HCMC on $200/month

When I first came here I only had $200 AUD per month.


Now let me tell you that’s not just a ‘no cocktails for me tonight’ kind of budget, its not even a ‘$4 hostels’ or ‘$2 street noodles’ kind of budget: that is a full blown, scary and real ‘I need to make money NOW’ kind of budget. It also lends itself excellently to drinking 50c whiskey and eating bucket loads of street-seller quail eggs and nothing much else. Boss.

But the fact is I shouldn’t have been in Saigon! I should have been at home, earning money, a roof over my head, stability, safety, sensible-ness…


Yet…hell I love this city. I loved it even after a few weeks of being here, and I stayed.

Would you like to know how?

Here are 3 methods to my madness that kept me alive on $200 flat savings for what turned out to be just over a month. Not too bad in the end, but at the time I had no idea how long I’d have to last.

  1. Take budget to a new level

I lived in a room that cost me $180 a month, and that’s expensive! I needed to be right in the backpacker district and, lets face it, I wanted to be there too, but on the outskirts of this Vietnamese metropolis you could find a room for $150 or less, easy.

You also get the added bonus of probable Vietnamese student flat mates, a totally local neighbourhood, and a lot of useful local connections. Perfect!

How to get one of these gems? Probably the best way is to do as I did and sit in a lot of cafes talking to interesting people. You’ll find that with every connection you make another bit of the puzzle falls into place. But I also recently wrote this guide to housing in HCMC on Citypassguide.com which is what I now use.

I ate on the street. Breakfast was 50c hu tieu from my favourite noodle lady, coffee was 60c and bought from a woman who hid in an alleyway just off Bui Vien, lunch was a baguette (banh mi) or some more hu tieu and dinner was usually something deliberately bizarre from somewhere deliberately out of the way. A perk of eating budget is that you find yourself painting your stomach blue, perhaps literally… And with it come a lot more connections and cultural revelations. DO NOT eat at a restaurant!

Henna butterfly, $1 or a whiskey

I drank like an economist. Or a banker actually – the illustrious Banker in the Sun and myself have enjoyed countless 50c Whiskeys, on the rocks and dangerously good, at ‘our bar’ number 73 Bui Vien, and back in my first few months I rarely ever touched any spirit except this. Too much money. This bar is one of those amazing places where you sit on the floor and get a sore back (you now sit on chairs)- beers were (and are) 12,000VND and Whiskey shots are 10,000VND. I can be very efficiently happy on that…

I washed my own clothes, went without toilet paper and did my own nails. Simple – luxuries like laundry and self-maintenance must definitely not be neglected, in fact there is no need! Because, if you try, you will learn how to do a GREAT job yourself. Still now I wash my pants every morning in the shower, hang them on my window, and wear them the next day. Perfect rotation. As for loo paper… I now use that, but when I first came here I didn’t seem to need it. Ew! Its not expensive and it goes a long way, but hey I’m terrible at thinking and I just kept forgetting to buy it. Only remember now because I managed to establish a habit. Such is the life of an artist…?

  1. Network

I now have a really nice and cheap room ($150 USD/month in D1 with aircon), a seriously great job working for myself on this site and also for Citypassguide.com, and a great group of friends – all because I network.

I don’t ever just ‘converse’ – every little bit of word matter that exits my mouth is directed at helping someone or helping myself. It’s actually a pleasure to do this, and even back when I first came here I never really held small talk.

I helped two blokes buy a bike the other day because I knew another friend who’d just done so, and cheaply; I took a commission and a market job from the manager of my favourite restaurant because I went there to draw and got chatting; I had a business deal with a brilliant Vietnamese man I met on Bui Vien whereby he marketed my henna and I drew it, giving him a cut and making a good friend in the process.

I had a teaching job because I talked to a man who happened to teach already; I quickly moved to a new room because I mentioned my plight to a restaurant owner; I’ve directed more people to my favourite travel agent than I can count and I helped two friends buy flights the other day through my favourite online platform (skyscanner, check it out yo).

You give, you take, and you network.

Sketch for the 5 Oysters Commisson
Sketch for the 5 Oysters Commisson

It can seem scary to just get up and talk to someone but believe me the more you do it the easier it becomes. I just pretend a situation isn’t awkward, and then it almost always isn’t! Fake it till you make it.

  1. Use your talents

I mentioned this a bit in the point above – I have alway earned my living in Vietnam predominantly with Sketchpacking, and now it is my soul source of income.

I pay my way with writing, illustration, and branding. And you could do something like this too! What are you especially good at? Cooking? Cleaning? Drawing, music, writing, maths, networking, jewellery making, yoga, running, talking? Walking? Exploring?

Literally, even if the only talent you can think of is eating you could potentially make money out of it. Just go and find yourself a favourite restuarant, visit the establishment a few times and build up a relationship, then offer to bring in customers. You could take flyers, word of mouth, etc, and with every customer that visits your place with your recommendation comes a commission for you.

I wrote about this actually – check out my post on how to make money online.


When I first came here I sold henna tattoos for $1 a tattoo (depending on the size), and also received free drinks or ciggies for my efforts.

Someone bought me a beer, paid me $2 and gave me 3 russian strawberry flavoured cigarettes the other night…brilliant!

Most nights I was able to make at least $15 off these two mechanisms, which paid for my room and for a few chopstick-fulls of delicious hu tieu – which, at the end of the day, is all you really need…

How to Get a Visa to Vietnam >



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s