Cost of living in Spain
…and the not-so-costly Costa
Let’s assume that you’re not too far into your property search and you’re weighing up whether to buy in one Spanish destination as opposed to another. In this series of posts I explain just how cheap the cost of living in Spain is in general, as well as offering some additional observations specific to the area I’ve settled in.
Far from merely being Costa del Sol propaganda, I cannot rave enough about the outstanding quality of life in affordable Andalucía compared to anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Since I moved to the Coast from Madrid, I’ve found that (amongst many other things) my money goes further, and I gather it’s much the same story if you’ve come from Barcelona or the Balearic Islands, too.
Needless to say, if you come from the UK – or more or less anywhere in northern Europe or North America – that sensation is extrapolated ten times over. Hence why living in Spain is so alluring for retirees and those who support themselves by transferring funds from their home country.
PART I: EATING IN & EATING OUT
With this premise in mind, my first foray into the relative cost of living in Spain will be – following on from this week’s theme on the VIVA blog – food.
Specifically, I will break the topic down into eating in and eating out; giving some examples of how much certain foods cost at the supermarket, plus some tips for places to go and times to eat to save you money.
Your weekly shop
Praise be to Mercadona! Take a bow Lidl! Thank goodness for Aldi! I say this because supermarkets – especially these three, in my experience – are pretty cheap in southern Spain. If, like many Costa del Sol residents, you shop on a budget, you’ll find your money goes quite far.
The great thing about Mercadona is the high quality of its own-brand products considering how cheap they are. It is an extremely popular chain, particularly among Spanish natives, and its renowned value for money explains why it has a huge 26%1 market share in the competitive domestic food retail sector.
That said, the above-mentioned German supermarkets have muscled in in recent years thanks to extremely competitive prices, stocking a wide range of international foods and their commitment to ecology and the environment.
Anyway, getting back to the cost of living in Spain and how much my weekly shop sets me back…
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen (I mean a good cook, not an angry man shouting at my sous-chef), so my taste is not exactly what you’d call “adventurous”, but I can usually get all the ingredients I need for a week’s meals for between €20 and €30. This would probably rise to €40 maximum if you’re shopping for two people and you're not going over the top.
To give you a ballpark figure of typical supermarket prices, here is a list of some staple foods and their approximate costs:
- 1kg white rice / pasta varieties: approx. €0.75
- 500g spaghetti: approx. €0.50
- 3kg russet potatoes: approx. €3.50
- 6 eggs: approx. €1.00
- 1 baguette bread stick: approx. €0.50
- 1l carton of UHT milk (most common): approx. €0.75
- 1l bottle of fresh milk: approx. €1.50
- 500g chicken breast fillets: approx. €4.00
- 500g beef mince: approx. €3.50
- 12 x 330ml cans of Spanish beer: approx. €6.00
- 750ml bottle of Spanish red wine: from €1.50
- 100 tea bags: approx. €1.50
Now let’s assume you want to down your cooking tools and treat yourself to a dinner out somewhere. Gastronomically speaking, you are truly spoilt for choice in Spain, with more regional dishes and fine cuisine than you can shake a stick at.
And nowhere is this more pronounced than on the Costa del Sol. Whether you fancy something authentic like seafood at a chiringuito or sharing some tapas, or a delicacy from further afield, you will find it here.
Given that there is such a strong food culture and, by consequence, a huge gastronomical offering on the Coast, the smart expat always factors eating out into the cost of living in Spain. After all, it is not uncommon to eat out at least once or twice per week (depending on your circumstances, of course) and it is not expensive if you know where to go.
Location, location, location
I emphasise this point because it is easy to fall into what you might call “tourist traps”. While I’m not necessarily referring to awful quality food and getting conned when the bill arrives – these things are reasonably rare on the Costa del Sol – it’s worth being aware of where you sit down to eat and the budget you have in mind.
Take Marbella, for example. If you’re taking a stroll along the promenade and fancy some espetos (barbecued fish) for lunch, accompanied by a large beer or glass of wine, it stands to reason that you’ll pay significantly more near Puerto Banús or just outside Puente Romano on the Golden Mile than you will near the Marbella marina or in the centre of town.
Getting your head around where the most exclusive/affordable areas are involves some trial and error, but you’ll get there. Eating out in Fuengirola, for example, might cost you €20 per person, while a comparable meal in Benahavís or Marbella may be up to €10 more per head.
Take a look at our Costa del Sol Area Guides to swot up on the subject…
Top tip: menu del día
One great piece of advice is to go for a big feed at lunchtime! This will be strange for you if you’re used to just having a sandwich at midday and dinner as your main meal, but there is huge incentive to change your ways here in Spain.
Many restaurants offer a lunchtime set menu called a menu del día comprising a drink of your choice, first course, main, some bread to nibble on and a dessert or coffee to finish. And all for the princely sum of between €8 and €15, depending on the calibre and location of the establishment. Definitely worth checking out!
If you live on the Costa del Sol or anywhere else in Spain, do you think my observations are accurate? Is there anything you would add? And is the cost of living in Spain an important factor for you? Keep your eyes peeled for Part II soon...