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It is time for another installment in our Frugal Living in Switzerland series of interviews!
And today, I was able to interview a non-blogger family for this series. And compared to the other interviewees, we now have a couple of expats that answered together.
Mr. and Mrs. DoubleDutch are able to save a large portion of their income in Switzerland and live with a very reasonable amount of money!
Let’s see how they achieve this!
1. Tell us about yourself?
We are a thirty-something Dutch couple living somewhere east of Zurich in the sticks. We call ourselves Mr. and Mrs. DoubleDutch for the purpose of this interview, and we have a little Dutchie on the way. Mr. DD is working as an IT specialist, and Mrs. DD hasn’t been able to find a job yet due to Corona, but if anyone is hiring, she has interesting experience in the pharmaceutical sector.
Our main hobbies are Extreme Excelling (like the spreadsheets), gaming, hiking, and Mr. DD would like to do some woodworking, but we don’t have the facilities yet in our apartment.
2. How much of your income do you save each month?
Our monthly budget covers the basics like rent, groceries, and the internet. It does not include taxes, as we are foreigners whose gross salary does not exceed CHF 120’000 per year we are taxed at the source. We do have some incidental spending like furniture because we are still settling in. What is left after the recurring expenses is divided between us, and each of us pays the individual expenses from that amount.
Overall, our ‘savings rate’ is approximately 48% of our net income. That is an average for the shared household expenses excluding the individual expenses (hence the quotation marks, it’s not real savings). From the individual income, we save about 75% each (n=2 months). So overall that would mean a savings rate of 75% * 48% = 36%
The first months of 2020 were quite chaotic with the move, so we are using the financial overview of March onwards. So far, May was our best month (63%), and April was our worst (32%). This was due to some additional expenses related to the rent of our apartment.
3. How do you compute your savings rate?
Our savings rate is ((net salary – expenses)/net salary) for the shared expenses.
We also calculate our savings rates separately as we have different tastes, priorities, and student loans. We also pay our health insurance separately as we chose different deductibles. So far, our savings rates have been pretty similar. The individual savings rate is ((individual income – individual expenses)/individual income). Where the individual income is (net salary – expenses)/2.
4. Do you consider yourself a frugal person?
Mr. DD: I consider myself selectively frugal. I have a horrible penchant for shiny stuff (gadgets, electronics, and actual shiny stuff). But I really enjoy budgeting and finding good deals when grocery shopping.
Mrs. DD: I consider myself medium-frugal. I love food too much. I don’t want to eat rice and beans for weeks on end, as Jacob did from Early Retirement Extreme. But I do find an interesting challenge in finding cheap recipes and batch cooking.
5. Can you give us the breakdown of your expenses?
- Rent (including parking): CHF 1500
- Utilities: CHF 45
- Groceries (food and household goods, no alcohol!): CHF 450
- Internet: CHF 50
- Transportation: CHF 30
- Average individual expenses (including health insurance) CHF 400 per person
- Total: CHF 2875 per month
As we are taxed at the source, taxes are not included. Taxes are about CHF 500,- and contribution to social insurances (AHV, pension, and the like) are about CHF 1100,-. We calculate everything with the net income.
We rarely drink alcohol, not only because Mrs. DD can’t due to the pregnancy, we seldom drank it before moving here. Benefit: fewer calories, fewer expenses, and when you do drink, it tastes so much better!
Eating out, expenses related to hobbies, or buying new clothes and shoes happen very infrequently. We don’t have sufficient data yet for these expenses in Switzerland.
6. Which expense category are you the proudest of?
That’s hard for us to say, it’s all so different in Switzerland. Mr. DD is pretty happy with our budget for groceries, and the fact that it includes the occasional treat for lunch. And Mrs. DD enjoys the fact that we don’t have a budget for apparel because it is such an infrequent expense.
7. What is the main difficulty for living frugally in Switzerland?
Firstly we find it difficult because we’re not yet familiar with the way Switzerland ‘works’. We feel that there may be many tips and tricks out there that we simply don’t know about. What also doesn’t help is that it is way too easy to buy something delicious for lunch.
Secondly, there are some things that surprise us. Public transportation and health insurance are very expensive. Swiss trains and healthcare have a good international reputation, but to be fair, it’s not in proportion to the prices. Thirdly, Mrs. DD misses the overly well-stocked supermarkets from the Netherlands. Don’t get her started. She’ll take days; she wasn’t kidding when she said she loves food and cooking. At least she has learned to make nasi goreng and cheese-onion-olive focaccia from scratch, so that’s a win.
Oh, and the banks here are unnecessarily slow. As the data goes through the internet, transfers between banks should be instantaneous. But a transfer within the same bank takes days, that’s like so 2010 and makes tracking the expenses a bit more cumbersome.
Putting it together like this makes it sound very negative, especially since we’re foreigners. All grumpiness aside, we’re really enjoying living in Switzerland. It’s just that, well, you asked for it.
8. What is your best tip for frugal living in Switzerland?
Walk to work instead of using public transportation, taking the plastic waste with you when shopping at Aldi, so you don’t fill up those expensive Kehrichtsacke, and growing your own tomatoes and herbs on the balcony. Realize you already have more than enough clothes and just don’t buy any, unless you get pregnant, and none of your pants fit anymore, and it becomes embarrassing.
