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Many expats that come to live in Thailand have a smaller budget that they would like, and so need to making savings in many areas of their lives. When moving to a new country, this may be more difficult than back home, as you will not know the place well enough to know how to actually make these savings. So, if you’re on a budget, this section is for you. If you’re not on a budget, this section may also save you some money that you could put to better use.
One of the major costs for most people is accommodation, and this is one thing that you can really save on in Thailand. For a start, even the best accommodation in the major cities is much cheaper than back home. And secondly, there is an astounding amount of much cheaper accommodation available. So, you have ample opportunity to save money here. The average wage in Thailand is around 25,000-30,000 baht a month, so if that is also your budget, you’ll be able to live just like the average Thai. A sales assistant or waitress in Bangkok may only earn 8,000 baht a month, and they still manage to live a decent life. So if they can do it, so can you.
The main ways to cut down on accommodation expenses are to live in smaller towns and to live further away from the center. While a 1-bed condo may cost 25,000 baht per month in the Sukhumvit or Silom areas of Bangkok, it might only cost 10,000 baht per month in On Nut, or further out. In Chiang Mai it may cost 10,000 baht per month, and in Ubon Ratchathani it may cost 5,000 baht per month. Take all these things into account before opting for the first condo you like the look of. Saving 15,000 baht per month on accommodation costs means you have 15,000 baht extra to spend elsewhere. this could be the difference between having a good time and having a great time.
When you rent a condo in Thailand, you’ll usually pay the electricity and water bills directly to the utility companies. But there are some buildings that charge you separately for these, and these charges are always higher. In effect they’re charging anything up to 100% extra. So be very wary about renting a condo where you don’t pay these charges directly. A 2,000-baht electricity bill could turn into a 3,000-4,000-baht bill because the owner has added their own charges on top.
It’s hot in Thailand, and most expats like to use aircon. But aircon is expensive, so you could consider using a fan instead. It is vastly cheaper to run a fan than to run aircon, and this is what most Thais do. You will also get acclimatized much more quickly if you do this, and so won’t feel the need to cool down so much.
You can purchase 18.9-liter bottles of drinking water from companies such as Sprinkle for under 70 baht ($2.35, £1.55). And that includes delivery to your condo. The office at your condo may have arrangements with other companies to deliver water on a weekly basis, so check with them. This will save a large amount of money compared to buying smaller bottles of drinking water at the supermarket or 7-Eleven. See sprinkle-th.com for further details.
Some expats spend a large proportion of their budget on alcohol, and while alcohol is cheaper here it soon adds up if you drink a few times a week. Avoid alcohol, and you will save a small fortune, as well as helping you stay healthier. If you still want to drink, consider setting a budget just for that and sticking to it. Maybe just have one day a week where you drink. There is so much to see and do in Thailand, that time spent drinking can seem like wasted time.
You can save on food by doing as the locals do – eat street food, and shop at local markets. Shopping for a large bag of vegetables at a local market in Bangkok costs me around 100-150 baht. Buying the same food at the local supermarket a few hundred meters away costs about 400-500 baht. You can easily save 300 baht three times a week, which adds up to almost 4,000 baht per month in savings. It’s the same with eating out – you can get a decent meal at a street stall for 30-40 baht, or eat in a Western restaurant for 150-250 baht.
You also save money if you stick to local food instead of imported food. A bag of local fruit may cost 30-40 baht, while a bag of imported fruit might cost 100-200 baht. And the local produce is much fresher, usually coming directly from farm to market every day.
If you’re coming to check Thailand out for a few months before deciding whether to make it your home, then come during low season, as flights and accommodation will be cheaper.
Using local transport will also save you money. The locals catch baht buses for 5 or 10 baht a time, and also use motorbike taxis, that cost around 10 baht. Steer clear of tuk tuks, as these are mostly aimed at tourists and cost much more. Also consider walking more. Walking saves you money, and keeps you healthy. And as a bonus, you’ll get to know the local area much more quickly.
There’s no need to tip at local restaurants. Thais don’t do it, and neither should you.
Open a Thai bank account, as the withdrawal charges will be much lower than using a card from your home country. Most banks levy a fee of 150 baht ($5, £3) for withdrawals using foreign ATM cards. If you don’t have a Thai bank account for some reason, then withdraw larger amounts so that you only pay the 150 baht fee once a month instead of every couple of days. If you’re from the USA, then consider opening a Charles Schwab account, as I understand that they refund all overseas withdrawal fees.
Avoid tourist traps. Locals don’t shop at tourist places, and neither should you. You probably don’t shop at the tourist places back home, so why should you here?
Finally, you can consider earning some extra money by working. See the Working in Thailand section for some ideas. It’s sometimes easier to earn more money than to cut back on existing spending. It also makes life more enjoyable if you have more money to spend.