Sunday, January 26, 2014

Living On a Budget: Auxiliar Style

A lovely day in Madrid to talk budgets.
I've had a lot of people back home, as well as people interested in teaching abroad in Spain, wonder how I'm able to live abroad and make ends meet.  Many who are not in the program have wondered if I get paid on time, how much I spend per month, and if the money I make is sufficient to live abroad in Spain.

In the Auxiliares government program you get paid  based on the location you work.  In Madrid you work 16 hours per week and make 1000€, while in the rest of Spain you work only 12 hours per week and make 700€.    As the capital, and largest city in Spain, Madrid is one of the most expensive cities to live here and with the Auxiliares you make more money to cover the extra living costs.

Though many may not believe it, in this program you can make more than enough money to live comfortably in Spain.  Especially if you find any of the abundant Private English classes.

To help give you an idea of how I live on my budget abroad, here's a breakdown of my monthly expenses:


My school isn't in the center of Madrid where I live, instead it's a city just outside of the city limits so I have to buy a monthly Abono/Transportation pass.  You can buy these Madrid monthly abonos in based on what zone you need to travel between (A, B1, B2, B3, C1, C2, E1, E2) and your age: Joven, Normal, and Tercera Edad. Because my school is in the B1 zone I buy the monthly B1 Abono, and unfortunately (for me) because I'm over 23 I have to buy the Normal B1 abono.  The card costs me 63.70€ a month but covers any (trains, metro, or bus) travel in zones A and B1.


As I said before, I live in the center of Madrid.  And when I say center, I mean center, as in three minutes from Puerta del Sol.  My boyfriend and I share a one bedroom apartment together, and obviously the rent and utilities that come with it.  Since it's only a one bedroom apartment it's very cheap for us: 280€ (for each of us) per month for just the rent.As for utilities, we don't pay for our water only for electricity and internet.

For internet and phone we each pay 17€, but this also includes a few hours of international calling to the USA per month.  [Hear that stateside friends!].  And for electricity it depends on the month and the amount we use.  In September and October it was around 11€ for each of us per month, in November and December it was closer to 25€ for each of us per month, and now that the cost of electricity has risen starting this month...we shall see...

Point being that my cost for housing in Madrid's center has ranged monthly from 308-322€.  Definitely not too shabby for living in the Country's capital.


Groceries in this household depends a lot on how much my boyfriend feels like eating in a sitting, which is usually a lot more than I do!  We still split all food costs 50/50 and usually the monthly cost is 300€ for the two of us, so around 150€ each one.  If you're wondering what grocery stores that we shop at, we generally go to the Hipercor of Cortes Ingles (which I've found far less expensive than everyone claims it to be) though sometimes I also go to the Ahorra Mas across the street from my school, or the Carrefour Express that's also near our apartment.
How can you not love the fresh food in Spain? source


In Spain this doesn't have to be you! source
Paying for my cell phone here is so cheap that it's something I rarely think (and never worry) about it.  The thing about cell phone service in Spain compared to the USA is that purchasing the actual phone is generally much more expensive (even with a contract and you don't get free upgrades!) but the plans are usually way cheaper.

The cheapest unlocked smartphone I could find was 79€ but my monthly plan with Tuenti is only 10.89€ (now changing to 10.75€!).  I chose Tuenti because of this plan of 1GB of data and 75 minutes of calls per month, so far I haven't gone over either since being here since September.  The only thing is that when I pay monthly on my account they only accept payments in increments of 5€ so sometimes I only have to pay 10€ while others I pay 15€, so I always budget a full 15€.


Like many other auxiliares in this program I'm a recent College graduate with student loans to pay off.  I didn't want to defer them but also didn't want to have to pay them while I was here, so I saved up enough money to pay for my loans for two years (seriously spent all last year saving) to prepare for if I was renewing.  In case I do want to stay in Spain for a third year, I have been saving 80€ a month that is for my loans to be transfered to my American bank account at some point this year.
Save those euros! source

General Spending:

This category is for all the general spending in a month, whether it be for: drinks, clothes shopping, having dinner out, or general miscellaneous purchases.  On average per month I spend around 200€ for all of the above, rarely going over my budget.  While Madrid may be more expensive than other cities in Spain, I've found that it's much cheaper to go out here than where I live (beers and wine for 1€, yes please).

You just have to know the different options and know the ofertas, for example: if you like shopping, know when the rebajas (sales) are during the year.  In the current post-Christmas rebajas for only 115€ I've bought a winter coat, a dress, two pairs of jeans, two blouses, and 1 t-shirt.  Score!

For those who want a clearer break-down, these are my monthly costs and the amount I have leftover:
My Average Monthly Income: (1000€ + private lessons)
63.70€ Abono
308-322€ Rent/Utilities
150€ Groceries
15€ Cell Phone
80€ Saving
200€ General Spending
816.70-830.70€ Total Expenses

Every month I clearly have plenty of euros leftover.  This money  is what I've been saving to use for future European travels, like when my Dad is coming to visit me (and Europe for the first time) in April!

