Japan has one of the leading economies in the world and has one of the highest average costs of living. Many people get worried before visiting or moving to Japan, thinking that it would be extremely expensive. The good news is, that if you want to live affordably, there are different ways to help you save money in Japan. If you’re wondering exactly how to save money in Japan, you’re at the right place. Here are tips to cut down on living expenses.
How to save money in Japan
1. Instead of going to convenience stores, shop in drug stores or 100yen shops
Big 100 yen companies such as Daiso and Seria have everything from food, beauty products, household goods, and decorations to kitchen products all selling for 100 yen. It is good to purchase little bits and bobs for your home and your daily life. You can buy so much for so little and it is a great way to save money.
There are 100yen shops of all sizes in town. From local shops to commercial 100yen shops, there are a lot of options for you. You can find the biggest 100 yen shop in downtown Tokyo right next to Funabashi station, so remember to bring a big bag!
Besides medicine, drug stores in Japan sell all kinds of other things like food, household goods, beauty products and all kinds of everyday items. Things you can find in drug stores are sold for cheaper prices than in convenience stores, so if you are looking for snacks or any everyday item, it is a good opportunity to put them in your basket as well as any self-care products.
2. Nitori or Ikea for cheap furniture
Nitori is the largest furniture and home furnishing chain in Japan. There is an online store where you can get a home delivery service or you can even go in and see the furniture yourself at the many stores dotted around Tokyo.
They have so many variations of products for a good price you can definitely buy your home goods on a budget. All the measurements and weight are listed on the product tag so you can make sure you can fit everything in your room.
Nitori also provides a point system where you can gain points for every item you buy and later on you can use your points to buy other things in the points programme.
Similarly to Nitori, Ikea is a great place to buy cheap furniture, with 3 different Ikeas based in three very convenient locations; Shibuya, Harajuku and Shinjuku there is a high chance you will end up at one of these stores. The Ikea in Tachikawa is the biggest in Tokyo. If you’re looking to fully explore all your options, check out this Ikea that is around 30 minutes away from central Tokyo.
Ikea also is well known for their cheap food, so after you are done shopping you can treat yourself to a 150 Yen hotdog. Additionally, because the food here has become so popular internationally, you can buy the frozen versions in store very cheaply too.
3. Use cheap mobile companies
Most people come and sign a 2-year, 3-year contract with huge companies like Software, AU or Docomo. Yes, these companies are huge, but it doesn’t mean they have the best plans for you.
In fact, there are many other mobile companies that offer sim cards, pocket wifis and home wifi for you at a lower cost. If you switch from a major carrier to a cheap SIM, the monthly usage fee may be reduced to half or less than one-third.
A lot of these smaller carriers use the same network as these massive companies, so in a lot of cases, you don’t have to worry about speed or coverage. They tend to also offer more flexibilities for your contract, in terms of the length of the contract and the cancellation fee. Just make sure to check the information before you commit to a contract.
When you sign up for a mobile company, you might be offered multiple additional options for discounts or to go along with your subscription. You may still be paying these fees even though you are not using the options, so check the billing statement and cancel the unnecessary options. Be aware that there are some support-related options that you might need, so check the details carefully before cancelling.
Another great way to save money even further is, if your mobile plan gives you a lot of data, you might not even need to install wifi at home. You can also consider increasing the data limit of your mobile plan and using tethering for your laptop or other devices, instead of getting separate wifi for home. This is not for everyone, but say you have 100GB per month on your phone. That is a lot of data for a month and you might be able to use this instead of getting separate wifi. Look into how much traffic you normally use and review your mobile plan accordingly.
4. Buy food right before shops close for their discounts
This is a great way to buy cheap food for 10%, 20% and sometimes even 50% off. It depends on the shop, but most places start offering discounted items from around 6 pm onwards. Many of the foods are made fresh on that day and need to be sold so they reduce the price to sell the product off.
Sometimes, you can even find food items that don’t expire for another day or two that has a discount sticker on them. It is an easy and simple way of buying your dinner for a cheap price and it saves you from cooking too. You can even get something for your breakfast or lunch for the day after.
Even high-end department stores with food sections in the basement offer discounts. If there’s something you’ve been meaning to try or want to enjoy something a little luxurious, then coming around the sales time is a good idea.
But remember, don’t rely on this method all of the time as it really is hit or miss, you may go to your supermarket to find everything has already sold out or the only food that is left is stuff you don’t like.
5. Take a bicycle instead of taking the train
If you are going to a neighbourhood that is close to your home, save your coins by riding a bicycle there instead. It is very efficient as you are guaranteed there will be no delays or you are not cramped in a small train car for ages.
