Expat Magazine

Being Frugal Isn’t All That Bad…

By Zach Zine @Int_In_Debt

Everyone wants to save money.  You save money to support you and/or your family.  You save money to pay off bills.   You save money for something you really want to spend it on.  You save money.  You spend money.  Maybe you blow money on useless materialistic things.  Good for you.  I, for one, am a little jealous.  Since I cannot do such a thing as often as I may like, I have become a pretty frugal person.   Obviously, this is not a cakewalk.  Especially when you are out of the house for 10+ hours a day.  But, it’s absolutely doable.

I’d like to share with you one of my routine weekdays to show you how I make it work, specifically in Taiwan.  However, many aspects can be applied anywhere around the world.

7:30 AM. EEHH, EEHH, EEHH, EEHH.  I spring from 180 to 90 degrees faster than lighting (in my mind) to the most treacherous and piercing god-awful noise ever created.  ”UGGGGHHHHHH!!!!” is the only noise I’m ever able to produce to this sound.  Snooze.  Five minutes later. Repeat.  I fight a mental battle with myself until I’m defeated by the thought of how lazy I am.   Soon I’m finding my balance as I zombie walk straight to the coffee machine.  ”I need to stop going to bed at 2am,” I tell myself every single morning.   I slowly pour a steamy, fragrant cup of the best thing on earth and pour the rest into my thermos for my next drowsy episode.  Like a mindless robot I pour my oats for breakfast and stumble to the mirror to begin getting ready for my day.

8:40 AM.  I’m running to my front door.  I stand in the doorway, quickly going through a checklist of everything I turned off and everything I have with me. I know I’m forgetting something.  I run back to the fridge and grab my dinner I packed from the night before.  I quickly shut the front door and hop my way to the elevator while putting on my shoes.

I watch as the floors slowly descend and position myself into a sprinting stance as the elevator doors open.  Resembling a fairly quick turtle,  I begin to run with my overstuffed backpack to my shuttle bus that’s getting ready to leave my complex toward an MRT station.  If we miss this, we’ll have to wait 30 minutes until the next, and we’ll be incredibly late to Chinese class.   Which means Zach (aka the most punctual man in the world) will murder me.  Luckily for me, we just make it.

10:30 AM.  We’re sitting in Chinese class and I begin to travel into a world of my own… “I can’t wait to go to work,” I think to myself.  Is my job really that great?  I mean it’s pretty awesome, but not worth a daydream.  No, at my work awaits my (semi-) hot, home cooked Taiwanese lunch.  This is absolutely worth my daydream…

3:30 PM.  My stomach is quickly making room for my next meal of the day: snack time.  I look forward to snack time just about as much as meal time, which is also provided by my school.   My first class is finished and as I hear the door of my classroom open, I get arguably more excited than my kids to see what today’s snack is.  Damnit, it’s croissants again.  I love bread, but I shouldn’t.  After a really difficult mental battle, I grab my wallet and run down to 7-eleven to grab some fruit and yogurt.  After fishing out $50NT ($1.70 USD), I put my receipt securely in my wallet and head to work.

6:30 PM.  My second class is finished and I head to the school’s kitchen where my packed dinner is stashed.  Within 10-15 minutes I finish my chickpea and vegetable salad (with some amazing cheese cubes that I focused on throughout) and head out of the building to my tutoring session.  I spare myself a somewhat embarrassing second trip to 7-eleven that I normally take because I packed my dinner today.  Otherwise, I’d be standing in front of the crockpot where the tea eggs lie, throwing  two into a bag for the first half of my dinner.

9:30 PM.  I’ve just finished my tutoring session and briskly walk to the bus stop, praying to the time gods that a bus will approach quickly so I can make it back to the 9:40 departing shuttle bus heading back to my complex.  Everything works out to my benefit and I sink back into a chair on the shuttle, dreaming of what the second part of my dinner may be, quickly trumped by a dream of what restaurants I can eat at this weekend.

12:30 AM.  After a little more food and coffee, Zach and I head to a nicely angled part of the large hill we live on for our workout of the day: sprints.

After writing this, I realized just how much I think about food.

Ok, you may have or have not noticed my daily frugal moments.  If not, let me walk you through them and add a few more details that weren’t applied to this day:

Saving anywhere in the world:

1.  Coffee.  I always make my own coffee.  Plus, I bring extra coffee with me to work so I don’t have to buy any.  Buying coffee every day seriously adds up.  My thermos is fantastic and keeps my coffee warm for 6+ hours.

2. Breakfast.  My stomach is on full throttle in the morning, so I have to eat as soon as I wake up.  Therefore, I always keep breakfast food at home.  Plus, eating within 30 minutes of waking up revs up your metabolism for the day.

