Saving Money: Teaching & Living in Phnom Penh
Teaching English in Cambodia is certainly not as popular as teaching in countries such as China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. This is for a few reasons, one of them being the misconception that you can’t save money in Cambodia.
If you’re teaching in Beijing, you may get paid very well, but the cost of living is very high. Of course, everything is relative. In Cambodia, the pay may be low but so is the cost of living. And here it is – the answer to the most popular question *drumroll please* … Yes! You can save money while teaching in Cambodia.
We are here to give you a breakdown of an example savings plan and some tips on how to save money while living in Phnom Penh.
Salary : $1,200.00 USD average monthly salary for a teacher
Rent: $300.00 USD this should include all of your bills
Groceries: $80.00 USD
Motorbike: $50.00 USD
Gas: $10 USD
Social: $80.00 USD
Misc: $20.00 (shampoo, feminine products, etc)
Savings: $660.00 / month USD
Please note: Everything is based on a monthly budget, and coming from two social people – trust us: we made your expenses REALLY high.
Tip # 1: Negotiate your salary
You don’t have to have a lot of experience to ask for $1,400.00/month. In fact, nowadays, there are a few schools that advertise this as their starting wage. Be ready to settle for $1,200.00, but don’t be afraid to aim a little higher.
Tip # 2: Negotiate with your real estate agent
You can get a great apartment in a great area for $300.00 USD/month. In fact, this is pricy. Our advice? Don’t bother with anything that costs more than this. This can be your budget and it should include EVERYTHING. We have friends living in places the size of my family home for $300.00 all included with a pool.
Your real estate agent should help you negotiate, too.
Tip #3: Shop at local markets
Unless you’re after packaged meat or something specifically imported, avoid Lucky Supermarket at all costs. When we first moved to Cambodia, we would only shop at supermarkets (we were a bit queasy walking through the meat aisles at the local market) and we wish we would have just sucked it up and shopped locally earlier.
To be fair, we are both vegetarian so we don’t buy meat. We know most expats buy their meat packaged at a supermarket, and that’s fine. Everything else, however, like rice, beans, vegetables, noodles, shampoo, soap, toilet paper, etc. – buy it all locally.
This will save you a lot of money. To put it clearly for you: our bill (for 2 people per week) was $80.00 when we were shopping at Lucky / Super Duper. When we started shopping at our local market, our weekly bill dropped down to $15.00 per week for 2 people.
Yes – That is $7.50 USD each for groceries per week.
Shop at your local market. You will support the locals and save money while doing it.
Tip #4: Rent (or buy) a motorbike
As much as we recommend downloading the Grab app, it is not the most efficient way to get around the city on a day-to-day basis.
When we were both taking Grabs to/from work each day, to Aeon Mall, to the markets, etc., we calculated that we were each spending roughly $150.00/month on Grabs alone. For a couple, that is $300.00/month.
A motorbike rental is $50.00 – $60.00 per month for most expats. Yes, you can try to negotiate this. Gas is roughly $10 per month. As a single person, you could save upwards of $100/month on transit. As a couple / pair of friends, you could save upwards of $250/month. Regardless, you will save money and get around a lot faster.
We should also mention that it is likely a better investment to buy a motorbike, rather than rent one. To be honest, we likely would have done this but we never had enough money in our savings to make the investment.
Tip #5: Live like a local
Shop where the locals shop, eat the local food. The easiest way to save money in Phnom Penh is to live like the locals do.
Opt out of the touristic restaurants for some songvak (fresh fish lettuce wraps), a noodle soup, or a local curry. Meals can be as little as 2,000 riel (roughly 50 cents USD).
Shop at the markets and little stores on the side of the road, rather than at Aeon mall or Sorya Center.
Ask your Khmer friends where they get their hair done, where they buy their jewellery – they know all the best places!
There are so many ways to save money in the capital city, especially if you’re working as a foreign teacher. Foreign teachers get paid a significantly larger wage than most people in Phnom Penh, so always remember to be mindful of that.
We saved the majority of our paychecks by just being mindful and conscious of spending – and hey, we got to really immerse ourselves in the culture that way.
In the video below, we talk about our experiences in Cambodia ( in retrospect) and touch on saving money. Check it out if you want to know more: