Moving to Spain to teach English can be a pretty big leap of faith. Most candidates won’t even find out their destinations until just a few months before they leave! It can be pretty scary making the decision to move abroad, and even more so when the financial end of the bargain is rumored to be pretty unstable, as it is with the auxiliares de conversación program.
It’s absolutely imperative that before moving to Spain you save as much money as you can, as it’s quite possible that you won’t get paid by the program until mid-November or (much) later. And even then, though 700€ is a decent amount for one person to live on, if you want to travel, shop, eat out, and go out on the weekends, you’ll probably want more. Most language assistants opt to give private lessons or find work in an academy to supplement the program’s stipend… especially in the first few months when it might be the only income you have.
My first year as an auxiliar I blew through those 700€ easily by the end of each month. With my 200€ of rent, paying internet and electricity bills every other month, going out to eat, going out to the bars at least twice a week, buying new shoes to match each season, plus travel costs, I was definitely counting down the hours ’til payday each month. I finally figured it out and got a job at an academy and just that extra bit of income was my saving grace.
Two years later I’ve finally figured it out, and I’m even budgeting for two people now (myself and my boyfriend). Though my priorities have changed a bit- from travel and partying to saving as much as possible- the way of getting there is the same, no matter what you plan to spend the money on. This year I decided to create a spreadsheet on Google drive so I can access it from anywhere on my phone. I’ve logged all of my income, all of our expenses and have made sure to include a sections for savings as well, as we’re saving up for a trip home to Buffalo in July for an important wedding, and a possible big move in August! So here it is: the candid truth of the cost of living in southern Spain, and how to budget to make it work for you!
The above photo is a screenshot of my actual budget for February for two people. Since we’re really focusing on saving, our budgets for eating out and miscellaneous purchases are small, but as you can see we’ve tucked a huge chunk of the income away into the savings account. I make extra money by working in an academy around 9 hours per week and I also give 4 hours of private lessons a week.
So what does this mean? If I were living alone (and not trying to save), I’d be rolling in the dough and I’d definitely be traveling more. But as it is, I’ve had to mature a bit this year and “suck it up” if you will, as we’re trying to make some big changes that require money. Although my boyfriend has been looking for work, he hasn’t had any luck as unemployment in Spain is out of control right now in case you weren’t aware. He’s been doing the “housewife” duties and I’ve been bringing home the bacon. Being the only one with an income can be very frustrating, but more importantly, it’s taught me to really be aware of my spending habits in the different areas of life. Here’s the breakdown.
For the past two school years I lived in a small town (30,000 people) in Andalucía, and I’m currently living in a medium-sized town (50,000 people) in Extremadura. Though technically Extremadura isn’t southern Spain, it’s only about an hour north of Andalucía and the cost of living is very similar. The average monthly cost of living in a piso is 250-300€. That’s the cost of the whole apartment… not just for a room in a shared apartment. A room in a shared apartment would probably cost around 150€. That being said, most English teachers that move to Spain opt to live with either other English teachers or with Spanish university students. My first year I lived in a house (3 floors, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms) with 2 other girls and we each paid €200 a month. In retrospect it was a bit pricy, but we had all the comforts we could possibly want, plus an awesome private roof top terrace which I miss pretty much everyday. This year and last I’ve opted to live alone and I definitely don’t regret it. Though that does mean I have to pay more (since I’m not splitting rent with anyone), the benefits of having my own piso are definitely worth it for me.
In Spain, electricity is paid every other month, and water every three (in my experience). In some towns it’s fairly common to find apartments where the cost of water is already included in the rent (like the apartment I’m living in now), but in others that’s not really a thing. The real killer is electricity though, as the rates have gone through the roof in the past few years. I remember being dumbfounded in February or March of my first year here when an electric bill for 180€ came and we had to split it three ways, our most expensive bill until that point. Well, looks like I had it pretty easy back then, as last month a bill came for 156€ and I had to pay it all myself… total bummer! Since the electric bills are pretty unpredictable and they only come every two months, it can be easy to get duped… watch out! We try to “save” by unplugging our water heater after we’ve both showered for the night (if you have a gas water heater you won’t have to do this), only using a space heater under our living room table (and not the air conditioning units attached to the wall), and generally being very conscious of turning off lights, not leaving things to over-charge etc.
Getting wireless internet installed in your apartment can be a total pain in the ass. Big companies like Movistar and Jazztel have notoriously bad customer service, though some have no problems at all. With most of the big companies you need to already have your NIE (foreginer ID card) to sign up, and most of them require you to sign a contract for at least a year, which is not convenient if you’re only here for nine months. You can expect to pay between 30-45€ a month for internet, and watch out for the companies that force you to have a landline installed (which you subsequently must pay for each month). I’ve had the best luck with local companies who are either cheaper monthly, or who don’t make you sign a contract at all.
Having a cell phone in Spain is pretty essential as you’ll want to be connected in order to maintain a social life and get important things done, like calling landlords to see apartments and so on. Bringing your smartphone to Spain is pretty easy if your home country provider uses a SIM card in their phones. You can expect to pay between 15-30€ a month, depending on whether you’re using pay as your go for calling and texting or not. If you prefer the luxury of having a data plan, don’t worry- it’s so much cheaper in Spain than it is in the US. I pay around 25€ (more if I send SMS messages and use over 150 minutes of calling) for 150 minutes and 2 GB of data.
This one is pretty straightforward. Groceries are cheaper here than at home. We buy food for two people for the week for around 50-60€, and that’s for eating in pretty much every single meal. It’s pretty easy to stick to this budget as produce here is generally cheaper, we buy family packs of meat, and make big pots of whatever we eat and freeze the left overs, we only occasionally buy chocolatey treats and we practically never buy snack foods.
Eating Out/Going Out
We’ve included these in the same category in the budget. Since we don’t really have many friends here it’s not that hard to not go out. Most weekends we buy a liter of beer and stay in and watch a movie cause that’s what our lives have come to. When we do go out, we limit ourselves to 2 or 3 beers each, since beer is cheaper than mixed drinks. A beer here can cost between 1.50-2.50€ but a mixed drink is around 5-6€. This is slightly more expensive than in Arcos where I lived the past two years, where a beer was 1-2€ and a mixed drink was 3-3.50€ so we’re having a hard time stomaching the change. As for going out to eat, we’ve only eaten 6 or 7 meals out since October, and that includes the couple of times that we ordered in. The other times were when we had visitors or had a big holiday party lunch to attend, or another special holiday. We went out for valentines day last night and “splurged.” We each had three beers, a hamburger and split various tapas and spent a grand total of 20.30€. Eating out is definitely cheaper compared to the US, but again, we’re in saving mode so it’s a luxury we’ve really cut back on.
Miscellaneous is for pretty much any other random purchase that we make that isn’t from the grocery store, and gas. This month we’ve purchased a mouse for my boyfriend’s computer, have both gotten haircuts, I bought some essential oil for my “no shampoo” experiment, and we bought some medicine for the cold I came down with this past week. We’ve made this budget pretty small too as a way to be extremely conscious of the purchases we’re making.
Saving is our biggest goal for 2014. We both want to be able to attend my cousin’s wedding back home in July, and we’re planning on a big move at the end of August, so we need to be able to afford the security deposit, first months rent, and at least a month’s worth of living expenses. As you can see in the spreadsheet, even after savings, there is still over 100€ left that hasn’t been allotted. As we inevitably go over budget on some areas each month, we draw from this extra pool, and if anything remains at the end of the month I transfer it to the savings account.
So, as you can see, the cost of living in southern Spain is pretty low. With the auxiliar payment of 700€ you can easily afford a comfortable lifestyle, and by doing some extra work during the week, you can play hard on the weekends as well. Travel and dining out will be easily covered, especially if you’re only financially responsible for one person, so fear not!