Without a student loan and with only limited help from his parents, Devendra set himself the challenge of living on less than CHF1,000 a month.
I come from a typical middle-class Indian family and therefore frugality is not a foreign concept to me. While we didn’t have to worry about putting food on the table, education abroad or in a private university demanded long-term planning. Fortunately, most of my education in India was supported via different scholarships. Unfortunately, in Switzerland this was not an option.
Handling Swiss prices with a middle-class Indian income is impossible. Even though an education loan from an Indian bank was an option, it would mean mortgaging our only home. Therefore, I chose the ambitious goal of supporting myself in Switzerland from the savings I made during my short stint working for an Indian bank. Of course, I needed some help from my parents, but I wanted to keep it at a minimum.
My university ETHZ requires international students to show availability of finances of CHF1,750 ($1,752) per month, which comes very close to Swiss poverty levels. My goal was to live under CHF1,000, to avoid excess financial stress on my parents.
First, the major chunk of my monthly expense goes on rent. It is safe to assume that one must spend at least CHF500-600 on rent (in a shared student house). Finding a cheaper place is not that easy, and some students may end up spending CHF700 – 800 on rent.
Food can be very costly if one decides to eat out. The cheapest meal at the university canteen Mensa would add up to almost CHF350 per month. Hence, I never ate out during the last six months and cooked all three meals at home. As a result, I was successful in keeping my food budget to around CHF125. That does require quite a bit of discipline. I also keep a keen eye on university career events; the recruiters usually sponsor food. I have even attended a couple of career talks offered in German. I got to practice my “Hören” skills and the food was not bad!
Next in terms of recurring costs are transportation and insurance. They come to around CHF100 per month each for me. Transportation cost can be reduced by purchasing a bicycle. It is on my to-do list and I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Insurance is tricky, as cheap insurance usually have minimum deductibles. They will start reimbursing your health expenses only after you have paid the minimum deductible. For example, if the minimum annual deductible is CHF1,000 and your doctor’s bill is CHF1,100, then only CHF100 will be reimbursed. So, I have to ensure that I never have to visit a doctor. Perhaps I should start eating an apple every day! Medical cost has also been a good motivator for me to exercise daily.
Finally, there are some miscellaneous costs like laundry (use of the common washing-machine is not free). Garbage bags - for waste you cannot recycle - are very costly in Zurich. I reduced these expenses by washing clothes by hand or reducing the amount of garbage.
If you sum my expenses up, they would fall just short of CHF1,000 mark. So, it is possible to live below CHF1,000 and I am sure that some people do spend significantly less than that. My monthly expenditure is dictated mostly by the rent, and if I had managed to find a very cheap accommodation (CHF350 – CHF400), I would have had more leeway.
Austerity is not that difficult, but it requires some self-discipline. A drink, or a meal outside can blow up my budget, and I need to think twice before indulging myself.
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