Get a Credit Card

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Posted by jamie | Posted in -Featured- | Posted on 31-01-2009

Am I crazy? Am I seriously advising you to be frugal by getting a credit card? Well, yes actually I am, and I’ll explain why.

Itemized billing:

The absolute best part of having a card is getting an itemized bill at the end of month that tells you exactly where every yen went. In most countries, internet banking allows similar functionality if you use your banks debit card, but sadly the Japanese banking systems are stuck somewhere between 1910 and 1960, so your only way to get this functionality is with a credit card.

Using the itemized bill for December last year, I was able to break down my credit card spending as follows.

expenditure

Now you can truly start budgeting and take control of your finances.

Points:

It’s not often you can get nothing for free, but credit card points are really one of those times. Even if the point percentage is 1% (1 point for every ¥100 you spend), that’s still going to add up over the years you are in Japan. There’s a pretty good selection of products you can choose from including kitchen appliances and short breaks in a traditional Japanese ryokans (at least with my Aeon card, which I thoroughly recommend). Get even more out of your investment payments and utility bills (gas, keitai, internet, electricity) by having them go through your card too. My average monthly credit card bill comes to about ¥150,000 yen, but that includes ¥50,000 that I invest into a managed fund and all my utilities, all of which are getting me an extra 1% return in points!

Getting a Card in Japan:

Most foreigners in Japan are unable to get credit cards, even directly with their banks. I only managed to get one after 2 years of being here. You will have to wait too, this is unavoidable. You can complain that this is discrimination all you want, but then consider that most foreigners end up staying for a year or less.: But to avoid having to wait even longer though, make sure you always pay your phone and utilities bills on time. In addition, when applying for the card always select the lowest possible credit rating and lowest withdrawal limit (you shouldn’t be using it as a credit source anyway if you’re following my advice).

Avoiding the credit part of credit cards:

When you set up your credit card, choose to have the entire balance paid off each month. This is the easiest way to never get into debt. As a responsible adult, you should be quite capable of realising how much you earn each month and therefore roughly how much your personal absolute limit on your card is. Do not make large purchases on a credit card unless you can split up the payments interest-free directly with the shop involved, or unless you know you have the cash in the bank to be able to pay it straight off. For example, Sofmap computer store allows you to break a payment into 6 months at no extra cost, so purchasing a new computer is not impossible (although you’re much better off upgrading instead, and always buy a desktop tower style computer for regular home use – not a laptop).

Invest in your future – get qualified!

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Posted by jamie | Posted in Investment | Posted on 25-01-2009

Yesterday, I took the second of two exams for a computing qualification called Comptia A+. Each of the tests cost ¥20,000 to take, but I passed first time so I won’t be paying for a re-test. More to the point, I consider it an investment in my future. I’m hoping that these qualifications, along with my half-decent Japanese skills will launch me into a real job in Japan, rather than continuing to be an English speaking monkey (tm).

pass

I encourage you too to get some additional qualifications and make yourself more marketable in these harsh economic times. Next on my list is a bunch more computing tests, and maybe even JLPT 1. If you plan on staying in the English teaching career, you’re going to need a masters degree in TEFL or language, but the cost is rather more prohibitive. An online TEFL course would be a good start, and the JLPT is always going to be useful in Japan. How about you, do plan on taking any qualifications in the near future? Let us know in the comments…

Handle impulse net shopping

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Posted by jamie | Posted in -Featured-, Projects | Posted on 24-01-2009

The internet has brought us wonderful things, but restraint is certainly not one of them. Before the internet came along, shopping was an outing, an effort – you had to actually GO and FIND the item you wanted before you could buy it. This gave us enough time to seriously consider the purchase. But online shopping changed all of that.

This is especially relevant here in Japan, where we tend to crave items of our own culture – “foreign” food, English language video games, books actually worth reading – and oftentimes the internet is the easiest and most convenient way to purchase. Then, once you get your Japanese language skills down, you have a whole new world of Japanese shops online to battle with! There’s no end to the impulse purchasing madness, and it used to bring me right back down to ZERO a few days after each pay check to pay off the credit card.

Assuming for one that you’re not willing to trash your credit card, and yet you’re willing to accept that perhaps you are addicted to online shopping (as I myself am), then I think I may have a genuinely workable solution for you! Wait for it… Scrapbooking!

