Before moving to Sweden everyone told me how expensive it would be to live here. Even fellow bloggers scoffed at the prospect of the SavingNinja moving to Sweden!? The country with one of the highest income tax and VAT rates in the world! I wouldn’t be able to call myself the SavingNinja for much longer, they said.
When I first arrived here, I found it hard to swallow the insanely high food prices, it seemed everything that we usually bought back in the UK was at least 3 times as expensive, sometimes even more than that. Eating out was another big shock, paying over £25 for a main course per person is the norm in any type of restaurant here, even for a burger and chips.
Your average McDonalds meal will cost around £10, and a 440ml ‘Swedish pint’ of beer in most restaurants will also cost you around £10. Don’t even ask about the cost for a bottle of wine. I thought we would be spending SO MUCH MORE, my FIRE plans would be sullied for sure.
Now that I’ve lived here for over a year, and I’ve settled into a house that I’ve bought with my wife, it’s about time that I go back to the Budget Spreadsheet and calculate our expenses. So, now it’s time for the moment of truth, how much more expensive is it to live in Sweden over the UK?
Is Living in the UK Cheap?
One of my most popular SavingNinja posts was this one; How to Live Off 10k Per Year. It documented what my living expenses were living in the UK and what I did to reduce costs and live on under minimum wage whilst still living a high-quality life.
The TL;DR of that post is that my mandatory yearly spending was £7,856. Adding in £1,500 per year for holidays, and £150 per month on spending/miscellaneous money, that came to £9,356 per year. Which everyone found crazy!
I had people at London meet ups bring up this same blog post even years later saying how impressive that low level of spending was. I’d like to take credit for it, but really it wasn’t that hard, once I’d reduced my cost for the big expenses like my car and my home, everything else came naturally – I’m a cheapskate by nature!
This old post will be the perfect yard stick to compare against my Swedish spending now that I’ve filled in this years Swedish budget on the SavingNinja Budgeting Spreadsheet. Remember, the £10k per year post was released before I started commuting into London, after that my yearly spend went up to around £11,153.
England Vs Sweden The Big Budget Battle!
I’ll create this budget a little differently than the How to Live Off 10k Per Year post. Instead of naming my own expenses, I’ll state the total cost for both me and my wife, then split it at the end to compare. Some things are slightly different, between me and my wife’s expenses, for example she has to spend £7 per month for her SIM card, I get mine from work; she also has slightly increased costs for buying gifts for her family and commuting into Stockholm on the bus, I’ll omit these differences in the list below for comparisons sake as the prior post focused on my expenses alone.
Food: £50 per month
Now this is kind of cheating a little bit. My company pays around £200 per month after tax onto a food card which is meant to cover lunches when working from home, but this same card can be used to buy normal groceries so I’ve docked £200 off the food budget for both me and my wife.
BUT, at effectively £250 per month, I’ve got to say, this shocked me! I thought Sweden would be WAY more expensive in this category. But it seems that even though some things are 3 times more expensive, some food items are about the same price as they would be in the UK, and some food items are even slightly cheaper. We just stopped buying the really costly food items and found new cheap favourites.
Salmon is one of those things that works out cheaper, in Asda the cheapest fresh salmon would cost you around £11 per kilogram, or £19 for a half-decent looking salmon. In Sweden you can get a really nice full salmon for £8 per kilogram.
We still cook our favourite meals from scratch, buy a fair amount of alcohol (although we now buy box wine as it works out as £5 per bottle, just like in the UK,) and we buy lots of vegetables and fruit. Good cuts of steak are not actually priced too high here either, in-fact, we’ve definitely snagged a few deals by buying in bulk and freezing. All things considered, a 25% increase in food costs isn’t too bad (if we didn’t have the food card paying for most of it.)
UK food: £200 – 75% decrease
Winner: Sweden (kinda)
Housing costs: £890 per month (mortgage, ground rent, house insurance),
The mortgage we had in the UK (before we got an employee discount mortgage loan) was £638 per month. Our Swedish housing costs £253 more. A little higher, but not too bad considering we’re in a more expensive home here. We paid £195k for our UK house in the South East, in Sweden for our sea view property we paid about £300k, our loan is roughly 25% larger.
There are also some other things to consider. We don’t pay council tax here, and our water bill and bin collection is included with the ground rent. Combined, these two expenses came to £144 total each month in the UK, taking that off the £253 difference and a £109 increase seems like a steal considering the house price difference.
UK housing: £782 – 12% increase
Bills: £95 per month
The only bills we pay in Sweden are electricity and internet, gas isn’t very common here. The electricity bill comes to around £74 per month and the internet, £21. My company pays for my phone and an unlimited service plan. We actually spend less on TV here as we now use my wife’s parents Netflix account for free. There’s no such thing as the TV license here either (not that we paid it in the UK anyway!)
UK bills: £100 – 5% decrease
Transportation: Insurance £568, tax £96, fuel £120, service/repairs £1,400 (hopefully less!)
Total: £784 – £2,184 per year
This car is the first ever car that me and my wife have split equally, as we both don’t need one for work. We bought this compact van to make our life a little easier and so we can go on more trips around Sweden without worrying about renting a car. We also hope that leasing the car out on GoMore will cover at least half of this cost (we’ve leased it out twice already!) The low fuel cost of £10 per month is because we barely use it, it sits on the driveway waiting to be leased out most of the time, and the two times it’s been rented they’ve even left us with a bit more fuel in it.
We preliminarily budgeted for £1,400 per year in service and repair costs. This could be higher or lower, but we’re hoping it won’t cost us much as it’s only a few years old (famous last words.)
