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Money on the Brain

Money on the Brain

Japanese yen is not your country’s money, so DON’T CONVERT YOUR CURRENCY!

Now wait a moment. I’m not saying when you go abroad to literally not convert your country’s currency to the local currency. (You wouldn’t get too far in your travels.)

Actually, if worded correctly, my advice should be: When you live in another country and start using a new currency system, don’t convert the local currency into your home currency in your head. And this advice is not only for Japan, but for any country or region in the world.

When I first came to Japan, I converted everything I spent into Vietnamese Dong—the currency of where I am from. Having been born in another country, and using the same currency system my whole life, suddenly moving to another country with a very different system was so confusing. That’s when the first problem hit me: I didn’t really know how much a number was worth anymore! A note with five zeros in my hometown may mean a fortune, but a note with the same amount of zeros in this country is only worth a few potatoes.

When I found out that I had spent so much money in one day, even though it was only for a few necessities, I was definitely worried. A small cabbage cost 150 JPY, and 400 grams of beef cost 660 JPY. In total, a meal for one person in Japan cost the same amount as a meal for an average family of three in Vietnam. The commuting fee was even more shocking for me: in Vietnam, it costs about 30 JPY to take a bus, while in Beppu the fare starts at 140 JPY and gets higher the further you go. So, keeping track of your finances by converting currency in your head might seem like a good idea for your daily spending right? Well at least that’s what I thought at the time.

After realizing the difference between my spending in Japan compared to that in Vietnam, I felt I needed to cut my spending. I tried to spend less by going further in search of cheaper groceries, and instead of taking public transportation, I walked. However, I soon realized that I would starve and collapse from exhaustion before ever reaping the benefits of my savings. I was discouraged and felt like I had failed in my personal financial management.

It wasn’t until I got my first part-time job in Japan that I finally realized constantly thinking about the conversion rate between JPY and my home country’s currency was not the best idea. My part-time job taught me the simple fact that the cost of living in Japan is higher than that in Vietnam. I was cleaning hotel rooms, and was paid 780 JPY per hour. The wage for a similar job in Vietnam would be around 300 JPY per hour. So when I earned around 40,000 JPY per month from my part-time job and called my family to tell them about my first salary in Japan, they all thought I was going to be rich because that amount is equal to 8 million dongs in Vietnam (quite a big sum). However, just as the income is higher in Japan, the cost of goods is also higher. This means, the amount I spend here is naturally going to be more than what I would be spending if I were back in Vietnam. In other words, the salary I was making matched with my living situation in Beppu.

So, if you ever find that living abroad is costing you way more than what you would be spending in your home country, do not panic and think you are failing at managing your finances. You should first take a look at your surroundings, your income, and the living conditions of the country you are currently in.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is good to know the exact amount of the money you will be spending or saving. But, don’t get stuck on the sense of “value” in one country while you are living in another, because the living conditions, salary, and environment are very different.

All in all, my advice is that you should not compare the value of money in one country to another. There are a lot of factors that affect the ways of living, and as a result, alter the value of money and cost of goods. Of course, I do recommend, trying to be a wise spender and saver. However, do not let money become too big a burden in your student life, because after all, what students need to focus on is their studies. Don’t waste your time focusing on currency conversions that are not relevant to your new living environment.



Tran Phuong Thao is a Ph.D. student at APU who loves writing and sharing about student life. She holds a bachelor’s in linguistics, a master’s in international relations, and is now working on her Ph.D. in international relations. She has the talent of being able to analyze both sides of a story, good and bad. This gives her the ability to quickly find solutions in many different circumstances. Her blogs feature challenges you might face as a student abroad, and how to deal with them.