Frugal Living in Portugal

I’ve always been pretty thrifty and after saving up for eight years in the UK and restricting our spending we managed to save up and purchase our dream home in Central Portugal. One of the things I was most looking forward to when I relocated to Portugal was to be able to live more frugally, as well as reconnecting with nature and living a slower pace of life. We relocated from a large city where we both worked full time and spent a lot of money on a family gym membership. Portugal is a fantastic place to live frugally as it is a beautiful country with a great climate which means you can spend time outdoors for free. We love cycling and jogging around our beautiful village with little traffic and no car fumes, and I can’t wait to explore the local free beaches and river beaches. Having a garden and great weather means you can grow your own organic edible crops and keep chickens for fresh eggs and livestock if you wish, something we could not do in a first floor rented flat with no garden in Bristol. We had to pay a fee to have an allotment but here we just step outside our door and have a garden full of opportunity. I can’t wait to fix the chicken coop so we can get chickens. Living frugally is not about living as cheaply as you can and giving up things you love so you are miserable. I see it as taking control of your life and making sensible decisions to benefit your life now and long term.

We only had a small budget to buy a house and relocate here but we managed to buy a beautiful three-bed schist house in a small village in Central Portugal with scenic views of the mountains. Most of our villagers are elderly and live frugally off their land so adopting this way of life wasn’t too difficult for us but we are still learning every day. Property prices are amazing and you get a lot for your money compared to the UK. Having no monthly rent or mortgage is great and allows me to give up my job and be a lady of leisure, which is wonderful for my health and stress levels. Although we have no mortgage we are down to one salary with a 10% pay cut due to Covid-19 and we have very small pensions (if any) and still have to pay the utility bills and future repairs on the house so it is important for us to save money and live frugally so we can afford to live out our dream here for the foreseeable future. Going back to the UK is not an option for me. I have fallen in love with Portugal – the culture, people, slower pace of life, weather, nature and delicious food. Owning my own home and having no debt or mortgage feels amazing. It means I sleep better each night and can relax so living frugally has a positive effect on my mental health.

Relocating with a couple of suitcases and having to declutter all my worldly possessions was an eye opener for me. Donating most of my clutter to charity shops was heart wrenching but kind of liberating too. You honestly won’t miss any of that stuff when you are here and have your hands deep in soil in your garden, connecting with nature. You will not miss your ‘keep calm and carry on’ stress ball or endless tat when you stumble upon a cute mother bird who has made a nest and laid eggs in the middle of your fig tree. All that stuff that you thought you couldn’t live without will become a distant memory.

We purchased a holiday home so for us this saved us thousands as it was fully furnished with white goods and furniture and kitchenware, even a corkscrew! We have thrown away very little, recycled lots of old furniture with a lick of paint and changed a few drawer handles. Items can be revamped into something quite spectacular. Living in a rural village an hour’s drive from the city of Coimbra helps as we are not tempted by the fancy shopping malls and we can’t order a takeaway or Deliveroo. Apart from food, utility bills and DIY purchases, we actually spend very little. We have also recycled so many items we have found in the garden, from an old bench to plant pots. We have never been the type of people who go out a lot so if you enjoy the theatre, concerts, fine dining and cocktails every night then frugal living might not be for you. I am entertained by hubby and his guitar – free music concerts in the garden, what more can you ask for? The old bar is a feature point in our lounge so we have an endless supply of Portuguese drinks on hand if we feel like a tipple.

One huge frugal way of living here is growing our own fruit and vegetables. We made two raised beds recently from wooden planks and are growing tomatoes, chillies, cabbages, melons and strawberries. We also have a huge fig tree and small lemon tree. We plan to grow potatoes and buy some more fruit trees. Seeds are very cheap and we have even harvested some seeds from the shop- and market-bought fruit and they are thriving. Toilet roll inner tubes make excellent planting pots and you plant straight out and no plastic in sight! Save your jam jars too: they make excellent mini greenhouses for seedlings and protect from pests. Get in touch with your local stables to see if they have any free manure. Some simple DIY jobs do not require a builder and you can learn with YouTube tutorials. You will save yourself a lot of money if you can turn your hand to DIY. Don’t forget to compost your garden waste and food leftovers. I am also saving a fortune on MAC makeup and hairspray as I rarely leave the house so garden with a fresh face and messy hair.

Love thy neighbour – get to know your neighbours and become part of your community as you can often do a trade off e.g. eggs or homemade bread in exchange for fruit and vegetables. When you grow your own you always have a surplus so can easily trade off, saving you a lot of money. We also do a food shop once a month which saves money and we cook from scratch at home with the occasional meal out. Sticking to a monthly budget helps as well as setting a weekly meal plan with a laminated shopping list so we don’t overspend or buy unnecessary items whilst in supermarkets. We bulk buy meat from the butcher and freeze, and visit a local market for fresh produce – but markets are currently closed due to Covid-19 so we use the delivery vans selling fresh produce which prevents us from having to drive to the nearest shops and waste time and money on petrol for our car. I have also managed to obtain a few free cuttings, including lavender, from some lovely plants that are growing naturally in public hedges and walls whilst on my countryside walks.

Cafes here are cheap so you don’t have to deprive yourself whilst living frugally. A coffee and a cake for two will set you back around €3. Lunch out at a restaurant is also affordable and will cost anywhere from €5-12 per person, but this will include wine and coffee. Alcohol, especially beer and wine, is also very cheap here. Solar power is something we are exploring as electricity costs are fairly high here. The equivalent of council tax is very cheap here. We just received a bill for 2019 for €67 for the whole year. We also purchased an 18-year-old second hand Citroen Xsara which is perfect for us and gets us from A to B. Public transport may be an option for you but for us a car was essential as we live in a remote rural village and need to transport bags of compost and pick family members up from the airport two hours’ drive away, so for us it is more cost effective to run a car than use taxis and public transport.

Sign up to SNS Healthcare if you are entitled as it will save you a small fortune. Doctors’ visits are only €4.50 and my repeat prescription is less than €3 for 6 months’ supply. There are language courses online and in person but we are currently using Memrise for free to learn Portuguese. Also don’t forget to sign up for Non-Habitual Residents tax (NHR) which caps your income tax at a flat rate of 20% for 10 years.

I really enjoy living frugally and have even started sharing a tea bag between two cups. I’ve also heard that funerals are a lot cheaper here – I told you, I’m in it for the long run! We have a lovely cemetery just down the road, not that I’m intending on popping my clogs anytime soon!

About the author

Helen Allen

Casa Valhal (Our Portuguese Dream) – relocating from UK to Portugal
Please do check out my blog: where you will find many posts with tips on Things to consider when buying a house and lots of handy guides which will help you start planning your epic adventure.

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