Moscow on 1,000 Roubles a Week?

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In this issue Sophia Tupolev, a Russian-American, concentrates on something that very few of us have had to do. But maybe one day we will, at least temporarily, and could benefit from trying to understand what it is like to live on 1,000 roubles a week in Moscow.

Is it possible for a young professional to live in the centre of Moscow on 1000 roubles per week? I decided to find out by trying it. Moscow’s federal minimum wage is 12,000 roubles per month and in other parts of Russia, the minimum is as low as 5,554 roubles, this is due to increase by 7.4% in 2015.

Assumptions:
For the sake of the experiment, I assume that the following is true:

1. I make Moscow’s federal minimum wage, 12,000 roubles per month.
2. 1,000 roubles is what is left over after living expenses, utilities, and communication costs.
3. The week’s budget of 1,000 roubles has to cover transportation, food, household goods, and entertainment.
4. I take the metro to and from work five days per week and don’t use the metro on weekends. I have a pre-existing Troika stored value metro card.
5. I am single and don’t have financial support from a partner.
6. I won’t starve if I follow a diet that includes fish, eggs, vegetables, oils, fruits, and nuts.
Rules:
I have to live on my budget without support from others. This means that the following rules must apply.

1. As I am a single woman in Moscow, it’s reasonable to assume that I would go on dates. However, for the duration of the experiment, I am limited to one date if it involves the other person paying for me.
2. If friends visit me at home, they cannot bring anything to my house that costs over 100 roubles.
3. I can visit my friends at their homes but only if they don’t know about the challenge and invite me without any initiative on my part.
4. Everything pre-existing in my fridge must be priced and factored into the budget if I consume it.

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Here’s what happened.

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

I was enthusiastic about the prospect of having an excuse to eat French fries and ice cream all week, but today a friend who just moved to Moscow asked me to lunch. I considered postponing it to next week, but my wish to see him prevailed. Nervously, I ordered a coffee at Coffeemania, which is not affordable on this budget at 125 roubles for an espresso. I had to be able to offer to pay for myself, although he didn’t allow it, and this means that I wouldn’t accept any other invitations for the duration of the experiment. When I mentioned the experiment in hypothetical terms, he discouraged me from attempting it. He might have been right, because the estimated spread sheet of expenses that I wrote up left me with 102 roubles a day for food and household goods.

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Today’s budget was 56 roubles for the metro to and from work. I diluted my dishwashing liquid with water because it was running out. I distracted myself from my lean breakfast of an omelette with milk by watching a TV show before I went to work. Once I was at there, I was startled that on this budget, I couldn’t afford to eat at the office canteen, where cooked buckwheat costs 40 roubles for 100 grams. The cheapest uncooked buckwheat I was able to find at a store was 18 roubles for 900 grams.

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

In order to save money on transportation, I worked from home today and went out for groceries. The dishwashing liquid had run out, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy the cheapest one, thinking of the chemicals. I later regretted spending 98 roubles on a bottle of dishwashing liquid that was probably just as toxic. I splurged on oatmeal (32 roubles), which is slightly more expensive than buckwheat, but it is nutritious and satisfying even without the dried nuts and fruit that I wanted to add but couldn’t afford, at upwards of 200 roubles a pack. Will I be able to eat in a healthy way this week? I thought this article would end up being about free entertainment in the city but all I could think about was food!

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

I began to run out of eggs and found the cheapest ones in a food kiosk in a neighbourhood courtyard for 25 roubles for a 10-pack. Feeling irritated and hungry made it more difficult to work at the office, where I drank kefir (25 roubles) and ate a banana (11 roubles). I declined a date invitation without revealing the reason, and spent the evening thoroughly bored at my computer at home, glad that I had budgeted internet costs outside of this.

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

French fries (±70 roubles) at the main fast food restaurants in the centre turned out to be too expensive. In fact, most snack foods were. Grocery shopping at the bulk retailers and markets outside of the city was not considered. However, for a near lack of options in the centre, I found two ‘economy-class supermarkets’ on my way to work, although a 15-minute walk from the nearest metro. There, I found a small onion for 1 rouble and a beet for 9 roubles.

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Decreased cognitive function is a great excuse for writer’s block, and I used it today. I couldn’t wait until this experiment was over, questioning my sanity in attempting it. At the start of the week, I had made it difficult for myself to slip up by leaving myself with one debit card with 500 roubles on it and cash with the other 500. Remembering it was the start of the Sabbath and I needed to observe it regardless of the circumstances, I trudged to the supermarket across the street and picked up the bare minimum. The cheapest wine I found was in a bottle for 159 roubles, a saccharine red liquid that tasted like the smell of a hangover.

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

“I can’t quit now, not on the last day,” I thought.

Transportation: 224 roubles (22.4% of my budget)
Food: 421 (42.1% of my budget)
Wine: 159 (15.9% of my budget)
Household goods: 174.8 (17.4% of my budget)

Takeaways gleaned from conducting the experiment and from discussing it:

1. There are few affordable grocery options in the centre. Magnolia is a good bet for the price – quality ratio, but Monetka is better albeit further away from metro stations. Dixy was the cleanest and very cheap, although far enough from the metro to require multiple trips during the week.
2. The social life that many expats are accustomed to in Moscow is not possible on a budget of 1,000 roubles per week. Forget drinks, dinners, and coffees.
3. Many of us are not price-sensitive or even price-conscious when it comes to the rouble.
4. My entertainment options were limited to free events, but I was too tired to go out after work.

Is it possible to survive on 1,000 roubles a week in the centre of Moscow? It is, and many of the city’s residents do it. However, it is difficult to eat well on this budget. Of course, most people who live on minimum wage and on their pensions do not live in the center and have other forms of social support, including subsidized transportation costs. It is easier to do this with some advance planning and lifestyle adjustments.

Sophia Tupolev is a seasoned expat in Moscow, and leads the Russian Conversation Club, which she founded in 2009, and is now sponsored by RT. She is an advisor to the Editor-in-Chief at RT and the Russia Representative for American Citizens Abroad, an advocacy group for American expats’ rights. She can be reached at www.asksophie.ru