Bilbao Budget Breakdown

Now that placements for the 2014—2015 school year are rolling out, I thought I’d write up a list of expenses so the fresh and doe-eyed auxiliars in Basque Country can know what to expect. Bilbao is ranked as one of the most expensive cities in Spain, right up there with Madrid and Barcelona. Auxiliars in every region outside of Madrid earn 700 euros a month (in the capital they earn 1,000, damn them), so how do we make it work? With a bit of planning, it’s actually doable to live on just our teaching salary alone, although as I’ve mentioned here, most opt to supplement their income with private lessons or by working at an English academy.

Here’s my Bilbao Budget Breakdown that I’ve calculated after tracking my own living expenses throughout the year. It should serve as a rough estimate for what you should expect to spend if you’re placed in Basque Country.

Rent: 280 euros.

Bilbao bedroom

I lucked out with a comfy queen-sized bed in my Bilbao apartment.


I’d say this is on the low end for Bilbao. You can find as low as 250, though 300–350 euros is more common. This is for a room in a shared apartment—to get your own studio it’d cost you minimum 600 euros, eek!

Utilities: 40 euros.

10 for internet, about 10 for water, and 20 for electricity. Electricity in Spain is expensive, and they raise the prices almost every year. Turn off your lights! In my house we have energy-efficient lighting and don’t turn on the heat much (maybe why I had seasonal affect disorder in winter?), so our cost of utilities may be on the low end. Try to find an apartment with central heating—it’s included in the price and will make you a happier person in January.


Groceries: 90 euros.

I eat lots of fresh produce, which fortunately is much cheaper in Spain than it is in the U.S. A bag of potato chips costs more than a tomato, which you can hardly say in good old ‘Murica. I also always buy the fruit that’s on oferta—as much as I love avocados and mangos, I’d rarely buy them at 3.50/kilo. I am not a huge meat eater (I NEVER buy red meat, and only eat it when I go out), so that would raise your costs a bit. Some rough estimates of staples: (Note: Kilo=~2 pounds, 1 euro=~$1.35)


1 loaf bread: 80 cents

Pasta: 70 cents/500 grams (1 pound)

Rice: 60 cents/kilo

Dried lentils: 1.50 euros/kilo

Garbanzos: 50 cents/jar

Box of digestive cookies (the most ubiquitous item in the grocery stores): 2 euros


Apples: 1.20 euros/kilo

Bananas: 1 euro/kilo

Tomatoes: 1.10 euros/kilo

Lettuce: 40 cents/head

Potatoes: 50 cents/kilo

Carrots: 70 cents/kilo

Strawberries: 2 euros/kilo

Animal Products:

Milk: 65 cents/liter

Eggs: 1.35 euros/dozen

Chicken breasts: 4.50—6 euros/kilo

Chorizo: 2 euros/link

Spanish cheese: ~7–16 euros/kilo, obviously depending on the kind

Wedge of brie: 1 euro (Hooray for France being just across the border.)


Wine: Drinkable wine as low as 1 euro/bottle; Good wine as low as 2 euros; boxed wine for cooking or desperation, 70 cents

Liter beer: 1 euro

Can beer: 40 cents

Hard liquor: depends, but generally cheaper than the U.S.

Transport: 20 euros.

The famous entrances to the Bilbao Metro. Source.

The famous entrances to the Bilbao Metro. Source.

I’m very lucky in that I can walk to my school in 45 minutes, so I try to do that on sunny days. But also I can take the city bus, which costs 69 cents, the cheapest of any transportation option. I enjoy walking, so I normally avoid taking the metro or bus to my private classes. I usually spend a few euros a month on longer bus routes to the coast, or metro rides at night.





Cell phone: 10 euros.


Illustration by Katie Marshall.

I bought the Orange plan, which is 2 euros/week for 100mg of internet. So basically, 10 euros/month (once they add on the tax) for 500 mg. I’m normally connected to wifi and I’m technologically challenged (in fact, I still had a flip-phone till I moved here), so I don’t have a lot of apps using up data. Plus I hardly EVER call anyone—everyone here just uses Whatsapp, and if I need to call a landline I can use my house phone for free. Bottom line: cell phones are much cheaper here than in the U.S.!

Social: 50 euros.

Vino tinto and rabas in Plentzia.

Vino tinto and rabas in Plentzia.

Again, this may be on the low end, but hey, I’ve turned semi-abuela here. It includes some café con leche dates with friends, pintxos several times a month, some beer or wine at bars most weekends, and maybe an occassional lunch with coworkers or a trip to the movie theater. I’m lucky that Bilbao has a lot of natural beauty and fun things to do outdoors (when it’s sunny), so a lot of weekends we do free activities like take hikes or go to the beach (Yes, it’s becoming beach weather here again!). Some basic social expenses:

Pintxo: 1.60—2 euros

Zurito (small beer): 1.20 euros

Caña (large beer): 2 euros

Glass of wine: 1.50 euros (if that’s not incentive to stay a second year, I don’t know what is)

Rum and coke, gin and tonic, simple mixed drinks (not cocktails): 6 euros or upwards

Café con leche: 1.30

Entrance to discoteca: 10—12 euros (includes drink)

Entrance to smallish nightclub/bar with cover charge: 5 euros (includes drink)

Entrance to The Guggenheim’s Art After Dark party (doesn’t include drink, but you can see most museum exhibits): 12 euros

Movie ticket: 8 euros; half price on some days

Menú del día (lunch menu: includes first and second course, bread, wine, and dessert): Weekdays, 10-12 euros; weekends, 15-20 euros

Miscellaneous: 60 euros. These change from month to month, but include randoms things like gym membership (29 euros, very cheap for Bilbao); medicine or cleaning supplies; haircuts; shoe repairs; Zara and H&M shopping impulses; or birthday/holiday presents.

Total Expenses (estimate): 550 euros.

note: I haven’t included tourist attractions like museum entrance fees or hostel rooms, because this is a bare guide to living. And yes, a social budget counts in the bare minimum to living, because otherwise you’re not really living, now are you?



So those are the basics, the absolute necessities you’ll need to dish out for while you’re here. Then of course you’re not going to sew your purse strings completely shut, so the extra 150 euros that you haven’t spent will go pretty quickly to extra social activities, weekend trips, and investing in rain boots and a warm winter coat. But now you see that it IS possible to make ends meet on an auxiliar budget, even in one of the most expensive cities in the country. To augment this budget, I work about 8—10 extra hours a week giving private lessons, and earn around 580—640 extra euros a month. How do I spend this? Trips to France, England, Scotland, Amsterdam, Morocco, and just recently, Berlin, Poland, Girona, and Barcelona. And actually, I’ve managed to save up a bit, too!

Do you think you could live on 700 euros/month? Are you an auxiliar in Spain, and how do you find life on the budget?