Computer problems, an insane workload and a little bit of time on the road have put the blog on hold for a month. This post is the first of a few taboo topics about life in China. Opinions, yes. Insults, maybe. Apologies, never. Taboo topic #1 is money. Your money in particular. Let’s get started.
Fellow expat, you need an emergency fund. A real emergency fund, not 1,000 bucks. You are living on the other side of the world and shit can go sideways fast in China. This is not a lecture, just the cold hard facts on the ground. I know WAY TOO MANY expats who are living paycheck to paycheck. To be honest, there’s really no excuse for that. Extra money is easy to make in China for those willing to work for it. These hand-to-mouth expats waste untold quai drinking overpriced beers at foreign bars and eating in western restaurants twice a day. Then guess what happens…oh yeah, shit goes sideways because you live in China. It’s about this time that said expat comes hat in hand looking to be saved (and I almost never chip in because that’s money I will likely never see again. I can only think of two expat friends I’d float a loan).
Don’t let this sad situation happen to you. The worst part is that it is totally avoidable.
In order to keep yourself safe, you should maintain a certain amount of money that is easy to get at. Obviously, if you have kids or other financial responsibilities, you should add a decent amount of money to the emergency fund levels listed below. These numbers may seem high, but seriously people, shit can go completely sideways in China, much more so than people ever think about (like if you hurt someone by accident, you will be legally required to pay their medical bills kind of sideways).
Moving to China fund: 15,000 USD. Yeah, that’s right, 15k. Good news is you will already have your total emergency fund good to go. Or, you’ll have a big enough cushion to figure things out. Can you do it with less? Of course, but it’s risky. I moved to China with $10,000 and still needed to call home for money once. Embarrassing but true.
After Arrival Funds:
Go home tomorrow fund: 2,000 USD. Maybe you break, maybe war breaks out (stupid South China Sea whatnot). Who knows. Shit can go south right quick, you need to be able to jump on a plane tomorrow if needed. This is the bare minimum requirement. If you are below this, you are tempting fate – always a bad idea in China.
You can take this job and shove it fund: 6,000 USD. Chinese employers lie about working conditions often. Sometimes they try to cheat you out of your salary. Maybe you just hate your job. There is a tremendous amount of freedom in knowing you can tell your employer to kiss your foreign hind parts and walk out the door (right after you get your visa release paperwork). 6,000 USD should be enough to not care about your last paycheck, fly to Hong Kong a couple of times, rent a new shitty apartment (including your new deposit) and live for a month or two without a paycheck. 7,000 or 8,000 is probably better. If you plan on staying in the same city, you could get away with a little less. BONUS: If you eventually leave China, this money serves as your get started in a new place fund!
Because China fund: 4,000 USD. China should be the birthplace and rightful home of Murphy’s Law. Really, it should be called Ming’s Law or something similarly Chinese. There will be unexpected problems. They will cost you money. Why? Because China, that’s why. This fund is designed to not have those problems break the bank. The money for your screw this job fund and get the hell out of China fund should never be touched. This fund can be touched but make sure you top it back off after every expense.
Zhou, that’s way more money than I have in the bank. Is this really needed? If so, what can I do to get started?
Yes, it is. I’ve seen a few people crash and burn in China. It’s ugly and I don’t want that to be you. What can you do? Stop drinking in bars, taking taxis everywhere and eating at expensive restaurants. Start eating cheap Chinese food, buy ramen noodles, ride public transportation and don’t be afraid to drink in the park. You remember university life? Do that but with less pizza. Good news – the beer is a lot cheaper in China than at ol’ State U. With a couple of adjustments and a side job or two, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can save money in China.
Or don’t, keep living life on the edge and find out how rough China treats those without money. Just don’t ask me for help because I, like your Chinese friends, will have no pity for you. Welcome to life in China. It’s a dog eat dog world here in the Middle Kingdom.