China: What’s Cheap and What’s Not

When coming to China from the US, I had envisioned a land where everything was dirt cheap. I imagined that since so much was made here, it would be even cheaper because I wouldn’t even have to pay for shipping. While some things are cheap, others are way more expensive. Let’s dive right in!

What’s Cheap

Restaurant Food

While there are some expensive restaurants (especially for Western food), ordering food from a small restaurant, street vendors, or a deli counter is often cheaper than buying ingredients.  For instance, I can buy 2 small breakfast buns for less than 50 cents (USD). Therefore, there’s been a deplorable lack of cooking around our house and I’m no closer to being able to cook Chinese food than before I came to China. Check out this delicious street food in this old post My favorite food in China.


Usually, water is about $7 a month and electricity is about $15– depending on how much we’ve been running the air. Plus, Alex can pay for electricity with an app on his phone, super convenient!

Fresh Flowers


Often, walking home from the subway I pass a person selling flowers or sometimes two. I can usually get a small bunch for about 10 rmb ($1.25). Accordingly, I usually buy fresh flowers every week or two. It’s still a luxury, but oh so affordable!


My old glasses broke, so I went to a place Carson recommended. I walked out having paid about $37 bucks for my prescription glasses in (knockoff?) Prada frames with 1 day delivery. Pretty sweet! Trying to decide if I should go back for the prescription sunglasses also.

Public Transport

Maybe it’s more about convenience than affordability, but I can ride all the subways, buses and bikes I want around Beijing for less than $30 a month. It’s so much cheaper than maintaining a car! Also, Beijing bike sharing is pretty cool, read more about it here Beijing Bike-Sharing is the Best.


What’s Not


Expect the most basic coffee to set you back at least $3 and your Starbucks Caramel Macchiato to ring up around $6 (whoooaaa!). Even buying ground coffee to make at home is expensive. When we bought a can of ground coffee around the same size as a small Folgers can it was about $22. Yikes!! The one exception to the rule is IKEA weirdly enough…. you can get a cup of coffee with unlimited refills for $1.25. Yet another reason why IKEA is great.

IKEA coffee

IKEA coffee


This was perhaps the biggest surprise to me. Even at stores that look like a Forever 21 equivalent, expect to pay $5-$10 more than you would back home. Also, Asian sizing means that if you are normally a medium, you now need a large. Higher prices + larger sizes = no fun.


With candy, there’s a pretty odd range. Snickers are super cheap (40 cents maybe). But, the next option is a Dove bar or a Bueno Bar which are both more than a dollar. Then, Hershey bars are even more expensive… they’re about the same as a Ferrero Rocher pack. It doesn’t make any sense to me!




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