Friday, August 31, 2012

Being Cheap in Japan: Keeping Track of Your Reciepts

It is no secret that Japan has a reputation for being an expensive place to live.I am sure you have heard the horror stories of people being forced to shell out almost 100,000 for a "rabbit hutch" sized room in Tokyo and melons that sell for half a months salary.

But fear not, there are plenty of ways to save money even in the most expensive of cities. Since we covered the traditional Japanese house hold account book (AKA the kakeibo), it seems fitting to inaugurate our new Being Cheap in Japan series with a look at how to keep track of your household expenses.

The Merits of Keeping a Ledger
The fact of the matter is that people who come to Japan often come as students, spouses, or teachers. For many of the young generation of expats, these are their first salaried jobs and it is easy to get swept up the in drink-every-weekend, party-like-a-rockstar lifestyle. It is also equally as easy to find yourself with only a pittance left in your bank account weeks before pay day.

One of the ways to ameliorate your spendthrift ways is to keep a record of your basic expenses, much like the aforementioned kakeibo, although not necessarily so detailed. In my own perosnal experience as a poor undergraduate and even poorer graduate student in Japan, this entails several things:

My personal receipt collection
  1. First and foremost, keep every receipt that ever comes out of a register. This is key to saving money in a country where there is a tempting convenience store on every corner. A rice ball and caned coffee once and a while may not seem like much at the time, but you would be shocked to find out how much the occasional indulgence costs you. Plus, when you are sufficiently drunk, everything at the corner store looks delectable.
  2. In the event that you go out for a night on the down, use your mobile phone's notebook function to keep track of your taps--provided you are lucid enough to do that. Bar hopping can become a significant dent in your monthly budget.
  3. Take your monthly receipts and put them on a bulletin board or in a file folder. Hang on to them in until pay day and then tabulate them up by category (food, office supplies, gas, etc.) In this case, it's convenient to use a simple excel spreadsheet to keep your monthly expenses tabulated.
  4. Sign up for as much online banking and billing as humanly possible. This is a good way keep tabs of all your bills in one convenient location. Although Japanese companies almost always print out receipts for any sort of utility or service, having a digital copy is always a better alternative and you don't have to be bothered with going to update your bank book every few days.
  5. If you don't get a regular pay stub, ask your employer for one. This is a good way to keep taps on deductions. Most taxes and social insurance expenses are taken out at the source so it is a good idea to see how much you are making versus what you losing in taxes.
How to Keep Expenses Down
Believe it or not, keeping ledger or semi-kakeibo has merits outside of the OCD community. In my experience, having all your expenses lined up in an easily accessible chart is a great way to figure out in what areas you have exceeded your desired monthly limit and what areas you have managed to cut down.

While this may seem like a relatively trivial piece of household advice, when you are starting off life in a new country with a new job, it is easy to let expenses get out of hand. Plus, once you clearly see where your budget is going off the rails, then you can make some simple adjustments like insulating your house for winter to save on heating fuel,  searching for a cheaper Internet provider, or even taking advantage of buying in bulk.

Do you have any other ideas for living on the cheap in Japan or just saving your hard earned yens? Let us know in the comments below! And check back regularly as we share our time honored money saving tips!


  1. wow... you must be a riot to hang out with...

  2. My own personal receipt, that's normal.

  3. Great article! I've been keeping tabs on all expenses for a couple years now and it's helped tons. I keep an excel spreadsheet so I don't need to keep all the loose receipts. I can have a semi real-time idea of how much money I am using and how much I have left to stay within my monthly self set limits.
    It's the smart way to live here. :)

  4. Anon 1- Yes, I have started a few riots in my day, but just keep that on the down low

    Anon 2- In Japan I am practically a model housewife. As a matter of fact you can find tons of receipt holders in 100 yen shops and department stores just for this purpose. Also, if you are in the market for the latest house wife fashions, many purses come with receipt holders.

    Scott- I mainly just hang on to receipts to calculate them into an excel sheet. I get money off investments here in Japan and the US which I plug into my calculations. Not only does it do a great job of showing my monthly intake to expenditure, it also helps leave a trail should the tax man come a'knocking.

  5. I know I'm late to this party but I agree with Dan here. If you want to leave Japan with any kind of savings at all you have to track your spending. I enter all of my receipts into an excel spread sheet. I do throw them away after that however but I probably should keep them so I can analyze further how much prices of groceries fluctuate etc.

    Just by keeping track of my spending I am able to save on average 50% of every paycheck and invest it.

  6. The Kechi One-

    Good call. There seems to be the idea that you can't go out and have fun while keeping tabs on how much you are shelling out. I toss my receipt collection every payday and keeping a running excel sheet really gives you perspective on how much your expenditures fluctuate per month.

    If you have other any great savings tips feel free to share!