Quach Hong Thai, an engineer in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2, spent most of his career using his lunch break to dine out with colleagues, but with money tight due to COVID-19-related hardships, the 28-year-old engineer has begun preparing his own lunch to bring to work.

In keeping with his new budget, Thai also limits his visits to restaurants and coffee shops to just five times per month.

“That includes two for coffee, two for restaurants, and one for hanging out with friends,” Thai explained. 

His goal is to add VND5 million (US$217) to his savings each month after paying for fixed expenses, such as traveling, rent, and cash for his parents.  

“My salary is fine, but VND5 million is the maximum I’m able to put into savings,” he said. 

“Prices for everything seem to be skyrocketing.  

“With just VND60 million [$2,600] in yearly savings, how will I ever be able to buy my own apartment, afford a wedding, and cover medical expenses?”

Thu Hong, a white-collar worker in the city’s District 1, has also had to tighten her belt.  

The 23-year-old said she now limits herself to either buying discounted goods or nothing at all.  

Most of what she owns, from her name-brand purse to her home appliances, were purchased second-hand.  

She has even stopped attending social gatherings with friends and colleagues, instead choosing to build her relationships by “giving a hand to others in need or through regular conversations.”

Saving for a rainy day

Ho Quy Ly, 22, originally from south-central Binh Thuan Province, typically makes it home to her shared room in Binh Tan District, Ho Chi Minh City by 5:30 pm each day.  

The moment she gets home, she lies down on the floor next to four of her roommates, each of whom works at nearby food processing or footwear factories.    

Although the group does their best to make sure each person has enough space, things are definitely tight in the 15-square-meter room. 

In addition to sharing a room to save cash, Ly also does her best to stick to what she calls ‘super saver meals’ – boiled vegetables with seasoning or instant noodles.

“This is how we all live here,” she said.  

“We sleep next to the toilet and eat humble meals.  

“The pandemic has really hit us hard.  

“We’re only able to save a bit of money by sharing a small room and eating less.”

Married couple Van Hieu, 27, and Kim Ngan, 23, have made significant changes to their lifestyle, with each having taken up night shifts at a bar on Hai Ba Trung Street, Ho Chi Minh City to supplement their daytime office job salaries.   

Though the couple said they are able to survive off their daytime wages, having the extra cash allows them to save for a rainy day. 

“We used to spend everything we earned until we ran out of money and lost our jobs to COVID-19 in early 2020,” said Ngan.  

“Now, we want to try harder to save up in case one of us gets sick or if we decide to have a child.

“No one can really help us but ourselves.”

Incomparable lassitude

Thuy Mai, 49, has spent the past two years living in Ho Chi Minh City, far from her house and garden in south-central Ninh Thuan Province, to help her daughter, 26-year-old Huyen S., a primary school teacher, raise her baby.

In addition to her normal work schedule, S. teaches extra classes until 8:00 pm each evening. 

“My daughter and son-in-law are able to afford their daily expenses but they want to save money by working extra,” she said.

“I feel uncomfortable living in a big city but still want to help them.”

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