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Frugal Living in Switzerland Interview 1 – Janet

Baptiste Wicht | Updated: |

(Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links)

Today, I want to introduce the first interview in my new series: Frugal Living in Switzerland! In this series, I am going to interview that manage to live frugally in Switzerland.

Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Many people think we cannot live frugally in such a country. I want to prove them wrong.

And today, to prove that we can live frugally in Switzerland, I interview Janet, a good blogger friend. She saves more than 60% of her income, as a student!

1. Tell us about yourself?

Janet from My Twenty Cents
Janet from My Twenty Cents

My name is Janet, and I am 30 years old. I have been living in Lausanne for three years now. For the first two years, I was a Master’s student, and now I’m a Ph.D. student. My hobbies include reading, blogging, playing piano, snowboarding, dancing, and doing yoga.

2. How much of your income do you save each month?

On average, I spend about 2,000-2,500 CHF per month. Most months, I save about 60-70% of my after-tax income. My best month was July 2019 because I was doing an exchange in Asia, and all of my living expenses were covered by the program. My worst months were back when I was a Master’s student, making very little money, but spending about the same amount as I spend now.

3. How do you compute your savings rate?

I compute my savings rate by subtracting my expenses from my after-tax income and then dividing that by my after-tax income. I use after-tax income because taxes get deducted from my paycheque, and I never see that money anyway.

4. Do you consider yourself a frugal person?

Yes, I do consider myself a frugal person. I like to save money. I don’t like to live extravagantly. I also don’t like having a lot of material possessions.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t spend money at all. I do enjoy splurging once in a while on things that make me happy – vacations, etc. When I do splurge, it’s usually on very expensive, high-quality products that will last years.

Even though I do like to buy luxury items sometimes, when you look at my savings rate, you can already tell that I’m generally a pretty frugal person.

5. Can you give us the breakdown of your expenses?

  • 10% – Food
  • 40% – Rent
  • 15% – Health Insurance
  • 10% – Travel
  • 15% – Hobbies and Entertainment
  • 10% – Other (phone plan, tuition, etc.)

I mostly cook my own food, so my food expenses are quite low. I eat out maybe once or twice a week. The reason I don’t eat out often is mainly that I have a strong preference for Asian food and I can’t find really good Asian food near where I live. My standards are quite high since I’m from Toronto and the food there is amazing :)

My rent is pretty cheap because I live in a studio and it’s quite small. I don’t mind it – it’s perfect for one person. The location is really central, so I can’t complain.

Health insurance is a huge expense, and I hate thinking about it! In Switzerland, health insurance is very expensive, and it doesn’t cover very much. My health insurance plan is the most basic one you can get, and it still costs me over 340 francs a month.

Travelling is one of my favorite hobbies, and I have visited over 50 countries. I usually take at least 2-3 big trips every year. This year, I went to Morocco, Spain, the UK, and a bunch of countries in South East Asia. I also take a trip back to Canada to see my family once a year, and that adds up.

Janet Snowboarding in The Swiss Moutains
Janet Snowboarding in The Swiss Moutains

I have quite expensive hobbies – I like to sail, snowboard, and do ballet. These hobbies cost me a couple of hundred francs per month. It’s worth it though, it’s exercise and helps me stay healthy and in shape.

6. Which expense category are you the proudest of?

I would say I’m most proud of my “Other” category because I actually don’t spend a whole lot of money on anything besides the bare necessities, travel, and hobbies. I consider traveling and hobbies essential to my well-being. I almost never go shopping for new clothes, new gadgets, etc. because it’s not what interests me.

7. What is the main difficulty for living frugally in Switzerland?

I find the taxes in Switzerland quite low, so I can’t complain about that aspect. One thing that bothers me is health insurance. It is too expensive, and it is quite an unnecessary expense for me because I’m still young and healthy. It’s just a waste of money for me. Coming from Canada where healthcare is free, I can’t justify paying over 340 francs a month for nothing.

