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Money Diary: A 26-Year-Old Researcher In Hong Kong On 30k

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking a cross-section of women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period – and we’re tracking every last penny.This week: “I am a 26-year-old from London, working for a research firm in Hong Kong. I moved to the city last summer after many months of navigating travel bans and bureaucratic hurdles (not forgetting Hong Kong’s compulsory two-week hotel quarantine on arrival, electronic wristband and all). I’ve always been fairly careful with money. My parents took a systematic approach to our financial education; we had an allowance from about 8 (I’m talking £2 a week, mainly spent on chocolate) and were taught to budget from that. The amount given increased proportionally as we got older but meant if I wanted new clothes or holidays, I always had to save for them. This experience probably put me at the upper end of the ‘responsible with money’ spectrum when I started university, which you’ll know (if you’ve spent any time with 18-year-olds) is directly inverse to how much fun you are.Given that Hong Kong is the world’s most expensive city and I have a historical interest in being able to afford things, it may seem counterintuitive that I moved here. However, my overall expenditure is roughly the same as pre-COVID London, and local food and transport are comparatively cheap. I suppose bars being shut helps, too. For some pandemic context, Hong Kong has never locked down. As of January 2021, just over 10,000 confirmed cases have been recorded in total. Relative to much of the world, community transmission rates are low and even clubs were open for a few months last autumn. I’m aware of how privileged I am to have had this degree of parental support growing up, in addition to the serendipitous events which led to me moving to a place less impacted by COVID.”Industry: ResearchAge: 26Location: Hong KongSalary: £30,000 Net worth: Roughly £50,000, half in savings from the last few years of working and the other from family inheritance. Paycheque amount: £2,200Number of housemates: TwoMonthly ExpensesHousing costs: I live in an apartment with two housemates and pay approx. £850 rent (HK$9,000), plus a little extra for gas/electricity (approx. £50 a month). Loan payments: £50 a month student loan. Debt: Around £45,000 in student loans. All other monthly expenses: £19 (HK$210) for Hong Kong SIM card. I’m also still paying £20 a month for my English SIM because I haven’t worked out how to keep my number and cancel the plan. £9.99 a month Spotify premium, £0 for Netflix because I use my parents’ account. I was paying around £25 a month for ClassPass but gyms have been shut in Hong Kong since December so it’s paused. Day One8.30am: Alarm goes off for my pre-working from home morning stroll. In the time of COVID, my step count has become the currency of productivity. I bought a Fitbit last February so I have a constant reminder to hit my 10,000 steps. This morning though I resolve to run further at lunch instead, and snooze for another hour.9.30am: Start of my formal work day in Hong Kong. Extend a single arm out of my duvet cocoon and drag my freezing laptop under the covers with me. It is winter here, which I assumed would mean two weeks in Christmas jumpers and then back to the beach, but it is actually cold. 10.15am: Make a cup of coffee and get back into bed. 11.30am: Post-Zoom catch-up meeting with my team, peruse Fuji Instax cameras online. Consider whether a HK$700 (£66.50) camera plus film is worth physical evidence of my excursions in Hong Kong or whether I just want a Monday dopamine lift. I have a habit of buying electronic goods on a whim so I’ve trained myself to think for a while now before purchasing. Close tab. 1pm: Set off on a Nike guided 5k. This is a trail where I often encounter porcupines and the occasional wild boar (!) so it’s good to run it. Manage 2k but give myself a surprisingly convincing pep talk that not running is self-care and maybe better than actual running. Luckily, the trail is wild boar-free today. Put on a mindful Headspace guided walk (subscription purchased in London, March 2020 for obvious reasons) and drop by shops on the way home. Pick up a big bag of red lentils, two