I’ve been asked a few times how much it costs to live in Germany compared to America. That’s a hard question for me to answer completely because we don’t pay for housing or utilities in Germany nor did we pay for them in the US after college. (Mr. Meena’s company has provided us with free housing for two and a half years.)
But I have kept an extremely detailed budget since we’ve been married, so there are some comparisons that I am able to make how about much we spend in a few different areas. The data I’m using includes seven months of data from the first month we lived in Germany (September 2015) to the end of last month (February 2016) and seven months of data from January to July 2015 for when we lived in the US. I chose to exclude August because we spent time in both countries (thanks to our look-and-see trip to Schweinfurt) and since we were preparing to move our expenses weren’t really representative of a typical month.
It will be interesting to look at the numbers again after our time in Germany is complete. All of the information is in US dollars (unless otherwise noted) because I convert the euros we spend to dollars when I’m doing our budget. It’s easier that way since I can keep one record instead of having duplicates for the different categories and months. Also, we are often charged in dollars even when we use our credit card locally, so the amount of transactions that I have to convert is fairly low.
Our grocery bill.
Average monthly cost in the US: $591
Average monthly cost in Germany: $538
I’m actually surprised that these numbers are so similar and that the cost in Germany was lower. When we were living in Charlotte, NC, previous to our move, we had a pretty regular routine for our groceries. Once or twice a week I would place an order online at Harris Teeter for staples and sales items, once a month we would go to Wal-Mart and purchase our meat and frozen fruits/vegetables in bulk, and every few days we would pick up fresh produce somewhere. It was easy.
In contrast, grocery shopping in Germany is absolute chaos. We’re often running to the stores and just grabbing stuff (visualize those shows where people can fill up their cart for free in two minutes) because they close at 8pm Monday – Saturday (in Bavaria), aren’t open on Sundays, and are always closing on the holidays (without ever posting a notice that they are doing so, by the way). Food items in the stores here are generally cheaper IF you purchase foods that Germans tend to eat, i.e. sausage, bread, and beer. Things like chicken or any unusual, specialty items tend to be more expensive.
It’s also interesting how little our grocery expenses varied month to month in America compared to the ups and downs we’ve seen in Germany.
Germany has definitely been less predictable for us.
Also, $50-60 of the total monthly cost in Germany ($538) is spent on bottled water, which we never purchased in Charlotte, so that brings the overall food price even lower. It also includes what we spend on liquor since we can buy it in the grocery stores here whereas at home it was always a separate purchase from the liquor store, which I would record separately from our grocery bill. I estimate that we spend $20-50 per month on wine/beer/liquor (specifically, the Baileys I use in my coffee since Germany doesn’t have fancy coffee creamer). Adapt and overcome, right??
So, my final verdict is that we spend less on groceries in Germany – probably about $100 per month less.
These numbers include everything from our nice sit-down dinners to our snacks when we’re traveling.
Average monthly cost in the US: $210
Average monthly cost in Germany: $175
These numbers also surprise me. There are a couple reasons why I thought we were spending more in Germany:
1) We can’t typically get free water when we eat out so we usually end up paying for beer or wine with our meal, which usually costs as much as paying for water in German restaurants. At home we almost always ordered water with our meals to keep the cost down.
2) Mr. Meena eats lunch in the cafeteria at his workplace here probably 95% of the time, which was not an option for him at home. Instead, he took his lunch to work 80% of the time and would go out to eat on Fridays with his coworkers. He spends approximately $75 per month on these cafeteria lunches and I put that cost in our eating out budget. The reason he eats at work is because, well, there’s actually a cafeteria at his job here and because it’s pretty important to eat with your coworkers in the German culture.
3) It feels like we eat out more frequently even if it’s just small things. Going to the pharmacy? Let’s grab a croissant. Going through a train station? We need an apfelstrudel! The prices must be low enough that it doesn’t affect our budget too much.
I think part of the reason that we spent more on eating out in the US is because we had more in-between options. We tried not to eat fast food a lot and we went out to eat at a nicer places (and by that I mean something like Red Robin or Applebee’s) sparingly, but we had a tendency to frequent the in-between places like Panera Bread, Moe’s, Einstein Bros, Smashburger (oh how I miss these places), etc., and they don’t really have as many places like that in Germany. I also had the ability to order pizza from an app on my phone in the US when I was lazy, tired, or experiencing cravings, and I did that regularly.
