My Life in Italy is Shockingly Cheap

When we decided to move to Italy, we knew we loved the lifestyle and the Italian culture. We just hadn’t realized how affordable life here could be. Since we’re not in a touristy area or an art city like Rome, daily life where we live—in the southern region of Basilicata—is surprisingly inexpensive.

Our small 300-year old casa in the cobbled pedestrian lanes of our village cost just €30,000 ($32,000). We know of homes for sale in the area that cost that, or even less. Ours is small but has a gorgeous view, a terrace for dining outside, and three rock-hewn cantinas for storage. My husband Bryan uses one of them for making beer, a hobby that is appreciated by his friends when they get together for a soccer match or an evening of guy time.

Daily life is cheap: my morning ritual cappuccino costs only $1.30, while Bryan’s rich jolt of espresso is 80 cents. A kilo of pasta is 70 cents while our bread, a half-kilo loaf of crusty goodness, is less than $1.50, and lasts us two to three days. A bag full of fresh fruits and vegetables, most of which are grown right here in our region, sets me back about $3.50…and the lady who I buy it from throws in the odori—parsley, basil and a stalk or two of celery—for free. Even better, all our neighbors have country plots where they grow an abundance and are eager to share. We are happy recipients of peaches, figs, pears, strawberries, lettuce, rapini, and more zucchini than we know what to do with. We also get free honey and homemade salami. Ah, that wonderful Italian propensity to feed everyone! In exchange, Bryan lets the beer flow, I help with English translations, and we host American-themed dinners for friends now and then to give them a taste of our culture, too. Thanksgiving was especially popular!

We visit a winery about 40 minutes away to fill up jugs with vino sfuso (literally, “loose wine”), a nice garnet table wine that costs just $1.30 a liter, though sometimes we splurge and buy bottles of Aglianico del Vulture DOC, our rich and full-bodied Basilicata wine, that runs between $5 to $8, depending on the vintage. A good-sized chunk of locally-made aged pecorino cheese to go with it costs about $3, a delectable slightly-sharp robust cheese that is also good grated on pasta.

There is an excellent agriturismo (farm-stay) nearby that grows all the produce they use in the kitchen for farm-to-fork dinners. A full four-course meal with wine costs about $25 per person, or there is the á la carte option if you aren’t up for the full monty. But since the menu changes often with the seasonal goodies, we usually want to taste it all. (Other restaurants in our area average about $15 for a plate of pasta, veggies, and vino.) In the nearby city of Potenza, a real Neapolitan-style pizza baked in a wood-burning oven sets us back about $7.

The price of gasoline can make us gasp, but our little Fiat Panda is fuel efficient. We recently lowered our car insurance by almost 40% simply by switching from expat-based insurance to an Italian company. Our biggest expenditure is electricity, which is high because our heating is electric. But that too became more affordable this year as more private companies are selling current from the grid, and rates have become more competitive. Our annual average comes out to about $100 per month. The biggest shock for our friends is how little our healthcare coverage is: we pay just $400 to be on the national healthcare system…and that’s a year! That includes free doctor visits, no high deductibles, and prescriptions are either free or low cost because they’re subsidized. Hospitalization is also free. That’s a significant saving, considering that in the U.S. we paid nearly $400 a month for basic insurance coverage, with high deductibles and co-pays.

The joys of Italian life are many—the gorgeous scenery, the stellar food, the fabulous people, the fascinating history—and we eagerly moved here for those things. In doing so, we discovered that it really is an affordable lifestyle, too.

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