Financial Planning for English Language Teachers -Part 1 

This might hit some of you pretty hard, but it’s time I give some of you the lowdown on living in Japan as an English language teacher and how that relates to maintaining financial security. These words might hold true for most types of expats in Japan, but especially for those navigating the unlucrative ESL teaching waters.

First off, you are not rich, nor will you ever become rich in this racket. Don’t try to play “Keeping Up With the Takahashis” with your neighbors. Even if working six days a week, from 8 AM to 10 PM sounds alluring to you for some ungodly reason; the ESL marketplace is not a growth industry. So let’s work on some of the micro-economical things you can do to keep that balance sheet in the black.

#1 Never ever utter the words “house – own – my – mortgage”. Don’t buy a house. This isn’t something to aspire to. If you are a single dude living here long term, then owning a home isn’t really a legal reality in most cases. If you are like me and married, then it is a possibility – but one which should be never embraced. Even if your wife brings in a decent paycheck – please rent an apartment for the rest of your Japanese life. It will save you yen, hassle, and heartache.

#2 You can’t own a car, or really any vehicle. You’re a public transportation person now. You’re a bike person now. You shouldn’t even know how much gasoline costs. When you do use a car as a passenger (someone else’s, taxis), it should be such a rare experience that you literally forget that they drive on the left). If you live in the city then owning a car should be anathema to your core values. Aside from being environmentally unsustainable, it makes zero sense economically. You will have to pay extra for monthly parking (almost never included in the apartment that you will rent). More importantly, any job even remotely credible is going to pay your monthly public transportation fee. It would be utterly ridiculous to not take advantage of the one benefit that ESL jobs still provide.

If you live out in the countryside, away from buses and trains, good luck! Maybe your employer will provide a car. That’s all well and good, but not a job sweetener in my book.

#3 Japan is pricey, that’s no secret. But eating out regularly will set you back no matter what country you live in. Learn to love the supermarket. You should be stopping by 3-4 times a week, slowly replenishing your supply base. Same goes for bars. Your balcony is your new bar. If you have to drink to numb your brain to the robotic nature of society, then buy cheap happoshu, or one of these tall cocktail drinks with an obliterating amount of alcohol:

Grape, Apple, Plum, or Peach? A tall can with a 8% alcohol content is a great, cheap way to unwind.

So there it is. My top three tips on saving yen in Japan for ESL teachers looking to stay long term. Learn restraint. Learn how to live within yourself.

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