carrots and an onion. HK$45 (£4.27)2pm: Make vegan lentil dal with ingredients. Watch an episode of Gilmore Girls, jarred by unmasked outdoor Lorelai, and reply to client emails. There is a mask mandate in Hong Kong so exposed noses put me on edge now.4pm: Make a cup of peppermint tea and Zoom call Singapore team. 6.15pm: Walk to a friend’s house for a movie night. Ring my mum on the way who wishes me a “good morning” even though she knows it is not morning and which I can only assume is a passive-aggressive reference to me leaving her. My parents were supportive of me moving 6,000 miles away during a global pandemic but I can imagine they’d prefer I’d chosen a destination within the M25. Re-educate on time difference and discuss how bad pandemic is in London. Very bad. Pick up box of tea as gift for friend. HK$40 (£3.80)7pm: Order Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) and share a bottle of wine with friend while watching the Taylor Swift documentary on Netflix. For context, restaurants shut at 6pm here but there are no restrictions on private gatherings at home. The evening is spent eating dumplings and adding our own musings to Taylor’s narration: Red was her best work, her political activism was brave but windowed backpack does seem a strange way to transport your pet. 10pm: On the way home, transfer my friend HK$100 (£9.50) for wine and dumplings. Get tram, HK$8 (76p), along the harbour front to Mid-Levels Escalator (longest outdoor escalator in the world) and ascend to my apartment. 11pm: Put on a Louis Theroux podcast and sleep. I am meticulous about my sleep hours, partially from Fitbit addiction but also because Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep convinced me that I’ll literally die from under eight hours. Total: HK$193 (£18.33)Day Two8.30am: Woken by my housemate’s daily ritual of playing every Jess Glynne song while showering. Make it out the apartment and purchase a caramel soya latte from Starbucks across the road. This is an expensive habit I picked up recently on realising the artificial syrup flavour reminds me of years spent addicted to Frappuccinos as a teenager. Walk to zoological gardens nearby and stare at flamingos locked in the cages while sipping coffee. Remember to reply to my friends at home. Pick up some pita bread, hummus, avocados and toilet paper on the way back. HK$205 (£19.47)9.45am: Commence work from the living room (!) because I can rest my feet on the tiny heater my housemate has kindly gifted me. 10.30am: Make some porridge with almond milk and a banana. Consider a second coffee but too much caffeine makes me anxious so settle for an English breakfast tea. 1pm: Back to stepping. Walk around shops, no Instax cameras in Fortress. Spend 25 minutes in cult Japanese superstore Don Don Donki, a brand that has somehow defied the pandemic by opening four new stores since I moved here. Stay until annoyingness of Donki’s theme song outweighs comfort of warmth and buy a beef rice triangle and octopus teppanyaki on the way out. HK$47 (£4.46)3pm: Spend afternoon on Zoom under a blanket. 6.30pm: Walk to a slightly further MTR stop (for steps) and get the train east to a friend’s for FIFA night, HK$8.50 (81p). My FIFA limit is about two games before my opponent realises I only know how to slide-tackle so I peruse Deliveroo and get an assortment of Korean food for dinner. HK$85 (£8.07) each for food. One of my friends is here for six months from the UK and the other, who is from Hong Kong, plans to study there, so we spend the evening discussing English university culture and how expensive dim sum is in London. 10pm: Share a taxi back with friend, which I pay for as he’s out of cash. Transport in Hong Kong is far cheaper than London. Taxis in particular often cost little more than a Tube journey so it’s a fun novelty to be able to take a cab and afford to eat. I do not miss checking my UK Uber account on a Sunday morning. HK$45 (£4.27)10.30pm: Catch my best friend on the phone who is walking aimlessly in circles around Hyde Park on her lunch break while I get ready for bed. Fall asleep listening to second half of yesterday’s Theroux podcast.Total: HK$305.50 (£37.08)Day Three9am: Wake up for work. My office is only a 15 minute walk downhill, half by escalator, so I can afford to sleep in. 9.20am: Pick up a croissant from