‘We quit our stressful public sector jobs to earn £150 a month in Sri Lanka’


Sri Lanka

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A few months ago, my wife and I left our posts as teachers in London to live and work in Sri Lanka.

We met at university studying completely different degrees, but once I got into teaching at the age of 21, I convinced her to follow me during the pandemic when other jobs were hard to come by.

We both ended up teaching Maths in the same school, and thankfully her parents lived within a short distance allowing us to avoid paying dreaded London rents.

In my last year as a teacher I earned a pre-tax salary of around £40,000, which included a premium for running some extra-curricular initiatives for the school.

My wife was slightly less experienced but still took home nearly £2,000 a month after taxes and deductions. Although teacher salaries were quite rightly the topic of much debate last year, we managed to save a fair bit by having no housing costs.

Financially, this was very liberating, and whilst we were conscious of squirrelling as much as we could, we still treated ourselves (Pret subscriptions, holidays, meals out).

However, the stress of our public sector jobs took their toll, and after my fifth year in teaching, I needed a new adventure. We took the plunge and quit for Sri Lanka.

Having left intending to start our own educational initiative, we’ve agreed to help launch a brand new charitable centre for young people.

For this we’ve agreed to receive the wage of a typical Sri Lankan teacher – just 60,000lkr (£150) a month each.

This is a significant pay cut but affords us much greater personal and professional freedom than we had in London, and fits our moral objectives.

Plus, Sri Lanka is super cheap, so those pounds go a long way, and we each set aside around £3,000 of savings to fall back on.

Currently, we’re living in a tricky financial mirage whereby everything seems insignificantly cheap around us, but we’re still getting used to our ultra-low wages. Our savings won’t last forever, but you’ve got to make the most of it.

This was not a regular week as we happened to be in Colombo getting documentation sorted rather than in Jaffna where we have been settling in. However, no week is a regular really and our overall spending worked out to around the same.

Vital statistics

Age(s): 30 (and 27)

Pre-tax salary: £1,800 each.

Monthly rent: £0 as we have stayed with friends and family. This might change soon.

Monthly subscriptions: Spotify, £13.99 and travel insurance for both of us, £75

We also have a daily delivery of milk fresh from the cow. Every day a man turns up with a repurposed 330ml soda bottle of unpasteurised milk that we boil and drink for 100lkr.

The exchange rate means that £1 is about 420lkr.

Day 1:

We picked up a cream bun from the famous tuk-tuk mobile bakeries for 90lkr. A steal. We then went for some classic morning tea. If the locals are buying it then it is good value, and this sets us back 180lkr.

I give 40lkr to a disabled beggar in Wellawatte. I don’t do this often, but sometimes you feel compelled to.

We went out in the afternoon to meet one of my wife’s friends. We did some work in a cafe before meeting with her.

We spent 800lkr – nearly £2 – on a relatively expensive cup of tea. But at the Dilmah cafe at One Galle Face, they have the best teas served in a fancy flask with fresh cinnamon, jaggery, lime, and cardamom.

I spent 150lkr on a packet of homemade cassava chips from a seafront stall, which I ate people watching on the Galle face stretch.

A tuk-tuk home cost 500lkr, before we splashed out 200lkr on a slice of roast paan from a bakery plus a coconut and some chilli from a local stall. This will make a simple dinner (which is not the main meal here) of bread and sambol. An economical option.

Total: 2,170lkr (£5.22)

Day 2:

We spent the day pent up at home, doing bits of work and practising frugality. Did a modest shop in the afternoon amounting to 2,000lkr.

Total: 2,000lkr (£4.81) 

Day 3:

We’d earmarked this day as being a big hit. Our friend had invited us to go on a night out, and we couldn’t really say no.

We managed to wedge in a meal at a bring your own drink restaurant beforehand in order to reduce the expenditure on alcohol, which is quite heavily taxed here.

We went to three different establishments, one of which had an entrance fee.

The total amount spent on food and drink came to 24,000lkr for the two of us. Although this is big money relative to what we’re earning, we felt we got good value for money – especially in the first two places which had live music.

But I didn’t much like the third venue – it was not my style and was a bit expensive for my taste.

Total: 24,000lkr (£57.73)

Day 4:

We get bunnies (an umbrella term for sweet baked goods) for breakfast in an effort to cure our respective hangovers (280lkr). Our search for decadent coffee took us to a bougie cafe in the backstreets, where we spent 1,100lkr.

We justified it as we needed a quiet and relaxed place to work (which this open air cafe certainly provided).

We went to a restaurant called Curry Pot, where you can choose from dozens of dishes full of vegetable, fish and meat curries. We tried to be thrifty here and, knowing the size of the portions, ordered one to share plus a bottle of soda water.

But after paying we realised we may have been charged a foreigners’ premium (2,500lkr).

Local customs mean that when we visit my wife’s family, we are expected to take token gifts, such as biscuits, chocolates and fruits, which cost us 3,000lkr.

We spent 1,250lkr on tuk-tuks during the day. They are the only way to get around in Colombo if you don’t have a car or a scooter.

They’re absolutely everywhere meaning they’re so convenient and competition is high, making them pretty cheap. We made five journeys altogether today.

Total: 8,130lkr (£19.55)

Day 5:

We have another sweet treat for breakfast (280lkr) before buying another biscuit box to take when we visit friends for 700lkr.

We spend 600lkr on the transport there and back, before heading home for a quiet evening. This is a cheap day, and is quite typical for us normally.

Total: 1,580lkr (£3.76)

Day 6:

Being in Colombo gives us the opportunity to do some light travelling. We’d booked two nights at an Airbnb in Galle the week before.

The price was significant to us but very good value in the grand scheme, although being out and about meant we spent more than normal.

We nabbed breakfast for free, and spent 250lkr on drinks to go with it. A lunch in a local place cost just 300lkr each for curries. The bill came to 2,500lkr, with the rest made up by water, tea and pudding.

I grabbed a basic cup of tea for just 40lkr, before we headed out to an amazing family restaurant in a tourist area, where we spent 4,000lkr on a ten-curry dinner.

Total: 6,290lkr (£15.14)

Day 7:

We went to a cafe aimed at tourists for breakfast. It has a great view and decent food, which made the 4,000lkr we spent worth it.

We donated 1,300lkr to guides who took us up the lighthouse at Galle and also to a snake charmer who showed us a python and cobra.

We hit up a local lunch stop, spending 1,250lkr, before paying 600lkr for museum entry. Once we had our fill of cultural artefacts, we splashed out 350lkr on ice creams, a holiday essential.

Later on, we grabbed a beer and a snack of fried fish (1,050lkr) and then bought Sri Lankan hoppas for 540lkr. A local’s dinner for a local’s price.

Total: 9,090lkr (£21.87)

Weekly Total: 53,350lkr (£133 – for the two of us). Taking out the big night out as a one-off, this is on budget.

As told to Madeleine Ross.