Detailed breakdown of the cost of eating in Saigon

When I posted my expenses previously, I showed that I’m spending about $40 on “Work Lunch” and $180 on “Restaurants” each month.

So that is $220 a month on Food. But I didn’t really give any details on what that covers.

Let me fix that…

I break my spending into two categories:

Work Lunches

Looking over the historical budget data in YNAB it looks like I average about 12 “work lunches” a month. That seems…strange, since there are usually 20 work days in a month. I do skip lunch from time to time…but surely not 40% of the time?!?

Hmmlet’s put a pin in that and come back to it later.

What does $30 or $40 of lunch spending get you? The spending fall into 3 main categories:

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Divide by 20,000 to get approximate USD prices — so 70,000 becomes $3.50


What does $180 a month on restaurants cover? In November I tracked 23 meals in restaurants. (Clearly I don’t eat at home very much.) That works out to $3.90 per person per restaurant meal.

As you can see, prices can vary widely. From $1.75 to $28 when paying for two people. In general, the more white people you see around you, the more you’re going to pay. If you’re going out to Indian or Italian restaurants you’re going to be paying $10–15 per person every meal.

But you can also go to Vietnamese places every night that cost you $2 or $3 per person.

Groceries & Eating at Home

Given the above…it probably isn’t a huge surprise that I don’t eat at home very much. No shopping for groceries, no chopping vegetable to prep to cook, no cooking, no cleaning up…just pay $2 for dinner.

That said, I do eat at home sometimes. But usually only a handful of times a month.

I do pay about $100 a month at the local warehouse store — most of that is household supplies (laundry detergent, for instance) — but it does include some breakfast and dinner stuff.

Let’s be conservative and say that 50% of that spending — $50 — is on groceries for eating at home.

Missing expenses

I try to track my daily spending but I always make mistakes. When I reconcile balances, there’s usually money missing. YNAB says I only eat lunch 12 days a month, which is almost certainly wrong. So I’m clearly missing at least a few lunches. There are probably a few dinners that I also forgot to enter.

So add all of that up — work lunches, restaurants, grocery spending, and missing expenses — and we’re looking at maybe $250 a month for 2 people.

That’s not exactly cheap but neither is it crazy expensive. The USDA says a 4-person family on a “thrifty” food budget spends $584 a month. So, as a rough estimate, a 2-person family on a thrifty budget might spend $292 in the US.

So living in Vietnam is only slightly cheaper than a thrifty budget in the US.


Obviously it can vary quite a lot from my baseline.

I eat out. A lot. Basically 90% of the time. You could buy more groceries and eat in. That would push the costs down.

But I also eat very “local” compared to most foreigners I know. I’m often the only foreigner wherever I’m eating.

A friend of mine often complains that his wife and children want to keep eating the same kind of foods as if they were back in Belgium and their food expenses are quite high. Even if you eat at home every meal — if you’re buying beef and cheese in Vietnam you’re going to be spending a fair amount of money.

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Learn how to enjoy early retirement in Vietnam. With charts and graphs.

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