Here’s what I started doing a while ago now: whenever I find something I think I want to buy on the internet, whatever it may be, I print a copy of the page – just something with a little picture and price tag or something is sufficient. Then I cut out the picture and paste it into my “want to get” net-shopping-prevention scrapbook. Just the fact that I now have it pasted in there is often enough ~ it’s not so much that I really desperately wanted to buy it, more that I wanted to remember it’s existence beyond a mere Firefox bookmark. Hard-copy visual bookmarking I guess you could call it. Then, assuming you do actually want some of the stuff you pasted into your book, you can flick through it at the end of the month and give yourself ¥10,000 limit to go crazy.

scrapbooking to handle online purchase addictions

Don’t try the impossible if you know it’s not going to work for you – be reasonable. Good luck, and let me know how it works out for you in the comments.

Shared housing and communal mealtimes

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Posted by jamie | Posted in -Featured- | Posted on 19-01-2009

I think many people still have hang-ups about living in shared housing, but there are an awful lot of benefits I’d like to discuss if you follow some basic advice. Let me first state that when I say “shared housing” I do not mean the gaijin houses that seem to proliferate the cheaper areas of town with tiny rooms, generally poor conditions and horrendous landlords – instead I mean getting together with a group of friends and finding a nice big place to live in. This can especially work out well if you’re entering into your 2nd or 3rd year on the JET programme and are sick of the rat-cage your B.O.E. arranged for you when you first arrived. I spent my entire university career living with up to 8 other friends in some really impressive houses, and I’ve lived in a few shared houses in Japan, so I have had just every kind of issue and argument that can arise.

First though, Why live in shared housing?

  • You will save a lot of money by cooking in larger amounts, not to mention you will be taking it in turns so you no longer have to cook every night of the week.
  • You will become a better cook, because your house mates will tell you when your cooking sucks and will help you to improve
  • Internet connections nowadays are fast enough (in Japan at least) to support up to around 10 simultaneous users and no one will experience any reduced speed. Our connection costs ¥4,000 a month, so by splitting between 4 of us, we save ¥36,000 every year. That’s enough to buy an Xbox360, so you can all game together!
  • Movie nights. Every movie is better when you watch it with a friend, so cut all the hassle of arranging to have friends over by just living with them~ make every night a movie night!
  • Don’t underestimate the power of having an on-hand support group to get you through those depressions that most foreigners in Japan get to at some point.
  • Shared furniture and appliances. What a better way to show you’re now a non-consumer than by using someone else’s couch or widescreen TV!
  • Especially for couples, living with other people can really help to defuse heated situations and give each a break occasionally. It’s a great half-way point between living by just the two of you and living separately.

But in order to make it all happen smoothly and to successfully stay friends with these people, let’s have a look at some of the issues involved with shared housing, specifically in Japan but these could equally be applied anywhere.

Privacy:
The only real downside that so many are keen to point out is the lack of privacy. In my experience, this has never been an issue in the slightest. As long as you move in with close friends only and keep it that way, along with some ground-rules, this really shouldn’t arise. I have been living in a house of 4 for over a year now, and not one of our bedroom doors has lock on it – this is the norm in a typical Japanese house. This simply hasn’t bothered any of us, including the girls. The most important thing is trust and a basic common courtesy – knock and ask politely before opening a door, don’t go into rooms without permission etc. It’s really not that big a deal among friends, but I think some people need to get over their ingrained idea that everything needs to be locked to be kept safe.

Noise issues:
Again, this is a basic common courtesy issue and more or less about choosing your friends wisely. Japanese houses are especially vulnerable to noise pollution, so you need to be more considerate than ever. I used to live next-door a to a South African (next-door, not even in a shared house), and the screams the girl made when they were… really, just unbelievable. I swear they left their balcony door open on-purpose so we, and the whole world of Japanese passers-by could hear them getting some. It’s these kinds of people you probably don’t want in your shared house. Not just couples though – if you have a friend who tends to go out and pick up random j-girls in bars a lot, you might want to talk them about the benefits of a steady relationship.

Cleaning-Up:
Some people can never been convinced to wash their dishes right after dinner, but it doesn’t have to be a big issue. That’s how I am anyway. But I do more than my fair share by going on cleaning sprees on the occasional free morning or while something is simmering etc. My general rule is that instead of being picky about only washing up your own dishes, just do everything that’s there when you have a little free time. If you’re going to wash your own bowl anyway, it really doesn’t hurt to wash a few more that are just sitting in the sink and it will keep the kitchen clean and avoid arguments. As for cleaning the rest of the house (toilet, bathroom etc), that’s something I have yet to sort out efficiently (in over 4 years of various shared houses). As a general rule: avoid making a mess in the first place, then you’ll only have to do a communal “big clean” every couple of months.

