How to Save Money In Germany (and still enjoy life!)
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Make a Cheap Cellphone Contract
Be very careful before you SIGN ANYTHING in Germany.
If take nothing from this blog post, take this! I want to share a quick story. This happened to me about three weeks ago (from the time of writing this post). My doorbell rang and someone came to my door and introduced himself as an employee from a local telephone company provider. He told me that he was part of the service which belonged to the entire building and I should sign his papers because I would save money. After I told him I didn’t want to sign anything, he got a bit aggressive and angry with me. I finally closed the door on him because I had had enough of his crap. But I have heard that a lot of people from his company (Unity Media) do this sort of thing. Or what is even worse is that some people impersonate the company in order to get signatures for God only knows what! But anyway – be careful with signing contracts! In fact, I now have a German friend look over EVERY contract I sign before I sign it. I don’t take any chances.
Now for the money-saving tips for making cellphone contracts in Germany. Many providers compete with each other. So it’s extremely important to collect offers before making decisions. These people can be predatory and really try to hook you in with promises of fame and fortune – don’t buy into it. Go to three or four different providers (they are typically right next to each other in a city center), and then take your top two favorite offers and talk them over with a German friend. If I would have done this in the beginning, I could have saved 600 or more a year.
Also, this might have changed. But the contract could be set up in such a way that if you go over your data, you will automatically get billed for overage costs which can get expensive fast! Make sure you take this option out of your cellphone contract – In German, it’s called something like: “datenvolumen automatisch erhöhen”. Make sure this doesn’t happen. This is something small, but it cost me a good 30 euro by mistake.
Shop Around for Gas/Heating and Power Contracts
I recommend using the website www.check24.de. This is a great website that gives you many different offers and comparisons. Moreover, they often have bonuses and incentives for making contracts. One tip that I recommend is taking a contract that is either monthly or for one year. I don’t like contractual commitments in general, so it’s nice to know that I can change it in the future if I find a better deal.
Just a note: I don’t know if this is a general thing, or a thing for my city. But I live in Wuppertal and a lot of people here use one specific supplier – WSW. I looked into WSW and they actually were more much more expensive than the other offers I found. I still don’t understand why they are so popular, but again before you sign a contract or do anything – ask a German friend for help. There are still things to this day that I don’t understand with energy providers in Germany and I often refer to my friends for advice.
Buy Food at Discount Stores
The discount grocery stores in Germany (ALDI, LIDL, PENNY, NETTO) have good food. In fact, the meat at LIDL is quite good! Sometimes the vegetables might be a bit old, so you should always double check them (but I’m pretty sure everyone typically does this anyway). A lot of people I know go grocery shopping twice. They buy food at a discount store and then go to a more expensive store to buy things like vegetables or harder to find items because the selection is greater.
My personal favorite discount store is Aldi, but LIDL is also great for buying meat. A few things that I always buy from Aldi are: Protein Bread (“Eiweiß Brot”), Eggs, Water, Coke Zero, Lunch Meat, Cheese, Salads, and Mixed Peppers. They also have sweet potatoes at great price points which I love!
Evaluate your Travel Costs and Expenses
In Germany, there are SOO many ways to get around! You can take a bus, a train, a really fast train, go by bike, by car, or just simply walk! When I first moved to Germany, I threw away so much money by buying an old car that required a lot of repairs and used soo much gas! Moreover, I also had a bus ticket. I was paying WAYY too much! Here are a few tips that have helped me reduce my travel expenses.
Calculate your routes. How many kilometers do you need to drive? Is it possible (and comfortable) to use a bus and/or train? How much time would that take? It could be that a route by car that would normally take 30 minutes could take more than an hour by public transport – (not worth it to me). If the public transport is possible, find out how much a monthly ticket costs.
Consider car sharing. Germany has many car-sharing programs. I have a car, but I still pay 3 euro a month for car sharing in the event that I need to use a bigger car for transport purposes. I use Cambio Car Sharing, but there are so many different programs. You could also combine car sharing with a bike. I know many people who do that and save big!
