Low Cost Living in Western Europe

Cost of living in Spain is low, even in the cities. Leaving aside rent or mortgage payments—and depending on your lifestyle—a couple could easily live on $18,000 to $22,000 per year and still eat out regularly. Once you know where to go, a meal for two with wine or beer can cost as little as $22.

For the best value, choose the lunchtime menú del día (the menu of the day). In most places, the menú del día usually costs between $10 and $18 and normally includes a beverage (which can be beer or wine).

A local beer and a free tapa (a little snack that can be anything from a small dish of olives to a couple of rings of fried squid) costs around $1.50. In bars that charge for their generously sized tapas (very common in Andalucia), a filling meal of a drink plus a couple of tapas can run you $5.50-$7. Even dining in classier restaurants isn’t overly costly… For a couple, the bill is usually somewhere between $45 and $80, wine included.

Though individual grocery bills can be hard to estimate, $50 per person per week is plenty.

Because of the warm climate, many basic food items are inexpensive here—Spain produces a variety of fruits and vegetables both for domestic consumption and for export. In season—and Spain has a long growing season—many produce items cost €1 a kilo (around 50 cents a pound).

Typically, meat and fish are good value—local lamb can run about $7 a pound, and in coastal regions fish and shellfish are $2-$7 a pound, depending on the variety. And Mediterranean specialties like olive oil and wine are abundant and inexpensive—starting at $3 a liter for olive oil and $3.50 a bottle for local wine. Because of this, it’s easy to eat healthily if you choose.

Having a car is truly optional in Spain, saving you purchase and maintenance cost. Spanish cities and villages are designed for walking, with most shopping easily accessible on foot. For longer distances (or bigger shopping trips), public transportation is readily available. Excellent bus and train service gets you quickly around town or around the country. And from age 60 on, you begin qualifying for retiree fares, which cut long-distance travel costs substantially.

*Prices as of 2016.

The following monthly budget is based on the cost of living in a mid-sized city like Alicante for a couple:

Expense
U.S.$
Housing (rent of furnished, two-bedroom apartment)
€600
$648
Utilities (gas, electricity, water, phone, internet)
€130
$140
Groceries
€270
$292
Entertainment (dining out and other)
€450
$486
Healthcare*
€259
$280
Household help—maid once a week (3 hours)
€120
$130
Incidentals
€150
$162
Yearly total:
€1,979
$2,138

*Healthcare cost is based on the Sanitas (Spain’s largest private health-insurance company) rate of €123.26 ($133) per month per person for a healthy 65-year-old. For reference, the monthly rate for a healthy 55-year-old is €90.35 ($98). The plan includes complete healthcare plus prescriptions and dental.

Depending on how you choose to spend your money, your individual budget could be more or less than the one here. Small apartments in Alicante start as low as €325 ($351) a month…or can be €1,000 ($1,080) or more if you want a large house with pool, ocean views, and other luxuries. Likewise, you may choose not to have a maid, or to spend more on entertainment. But a couple should be able to live comfortably on about $2,000 a month in Alicante, Granada, or a number of beach destinations in southern Spain, as well as in some destinations in Northwest Spain, such as Santander.

Rent in large cities like Madrid, Barcelona, and Bilbao, and in some northern coastal areas like San Sebastián and the Catalan Coast, will be somewhat higher.

 

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