Anyone who has been to Amsterdam has noticed how it is not the cheapest city in Europe. In fact, it is with Paris, London, and Copenhagen, one of the most expensive cities to live in Europe. The biggest chunk of your budget has to go to living since the accommodation prices are sky-high. How do you survive in the capital of the Netherlands on a budget? Don’t worry, for every problem there is a solution. So, how do you do it?
The cheapest neighborhoods are in Zuid and Noord Amsterdam; the cheapest places to buy food are Lidl and Aldi, among other markets; the cheapest way of traveling, a bike. You can apply for zorgtoeslag, huurtoeslag and move to an anti-squat place. There are many ways to live in Amsterdam on a Budget.
You always have to keep in mind that Amsterdam is an expensive city, if you work there it compensates, yet it never can be considered a cheap place to live. In this article, I will share with you my experience, the cheapest places to do groceries, the cheapest places to go for a drink, the best way to find a cheap accommodation, how to claim your correspondent Government help for renting and for insurance and everything I have learnt after so many years living here. Here there are my tips:
Accommodation on a Budget
My first tip would be, don’t live in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is the most expensive city in the Netherlands, when it comes to renting because of the high demand. There are other closer cities such as Amstelveen, Hoofddorp, Hilversum and more. If you want to know more about where is the cheapest place to live in the Netherlands, read this article. If you are still living in Amsterdam, here is what I have learnt after many years living there:
- The cheapest neighbourhoods to live in are Amsterdam Zuidoost, Amsterdam Noord, Geuzenveld and De Aker. All these neighbourhoods have all the facilities and will get all your needs covered. All in all, if you spend your week working, you can always go for a 15 minutes bike ride to get to the center during the weekends and enjoy the center of Amsterdam as much as you want. These parts of the city are in constant expansion and it is easier to find places to rent, a little bit more spacious and even with parking space if you need it. Read more here.
- Avoid the centre: if you want to live in the center of Amsterdam, there is always the option of renting a room. It is very common not only for students but also for working people who are single or who don’t have a family yet and don’t mind sharing with others.
- Sub-renting: if you need to register this is not an option. However, if you are lucky enough to be able to register somewhere else you can sub-rent any room or apartment of students who go on an exchange year or semester, which ends up being cheaper than renting, no agency fee needed and everything arranged. You can normally find this on Facebook in groups such as “Rent a Room Amsterdam” or “Find a room (mate) or apartment in Amsterdam/Kamer apartement in Amsterdam“
- Student: rent a room through Facebook or through asking your Dutch friends. It is always going to be expensive (expect at least 450 euros per month) but the good part is that facilities are included. Read studying on a budget. Normally students can ask for a loan to pay for accommodation (something you ask for when you enrol at Uni in DUO and Studielink)
- Room in Return: Another solution for students or young people who just moved to the Netherlands is Room in return. This is how I ended up moving to the centre of Amsterdam, 2 minutes away from Museumplein. This room in return works as it sounds, you find people who need some service, mostly babysitting, helping cleaning or cooking or whatever it is. In return, you get a room, a house and you can negotiate extra help for them, or whatever you want. A great option!
- Ask your Dutch friends: they know better and they can help you get something cheaper than an agency. Plus, you won’t have to pay the fee of the agency if they help you find the room or flat.
- Anti-squatting (Antikraak): this is not for everybody, it is a temporary solution and it is not allowed to registered if you are here, but it is definitely the cheapest solution. It is for adventurous people who don’t mind moving to half-abandoned buildings to protect them from being occupied. If you want to know more about it, read here.
- Ask for Huurtoeslag: if you pay less than 710 euros for your room or flat, you are legally registered and your flat allows it, you can get a Government help of half of the price you pay. A bargain! Here you can check all the conditions (in Dutch)
If you want to know more about the cost of living in the Netherlands in general, there is the last article I made about it talking about specific prices and the exact budget you may want and what you will spend on each thing.
Groceries on a Budget
Another one of the important bigger expenses is food, even more, if you have a big family. To start with, you have to avoid fancy supermarkets like AH and switch to other options: Aldi and Lidl have proven to be the cheaper options to get food. Other cheaper options are Dirk van den Broek and Jumbo according to Dutch studies.
Some good grocery shopping and food tips are:
- Coffee: get your coffee from home with a portable mug! The same happens with alcohol. You pay a drink 5 times more when you drink it outside than at home.
- Korting: Dutch love the so-called korting (discounts) and most supermarkets have a lot of these for most of the products. You can do your grocery shopping adapting it to what it is discounted that week and make a cheaper menu. This also applies to other things such as clothing and so on.
- To good to go: this app works in Amsterdam and there are many restaurants and bars that joined this idea. For very little money or for free, restaurants and supermarkets give away food that needs to be consumed within hours or otherwise would go to waste. This is the best way to get some cheap lunch or dinner, just grab your bike and go get it at the settled time. It is limited but you can book and pay your own.
- Turkish and Moroccan Supermarkets: in the Netherlands, there is a high percentage of Moroccan and Turkish communities and there are also supermarkets, among other shops. Vegetables, fruits, and many fresh products tend to be cheaper here. One of the best ones is in New West Amsterdam near Plein 40-45.
- Tanger Market is a great supermarket alternative, a great option.
- Picnic instead of a restaurant: doing a picnic by a canal, in Rembrandtpark or in Vondelpark is a great activity, you can bring your own food and spend as much or as little as you want. Drinks during a summer night or food during a fresh winter morning. Free entrance.
For other types of shopping, items of health, personal care and also household items, there are other options that are cheaper and have better options than supermarkets:
- Action is definitely the best option. There are a lot of A-brands that are cheaper there, and they are just as good!
