Comparison of USA and Spain Cost Of Living (Show me the money $)

We are often asked about how much everyday things cost in Spain and how does that compare with the USA.  You know, the cost of daily life to just live and do what you want to do.  This was a question that came to us in our post – What Do You Want To Know or Have Us Show?

We have been asked, “How can you possibly live in Europe for less than the USA?”, as Western Europe has the reputation of “being expensive”.  Do you think you could live off of less and save money if you tried?  Do you think it is just too difficult or just not possible?  Anything is possible if you simplify your life!

USA and Spain Comparison

This is a tricky as we can only answer what we have spent on things in the towns/areas we have lived in.  In the past we shared a post with you called The Cost of Everyday Things for Spain and we hope that helps.  We mainly covered the cost of basic groceries and personal care items.  That was a big hit, but people wanted to know how it compared to our living in the USA, so we will try to give you a little more info.  Do keep in mind we are living in Spain and not on vacation.  Yes, we do take vacations and road trips, just like we took vacations when living in the USA.  We will share with you the cost of living our everyday lives in the 2 countries, including all of our side adventures.

We can only share what we know!

Of course we have said it before and we will say it again, we can only share our actual costs and experiences.  This isn’t meant to represent the entire country, as everything changes based on your location (city, country, seaside, mountains etc.).  Plus each individual and family has different spending habits and comfort levels.  Of course, as with any budget, sometimes we were slightly over and sometimes slightly under.  Slightly under rarely, if ever occurred in the USA.  If anything, there was always something with the house or cars that would cost a bit extra for the month.

First I will show you a side by side visual of the average costs, as close as we can get to “like” categories.  Then I will take a deeper dive into the USA cost of living followed by the Spain cost of living.

Comparison of USA and Spain Cost of Living  – Our monthly spend

Compare USA and Spain Cost of Living

Spain Auto should have an additional $391 per month added for the actual cost of the car. We didn’t have payments, but that is the amount we spent on the car broken out on a per month basis.

I did my best to group like things together, so it would be as close to an apples-to-apples comparison for you.  Of course we had all of the toys and electronics in the USA and had a life full of “things”, so it isn’t exactly and equal comparison.  It is however what our life cost us in the USA and what our life costs us in Spain.  We are living a rich life in Spain, spending just over 1/3 of what we spent in the USA.  

How much do you spend a month?  Do you know?  Do you keep track?  

You may be surprised.  Just simplify your life, downsize, declutter and it all becomes easy!

Our USA Cost of Living  (Apex, North Carolina)
$8,659 per month (average, usually more)

USA Accommodation

We lived in Apex, North Carolina a suburb of Raleigh, which is inland and about 2 1/2 hours from the beach.  We had a beautiful 4500+ square foot home on about 1/5 of an acre.  It had 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms a 2 car garage and a big fenced back yard.  Our master bedroom suite was almost 900 square feet alone.  That is about the size of the first floor of our current apartment in Spain (kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, living room and dining room).

House4Sale 005

While it was nice owning a spacious grand home, it did come at a cost.  Not only monetary costs, but the cost of our precious time.  The time to keep it clean and maintained, to take care of the yard and service water heaters, air conditioners, appliances etc.  This took up plenty of time every weekend and many weeknights too.

Our House in Apex, NC

Kitchen in USA

The minimum the home would cost us in a given month was about $2450.  This would include our mortgage payment, taxes, insurance and utilities (electric, water, gas, garbage, recycle)

More about our home and our transition:

USA Utilities

Each of the utilities was paid to the appropriate company (electric, water, gas, garbage, recycle).  On average this would cost from $300 – $400 per month depending on the season.

USA Sports / Activities – After school Care and Summer Camp

We didn’t have too much time for extracurricular activities.  If we did, it was basketball in the winter or swim lessons in the summer.  It may have cost us a $300 – $400 per year on average.  We did however own many of the video gaming consoles, games, DVDs and plenty of toys for kids and adults.

Most of our time and costs instead, went to after school care from 3-6 pm and summer camp (7 am-6 pm or a portion of that depending on our schedules for the day), while we were both at work.  This alone would cost about $8200 per year for the 2 kids.

