The Story of a Family Living on $500 Per Month (in Romania)

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I have talked, since this blog was started, on numerous occasions about the cheap cost of living here. It all depends on personal spending habits, how large your family is, but we have agreed in the past that one can easily live on $1,000 (or even better 1,000 Euros) per month. We spent, last year, as a family, an average of 1146 Euros per month, so it’s definitely not very cheap if you’re not trying (and we DO try, ha!)

Still, I receive a lot of messages from people asking me what would the minimum budget be for living in Romania, and I decided to share the story of some people I know who are living as a family of four (the children are 3 and 5) on roughly $500 per month (2,000 Romanian Lei). And there are still families who manage to make it work with such a low income.

However, as you can imagine, they don’t live the life of superstars and things are really tight budget-wise. Although they didn’t have real numbers to share with me, they did say that the biggest expense was, naturally, food. They estimate spending between $148 – $198 per month for food (we spend almost double that amount!).

In order to keep costs low and have a somewhat varied diet, they always keep an eye open for discounts in the large shops, they buy in bulk to get the lower price per kilo and they always go for the cheapest products. Bones for soups, chicken for meat, vegetables and fruits bought from the peasant markets, canning their own food – these all help keep the costs low and the food as varied as possible, even though the bulk of their food is made of potatoes and rice. Fortunately, there are many ways to cook both not to get extremely bored.

They live in a one bedroom house which does get crowded at times, but also helps them keep costs really low. All the housing related bills, including electricity and garbage collection are between $30 – $40, a bit higher during the winter.

They buy most of their clothes from thrift stores and try to care for them as much as possible, they don’t have expensive smartphones to keep the bills up and they try to recondition and repair stuff that gets broken instead of buying new. They don’t have a car, but fortunately the city is small enough to allow walking anywhere: usually, you won’t spend more than 25 minutes getting from one end of the city to the other, but most things are a lot closer.

They don’t afford to go out and they did not have proper holiday since their first son was born (which means at least 5 years!) but they do take some weekends off to go to the country side or sometimes to a picnic. Still, they can afford to treat their kids with ice cream during the summer and even go “crazy” on a monthly basis and order pizza.

They live a simple life and somehow manage to make it work even though they have a small budget. They keep their chins up and don’t allow themselves to be discouraged by the current situation. Their biggest problem, though, is that they don’t have any real money put aside and any emergency (like oven or fridge breaking) would really hurt them. But somehow they managed to make it work for the past few years and they are confident they can keep going.

So it is indeed possible to live on $500 per month in Romania, even as a family. They do have the advantage of not paying rent, but eventually, if you really have just this amount per month, you might make it work. But it would be really difficult – as it is for the family in question and it would mostly be surviving, not living. But it can be done and I think that it’s these stories that should teach us to spend wisely when we do!

All in all, if you are planning to move to Romania and you would only have this budget to work with, it won’t be easy. However, if that would be the same amount you’d have to live on in a Western country or the US, you’ll surely get a lot more for the money here! But don’t expect it to be easy!

10 COMMENTS

  1. Wow! That sounds like such a tight situation money wise. My feeling is that if you move to Romania for the low cost of living, your life should at least be as good as what you left or even better. If you have to scrape to get by, eating bones, soup etc..then it’s not worth it. I see bloggers saying you can live on $500 a month in Thailand too, but when l see what they basically have to give up, you wonder if it’s worth it in the long run. Better to get all your ducks in a row..and then go.. 🙂

    • I know I was reading a few years ago about living in Thailand for such a low budget – and they made it look like you were going to live well on that. But some research and even me talking with some people from there proved that it was not entirely true. When people say that you can live on a small amount of money and live well, they don’t really consider that most would actually find their “living well” unacceptable (like houses with no bathroom, sharing a room with 100 people and so on).

  2. Hey Calin: Any updates on the PM? I applaud your country for not putting up with his bad behavior! The US politicians are probably just as bad, but their lawyers and spokespeople are more often than not able to keep them out of the pokey;-)
    This family you reference: who is employed, and what is the(ir) occupation? It is sad to have a family and have to scrape by this way. (I thank my lucky stars, all I have to worry about is a mangy cat;-) Is there a chance for better pay, or is the family content with their status quo? Thank goodness they DON’T have to worry about rent!!!
    A lot of websites tout cheap living in Ecuador, Thailand, Viet Nam, etc., etc. Mostly, the websites are “paid” (or have a vested interest) to give these places their “seal of cheap living” approval. I ALWAYS take what they say with a LARGE grain of salt. You give it to us straight, which I appreciate. BTW: is the heatwave over in Romania?
    Thanks again for the truth!
    ~Teil

    • Hello, Teil. Yesterday we had 41 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit), so the heatwave is not over yet. And unfortunately, I am completely behind the stories regarding the PM, so I don’t really know the latest 🙂

      I too prefer blogs from people living in a country as opposed to larger (numbeo-like) stuff where the info is not really accurate. But when somebody writes about living in one country and has more articles on the cost of living, you can get a clear impression on what works and what doesn’t.