Once again, the verdict is we spend less in Germany in this area.
There’s a problem with my conclusions so far because of a little thing I like to call ‘unaccounted for cash money’… which is better known as “[Mr. Meena] what did you spend all that money on??!!”
My wonderful husband has a bad habit of withdrawing cash from our German bank and then forgetting to tell me, the designated budgeter, what he spends it on. So much so that we have a total of $2,115 in withdrawn cash since we moved here that we don’t know where it went. That figure works out to about $300 per month (starting in October, when we got the account set up). This is such a new thing for us because we used our credit cards for almost everything when we lived the US and our expenses were much easier to track. The only times we spent cash in the US was on trips to the farmers market or the local pool, when we gave money as a gift, and on trips to the tattoo parlor. We withdrew $365 from our US bank during the seven month period that I’m using for comparison.
We’re finding that it’s really hard to keep track of cash when you use it so often. We have to use cash in Germany nearly every time we eat out, shop at a non-chain store, do laundry, pay for Mr. Meena to play squash, and so on. I will say that Mr. Meena has improved a lot in this area, last month we only had about $60 unaccounted for.
I believe that the majority of this unaccounted for money was spent on food. I’m going to make a conservative estimate and say 60% of that unaccounted for cash was spent on food, which changes my prior figures, so let’s look at them again.
Total spent on eating out: $1,051
Total spent on groceries: $3,225
60% of the unaccounted for cash: $1,269
Food total: $5,545
Total spent on eating out: $1,472
Total spent on groceries: $4,141
Food total: $5,613
From those numbers I’ll conclude that:
1) The amount we spend on food overall is roughly equivalent to what we spent in America.
2) It’s really hard to keep track of cash spending.
Seriously, how do people do it? Do you have any tips?
Our cell phone bill.
Average monthly cost in the US: $147
Average monthly cost in Germany: $33
In the US we had a contract with Verizon that allowed us unlimited calls and messaging with eight GB of shared data each month (it started out as four but they increased it for us at some point). However, if we went over that data by even one iota we would have been charged ridiculous fees, although we usually were able to avoid this by paying $10 to temporarily increase our data limit. We also had a discount on our rate thanks to Mr. Meena’s company. But we paid a lot for the service because we wanted great coverage (even though that really doesn’t justify how much they charge for it). We could have probably paid less with another company at the expense of our service and coverage.
I would like to take a moment and thank Verizon for making us pay $335 to get out of our contract even though it we fulfilled 83% of said contract and had a totally valid and unforeseen reason to end our contract.
I would also like to take a moment and tell anyone that is moving to Germany from the US to get a Google Voice number (or transfer the number that you already have to Google Voice) – which allows you to call your family at home for free (via WiFi) as if you were calling from the States. You pay a small one-time fee (ours was $20 per phone number) and it’s great for those people that you need to communicate with that can’t really handle using Skype or WhatsApp (I’m looking at you, beloved grandparents).
We have a pay as you go plan from Telekom in Germany that we use with unlocked international phones which were purchased in the US before our move. We only get 0.5 GB of data per person per month and if we go over we just get slower data speeds instead of fines or extra charges. However, the data we pay for in Germany is already pretty slow so when it’s throttled it’s like having nothing. Mr. Meena uses up his data at work and usually has to deal with the throttled data situation at the end of the month, but I don’t usually run out. However, there are many times when data or service is flat-out unavailable; it happens every time we take the train or step more than 15 feet outside of a city. Our plan also charges us per minute and per text when we use our German phone number, which is why lots of Germans use WhatsApp instead of texting through their provider. We use WhatsApp to text people in Germany but we use our Google Voice phone numbers to text each other over either WiFi or data because it’s soooo easy. (Does anyone else think it’s kind of hilarious that we’re both in Germany texting each other with our US phone numbers?)
At the end of our time in Germany, we’ll have saved nearly $1,480 on our cell phone bill compared to what we had been paying the US. I don’t think we can ever go back to paying so much for cell phone service, even with great coverage, now that we realize just how much we were spending on it.