Family Night at Camp O

USA Insurance

  • Medical – Alan and I both worked and we were offered subsidized Medical Insurance through our employers.  This is one benefit of working for a large corporation, as they cover much of the monthly fees for their employees as a “benefit”.  The employee then only has to pay a portion towards the monthly payment.  This obviously varies per employer and health plan.  For us it was an average of about $450 a month out of our pockets for full medical, dental and optical insurance.  We did have a co-pay of $25 for standard visit and a higher fee for specialists within a network.
  • Auto – We owned 2 cars and 1 motorcycle.  The annual insurance for the cars was $1150 and the motorcycle was $1020.  So, about $2200 a year for all three items.

USA Auto

  • Vehicle – As I stated above we owned 2 cars (the bank owned them, as we were making payments) and 1 motorcycle.  The motorcycle was owned outright and our car payments for 2 cars averaged about $1150 per month.
  • Fuel – We didn’t live near work or school, so we spent at least 60 – 90 minutes in the car a day for each car/person.  Our average cost for fuel was about $700 per month, for all of the vehicles.

USA Food

Food is food, but in the USA we ate out at least once a week as a family.  I would say Alan and I would each eat out for lunch a few times a week as well.  Remember my post on how to save money by cutting back on eating out?  This really adds up!  A rough estimate of groceries and eating out is about $900 – $1200 per month, depending on how often we would eat out.  Often times, we had a busy schedule and would pick up the kids, zip through the drive through somewhere and then off to an event or activity.  Groceries and supplies would average about $600 – $700 a month.  We would also waste loads of food and throw quite a bit out at the end of the week, because it went bad.

USA Communications

  • Internet – We signed up for a package combo via our cable provider.  We had a bundle of internet, home phone and basic cable TV for $165 per month.
  • Mobile Phones – We each had a mobile smart phone with data service.  This would cost us about $160 a month for the 2 phones.

USA Travel

  • We often took 2-3 big vacations per year and then several long weekends or weekend breaks as well. The big vacations often involved flights to the Western United States to visit family or somewhere in the Caribbean. The price shown for travel was the annual average broken down on a per month basis.

 

Our Spain Cost of Living (Almuñécar, Spain)
$3,469 per month (average) $3078 + $391 for car

I will show the price in € Euros and the $ using the exchange rate of 1.36 as of June 2014.

This is about 10% higher than when we moved to Spain in August 2012.  So, while the cost of an item in Spain remained the same in Euros over time, due to the exchange rate it became more expensive.  (Example: Aug 2012 €10 =$12.80 while June 2014 €10 = $13.65)

Spain Accommodation

We live in Almuñécar, Spain.  A seaside town of about 30k and not really a suburb of any larger city.  We are about 45 minutes East of Malaga and about 45 minutes South of Granada.  The town itself is a very walker-friendly town and a car isn’t really needed, unless you want to go explore off the beaten path or take loads of road trips, like us.

Almunecar - View of our urbanisation and JRs restaurant below

Our place is the white building in the center, up the hill. We have big terrace second from the left and the terrace and room below that as well.

Furnished Apartment  – As you know, we really found a good deal on a furnished 3 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment with sea view in Almuñécar, Spain.  I think it is just shy of 1400 square feet.  This was a holiday rental, we reached out to the owner and asked if he would be interested in a long-term rental for 1 year (turned into 22 months).  He said yes!  We were jumping for joy.  We have been paying €550  ($748) per month including our utilities (water and electric).
View from our apartment

Part of our luck in negotiating, and finding a rental, is the timing of our arrival.  We arrived at the end of Summer in early September.  This is just after the high season and it is much easier to negotiate after high season is over.  If we arrived in Spring or June, it isn’t likely we would have been able to find such a good deal.  Many places are likely to sit empty from October through May, and in some cases from September through June.  Either way, you need to plan around these things if you can, so you too can get a good deal.