Miscellaneous: £35 per month
£25 for pet expenses, mainly food, and £10 for essentials like shampoo, bubble bath, and toilet roll. Over the years we’ve become more zero-waste so we don’t have many consumable purchases. We use hankies that my wife made out of old shirts, we have Swedish cloths for cleaning and reusable napkins instead of kitchen roll, and we compost and recycle everything so no bin bags! My wife has everything reusable; MoonCup, and a Magic Make-up Remover Cloth, saving over £100 per year. Our clothes wash better with an EcoEgg and it saves us SO MUCH compared to buying consumable detergent. Next level is a bidet.
Holiday pot: £3,000 per year
We decided to keep our holiday pot exactly the same, we definitely didn’t spend all of this the last few years but we hope to try to in the coming ones. To gauge this figure we calculated our total expenses for the snowboarding holiday we went on last Christmas. This was in a pretty expensive area of Sweden and adding up the costly 7h train tickets (which we booked first-class,) two 6-8 day ski-pass’s, 10 nights stay in self-catering hotel-style AirBnB apartment right next to the slope, and some fun money for restaurants, it came to £1,460 total.
We realise this was the cheapest we could go for a snowboarding holiday of that length here, and for the next one we may want to stay somewhere a little nicer with a sauna – at least for a few nights – but we also realised that if we went on a summer holiday, we’d spend way less. Our summer trips generally involve a bit of a pricier plane ticket and then slumming it in an AirBnB and exploring each day.
One of our favourite holidays was to the Czech Republic and the total for that trip was under £500 for the both of us, even with eating out most days! We managed a week in New York for under £1,000 for Christmas a few years ago. We explored all of the Swedish West Coast this summer and only paid the price of fuel as we wild-camped.
We think we’ll be able to go on a snowboarding holiday every year and continue exploring the world for £1,500 per person each year, but we don’t mind increasing this if we need to!
Luxury Pot: £1,500 per year
This has actually dropped considerably. Our previous budget had the luxury pot total amount at £2,400. In the past I was accounting for upgrading our house like renovating the kitchen and bathroom. Here in Sweden, I don’t feel like they’re is much else to do, at least not for the next year.
We tried to add up what big things we might buy per year, even if we were to buy one big-ish thing like a SteamDeck, or a new snowboard, or a shed, we’d still come under this amount; so £1,500 seemed like a nice figure in case we wanted to buy something extra. We’re lucky that we bought all of the things we needed/wanted when we first moved here before doing this budget!
Fun fact: I haven’t bought any new clothing for at least 2 years. I still want to decrease the amount that I do own so everything can fit into a backpack.
The Grand Reveal!
So, there you have it, our Swedish budget complete. Here are the figures:
Between £13,204 and £15,388 per year combined.
£6,602 – £7,694 each.
This depends on if the compact van costs us anything in yearly repairs, how much those cost, and if we’ve not leased it out to cover some of the expenses. We’ll account for the maximum, but expect the minimum.
But, hang on a minute…. Even £7,694. That’s UNDER the necessary expenses total of the 10k Per Year post which was £7,856. Whaaaat!
Using the 25x rule, this essential spending makes me effectively 138% FI based on a net worth of £271k.
What is actually going on here? Sweden should be more expensive. The answer seems to be the employee food card accounting for £2,400 of our food budget each year, this warps things a bit, because if I truly did retire, I wouldn’t have access to this. I also wouldn’t have access to the employee phone and plan for that matter. But even still, adding on £1,200 still brings the maximum per person to £8,894 – not too much more than the aforementioned post. And certainly way less than my London commute budget.
I think this points to the fact that Sweden isn’t more expensive than the UK. If you live a pretty minimalistic life anyway, and adapt your grocery list to new tastes, it’s kind of the same. And over here, you won’t be strapped with £50k student loan debt, you’ll get 12 months fully paid maternity and paternity leave, and you’ll never have to worry about health care, even old-age live in costs are paid for (you won’t have to squander your inheritance paying for nursing homes like in the UK!) Not to mention the free child care.
That’s pretty cool.
Adding Luxury to The Mix
We decided to budget for £4,500 in total for luxury, which is the £3,000 holiday pot and an ‘anything else’ luxury pot. This brings our total figures to:
Between £17,704 and £19,888 per year combined.
£8,852 – £9,944 each.
This puts us way below the £24,316 London commute budget and around the same as the £9,356 each budget in the 10k Per Year post.
If we manage to stick to this budget, it should allow us to save 76.93% of our total take home pay. 83.85% for me and 63% for my wife. This is a number is similar to our post-London budget prediction, but in that one I was saving £40k per year into a pension, tax free. This one see’s most of that 83.85% going into my pre-pension pot, which is awesome!
I’ve got to say, I’m pleasantly surprised that we managed to stay under the £10k per year mark.
Maybe I should stop moaning about how expensive Sweden is?
I know what a lot of you are thinking. You’re not truly FIRE, most of your investments are in a pension. Yes, yes, I know. I could argue to you all day about building a pension bridge, and about side-hustle income like my new writing gig. But the truth is: I’d probably struggle if I did quit today. It would also be foolish of me to do so, what happens if we have children or want to move to some place else? Our budget will surely change.
But this post is an exercise in statistics and budgeting. I never intended to actually retire when I reached my ‘leanFI’ number. I plan on staying with my current employer for at least another 4 years, and working in some capacity after that, along with creating many more passive income streams. This should make the exercise of ‘would I actually be able to retire?’ purely theoretical. When I do break out of the cave I should be a lot more safe, or fatFI as some like to call it.
But that’s not to say I can’t call myself Theoretically FI right now! :]