Journals from China Studies Institute, Beijing
2012-10-21 Budgeting While in China
Going abroad can be very expensive. After an entire summer of saving up, many students spend all that they saved. In comparison to a lot of the other study abroad programs available, in my opinion, Beijing is the easiest to create a budget and stick to it. When signing up for this program, I was informed that I would need to pay for all of my food out of pocket. I had heard stories of previous students spending thousands of dollars for the semester for food. Chinese food here in Beijing is a lot cheaper than the Chinese food in America. On campus, food is government subsidized, so it is very affordable. Each student can get a meal card costing 40 yuan (a little less than $7). You can then put money onto the card, similar to Linfield’s cat cash. You can buy noodles or rice for lunch costing less than 10 yuan (less than $2). If I eat on campus and purchase items from the on-campus student store, I spend on average $6 a day on food, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Going out to restaurants is a little pricier but nothing compared to what we pay at restaurants in America. To get Chinese food at a restaurant in Beijing, you are looking at around 20 yuan (about $4) per dish. Many restaurants in Beijing are set up as family style, so you order multiple dishes between friends and split the cost, which tends to lower the price per person.
Every once in a while, I miss American food and there are a lot of Western style restaurants. American food is about the same price that you would pay in America. It sounds good but when you compare what you spend on Chinese food, it is a huge price difference. I usually spend 20 yuan per day on food. If I eat at a Western restaurant, I am likely to spend about 80yuan on one meal. Not all American food is expensive, however. Get to know the local restaurants and bars around the area and their happy hours and that can provide substantial savings. Many places have happy hours, where western food is fairly cheap. For all of those looking for an inexpensive burger, check out Steps in Wudaokou Mondays before 7:00pm. These burgers and fries are by far the best I have found in Beijing, costing only 15 yuan during happy hour.
Another way you can conserve money so you have more for shopping or traveling around China would be transportation. A lot of places in Beijing can be accessed by subway or bus. Due to the amount of traffic you run into on an everyday basis, it takes about the same amount of time as a taxi would. A taxi is cheaper than in the U.S but is a lot higher than taking the subway or bus.
The best advice I can give to someone thinking about studying in Beijing is to take advantage of the cheap Chinese food and cheap transportation. These savings add up over a semester and allow you to have more money for traveling. By the time I have finished this study abroad program, I will have spent less than $500 on shopping, transportation, sightseeing, and food in a three-month period. Allocating how much money you want to spend each week on food will make budgeting easier. Beijing is very affordable and you are able to get the most out of your money.