How living in Sweden has changed my outlook on money


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The stress of asking for money

Living alone in a country, no matter if it it Sweden or the U.S., and supporting yourself is a massive wake-up call. It is stressful to ask your family regularly for money. It is also stressful for them because it is out of their budget and they have to figure out the currency conversions. 

We used Transferwise, my parents would deposit money into my US account and then I would send the money to myself using the app. I hated asking, so I knew I had to learn to budget.

When I moved to the U.K, I had my student loan, so I was able to budget that out to last a year. The majority of it went to tuition and I used about $18K to live. The unfortunate part of this was that the British pound was stronger than the U.S. dollar.

Sweden I knew would be different because I would have an income, lower than what I had in the U.S. but a livable income. My life in the U.S. was different because I spent a higher percentage of my income monthly. I was saving about 5% per month, now that has changed to about 40%. So, what happened? 

When I was in the U.S. I was fortunate enough to live at home so I did not have to pay expensive rent. However, I did cover other costs like a car payment, insurance, and gas. 

This changed when I got to Sweden, I now had to pay for rent (which fortunately is subsidized due to my student status). Without these subsidies, I would be paying 50% of my income to housing alone. So, exactly how have I learned to view money differently?

Lack of a pub/bar culture

There are pubs in Sweden and people do go but it is not part of the national drinking culture in the same way as the U.K. or even the U.S.

Much of the socialization in the U.K. and the U.S. happens in bars and pubs rather than at FIKA. FIKA is a coffee break but that is simplistic, it is a social phenomenon, a time set aside to socialize, network, or to just rest in the middle of the day.

At my department it occurs twice a day and it is where we socialize, have a chat and enjoy our coffee. The coffee for us is free, so I really do not have to pay for coffee. 

Going back to the pub culture, there is a slight prohibition on alcohol here. You can only buy it at certain times and then it is marked up high to deter heavy drinking. So FIKA is really the main place you can get your socialization with Swedes.  Swedes, based on my experience, compartmentalize their lives. Work friends, school friends, etc., do not socialize together in one group. I remember I went to a Midsummer where a work friend invited us and he invited his other friends to the same party. His work friends are all international so this compartmentalization does not exist, however, his other friends were surprised that there was this group mixing. Very strange to them.

What I am trying to get at here is that this slight alcohol prohibition and compartmentalization of friend groups can deter you from spending too much money at the bars since this type of drinking culture does not exist.

Food is expensive

The heading is as descriptive as I can really get. In Sweden, especially in Stockholm, dining out will set you back $15-$20USD. This does not include drinks. If you want a decent beer, you are looking at a minimum of $8USD per pint. Do not be fooled, this is not a craft beer, this is just a step up from the cheapest quality that just tastes like watered down Bud Light.

So, due to how expensive it is, I have  now opted to learn to cook my favorite recipes.

The comfort food tax

Along the lines of the high cost of food. Ordering non-local foods because you have a craving is really expensive. You better be ready to cough up the equivalent of $14 USD for a half liter of eggnog. This is because the cost of importing things to Sweden is high, first you have the international shipping costs, and the import tax, which is between 6-25%. This is dependent on the type of goods. Some things you cannot get abroad that easily so I have learned to live without. I now try to eat as local as possible, using the things I can find at the grocery store to make some of my favorite foods.

Swedes are natural savers

That is right, you read that correctly. People here save a larger portion of their income naturally, when compared to the American counterparts. I believe this has to do with how expensive it is to live here. 

So, I saw what the locals were doing and I mimicked that, this is a good habit to pick up though. 

A few more ways...

There are a few more differences like I began to cycle during the nice months (March-September). There are people who cycle all winter and if I was not still recovering from a broken foot, I would be cycling right now. It is not perfect cycle weather but it is still manageable (33F/1C). This means that I save money by not taking having a metro pass. 

Things are made for longevity. There are fast fashion stores but many Swedes will buy things that last and use it until it can no longer be used. I had always applied this mentality but I never realized how important it was to have good quality winter boots until I moved here.

What about you? Has a new culture, or even a person taught you something about saving money that you now emulate?

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