General

An introduction to saving money in Japan

When I first arrived in Japan as a fresh-faced 23-year-old, I only had a few goals on my bucket list: take some challenging steps outside of my comfort zone, travel as much as possible, and have fun! Though I was by no means raking in the dough as an English teacher, I always seemed to have just enough to pay my rent and bills, go out every weekend, and put some aside for monthly trips around Japan and Southeast Asia.

Then, in the blink of an eye, my one exploratory year in Japan became two (after all, there was so much more to see and do!), then three. After the third year, I met my future husband and suddenly, my priorities changed. I was thinking about a family, kids, a house in the countryside… suddenly I looked at my bank statement and wondered where it had all gone. I felt a flush of panic thinking that maybe I’d made a huge mistake.

Now, as a happy wife and mother in my early 30s, I don’t for a second regret coming to Japan. And I don’t regret a single yen spent on those most formative experiences- especially the travel and fun outings with friends. Those have immeasurable value. What I regret is how naively I spent extra on things I could’ve gotten for MUCH cheaper. I regret getting gouged on housing, a cell phone plan, groceries, and money transfer services. I regret all the free trips I passed up by paying for stuff in cash instead of a rewards-based credit card. I regret not investing and taking opportunities to grow wealth passively. 

Most of all, I regret not thinking about these things sooner. Because it wasn’t just the language barrier or being foreign that held me back from my financial goals, it was good old inertia. We humans love the comfort of our old patterns. We hate anything with the slightest hint of being “mendokusai.” And of course, we LOVE putting things off for another day (i.e. never).

When my husband, and O.G. frugal king, first suggested cutting back on our spending, I dug in my heels. After all, I didn’t want to give up any of my precious creature comforts (Starbucks limited edition flavors and monthly ASOS binges anyone?). But the big surprise I’ve discovered since choosing to live more frugally is this:

Most methods of saving money don’t involve giving up anything at all. They simply require using different means of acquiring them.

That, and the little bit of time it takes to learn those means.

So here I am, still in Japan, several years older and wiser, with a whole lot more financial knowledge, Japanese language ability, and life experience in general. My goal is to help other people avoid making the same stupid mistakes I did. To give those of you who need it, a tiny little push to start thinking smarter about spending.

The information here is not made to turn you into some penny-pinching, money-obsessed crazy person like you’d see on “Extreme Cheapskates.” In fact, I want you to spend money! But I want you to spend money consciously, on things that bring you value, and save where you can for the really important stuff: meaningful experiences like travel, retirement, education, financial stability no matter what twists the economy takes, and a better quality of life for you and your family. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your 20s or your 80s. The best time to think about money may have been as soon as you started earning it… but the next best time is NOW.

While the focus of this blog will mostly be on money-saving tips and tricks, it will sometimes delve into topics like cooking, international marriage, and raising bilingual children. I’d be so grateful for any feedback you have, either through comment or email, especially if you have an experience or point of view that you’d like to share.

And with that, I’ll end in the way that everything here starts, by saying:

宜しくお願いします。

R.D.

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