You can also get your daily exercise in too so it really is a win-win situation. It is worth investing your money in a bicycle if you are ready to commit to this money-saving idea as it will really save you money. Some people ride their bike to a closer station to their destination so that the train fare is cheaper, there is a space to lock your bike up whilst you are gone so it is a really handy system.
If you don’t want to invest in a bicycle or you don’t think you will need to use it enough, there are a lot of bicycle rental options around town. There are also pick-up and drop-off bicycle options as well.
6. Use train passes for long-distance travels
A lot of people know about the JR rail pass, designed for short-term travellers to explore Japan with all-you-can-ride JR trains for cheap. But did you know that there are also JR train passes for foreign residents? These JR passes cover different regions of Japan and allows you to travel a few consecutive days at a low cost. It is a good way of saving money if you know you are going to be hopping on and off trains regularly for a set amount of days. There are some rail passes that also include the bus so see if you fit the criteria conditions to see if you are eligible to buy the rail pass and enjoy your travels for cheaper!
Besides these bigger-scale train passes, there are also many days passes that you can buy for all-you-can-ride trains, subways and/or buses. If you are going to be travelling a lot on the day, have a look at different discount ticket options. These tickets are usually available for purchase from the station ticket machine or at the counter, so you can get them easily on the day of your travel.
7. Save on housing
If you don’t mind walking more than 10-15 minutes from your closest station to get home, your rent will drop significantly, even if you’re living in the centre of the city.
Some people live outside of the city in quieter areas such as Kanagawa, Chiba or Saitama, where rent is much cheaper. You’ll have to make a 1 or 1.5-hour commute into the city for work or for leisure, but the money spent on transportation won’t come even close to the money you save on rent.
If you enjoy socialising and don’t mind sharing a living room, kitchen and bathroom with others, consider a share house. There are many of them, especially in big cities, and they are quite affordable. Utilities and household goods are usually included in your rent, so you won’t have to go through the whole hassle of figuring that out yourself.
8. Use car share instead of car rental
When thinking about going on a road trip, most people might think of renting a car. But did you know about carsharing and how it is more affordable and tends to be very convenient?
Car sharing is a very simple concept to save your money and help the environment, you can access it 24 hours a day on the app or the homepage. Once you create an account you look for a car closest to your location and reserve it. Once you have arrived at the location you can unlock the car door with your phone or a boarding card. The car key will always be in the ignition and you can find a refuelling card and a cleaning kit once you are done. Once you are finished with your journey, return the car to the station and then lock the car again with your phone or boarding card. The money will be taken out of your credit card that is registered with the account.
Unlike car rental, you can pick up the car at the car station most convenient for you. There tend to be a lot of car stations, especially in the city centre. You also don’t have to fill up gas. Depending on the carsharing service, there is little commitment, with the minimum rental period starting from 30 minutes. You can also reserve a car just before your journey. If you need a car for a short period of time, it can be cheaper to use carshare than to use a taxi.
If you want to find out more about carsharing, check out the website careco car share to see monthly membership plans. It is the carsharing service that we think is the best and have used countless times.
9. Buy groceries from gyomu super (業務スーパー)
Gyomu super means “business supermarket” and they are basically wholesale supermarkets that are intended for businesses to purchase and resell. Despite being wholesale supermarkets, don’t expect them to look like Costco or massive warehouses. A lot of them welcome individuals to shop for groceries and although sometimes, the items come in bulk, especially with species and sauces, most of the time, the items are regular grocery sizes.
In gyomu supers, you can find local as well as international items for cheap. Besides fresh vegetables and fruit, there are also frozen goods here, along with everything you’d probably need for your kitchen. If you’re planning to cook for a few people or have a party, buying groceries and disposable cutleries from gyomu super is a great way to save money.
Check out what kind of stores are in your area, as well as the special sale dates and point-up days of the stores.
10. Grow your own spices and vegetables
Herbs and species can get quite expensive. If you like using different fresh ingredients in your cooking, then you can consider growing your own plants to save money. These can be plants like basil, rosemary, cherry tomatoes and others. A lot of these plants are easy to grow on the balcony or indoors. You can get the seeds and grow them yourself, or you can also buy potted plants and start using them right away. You can also find hydroponic cultivation kits for kitchen gardens and general stores.
These plants can serve as interior decorations, and when the fruits and leaves grow, you can harvest them, so you can kill two birds with one stone.
11. Use Mymizu instead of buying drinks outside- https://www.mymizu.co/
Buying drinks from convenience stores, supermarkets or vending machines might seem cheap and convenient, but a few hundred yen here and there could end up costing you a lot of money. Plus, it produces a big amount of plastic bottles and cans and we don’t need to go into how that is harming the environment. To kill these two problems, we have Mymizu.