Family Cooking Explaining Oil and Water Combo

Kitchen in Spain

Spain Utilities

  • Water and Electricity (included in our rent, very rare) Our landlord has informed us that we average about €60 ($81) per month for these utilities.  Keep in mind that most stove tops and ovens are electric, of course your lights and electronics use the juice too.  We don’t have an air conditioner, so we use fans in the summer or just let the sea breeze cool us down.
  • Butane gas  – The cost of this depends on how much hot water you use.  For us one tank lasts about 3 weeks and the cost is about €18 ($24) per month.  We also use a bottle of butane for our gas grill, but that is very little cost as it doesn’t use much.  Many places don’t offer a gas grill and you need to use good old-fashioned charcoal.  Also in the winter, there is an estufa (portable heater), which uses the butane gas as well to heat the home.

Spain Sports / Activities and After School Care

  • Fùtbol – Lars has been on the school fùtbol team and the cost of that is €10 ($14) per month from September – May.  It is automatically drafted from our Spanish bank account.
    Lars futbol spain
  • Flamenco – Anya attended flamenco classes for about 5 months.  It was €20 ($28) per month and we paid cash directly to the teacher.
    Anya Flamenco
  • After school care – Free!  We don’t need it because we are home with our kids! We don’t own any gaming consoles, but we do each have a laptop and occasionally will watch movies or play games on them.  The TV isn’t used a great deal either.  The kids don’t really own many “things” or toys.  Lars has a skateboard and Anya has a deck of Uno cards.  The kids just play outside with their friends as the weather is usually gorgeous.  Of course if there is that cold, rainy winter day, we are tucked inside watching movies.
    Almuñécar - Out our front door

Spain Insurance

  • Medical – We have written a post about Medical insurance in Spain in great detail.  For our family of 4 we have a direct debit each month of €42 ($57) from our Spanish bank account.  This is basic preventative care medical along with dental.  For full coverage with hospitalization and similar to what we had in the US, it is about €130 ($176) per month for our family of 4.
  • Auto – We owned one brand new car while living in Spain.  We paid for the car insurance annually and it was about €532 ($723) for the year.  This was paid via our credit card and ordered online.  We were insured through Linea Directa.

Spain Auto

  • Vehicle – We purchased a brand new car when we arrived in Spain.  We looked around at used cars and they were so banged up, we didn’t know if they had been in accidents or if it was just scrapes.  Used cars hold their value and are quite expensive if they are less than 2 years old.  We decided for slightly more, we could have a brand new car and then resell it prior to the 2 year mark, to get some of our money back.
  • We looked at it as an investment and peace of mind for all of the travel we had planned to do.The car was €18000 ($24k) and we sold it for €11000 ($15k).  If we had the time to sell it privately, we could have sold it for €2000 – €3000 ($3-4k) more, but the dealer bought it from us on the spot and it was done!  So it cost us €7000 for 2 years of owning a car. (about $9500, so just $4750 per year or $391 per month).  It sounds shocking, but go back and look at what we were spending in the USA!

travel gamesOf course if we had owned the car longer, the price per year would have gone down slightly.  For us, having the car available for all of our little road trips and our big 6 Week European Summer road trip was a no brainer.  We needed a reliable car, short and sweet.  Of course, you can easily purchase a used car for a few hundred Euros, but that means you are maintaining it and who knows what would have happened on a 4500 km road trip.

  • Fuel – On average we spent about €100 ($136) a month on fuel.  When we took a road trip it would go up to €200 – €300 ($272 – $408) depending on where we went and for how long.  We took a trip about every 6 – 8 weeks.

Spain Food

On average we spent about €600 ($815) a month for food as a family of 4.  Do keep in mind that a majority of our food was purchased at the grocery store or the local market.  We rarely eat meals out and rarely drink alcohol.  On average we may go out to eat 2-3 times a month for a meal and possibly 2 -3 times a month for an ice cream treat as well.  Of course Lars likes to sample a few new foods along the way too.

Spain Communications

  • Internet – We signed up for our internet via Movistar and it was €42 ($57) per month.  This too was a direct debit from out Spanish bank account.  We worked with Nick, from Zen II Net to establish and cancel our connection.
  • Mobile Phones – When we arrived in Almuñécar we needed to purchase mobile phones and of course we wanted smartphones.  At that time, there were no pay as you go smartphones available.  So we needed to sign up for a 2-year contract and did so with Vodaphone.  Each phone was €48 ($65) per month and was a direct debit from our Spanish bank account.  As luck would have it, the pay as you go phones became available a few months after our arrival.  We were already locked into the contract and I am certain it would have been cheaper to take the pay as you go route.  We really only telephoned each other, it was more the mobile data that we used.  This was a costly lesson, but we are thrilled that we had good service with Vodaphone.