Split the utilities bills equally:
…and don’t take any discussions on this. “Waaa~ you’ve been using your heater all the time, I don’t think I should pay for as much as you!” – avoid this kind of whinging by agreeing upfront to just split equally, regardless. If everyone is environmentally mindful of their own energy usage, the bills should be reasonable anyway and this will never become an issue. Even better though is to have one person in charge of all the bills each month, and for them to privately sum and divide everything and just tell one figure to the rest of the house – don’t be specific about water or gas or electric amounts etc. – just sum and divide!

Charging for meals:
Don’t get into the habit of charging for communal meals. In my adventures so far, I have found that Americans tend to do this the most (my apologies if you are American and the idea of charging for a meal you have made appals you). I have never met a British, Canadian, or Australian person do this, even when the meal was obviously expensive. After cooking a meal for everyone, the culprit will charge a couple of hundred yen to cover the cost of ingredients, but will remain suspiciously quiet if anyone else doesn’t afford the same treatment to them. If you’re living in a house with solely Americans perhaps this won’t be an issue – but for every other culture I have ever come into contact with, this is just considered downright rude. I’m British myself, and I would never even dream of doing this. In a house of mixed cultures, this kind of money-collection will simply breed disdain with everyone. Anyone who is fundamentally against this kind of thing will either be financially out of pocket every time they cook for the house, or the house will simply stop eating together. You need to sit that person down and have a friendly talk with them. Generally the best argument to go with is that over time – taking the cooking in roughly equal turns – it all works out as equal anyway. Perhaps I spent 400 yen more than you on dinner ingredients this week, but then you spend 600 yen more the next week – after a period of months, it works out as really about equal. If you really want to squabble over a hundred yen difference in 6 months worth of nice friendly shared cooking, knock yourself out. Literally, please, it will do us all a favour. Of course, for this to work you will all need to be reasonably good and be prepared to cook, so help out and teach those who are still living in the last century.

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Save on trash bags by recycling plastic

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Posted by jamie | Posted in -Featured-, Trash | Posted on 07-01-2009

In the last year or so, cities across Japan have started implementing the new expensive trash bag scheme in an effort to curb the amount of waste that needs to be burnt every day. Where I am, a 10 pack of bags costs around ¥500! While I applaud them for their ecological initiative, the special new coloured trash bags are *really* expensive, and you can save a lot if you know how to recycle wisely.

pra

It still shocks me how many people are unaware that plastics other than just PET bottles can be recycled – or at least, for the purposes of saving money, can be put into much cheaper clear recycling bags. Some plastics are not worth recycling, but thats not for you to worry about. Indeed, anything and everything that has that little PURA mark on it can be thrown into the recycling bags, albeit separately from cans and bottles in another bag. In our house, we have a little recycling station in the corner of the kitchen. We have two recycling bags hanging there, one for cans and bottles, and the other for household plastic waste. You would be truly surprised at how much of your general waste is actually plastic.

img_0606

So, regardless of whether the local government is actually recycling the plastic or not – there was a news report about Kyoto city just burning it along with all the other waste (I can’t for the life of me find a link to the video or an English article on it, sorry) – there are serious savings to be made by cutting down on the number of trash bags you’re buying each month.

On another shelf we put cardboard and papers. Depending on your area, there may actually be a pickup for paper recycling. I lived here for years oblivious to the fact that one of those trucks playing an annoying tune that drove around at all hours of the morning was actually a paper recycling merchant – and they’ll even give you a little pack of tissues or a free trash bag if you’re getting rid of a lot (now there’s a reward we can really get motivated by!). They’ll also take your milk-packs, which is slightly more convenient than having to carry it to your local store to recycle them. Ask around about the paper pickups in your area.

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My project for next month is to reduce our waste even more by making an indoor smell-free fast composter! Stay tuned for the next instalment of saving on trash bags.

Inspired by The Frugal Girl - showing near-zero waste is entirely possible!

