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Living in Bulgaria: A Personal View

How much does it cost to live in Bulgaria? We have lost count of the number of times we are asked this question. Every time we are asked, we say that you need 1,000 euros net income a month for a couple with no children and no mortgage. We're frequently taken to task for saying this by expats who, I suppose, manage on much less.

The problem is that this is a very subjective thing. Records from the Bulgarian authorities state that the average Bulgarian earns about 280 euros a month. However, much of their income is not declared so these stats are misleading. Nonetheless it is obvious that one can live on much less than we do. But if we did, we would not be happy our life.

It's all about lifestyle

What's your way of life? If you are a high earner with an expensive sports car, eat out at good restaurants most evenings, buy designer clothes and generally live the high life, then even 3,000 euros monthly in Bulgaria may not feel enough to you.

The truth of the matter, for us, is that a happy fulfilling lifestyle costs us a lot less than that. But we are also not of the mind that cheap is the most important word either. Do you really want to grow your own veg or will you just be doing this to scrimp to survive? How warm do you want your home, 18 C or 23 C? It's all about what you are happy with.

With 1,000 euros a month in our hand, we can eat out a couple of times a week in a good restaurant with good wines, buy the best food available, afford to run and maintain our old four wheel drive, use the heating and electric as much as we wish, put a couple of hundred euros away each month for the 'disaster fund' ... and generally live a comfortable life without any worries.

So how do we spend our money?

We could have spent less buying our home in the first instance and have had a stack of cash in the bank, as properties in very rural villages and isolated areas are much cheaper. But we wanted what we think of as 'civilisation': facilities on our doorstep, a place where we could call an ambulance with a paramedic and have it turn up inside 3 minutes at 2am in the morning, shops for daily supplies and near neighbours.

We have a delightful detached home with a walled south facing garden in a pretty friendly town, all facilities on hand by foot (shops, restaurants, bars, doctors, ambulance, chemist, schools, delicatessen, twice-weekly market, vet, bus station and much more), yet edge of town with immediate walks and wonderful views of mountains from every window. How can you add up the 'cost' of that to live in such a location?

The dreaded food question. This is a lot cheaper where we live compared with Sofia, Varna, Plovdiv and even Veliko Turnovo. Prices are significantly less in our part of Bulgaria - and a positive bargain compared with the UK.

We copy the locals for a lot of the produce we buy as they know best. Many of the Bulgarian brands are as good as those which have been imported into the country. You soon get to know where and how to shop. Our local supermarkets are often selling branded products at a lower price than the large chain supermarkets. We have also admittedly change our style of cooking, making for example a large lasagne and freezing two out of the three portions.

However, we have enough to splash out on a whole imported British fillet at least once every other month, and other 'essential expat items', without which we could quite possibly go mad.

We have a large four wheel drive Mitsubishi Pajero, not new, which can eat diesel. But we are happy to field the expense of maintenance and driving as we can just chuck our large dog in the back and we feel comfortable driving during the winter months.

We don't sit on the phone to family and friends in the UK every day but do keep in touch. Our mobile bill is about 100 leva a month and we do not have a landline. Our budget means we don't have to worry about spending an extra hour on the phone to those back in the UK if we want to call to have a chat or it's their birthday.

Then there are other things, maybe only small things but they really add up. Recently, one of us had an accident and couldn't help the other. We were able to afford for someone to come in and do things for us. After the accident, we were referred to a specialist and were able to afford a car to take us for a private consultation with an American doctor. The 'disaster fund' really came into its own!

Lifestyle and happiness

We moved to Bulgaria for a better life and to be happy. If we didn't budget 1,000 euros monthly, then we could not afford all those little luxuries which make our life how very good it is for us.

We would rather budget the extra to know we can live the way we want it to be, without scrimping or looking for the cheapest all day and every day.

Being able to cope in the way we wish with an emergency by putting a small amount every month into a separate fund, is important to our quality of life. Buying imported fillet steak from time to time makes all the difference to us. Knowing we have a good and decent town with future plans, is where we want to be. We are happier to pay more for our house insurance, as we know the insurance company will pay out if there is a problem. This is what we were after when we moved here and still at a lower cost than previously.

So, it's pretty easy to see where our 1,000 euros disappears. We're not rich, we're not poor; we are just ordinary folk wanting a decent life.

One thing we can say is that the cost to live in Bulgaria, whatever your requirements, is less than to live at a similar standard anywhere else.

You see, yes, you can get by on less than our budget - we could get by on less - but would you be happy?