The short answer is Yes, I did it myself with a Filipina girlfriend. In this blog I will explain how I did it and my expenses in detail. I will also go into how you can do it but also tell you the downside of living on such a tight budget as well.
A different time and a different place
When I was hitting $800 and less it was during the pandemic so eating out at restaurants, going on trips and doing other extracurricular activities were not happening. Keep in mind we could have had occasional nights out and small trips, I will explain in a bit.
At the time of the pandemic I had negotiated 12k pesos a month for rent which had included the internet and water. Now you might think that is a rent that was available during the pandemic only but actually just recently I was paying 15k pesos for a two bedroom home. If you are willing to stay in areas that are not heavy expat areas then you can find decent housing from the 8k to 18k range depending on how big and what exactly you are looking for. My first place for 12k was a one bedroom one bath unit. I have seen many places pop up even now within that range. However, we are talking Filipino owned housing and apartments usually meaning it will be of a lower quality than most westerners are used to. Many will lack hot water or aircon in the living room and even bedrooms. I had negotiated aircon to be put into the living room in both of the above mentioned places. I also negotiated hot water in the bathroom as well. So you can do some fixes that will improve your quality of living. I have rent being your 2nd biggest expense that you will have in the Philippines.
I consider food to be the biggest expense for most foreigners who come to the Philippines to live. This is a hard habit for many westerners to break or to change up their diets. When I had a low food budget it was again during the pandemic. Why? Well, the restaurants were all closed and the shipments bringing imported goods into the local grocery stores just about ceased all together. So for the most part my diet had changed to a strictly Filipino diet. Now for me it wasn’t all that big of a deal since at that point I had already been living in the Philippines around four years. At the time of the pandemic we had limited food choices and went to a lot of local markets buying fruits, vegetables, eggs and other items. I still found myself eating a pretty good diet. At the $800 monthly budget I could have eaten out about once a week at a restaurant if one had been open.
My electric bill, believe it or not, was higher on my $800 budget during the pandemic because I was home more, so it literally stayed on 24/7. Now my aircon only goes on while I sleep and only for a few hours and I mostly use the fan once the room is cooled off. My aircon doesn’t stay on 24/7 like before. This is the one area that I think a lot of foreigners can save on. I speak to so many who say they leave their aircon on 24/7 even if not home. I think fans can help a lot and lower your electric costs. I know when I first arrived in the Philippines my average temp. That I kept my aircon on was much lower than it was now. It is a matter of adapting to the climate eventually.
My $800 Budget
Rent – $240
Internet – included
Visa Extensions – $40
Electric – $60
Food/Groceries – $250
Dining Out – $0
Travel Medical Insurance – $107
Water – included
Streaming Services HBO Max/Netflix/Amazon – $25
Drinking Water – $5
Lowering Rent & Food
It comes down to the two big costs usually which are Rent and Food. My home before was very nice and I liked it but you have to search hard for these little gems and understand it won’t be a big spacious or modern home like you are accustomed to living in. If you are looking for a condo or an area that a lot of expats live in it will be very difficult to stay in the 15k or lower range for rent but it is possible.
Food will be the hardest for people to adjust to. Most people who come out here will want to stick to a western type diet or at least adhere to a fifty percent western diet and the rest local diet. The problem is that to stay under $800 you will have to almost omit dining out, going out for drinks, coffee, expensive excursions or trips. The people I know that live under $800 stay at home the majority of the time and when they do go out it is a special occasion. They may go to a local beach or waterfall that may just cost a few pesos.
Most of us want to come out here to live a better life and really enjoy life and while 3k to 5k USD monthly income may not give us a lavish lifestyle in the West, here it can give us quite a lavish lifestyle. If you are making that amount here you can dine out almost anytime, grab your expensive morning Starbucks and do some travel and weekly excursions. In the West that amount will just keep you afloat unless of course your home and car are paid off. So while the idea to come out here and live on less than $800 is appealing for many of us, it just isn’t realistic. Most of us want to live life and not just exist. I’d love to hear your comments on that matter.