If you want advice on any of the above processes like housing, abonos, and phones; read my post:

And for those who what more ideas on budgets in Spain check out these helpful posts:

How does your budget abroad differ from mine?  Do you have any questions about living costs in Spain with the Auxiliares program?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Nochebuena, Papa Noel, and a Snowless Christmas

I knew one day I wouldn't be able to come home for holidays; after all we all grow up, we all move away from home, and we all start our own lives.  I just never imagined the day would come so soon and that we would be separated by a whole ocean.

When I accepted the position to teach abroad in Madrid I made the conscious decision that I would not be home for Christmas.  Flight prices are so expensive this time of year, I didn't know if I would have my resident card in time, and it just seemed easier to stay in Spain to celebrate.
Christmas morning!
In retrospect, more convenient: yes, easier: no, rewarding and worth the experience: definitely.

While it was at times really hard being away from my family (a.k.a. on Christmas Eve I might have cried the whole bus ride home from the downtown area...), I was extremely lucky to be invited to spend the holidays with my boyfriend's family in Santander and had a home away from home.  Plus the added bonus that I got to see what Christmas was like as part of a Spanish family.

One of the things that pleasantly surprised me the most was the extent of the public Christmas decorations.  In both Madrid and Santander there were Christmas lights on all over the main streets and plazas; I was amazed when December hit and the streets were lit up every night.  While Madrid, as the capital, certainly had more lights I still found those in Santander impressive.
Town Hall of Santander

The plaza of the Ayuntamiento of Santander was lit up with tree lights, the reyes magos (wise men), and reindeer; not to mention the carousel and Mercado de Navidad in the Plaza de Pombo.  I guess I found all the holiday decorations strange becauses of all the controversy at home about decorating for Christmas and excluding other holidays.  It's become such a taboo subject in some public places like schools that I was not used to so much "Christmas", but being away from home I loved all the extra holiday spirit!

One tradition that was definitely new for me was Tardbuena. When December 24th roles around all the young (drinking age) people, at least in Santander, celebrate Tardebuena.  Before having dinner and spending the evening with their families, they spend the afternoon drinking at different bars with their friends.  And when I say the afternoon I literally mean from noon to seven bar hopping decked out with noisemakers and santa claus hats.

When I asked my friends about this tradition they said it's something that is a relatively recent addition to their holiday celebrations, maybe five or so years old.  While it may just seem like typical Spain going out and partying, it's more than just getting drunk before your family dinner.  It's about including your friends in your holiday celebration and celebrating being a "family" with them.

I found on my first Tardebuena that it was the perfect way to fit in 'friend-time' during the busy family holiday season.  Unfortunately for us though, and in true Santander fashion, Tardebuena ended in a rain-out as we tried to run to the bus stop without being soaked.  I failed and made the bus looking like a wet dog...

My second Spanish family
After everyone goes home, or is picked up, the real Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) celebrations began.  Finally, with dry hair, I got dressed for the night and we all went to my BF's grandfather's house in a village just outside of Santander.  Unlike most holiday celebrations at home there were not appetizers served while everyone was waiting around for dinner to be cooked, you just have to be patient and wait for food (very un-Spanish!)  This wait is even more noticeable by the fact that dinner was not served until 10:00 pm, an ungodly dinner hour for most Americans.  But absolutely worth all the delicious Spanish foods!

[If you want to learn about some of the traditional Spanish Christmas treats read this post by blogger Cat from Sunshine and Siestas: A Field Guide to Spanish Christmas Treats, I particularly like marzipan and turrón the most.]
A little piece of home!
When we did finally commence eating, our first plates were: langostinos (prawns/large shrimp), pâté, anchovies, cured lomo, salad, and of course piles of bread.  I'm not a huge fan of pâté or anchovies, but I love langostinos and I had a super Spanish lesson on how to peel them with a knife and fork.  I'm proud to say that I was mostly successful!  After the first plates came the meats: cochinillo (suckling pig/piglet) and cordero (lamb).  And finally dinner was followed by New York style Blueberry Cheesecake from the BF's cousin, assorted Christmas cookies I made with the family, and drinking and games until four in the morning...  I kid you not.  Let's just say this grandma started to fall asleep after midnight.

Christmas morning after waking up, not so bright and early, we gathered around the Christmas tree to open our presents from Papa Noel.  Papa Noel is very similar our 'American' Santa Claus and is a relatively new part of the Spanish holiday traditions.  In fact, many of my students and friends still receive most (if not all) of their presents from the Three Wise Men on the Epiphany on January 6th.  Nowadays in the BF's house they give most of the presents on Christmas and only a few on the Epiphany.
Christmas boxer sharing the spoils
Our piles of presents were all sorted and marked by our respective slippers, and like at home, we each took turns opening the gifts.  The BF's family was super sweet and even had some presents for me!  It was really thoughtful because I thought I was only going to have the gifts that I had gotten when my mom put Christmas money in my account for presents.

