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Spanish Eyes, English Words

A blended blog - Spanish life and culture meets English freelancer who often gets mistaken for Spanish senora. It's the eyes that do it, rather than the command of the language. Anything can and probably will happen here.

What it really costs to live in Spain
09 October 2015 @ 09:44

Last week, I posted in a fit of pique after checking my bank account online  and being horrified at how much we'd spent during our two months in England. Then I saw someone bleating in an expat group that they were selling up because they couldn't afford to live in Spain any more. Dear readers, if I'd responded to that post, I would have been booted out of the group, and possibly arrested for hate crimes against moaning expats, so I did the sensible thing and rattled off a blog post.If you missed it, it's here, and you might want to check it out before you read on.

And it seems to have struck a chord, because over the weekend, it's pulled in over 3,000 views, and lots of comments and messages. Unusually for one of my posts that are written on a rant, not one of the commenters has disagreed with me. On the contrary, I've been flooded with anecdotes and examples of just how much cheaper it is to live in Spain. Some of these stories are amazing, and they deserve to be shared, to counterpoint the hype perpetrated by the Daily Fail and others, who seem to choose their interviewees almost exclusively from the pool of disgruntled expats who either never gave Spain a chance, or took a chance on an illegal build which didn't work out.

In our first year in Spain - from March 2008 to March 2009, I worked out our expenditure on our apartment. I included the usual suspects - utilities, insurance, bottled gas for extra heating in the winter, logs - if you're reading this, Iain Duncan-Smith, it's cold here in winter! - IBI on the apartment, community fees, and solicitor's fees relating to the property. It came out at the equivalent of £1,500 - which coincidentally, was the exact amount we paid for gas and electric in our final year in Plymouth. The Council Tax was another £1,500, water was about £400, and house insurance was around £200. Even the most mathematically challenged - and I include myself in that group - can see that the basic bills in our last year in England were more than double what we paid in our first year in Spain.

Since then, prices have gone up, here in Spain and over most of Europe, because we've all lived through Le Crisis, and it's more expensive to live here than it was in 2008, but it's still a lot cheaper than living  in England. We've got ourselves pretty well organised, and we keep one account for regular bills, and another for stuff like shopping and entertainment. By adding up all our bills for the year - now including the car insurance and car tax, because it's a regular one - we've arrived at a figure of €3,800 for the year. That's around £2,800 at today's exchange rates, and it's what we've been putting away for the last three or four years. At the end of each month, €320 goes into Banco Santander, and when the biggies come - car insurance in March, community fees in June, Solicitor's fees and IBI for the apartment in September - there's enough to cover it, without adding any extra.

The modest €320 also covers the bank fees. That - plus the solicitor fees - is the only thing we pay here that we didn't pay in England. However, if you've been paying attention - or even if you haven't, but you can add up - you'll see we're still way under the amount we were paying in England in 2007, and I haven't included car insurance and tax in that figure.

Okay,  not everything is cheaper here. Electricity is more expensive, and the bank charges, even without an overdraft, are fairly high. Then there's the solicitor's fees for submitting our fiscal returns each year. Okay, we could do that ourselves, but I'd rather pay them to do it, and know we're not going to get a huge bill because we didn't cut through every bit of red tape in the right way. And car insurance is more expensive, but then I haven't got the hassle of adding extra drivers. Furniture tends to be pricey here too, but it's not something you buy every week, or even every month, is it?

Don't take my word for it though. Let's take a look at what some of my readers have said in their comments and emails. People like Steve, who is planning to move out here, and Jake, who is already in Spain, are amazed by how much healthier they feel in Spain, and put it down to the good food, the fresh air and the lack of stress. Jake pays around the same amount of IBI per year as he was paying in Council Tax per month in the UK, where he couldn't afford to eat out, except on special occasions.

Rob from Devon was paying £600 per month rent in Devon, and with other bills, it was costing £900 a month just to 'exist.' £900 is around €1200 at today's rates - that's almost four times my monthly outgoings, and Rob wasn't living in a huge house in Devon. He reckoned his capital would have run out within 10 years - which is not good news if you're not even retirement age. Like Steve and Jake, he has health problems which are much improved since he's moved to Spain.

Even Alan, who is on a reduced pension because he didn't have enough contributions and would be around £100 a week better off if he returned to the UK, recognises that his money wouldn't go so far, and that he wouldn't enjoy the lifestyle he has in Spain.

