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This is about how I live well on $1200 per month. It doesn’t have to be super difficult. Although it does help to be in a good area and have a frugal can-do mindset.
I get a lot questions every now and then from people about how I’m able to live on such a small income. Short answer? Location matters a lot. You want to be in a location that has a low cost of living. Although you don’t want to choose someplace solely for its ultra-low cost of living. Doing that is a recipe for disaster in the form of being bored out of your mind in a place where there is nothing to do.
Nobody wants that! I don’t want it either.
Right now I live in an area near Bangkok, Thailand. Two common things come to people’s minds when they think of Thailand: gorgeous beaches with huge limestone rocks in the background (those are Thailand’s southern islands) or they think of the crazy Thailand scenes they saw in The Hangover 2.
Well, my living situation doesn’t involve either of those things. Bummer, since I really did want to meet Zach Galifianakis! My living area does suffice, though!
I ended up in Thailand back almost a year ago when I moved abroad to teach English here. I’ve been teaching at a private school in an area near Bangkok and have been loving it. I’m the only male Kindergarten teacher in the whole school and one of the few in the entire school’s history!
My salary for the job is 43,000 baht per month. Per current exchange rates as of this writing, that comes out to about $1,223 USD per month. Crap. Poor right? Not really.
Thailand is known for having a low cost of living. The Bangkok area and South can get pricey since they are where hoards of tourists go but places up North like the popular digital nomad city of Chiang Mai has a really nice low cost of living.
Let’s break down where my monthly salary goes.
Rent (5,500 baht)
I don’t need something super upscale for living. As long as the place doesn’t have a bug problem or crazy people, then I’m good. The apartment complex I live in is kind of dated. The walls are bland and a little dirty. There is no pool or gym or any fully staffed office. I live in a 400 square foot one bedroom apartment. The rent is 5,500 baht ($156.43 USD) per month.
There are definitely higher end options. Several other teachers at the school live in a more modern apartment complex with a pool, gym, and rooms with modern looks and appliances. However, it does come with a cost. They pay between 9000 to 12000 ($256-341 USD) baht for their apartments.
Utilities (1,350 baht)
My electric bill costs around 650 baht per month, give or take. Internet (15 mbps download/1.5 mbps upload) costs 650 per month. The speed is enough to stream things like YouTube and Netflix with ease. My water bill, and this is the one I really love, is only about 50 baht per month! Some months it’s higher, like one time when it was 80 baht, but most of the time it’s lower. I can’t believe the water bill is so cheap!
Food (8,500 baht)
If you’re ever keen on visiting Thailand, you’ll probably hear how it’s best to avoid western food and focus having most of your meals be local food. It’s because the local food is way cheaper. You can get street cart dishes for around 40-60 baht. The area I live in doesn’t have an abundance of street cart food as Bangkok does so many of my meals come from the mall or a nearby market. Every now and then I do like to buy some Subway or other western food. I like Pad Thai and other Thai dishes but sometimes I just need something familiar and more filling (since the Thai dish servings are small).
A minor problem I have is that there is no kitchen in my apartment. There is a kitchen sink off in one corner of the living room. That’s it. There is no stove, no microwave, and no dishwasher. Not even a countertop. Just a kitchen sink with a small part next to it to put sponges and stuff.
This isn’t too big of a deal since I, and many Thai people eat out for many of their meals. Since I’m a single person, it’s cheaper to eat out than try to cook myself. I can usually get breakfast stuff for under 40 baht ($1.14 USD) and lunch and dinner stuff for under 100 baht ($2.84 USD). I don’t even have my refrigerator plugged in! If I ever need a cold drink all I have to do is run down to the first floor outside where the Family Mart is.
Cell phone (420 baht)
It’s common to get data only cell phone packages. Since many of the people here communicate via the Line App for text messages and calling, all you really need is a good size data package. I pay 420 baht per month for 4.5 GB of 4G data. Way cheaper than the average American cell phone bill. I love it!
Gym (1,500 baht)
Gyms are pricey here! Not sure why. My $20 former Planet Fitness membership is small compared to what I’m paying now, which is around $43 USD. Eh, it’s not ideal but I’m okay with it. I’m one of those people who does use their membership. So at least I’m not wasting the membership away!
Miscellaneous (3,730 baht)
This is mainly reserved for any weekend travel but it’s used for other things. Every so often, I buy pencils, poster boards, and other office supplies when making educational materials for my class. This category also includes my laundry service which is around 400 baht per month.
A cool thing in Thailand is they have these laundromat services where you drop off your clothes in the early morning and pick them up in the afternoon. These laundry service places will wash, dry, and fold all your clothes for you. It only costs around 100 baht to get it done every week! No having to fold clothes and remembering to do laundry!
Wednesdays is discount movie day and movie showtimes are only 100 baht ($2.84 USD). When I go, I try not to get popcorn and a drink but I sometimes end up caving and getting it anyway.
Almost all of the foreign English teachers, myself included, don’t have cars. We usually use a mix of public transportation and taxis to get around. I can hop on the BTS Skytrain and take a 37-minute ride into downtown Bangkok for only 84 baht.
Grand total: 21,000 baht total expenses ($597 USD)
Savings: 22,000 baht ($626 USD)
Total salary: 43,000 baht ($1,223 USD)
This budget isn’t set in stone. Like all budgets, it fluctuates but I try to keep it tame. I’m able to save a good portion of my paycheck every month and I’m happy about that. Sometimes I do tutoring to make extra money (usually between $350-600 extra per month) but at the moment I’m not doing it. So this is how I live on a roughly $1,200 USD per month income. Let me know if you have any questions!