After the present extravaganza was finished we got ready to head back to their grandfather's house for Christmas day lunch.  We all filled up on more langostino, baked pasta, more meat, and leftover desserts from the night before.  Part of the family's holiday tradition was that after every Christmas day lunch the cousins all go out to the cinema to catch a movie, so while we digested we caught a showing of the second part of The Hobbit.

But even though "Christmas" was technically over, the celebrations were not.

Every year the BF and his friends have a Christmas dinner where they get dressed up, go to a nice restaurant for a special menu, and participate in Secret Santa.  Since this was my first Christmas here it was also my first year to be a part of the festivities.  Luckily I was given a good friend and I surprised her with a hand-knitted hat and jewelry.

This year we had the dinner on the 28th, the holiday of 'Día de los Inocentes,' the Spanish equivalent of April Fool's Day.  Let's just say the waiters' had a lot of fun making jokes when they were serving us...  The food was good, the wine was flowing, and it really meant a lot to feel like a part of the group.  As the 'foreigner' in a group it can be easy to feel left out even if no one means it: someone tells an inside cultural joke that you don't get because you didn't group up there, a song from the 80's comes on and the whole bar starts rocking out without you, etc.  

But my point is, that it's days like that Christmas dinner when you see the effort someone took trying to buy you the perfect present (an assortment of baking supplies, cupcakes for everyone!), that you realize just how much you're loved.  And that's when I realized everything.  

I was home for Christmas.  It just took a while to realize you can have more than one.

How was your Christmas?  Do you have any special holiday traditions?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

European Travelers in a Day: Parque Europa

December has been a long month, more emotionally than actual work-wise. A large part of this for me was that the beginning of the month was marked by the BF needing surgery (minor, but nonetheless what GF doesn't worry).

As he was resting we took ourselves out of the travel game for a while but decided that when he was up for it we'd like to take some day trips around Madrid that would be easy, interesting, and relaxing enough for him handle.
Dutch Windmills
That's when I remembered a post I had previously read on a website called Cheap in Madrid about the 10 Things Every Auxiliar Needs to Know. One idea in the post was about a park in Madrid called Parque Europa. This particular park, completed in 2010, is just outside the capital city of Madrid in Torrejón de Ardoz.

You're probably wondering, what's so special about this park? I mean Madrid is full of parks, isn't it?  How is this park so different?

Well for those of you who aren't familiar with Parque Europa, it's special because it is home to 17 scale replicas of famous and important European monuments (plus Plaza de Europa with a giant map of Europe and flags of the countries in the European Union). And if this isn't impressive enough for you, there is an actual piece of the Berlin Wall that was donated to the park for part of its exhibits.  Excuse me while the history major in me dies a little from sensory overload...
Swooning of a piece of the Berlin Wall
Anyway, the point being that as you enter Parque Europa you "leave" Madrid behind.  While you stroll through the park you can travel from Portugal to Germany to Greece and back again (if you wish).  And like most great parks there are plenty of places to grab a snack (*cough cough* chocolate covered gofres/waffles) or sit and take a rest in between countries.  

And the 17 replicas are not the only activities Parque Europa has to offer.  There are also many activities spread throughout the park like: a multi-adventure zone complete with a zip line, a petting zoo, row boats, a laser maze, bicycles, trampolines, and an area with various activities like mini-golf, just to name a few.  These activities do cost extra but I didn't think that the prices were that bad for a tourist attraction, and it was pretty sweet beating the BF at mini-golf...don't worry though, it was just luck.

Parque Europa itself is free to enter (winning) and with over 230,000 m² there is plenty of space for everyone: whether you're enjoying the day with your loved ones, furry friends (that's right there are two different dog parks), or eating a lovely picnic (next to a faux waterfull no less).  And for those on the auxiliar budget it's the perfect place to plan, or dream of, your next European travels.

The only downside was that if you don't live right near the line toward Torrejón de Ardoz it could be a little difficult to get to the park.   From Avenida de América you can take the bus interurbano L-224 to Torrejón de Ardoz.  Once you get to the center of Torrejón de Ardoz at the stop Plaza de España, transfer to the bus urbano L1 (1.3€ each way, and make sure to ask which direction the bus is heading because it's circular).  We took the Cercanías instead, either lines C-2 or C-7 towards Alcalá de Henares or Guadalajara, but get off at Torrejón de Ardoz (zone B2).  Then take the L1 bus to the park.
The park is open year round with different hours depending on the season.  For the winter months, from November to March the park is open from 10:00-8:00 pm Sundays-Thursdays and 10:00-9:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.  You can visit the website for Parque Europa to get more information on the park, it's hours, and the history behind it.

Happy travels!

Have you ever visited Parque Europa in Madrid?  Or another park that is similar?