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The Cost of Living 2008 - facts and figures

If you are considering making Bulgaria your permanent home then it’s worth considering how much money you will need to set aside each month to cover the cost of food, drink and monthly bills.

Over the last year Bulgaria has experienced rising inflation, a common problem in developing markets. In fact between April 2007 and March 2008, the 12-month average rate of inflation was 9.4 per cent for consumer products with energy and food prices showing the highest increases overall. Having said this, government predictions put the inflation rate for the next year as significantly lower and at the end of the day Bulgaria is substantially cheaper to live in than the UK.

Balancing budgets

One thing worth considering is what your income in Bulgaria will be if you were to move here. The minimum wage is set to rise to a meagre 240 lv. in 2009 and the average Bulgarian wage stands at 440 lv. UK families with two children who still qualify for child benefit will find that they will already have an income of 266 lv. and those in receipt of a UK state pension will have an income of 522 lv. a month. Whilst this is a great help, it makes for an extremely frugal lifestyle and when you take into account additional expenses such as water, electricity, telephone, Internet and satellite TV, you will find that this is not sufficient to meet your monthly outgoings.

Every shopping basket contains personal choices and essentials. Since Bulgaria joined the European Union, the choice of goods is much wider with foreign products particularly from America, France and Germany flooding the market. The cost of some of these luxury items is steep and often works out higher, than if you were to purchase them at home – that’s one of the hazards of expat living – there are some foods we just can’t give up no matter what the cost. Families with children will find that they are more heavily reliant on these expensive Western brands and in many cases the Bulgarian alternatives just don’t match up. The choice however is simple – either cut them out or grin and bear the price burden they create!

Food basket basics

No matter where we live, there are certain foodstuffs that are considered essentials. In Bulgaria such basics are comparatively cheap. Taking into account a well balanced diet and no special dietary needs a shopping basket for life’s essential foodstuffs can cost as little as 102 lv. compared to 271 lv. for the equivalent items in the UK, making it more than twice the price of Bulgaria! We’ve added in the cost of feeding a dog, because whether you want a pet or not over here, chances are that one will adopt you!

Basics Basket

Adding luxury items

We all know how easy it is to wander around the supermarket and add in all of those little items, which titillate the palate. What are often considered luxury items in the UK are often inexpensive in Bulgaria; a bottle of good red wine costs only 4.99 lv. here compared to an equivalent quality red in the UK, which retails at GBP 6.99 or 16.91 lv. Indeed, for this price you could select a premium, award winning red wine in Bulgaria. Smoking is a horrifically expensive pastime in the UK with a packet of Marlborough Lights retailing at GBP 5.22 or 12.63 lv., whilst in Bulgaria this same brand would only cost 4.00 lv. and if you can wean yourself onto the Bulgarian brands, which most expat smokers do, you can pay as little as 2.40 lv. – that’s 99p a packet! Local brand beer is also significantly lower priced at only 2.39 lv. for 1.5 l. compared to Becks at GBP 1.80 (4.35 lv.) and that’s only for a litre. It’s not just luxury items like cigarettes and alcohol that are lower in price compared to the UK; toiletries especially make up is significantly cheaper as is fresh meat and organic fruit and veg.

Premium Western Brands

It’s so easy to live in a foreign country and dream of comfort foods that remind you of home. The selection of Western brands now available in Bulgaria has grown considerably and there are few foods that are not available here now. However the cost of these items is considerably higher than Bulgarian equivalents where available and if the truth be known, some of the Bulgarian equivalents could not compare to the delicious taste of Heinz Baked Beans or Nestle’s Coco Pops.

