I know money is considered such a taboo topic of conversation, but I have decided to share my “What I spend in a week” diary (Hamburg edition), in appreciation of one of my favourite websites, Refinery 29. I love the money diaries they publish. Whether it’s a married woman with a $202,000 joint annual salary, an editor in Madrid on $34,000 a year or a legal sex worker in Nevada who’s earned over $1 million this year, they provide fascinating insight into how different people’s lives are, their cost of living, their monthly expenses, their workloads, their social lives and how they choose to spend their hard-earned cash. There is also a UK version for my fellow Brits, featuring a digital nomad on £49k, a teacher on a joint annual salary of £110k and much more!
Saturday means Supermarket Day in Hamburg, as the shops are closed on Sundays. It annoyed me when I first moved here, but I’m used to it now. It just requires some extra organisation and patience when battling the long weekend queues. Before going to the supermarket, I do a stock check of my fridge, freezer and cupboards to make sure I don’t buy something I already have, hidden away at the back. My stock check reveals that I have spaghetti, lentils, cannolini beans, chickpeas, one sweet potato, some olive tapenade, green Thai curry paste, garlic, red chilli, ginger and a rather sad-looking white onion. Not an inspiring collection, but a decent starting point. I decide that this week’s meals will include spicy lentil soup, green Thai curry and a pasta dish with oven-roasted vegetables. Now it’s time to hit the shops!
First I visit DM (drogerie markt), a large chemist/drug store which sells all the usual medicine, make-up products and toiletries, along with supplements, organic dried legumes and pulses, soya/nut milk, vegan/dairy-free snacks and lots more. I spend €8.90 on multi-vitamin and multi-mineral tablets, chocolate-covered and yogurt-covered rice cakes and Vitamin D tablets. Winter has come to Hamburg: the days are incredibly grey and it is getting dark earlier and earlier.
Then I go to Aldi and spend €28.59 on the following: rice, a bag of white onions, red peppers, courgettes, sweet potatoes, one yellow pepper, some pak choi, vine tomatoes, beetroot, bananas, feta cheese, low-fat cream cheese, two tins of chopped tomatoes, a jar of green pesto, a jar of red pesto, almond milk, coconut milk (for my morning porridge), tinned coconut milk (for my Thai curry), a cucumber, mint, rocket, radishes, rye bread, penne pasta, yogurts, oats and hummus (normally I make my own but I’m running low on tahini and Aldi don’t have any). As I’m cooking for one person, I know these ingredients will stretch well over a week. I also get a block of milk chocolate embedded with honeyed, salted almonds because it sounds delicious! I intend to ration it out over the week (spoiler – it’s all gone by Tuesday).
The weather looks very bleak so I decide to the gym after lunch then stay in for the rest of the day. My gym is 15 minutes walk from my apartment and I can take a bus back afterwards if my legs feel like jelly, so there’s no excuse not to go. Plus I paid up front for my three-month membership (October to January) so that is an added incentive. It’s not the fanciest gym, but there are plenty of machines and free WiFi so I use the time to watch Youtube videos and listen to podcasts. I spend the rest of the day doing ‘life admin’, writing blog posts and buying some Christmas presents (€111.98). As I live abroad, it is really convenient to order online and have things delivered to my family directly. However, I don’t like having an entirely Amazon-sponsored Christmas haul so will try to get some presents at the Hamburg Christmas markets.
In the morning, I go to view an apartment a 20-minute bus ride away. I don’t need to buy a ticket as I use my monthly public transport pass. It costs €66.50 per month for two zones of the Hamburg’s network. As I had unlimited travel across all of Rome’s metro/bus/tram system for €35 per month, the Hamburg card does seem expensive. However much cheaper than the London Underground!
The apartment is really nice – a definite possibility for the new year. Once home, I make myself lunch then log onto Eurowings’ website to book tickets for my boyfriend and I to return to Hamburg after the Christmas break (€52.48 for two tickets).
I intended to have a no-spend day today but the homemade lentil soup I brought from home has become really acidic by lunchtime and tastes disgusting. Do lentils ferment? I hate throwing food anyway but it’s inedible so I have to buy a sandwich from the bakery and eat it on the bus to my afternoon lessons. Glamorous. The sandwich contains brie, lettuce and an unnecessary amount of butter (€3.10)
Luckily that is all I spend today. I get free tea and coffee at work, whether I’m teaching in-company or at one of my school’s. It really saves a lot of money! I love coffee but have weaned myself from five a day to one (blame the Italian lifestyle). I haven’t taken sugar in my coffee since January 1st 2018 – a new year’s resolution that’s actually stuck! When I do buy coffee out and about, I’ll normally order an espresso but occasionally get a flavoured latte if I’m feeling fancy.
A no-spend day thanks to an edible packed lunch (no more dodgy soup!). After work, I go to the dentist for a check-up and filling. People rave about the German health care system, but unfortunately as a freelancer, I am excluded from it. I have private health insurance; my monthly payments are very low but I have to pay the first €150 of any treatment I receive. There are some things not covered by my insurance which I have to pay for entirely. Fillings are covered but it turns out my Hamburg dentist disagrees with my London one and tells me I don’t need one. Result! So I just have a professional clean from the hygienist.
