living in italy: how much does it cost?

We've received more than a few emails and comments from people asking how we afford to live in Italy, or conversely, how much they would need to afford to live here. Like most people, we don't really care for talking about money, but we do know that it would be very helpful to some of our readers to learn more about the costs of living abroad.

Before we outline our monthly budget, a few disclaimers:

  • We have rented in Washington, D.C. and Arlington, VA and owned a home in Louisville, KY. What we consider cheap or expensive is based on our experiences in these places.
  • We don't eat out here -- maybe a 3euro panini once a week...tops. We love to cook and the abudance of high-quality, local produce makes cooking at home even more fun. If you are someone that requires frequent trips out, your budget in a major European city like Florence will increase dramatically.
  • All amounts below are in euro.

Typical monthly expenses:

  • €1000: Rent for a 2-bedroom/1 bath-room apartment with a small garden
  • €60-180: Utilities (this varies wildly by season)
  • €240: Groceries (including all food for us and Winston; we budget about €60 per week)
  • €50: Meals and drinks out
  • €50: Travel
  • €80: Cell Phones and internet service
  • €80-100: Misc. expenses (trips to the vet, household items, etc.)
  • €1560-1700 EXPENSES PER MONTH

Pretty short list, right? We have worked so hard to simplify, simplify, simplify our lives. We don't buy anything unless we absolutely need it. We don't own a car. We don't travel a ton, we take walks and explore Florence instead. We're on the national health system. These are all things that keep our costs way down.

How does Florence compare?

When we lived in Washington, D.C. in 2007 our rent alone was about $1800; we briefly considered returning to D.C. -- but then discovered the same apartment was now renting for $2400. In D.C., however, we also didn't have a car, so our transprtation expenses were similarly controlled like they are here.

In Louisville, our housing was about $1400 per month, but we owned a car, which obviously meant car insurance, gas and upkeep. This negated any savings in cost of living from D.C. Louisville has a pretty good food scene, and we ate out a bit more there, but it was generally not too expensive to do so.

In both places (and including Bucks County, PA where we lived immediately prior to our move abroad), we found groceries to be extremely expensive, which we don't generally experience here. It does, however, have a lot to with your food preferences. In the U.S. a lot of boxed foods are cheaper, here it's the fresh stuff (which we eat almost exclusively) that's cheap. Cue cultural insights.

As an FYI for future Italy/Florence expats

The one thing that keeps our costs manageable is that we don't eat out. It can be embarassingly expensive to eat out in a city like Florence. Sure, there are the fantastic family-owned joints where you can get a great dinner for two for €30, but Rob and I always go back to being able to make that meal (or at least a poorly executed imitation of it) for €10 at home.

The key to frugal living in Italy is to find local shops -- for breads, meats, produce, wine, etc. -- that have affordable prices and high quality. Because we shop locally for supplies just about every day, it keeps us from going a doing one big trip to the supermarket.

In summary

We find that Florence is no more expensive than other cities in which we have lived. That being said, so much of "wow, this is expensive" or "can you believe how cheap this is?" is totally dictacted by your past and current experiences. If you have lived in New York, Boston, D.C., Los Angeles or Chicago, you will probably find a city like Florence pretty darn affordable (assuming you don't have a car).

Before you decide to move abroad to Italy (or anywhere for that matter!) developing a pretty solid budget is key. Visit expat forums and message boards to get a "real" sense of what people spend. Much like in the U.S., your budget varies wildly whether you live in a small southern town or a big northern city.

Finally, another really important thing to remember is the conversion rate to euro. If you can afford to live on a certain amount (in dollars) each month, you should never make your actual budget that amount. Why? The dollar ain't so hot right now folks. Budget very conversatively if you are going from dollars to euros.

Questions about the financial aspects of moving abroad? Leave a comment or email us and we'll do our best to help.