10 Ways to Save Money in China

Over the past decade, China’s steady road towards modernization has improved social welfare, hence a higher cost of living. As we take a closer look at the detrimental effects of COVID-19, it is evident that many people have struggled to stay afloat-especially expats. Some lost their jobs, some saw their businesses losing money, and some ate through their savings. Despite this once-in-a lifetime “roadblock,” there are still ways you can be smart about your money. From adopting new income streams to maximizing your (cheaper) online shopping experience, here are 10 ways to save money in China.


Trains in China have been improving rapidly, becoming more accessible, reliable and time-saving. Whether you are traveling across provinces or cities, China boasts the highest number of metro systems globally. Dongguan itself has one main underground line with 15 stations, running between Shilong and Humen, and another one in the making. For inter-city travel, other than railways, learning the bus routes can be incredibly beneficial.

If you have a daily destination, such as from your house to the workplace, it is important to check out the bus system via the Maps app. It will quickly show you the number of stops between two locations, the closest bus stations, and the number of minutes it may take for you to arrive. Another convenient option is bike-sharing with Hellobike (Alibaba), Meituan Bike (Meituan Delivery) and Qingju Bike (DiDi). By scanning the QR code, the bike unlocks, and the timer starts. For each bike company, it is roughly 1.5 RMB for 30 minutes.


Going home with empty pockets after a night out is certainly not the best way to wrap up the weekend. In many local restaurants, prices drop for certain foods or drinks during specific days or timespans. So, to lessen your money burdens, ask the waiter about special promotions. Customers should also learn about the happy hours at their favorite bars, where drinks become much cheaper. With the help of apps like Meituan Delivery, you can find promotions or special deals from local restaurants or bars. There may be unlimited cocktails for a one-time fee or a discounted set meal… Overall, promotions can be a lifesaver for anyone that likes to dine and drink out.


When COVID-19 hit, consumers learned to ditch the old “window shopping” behavior, limiting social interactions in public places like the mall. Instead, consumers decided to turn their attention to the most convenient alternative: online shopping apps such as Taobao or JD.com. Not only are these products cheaper, but you can save time and find your desired products immediately through the search engine. Online marketplaces have since become a leading source of consumerism. Other second-hand apps, most notably Alibaba’s Xianyu, have been the perfect consumer-to consumer marketplace to sell used items. With a few extra RMBs in your pocket, this will definitely help you ease the burden of some expenses, such as groceries or household utilities.


Similar to Black Fridays or Cyber Mondays, Chinese shopping festivals can be a thrilling and money-saving loophole. The big sales start in January and February to celebrate Chinese New Year. Valentine’s Day (February 14) and International Women’s Day (March 8) follow suit, as consumers are likely shopping for presents or new products. On June 18, 618 is a unique shopping festival created by JD.com to celebrate their anniversary. From September 1 to 9, rival platform Alibaba hosts a nine-day Wine Festival, providing wine promotions and alcohol discounts. Nevertheless, China’s largest shopping extravaganza is—once again created by Alibaba’s Taobao—Singles’ Day or Double 11. This unofficial holiday has created immense hype, hitting a record of 498.2 billion RMB in 2020. To save a bit of money, it’s essential to stock up during China’s shopping holidays.


In China, the out-patient medical treatments are relatively affordable, even at private hospitals. For example, visiting the doctor may cost less than 10 USD, and checkups such as CT and MRI scans are cheaper and easier to conduct compared to the west.
When shopping for insurance, you can opt for a lower out-patient coverage or even drop it entirely. Instead, make sure to get better in-patient medical coverage for you and your family, so you can count on financial help when the situation is more severe and requires hospitalization.


A great tip is to find housing located far from the city center because the apartments are usually larger, cheaper and nicer. Without the nighttime city buzz or the possibility of a loud neighbor, these accommodations are more likely to give you privacy. There’s nothing more important than a bit of quiet and relaxation at the end of a tiring day.Furthermore, food in the area may be cheaper, which can help you cut more expenses. Living in the bustling city center, however, will be more expensive since it’s usually more commercial. Whenever you want to go downtown, see tip number 1.


Western food is expensive, so only have it occasionally. Alternatively, local Chinese food is cheaper and extremely delicious. As seen with the loyal Chinese crowd that consistently dine at these restaurants, these dishes provide intense flavors that can easily satisfy. In addition, the locals eat their dishes with rice, which is inexpensive. For many expats, eating at a local Chinese restaurant can be an exciting new experience—and an excellent way to stay within your budget.

The second option is to cook at home if you can. Remember to grocery shop for ingredients at your local Chinese supermarket; compared to western supermarkets, the prices for fruits, vegetables and meat are 10% to 30% less.


Using Airbnb, Tujia or Xiaozhu, these handy home-sharing apps in China can be a money-saving option compared to hotel rooms. Budget travelers can book these accommodations for lower prices. There are profiles, ratings and reviews on the apps to ensure that the housing is safe and reliable. Moreover, the experience is undoubtedly a lot more fun and interesting. There is often more space fit for family vacations or large gatherings than smaller and costly hotel accommodations. If you want to visit a more remote location during your travels, there may not be hotels nearby. Home-sharing places, however, are usually private homes that may be closer to unique destinations.


Western brands such as Gucci or Rolex have always been the center of consumer interest. Due to Chinese consumers’ fixation with objects that portray their wealth and worldliness, they tend to purchase staple products locally (e.g., food, beer) but opt to shop at Western brands for luxury items. As China’s economy advances and prospers, local Chinese brands and their products have also improved immensely in quality and sophistication. Today, consumers can purchase a high-quality product for a cheaper price with Chinese brands, contrasted to high-priced Western brands. For instance, instead of buying the new Apple iPhone, take a chance on Xiaomi smartphones. The rise in demand for Xiaomi products has made this Chinese brand the world’s third-largest smartphone supplier. Without a doubt, shopping at Chinese brands is the ultimate way to cut costs and stay trendy.


If you are struggling to balance a mountain of expenses, adopting multiple income streams is the solution.Many expats become online English tutors because more than 8 million students (a large portion of Chinese students) learn English online. This side hustle allows you to work within flexible hours and from anywhere with internet access. Teaching sites like Preply and Cambly do not require a TEFL teaching certification, but higher-paying tutoring sites have specific requirements.

Other income sources can include finding freelance jobs on LinkedIn or Indeed, selling items on Taobao or Xianyu, managing social media accounts for businesses, placing a spare room or an apartment for rent via Airbnb, and many more options.