Home Living in Switzerland Lifestyle Budgeting life in Zürich
Last update on January 09, 2020

After moving to Zürich, a reader thinks about her priorities, decides what is worth paying for, and offers some tips for saving money while living the good life.

Zürich is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Nick and I have been thinking about our options for the future, and as some of them might involve a significantly lower income, we also began to think about our expenses and lifestyle. I am quite bad at keeping track of my spending, or even at watching it. But I realised that the more I spend on random things, the more money I need to earn… and the more I need to work.

Biggest expense in Zurich

The biggest expense one has when living in a major city is housing. Should we move out from our sunny three-bedroom apartment close to the centre, the lake and the Uetliberg and into a smaller, darker, older… and yes, much cheaper flat? Our answer is a straightforward, “No”. If we ended up in a place we didn’t like that much, we would go away on holidays and weekends more often to escape, and we would also probably want to eat out at restaurants more, and would just spend the money we saved.

Next, there is going out. Entertainment, good food and wine, coffee, tea, lunches and drinks, all end up weighing a ton on the budget, especially in Zürich.

A few ideas to reduce your budget

  1. Invite friends over for brunch, dinner, coffee… Once in a while, it can feel cosier than going to a café or restaurant and it gives you motivation to cook or bake something special. Friends might then invite you back, and everybody ends up saving money.
  2. Carry a little thermos. I am a big coffee and tea consumer, so this way I only have to find a water boiler – not a complicated thing to convince your boss to invest in – or, even better, a coffee machine, to avoid going to Starbucks twice a day.
  3. Carry little snacks (fruit, cereal bars, chocolate). This reduces little everyday expenses (and weight gain!).
  4. Make a lunchbox at home. Seriously, having lunch out everyday is not possible for me. I am quite lazy though, so I never prepare my food in advance. I will certainly not do it everyday, but once or twice a week is probably a good way to start.
  5. Borrow/rent movies and watch them at home. It could be a good occasion to have friends over, too. Borrow books and magazines as well. Your friends may like cool books that you’ve never heard of; otherwise, the library is a cool place to hang out. The Pestalozzi Bibliothek in Zürich offers a large selection of books, dvds and CDs in German, French and even English for a ridiculously small annual fee.
  6. Avoid the shops when you don’t need anything. Here again I am probably the worst example, but I realised recently that most of what I buy on impulse doesn’t make much of a difference in my life and, more importantly, it never makes me happier.
  7. Learn how to sew in order to design and make your own clothes. Ok, I’ll admit, this one is not the easiest. I just started learning how to sew with a few friends, and I am far from making anything, but it is quite fun and relaxing.
  8. Indulge in free activities. In Zürich, for example, you can visit the Kunsthaus every Wednesday for free. There are also heaps of free concerts all the time. Sunbathing in a park or going for a walk won’t cost you a rappen (the Swiss cent), and will benefit your soul.

Now that I think about it, most of the time, buying something is just the easy, lazy option. It often comes out of boredom as well – why spend so much time shopping if there is something more interesting to do?

Consuming less is not only about saving money, it is also about finding creative ways to keep entertained – alone or with friends.