Japanese worker roughly one month's wages to purchase a 21" color TV set. Now that can be done with about one weeks's wages. And so on.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Maybe it is just me but I think that eating out in Japan is reasonable. The price on the menu is usually what your pay; no need to worry about tax and tip on top of it which can drastically change the price. Also, for drinkers, nomihodai also provides a good hour or 2 of bottomless drinks and some snacks. However, going out for lunch everyday seems silly to me. I would much rather bring a delicious homemade bento most days rather than going out to a crowded and rushed restaurant.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The company cafetria at my place of work is a little over 500 yen per meal, and my company pays for half. The menu isn't great, but they rotate about 10 different menus daily. If I get bored of the menu, I'll go out for lunch (maybe once a week)..... pretty good deal I think.

Also, I agree with sakurala; after being in Japan for a while, and then eating out in North America once in while now, the tax and tips feel ridiculous. Meals back home in Canada are never the price shown on the menu. Heck, even Starbucks and other coffee shops have a 'TIPS' jar at the counter where you go to get your drink YOURSELF.

I don't think basic food necessities in Japan are that expensive. It's when you start spoiling yourself when things get expensive. Same goes for lifestyle too, I think.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I think we live quite well on my average salary. It's easy to fritter money away on things you don't need, but with a bit of discipline you can save quite a bit.

Example savings: No car (save parking fees, tax, insurance, depreciation, fuel etc, at least Y500000+ per year). No juku (save Y20000+ per month). Cycle to work(commuting fees are zero). Drink green tea at work (free). Eat in the subsidised cafeteria (~Y400 a meal). No mobile phone for me, wife has the absolute cheapest plan, about Y1000 per month. No designer goods.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Japan isn't that expensive and indeed, the ranking are done by an expat lifestyle, not your every day Taro. It is easy to live rather cheaply here and save money.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Japan can be a exciting yet a very expensive place to live especially with regard to food and housing. However there are many myths about the cost of living in Japan. It's not where you live that matters but how you live that matters and maybe that's where innovation and creativity comes in finding ways to stretch your limited income as shared in this article. You have to develop a better understanding of how to get the most fun from your money. Quite simply you have to think about money in a analytic logical way which means living within your budget, setting realistic goals for minor and major purchases staying out of debt and last of all saving for a rainy day. As a result living in any large city especially like Tokyo loaded with some many nice goods can create a strong materialist orientation which in some cases can be associated with diminished life satisfaction, impaired self-esteem, dissatisfaction with friendships and leisure activities,and perhaps predisposition to depression. Therefore don't get to caught up and carried away with hyper-materialism to avoid not being able to prosper in a more healthy and safe way. How different life would be if we had access to immense stockpiles of Gold Bullion and vaults of sparkly diamonds.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

“The average businessman spent an impressive 746 yen on his weekday lunch in 1992, compared to just 500 yen today,”

I remember prices where much higher in 1992. A 100 yen teishoku back then was like a 500 yen one now.

Rent, utility bills, groceries, a mobile phone and commuting costs soon add up, and at one point I was getting by on around 100,000 yen a month

And you lived of less in New-York, London, Paris, etc ?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

“The average businessman spent an impressive 746 yen on his weekday lunch in 1992, compared to just 500 yen today,”

I remember prices where much higher in 1992. A 1000 yen teishoku back then was like a 500 yen one now.

Rent, utility bills, groceries, a mobile phone and commuting costs soon add up, and at one point I was getting by on around 100,000 yen a month

And you lived of less in New-York, London, Paris, etc ?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Water dispenser? I have one. They are cheap enough.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

For example, it used to take a Japanese worker roughly one month's wages to purchase a 21" color TV set. Now that can be done with about one weeks's wages. And so on.

You forget my friend, those bubble era prices included the wages of JAPANESE factory workers, not for some kids slaving away at a Sino-ASEAN sweatshop

1 ( +2 / -1 )

You forget my friend, those bubble era prices included the wages of JAPANESE factory workers, not for some kids slaving away at a Sino-ASEAN sweatshop

Exactly....for all the vilification, if China really does cease its exports, everything from shirts to TVs will shoot up in price and the world's economies will suffer the shock of rapidly escalating inflation and plunging purchasing power of their currencies. Not much difference to the uber-rich but the middle classes will take to the streets. Of course it's great if the middle classes in developed nations all return to making sneakers and assembling TV sets eventually.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

thanks to the strong yen and weak dollar/euro/everything, coming to live in Japan has never been more financially challenging.

So...this isn't really about life in Japan. It's about life for someone paid in dollars or euros who visits without changing his or her lifestyle.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I saw this week on tv, a town 1hour drive from Sapporo, they were selling land at 1yen/m^2. That's incredibly cheap.