Consider car leasing. I currently lease a car and LOVE it. I purchased an inexpensive Volkswagen “Up!” customized with a special gas that costs me only 50-60 euro a month for fill-ups. Moreover, with 20,000 kilometers a year, full and liability insurances, I pay less than 300 a month. This way, I don’t have to worry about any repairs and I can give the car back in two years and additionally use it as a tax write-off because I am self-employed. For me, this is a good solution.
Just to recap – In Germany, there are MANY ways to get from here to there. Ask friends, check out the options and find something that is right for you! Just make sure you do your research before signing ANY contracts!
In Germany, there are many free festivals. These are great way to meet up with your friends and listen to live music (which is often sung in English!). The only thing to note is while the music is often free, the drinks and food can be more expensive than normal.
Also, you can Google your city and often find local events.
Prepare Food and Drinks in Advance
This is really a good tip for saving money in general. I meal prep all the time because it not only saves money but helps me manage my weight and save time. Here are a few cheap and healthy meals you can prepare to save both time and money:
- Baked Veggies and Chicken (this great for making “food-packs” to take with you for a lunch break)
Community Housing/Shared Apartments
I’m actually not sure of the proper name, but in Germany there are “Wohnungsgemeinschafts” where small groups of 2-4 people live together to save money. This is typically for younger folks who are often students, but adults do this here as well. Moreover, another advantage to shared housing is that you can easily find one that is pretty much fully-furnished. This is a great way to not only meet people, but to get started in Germany. However, I do have to caution you, be careful – you are moving in with strangers. So make you sure you take time to get to know them before you move in. Talk to them, find out if they are friendly, what they do for a living, if they are open-minded and ask them about any “house rules” that might be there. It could be helpful to find out if they speak English in case your German needs some work. I have heard mixed experiences about doing this.
“Wg-Gesucht.de” is a good website for finding shared apartments in Germany. They also have the option to view it in English.
Find Community Groups and Take Advantage of Classifieds
When I first moved to Wuppertal (in Germany), I searched on Facebook for “Wuppertal”. I wanted to see what kind of things I could find. By doing this search, I found many communities where people ask questions, get feedback, and post items for sale. I have even purchased a few things from one of my groups. I would highly recommend doing this! While I post in German, if you live in a big city and say something like “I’m sorry, I’m new here and don’t speak German very well…..”, you will probably get a reply or two in English. Most Germans speak at least a little English. You could also ask a German friend to write for you.
I would also highly recommend the “Amazon Ebay Kleinanzeigen”, or what I like to call the “German Craigslist”. You can find many offers, deals, trades, and more on this website. I would highly recommend checking it out! I have purchased several things on this website and have heard many good things about it from my German friends.
Dining Out on a Budget
Generally speaking the restaurants in Germany are not too terribly expensive. The average cost of a meal with drinks costs around 20 euro. Remember – tipping here is quite different. The servers earn a higher salary and therefore it is customary to tip only a couple of euro.
However, outside of the restaurants, the food at Turkish restaurants is extremely cheap. You can find tasty meals for 4-7 euro (including a drink). If you haven’t tried Döner yet, I would highly recommend it!
German Quality vs. Everything Else
Growing up, my mom would always say: You get what you pay for. This is pretty much the law of the land here in Germany. On one hand, it is nice because you have a lot of control over what you purchase, but on the other hand, if you are new to Germany, you could either be paying way too much or way too little. I’ll explain what I mean.
When you walk down a street in the center of a large city, you will find many stores and shops literally right next to each other. They might all sell similar products, but the question is where should you buy them?
Well, in Germany there are many discount stores (more details below): Tedi, Lidl, Kodi, and KiK are a few that I know of. There are a few things that I would consider buying from them, but quite often the quality is really bad so you could end up paying more in the long run. If you are in a pinch and need some silverware, glasses, plates, etc., and need to save money then go to Kodi. I personally think Kodi is the best of all them.