Total spent on doctor’s visits & lab work in the US: $692
Total spent on doctor’s visits & lab work in Germany: $0
Total spent on prescriptions and supplements in the US: $190
Total spent on prescriptions and supplements in Germany: $0
I need to make a few clarifications here:
1) This does not include vision or dental, because we haven’t needed to do anything related to that here in Germany (yet) and so I can’t compare (although I have a pretty good idea of what it would cost: nothing).
2) The amount that we spent on doctor’s visits etc. in the US ($692) is low because I did not include what I spent on therapy sessions, which was $963. I didn’t want to lump this in with the regular doctor’s visits, but spending that money on therapy caused us to reach our deductible more quickly and as a result spend less on the doctor’s visits overall.
3) We have private insurance in Germany which means the premium is high but the out-of-pocket expense is basically nothing. Someone with public insurance in Germany would likely have to pay a small copay or quarterly fee for going to the doctor. I talked a bit about public and private insurance and what it’s like to go to the doctor in Germany here.
4) We don’t pay the premiums for our private insurance in Germany because, once again, Mr. Meena’s company is quite good to us, so I can’t compare that price for you. His company wanted everything to be the same financially while we were here so we still pay the amount for our US premiums instead of whatever the German one is.
5) Just to give you more context about the Germany healthcare costs, we’ve been billed a (pre-insurance) total of $485 for two doctors’ visits and a lot of blood work. I’ve also had two prescriptions filled that cost $24 and $35, respectively (again, both numbers are pre-insurance). So far all of the charges have been reimbursed in full.
We actually were confused at first about how we were supposed to pay. You don’t pay at the end of the visit like it’s common to do in the US, instead they mail the bill to you (and of course it’s all in German so that was another complicated aspect for us). Also, Germans don’t use checks and the doctors’ offices don’t always handle money, nor can you typically pay online. It turns out that Germans use bank transfers, which they call ‘transfer checks’ (the German word for it is Geldüberweisung) to pay for things like this. There are bank numbers printed on the bill that you use to send the money through your bank account. Germans use these transfer checks for all sorts of things, even magazine subscriptions. I don’t think I have ever transferred money through my US bank like that.
We’ve spent $3,640 on travel so far while living in Germany while we only spent $1,180 in the US for the comparative time span (see where 90% of that US cost came from here). Also, for additional comparison, we spent $2,880 on travel in the US in 2014. I’m not really going to discuss this much here (because I’m writing a separate post about the cost of our travels so far) except to say that of course we spent more – we want to see Germany/Europe!
Other interesting financial tidbits.
1) We don’t have a car here, which is great in terms of finances. We spent $3,538 on car insurance, inspections, maintenance, and taxes in the US and $741 on gas. Before we left the US we turned in the plates and registration for my car and put it into long term storage and we gave Mr. Meena’s car to his parents for the duration of the trip. We are splitting the cost of insurance and maintenance with them while we’re gone but they barely use it so it’s hardly anything compared to what we were spending.
2) We’ve spent $217 to do laundry in our hotel, which is approximately how much we’ve been told it would cost us if we were using a local German laundromat. It costs about six euro per cycle (which is not quite seven dollars) but we definitely pack our clothes in there and try to make our clothes last longer between washes. I guess we should be thankful that we even have access to a washer and dryer, but I really had hoped that my days of sharing a washing machine with someone other than my husband would be over after I graduated from college.
3) We spend a lot less on household items. It seemed like we always needed something when we lived in the US: a hand mixer, a juicer, a bigger mixing bowl, another cage for the bird, etc. But we don’t have room for stuff like that here, so we have just learned to do without for a while. We have spent about $700 so far, though, on a few must-haves (fans, kitchen items, storage bins, blankets, etc.)
4) Moving to Germany cost us $2,915 in various expenses – and $540 of that was the cost of getting our bird here. Of course, Mr. Meena’s company reimbursed us for all of the expenses.
In conclusion: we spend about the same amount of money on food, less on our phone bill and healthcare, and more on travel (but only because we want to) in Germany compared to when we lived in the United States. I’ll do another Germany expense post after our 13 months here is finished.
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Our cost of living in Germany vs. the USA. Click To Tweet