on getting paid, making a budget & fiscal survival in Spain
Q: How’s the pay? Are you able to make ends meet?
A: As an auxiliar working 12 hours a week, I get paid 700 euros a month. At this time that is the equivalent of approx $970 USD. Some of you are probably thinking of your rent payments and wondering if I am surviving on bread and water. Remember that the standard of living is noticeably different here in Sevilla. Take care not to include this statement with other major Spanish cities because Madrid and Barcelona are much pricier. I share a 3 BR apartment with two other people and am only responsible for my share of internet and electric on top of that. To see a typical breakdown of expenditures, check out this post from October.
Regarding making ends meet, it is fairly simple to blast through this kind of money. Going out frequently, or buying a new pair of boots adds up in a hurry. That being said, I am conscious of my choices on a daily basis — do I need that from the grocery store? Will it spoil before I get the chance to eat it? Most noticeably, it has changed the way I shop for groceries — it’s a huge change for me to be in a place where I can walk over to the store if I need bread or milk. So I buy less and tend to shop more often, purchasing only the things I need in the immediate future.
Q: How often do you get paid? Do you receive an actual check?
A: We get paid at the beginning of the month, or sometimes at the tail end. It varies because our checks are physically signed by the director before they go to the bank. If he is at a conference or we have a holiday, the check isn’t signed and we don’t get paid. There are some schools that issue a paper check, which is extremely difficult when the banks are only open from 9 am to 2 pm on weekdays and we are at work during these times. My school offers direct deposit, and this is a blessing. It means I can check my deposit online through my bank’s website and it also means that I don’t physically have to receive a check. Blissfully, it also means my bank account can be replenished while I’m traveling – and that is worth its weight in gold.
Q: Are you living solely on your paycheck or do you have any additional income?
A: My paycheck is supplemented substantially by my efforts in private tutoring. I cannot stress enough how rewarding it is as an experience (and not just financially). It was also relatively easy to do, as I mentioned here when I first ventured into tutoring back in October. To give you an idea of how lucrative this actually can be, here’s the breakdown of my private classes. I am tutoring three people: a 40 year old businessman, a 31 year old publicist and a 9 year old girl. The average price for private lessons is between 12 and 15 euros an hour. I see the 9 year old once a week for an hour at 12 euros each session; the 40 year old for 90 minutes at a time, up to 3 times a week for 15 euros each session and the 31 year old twice a week for 60-90 minutes at a time for up to 18 euros a session.
Even with my excessive traveling at the end of February, I still made 160 euros that month. This is cash in my wallet that I can use for groceries, a bus trip or a cup of coffee without worrying about tapping into my bank account. Three cheers for English!
Q: Do you still maintain an American bank account?
A: Yes. I am still responsible for a significant amount of bills back home in Real Life – including but not limited to a car payment, student loans and other fun things. Unfortunately my Spanish debit card does not work for online purchases, which is idiotic, and also one of the largest oversights I could have ever made. The flights and trains and hotels I purchase go on my American credit cards, which also means the charges are in USD and depend on the current exchange rate, and get paid through my American account.
I have not yet tried to send money back and forth between accounts, but I’m sure it will be an adventure so I will share that info when I attempt it. Going forward I will switch to an international bank to avoid ATM withdrawal fees and find a debit card that allows me to make online purchases. Did you know they also don’t use checkbooks here? Very strange. But they DO have an automated machine that prints out a checkbook balance for you if you go into the bank to complete a transaction. You know, during the five minutes they are actually open during the day.
Q: How are you doing your taxes?
A: In the last fiscal year I was a full time employee, so I still have a W2 to deal with in addition to student loan interest and other accounts. Luckily, my family uses a marvelous accountant who is taking care of my taxes … so I was only concerned with the collection of all the necessary paperwork.
Q: How can you afford to travel?
A: Traveling while living abroad is a high priority for me. It makes me happy and I have no problem spending the money I’ve earned to get to great places and see amazing things. So if that means I don’t go out to eat for a week or two, that’s fine. If it means I pick up some more tutoring on the side, that’s fine too. Watching the airlines fares for flexible dates rather than fixed ones is key, and so are the sites I mention so often when travel planning. Being aware of a tighter budget has also made me more receptive to things like couch surfing, and networking amongst friends to find a free place to rest my head. This is an incomparable benefit to having friends abroad – I love both hosting and being hosted. There is something special about showing someone your life and where you live, just as the local connection is so important in a new place.
.. yes you can survive here on what they pay you if you live carefully and are fiscally responsible. Keep in mind I started with a specific amount from the US as start up, not to mention back up (if you remember the horror stories of people not being paid until December). Don’t let money hold you back from an experience like this!