3. Lunch.  I’m very lucky that my work allows me to eat the kids lunch.  That means free lunch every day.  Hello, how could you NOT take  advantage of that?  However, in college I always had a big grocery bag filled with two snacks and a lunch.  It sounds ridiculous, but you get used to it.

4. Snacks.  Once again, my job is great and I’m allowed to eat what the school provides as a snack to my kids.  However, my metabolism is no longer as quick as a seven year old and I can’t eat their croissants daily.  Instead, I run down for my healthier option, which costs less than $2 USD.

5. Dinner.  As you can see by my schedule, I’m too busy to make dinner at home every night unless I eat a big meal very late, in which case I’d be pretty irritable that I had to wait that long to eat dinner.  ’Hangry,’ it’s a real thing.  I usually make a salad or cook up some salmon or other fish that I can throw into a tupperware container to take along with me to work.  I throw it into the fridge and down it before I head to my tutoring jobs.  If I don’t have the time to prepare dinners beforehand, I’ll stop at 7-eleven to grab two tea eggs (hard-boiled eggs soaked in tea and soy sauce, which are delightful) that hold me over until I can eat more at home.  They’re priced at NT$8 a piece, making two $0.50 USD.

6. Public Transportation.  If you have it near you, PLEASE take advantage.  It’s SO much better than driving.  Sure, it’s not as convenient time wise, but it reaps other benefits.  I know most are probably tired of hearing this, but it’s obviously much better for the environment.  Everyone traveling in their own separate car to similar destinations is not the answer.  Either carpool, or, better yet, take public transportation.   This is my downtime.  I crack open a book, write, or get some work done.  During this time, I actually have free time.  I don’t have to stress about traffic whatsoever.  I have no control over the train.  I simply sit back and either be productive or let my mind wander.  It’s best to avoid driving or spending money on a cab, unless necessary.

7. Bicycles.  No, it’s not just a hipster thing, it’s a practical and healthy thing.  It’s even smarter than public transportation because it costs you nothing after you have the bike!  Just jump on your bike, with no waiting time necessary, and get to your destination with a bit of a workout.

8. Restaurants.  This is a hard rule to follow strictly, but I try to only let myself eat out at restaurants on the weekends.  It’s truly something to look forward to and really appreciate.

9. Workouts.  Exercising outdoors is great because it’s free!  And it just feels damn good to be breathing in fresh air while burning some calories.  If you’re in Taiwan, there’s also the cheap option of the government gyms – *see below.

10.  Smart Phones.  We don’t own them here.  We did in the U.S., and we lost them while here.  Honestly, since living in Taiwan, we’ve seen the ridiculous behavior smart phones encourage and are kind of glad to not be a part of it.  Sure, it would be nice to have Google Maps available every time we are lost, but generations have survived just fine by simply talking to and inquiring in one another.  Plus, it can be fun and adventurous to get lost here.  It’s nice to just sit back and laugh to yourself about the hundreds of people surrounding you with their heads fixed downward, missing out on life passing by.

In Taiwan:

1. Receipts.  In Taiwan, each receipt you obtain is a lottery ticket.  The lottery takes place every two months.  You can win from as little as NT$200 ($6 USD) to NT$10 million ($340,000 USD).  So, obviously, we take the time to check all of our receipts every couple of months and we have always had some sort of luck with it.

2. 7-eleven.  It’s the jack of all trades.  It’s the ultimate convenience store, much better here in comparison to any chain in the US.  Here, you can pay your bills, eat any meal of the day (delivered fairly fresh on a daily basis, depending on your purchase), purchase train tickets, use the ATM, get coffee, and many other great amenities.  It’s nearly impossible to not take advantage of this place, as there is a chain every five feet, similar to Starbucks in the States.

3. Workouts.  When the weather isn’t suitable for an outdoor exercise or we want to use equipment, we head to the government owned gyms here in Taipei City.  They are only NT$50 ($1.70 USD) for one hour.  They’re pretty crowded, but cheap and no commitment required.

4. Night Markets and Food Stands.  These are the cheapest places to purchase tasty food.  In Taipei City, there are night markets in basically every district carrying a large variety of cheap, delicious food.  (Read our sensory description of Raohe Night Market to get the full experience.)

By planning ahead a little, you can save yourself not only a few bucks but also some decision time each day.  By putting yourself in this routine, it becomes natural and your saving becomes noticeable as the days become weeks and weeks become months, and so on.  Sure, I carry around a lot of crap every day, but in my eyes it’s worth it.  Plus, my shoulders are looking nicer.


How do you manage your daily savings?  Please share below!

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