I am really peckish after the appointment, as I don’t escape the hygienist’s clutches until 7.30pm. I don’t have to pay anything today because the dental surgery will invoice me in a few weeks. My dentist’s building is right next to an outdoor Christmas market but I decide to be sensible and make myself a salad once I get home.
I am really struggling this week with low energy and interrupted sleep patterns, but I can’t resist visiting a Christmas market after work. I meet some friends and we wander around the Gerhart-Hauptmann-Platz market. My stomach is growling so I buy some Kartoffelpuffer (€5). They are large hash browns; shredded potato and white onion, dipped in flour and egg then deep-fried. They are served with different tips: it is traditional to have them with apple sauce or sprinkled sugar. I am not sure about the combination of sugar and potato, so opt for a sour cream dip. Unfortunately the Kartoffelpuffer are much greasier than ones I tried last year, so I tear the crispy crusts off, dunk them in the sour creme and leave the middle part.
And to drink….Gluhwein, of course! Hot mugs of spiced red wine are synonymous with German Christmas markets. The wine is heated and spiced with cinnamon, sugar, star aniseed, cloves and sometimes vanilla pods. You can also find Eierlikör (eggnog), white wine gluhwein, hot apple spiked with amaretto or rum and an alcoholic-free Kinderpunsch (which is seasoned just like gluhwein). The nearest stall sells one cup of gluhwein for €3, plus a €2 pfand, which is a deposit on the mug that you get back when you return it to the vendor. Alternatively if you want to keep your mug, you can do so by not collecting your pfand money. Last year, we built up a collection of mugs from the various markets we attended in and around Hamburg. Not needing another, I collect my pfand money. I also buy a small bottle of Lebkuchenlikör – an alcoholic gingerbread cream liquor (€9.90). Lebkuchen (gingerbread biscuits) are ubiquitous in Germany at Christmastime so I am curious to try the alcoholic version.
We move onto Gänsemarkt Christmas market and try some free samples of cakes and cookies. I buy a schneeball (“snowball”) for €3.50. Strips of pastry are rolled into a ball shape then coated in sugar, chocolate or other toppings. Mine has marzipan paste in the inside, and sprinkled pistachios on the outside. A childish rebellion against my dentist, who scolded me for my infrequent flossing and love of sugar. My friends move onto a third market but I am not wearing enough layers and am freeeeeeezing cold, so I head home. I eat half my schneeball and save the rest for tomorrow.
My second lesson of the day is cancelled, which means I have a two-hour gap between appointments. As I teach in-company to business men and women around the city, lessons being rescheduled or cancelled is quite common as my students have very demanding jobs and work commitments must come first. I go to a coffee shop during the break and buy a pumpkin spice latte (€2.50).
I contemplate going to the gym after work… but it’s a fleeting thought. I feel very run-down this week so decided to take it easy this evening. After dinner, I make a cup of chai tea, wrap myself into a duvet cocoon and watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
On Fridays, I finish my regular classes at 1.30pm, so unless I have a cover lesson the weekend starts a bit early! I rarely go high street shopping anymore but there are a few things I need. I buy a dusty pink bobble hat (€20.72) to keep my little ears warm against the ferocious Hamburg wind. I also get a red and white polka dot umbrella (€9) which will stand out nicely against all the black, grey and navy I usually wear!
As it is the end of the month, I go to one of my schools to use their computers and drink their tea. I am registered with eight schools here in Hamburg, but actively work for five. Each school has a different invoicing procedure and template so it’s a time-consuming process. Once my invoices are done, I make a supermarket shopping list; it’s very short as I still have a lot leftover from Saturday’s shop.
In the evening, I go to the Fleetinsel Christmas market with some colleagues. I am following a flexitarian diet at the moment. At home, I don’t eat meat or fish, and have very little dairy. However when I am eating out (or am on holiday), I eat whatever I feel like. At the Christmas market, I see several suckling pig on spits and order a pork sandwich with mustard and ketchup (€4.90).
To drink, I get a mug of Feuerzangenbowle (€5). Gluhwein with a twist! A large block of sugar is soaked in rum and allowed to slowly drip into a cauldron of gluhwein before serving. Fresh rum is regularly poured onto the block of sugar and set on fire, which gives the gluhwein a delicious caramel note. I am talking so much with my colleagues that I get thirsty and buy some regular gluhwein (€3) before calling it a night.
Time for another Supermarket Saturday! After the gym, I go to Lidl. I spend €13.33 on coffee, bananas, lemons, spring onions, a cucumber, rocket, button mushrooms, vanilla soy milk and low-fat cream cheese. As a weekend treat, I get myself half a kilo of chestnuts which I’ll cook in the oven and snack on during tonight’s Netflix binge.
After having a shower, eating lunch and cooking four portions of sweet potato and chickpea curry, I visit yet another Christmas market. This one is inside St. Michaelis church. There are around fifty stalls in the cellar, where the crypts and tombs are. It is unbearably crowded so I leave without buying anything and return home for a chilled evening with my chestnuts.
Total for the week: €278.70
Definitely more than I usually spend in a week but I did buy Christmas presents and visit four Christmas markets! However the balance of work, socialising and exercising is quite typical for me. I consider myself to be frugal and sensible with my spending….when my sweet tooth doesn’t tempt me too much! Compared to Refinery 29’s Money Diaries, I haven’t gone into as much depth with regard to my work schedule or meals, so let me know if you’d like more detail.