The Cost Of Living
Spain is no longer the very cheap country that it once was. The cost of living has risen over the last ten years but it is still considerably cheaper than many of the countries of northern Europe. It is almost impossible to be totally objective in this section since your cost of living will depend on what you want to buy and how you propose to live. As a result, the cost of living here could be very, very low indeed or it might be very similar to your present costs. All I can do is to generalise and leave you, the reader, to draw your own conclusions. Appendix 2, showing typical supermarket prices, might give you some impression of prices on the Costa del Sol relative to those in the UK.
Your style of life
I have called this section your style of life rather than your lifestyle. If you relocate to Spain and you want to live in exactly the same way as you did in the UK you might actually find that there is very little difference between costs here and what you might have spent in the UK. If you want to buy British food all the time, life will be expensive. When shopping in Spanish supermarkets the difference in cost between the Spanish brand or the UK brand of a similar product can be very dramatic indeed. Some brands of British sauces or pickle can be two or three times what you would pay in the UK. The same rule applies to things like butter or cheese. Choose Spanish butter, or find Spanish cheeses that are similar to those with which you are familiar, and they will cost very little compared to the prices charged for English brands of butter or cheddar cheese. Choose to live in ‘the UK with sun’ and the cost of living could be quite high.
Meat and fish
If your idea of heaven is a typical roast beef Sunday lunch you will find that beef is relatively expensive since there is virtually no tradition of beef farming on the Costa del Sol, whereas pork and chicken are relatively cheap. Beef on the Costa del Sol is probably no cheaper than it is in the UK.
If you love fish, you will be in paradise. The Mediterranean is full of the most wonderful seafood, and the wet fish counter in the local supermarket is an incredible sight. The prices of fish such as monkfish are about a quarter of what they would be in the UK. Prawns and other shellfish are so cheap that the prices will amaze you. The overall choice is fantastic.
Fruit and vegetables
Vegetables and fruit are very cheap so long as you buy what is grown locally when it is in season. Don’t buy imported produce unless you must have it and accept that it is a luxury. Buy the locally grown product and you will find that even luxury vegetables like asparagus are cheaper than you could ever imagine. Strawberries in season are bought by the crateful, and oranges are so cheap that it would be criminal not to buy a juicer and make your own freshly prepared orange juice. Why anyone should purchase cartons of orange juice on the Costa del Sol is a complete mystery to me when you can buy five kilos of fresh oranges for the equivalent of £2.00! It’s even more of a crime to buy the synthetic ‘orange’ drinks (whose brand names I cannot mention) just because the kids are used to them in the UK. Hot tip: the place to buy your oranges or other citrus fruits is at the roadside, direct from the person who has grown them.
Avocados are almost given away when they are in season – they almost fall off the trees – and they grow so profusely that you almost need to find a cookery book which tells you 101 recipes for the use of an avocado.
Wine and spirits
Local Spanish wine is inexpensive. At the time of writing it is possible to buy perfectly drinkable, everyday wine for less than £1.00 per bottle. So long as you buy Spanish wine, even very well known brands are considerably cheaper than you would expect to pay back in the UK. However if you are a wine snob you will find that the prices of imported wines can be very similar to the prices you would have expected to pay before you moved here.
Similarly, the price of the harder stuff can be high if you do not buy sensibly. If you like a gin and tonic and the only gin you will consider is the well-known brand sold in a green bottle in the UK you could find it to be relatively expensive compared to the local Spanish equivalent. I would challenge anyone to tell the difference after it has been mixed with the tonic water!
A Spanish or British lifestyle?
We never cease to be amazed by the number of UK expatriates who move to the Costa del Sol and still want to live in the same way as they lived before they moved. They visit English shops to buy English food and even buy frozen food imported from the UK. They travel down the coast to shop in Gibraltar in a well-known English supermarket, and all the time they pay way over the odds in order to continue eating those brands of food they have been buying for years. Interestingly, we have friends who live in Gibraltar who now choose to shop in Spain because the food prices are much lower and the quality is probably better.
Make the change to living in Spain, living in the Spanish style and you will find that your food costs can drop dramatically. Your cost of living will be considerably lower than you ever expected and the quality of food will be dramatically better.
The only concession we have made to our former life in the UK is to buy meat from an English style butcher because we can still buy English cuts of meat. Every country chops up carcasses in a different way so it can be a benefit to buy the cuts with which you are familiar. This is no different from some former colleagues of mine who were French, and who bought their meat from the French butcher in South Kensington in London because he sold the French cuts with which they were familiar. Apart from this one concession, we buy everything else in the same way as the locals. We buy Spanish brands. We shop in Spanish supermarkets, and we buy local produce when it is in season and which has probably been grown organically without any premium being added to the price for this ‘privilege’. As a result our weekly shopping bill is probably about 30% lower than it was in London and we live very well (if not better since we eat far more fresh produce).