Money-saving tips from a Chinese millennial who owns two properties

·4-min read

One millennial is trying to show China that being careful and diligent with money can lead to luxuries far more valuable than a fashionable bag or new wardrobe.

For Wang Shenai, her frugality strays into stinginess, but it has come with a concrete reward: She is 32 years old and owns two flats in the relatively wealthy city of Nanjing, the capital of the eastern province of Jiangsu.

Wang, who is married with a kid, has been saving about 90 per cent of her salary, which she did not disclose, over the past nine years to buy the two flats in Nanjing.

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Her push for frugality appears to have struck a nerve in China. She gave an interview to Talk to Her, a programme on Tencent’s social media platform QQ, which has been viewed over 500 million times on Weibo. It has sparked tens of thousands of threads with people debating whether they should emulate her extreme lifestyle.

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In the clip, Wang laid out some of her unique strategies:

“I spend less than 100 yuan (US$15.60) per year to buy underwear because it is not a good idea to wear other people’s used undergarments,” she said. “But I have a friend who likes to buy clothes, and she will give them away even if she does not wear them that much. She will ask me to select whatever I want from her used clothes.”

Wang said she never joins feasts because they can get expensive. She only uses public transport and tries as much as possible to pay for it using free coupons she finds online.

Wang said she practised extreme frugality because her home is what makes her feel secure. Photo: QQ
Wang said she practised extreme frugality because her home is what makes her feel secure. Photo: QQ

She said she never considered buying luxury goods.

“For some people, spending money makes them happy. For me, I don’t feel happy at all. Instead, I feel nervous and anxious when spending money,” said Wang.

Wang said her lifestyle has rubbed off on her husband, who, she said, uses a mobile phone that is so outdated it only has enough memory to run WeChat, an app that is almost required to navigate modern Chinese life.

Wang’s interview sparked a debate about whether her lifestyle is worth emulating. Photo: QQ
Wang’s interview sparked a debate about whether her lifestyle is worth emulating. Photo: QQ

Ironically, Wang worked in advertising after graduating from university with a degree in design. But she said her work experience cemented a disdain for spending “because commercials try to create anxiety in people to make them more likely to buy something.”

Wang’s red lines are that she never steals, and she does not profit at the expense of others. She also does not judge people who are looser with money.

The video prompted heated discussions about whether the reward was worth it – or if it was even possible for many people who can barely scrape by on their salaries.

“What’s the meaning for her to live such a frugal life? For wearing old clothes? You cannot take the money with you to the underworld when you die,” said a Weibo commenter, using a popular phrase in China.

Another person said: “The media should not promote her extreme frugality. Many people who are frugal cannot afford to buy a home because the property prices are unreasonably high. Buying property is far beyond our reach.”

Those who supported Wang gave her compliments such as, “She is a wise person to resist temptations in such a society full of material desires. She is great because she has bought property by herself, rather than relying on parents as many of her counterparts do.”

Wang said a lot of her clothes are from her friend. Photo: QQ
Wang said a lot of her clothes are from her friend. Photo: QQ

The debate might have hit a nerve because Chinese millennials and the younger generation are expected to generate 65 per cent of Chinese consumption growth in 2021, according to a report from the Bank of China.

The report said many people under the age of 35 are taking out loans to fuel their short-term consumption.

As for the property, Wang said it gave her a sense of security and is where she spends all of the money she works so hard to save.

“I think it is important for women to buy property. She should own it, no matter how big or small. When a woman encounters failures, her home is where she can retreat,” said Wang.

Wang is a leading figure in a “stingy people’s chatting group” on Douban, a lifestyle forum where people share tips about cutting expenditures.

“I told my followers that people in this chat group are not stingy, but rather they are the people who take life seriously. Saving money is nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.

Four money-saving tips from Wang Shenai:

  • Do not buy new clothes; try to borrow old clothes from friends

  • Only use public transport, and try to find discounts if possible

  • Never join feasts

  • Stay away from luxury products

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