11 Tips to Help You Survive On 78¢ A Day


Michael's imaginary moneyAfter a two-week stay in the United States I returned to China intending to travel for the duration of February. However, on February 11th when I arrived in Beijing panic set in: I was nearly out of money! You see, being an “expert mistake-maker” means that budgeting and responsibility aren’t my strong suit. But if you, dear readers, are able to plan, save, and resist impulse buys: you’re my hero!

On February 15th, two weeks before payday, I left Beijing with all the money I had in the world: $11 or ¥75. That breaks down to roughly ¥5 or 78¢ a day.


  1. Take stock of every thing you have that can be safely ingested. Food. Spices. Condiments. Petroleum jelly. Whatever.
  2. Plan all meals. I don’t like math, but this helped me: (how much food you have + minimum necessary/day) X (number of days ’til payday) = how much food you need.
  3. Shop smart. Noodles and rice are always cheap (and filling). Add fresh fruits and veggies from the local market. I purchased a few different types of ramen and added fresh vegetables and spices. Hot, nutritious, and filling! I also perfected homemade hash browns!
  4. Only buy essentials. Alcohol, cigarettes, and Justin Timberlake’s Suit & Tie are not essential.
  5. Learn to cook. If you don’t know how to cook: you will die.
  6. Be on survival mode. Maybe for dinner you’re cooking a cup of rice with a crushed clove of garlic. The goal is to continue eating the minimums until you can afford the Kobe beef you really want.
  7. Don’t go out to eat. The only exception is when someone else is picking up the tab or cooking for you.
  8. Plan for the worst. Hope for the best and HAVE FAITH. On four separate occasions perfect strangers invited me into their home to share a meal. As I’ve mentioned: the Chinese are gracious and hospitable.
  9. Conserve energy. Don’t expel energy you don’t have. Hibernate for a bit.
  10. Don’t lose hope. Keep your eye on payday. Its getting closer every second…

On payday I had ¥14* remaining AND I was still alive!

Good luck with your poor financial choices, friends!

* = Had I not eaten a McChicken or taken two cabs: ¥50 ($8.05).

PS… In case you’re curious here’s the Cost of Living Comparison Between China and United States via Numbeo.

2 thoughts on “11 Tips to Help You Survive On 78¢ A Day

  1. Rebecca says:

    Alcohol and cigarettes might not be necessary expenses, but JT’s Suit and Tie is a life or death purchase. You chose life, my friend.

    All kidding aside, pretty impressive. Makes NTC per diem sound like Scrooge McDuck when he’s diving in the lake of gold coins in the intro to ducktales (woooo-ooh!). When I tell people What my tax-able income was from last year, they freak out about how I could have possibly lived. They don’t understand the value of pocket change!

  2. Michael says:

    I filed an extension in January and plan on doing my taxes this summer. I genuinely have no idea what those figures will look like…

    The cost of living is cheaper in China, but their dollar is weaker. For instance my dinner cost ¥28: 40 dumplings, 1200ml beer. Or $4.48.

What do you think?