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This month marks the one year anniversary of when I sold basically all of my stuff and took off to Europe with a one-way ticket. (I wrote in detail how I afford a life of full-time travel in this article.) The interesting thing is, every place I’ve lived, I’ve learned some frugal tricks that are commonplace in those areas.
Keep in mind that many parts of Europe live with a lot less disposable income than we have in the United States. So they have a lot of interesting ways to save money, some of which you may wish to adapt to cut your own expenses. Here are five ways that Europeans save money. (Obviously, these tips are from the Europeans I met, and may not be representative of all Europeans.)
Don’t have a dryer.
One of the requirements at the Airbnbs I booked was that they had to have a washing machine. No way did I want to lug my dirty clothes around a strange city in search of a laundromat, then try to figure out how to use the machine with instructions that were in a language I could not yet read.
Well, finding a place with washers was easy. Finding a place with dryers? Nearly impossible. That’s because hardly anyone in Europe – at least the countries where I visited – uses dryers.
Most of the apartments I rented came equipped with a folding drying rack to put up for drying your clothes, while others had laundry lines. In fact, if you walk around residential areas in many European cities, clothing drying on lines like banners above the streets is ubiquitous. You can save a fortune on your electric bill by not using a dryer, as well as saving on the cost of the dryer itself.
Only use your hot water heater when you need hot water.
One thing that took a little getting used to was the fact that in many of the places I stayed, you only had hot water when you turned on the water heater. There was generally one that served both the kitchen and the bathroom, but I stayed in a few locales that had a separate heater for each room.
These aren’t massive hot water heaters like the ones we use in the United States, but smaller ones. They take 15-30 minutes to fully heat up, so you have to plan ahead when you want to do your dishes or have a shower. After you’ve used your hot water, you flip off the switch. You’ll have a small amount of hot-to-warm water for the next few hours (sometimes up to 12) for quick handwashing. Once that runs out or cools off, the running water you use will be cold.
It sounds terribly inconvenient and it was, initially. But I got better at planning when I was going to have a shower, if I didn’t have hot water for dishes, I quickly boiled a pot of water to pour into the kitchen sink, and I adapted.
Go out for lunch or coffee instead of dinner.
Meeting up at restaurants is a huge part of the culture in many of the cities I visited. But having dinner is pretty expensive. I found that during the day, sidewalk cafes were absolutely jam-packed with people enjoying coffee together – you couldn’t find a table anywhere. Lunchtime was also busy (when prices are lower.)
Remember, frugality doesn’t mean you have to give up on everything fun. It means you have to prioritize and budget for the things that mean a lot to you. And if that means meeting up at cafes with your friends, then suggest having coffee instead of a full meal.
Use your dried bread.
I’d never heard of “rusks” before going to Europe. (Perhaps you have and I’m just sheltered.) Rusks are pieces of twice-baked bread that you can make once your bread becomes stale.
In Greece, rusks were often placed at the bottom of a dish and topped with soup or another hot food, which softened it up. They’re also placed at the bottom of a bowl of salad where they soak up the salad dressing. While I wasn’t really a fan, lots of folks really love it and find it a tasty way to end their meal.
You could easily take your cute from Europeans and twice-bake your stale bread after cutting it into sticks or cube form and use it like crackers or croutons. Not only does this make use of your stale bread that most people would throw out, it also spares you from needing to purchase croutons or crackers.
When I lived in Europe, I didn’t have a vehicle. In larger cities like Athens, I used Uber sometimes to get around, but for the most part, it was me and my own two feet. The entire time I was in Montenegro, I rode in a car only one time other than entering and leaving the country.
This helped me in many ways. First, it got me out there every single day, rain or shine. When you live in a tiny apartment, even when you stock up on some food items, you still find yourself hitting the markets on a regular basis. I shopped for food daily throughout most of my stay – it’s nice to pick up your baguette, meat, and vegetables when they’re at their peak freshness.
The other great thing about it is fitness. When I first arrived in Europe I was hyperventilating up the hill to my beautiful Athens apartment. By the time I left many months later, I was carrying a 30-pound backpack full of food, bottled water, and wine up 435 stairs to my apartment in Montenegro. Yes, you read that right – 435 stairs and I was no longer huffing and puffing.
Walking saved me a fortune: no car payment, no car insurance, no repairs, no parking costs. And best of all, it made me a whole lot healthier without a pricey gym membership.
Do you have any thrifty habits you learned from another country?
I’m currently in Mexico and will have another article along these lines of frugal ideas from this part of the world if you guys are interested. Have you picked up any thrifty tips while traveling or living in a different country? Please share your ideas in the comments.