Another thing I don’t like about Switzerland is how expensive bottled water is. I don’t drink alcohol or soft drinks, so when I eat out, I have to pay for water, and it’s not cheap. Sometimes as much as 5 francs a bottle. And even when I ask for tap water, some places charge for it. The waiters also make you feel ashamed of asking for tap water, so sometimes I just don’t do it.

8. What is your best tip for frugal living in Switzerland?

If I need to buy something, I always check anibis or Facebook groups to see if I can buy it off someone else. Usually, you can find pretty great deals! I bought skis this year and paid less than 100 francs for them, including poles and boots! They’re in really good condition too!

9. Why are you saving so much money?

I’ve been naturally wired to save money from as long as I can remember. I remember as a kid, my parents would give me red pockets (for new years, birthdays, etc.), and I never spent any of it. Every year I would give all of it back to my mom and tell her to put it into my savings account. Frugality is in my blood.

I hope to save enough money, so I don’t have to return to a “normal” 9-5 job once I finish my Ph.D. Although I like the idea of FIRE, I don’t think it’s for me. I like to keep myself busy, so I will still “work” even if I achieve financial independence. My parents retired in their 40s, and I saw how boring their lives were after retirement. I don’t want to be like that!

10. If you had more income would you spend more?

If my income doubled, I wouldn’t be spending any more than what I’m spending now. Maybe the only thing that would change is that I might move into a bigger apartment. And might go on an extra vacation here and there.

When I went from being a Master student to a Ph.D. student, my income more than doubled. Then my side hustle income started picking up, and my income more than tripled. I’m still spending the same amount as I did when I was a Master student.

11. Do you ever feel you are sacrificing something by living like that?

No, I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing anything by living frugally. I enjoy it, and as mentioned before, I also splurge once in a while. Little things make me happy, so I don’t have to splurge a lot.

When I travel, most trips cost less than 500 francs. Snowboarding costs me about 500 francs a year for a ski pass. And my other hobbies cost me about 200 francs a month.

This is all I need. I don’t need anything more to make me happy. I don’t need the latest iPhone or the fanciest clothes.

12. Do you splurge on anything?

Luxury handbags are Janet's splurge
Luxury handbags are Janet’s splurge

I’m addicted to buying luxury jewelry and handbags, so I splurge once in a while on that. Last year I bought a Hermes bag, a wallet, and a coin purse. I know this sounds excessive and totally contradictory, and I agree with you.

However, in just a year, the prices for the same products rose by about 20% for the bag and 50% for the wallet. So if you look at it, I didn’t really splurge but rather made a smart investment ;) That’s how I justify these purchases anyway!

13. Do you have a budget?

Yes, I have a budget and update it every single day. I never miss a day. I am not even joking. I just use a plain Excel spreadsheet that I set up a few years ago. It’s fun to be able to look back at all my spending habits from years ago and see what’s changed (and what hasn’t)!

14. Are you setting aside some “fun money” each month?

Yes, I set aside 100 francs every month as “Entertainment” money, but I almost never use any of it! I guess I just have really good self-discipline. I don’t actually like going out much unless it’s to do something active (like hiking), and that doesn’t cost a lot of money.

Thanks a lot to Janet for answering my questions! Saving more than 60% of your income during Ph.D. is absolutely incredible! I wish I was so frugal as you are! Congratulations.

If you want to learn more about Janet, she is blogging at My Twenty Cents. She has some really good articles I would encourage to check out!

There are other frugal people in Switzerland! You can read about the Frugality of Mr. Mustachian Post for instance.

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!

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Photo of Baptiste Wicht

Baptiste Wicht started in 2017. He realized that he was falling into the trap of lifestyle inflation. He decided to cut his expenses and increase his income. This blog is relating his story and findings. In 2019, he is saving more than 50% of his income. He made it a goal to reach Financial Independence. You can send Mr. The Poor Swiss a message here.

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20 thoughts on “Frugal Living in Switzerland Interview 1 – Janet”

  1. Didn’t realize Geneva was so much more expensive than Zurich. I’m also a student but get by with ~1000 fr per month. I guess it’s the accommodation as I pay 500 fr.

    Sadly I’m not frugal by choice though!