It's not just pensioners who find it cheaper to live here though, or enjoy a better quality of life. I was talking to a local bar owner a couple of days ago, and she was telling me that back in England, they could only dream of running their own business. Here in Spain, after around 18 months here with their young family, they are in a position to expand the business, and they get to spend quality time with the children too.

Obviously, every situation is different, but it's clear that, for the majority, the true cost of living in Spain is indecently lower than in England. Coupled with the quality of life and the pretty much wall to wall sunshine, you have to wonder why anybody would even contemplate moving back to England because they can't afford to stay in Spain. The only explanation I can think of is that they must have villas in the coastal resorts, do all their shopping in Iceland, and frequent the steak houses when they eat out. Given my own experience, and that of others, nothing else makes sense.

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Like 3


haydngj said:
09 October 2015 @ 10:10

I agree with all you have said, the only thing I think you missed is the income tax, and how much more you pay here in Spain.
Another minus is the inheritance tax.
I still think, no ,know it is a far better life here than in the over populated traffic congested air polluted VERY EXPENSIVE U.K.

DavidLud said:
10 October 2015 @ 08:26

Hi Sandra
I meant to reply to your previous blog but time escaped!
I think if one lives in a sea view villa on the Costa with the aircon up all summer and the electric heaters going all winter, if one lives on English bacon, teabags and ready-meals and the fridge is full of imported food then yes, it's probably more expensive here.

We now have solar electric and hot water, energy bills virtually zero. We eat lots of fresh food from the market where we can buy more food than we can carry for €30. We are in the country so rates are €300 per year.

In England we paid more in water rates alone than it costs us to pay all our regular bills here!

No competition...

SandrainAlgorfa said:
10 October 2015 @ 08:44

Hello David, What struck me was the same as you say - we cover all our expenses for the cost of a couple of utilities in England. Electric is more expensive here, but that's about it, and if you can go for solar power, even that's taken care of. We're on an urbanisation, so that's not an option to us, but we're still more than happy with our cost of living.

Heledaw said:
10 October 2015 @ 08:58

Day to day expenses are cheaper except for electricity. I pay 2000 euros more a year in tax than I'd pay in the UK too.

However, I've lost so much money on the price I paid for my house, it will take a long time,if ever, to recoup the difference. Meanwhile, the house I sold in the UK has doubled in value. This means I can never go back.

janski said:
10 October 2015 @ 09:51

I lived in Spain for 2 years then had to come back to the Uk to find work.I agree that it is much cheaper to live in Spain, I had a very healthy diet of salads and fruit and really enjoyed my twice weekly visits to the markets to buy them. I used to spend about 15 euros in the markets for all my fruit and veg, when I went to tesco for the first time on coming back I was shocked to discover that the same amount would cost me over £50. I had to revert back to English eating because it was cheaper. I was definitely fitter and healthier in Spain, here if I go for a walk it is along main roads choking on fumes from cars. I could walk miles in Spain in real fresh air. I will come back to Spain one day though with the retirement age going up to 66 I am not sure when. To all those of you who moan about prices in Spain, I say try living in rural Cornwall on the same money.

SandrainAlgorfa said:
10 October 2015 @ 10:18

Janski, I feel for you. It was bad enough being back for two months, and missing all my fresh fruit and veg. And if you go to a market in England, they don't like you picking out your own stuff, yet they expect it here, because they want you to have the best so you enjoy it, rather than fobbing you off with what they need to get rid of. I hope you manage to get back here soon. x

Stinkey said:
10 October 2015 @ 10:20

So good to read that our life could be about to change once we do move to Spain in relation to costs/bills let alone the health reasons..and hey I got a mention on this blog too !
We're in the initial process of buying a small ( rustic ) place north of Alicante..and will be using solar/log burner for our energy needs,plus her ladyship will no doubt grow some of our Veg ? Fingers crossed our offer gets accepted

fireblade900-1 said:
10 October 2015 @ 10:27

Buenos dias

The majority of expats move to Spain for the lifestyle, yes theres always money to consider, but its always give and take.
Just got to be happy where ever you are. For me Spain offers lifestyle...Fresh air, fresh tasty food,sun, sea and low priced bebidas ! and learning some Spanish definitely helps !
Riding my push bike in Spain is a pleasure..riding my push bike in UK is SCAREY ! and of course full of fumes !!!!

