Food Costs and Budgeting

Estimates I’ve found online for grocery budgets seem to vary widely, and that probably has to do with whether meals out are included under food or entertainment, which region of Spain the figure has been calculated for, and, obviously, what you’re eating. My food budget here is approximately 75€ a week, ideally covering all groceries and the majority of meals out. That’s less than some of the estimates I’ve seen, but more than others. Even once I consider that I’m living in Navarra, one of Spain’s more expensive regions, and that when I go over on my entertainment budget, it comes out of my grocery funds, it’s enough to live on. Food is pretty cheap here – not Missouri Walmart cheap, unfortunately, but a nice relief for me after having done groceries in Western and (god forbid) Northern Europe.

How much do things cost, and how can you save money?

Estimates:

As a really rough rule of thumb, most of my standard foods cost about 1€ for a week’s worth. Big cans of tomato sauce or chickpeas, packages of mushrooms, onions, or carrots, bags of frozen peas, corn, or croquettes, eight servings of yoghurt, etc all run about that much, and most of the things that last me a bit longer, like nutella, or spreadable Camembert, cost a proportional amount more. Microwaveable meals like a serving of paella (which is surprisingly good, if a bit greasy) are about 1.50€. An enormous and amazing bar of Milka Trio Chocolate costs about 2.60€, you can easily find smaller bars of tasty chocolate for under a euro.

Grocery Stores:

The main grocery stores here are Eroski, Caprabo, Carrefour, and Corte Ingles. The first two are everywhere, while to my knowledge there is only one Corte Ingles and only one or two Carrefours. Eroski is the closest one to me and is pretty cheap and standard. Caprabo is about the same. I still haven’t been to Carrefour, but apparently it’s bigger, carries a wider range of products (not just food), and is marginally cheaper. Corte Ingles is a big department store with a grocery section in the basement – there’s a nice wide range there including foreign foods and gourmet products, but everything’s also a bit pricier. Another option are the Chinos, or convenience stores – a bit pricier, generally more junk food, but hey, they sometimes have foreign foods, and they’re open at night and on Sundays.

Store Brands:

It sounds obvious, but go for the store brand of foods. It’s fine, trust me. I may not have the world’s most sophisticated palate, but even if there is a slight difference in the taste, it’s certainly not worth the huge price difference. Bags of frozen croquettes and peas both cost roughly 2.50€, if you go for the brand name versions – not unbearably pricey, no, but the Eroski counterparts cost only 0.80€! Eroski brand yoghurts are 8 for a euro – the other brands are often 2 for the same price. These are some of the more dramatic differences, but even for things like canned fruits and vegetables it’s unusual for the Eroski brand to be more than half the price of the brand name. Take advantage of the fact that you are a foreigner and don’t have years of subliminal advertising trying to convince you that the can of tomato sauce with the kindly old woman on the packaging is worth an extra euro! Like I said, this sounds obvious, but I’ve noticed many of my Erasmus friends unconsciously going for the pretty packages. There are exceptions to this tip. I do pay an extra 0.50€ for Don Simon fruit juice, because it has almost 5x the vitamin C content of the Eroski brand.

Meat:

Meat tends to be more expensive here, and its everywhere when you eat out, so as a very general rule I’ve been getting my protein in the restaurants and cooking semi-vegetarian at home. Still, it’s not as bad as you might be led to think. My favourite way to buy chicken are these little neatly trimmed breast fillets – you get eight of them, very thin but a snap to prepare – for about 4€, which would be the equivalent of paying about 2.50$ per big breast back home. Don’t quote me on this, but I also have the feeling that if you shop around, seafood might actually be cheaper here than in Missouri, land-locked as we are. It’s hard to tell, though, through the currency conversions and the differences in how things are packaged (the shrimp are usually sold with heads and tails still on, meaning you sometimes feel like you’re buying a lot more than you end up with once you take those parts off).

Cafes and Bakeries:

If you go to the school cafe and order a piece of Tortilla Española with cheese and ham, you’ll pay just over a euro, and if you get a coffee and a big chocolate pastry, you’ll pay about 1.50€, a small but nice savings over the 2.00 – 2.50€ you’ll pay in an ordinary cafe. Bakeries are great here – you can get a freshly baked load of crusty bread for less than a euro, and quite a bit less than you would pay for a loaf of wonder bread at the grocery store (it’s surprisingly overpriced here, probably because no one wants it when they can get better, cheaper bread across the street.)

Restaurants:

If you want to eat a meal out with friends, you can go to a bar and get tapas for between 1 and 2 euros, although you really need to eat several to get full. It’s quite fun and allows you to try a variety of different foods. Another dinner option is a sit down restaurant, which usually have a Menu del Dia, which allows you to pick a starter, a main course, and a dessert from a few choices. The prices vary tremendously, but along the lower end 12€ is a pretty good estimate, and for that you get a lot of food.

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Published in: on September 22, 2010 at 20:50  Leave a Comment  
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Already Only a Month

It’s the last day of the solar summer. September is drawing to a close, and that means I’ve been on this exchange for nearly a month. It doesn’t feel like it. Depending on the time of the day, who I’m talking to, what I’m doing, it seems like I’ve been here forever, or like I’ve only just arrived. Never like I’ve been here for a month. And yet, I’ve now spent more time in Spain than in any other foreign country – longer than in Japan or Scotland. The time spent so far has been less action packed than a month of pure tourism, but not nearly as routine as life back home.

It’s funny now, to remember how I arrived in Spain after spending the night in the Manchester airport, how Allan and I wandered through Barcelona for two days as if in a dream, meeting up with Emily in Valencia for Tomatina and the beach, and then spending another long, sleepless night in route to Pamplona. I was happy to have Allan with me for the first few days here, as I moved into my apartment, walked around Pamplona for the first time, as a stranger, and even impulsively visited Puente la Reina based on a single photo in the train station. And then, Allan left, and suddenly I was totally alone, and far from home.

I took things one step at a time, with some challenges leaving me triumphant and others in a pathetic heap, but I got everything straightened out, in the end. I went through orientation, picked classes, matriculated, found my way around campus and groups for projects. I got a hair cut and learned where I could find this food and that and for what price. I learned how to use WIFI and the copy machine and the library and the bookstore. I’ve adjusted to Sundays and Siestas.

I made friends and we had curry parties and pancake parties and long nights drinking wine on apartment balconies. We travelled to San Sebastian and Vitoria and Bilbao. I met up with a girl from Couchsurfing.com and went to a Basque concert with her and her friends. I started learning Euskera. I went hiking in the Valley of Arpan, explored Alquezar and went canyoning in la Sierra de Guara with Club de Montana.

If I put it this way, yes, I suppose it has been one month. And yet one morning when I didn’t have class until 12, I lay in and when I woke up, it took me several long seconds to remember I was in Spain, because everything felt so normal and natural and safe and clean and good. I’ve found a new normal, made a new home here.

Not bad, for the first month.

Siestas and Sundays

Q: What’s the most stressful time in Pamplona?

A: Just before 10 pm on Saturdays.

If you don’t make it to the store by ten,  you’re stuck with whatever you have in your cupboard until Monday morning. The great majority of businesses here close from 2-4 (or 4:30, or 5, it’s flexible) on a given day, for siesta, and on Sundays. To the best of what I can tell, grocery stores tend to be some of the few that don’t close for siesta, but they definitely close on Sunday. It’s a little tricky to get used to, if you’re used to 24-7 Walmarts and even Schnucks open til 2-3 am.

Published in: on September 5, 2010 at 08:33  Leave a Comment  
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