    1. Hi Jacob,

      Geneva is not much more expensive than Zurich. They are both very expensive. I guess it highly depends on where you live in each city.

      But living with 1000 CHF per month anyway in Switzerland is really impressive! Maybe I should interview you!
      Care to share some details?

      Thanks for stopping by!

      1. There’s lots of little savings that add up. I always shop at Aldi/Denner, have cut down on meat, cook my own meals and avoid eating out often. Even my phone plan is only 10 CHF / month (from EU country) and I get plenty data valid all across Europe.

        I qualify for a Swiss health insurance exemption, so that costs me 0 CHF.

        I also use the ETH student e-bike deal, so for 15 CHF / year I can cycle for free and keeps me fit.

        Switzerland can be pretty cheap as a frugal student, without sacrificing much luxury :)

      2. Hi,

        Thanks for sharing your tips!

        With a health insurance exemption, it definitely helps to keep it frugal! And being able to bike to school (or work), is a great money-saver!

        Good for you!

      3. Excellent tips! Thanks for sharing! I feel like Zurich is more expensive actually based on my experience living there as an intern!

  2. Thanks for a great blog! Since there seems to be a few people from abroad who come to work in Switzerland visiting this blog, I wanted to let you know about SwissCare health insurance. I had it during my first years here and it’s super cheap (seems to work the first 5 years in Switzerland if you’re on non-permanent contract until you get a C permit). If you get sick though it’s quite crappy in the sense that you have to pay all the bills up front and get reimbursed only later. But veeery cheap so if you’re lucky enough to stay healthy maybe something to think about :)

    1. Hi Caroline,

      Thanks for sharing this. I did not know at all about SwissCare. It seems indeed MUCH cheaper than Swiss health insurance.
      It seems to be only for students though. But still great. I will recommend this for people coming to study in Switzerland.
      As for paying upfront, this is not so bad. There are several cheap health insurances that do this.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Great idea for a new series! And glad to hear about Janet’s story! Frugality is a good subject, but it’ll also be super interesting to hear more about her side hustle incomes which helped her triple her income.. wow! I think it’s always easier to increase savings rate by increasing income if you’re already a frugal person, and I think 60-70% is amazing! :))

    1. Hi Mama Bear,

      Thanks :)
      Side Hustles in Switzerland could also be a great subject indeed. Especially since I do not know many people that have side hustles!
      I agree that once you are already frugal, it is easier to increase your income, hence your savings rate, than to try to save a few more dollars here and there.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. The salary of a PhD student is roughly 3’200 net (I’m one myself). Spending 2’500 per month doesn’t result in a 60% savings ratio. Either the numbers are off or Janet has some kind of side hustle.
    I understand that people don’t like to pay health insurance when they are young and healthy, but that’s the whole point of the system. Everybody has to pay, so just get over it.

    1. Hi Joe,

      I think this highly depends on where you do your Ph.D. Personally, I got more than 5000 net income when I was a Ph.D. student. I am pretty sure there are some significant differences between schools and states. Do not be too quick to judge.
      I do not know about all her side hustles, but I know that her blog is generating some income.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Hi Joe,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I am including the income I earn from my side hustles, mainly revenues from other sites I run and investment income.

  5. I lived 4 years in Geneva so I was quite curious about this.
    “I eat out maybe once or twice…A WEEK”?? hope it’s a typo for month, because otherwise that’s not sound frugal for a place where a random pizza goes for at least 20 CHF. Without counting that grocery shopping as well is quite expensive…and from Lausanne you cannot really go to France to solve it.
    if Health Ins is 340 CHF and is 3/2 of the food spending, means the she lives with 226 CHF per month going out to eat 6 times per month???
    also 200/month to snowboard where a daily skipass costs around 100 CHF does not quite adds up.

    1. Hello,
      I used to eat out less. I am eating out more now to increase my quality of life but when I do eat out the meals are usually around 10-15 francs max. I am not eating extravagant meals and I do not eat a lot of food either. Eating at the university is also quite cheap.
      The snowboard pass I got is 400/year.

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