      Regarding the family, their situation is tough as our city is going though really hard times, with the closure of the last remaining industrial factory (which resulted in 2,000 fired). Employment options are limited right now and pay is really low so even though the family is not content with their situation, they don’t have a lot of options. The mother is working for two families (like a maid, helping them clean around, babysit, cook and so on) because she couldn’t find anything else, while the father works at a gas station – so none are doing what they have been trained for, but as I said, there are not a lot of options in this city…

  3. We are native Romanians leaving in North America for 30 years now and coming back to Romania more often in the last 10 years. How cheap is to live in Romania has to be measured starting from one’s expectations and acceptable standard of living.

    In absolute terms, housing, food, travel within this country is cheaper than in the rest of Western Europe and North America. But a family of 4 on a $500.00 a month would be somewhere at the poverty line life style here. Sure, in the Western World they will not survive on the same $500.00, but they’ll be eligible for government welfare and all kind of help, allowance for kids clothes, free medical care, great free libraries, and probably more.

    The life is frustrating in both situations, but we will not recommend Romania if all your budget is $500.00.

    We’ll definitely recommend it if : your budget is higher, starting at 1000.00 Euros and have opportunities to work , grow and eventually make more money. Schools and colleges are good and you can give your children a good education, so chances for a professional job, career.

    Our circumstances are not typical, so not interesting, but we know in accurate details both, the beauty, the attractions here and the many still negative aspects of this country.

    Some professionals, entrepreneurs and retirees with foreign pensions and currency are making a very comfortable living in Romania, enjoyable and affording even savings. Statistics are right, Romania is among the cheapest places in Europe, but you still need some decent budget. Tourism to Romania increased many folds, with British, Spanish, Italians, Russians, Polish, Americans, Germans finding vacations satisfying, nice and cheaper.

    There are also many foreigners living here. We appreciate that Calin’s budget, of almost 1200Euros is absolutely mandatory for a couple with one young kid. On the same money, a couple, without kids will have an easier life.

    • Exactly, they are having it thrown at them pretty badly. Although food-wise they don’t do so bad, the lack of saved money or the fact that they don’t really afford entertainment and other items makes the situation worse.

  4. I was looking into retiring to super expensive Germany and found 29 sq meter apartments for as little as 166 Euros per month (heat included but not electricity) in a nice small resort town (has “Bad” in the name, which means Baths). It has a live theater and of course many therapeutic bath facilities. Yes, it is a bit out of the way in the former East Germany, right on the border with the Czech Republic, but it has been completely renovated since reunification. My point is that one can live cheaply in just about any country if one tries hard enough. Obviously, that’s harder for a family of four, but Michelle is right, the German welfare state would probably jump in with lots of benefits.

  5. Hello Calin and all,
    I appreciate everyone’s views! It’s very interesting to read an entry from a Romanian living in the USA!
    I am hoping Calin will at some point address Romania’s police and laws. As some people know, the police in the USA have been notorious for abusing and killing people of color. Of course, a lot of the problem stems from there being too many guns in the wrong hands, (a policeman daily fears for his/her life) along with a high rate of drug usage by the general population. (“El Chapo” became a billionaire selling drugs to the “good ol’ USA”;-() Still, there is NO valid excuse for the too many instances of police brutality here in the USA. I know being a cop is not easy, and I applaud those who are true to their calling. The USA needs these individuals (the “good guys”) to police the streets, NOT those who see a badge and a gun as a pass to abuse the rights of those they are sworn to protect and to serve!
    So I am wondering whether the Romanian police are fair and impartial, and not brutal. Does the population sometimes fear and loath the police (as in the USA) or does the population obey and respect the police? Is being a policeman in Romania considered to be a noble calling?
    Do the police cars have “dash-cams,” and do the police wear body cameras? I know this is not relevant to this entry–sorry Calin!
    Thanks again, Calin, for your blog and to the people who write,
    ~Teil (USA–d’oh!)

    • Hello Teil, there is not much to say about the police. There is no real police brutality that I know of and people certainly don’t fear and loath them. Probably most of our policemen never fire their arm during their entire career as the types and level of crime in Romania are low. Being a policeman in Romania is not considered a noble calling and we have a ton of jokes about them (similar to blond girl jokes), but they are certainly respected. They do not wear body cameras and I don’t think that the cars have dash cams either.

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