What I feared most before Erasmus
Had a late night last night and had to wake up early for the 5th consecutive day to do a 10-minute errand with my fellow ERASMUS mates that couldn’t wait until the afternoon. Makes me wonder whether they think everyone likes to wake up at 8am on a free day to get out of their comfortable, warm beds and go straight into the blistering cold of the German winter.
At least I won’t be sleeping past breakfast, or at least I get to eat breakfast at breakfast-time for once. As I enter the kitchen I find it in a mess as is normal protocol lately. I sound the “roommate call”, which is really just an exclamation of the three words: “Oh my God!” followed by the name of the accused “Samantha!” but before you can say the words “What’s for breakfast?” we’re having breakfast together in a still messy kitchen (procrastination galore). It could be worse. I could have a psychotic roommate who likes to cook smelly foods like fish and keep the kitchen heater on the maximum level and the kitchen windows and door closed so that the already bad smell becomes unbearable to work in.
The choice of breakfast today was a nice cool bowl of chocolate nougat cereal. I didn’t need to spend much. It only cost me 2 euro from the supermarket down the road for a big 500gr box of this crunchy, delicious wake-up food. Milk doesn’t vary a lot in price whether it’s of a high or low quality, so it’s not worth mentioning. All in all, this breakfast cost me around 3.50 euros and I’ve got enough cereal and milk to last me a week.
For lunch and dinner, as I’m not big on cooking myself, I like to have a good stock on bread, ham, cheese, eggs and perhaps the occasional bacon strips to fuel up in the afternoon. At dinner time, my choice of food is mainly pasta, which is not too expensive. For 1 euro you can easily find a 500gr packet of spaghetti which is enough to last 3 or 4 days. The sauce I like to add most is normal tomato sauce, and some tuna to give it some extra taste. I like to have a supply of grated cheese for my pasta, and occasionally, especially when I’m feeling down or home sick, I invest in some minced meat, garlic and onions which combined make my favorite pasta dish: Bolognaise. Of course, I’m not much of a cook, and on these occasions I ask Samantha to prepare the meal. I promise to wash up afterwards, in return for her cooking for the both of us.
The cost of lunch would be around 5-7 euro per week for bread, ham, cheese and eggs. Dinner costs me around 5-7 euro weekly also. So finally, it can be said I spend less than 20 euro per week on food. It wasn’t always this cheap. I made many mistakes when shopping in the beginning of my ERASMUS experience.
I manage to keep the costs this low as I always buy the cheapest products. In Malta I don’t like to buy the cheapest foods, but it’s different when you’re a student with a part-time job still living under your parents’ roof. In Germany I had to change some things in my lifestyle. I needed to adapt, and it didn’t take long as the products I would consider cheap and of low quality in Malta, do not compare to the cheap and supposedly low quality products the many supermarkets in Gelsenkirchen offer. Through the initial shopping mistakes I made in the beginning of my first experience of real independence, I learned a very important thing. The lower quality products that I purchase are of almost the same quality as the higher quality ones. As most of my purchases involve necessities like bread, milk, eggs, ham and cheese, I saved a few cents here and there from each product buy opting for the no-name product rather than for the big-name ones and this saved me tens of euro in the past 5 months.
Therefore, my first tip is that you should not dismiss low-priced products before trying them. You never know if that product is the same quality of the next product which could be 25% higher in price in many cases.
Second tip would be to always go to the supermarket with a strict list of what you need. I’m not much of an impulsive buyer, but even with a list, it is difficult to stick to it without buying something extra. This helped me a lot also in the beginning of my experience, when the product names and types were still strange to me. In this way, those products which were unsatisfactory could be listed to be avoided from re-purchasing, and those lower quality products which were satisfactory could be listed for repeat purchasing.
I haven’t kept myself to a very strict budget, though I’ve heard that many do so in order to keep their finances under control. With the way I eat and what I choose to buy every week, spending less than 80 euro a month on food leaves a lot of money saved for other luxuries. Admittedly, my diet consists of very cheap foods so I don’t truly need to budget, but I believe it depends on the personality of that person. Some people like cooking, and are patient with food. These people are those who most likely have a healthier, more expensive diet than I do. Although I like eating a lot, I’m more of an “eat-to-survive” kind of person. I prefer to reserve my money for partying in the weekend and travelling around Europe.
It will definitely be easier when I’m back in Malta, where my mother handles the buying and preparing of our everyday meals, but living alone in a foreign country for 6 months has taught me that the thing I once was most nervous for (shopping and preparing of my own food) turned out to be the least of my problems. I now know I can make it alone and if another similar opportunity comes along, I’ll look forward to it with excitement, rather than count the days until I must leave my home with stomach-aching nervousness.