- Kruidvat and Etos: these are expensive ones but the key is to get everything when on sale. Keep yourself posted online or pay attention to adds. Every couple of weeks different types of products get on sale and 2+1 or other good deals. Buy more, it is an investment but you end up saving as well.
- Zeeman is another retailer that does cheap clothing, towels, bedsheets and other interesting house-related items.
The Dutch Government is very conscious and caring about its citizens. You can read a lot of international newspapers claiming that you can live for free in the Netherlands, something rather impossible. Yet there are many many ways of getting the rightful help you deserve from the Government if you work and live in the Netherlands if you have children and so on. Here there are all the types of help you can ask the Gemeente of Amsterdam for:
- Low incomes: this offers help for people with lower incomes on health insurance, vet for your pet, adult’s school, free laptop for high school students, children care help, school transportation help and more. Check it HERE in Dutch.
- Financial help: this is a constant to help you get back in track with your finances, help you do your taxes and so on. You can have free consulting hours HERE.
- Collective health insurance: on top of the Zorgtoeslag you can also ask for more help from the city of Amsterdam with this collective health insurance. HERE.
- Children at School: check out how much you can get for each of your children according to what grade or the school they attend. Check it here.
- Free laptop for Students: plus free internet HERE.
- City Card (Stadspas): for free cultural activities for any member of the family. This is for everybody besides students who asked for Government help. It basically gives you discount for activities you can do in the city, some of them even FREE. These can be: ice skating, going to museums like MOCO, cinema, discount on reading glasses, discount on EYE film museum, Van Gogh Museum, Oba, Stedelijk Museum, Cobra and many more. Check them out HERE.
- Kindbonnen for Children: if your child has the Stadspas you can get free clothes and shoes for them if you ask for them here.
- Funds for Culture: if you have children who would like to take dancing, painting or music lessons but can’t pay for them, HERE is where you have to ask for that help.
- Funds for Sports: same idea, do you have a child who wants to practise sport but it is too expensive? You can ask for some annual money for it HERE.
- Extremely Low Income: if you consider that you have an extremely low income for years now, HERE is where you request some financial help.
- Free public transportation for the Elderly: HERE.
- Free OV credit: HERE to get at least 20 euros every month in case you need it.
- Additional allowance for public transportation for the Elderly: HERE.
- Handicapped or chronically ill transportation money: HERE.
- Help reducing your rent: if your rent keeps going up yet it is not fair because there hasn’t been anything done to the house or it is just too much, you can get someone from the city hall to check it and make things right. Book an appointment HERE.
- Special funds to repair electrodomestics: if your washing machine, dish washer, fridge, oven or whatever, get wrong. Ask for it HERE.
- For entrepreneurs: if you have just started your business and need some help, ask for it HERE.
- Elderly with low income: HERE.
- Food bank: for free food, HERE.
- Expensive Mortgage: for any reason you can’t keep paying your mortgage and you need some help for a couple of months. You ask for help HERE.
Extra Tips: On a Budget
For saving some more here there are some extra tips that apply to all the aspects of our daily life. There are always so many activities and things to do in such a big city that it is hard to save some money but maybe these tips would help you out:
Getting a bike is the best idea ever. Having a car in the Netherlands is really expensive: from insurance to parking space to getting gas. Having a bike is a must and a much-needed investment. You can easily get a second-hand bike on Facebook, Amsterdam Free Adds or even in Marktplaats.
Marktplaats is your place. Do you need some new furniture? A new coat? Children shoes? A new mattress? Check Marktplaats for the best options around your neighbourhood. You can also sell any of the items you have holding dust at home and get some extra money out of it.
Phone Tip: I lived in the Netherlands on my first year with a free sim card I got at a Moroccan supermarket and no internet on my phone. Amsterdam offers free Wifi, you can connect almost everywhere, on every train and station, in every library and cafe. This means you can almost always be online and you don’t have to pay for the internet on your phone.
Groupon is a well-known company that also works in the Netherlands. For extra discounts on daily activities, hairdresser, massage and some extra treats that will end up being cheaper.
Get a Museumkaart! If you are like me and you love visiting museums but don’t want to spend all your money on the highly-priced entrance, this is a great option. For over 50 euros you have a full year of free museums in Amsterdam. You can go whenever and you always have a plan for your free days and weekends. There are so many museums in Amsterdam and so many new exhibitions that would never let you down. The best option for cultural activities in Amsterdam.
For Nights Out and special occasions, you can always try the app Spontaan for good deals in restaurants near your neighbourhood. If you are going on a date and still want to be on a budget this seems to be the Dutch preferred up for saving on restaurants.
Do you want to get an extra job? I normally receive a lot of ads for temporary positions in Amsterdam: cat sitting is one of the ones I like the most (you get paid to go visit cats when their owners are away), Cat in a flat. For dog walking and other dog services, you can apply to Petbnb. Other possible bijbaan you can get are receptionist, barista, babysitter, shop attendant and many others. Dutch companies are very flexible and ask you to tell them your schedule so that you can get assigned a time slot that fits your needs and possibilities. All very reasonable! You can also find some job offers on Facebook adds and on Marktplaats.
Second-hand shopping! Amsterdam is THE city for second-hand shopping. There are many vintage stores in the centre, many markets but also many really cheap stores such as Rataplan. You can find them everywhere in Amsterdam and find absolutely everything, from clothes to frames to cooking items passing through books and music. Mevius is another great thrift shop option.
Do you smoke? A bad habit to have in such an expensive city, yet there is a way not to spend all your money on cigarettes: buying tobacco in boxes and not cigarettes would definitely make the difference.
Planning a Holiday? That can be something really expensive. Instead, you can plan to rent a bungalow for the summer or go camping. Dutch people love camping and there are many facilities for them all along with the costs.