Spain Travel 

  • We have not been without travel while living in Spain.  We treated our travel budget very similarly to how we worked it in the USA.  We planned some travel every 6 weeks or so and it needed to fit within out budget.  Many times, we didn’t have a destination in mind.  We just went where we found a great deal.
    No Schengen Visa Needed For Wagoners Abroad In 2013!

 

Some other articles that may be of help to you.

I hope this helps as a guide for you.  Your cost of living in your home country and/or in Spain will obviously vary based on your choices.  Take the information we have shared with you and make your adjustments to your lifestyle and see where you are.  You need to know exactly what you are spending now, to even possibly estimate what it would take to live in a different location.  It doesn’t have to be another country, this would be true for a new city or state as well.

Please share your thoughts with us and let us know if you have any questions.

Organized Tours

There are also many organized tours for you to enjoy from being active on walking or biking tour, to enjoying a food or wine tour.  There is so much to do and Viator has so many great offers for you.   Click here to see their latest Spain Deals!

Where to Stay in Spain

We have the best Spain holiday rentals here:

Property Owners: you may list your holiday property or room rental for free!

Cost of living in Spain vs America.  How can we possibly live in Europe for less than the USA? We share our detailed cost of living USA and Spain with you. Simplify your life and it is easy! Read more on WagonersAbroad.com

16 thoughts on “Comparison of USA and Spain Cost Of Living (Show me the money $)

  1. Very interesting comparison! I bet people just going to Spain for a couple of weeks would end up spending the same you did in a month. Great decision on getting a new car and selling it while the value still held/

    • Thanks Ann. Yes, I am sure just a couple of weeks in Spain would be a month or two or our standard living. That said, they are in “vacation mode” and we weren’t. Actually, it doesn’t matter where we travel, we try to have that just be our home. Of course we need to eat out more when on the road, so that can drive up costs.

      We were so happy to have a car and it made spontaneous travel that much easier too. I wouldn’t have changed it.
      Heidi recently posted…Travel Packing List – For A Year Of TravelMy Profile

  2. Love this post! I am still amazed at how much less groceries cost us in Europe, even in Paris, but especially in smaller towns. In Nerja, Spain, we could get the best salame ever at around 1 euro a package, and let’s not even talk about the great deals on good wine! 😉 Thanks so much for sharing your notes and revelations.

  3. I just came across this – very interesting! For me, both the US and Spain prices are interesting to compare to what I am used to. I find most of the US stuff cheap so Spain seems crazy cheap compared to Australia!

    Now that we are travelling around Europe, I am really second guessing our decision to go back to Aus in January. Seems so crazy when there are so many awesome, affordable destinations

    • Hey Sharon! I hope you are loving Europe. Do come check out Spain, maybe you can delay that return to Australia a bit. I know of a couple of families in our area, renting 2 bedroom furnished apartments for 350-400 euros a month. You can’t beat that and just next to the sea too. There are many expensive places in Europe and in Spain, but if you are willing to go off the beaten tourist track a bit, you can find something affordable.

      We really wanted to visit Australia, but it will wait until prices are lower or until we are rolling in the big bucks. 🙂

    • You do need to file taxes in USA and also be registered in Spain, if you are here more than 6 months. There is an agreement between the two countries, but it all depends on your individual circumstances. We don’t like to consult or repond to taxes, as it is different for everyone. Perhpaps reach out to a tax advisor in Spain, or ask in a Spain expat facebook group. There is also a site named Legal4Spain, which may have some info.

  4. HI,

    Really curious about why you opt to save $120 per month on the health insurance to forego full coverage? It seems like a big corner to cut for only $120 when your expenses are already so low. Does that mean you still carry some kind of supplemental coverage in the US? That question aside, how have you found the medical system/quality of care? I’m moving to Spain next year and of course being an American, the health insurance equation is always top of mind. Thanks.

    • Hi, we currently have full health coverage and it is about 350 euros a quarter for all 4 of us in total. That includes dental and everything. Please refer to our post on health coverage. Our first year here, we were just trying to figure things out.

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