The cost of living in Italy can admittedly be high. But even in glamorous Tuscany, they can also be affordably low. As always, much depends on your lifestyle—and also your location. Most people have heard of the Tuscan cities of Florence and Siena. But go to a city like Pistoia and your cost of living will be low.
Pistoia is a liveable city with a wonderfully-preserved historic core in northern Tuscany—less than an hour away from Florence. At Pistoia’s Saturday market, a pound of juicy oranges costs $0.70 and exquisite violet carciofi (artichokes) are $0.42 per head.
Mens’ shirts sell for $7, ladies’ stylish woollens for $14. And you can sit and watch the world go by over an espresso for just $1.12.
(Prices are calculated on an exchange rate of 1 euro =$1.40)
Renting costs in Tuscany
If you yearn to spend more than vacation time in Tuscany, 430-square-foot furnished studios in Pistoia start at $650 per month. One-bedroom apartments are mostly around $700.
But here’s the thing about Italy. The cost of living in its main cities—particularly Rome and Milan—are considerably more expensive than in provincial cities, towns and villages. Much of this is down to high rents—which are matched by high real estate prices. The same applies to well-known places such as Florence that draw the tourist crowds.
For example, for a 645-square-foot apartment in Milan, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything for less than $1,120 per month. And that will be unfurnished. But look to Latina, a town south of Rome with beaches on the doorstep, and you could rent a furnished apartment of the same size for $700 monthly.
Want more living space? On Italy’s Adriatic coast, Pescara is a seaside city in the Abruzzo region. Here you’ll find furnished 752 square foot apartments for $770 monthly.
Go into Italy’s deep south and monthly rents for large apartments get cheaper still. $700 nets a 120-square-foot furnished apartment in the modern quarter of Matera, a small city in the Basilicata region.
The cost of eating out can also vary wildly. You won’t find it offered very often in Italy’s tourist centers, but the ‘pranzo di lavoro’ (working lunch) is always good value. 2-courses—usually with wine—rarely cost more than $14.
How much for a wood-oven fired pizza in Florence? It can be as little as $5.60. But that will be in a trattoria in Novoli, one of the city’s residential suburbs. In the historic center, prices are aimed at visitors, not locals.
Another thing to be aware of is that the general cost of living in southern Italy is less than in the country’s northern half. For one thing, summer in the deep south lasts longer, so heating bills aren’t as high.
But even in Italy’s northern half, you can cut down fuel costs by “living like a local”. In winter, many people use wood-burning stoves—and it’s increasingly common to see eco-friendly properties with solar panels.
One contact gave me a run-down of the typical bills for a 1,075-square-foot stone village house in the Bagni di Lucca area of northern Tuscany. These are annual costs.
Property taxes: $280
Garbage collection: $280
Fuel—a combination of gas, electricity, solar panels, and wood: $1,400
(Without solar panels and a wood-burning stove, you can expect the annual bill to double to around $2,800.)
If you run a car, the cost of gas will likely come as something of a shock. Prices in April were mostly around $2.11 per liter.
But do you need a car? There are few places you can’t get to in Italy by bus or train, and all cities have an extensive public transport network. The price of a train ticket from Pisa to Florence is currently $8.12.
Obviously how much you spend on groceries, etc., is down to you and your lifestyle. If you smoke, most brands of cigarettes cost $5.46 for a pack of 20.
Cut down on your cost of living by buying at the markets
For the best value—and the freshest produce—buy fruit and vegetables at markets. For other items, larger supermarkets such as Esselunga, Centro and PAM often have 2 for 1 deals and discount cards for regular shoppers.
The following prices come from the Centro supermarket in Novoli, a residential district of Florence. 1 kilo = 2.2 pounds.
Roast beef: $13.86/kilo
Chicken breasts: $9.73/kilo
Prosciutto ham: $23.66/kilo
Sea bream: $12.46/kilo
Pecorino cheese: $20.44/kilo
Mozzarella cheese: $12.46/kilo
4 x Activia yoghurts: $3.06
200gm pack of butter: $2.32
1 liter of milk $1.05
Dried pasta, 2 x 500 gm packs: $1.64
Extra virgin olive oil: $5.57/liter
San Benedetto mineral water: 2 x 1 liter bottles: $0.67
2 x 0.75 bottles of Chianti Classico: $8.35
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