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How to live cheaply in Bali: $400 a month or less!
Bali on a Budget
Many of you will be planning to stay as long as possible in Bali, and would like to know how to live cheaply and on a budget.
Although prices are continually increasing in Bali, it is still possible to live for very little. Now, this might mean giving up a few comforts, but for the hardcore travellers or Bali enthusiasts, it should all be worth it!
I will cover (i) accommodation, (ii) food & drink, (iii) transport and (iv) leisure costs in this post.
(i) So, first of all, accommodation. There is one cheap and easy solution to this: a boarding house or kos (also spelled kost). These are everywhere and you can find some within walking distance of the beach for a reasonable price. If you look around Jalan Mataram or any of the gangs off that, you will find plenty for around $50/month. I say this area because I myself have lived there and it is a short walk to Jalan Legian (Bali's main drag & nightspot area) and in walking distance to Kuta Beach. These kos are not westernised or luxurious, but they are sufficient. Most provide a room to sleep and a bathroom - not much else! The bathroom will have cold water and a hole-in-the-ground toilet, but you get used to these pretty quick! Many kos complexes have communal kitchens but these are generally without fridges as they are outdoors (but they do have a roof!).
(ii) Next, food! One of the joys of Bali is its range of cheap eateries and varied street food. You can eat out with a drink in many of the small, local warungs for around $2. If you are committed to the budget lifestyle, you can live off these for $6 a day or around $180 a month. Even cheaper is the street food - think spicy meatball soup (bakso), everything from fried tofu to fried bananas (gorengan), roasted corn on the cob (jagung bakar), chicken with noodles (mie ayam) and the omnipresent fried rice (nasi goreng) - but it might be a while before your stomach can handle this as some of the hygiene involved is rather questionable. Rushing into a diet of street food is likely to increase your chances of getting the dreaded Bali belly! Street food could cost you around 30% less than warungs, although I wouldn't recommend it as a staple diet!
Obviously, it's hard to talk about food without mentioning drink! The main bottled water company here is Aqua (owned by Danone) and you can get a 5 gallon (19.5 litre) bottle filled for $1.30. This is way cheaper than buying 1.5 litre bottles constantly and should last you around 2 weeks if you're on your own or a week as a couple. If you want some alcohol, then Bintang beer is everywhere and costs almosts the same in shops as it does in bars. The current price of Bintang beer in Bali is around $1.50 for a small and $2.50 for a large (1 litre or 40 oz.) bottle. You can get this cheaper in a supermarket, but not much - maybe a 20% reduction but many of the convenience stores/mini-marts charge the same these days. The cheapest option for alochol is the local tipple, arak. This stuff is made in people's homes and is produced cheaply and available for as little as $1 a bottle. However, there have been some incidents of tourists dying from bad batches of this stuff so approach with caution - it is not produced legally and is Bali's moonshine - do not buy unless you are certain it is from a safe source. That said, thousands of litres of the stuff are drunk every day all over Bali - just be aware of the potential risk.
(iii) Following on, you're going to need some form of transport. As you might have guessed, by far the easiest and cheapest form of transport in Bali is the motorbike (or scooter as they are tiny!). You can rent one for as little as $40 a month and they are extremely cheap to run. At present, a full tank on a standard motorbike will cost around $1, which you should be able to get 40 miles out of - given Bali's small size (around 80 miles north to south and 100 miles east to west at its largest) this should go far. If you are not driving around constantly, a full tank could last you 3 days, so meaning slightly more $30 for fuel. Therefore, provided you find a good deal and don't drive everywhere, you can have a motorbike and ride it for around $70 a month in Bali. Note that there is a planned fuel price increase as it is currently under a government subsidy - petrol in the whole of Indonesia is set to increase by approximately 50% before the end of 2012, from 40cents per litre to around 60 cents.
(iv) Finally, let's look at leisure costs in Bali - after all, who doesn't come to here to make the most of leisure time?! It's not like people want to come here to work hard!!!
As you probably know, Bali is famed for its world-class surfing at places such as Padang-Padang, Uluwatu, Bingin, Keramas - the list goes on! If you want to surf, the best option is to buy a board cheaply in Kuta. There are hundreds of shops selling them in Kuta and you can get one cheap, for as little as $120 for an older one - but this would then last you for however many months you plan to stay, so it is only a one-off payment. If you only want to dabble, consider renting a board - this is generally around $10 a day, something to think about if you plan to go often as it will eat into your budget and, for 12 days' rental, you could potentially have your own - obviously this depends on you! As with places to buy boards, there are plenty of places offering surfboard rental so you can use your bargaining skills to find a good deal.
Another popular leisure activity in Bali is getting a massage - you can find these for as little as $3 for a 20-minute massage but be warned - some may want to give you a happy ending or plus plus treatment, as its known locally! Be sure you have judged the place appropriately before going in - heading to south Denpasar or less touristy areas could be a good idea as it means lower prices and less of the seedy spots that are rife in tourist areas. This is not to say that all massage parlours in Bali will offer this treatment, but plenty do. Use your common sense and it shouldn't be a problem.
Another cheap activity is snorkeling (best on the Bukit Peninsula or Bali's east coast - Kuta has nothing to see), for which it's best to bring your own gear with you as it's hard to find cheap snorkeling stuff here in Bali.
So there you have it, living in Bali for less than $400 a month and still doing some cool stuff like eating out, getting massages and going surfing! All you have to do is come!