Aside from the fact that Budapest is an interesting place to spend some time, one of the reasons that I decided to come over here this summer is that cost of living is lower than it is back home in California. As a writer selling my work online, it doesn't really matter where I live as far as my income is concerned, so I might as well spend my time in a place where things are less expensive. But how much of a difference is there? I've been thinking about that a little bit lately, and the results are mixed. Many things are actually more expensive here. Others less. Let's consider a few, keeping in mind that the average salary over here is considerably lower. For instance, a teacher's monthly salary is only about $600. Yes, you read that right, teachers employed by the state make about $600 per month. The princely sum of $7,200 per year. Someone told me that the average overall salary here is about $15,000 per year. So, considering that:
Right now I am sitting in a Starbucks, and it is fairly busy, as usual. A regular tall coffee at a Starbucks in the U.S. costs $1.50. Here in Budapest, a regular tall coffee costs $4.25. Nearly three times as much! Who are all of these people spending their money so frivolously? I rarely come here, but when I do I get a tea for $2.60, which is the cheapest thing on the menu. Coffee in most places in town costs about $2 to $2.25. Still slightly more than back home...
There is a California-style Mexican eatery here with a few locations. It is almost exactly the same as a Chipotle or the many places like them back home. I don't actually go to Chipotle much, but the places back in California that I do go generally charge $5-$6 for a burrito. Maybe $7 at a high-end place. Here the place charges around $7.50.
Most restaurants here actually cost somewhat less than I would expect them to back home, but not a whole lot. A chicken Caesar salad at a place I like to go costs about $8. I would expect to pay $12 back home for the same thing, plus taxes. Here the taxes are included. I figure for the most part restaurants are about 20-25% less expensive here. Food at the grocery store is also a little bit less.
One thing that is definitely cheaper here is beer. At a bar in LA I would expect to pay $6-$7 for a pint of decent beer. Here a half liter beer in a bar costs about $2.50. If only I was a big beer drinker, I'd be all set.
Now so far, it doesn't sound like I'm really making out so spectacularly well here in comparison to home, and perhaps that is true to some extent, but the one thing over here that is far and away less expensive than California is accommodation costs. Last time I was here I rented a room in a shared apartment in a great part of town and paid about $275 per month plus utilities. In LA one would expect to pay $800 and up to rent a room. This time I'm renting a studio apartment from a friend of mine and paying $330 including utilities. A studio in LA would cost $900 and up plus utilities. So in general, housing here costs about a third of what it does in LA or Orange County. Part of that is because in my opinion it is extremely expensive in LA, and it is also extremely cheap (by comparison to lots of places) here. So that $600 per month I save in rent can actually pay for a Starbucks coffee or two and I'll still be a fair bit ahead!