Mymizu is a sustainability mission to help people stay hydrated while reducing waste. It is Japan’s first water refill app. Look for your local refill spot online, they are mainly located in shops and cafes where they will let you refill your water for free. It is good for the environment and saves you from continuously buying bottled water. There are challenges on the app where you can join a team to try to enter a competition to reduce as many single-use plastic bottles as possible.
12. Use cashless payment
It’s recommended to use cashless payments such as credit cards instead of cash to pay for living expenses. If you pay not only for daily shopping but also for fixed costs like utilities and mobile usage fees paid by credit card, points will accumulate naturally and it can become a great deal. It is easy to manage your household budget because it will be deducted from your account all at once on a specific day every month. If you install an application that works with your credit card, you can check your usage details any time you like.
Especially for credit card points, the key to saving money is to save and use them wisely. With Sumitomo Mitsui Card’s “V points”, you can earn 1 point (equivalent to 1 yen) for every 200 yen (tax included) spent. The accumulated V points can be cashed back to the payment amount of the card, and can also be used for online shopping using the smartphone application “V points”.
13. Collect point cards
Point cards have evolved to become something that is worth having in your wallet, it is an easy way of collecting points through daily activities such as refilling gas, eating out and everyday shopping! By collecting points, they can be converted into electronic money where you can spend it on goods at stores affiliated with the point card.
There are many different variations of point cards that are associated with big companies such as ANA, McDonald and Softbank. In most cases, for every 100yen you spend, you get one point so you can imagine how many points you can gain if you are a shopaholic! Another great advantage is that you can gain points by paying for your monthly bills such as phone, water and gas which is such an efficient way to make easy points. There are also ways of collecting bonus points so be sure to check out these websites below to see which point card best suits you.
- Rakuten Point Card
- T-point Point Card
- D-point Point card
- Waon Point Card
- Nanaco Point Card
- Ponta Point Card
14. Eat out during lunch instead of dinner
Being in a country with the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants in the world, there’s no doubt that there are countless incredible places to dine out in and explore. At every turn in the big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, you can run into another restaurant that is worth a visit.
Luckily for us, many restaurants in Japan offer affordable dishes and courses during lunch. For affordable restaurants like local ramen shops or family restaurants, you can get extra servings for free, free toppings or sets for even cheaper during lunchtime. For some restaurants where you can expect to spend around 5,000-10,000yen for dinner, they offer lunch courses for half, a third or even a quarter of the price. Some restaurants even offer affordable buffet-style lunches.
This is because there is a culture of eating out in Japan and lunch tends to be a quick fix, whereas dinners are more extravagant and take longer. Also, people tend to drink during dinnertime and that ends up racking up the bill. A lot of restaurants make the most money during dinner and since they also have the space for lunch, they offer more affordable options to get people into the door.
If you are a foodie and want to eat out, but want to save money in the meantime, eat out during lunch instead of dinner. Eating out during weekdays can also be more affordable than eating out during weekends, depending on what the particular restaurant offers.
15. Make use of restaurant deals
Websites such as hot-pepper and tabelog list thousands of restaurants and their information (opening hours, price range, photos, etc.). They usually offer great discounts and deals so be sure to look up a restaurant on those websites before going.
Do not go with people that offer you “great deals” on the streets. Most of them are scams and you would end up spending way more than you’d hoped. I’m speaking from my own experience here.
16. Maintaining the temperature in your home
Did you know that temperature control can save you a lot of money, and also help the environment?
During the cold winters and hot summers, you are bound to want to turn on your heater or air conditioning. For both cooling and heating, the larger the difference between the room temperature and your set temperature, the more power it needs. Reviewing the set temperature is a great way to save electricity, and ultimate, your money.
When cooling, set the temperature to 26-28°C and use a fan or circulator to get the cold air moving around the room, so you can save electricity. It is very effective to use a blackout curtain to block the heat coming in from the window, or to put blinds outside the window to create shade. Even when you’re using the heating, closing the thick curtains tightly to prevent the outside cold air from entering the room through the windows, and also makes it difficult for the warm air inside the room to leak to the outside.
Additionally, just removing the dust from the filter of the air conditioner with a vacuum cleaner once every two weeks will improve the effectiveness of the air conditioning and save electricity. If you’re out for less than 30 minutes, leaving it on will consume less power than turning it off and on.
In winter, it is also recommended to use a kotatsu, which consumes less power than an air conditioner. It warms your body from your feet up. When using a kotatsu, tuck the kotatsu futon and use a rug as the heat insulating sheet on the floor to prevent heat from escaping.
These are some of the best ways to save money when living or travelling in Japan. Even in one of the most expensive countries, there are ways to live affordably. Keep these tips in mind and hope you are able to apply them in your everyday life in Japan.