The Billfold: The Cost of Living in Shanghai

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I’m a loyal reader of The Billfold, which describes itself as simply “a site about money.” There’s some personal finance stuff—how to save for retirement, why you should know your credit score, what goes in to buying a house, etc.—but most of the articles are less predictable, and some are downright quirky (last week they did a series on “How Muppets Do Money”). The Billfold pays a lot of attention to money issues that freelance workers/independent contractors face (like unpredictable cash flow and the scourge of estimated quarterly taxes), and it also runs a number of articles that have an international focus—such as, for example, “The Cost of Living in Shanghai,” which just happens to have been written by me:

I’ve spent about four of the past nine years in China, and have watched the exchange rate fall and prices rise—I now get about 6.2RMB for every dollar that comes out of my American bank account. Since moving semi-permanently to Shanghai in October 2012 (initially to do research for my dissertation, now to write and teach there), I’ve had multiple conversations with other long-term expats about how pricey China has become, and Shanghai is now, by at least one measurement, more expensive than New York. But although I wouldn’t call living in Shanghai a bargain, my money goes a lot further there than if I had stayed in Southern California (where I went to graduate school) or the East Coast (where I’m from).

China is definitely not as cheap as it used to be, and some sectors—most notably real estate, if you’re buying rather than renting—are completely out of control. But on a day-to-day basis, I find it comparable to, and often cheaper than, New York and other big cities in the U.S. As I discuss in the article, there are some real bargains here, like bus fare (2RMB, or $.32) and the vegetable baozi (steamed buns) I had for breakfast this morning (also 2RMB, and delicious).

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