Bring your own lunch to work, say it’s a bento box, and you’re trendy as well as frugal. Eat eggs; they’re filling, healthy, and cheap. Make your own bircher (what a glorious invention!). My favorite is really delicious and filling like slow-setting concrete: I use frozen raspberries, put some in a bowl and thaw them in the microwave; add a generous amount of oat flakes because I like it chunky and top it up with Greek-style yogurt 10% fat. Mix well, leave it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes for the oat flakes to become soft. Play with the amounts until you find a ratio you like. Add sugar or honey if you’ve got a sweet tooth. Yes, Mrs. DD likes fatty foods, and in case you’re wondering, she’s actually quite slender. (“I’m not fat, I’m pregnant!”).
9. Why are you saving so much money?
Good question. (Long pause)… it’s complicated.
The bottom line is that we both don’t want to continue working until we’re 70. As Mr. DD says: “I’m not aiming for FI but for FU”. Although he really likes his job. It’s just about the possibility of giving everyone the finger. Mrs. DD started out with FIRE in mind and now enjoys the process of spending consciously so much that it’s a hobby in itself.
Over the years that we’ve been reducing our expenses, we have become much more aware of what we think is really important, so we enjoy the fact that our lives have become more meaningful. Most of the things you can buy are things that you don’t need and will not enrich your life. It will only make you poorer.
10. If you had more income would you spend more?
Mr. DD: I think I would spend more. I would feel more comfortable spending money on experiences, like lift passes and gasoline, to explore other parts of Switzerland. And don’t tell my wife, but I may buy some shiny gadgets as well.
Mrs. DD: I would like to think that I wouldn’t change my/our spending, but I’m afraid I’m not completely immune to lifestyle creep. Maybe go to a nice restaurant once or twice a year, maybe plan a nice international trip by train, but that would be it. Oh, all right, for the stereotyping, I might as well buy a proper handbag from genuine leather instead of always using my old backpack.
11. Do you ever feel you are sacrificing something by living like that?
Nope (in unison), otherwise we wouldn’t live like this.
12. Do you splurge on anything?
Uh… Mrs. DD just bought the new iPhone SE (CHF 450), but is that splurging if you use an iPhone 6 for five years, without ever having any issues? Serious question, because I find it difficult to make the cost-benefit analysis.
Mr. DD donates to several tech-oriented content creators.
13. Do you have a budget?
Yes, we budget.
Mr. DD: There are multiple budget techniques?! My “technique” is to look at the expenses at the end of the month and reflecting if I feel OK with the amounts spent in each budget category. If we’re not happy, we adjust; for instance, our grocery budget used to be CHF 400, but we felt too constricted, so we increased it to CHF 450.
Mrs. DD: I would like to add that Mr. DD is also tracking the expenses in a program called Firefly, and I have made a separate spreadsheet to track the cash flow from our property in the Netherlands, which we have rented out. (We don’t consider the rent to be ‘income’, as it covers basically all the expenses of the property. It’s pretty close to a zero-sum game).
And as both of us still have some obligations back in the lowlands, you can imagine it is quite, um, interesting to try and make sense of it all, especially as money flowing from one account into another can generate some mind-boggling data. Is it an expense if I transfer from Switzerland to the Netherlands? I’m a pharmaceutical scientist, not a bookkeeper, so there is plenty to learn.
14. Are you setting aside some “fun money” each month?
Mrs. DD: No, I’m already enjoying myself thoroughly.
Mr. DD: Well, kind of, I guess? I’m not budgeting for it, but if there is something I want and I know it will ‘spark joy’, I can buy it. It can be anything, from a new game that’s on sale to a nice jacket. But I will also keep in mind how much I have already bought the last period.
Mrs. DD: Although to us, the expenses for the baby kind of feel like fun money. This is a category where we feel we can spend (to us) large amounts. Yes, baby stuff can be bought on the cheap; however, this is an area where we allow ourselves to buy nice/pretty/new stuff. And even then we are very happy with all the secondhand items we get from our friends and relatives, but also because it has extra meaning as it comes from people we love. For instance, my mother in law is refurbishing the crib where she and half the family have slept in. To my mind, that’s almost a magical artifact.
Thanks a lot to Mr. and Mrs. Double Dutch for answering my questions. It was really fun to get their answers as a couple!
It is really impressive to see people live with little money in Switzerland. So, it is definitely possible to live a frugal life in Switzerland!
We are currently living with about 4000 CHF per month (not counting taxes). But The Double Dutch family is living with less than 3000 CHF per month. It is an excellent example! The average household in Switzerland spends much more than that!
I think people can really profit from these interviews. There are always ways of spending less and saving more. You just need to remember that different people spend differently. Some people can be happy with 3000 CHF per month, while others need double that!
If you want to read more cool frugal life interviews like this one, you should take a look at the frugal interview of Janet, a Ph.D. student!
If you are living a frugal life in Switzerland, I would love to interview you! Let me know in the comments below or via the Contact page. It is not only for bloggers, as you can see from this article!