Occasionally, there are even cheaper stores that you might find in the city. For example, I found one store with really cheap things that was clearly not a German business. Unless you want to buy something as a joke gift or something funny, never go to these shops. Once I bought a pair of headphones and they literally broke five minutes later (and getting a refund at that point would not have been impossible since I had opened them). Basically, if you need to save money, I would once again recommend Kodi.
Now, if you want to invest in high-quality products, anything with a “Made in Germany” sticker will last you a long time. You pay a more at first, but save in the long run. I usually ask around for something that is in the middle. Other good places to shop for medium-level quality things include: POCO (for furniture, kitchens, and household things) and REAL (for food – medium price range huge selection).
I mentioned discount stores above. I wanted to elaborate on this some more. When you first moved to Germany, chances are that you have a big start-up cost. It could even be that you have to purchase an ENTIRE kitchen for your flat/apartment. So how can someone have a good start in Germany without breaking their bank account? Here are a few tips of where you can go for cheap things (and where I think you shouldn’t go).
- Kodi: Plates, Glasses, Silverware, a few appliances but check them out closely first. Stores like Saturn and Media Markt also sell appliances and the difference of 10-15 euro could make a huge difference later!
- Woolworth: This is typically hit or miss. I would recommend going there once just to look around and to get a feel for it. I have bought batteries and a few decorations for themed parties there.
- Teddox and POCO: These are great places for household items and supplies. You can buy things like carpet, wood, tools, flooring, etc.,
- IKEA: The stuff here isn’t too expensive either (check them out online first). I just don’t go there often enough to comment because the size of it drives me crazy (fun fact about me: I don’t like shopping.)
- Places you should NOT go to:
- Any store that is in the city and looks “cheap”. I know my tip is extremely generic, but trust me on this. You will occasionally see shops that have book bags for 5 euro, headphones for like 2 euro, and random crap (which nobody needs) that is INSANELY cheap. Check it out if you really want, but most everything that you purchase there will break very quickly. Shop at your own risk!
- One Euro Shops: There are many of these in Germany. They are kind of fun if you want to put together a small package of random things to send to your friends back home. However, if you are looking to buy serious things, avoid these stores.
Discount Clothing Stores
Similar to what I said about the different quality tiers in Germany, the same thing applies to clothing. There are stores that sell extremely cheap clothes like Primark and KiK. I have purchased a few T-Shirts from Primark that I wear under my clothes and they have held up okay over the last year or so. But the overall quality is pretty bad. I also wouldn’t buy clothes at KiK. I would recommend checking out stores like TK Maxx (TJ Maxx for us Americans), H&M, and C&A for clothes that aren’t too expensive and are okay.
Other than that - just look around and explore! Some stores are more expensive, some stores are designer/name brand, and there are still many that I don’t really understand. Again – I’m not a big shopper.
Update: I forgot to mention shoes. Shoe prices in Germany are not that much different than back home (give or take 10 euro or so). I typically shop at a cheaper store called “Deichmann”, but you can go wherever you want. Just remember with shoes the more you pay, the higher the quality (unless it’s a brand like Nike, Adidas, etc., -- then it’s the name and I think that the quality is pretty much the same everywhere.)
I posted this blog on an online message forum for expats. I asked others who live in Germany for tips on saving money. They posted several good ideas that I would like to share with my visitors.
- Buy your toiletries (in bulk) at Rossmann, DM or Müller. Pay attention to the weekly sales offers in supermarkets and buy in bulk. Note from Chris: I learned that many toiletry items are cheaper at places like the ones mentioned above (compared to buying them at large grocery stores).
- Check out offers that come in the mail. When things like canned goods, pasta, chips, etc., go sale, buy them in bulk. Try to spend some time to get a feel for how prices work. This can help you save money in the future.
Final Tip: Explore and Ask for Help!
Go check out the stores! This is the best way to learn. Don’t immediately start shopping or get advice from only one friend. Ask around and look around!
All of these tips are from my personal experiences living in Germany. Find out what works best for you and do your thing!
I hope these tips help. Do you have any tips? Do you disagree with anything here? Let me know. Thanks!