As university students, especially in a country with high living costs as Japan, money management seems to be a daunting task but an essential skill that everyone needs to have. Using money wisely is a golden key to ensure that you have a fulfilling university life without being constantly anxious about overwhelming bills at the end of every month. You are not alone in this challenging journey to gain financial management skills and build self-responsibility, as we are here beside you.
Step 1: Sketch out your monthly budget plan for an overall view
You should start with figuring out costs to accommodate your daily needs, and prioritize their importance. Costs that you should pay most attention to are essential costs that you have to spend every month, such as rent, food, utilities, transportation, mobile phone, national insurance etc. Then, take a look at miscellaneous costs that are based on your personal lifestyle and can be adjusted, such as shopping, entertainment, dining out, etc. At the beginning of each semester, when registering for classes, make sure to calculate costs for textbooks and stationeries as well.
You can also look for cheap accommodation options rather than renting an apartment alone, such as living in a dormitory/ a share house or sharing an apartment with a friend.
Example: Breakdown of itemized monthly spending (excluding academic fees) (national average)
- Rent: 31,000 JPY
- Food: 25,000 JPY
- Utilities: 7,000 JPY (including gas, water, electricity, Internet)
- Mobile phone: 2,500 JPY
- Insurance and medical: 2,000 JPY
- Hobby and entertainment: 6,000 JPY
- Miscellaneous: 7,000
- Communication expenses: 4,000 JPY
=Total: 84,500 JPY
(Source: 2017-2018 Student Guide to Japan – Japan Student Services Organization)
Step 2: Download budget management apps
In order to keep track of your cash flow, get your hands on apps such as Toshl Finance, Check and Left to Spend. By having a visual overview of where your money is going, you will be able to resist making impulsive purchases and develop a habit of saving little by little every month.
You can also check out what other apps we recommend in this article.
Step 3: Find a part-time job
If you would like to earn a bit of extra cash to ease the financial burden, you should consider getting a part-time job. Common jobs that students often have in Japan are waiters/waitresses in restaurants or cafes and staff in convenience stores/supermarkets. Hourly wage depends on the area that you live, but the national average is 900 JPY.
Another option is to become tutors teaching at cram schools or hold private lessons. As you are an international student who can speak English, you will have a higher chance to find these kind of jobs that utilize your language proficiency. The hourly wage tends to be high, from 2000 to 3000 JPY and you can work at flexible hours as long as you can match with students’ schedule. Other freelance jobs like writing blog entries, translating, etc. also offer a good pay but are a bit few and far between.
Remember that you can only work for a maximum number of 28 hours weekly as an international student, so you should balance work and study well.
Step 4: Pay attention to small purchases and cut down on unnecessary spending
While sparing yourself of the trouble to cook dinner by eating out, or allowing yourself to go on a shopping spree every weekend seems to be an easy option, it might make your wallet significantly thinner in a blink of an eye.
To prevent this scenario, buying groceries at a local supermarket and cooking at home regularly will help you cut down a lot compared to eating at restaurants or buying conbini (convenience store) food every day. You will become much healthier and confident with your cooking skills as well.
You can also shop for used furniture, clothes, etc. and sell your old ones online via Amazon or Facebook groups, in second-hand stores, such as the BOOKOFF chain, Treasure Factory, Daikokuya, etc. or at weekend flea markets.
Step 5: Show that powerful student ID card out!
Always remember to bring your student ID with you as there are stores, restaurants, museums and other public facilities that offer special deals to university students (called 学割/ gakuwari). This can range from saving a few hundred yen on a meal, having 10-20% percent slashed from your purchase bill or getting free entrance to an exhibition in town. Furthermore, you should pay attention to businesses around your campus to check out on services or products offered at a lower rate than usual.
Step 6: Seek free entertainment and take advantage of university amenities or events
Your tuition fees already cover a wide range of facilities on campus, such as the library, gym, counseling center – so you should visit them regularly. Universities also tend to have special exhibitions, guest speakers’ events, movie screenings, etc. with free admission.
Outside of campus, there are also sources of entertainment and creativity you can seek for free or with low cost. Strolling in a local park, visiting open art galleries, renting a movie to watch at home, hosting a small house party with dormitory friends are ways to keep your weekend fun without having to break the bank.
Living in Japan as an international student is no easy task, especially when you have a tight budget and a lot of plans in mind that need money. However, with smart financial strategies under your belt, you will be able to enjoy a fun and sustainable lifestyle while being well-prepared for the future.