M&S on the way. HK$18 (£1.71)11am: Make a coffee from the Nespresso machine at work. I drink far more coffee than my colleagues and it’s become a running joke (maybe it’s not a joke) that I’ve heavily depleted the team’s capsule stock. Buy some new running leggings I’ve been eyeing on ASOS since my last ones broke. HK$450 (£42.75)1pm: The variety of food choices in Hong Kong is one of my favourite things about living here. Tables are limited to two so it’s just me and my closest friend from work today. We select a Michelin-recommended ramen restaurant and order their famous dipping noodles with an extra egg. Hong Kong is packed with highly acclaimed, inexpensive eateries, so lunch is always the highlight of my day. HK$140 (£13.30)2pm: Buy egg waffles on the way back to the office to extend lunch break. HK$35 (£3.32)6.30pm: Walk home from work and call my best friend, who is circling a different London park this morning. Drop my laptop and decide to do a spontaneous night hike to Victoria Peak. This sounds more adventurous than it is; the path is paved and mainly lit. Hiking is a major pastime here as nearly three quarters of the region is countryside or national parks. Buy a bottle of water and energy bar from 7/11 on the way. HK$18 (£1.71)7.45pm: Phone call interrupted when a wild boar emerges from the bushes next to me and I have to sprint 200m in the opposite direction (to be clear, this is definitely not what you’re meant to do when encountering a wild boar). 9pm: Get home. One of my housemates has made me dinner so I grab a bowl of chilli and we discuss the day and watch Rick and Morty on Netflix (we both use our parents’ subscriptions on Chromecast so this is free). We share basic groceries like butter and eggs and keep a tally of who owes what. 10pm: Scroll through Instagram in bed for a while. I used to read more but I think the intensity of the pandemic and navigating living abroad means I crave more mindless entertainment to switch off. 11pm: Put on an old episode of Dolly Alderton’s Love Stories (Emma Freud’s, my favourite) and go to sleep. Total: HK$661 (£62.79)Day Four8am: Woken by Jess Glynne being played near me so get up and make a coffee in the kitchen, put my phone away and read in bed for a bit before work. 10.30am: Concoct my staple porridge with almond milk and banana while flicking through The Economist online (I pay for a quarterly subscription). 1pm: Meet my friend from work for a walk. We pick up vegan bubble teas, HK$40 (£3.80) each, and escalator to one of the quieter roads above the business district. It’s really nice being so close to someone I work with so we can reciprocally vent about professional and personal stresses. 2pm: Finish lentil dal left in the fridge from Monday and talk to other colleagues on Zoom over the afternoon. 6pm: Have scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms while finishing off some emails. 7pm: Walk to meet a friend at an art class in a local culture centre. It used to be a police barracks but is now full of cafés and independent art shops. The class is HK$200 (£19) for the canvas, unlimited paint and a juice. I thought this hobby might be an inexpensive way of decorating my room but we always get distracted talking so I’m yet to actually finish a painting.11pm: Pick up a Kinder Bueno and water on the way home. Sit on the steps outside my apartment and speak to my sister, who is a teacher in the UK. We’ve never been separated this long and I really miss her so it’s nice that she’s not in school and I can catch her most days. HK$17 (£1.61)Total: HK$257 (£24.41)Day Five9.30am: Make coffee and porridge for breakfast. Settle in for a morning of working from my living room. 1pm: Meet a friend for lunch in a café near my office and have avocado and smoked salmon on toast with a flat white. HK$138 (£13.11)2.30pm: I have my laptop on me so decide to go to the office for a productive afternoon. We are formally ‘working from home’ but I try to go in a few times a week for a change of scenery. No one else is in today. 6.30pm: Leave the office, escalator home. Change and put on some makeup as going to see some friends for a drink tonight. 