finance, Spain

Life In Bilbao On A Budget. Yes, You Can!

euro coins
A pile of change on my desk. Those 1 and 2 euro coins save my life all the time when I think I’m broke.

It’s been said that the Basque Country is one of the most expensive regions in Spain after Barcelona and Madrid. San Sebastian in particular is very expensive. But one visit to the charming city and you’ll see why. (However, I still whined about paying 4 euros for a coffee and a croissant. Come on, that’s just excessive.) But just over an hour west, life in Bilbao is just a little cheaper and also quite livable on an auxiliar budget. I can tell you about my personal money experiences, including mistakes, so you have a more specific idea.

So How Much Is Everything?

Milk: 85 cents/liter

Eggs: 1.35/six – I’m buying pastured eggs and won’t ever go back! I don’t care how expensive!

Bread: 90 cents for a loaf at the bakery (a barra) or 60 cents for a baguette

Salad mix: 1.29

Pack of pork chops or beef: 4.00-6.00

Shampoo, Conditioner: 2.50 each

For grocery stores, you’ve got Eroski (my go-to), BM, Dia, and Carrefour, each slightly differing in price. And then you’ve got bakeries, fruterias, and carnicerias where you can get even better products- some at even better prices than the supermarket.

In the bars

A glass of wine: 1.40 (America, you’re SO going to disappoint me in this area.)

A beer: 1.00

A cafe con leche and a pintxo de tortilla: 2.60

There are so many more food items that I don’t know the prices of, but Jenny at A Thing For Wor(l)ds has made a more extensive list. In an average month I spend about 90 on groceries and 40 on eating out and getting drinks at bars.

Rent: 300/month give or take. I paid 400 for the first few months, then moved to a cheaper place. You can get a place for as low as 250 in some neighborhoods.

Gastos (internet, water, heat): 30 to 40/month average, higher or lower depending on the season

Transportation: 30 to 40/month, depending on how far you are from school and private classes

Cell phone: 14/month with Orange. 2GB of data with plenty of calling minutes and texts (which I rarely use).

Shopping: I give myself 90/month. Not really necessary but helps me avoid massive guilt trips after shopping if I do spend that much! (Clothes, shoes, accessories)

Personal Care: 20/month, max. A haircut with style here only costs about 20 euros on average. The most I’ve EVER paid for a haircut and style was 39 euros for someone whose quality of work I liked. And I only got haircuts every 3 months or so. Again, not looking forward to American salon hair prices this summer.

Extra things: 20/month. Sometimes a girl needs a mini paella pan, a shower cap, or a set of travel shampoo bottles from the Chino (the Chinese-owned “dollar” stores).

Adding all that up only comes to 614/month. So if you stick to the basics you really can live within the means of an auxiliar salary.

The Kicker…

In my last post I talked about possible regrets. One of my BIGGEST regrets this year is joining the gym. This is my thing: I usually get some big idea about healthy living and go. all. out. Whether that’s food, or a fitness bootcamp, or a gym, I fully get into it – at least for a while. I know this is universal, but buying a gym membership is rarely if ever a good idea. Good intentions at the beginning of the year always fade. And my dumb mistake was signing up for the best plan at the Bilbao Kirolak gym network. Lots of gym locations, lots of classes. I was actually persuaded heavily by the gym staff to sign up for that plan. In fact, I asked so many questions that it was clear that the attendant was getting flustered and annoyed, but I still went through with it. Obviously one should always take some time to think about these decisions because under the pressure I just caved. A side note in small print: You have to be a member for one year. At the time I thought, no problem, I’ll definitely be here! And as luck would have it, a couple of months later began the downward spiral of change. And I moved further away from all the gyms, so I can only realistically go before or after my private tutoring sessions. And let’s be honest, how many times have I done that? Maybe 8 since January. Sometimes you think you know better than to be a sucker, but you turn out to be a sucker anyway. It’s not terribly expensive, at 41 euros a month, and my private classes more than cover it, but I’m annoyed with myself for having this ongoing expense that I can’t be rid of until the fall. (Unless anybody’s looking for a gym membership to take over… I’ll gladly hand it over to you for less than I’m paying!) Ah well, lesson learned. And the silver lining in it all is that I’ve finally learned how to swim properly and breathe between strokes. And become more comfortable making casual conversation with very undressed older ladies while changing in the locker room. (Umm…)

Extra Travel

This is something that all auxiliars take advantage of. We’re in EUROPE. I know some who travel just about every single weekend. So depending on your wanderlust tendencies, you’ll need to pick up a few (or a lot) of private classes to pay for extra travel. You should also plan to save money in advance to bring with you for travel in the early part of the school year.

A Word Of Advice

Another good reason to save plenty of money to bring to Pais Vasco? The government pays us in three-month chunks. November, February, and May. So you’ll need a solid amount of money to pay your housing deposit, rent, bills, food, and other setup costs until November’s paycheck. This is the spreadsheet I made to factor in the up-front costs.

Housing € 400.00 3 € 1,200.00
Transportation € 30.00 3 € 90.00
Groceries € 90.00 3 € 270.00
Shopping € 100.00 3 € 300.00
Phone € 14.00 3 € 42.00
Personal Care € 20.00 3 € 60.00
Eating/going out € 40.00 3 € 120.00
Housing Deposit € 400.00 € 400.00
Hotels € 50.00 € 50.00
NIE/TIE € 25.00 € 25.00
Misc. € 30.00 € 30.00
Total Euros Needed € 2,587.00

So as you can see I planned to bring 2500 euros with me which equals a little more than $3000 USD. I also came a full month early in September (hence the number 3 in the center column for 3 months, September, October, and November) so I needed even more. Keep in mind that I was paid back for a lot of it with my first paycheck. But that amount doesn’t include any travel, so I was working hard to save up and earn airline miles before coming.

I hope I haven’t scared you away if you’re coming to Bilbao for the first time! Just be smart about how you spend your money and balance having plenty of fun with being practical!

beer in bilbao
This is practical. Right?