Have a great saturday where ever you are !


kernaghan said:
10 October 2015 @ 11:05

We come over to Spain for 3 months twice a year from Australia only because we are only allowed to stay 180 days a year.
It is worth the jet lag and the airfare just to be able to enjoy the mild beautiful weather in March-June and September- December and be able to buy the fresh products for 50% of the cost in Sydney, we rent monthly accommodation in different locations at a cost of €300-€500 on the Costas and €800 in the Cities. We rent our apartment for €1800 so we are way ahead.
It's not just the cost there is a lot of beautiful interesting places for day trips and we also get a monthly car rental at as low as €200 a month fully insured.
If we were allowed to become residents we would move to Spain permanently.

roburg said:
10 October 2015 @ 11:36

Thanks for the ref' Sandra, I am actually over retirement age but don't look or feel it here, my pension (state £680 pm) more than pays my way here in Murcia
which back in Torbay didn't cover my rent let alone living costs, of course my position as a single makes it worse than if I had a partner which would double the available income. England has become extremely old age unfriendly , well no rewind, young person also as how the kids are ever going to get housed now is a mystery . I reckon if I'm lucky I have 15-20 yrs left to enjoy a happy life Sod the expense you can't take it with you and it's there to be spent, my dad scrimped and saved for an old age he never got to enjoy, what a waste of a life
It makes me sad to remember. STOP thinking of life in terms of cost,count the good times and the fun , simply LIVE 😘👍

ziggyblue said:
10 October 2015 @ 13:13

Well I am from Torbay, born and bred, and I would add my comments.

Firstly the majority of people did not buy illegal properties consciously they were duped by greedy estate agents and solicitors.

As for all this wonderful fresh fruit and veg at the local markets. You can't just pick out your own at ours and when you have been given rotten stuff enough times you don't bother and go to the supermarket where you can pick your own and I certainly don't find it cheap anyway. After 12 years I am bored with the food which is invariably the same including the restaurants which wouldn't know a fresh vegetable if it slapped them in the face. I much prefer the range of different foods that you can eat in the UK. But we do live in a very Spanish area.

I would agree that it is cheaper in Spain especially when you like a drink or two. I had half a bottle of wine for 4 euros last night.

Most people who are returning are returning for a different reason, I.e. Health or family. I know we all say that the Spanish health service is so good but there is nothing like being able to converse in your own language for things like this, and yes I do speak Spanish. My friend has been waiting nearly a year for a double by pass.

If anything should happen to my OH I would definitely return as I want to be nearer to my grandchildren.

By the way, I don't know your age but if you are in receipt of a pension you can get a pensionistas bank account with La Caixa and pay no bank charges.

The ideal for me would be what several friends do, six months in each. But even though I still own a house in the UK financially we have to rent it. We certainly couldn't live on our pensions alone.

And yes IDS it is cold in winter and I do miss central heating. Give us back our winter fuel allowance so I don't have to sit in the house with my clothes on and a dressing gown as well!

nrosullivan said:
10 October 2015 @ 22:39

I have lived in Spain for eleven years now (in Granada, not on the Coast) and I would say that, on the whole, I am very happy and contented. The first huge shock (please note Iain Duncan Smith) was the fierce climate!!! I arrived in December without beds or furniture, sleeping on a mattress on a stone floor. That year we hit a record in Granada of 20 degrees at midday and minus 20 at midnight!! A couple of years later it rained every day non-stop from November to March and we were cut off by floods!

So the wonderful Spanish climate that everybody raves about really only applies to the Mediterranean Coastal region. But, fortunately, I did not come here for the climate. I have always loved Spain but summer temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees are no fun !

The other huge shock was the exorbitant price of electricity here - and the appalling quality of the supply with some kind of power cut every single day. It's a joke - and Endesa deny that it is as bad as it is.

And that's about it. Council Tax is also a joke - but a very pleasant one !! Look at the size of the Town Hall and the Car Park and you will instantly understand why !!! Being now single and without family, I eat out almost every day which costs me €11 including wine and a pint before lunch. Great quality and variety and lovely people who have become my new family. And you can still get a litre of cheap plonk for 50p in any supermarket. Which also adds to the joys of life !

The Spanish people make a very, very positive contribution to the pleasure of life and have many claims to be God's Chosen People (even if Spanish Bureaucrats remain in a class of their own and a relic of the Franco era !) But no drunken yobs here !

