25 Quick Tips for Saving Money Living in Japan

Posted On August 31, 2020

It can be hard saving money in any country let alone Japan.  Though it has a reputation of being super expensive, living in Japan can be wonderful.  You are in a beautiful country with a completely different culture, customs, cuisine, and a long, film-worthy history.

It can be a lot of fun to explore different areas around town, try out some of that delicious Japanese food, and get to know Japan more intimately.  But all this wonderful exploration isn’t free.  And it comes at a significant cost to your wallet.

The good news is Japan is not as expensive as everyone always makes it out to be.  If you are just a bit more conscious of your spending, I’m sure living in Japan can be way less expensive than living back home.  It is for me and it can be for you too.  Here’s how:

Number 1.) Don’t eat out.

       Number 2.) Don’t eat out.

              And Number 3.) Don’t take the train.

Lol ok, jokes aside, here are some good tips and tricks I have picked up from living in Japan.  If you have some good insider tips of your own, let me know by leaving a comment below or hit me up on our Facebook page!

Tips & Tricks for Saving Money in Japan

  1. Buy food that is in season – Food that is in season will always be cheaper than those that aren’t.
  2. Shop after 6pm – Most supermarkets will put food on sale then.  In the veggie and fruit section look for a little cart on the side.  This is where they usually keep them.
  3. Find out when sale day is at your local supermarket. This is usually the day when new stock comes in. They want to move product fast so they usually have a big sale. For me, it’s Tuesday. So I only buy groceries on Tuesdays and most things are 100 yen or less.
  4. Point Cards are your friend. – Might as well rack up some points at your local grocer since you will be going there often enough. Some markets also offer special bonus point days. Make note of these.
  5. Shop in your local Shotengai (商店街), or Main Street – They usually have small family-run markets with cheap produce, fruit, and even fresh fish.
  6. Random Pop-up Veggie Stand – If you see a random, pop up fruit/veggie stand with nothing else around it, stop.  You are bound to get a bargain straight from the farmer’s field!
  7. Walk or Bike. Don’t take the train. – It’s well known that taking the train in Japan is very expensive. So when you can, opt to walk or ride your bike.  Saving on train fare really adds up quickly.
  8. Set a limit on eating out. – For me, I have a rule of not eating out more than once a week. Sure I break it every now and then (You never want to be too strict) but overall it saves me loads of money.
  9. Set a money limit when going out. – If you are the type to live it up, you may want to consider setting a going out budget before you leave your house. You don’t wanna end up blaming your negative bank account on the Goose!
  10. Only carry enough cash for the day – That way there is a limit to what you can spend.  If a sudden event pops up, you’ll have to determine whether it’s worth it to go all the way to the bank to take out more money or if it’s simply ちょうめんどうくさい.
  11. Looking for an Apartment: Go to a local agency in the neighborhood you want to live in and tell the agent you don’t want to pay key money. Saves thousands of dollars! UR housing I believe also does no key money but they tend to be a bit far from the station. There are also some sites geared towards foreigners that help do this as well.
  12. Get a Roommate / Live in a Sharehouse – Of course, you can save a grip just be getting a Roomie but another option, if you don’t mind, is living in a Sharehouse. I’ve heard of them going as low as 25,000 yen a month but they can also get pretty pricey so you may have to look around.
  13.  Cash in with an ETC – If you drive, having an ETC card not only grants you access to the fast pass lanes but also gives you discounts on tolls. *To get an ETC card you may need a Japanese credit card. To get one, go to a mall or store that is really pushing their credit cards. These places will help you say the right things to get your application approved.
  14. Discount Train Tickets – This may only save you a few dollars here and there but they really add up.   Look for a discount ticket counter near any major station.
  15.  Join Buy Nothing or もったいないgroups on Facebook to see what things people are giving away for free.  Also, check out Sayonara Sales pages too!
  16. 100 yen stores – One cannot forget the Hyakuen Shop. They literally have everything.  Before you buy anything from an expensive department store, check here first.
  17. Don’t Buy a New Phone – Use your old phone and then just pay for unlimited pocket wifi that you can use for your phone and at home too. If you really need that Japanese number, try purchasing one on Skype or just get a cheap phone that you have to top up when you run out of minutes.
  18. Shop around for perks when buying big-ticket items. I got $150 for signing up for my pocket wifi. I then used that to buy things for free for my apartment.
  19. Borrow a truck for free from Kohnan! – When you purchase anything from Kohnan they will lend their truck to you if it’s available. There is a time limit of maybe an hour or two but I have found that you don’t really get in trouble for being a wee bit late. I did this to pick up a fridge and other big items for a Sayonara Sale.
  20. Shop Secondhand – Now I know this won’t be for everyone but shopping at Second Street or other thrift stores can save you on cash. They usually have good quality items and sometimes they are even brand new, never used! You can find everything from washing machines to shoes to luggage at these places.
  21.  Karaoke –If you notice a guy standing outside of Jankara or Rainbow, that’s your man! He’s the guy that can get you a discount on your karaoke session. Don’t be shy. Go talk to him.
  22.  Clubbing – If you like to part-tay, be sure to hit up the promoters that are usually hanging out around your fave party spot. They can get you in on a discount!
  23. Get Cultural – Go to your local ward office to find cheap activities and clubs you can join to stay active and be social. Also, meeting the locals is a plus especially local Mamas as they will know where to get all the bargains.
  24.  Don’t use your AC in the winter, use a Kotatsu! – If you don’t know what a kotatsu is, you have been missing out on life. It is a Godsend and will help you pull through winter without an outrages electricity bill. I once used my AC while I was living in the inaka and my electricity bill was $200! Never again! To be fair it was an old AC unit so that could’ve been why but still, just use the kotatsu. It’s worth it.
  25. Health Insurance and City Tax are Negotiable – If you ever quit your job or are let go, head over to the ward office and let them know! They can lower your payments or break them up in more manageable chunks. Also, you can have your pension payments temporarily stopped.

All in All

Don’t believe the hype.  Japan is not an expensive place to live if you play your cards right.  You are in control.  Living in Japan can be as expensive as you want it to be.  Take some time to be more conscious of what you are doing with your money.  Give these few tips a try and see if it can help you save some coins while you are here in Japan.  Let ya girl know how it goes!

This article was originally published on The Sista Fund.

Written by Chinyere Okoli

Chinyere, aka Chi, is a speaker, writer, and personal finance coach who is obsessed with saving money and building wealth. She is the founder of The Sista Fund, a website dedicated to helping women achieve financial independence and live the life of their dreams. She believes everyone has the right to live life on their own terms and that now is the time to take action!

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