Can You Survive on $500 a month in Brunei?

23rd August 2018
can you survive on $500?

A while ago, a reader asked this: “usually the salary I view from Jobs Ads are $500.. do you think a future graduate like me can survive with that $500?” Which is a very interesting question! I’m sure many students and part-timers would be fine getting $500 on the side. But what if you’re graduated and fully in the workforce? Let’s explore whether you can survive on $500 or not.

I guess the best way to determine if someone can survive on $500 is to break it down a bit further with some examples. Things like your discipline, responsibilities and lifestyle will play a role on the amount you’d need to live on. That’s not to say that you can’t dream big; just don’t spend big when you literally can’t!

So can you survive on $500 a month in Brunei?

Short answer: Yes. The key word here is “survive”. It’s going to be pretty difficult for the most part but I’ll simulate 2 budgets: having assistance from parents or family, and staying alone.

1. Staying at your parents’ house

Financially, Asian culture helps the youngsters quite a bit. The elders usually take it as a personal mission to provide for their offsprings. In this situation, let us assume you have a house and transportation provided. So you earn $500:

  • TAP and SCP = $42.50 (5%+3.5%)
  • Rent = $0 (staying at parents’ house)
  • Transport = $80 (fuel at $20 per week; 16%)
  • Groceries and home contribution = $150 (30%)
  • Savings = $50 (10%)
  • Allowance for parents = $50 (optional; 10%)
  • Personal spending = $127.50 (25.5%)

2. Staying on your own

If you’re going out on your own, whether it’s your choice or not, I think it’s super hard mode in this game of Life. That is even before considering doing it on a paycheck of $500! Let’s imagine you actually stay near your work place and walk to work because that would probably be the smart thing to do.

  • TAP and SCP = $42.50 (5%+3.5%)
  • Rent = $100 (For a room in a shared flat; 20%)
  • Transport = $20 (occassional bus ride; 4%)
  • Groceries and home contribution = $150 (30%)
  • Savings = $50 (10%)
  • Allowance for parents = $50 (optional; 10%)
  • Personal spending = $87.50 (17.5%)

How about raising children on $500?

As we have mentioned in one of the previous posts, raising kids in Brunei may not be too expensive but it’s definitely not cheap. A single income of $500 may not be enough to sustain you and your spouse, let alone kids. So if raising a family is one of your life goals, it is time to take a look at your situation and look for ways to increase income. This may be through side hustles, dual income with a working spouse, education to open up job opportunities and so on.

Things that determine if you can survive on $500… or any amount

First thing’s first, we know that money makes the world go round. If you have the capital, there’s likely endless possibilities for you except certain things that can’t be solved by throwing money at the problem. And what determines how much capital you can potentially have? Your habits, of course! Don’t expect to save 50% of your pay if you already have 60% locked up in credit card bills.

1. Discipline

I believe this is the backbone of our mentality when it comes to money. Without discipline, you’re more likely to be left living paycheck to paycheck even on a big salary; don’t even think to about $500! Build discipline as early as possible (for some that time is NOW!) by learning about:

  1. Budgeting and sticking to it
  2. Delayed gratification – Is that item really worth buying now?
  3. Spend on needs rather than wants if the budget’s tight
  4. Emergency funds

2. Responsibility

The most common budget killer is being the breadwinner for the family. Most people will spend anything for the family so reflect on your responsibility. Do you need to provide for your family? Pay for car and house loans? Supply the groceries?

If possible, work something out with family members to share in supporting the home financially. That would alleviate some of the burden and a lot of the mental one!

3. Lifestyle

OK, really, the biggest killer for any paycheck is lifestyle. I know the avocado latte is a hot meme for this but realistically it makes sense! If you spent $5 a day, that’s $150 a month! Lifestyle will dictate how you’d spend your money. And what dictates lifestyle? Again, it’s discipline! Being able to resist the avocado latte everyday will save you $150. But that’s not to say you can’t budget it in and spoil yourself occasionally.

Another thing to bear in mind is lifestyle inflation. This is when you perceive yourself as being able to afford better things because, you know, “you deserve it”. Lifestyle inflation is really waiting to eat you up; “Got a raise? Time to get that new TV!” Be careful there.


In a nutshell, yes, you can survive on $500 a month in Brunei. But the key word here is survive. Aspiring for more than simply survival will require some ingenuity and hustle to go further. If you have the advantage of having a place to live and transportation is sorted, I guess it’s not too bad. Otherwise, it’s seems pretty tough to me. Other things I have not factored in are personal spending habits; what if you love gadgets or travel or avocado lattes? It will take some work and saving up to reach these goals to be honest but I think it’s possible.

To the dear Reader who asked this question: while you can survive on $500, I believe as a uni/tertiary graduate, you definitely could demand more than that. $1,200-$2,000 starting salary is a possible, “normal” target for graduates depending on the company. Still, it’s not like the market is following a standard set of rules though.

Good luck, Readers!

Without discipline, you’re more likely to be left living paycheck to paycheck even on a big salary

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