8pm: Bars are closed at the moment but there are various takeaway places where you can stand in twos with a beer, masks under chins. Grab some takeaway sandwiches and a pack of Tsingtao beers and catch up with a friend from the netball team I play for. Run into a few others (there are limited places to go right now) and take turns doing beer runs at a 7/11 nearby. HK$95 (£9.02)1am: Get a taxi home. HK$33 (£3.13)Total: HK$266 (£25.26)Day Six9am: Wake up a little hungover but not too bad. Text my work friend who I’m hiking with today for location and timings on where to meet. He’s a born and bred Hong Konger so a fantastic font of secret hiking trail knowledge. He recommends we meet at a station about 30 minutes away by MTR in the New Territories district. Grab some toast with peanut butter from the kitchen before I leave. HK$11 (£1.04)10.30am: For reasons I do not understand, the hike begins in a mall. Pick up a Starbucks coffee to alleviate caffeine headache (probably a hungover headache, let’s be honest) and commence walk. HK$40 (£3.80)2pm: Finish trail in middle of nowhere, which I am pleased to learn is also the best place for roast goose in Hong Kong. We order the much-acclaimed quarter goose, a vegetable dish and thousand-year egg (eggs preserved in saline solution which turn green on the inside) with rice. Our second Michelin-recommended meal in four days. HK$180 (£17.10)4.30pm: After a long bus journey, get home and start my post-hike tradition of intending to shower and not. Weekends are good for catching London friends who work late in the week so I spend a few hours hearing about how terrible corporate law is when your office is also your childhood bedroom. HK$8 (76p)7pm: Shower! Friend comes over to watch Chungking Express, a ’90s film set in Hong Kong I’ve never seen. Consider ordering Deliveroo but I’m still full from goose so we settle for the pita bread and hummus I have in the fridge.10.30pm: My friend leaves and I get into bed, suddenly very tired from the day’s hike. Another episode of Louis Theroux’s Grounded. Total: HK$239 (£22.70)Day Seven9am: Wake up. I have a bottomless brunch today so just make a coffee which I drink in bed while perusing Facebook and the news. I was meant to hike this morning but I’m feeling lazy so I silence my Fitbit reminders and watch Netflix.11am: Somehow also purchase Instax camera on Amazon. HK$700 (£66.50)11.30am: Get ready and leave the apartment. Surprise Hong Kong weather – it’s suddenly 23 degrees and sunny (?!). Good thing I left the scarf I’ve had to wear all week while INSIDE at home. 12pm: Meet girls from my netball team for Mexican free-flow brunch, which is exactly as dangerous as it sounds. We only managed three matches before the latest restrictions were implemented so naturally exchanged evening training for evening hikes and league games for unlimited alcohol deals. We sit in twos with plastic dividers and it’s all table service. HK$450 (£42.75)3pm: Leave the restaurant and go back to a friend’s apartment who has a large roof terrace. Grab some truffle-flavoured crips and a water from 7/11 and manage to sober up a bit, it is a Sunday after all. HK$25 (£2.37)6pm: Walk home exhausted after an afternoon of heavy eating and drinking. My housemates are just starting a Star Wars movie but I opt for my bed to start Bridgerton. 9pm: Wake up from an accidental nap and FaceTime my parents, who are eating lunch and immediately berate me for having been asleep. I have limited patience for the chronologically challenged today so keep it short, then get up to make some avocado on toast. 10pm: Actual bedtime. Listen to a few Table Manners podcast episodes before falling asleep again. Total: HK$1,175 (£111.62)The BreakdownFood/Drink: HK$1,627.50 (£163.17)Entertainment: HK$900 (£85.50)Clothes/Beauty: HK$450 (£42.75)Travel: HK$113.50 (£10.77)Other: HK$0 (£0)Total: HK$3,181.50 (£302.19)Conclusion”This was a fairly typical week for me in Hong Kong under the current COVID restrictions. No surprise how much I spend on meals; food was a huge factor in deciding to move here. The camera purchase was the only real enigma as I don’t often buy random electronics. I mentally track my spending and keep a record of my savings, so this exercise wasn’t too revelatory in terms of my finances. I should probably be nicer to my parents though.”Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Money Diary: 25-Year-Old Nurse On 27kMoney Diary: A TV Producer On £300/d In LondonMoney Diary: A Homelessness Worker In Manchester