Before moving here, I knew Chiang Mai offered low-cost living and that the savings I’d make would mean I’d be in for a nice lifestyle upgrade. But I didn’t realise just how good the value was. Now I’m settled in, I’ve a good handle on my budget and the savings I’m making run right across the board, from the essentials to the little luxuries…
Rent: Yearly Cost Saving: $10,932
Regardless of whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, housing is arguably the biggest expense you’ll face while living in Australia.
In Melbourne, my partner Jason and I paid $1,738 (plus bills) for a two-bedroom apartment in an old building with no amenities. This worked out to $400 a week, cheap by Melbourne standards.
Compare this to our modern condo in the trendy Chiang Mai suburb of Nimman, which comes with a pool, gym, sauna, rooftop area and more.
The beautiful pool inside our condo complex.
The cost? 20,000 baht (about $827) a month. That’s considered expensive by Thai standards but it’s less than half the cost of our rental in Melbourne.
Friends of ours rent a much older place, with no amenities, in the neighbouring area of Santitham for 7,000 baht ($290) per month.
Transport: Yearly Cost Saving: $5,824
Cars are expensive to run. Back in Melbourne, it cost me at least $50 a fortnight to fill up my Hyundai Elantra. That’s $1,300 a year, just on petrol.
Add to that the cost of insurance (in my case, $812 for comprehensive cover) and registration ($800), and you’re looking at a total of $2,912.
Multiply that by two (Jason’s car expenses were roughly the same as mine) and the grand total is an eyewatering $5,824.
We have no need for a car in Chiang Mai, everything we need is within walking distance. If we do need to travel somewhere, we can catch a Grab (Thailand’s version of Uber) for as little as 68 baht (about $3).
Massages and Beauty Treatments: Yearly Cost Saving: $3,832
I used to dread going to a hair salon in Melbourne. Every six weeks, I’d fork out about $250 for a cut, colour and blow-dry. I also used to treat myself to a pedicure ($30) every three months, which meant my beauty expenses—not including cosmetics—would set me back around $2,120 a year.
While beauty treatments aren’t dirt-cheap in Chiang Mai, there are still savings to be had. A cut, colour and blow-dry starts at around 2,850 baht ($118), while a pedicure is about 300 baht ($12). That’s an annual saving of $1,128.
Then there’s the money you’ll save on massages. You can get a full-body, one-hour, oil massage for as little as 200 baht ($8). In Australia, that same massage would set you back at least $60. Let’s say you treated yourself to one massage per week. That’s an annual saving of $2,704.
Dining Out: Yearly Cost Saving: $2,600
We love eating out. But back in Melbourne, we always felt a little guilty if we didn’t cook the bulk of our meals, purely because of the cost. I estimate we spent at least $150 on either restaurant or takeaway food every week. Even takeaway Thai would cost about $40 for both of us.
That’s certainly not the case here in Chiang Mai, where you can eat fresh, authentic Thai food for a quarter of the price. The other night, we spent 220 baht ($9) for two servings of pad Thai, a plate of pork ribs and two mango shakes.
All this for less than $10—yum!
We eat out every single night in Chiang Mai—for about $100 per week. Compare this to our weekly restaurant/takeaway spend in Melbourne and we’re saving about $2,600 a year on dining out.
Drinks: Yearly Cost Saving: $806
We aren’t big drinkers, but we’ve noticed a considerable difference between the price of drinks in Chiang Mai compared to Melbourne.
Back home, a beer would cost about $10. Here you can sip on a cold brew for as little as $2. Even if you only drank one beer a week, that’s a saving of $416 a year!
Beer isn’t the only refreshment you’ll pay less for. You can pick up a fresh fruit shake (literally just your fruit of choice, mixed with crushed ice) for 30 baht (about $1.25) or a delicious smoothie packed with different ingredients for 60 baht ($2.50)
In Australia, fresh smoothies cost upwards of $10. Assuming you enjoyed just one smoothie every week, that’s an annual saving of $390.