A tin of Heinz Baked Beans, a staple in most British homes, where it retails at the equivalent of 1.28 lv. costs a staggering 2.99 lv. in Bulgaria – that’s the equivalent of GBP 1.23 per 400 gr. tin! Another British staple, Heinz Tomato Ketchup costs the equivalent of 1.40 lv. for a 300-ml. bottle compared to 2.75 lv. (GBP 1.13) in Bulgaria. If you can do without ketchup, but cannot live without Heinz HP Sauce on your bacon sandwich, then you will be even worse off – a 250 ml bottle costs 4.35 lv. in Bulgaria compared to 1.42 lv. in the UK – making it a complete luxury at GBP 1.79! Foreign butter like Lurpak or the delicious French President brand also carry steep price tags – 250 gr. of President butter costs 5.49 lv. compared to an equivalent quality brand in the UK, which would cost 2.87 lv. Breakfast cereals, a must in most British households come in at a higher price over in Bulgaria. Nesquick Choco Pops cost 7.99 lv. for a 450 gr. packet compared to 5.39 lv. in the UK for a 500 gr. packet.

Our Monthly Outgoings

We all spend at different levels and add different things to our shopping basket based on personal tastes, but it is surprising how little you need to live on in Bulgaria in comparison with the UK. The biggest expense in Bulgaria appears to be petrol, but with all of our interviewees living outside of a main town or city, this is not surprising, yet it is still much cheaper than in the UK and when you take other household bills into account, life here costs much less.

Barbara and Ian Burchell and their two sons, Neil (14) and Stuart (18) moved to Bulgaria a year ago and have found the savings phenomenal. Their monthly food bill comes to 1,200 lv. a month. Barbara says that the things they miss most from the UK are custard powder, Bisto gravy granules, PG Tips and marmalade and the products she can’t do without are Heinz Baked Beans and HP Sauce. The Burchell family are all non-smokers and teetotal, but they allege that money others spend on booze and cigarettes is spent on satisfying their sweet tooth. In addition to their monthly food bills, they pay an additional 888 lv. on water (38 lv.), electricity (130 lv.), telephone and Internet (120 lv.) and petrol (600 lv.) All in all, the Burchell’s total monthly outgoings are 2,088 lv.

Bulgarian family, Victoria and Jivko Vjekov and their two children Stella (17) and Peter (12) live far more economically than our British family. They spend 70 lv. a month at the supermarket and around 5 lv. a week on fresh bread from the local shop, bringing their total monthly food bill to 90 lv. a month. Victoria explains that they grow a lot of their own produce and all of their meals are homemade, they also and have free-range chickens, which provide plenty of eggs. Their additional outgoings add 82 lv. each month to their bill with water at 15 lv., electricity at 35 lv., telephone and Internet at 32 lv. With no car to run petrol is not an expense they have to worry about. Their total monthly outgoings are 172 lv.

Nicola and Alan Hayes moved to Kichevo a year ago and find Bulgarian living extremely cheap. They spend 150 lv. at the supermarket every month then around 15 lv. a week at the local food shop for extras such as fresh bread, making their monthly food bill a mere 210 lv. a month. Nicola says that she includes foods like milk chocolate, and Domino sauces as part of life’s little luxuries, but the products she misses the most are mature English cheese, milk (it just doesn’t taste the same here), Galaxy chocolate and wine gums. Both Nicola and Alan are non-smokers and drink very little, but they do have the added expense of three dogs. Extra money is needed to pay for utility bills and the like and the Hayes couple spend 370 lv. on top of their monthly food bills with water at 20 lv., electricity at 90 lv., telephone and internet at 60 lv. and petrol at 280 lv. Their total monthly outgoings are 660 lv.

Bulgarian couple, Tanya and Michael Dimitrov like to indulge themselves with fine wine and good food and both are smokers. They spend 300 lv. a month on food and say that their cigarettes push up the bill. They live in a large house particularly by Bulgarian standards and their other monthly outgoings amount to 30 lv. for water, 70 lv. electricity, 46 lv. telephone and internet and 150 lv. for petrol. Their total monthly outgoings are 596 lv.

Obviously additional to each month’s outgoings are those one off payments for car tax, insurance, repairs and council tax.

All costs were calculated at an exchange rate of 2.42 lv = 1.00 GBP. Product comparison was between Piccadilly Supermarket Bulgaria and Tesco UK.