How We Saved $21,000 in One Year Teaching English in China

We’ve received numerous comments on our website and lots of emails from people asking questions about our teaching jobs in China. How were we able to live comfortably in Yangzhou, China, while saving enough money to travel after working for a year?

When we say we saved $21,000 while teaching English in China, most people assume that we must have lived a very basic lifestyle. Not only did we live well, but we had great experiences, met amazing people and had wonderful students.

Oh, and did I mention we only worked 20 hours a week?

I figure it’s time to breakdown our lifestyle in China compared to how much money we earned (and spent) there.

These figures are all based on a couple’s salary and living expenses in China, and are in US Dollars.

*Note: If you need money sent to you while you’re living in China, check out this TransferWise Review and see if it’s right for you.

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Living Conditions

We like to think that we had a nice apartment. It was a pretty big corner unit (88 sq. meters), had lots of windows with a nice view, was newly built, had a private bedroom (instead of just being a studio suite) and it had a washing machine.

apartment in china
Our apartment in China when we first arrived

It was fully furnished as well. The apartment had a flat-screen tv, a bed with mattress (a very hard one), end tables, armoire/wardrobe, a futon couch, kitchen table with 4 chairs, some pots, pans, bowls, a kettle, rice maker, hot plate and…chopsticks!

Not too bad, right?

Monthly Breakdown:

Cost of apartment: $364/month (including monthly rental fee). The school covered $266 of this amount, meaning we spent $98 / month on rent.

Total spent: $98/month

Want to earn and save even more while living overseas and travelling? Check out our epic list of 101 Travel Jobs, learn how to find work, how much each job pays and what the work entails.


Our idea of entertainment may differ from that of other people. For us, our main form of joy was drinking red wine paired perfectly with aged cheddar!

bottles of red wine
This is our kind of entertainment! Our modest collection on the counter.

If we decided to go out, it wasn’t about the bars, we loved going out for dinners with a big group of friends.

We also would have parties at our house or get friends together to watch a UFC fight. In the summer, we had BBQ’s at our friend’s house as well as pool parties.

restaurants in china
A typical dinner out in China filled with great food and even greater friends

We went to karaoke, arcades, the movie theater and watched our friend play live music at different coffee houses.

Apart from going out for dinners (the cost of which I’ve included below in the “food” section, we enjoyed spending an afternoon in the park, having picnics, walking around the Old Town and riding our bikes.

arcades in china
Playing some basketball at the arcade on my birthday

Monthly Breakdown:

Bottle Of Imported Wine: $10

Watching live music with a drink: $5

Karaoke, Arcade or Movie Theater: $10 each

BBQ, Pool, Watching UFC, Park, Picnics = Free

Total Spent: About $50/month


Oh, how we miss Chinese food!

They may eat some seriously strange foods there, but there are so many other delicious meals as well. We ate dinner out at restaurants 3-4 times a week and typically made breakfast and lunch at home.

Our cupboards and refrigerator at home were stocked with western foods.

chinese dumplings
Yes, we ate a lot of dumplings, but not because they were cheap…we love them!

Even though the cost of the imported food at the supermarket was equivalent to what it would cost at home, it didn’t matter, we wanted good cheese, meat, coffee, chocolate and snacks!

We bought our produce from our favourite street-side vendors and it was always fresh and delicious.

And yes…we ate a lot of dumplings!

Monthly Breakdown:

A Month’s Worth Of Western Groceries: $325

A Bag Of Fresh Produce: $3

Meal At A Restaurant: $4-7 (each)

Meal At A Street side Vendor: $1

Total Spent: $571/month 


Although we did go on a lot of walks and chose to walk around whenever we could, we each bought ourselves a bicycle ($50) when we moved to Yangzhou and used that as our mode of transportation for a year.

riding bikes in china
Our sweet rides for the year

If we were going further outside of our neighbourhood, if it was raining, if it was cold, or if we were lazy, we wouldn’t hesitate to take a taxi.

Monthly Breakdown:

Taxi: $1-$3 / journey

Bus: $0.16

Total Cost: About $16/month

Nights Out At The Bar

We aren’t exactly crazy partiers like some of our friends in China, we rarely went out to the local bar, preferring to go to house parties or dinners which inevitably led to plenty of drinking.

bars in china
At the bar in Yangzhou, we went there only 4 times in the whole year!

Oddly enough, some of our most memorable (or should I say, barely memorable) nights happened while living in China. We partied if we felt like it, and stayed home and watched a movie if we didn’t.

Monthly Breakdown:

Cost of Beer At A Bar: $2.50

Cost of a Cocktail at a Bar: $5

Big Bottle Of Beer From A Shop: $0.36 (You can bring store-bought beers into restaurants and some bars!)

Since we rarely went out to the bar, and large bottles of beer only cost $0.36, our drinking costs during nights out were quite low.

Total Cost: $17/month


We had the best internet you could have in Yangzhou (which wasn’t saying much), we each had a cell phone on a pay-as-you-go talk & text plan. Plus, we paid for hot water, heat and air conditioning.

Monthly Breakdown:

Internet: $16/month

Phones: $8/month

Electric Bill: $50/month

Water Bill: $5/month

Total Cost: $79/month

Travelling Around China

We really wanted to go to Japan and Thailand while living in China, but since our holiday time is the same as the rest of China, the cost of flights was outrageous. We opted to spend our holidays closer to home.

We love Shanghai and travelled there numerous times. We had weekends away in Wuxi and in Nanjing. Plus, we spent a few days in Hangzhou and in Suzhou.

train station in zhenjiang
At the train station, ready to go to Suzhou!

With the great bus and train system in China, it was easy to get away for a couple of days.

Breakdown Of Travel Costs:

Fast Train to Shanghai: $13-$21 (per person, per way)

Bus to Train Station: $2.85

Bus to Surrounding Cities: $5

Hostel in Shanghai: $20/night

Total: Our travels outside of Yangzhou for the whole year cost about $800


I figure we spent about $500 total on random things throughout the year such as clothing, bottled water, toiletries and items for the house.

We also received a bonus at the end of our contract for $500 each. 

Yearly Breakdown Of Living Expenses

Accommodation: $1,176

Entertainment: $600

Food: $6,852

Transport: $192

Partying: $204

Utilities: $948

Travel/Vacation: $800

Miscellaneous: $500

Total Spent: $11,272

We earned $32,200 in the year and spent about $11,200, which means we saved $21,000 between the two of us!

Not only did we save a lot of money while living in China, we lived well during the year. We didn’t have to scrimp and scrape or be totally stingy with our money in order to save enough to travel after just one year of work.

This total doesn’t include the money we made from the blog, this is strictly income from teaching English.

We made a decision when we moved to China that we were going to save as much money as possible, without compromising our lifestyle, level of comfort or our experience of living in a new country.

living in china
Loving life in China!

Our goal was to have enough money at the end of the year to go on a backpacking adventure through Mongolia, Russia, Central Asia and Iran, and we’re fortunate to have been able to achieve that goal.

Teaching English is an excellent job for anyone who loves to travel and is interested in learning about new cultures. It’s also great if you want to save lots of money in a year while working minimal hours and having lots of free time!

For more information about a career in China, check out:

Is China Cheap? The Cost Of Living In China Revealed

Teaching English In China: Getting Started Frequently Asked Questions

Teaching English In China: FAQ’s About The Job

Have you ever taught English abroad? Were you able to save money as well? Share with us below!

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Teaching English In China- How To Save $21,000 In A Year

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Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 10 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel. Her advice about long-term travel, remote work, and location independence has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider and Forbes. Learn more about Dariece Swift on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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