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Friday, 17 October 2014

How to Live Thrifty in an EFL Environment

While traveling and teaching are their own rewards, a big draw card to becoming an EFL teacher is the money. And while many EFL environments may have a lower cost of living than back home, you don’t want to get bogged down in unnecessary expenses. In this post, we will address a few ways that EFL teachers can get by without having to spend all of their hard-earned Yen, Pesos, Euros, Won or whatever the case may be.

1. Make friends with locals. A good way to find the best value while living in an EFL environment is to ‘go where the locals go’. People who live in the country know how to avoid tourist traps and also often have access to things like discounts that foreigners ma not be aware of. They can read signs and help explain how to get the best deal in many circumstances. They can also point you to trustworthy services (such as travel agents and banks). Making friends with local people is a great way to learn about the local culture and avoid getting ripped off.

2. Hand me downs. In a lot of cases, you will be taking on a contract that someone else had previously. Your school may set you up in their old apartment, and you may get to inherit some of their old belongings. In established EFL communities, people trade second hand good for many reasons. Sometimes they are upgrading, sometimes they are going back home. Becoming familiar with the other foreign teachers in your city is a good idea in general.

3. Heating/Air con. Some teachers travel to countries that have completely different climates compared to what they are used to. It is easy to get into trouble leaving your boiler or aircon on all day when you are not there and returning home to a room that is boiling or freezing, respectively. Make sure you turn everything off when you go out. It won’t take too long to get back to the right temperature once you are home. Also, try not to ‘blast’ it too much, and let in as much natural air as possible. It is also much cheaper to buy a decent blanket once than three months of huge gas bills.

4. Cooking at home. This is one which really depends on your circumstances and tastes. In some countries it is cheaper and easier to get take away food from a local market than to buy the ingredients yourself to cook. This can happen in places like Taiwan, which are densly populated. In other places, the temptation might be there to get take away every night, but it may not be the most economical solution. Some people struggle to cook at home because they can’t find the same ingredients as they would normally cook with, or perhaps they just aren’t very good cooks. Remember that TEFL is an adventure. When at the supermarket, compare prices and see what local people buy. Check the internet for alternative ingredients for recipes you might make back home, and remember to talk to your fellow teachers as they will also be able to give you some advice.

5. Transport. Many countries have low cost options for getting around. In many places, bikes are a good, cheap alternative and there is nothing like exploring your city on foot. Don’t forget to split taxis if possible and get a travel card/pass if the place you are has this type of system. Once again, seeing how the locals do it will help you find an effective method of getting around.

6. Phone/Internet. In the past, teachers had to track down places in their city which stocked international calling cards, and then it was a matter of comparing minutes per dollar. These days, practically everyone has a mobile phone and can connect with their family and friends whenever they like. Don’t forget to get a local sim card or get on a prepaid system if you are there for a year or more. Also, don’t forget about Skype and other internet messaging systems to avoid paying massive international calling fees when calling home.

7. Materials. When you get that first teaching gig, don’t run off to the stationary store and load up on teaching supplies. While it is definitely a good idea to have some of the basics (a couple fo reliable pens, a notebook or two etc.) many schools will provide the rest. Many schools will have markers you can use and teacher’s copies of textbooks. Talk to your school’s secretary/receptionist if you need more. At the very least, they will know the best places to get more on the cheap.

8. Shipping/Posting. Sending things home, or having things sent from home can be a costly experience. You may find when you arrive that you had packed too much, or not enough. You may also pick up a bunch of souvenirs and want to send them back. The best way to avoid the costs of shipping and postage is to limit doing it. It is not a good idea to pay for the cheapest mode of shipping with fragile, or valuable goods. Make sure you get a tracking number for theses items.


As you can see, there are a range of ways of watching your wallet when traveling and teaching. Do you have any more cost cutting measures? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below.

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