I fell in love with Spain when I was 15. I am now approaching 70. For most of my life, Spain has been my mistress, my secret love, my dusky maiden. We are now happily married. And my love grows stronger! And it has nothing to do with the climate or even Spain's dramatic beauty, breathtaking landscape or unique and incredible history - although that has helped over the years, especially with girlfriends !

No, in Spain it is good to be alive; you approach every day with anticipation and leave it with regret. And that is down to the incredible charm and goodness of these wonderful people. There are so few nasty Spaniards. ¡ Viva España !

Thinking of coming to live here ? Go for it !! But personally I would tend to avoid the Coast; it's a bit like Birmingham-on-Sea !And very humid, like England ! And yobbish, like England. I came to live in Spain, the country where Spaniards live, and I have never had one second's regret ! Heaven on Earth ? Well, you could do alot worse !

yyccanuck said:
11 October 2015 @ 18:37

I have recently bought a home on the Costa Blanca and would like to give you a view from a Canadian perspective. I have spent extended amounts of time in the UK and was always amazed at how reasonable it was to live as compared to Canadian standards. Fruit and veg I always found, was a bargain especially in the winter as all produce in Canada has to be imported from Mexico or the southern United is very dear to buy groceries in Canada.

My family started to spend spring time in Spain and immediately noticed that the cost of living was even cheaper in Spain. We were shocked when we could our entire week of fruit and veg for 20-30 euro. Beer, for example in Canada costs approximately 39euro for 24 tins, I paid 5.88 in Spain. The cheapest bottle of wine in Canada is going to start at 8euro and its not fit to be served.

About the only things that I have found that may be cheaper in Canada are the price for electronics and the price for a litre of petrol. Property tax, income tax, housing (rent or purchase), insurance, car prices, etc, etc are all cheaper by far in Spain. If I had nothing else but my modest pension, I can live like a king in Spain

Best of all, these perks come with less stress, better weather, yes we get -40 degrees from time to time in Canada, healthier lifestyle, fresher/healthier food. I do love living in Canada and I always moan about the costs but from October to April I am looking forward to my Spanish home.

SandrainAlgorfa said:
30 October 2015 @ 10:25

@yyccanuck Thanks for the Canadian perspective. I assume though that wages and salaries are higher over there?

AlanR555 said:
10 December 2015 @ 01:40

I am not familiar with Peninsula Spain. Some of the
comments concern features that are not present here
in las Islas Canarias. Temperatures in December are
still above twenty degrees at midnight even with
the windows open - near the coast (colder inland).
Supplementary heating is not needed but January
can require an extra layer of clothing.

Two of the islands have that remote attribute sought
by many - and the cheap living, apart from transport
to the principal islands of the archipelago. I live on
El Hierro which has a population around 7000. La
Palma is similar but with a population ten times
the size.

I have an all-year rental for less than €300 per
month - giving me the flexibility to travel back
and forth from/to my other home in Devon. In
practice I come here for three 58-day periods
each year - with a month in UK in winter and
spring plus a stay of four months during the
summer. This meets the 183-day rule about
still being tax-resident in UK but I am registered
as a resident (empadronamiento) in Spain and
so get the local discounts.

Health is a primary incentive for coming here.
My diet is better here than in UK and I get more
exercise by visiting the beach most days and
swimming when the waves are not too strong. I
do not have an "S1" form but rely on the EHIC
plus benefits of travel insurance.

I managed this two-home lifestyle by converting
my pension "pot" to annuities - giving me the
certainty of being able to afford things, even at
a €1.25 exchange rate. I have now purchased a
car for use here (garage included in rent) after
getting my NIE.

Certainly I could never expect the same quality
of life living just in Devon - but connections
with the home country still have value and I
would be reluctant to sever them completely.
Nor would I contemplate living in "Costa-land"
but it is possible to find an idyll - as here at
what was the "end of the world" until 1492
and the Zero meridian until 1884.

As other comments have mentioned, if one has
amassed the resources why not exploit them to
gain a better quality of life?

terradas said:
28 May 2016 @ 15:45

Hi Sandra,

We live in Catalonia, bur our experience is a little different as we pay an urbanisation charge which is heavy, even then I agree, it is still cheaper to live in Spain.

I noticed that you mentioned using a solicitor to do your accounts.
I use a Spanish Accountant who speaks English too - accountants have a fixed charge, much less expensive than a solicitor !
We both have a social security card and now use the Spanish National Health system which is great.

I enjoy your articles, entertaining as well as useful.

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