1 yen per m/sq?! You sure about that? That's 50 bucks an acre. Must be pretty awful land.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

living room water dispenser aint expensive, and a good alternative to buying water. That said there is an argument about tap vs mineral water out there... I reckon everyone is better of with a brita...

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The average businessman spent an impressive 746 yen on his weekday lunch in 1992, compared to just 500 yen today

I am no economist (So please correct me if I am wrong) but I don't see any mention of inflation been taken into account. The deflation of Japanese Yen must not be ignored: taking the US dollar as a base, in Jan 1992, $1~125Yen, while now it is about 80Yen. So assuming the value of dollar hasn't changed (I agree it has) every yen today is 1.56 times the value of a yen in 1992. So 500Yen today is roughly equal to 781Yen in 1992. So this simplified argument shows that the average salary man spends roughly the same amount as 1992.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

How about using the 'Big Mac Index'? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Mac_Index this may help provide a more balanced cost to what it is compared to other countries and Japan? or Starbucks Tall latte index? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purchasing_power_parity#Starbucks_tall_latte_index

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

While 746 yen might not sound like all that much... this figure is taken from the 1990s, at which point the yen was worth much more than it currently is.

My argument above shows the exact opposite!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Easiest explanation I can say is this......BONUSES!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"weekday lunch... ( salarymen spend ) just 500 yen today"

Cripes, that's 300-500 yen short for the Indian restaurants' all-you-can-eat lunch buffets!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

While point cards are certainly very useful, and places like large electronics stores offer as much as 10% in loyalty points of the value of any item bought, it’s not unusual for everywhere from cafes to convenience stores to offer their own unique card, so keeping track of them all or finding the correct one in a stack of 20 can become something of a headache.

If, perhaps, you happen to be a particularly stupid chimpanzee, or some kind of mentally-challenged amoeba.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I got to ask, what so interesting or significant about them that they deserve all these creature comforts. It's all just ridiculous, and sad really to see this country let itself go like this.

Well, his grandmother owns a three-bedroom house close to the city, his parents own a four-bedroom in the outer suburbs and as an only child, he is going to get it all. Not only that but the woman he marries is in line for the same on her side.

Plus growing up, he has known nothing but air-conditioning and Nintendo. He has been indoctrinated into the idea of: go to University and work at the same place forever. He is in fact merely a number whose worth is derived by helping the company to get the tax breaks for employing him. His actual contribution is little more than nominal.

This is Japans Cultural Revolution. The old men fear the young, savvy breed coming through (dont get them started on the women) and will do what they can to step on any bright sparks that burn brighter than them.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

@NeoJamal

And add to twitter, FB, Blogs and AKB48, unproductively whiling idle hours posting on the soon-to-be-scratched comments section of obscure news sites...hawhaw...

True - too many pampered, self-absorbed, attention-impaired network gaming addicts chipping away at anemic service industry jobs. It seems the digital revolution is the culprit:

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/05/ff_nicholas_carr/

Unfortunately, they will be completely unprepared for the chronic economic malaise, which won't end till debt is deleveraged out of the system.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Whichever way you look at it, life in Japan is expensive.

Maybe you should put your glasses on and look around a bit more.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

CNN's "World's Most Expensive Places to Live 2012" placed Tokyo and Osaka first and third....As a man who spent the entire of 2011 as a full-time student living in Tokyo....All the same, for those of you planning on moving to Tokyo...

Yes yes, living in capital cities is expensive. Thank you.

Writing style aside, yes average disposable incomes are on the decline. One might note that the national economy also has been and will continue to do so.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Look I gotta set this straight. Me and the girlfriend have ate at restaurants a number of times in Japan. We have ate plenty of decent meals for less than 2000 yen. Meanwhile back here in Sydney we when went out for a meal in Darling Harbour, Sydney. We paid $75 which equates to something around 8000 yen. You wanna talk about expensive places to eat, you talk Sydney.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Lew....it's "have EATEN". Cripes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I just hope out poor beleaguered salaryman hero doesn't get the 761 yen in the picture. Thirsty and sweaty after yet another day in his under-air-conditioned setsuden office, at 9 PM he finally gets to leave work, and goes to the vending machine to get some refreshing cold tea... only to find that the machine rejects that old-style 500-yen coin!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Best way to save money is to buy/build a house/condo. I paid 5,715 per square meter per month when I was renting in Roppongi & now I pay about 1,556 on the place I own in Sendagaya.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Ranger Miffy, sounds like you don't speak Australian. Multisyllabic words are disfavored.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The main problem is that wages are far too low for the average person in Japan. The minimum hourly work rate in Japan works out to about the same as New Zealand where the cost of living is much cheaper than Japan.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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