The Dutch are quite famous for being frugal or should I say stingy? They are the pros at saving money in the Netherlands. There is after all that famous English saying “going Dutch” : <<a term that indicates that each person participating in a group activity pays for themself, rather than any person paying for anyone else, particularly in a restaurant bill. It is also called Dutch date, Dutch treat and doing Dutch. There are two possible senses—each person paying their own expenses, or the entire bill being split (divided evenly) between all participants. In strict usage, “Going Dutch” refers to the former, paying one’s own expenses, and the latter is referred to as “splitting the bill”, but in casual usage these may both be referred to as “going Dutch”.>>
Minimizing costs is a favorite Dutch activity. In fact, people actually “compete” with the government and play all kinds of little tricks to see who can get a higher tax-return.
Saving money in the Netherlands
So how do you save like a Dutch person? Well, I for one have become obsessed with getting the best deals, buying everything in discount and collecting coupons. It’s like a sport. I get a thrill of buying stuff (that we would normally buy anyway, like detergent, toothpaste or bread) at half of its price. It reminds me of Lily Allen’s: ‘Nan you’re a window shopper’ (“You only buy the paper to cut out the coupons, You’re saving 50p but what do you want with tampons”).
We’ve always tried to be frugal, but I am taking this to a whole other level. Now, as a family of 4 this is becoming even more relevant. As a student I remember being able to survive with circa 900 EUR / month and still be able to scrape bits here and there in order to save for airfare (pro tip: live on pasta with tomato sauce and oatmeal porridge for breakfast).
However, raising small children that need all their nutrients and the best quality fruits and vegetables makes it a little bit complicated and we are still in the process of learning how to save, because we love to travel (that’s where most of our savings / expenses go to) and now that our oldest has turned 4… we have to pay 3 full-price tickets if we want to travel far. (Whatever happened to the good old days where children paid 50 % of the regular fare?)
Anyhow, here are my tips:
1) Sign in to all the fidelity cards and programs
Saving money in the Netherlands? This isa pro tip! Albert Heijn, Etos, Hema, Kruidvat, Holland & Barret and most other shops have regular offers and discounts and they distribute flyers and pamphlets where you can study the weekly discounts. Then there is of course the ALDI, Lidl, Action, Zeeman, So Low and Xenos where you can often find very cheap items. If you buy in bulk and set a reserve you can easily save quite a few Euros. I love when huge boxes of baby wipes go on sale (and I am seriously considering switching to washable ones, but that’s just me derailing).
2) Buy local and seasonal products
Go to the market! The market in the Hague is a colourful and vibrant open market, and it’s actually the biggest open market in Europe.
In the same line, favor local shops: go to your neighborhood butcher, fruit shop, bakery. I am not sure this is always cheaper, but I often find deals, and the products you get are higher quality. This also goes for cheese, chicken, etc… If you are lucky to live near farms you can get your eggs and fruits close by directly from the producers. You can also participate in community-led urban farming, for example Den Haag in Transitie who also organizes regular dinners every Thursday at 19:00 (the initiative is called The conscious kitchen and it has the objective of minimizing waste and facilitating community meetings). There is also okakiben: a platform where you can buy and sell homemade food from your local community, in the same conscious effort to promote community buidling, knowing your neighbours and avoiding waste.
3) Use budgeting apps
Most banks now have budgeting applications that can help you categorize your expenses. This is an obvious one, but knowing where the money is going and setting limits to reach your goals is key. Taking the cash out for a determined category (eg: groceries / week) and making it work would ensure you don’t spend more than you want to. I have also heard great things about You need a budget (YNAB) , even the New York times recommends it.
Another application that might come in handy is Tikkie. When you go out with friends and are going Dutch, this makes it very easy to make sure everyone can transfer money to your account fast and simple.
While we’re on the topic of budgeting apps, let’s just acknowledge that banks are the matrix trying to keep us down (the man, if you will). Usually, a bank takes a hefty fee if you’re sending money to your dutch account from overseas. Avoid the banks for money transfers, there are better ways my fellow expats.
4) Buy everything second-hand!
The ultimate Dutch tip: buy everything second-hand, from bikes to strollers to washing machines. For this, marktplaats is a great place to buy and sell used goods, but nowadays there are also plenty of Facebook groups dedicated to this purpose. Most neighborhoods also have a “kringloop” or second-hand shops, where you can find all kinds of things at good prices.
5) Make your lunch
Make your own lunch and if you usually get coffee get a reusable bamboo coffee cup. Not only will you be helping the environment, but some places like the Kiosk (at most train stations) will give you a 50 cent discount for bringing your own cup. If you get coffee everyday, with 18 coffees (so, in less than a month) you’ve broken even and you could actually start “making money”.
There you have it! 5 ways of saving your money. When you get really good at it you can think of looking at housing in the Netherlands.
Do you have any tips for saving money in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments!