Today I want to illuminate what life is really like for the average Chinese person that has yet to fully reap the rewards of China’s rapid development. We’ll be looking at a friend’s monthly budget up close, which I think you’ll find quite interesting. From other discussions with students, this seems to be a fairly typical budget.
She is about 20 years old, and is in her final semester of college (a three year program). Her school requires her to complete an internship as part of her degree, the hospital gives her practically no work to do and she takes home no salary. All in all it seems to be a huge waste of time and money for her, but for some reason it is necessary for her degree.
She comes from a village outside of the city, so she rents a room in a family’s apartment nearby for 500rmb per month. This allows her to walk to work, which saves her the 1.6rmb bus ride (transportation costs her roughly 40rmb per month). She feels guilty about every penny she spends, knowing that her parents are working hard to pay for her existence here.
She eats 2 baozi for breakfast, a lousy meal in the hospital dining hall for lunch, and cold noodles with a piece of fruit for dinner. This costs her about 20rmb per day. She says she wishes she could cut back her spending on food, but worries about her health if she started skipping meals. I worry about her health as it stands. She told me that her father spends just 1rmb for lunch, I worry even more about his health.
Her time in the office is usually spent studying for upcoming tests. She will try to pass 7 of them this year, which would qualify her for a slightly better degree. For this chance she will spend about 500rmb on materials and testing fees.
She told me that she misses her friends and family dearly, which is obvious from the amount of time she spends texting each day. Her mobile phone bill is about 65rmb per month, but she says this is one convenience she couldn’t survive without.
Her “other” expenses though were an area that proved to be the most costly, nearly 620rmb each month. While some of that includes everyday things, many of these expenses were the result of Chinese culture, and proved to be the most interesting.
For example, last week three of her classmates came to visit her (they live just south of the city). For some reason she is considered to be the one with the job while they are mere students. In reality none of them can afford to go out to dinner, but tradition demands that our intern host a meal, which set her back 150rmb, more than she usually spends on a week of eating.
She also helps her brother to maintain his long-distance relationship, which I found to be very surprising. Each week she goes to the market and buys 15rmb of fruit to give as a gift. While it may seem like a small gesture, to this young woman, it feels like a large burden that she gladly carries. Mid-Autumn Festival also included a 20rmb gift of fruit to her boss’s mother.
Finally, she is preparing for her brother to visit in the next few weeks, which means that she will be paying for his ticket from Shenyang (way up north), and letting him stay in her single rented room. The cost of this visit will probably force her to choose between eating and admitting to her parents that she has already spent the money they gave her.
For her, living simply in Nanjing costs her parents roughly 1800rmb per month (In Western China farmers make ~2,000rmb per capita per year). She says optimally her budget would be less than 1500rmb per month, something most Americans would find to be an impossible task, yet tens of millions of Chinese are trying to do just that.