Super Affordable Food at Gyomu Super

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Posted by jamie | Posted in -Featured-, Shopping | Posted on 06-01-2009

“Gyomu Supa” is an incredibly cheap bulk-buy discount food store designed for businesses rather than home consumers, but there’s nothing to stop you shopping there. I’ve heard some people say they don’t like Gyomu because the food is poor quality, but I’m sure they’re mainly referring to the frozen meat. The fact is that frozen anything is worse than fresh, so let’s just ignore that and look at what else you can get there. Other than the frozen foods, they also have a good selection of fresh vegetables and various spices and sauces.

fusilli

Though I would never do my weekly shopping at Gyomu and I certainly wouldn’t recommend you do either, I do go there specifically to buy a couple of items in bulk maybe once a month. Namely: tinned whole and cut tomatoes for about ¥100 (perfect for making a quick pasta sauce or chilli-con-carne); also a 1kg bag of real Italian Fusilli for only ¥300 – bargain; and finally a pack or two of frozen pizza bases (I forget the cost now, but I think it’s around 50 yen for a small pizza base). Gyomu also happens to be the only place in Japan I have ever found real hotdog buns – I’d say the trip is worth if for those alone! Every 6 months or so we end up getting a big bag of those little chopped up dried red peppers – can’t think what they’re actually called, but they really add a kick of hot goodness, especially sprinkled on pizzas. Since my girlfriend is Chinese, she likes the range of random Chinese sauces and cooking ingredients – I have no idea what they are though, to be honest. While I’m there, I also pick up some button mushrooms for about half the price of our local supermarket. Of course, what’s cheaper for you will vary, but shopping smart and knowing what you can purchase in bulk will save you quite a lot.

Find your local area on Google Maps, then enter this search term to find your nearest store (copy and paste the Japanese): 業務スーパー

Playing the lottery – Takarakuji

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Posted by jamie | Posted in -Featured- | Posted on 05-01-2009

This is what ¥12,000 worth of Japanese lottery tickets look like. If you’re trying to save money, Takarakuji is certainly not the way to do it.

Many will say that spending a little on the lottery in order to stand the chance of winning big is worth it, but they are fooling themselves for a short-lived indulgence of excitement. Playing the lottery is not an investment and really shouldn’t be thought of one.

You could save that money, and buy yourself some training for a new qualification that will potentially add thousands to your monthly pay check. Or how about donating the money to sponsor a child – a genuine investment in a child’s future, not simply lining the pockets of lottery executives. There are a million more worthwhile things you could do with the money than throw it away on the lottery.

Which begs the question… how exactly did we end up with ¥12,000 worth of Takarakuji tickets at the hub of thriftiness that is Frugalista Japan?! Well, we certainly didn’t pay for them ourselves, I can tell you that. They were in fact a New Years present from a client at the traditional Japanese restaurant my partner works at – kind of like the traditional “otoshidama” (usually a coin or some notes in a special envelope) – only with the albeit incredibly small potential of becoming a lot more. After checking the winning numbers, we came out with about ¥3,900 of winnings. Not bad for nothing, but personally I wish they’d have just gone with shopping coupons or cash!

How does the Japanese takarakuji system differ from the normal lottery?

The lottery as you and I probably know it is a simply drawing of numbered balls. Match them all, and you get the top prize; match only some and you get a smaller prize. That form of lottery also exists in Japan, called simply loto, but the Takarakuji is by far more popular and certainly more traditionally Japanese.

Takarakuji is more like a raffle. You buy unique numbered tickets for around ¥300 yen each. Each ticket is arranged into a numbered “gumi” and then another 6 digit unique number. Apart from the main large prizes awarded to unique ticket numbers, there are a number of smaller prizes awarded to all tickets containing a certain number at the end etc. For example, we won because one of tickets ended in the number 856, regardless of the rest. It seems to me like the Takarakuji is easy to win smaller prizes, but my arguments against any forms of lottery still stand. Never buy them yourself!

I’ve also heard that even if your ticket doesn’t win for Takarakuji, you should keep hold of your ticket as you may be able win household goods in a later drawing (kitchen, toilet paper, hand soap etc). Last time this happened we forgot to buy the early edition of the newspaper that the secondary winning numbers were printed in though, so I can’t confirm this.

Have you had any experience with playing the lottery or takarakuji in Japan? Tell us about it in the comments!

Nissen Coupon Codes

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Posted by jamie | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 03-01-2009

Here’s a couple of coupon codes for anyone using Nissen online shopping site. During the checkout process, you need to go through the advanced process and type one of these in where it says “Lucky Number” – if they don’t work, just press back and put in a different one.

5265 – ¥1000 off; expiry date is listed as 20 days from when the flyer came to me.

5606 – ¥1000 off your >¥3000 order; found this on a Japanese site and used it sucessfully in December.

5218 – ¥390 off; valid until January 20th.