Lombardy, Italy is one of the most expensive regions in all of Europe.
With about a sixth of Italy’s population producing about a fifth of Italy’s GDP, Lombardy is the most populous region in Italy and one of the richest regions in all of Europe.
Yet even in expensive Lombardy, it’s possible to live very well on very little.
Though my engineer husband and I earn significantly less in Italy than we would in America, our quality of life is much higher here. (Exactly why we chose to stay and live in Italy.) We support ourselves with an entry-level university income and a part-time teacher income without crippling fear of the poor house. I’m able to enjoy the entire summer off, unpaid and we both have sick leave, more than 30 days of vacation time and are able to actually take those vacations with no guilt.
The Lombards work hard, but they also know how to find pleasure in everyday life. How do they do it? After five years in the country, I do my best to join them!
Here’s how I’m able to live comfortably and stress-free in expensive Lombardy, on less:
Moving abroad is a bigger commitment than just a long vacation. Eventually, the honeymoon period wears off and the facts and headaches of everyday life need to be faced. You can create the life abroad that you want, but it’s easier when you know that accommodations, healthcare, transport and food are taken care of and affordable.
By far the biggest expense for expats in Lombardy is accommodation. Rent can take out solid chunks of your monthly budget, from 25 – 50 percent in some cases. This is especially true the closer to the “big city” you get. Not only do I not live in Milan, but I no longer live in Monza either, a medium-sized city near to Milan. We live outside of Monza but close enough to enjoy all the benefits and luxuries of the city. He works in Milan and I work in Monza, but we enjoy the greenery, pace and small-town charm of our chosen home.
Italian healthcare is publicly funded and free for citizens, permanent residents and EU citizens. So even though I’m an American citizen, I have full coverage as a foreigner with a proper visa and permit of stay. This means that as my stomach grew in preparation for our first baby, I didn’t have to worry about budgeting for a gynecologist, hospital visits, or the cost of unexpected interventions like a caesarean section. Of course a baby costs money, but I knew that I could afford anything necessary to protect both my and my baby’s health. Similarly, as my Italian in-laws age, the only stress from doctor’s visits comes from sitting in a waiting room. If they’d prefer to skip the wait, they can pay to go to a private doctor but otherwise their health is protected and free.
Every town, city and area of Lombardy is well covered by public transportation, making a car absolutely unnecessary. Marco and I lived for four years with just one car for the two of us and saved big on annual revisions, license plate updates, winter tire changes and general maintenance. Marco pays 80 euro per month to take the train into Milan each day for work. If he were to drive it would cost him 160 – 180 euro per month between gas, parking and tollbooths. And though I have access to the car, I try to bike to work once or twice per week. Not only do I save on gas, but I’m able to safely cycle through my neighborhood, enjoy nearby parks and stay fit.
Learn more about how you can get around by train with my Guide to Train Travel in Italy
Inexpensive fresh food
The joy of Italy is pasta with fresh summer eggplant and mozzarella made from grazing cows. It’s pizza topped with local tomatoes. It’s seasonal vegetables that still have flavor. Everyone loves Italian food. Luckily for me, Italian produce is inexpensive. While American east-coasters have to wait for baby lettuce and tomatoes to arrive all the way from California, Italy’s produce travels far shorter distances and is quite often local. A trip to the local market is a chance to meet your neighbors as you admire the beautiful heaps of delicious produce. No need to haggle, the prices are fine as they are.
Low phone contract fees
Finally, save a ton of money on necessary budget items like a cell-phone plan. American cell phone carriers lock customers in to two-year contracts and make their clients pay and pay for that “discount” smartphone with inordinately high monthly fees. (Screw you, Verizon.) In Italy, you can change carriers whenever you wish and most plans fall under 20 euro per month. I personally have 300 minutes and text messages per month, 3 Gigabytes of data and 120 minutes of international calling for just 13 euro per month.
The Dolce Vita:
There’s a reason more than 47 million people visit Italy each year. The country offers just about anything a traveler could want: scenery, history, culture and incredible food. From Lombardy, I can drive two hours north to ski or hike in the pink-tipped peaks of the Alps or four hours south to stroll the beautiful lanes in the Tuscan hillside. The distances in places like America, Canada and Australian make domestic travel quite expensive, but the short travel distances in Italy and inexpensive budget airlines make vacationing – even just a weekend trip – not only doable, but downright affordable.
Read about the best places to visit in Lombardy.
A big part of the Italian lifestyle is enjoying the simple pleasures of daily life: the sunshine, a long-conversation with friends, a good meal and, of course, their daily coffee. A daily breakfast habit in America will break the bank, but here you can enjoy breakfast like the Italians do for no more than 2 euro. Whether you work or are retired, take a walk to the coffeehouse each morning for a cappuccino, croissant and the daily gossip. Though it might seem like nothing special, being able to treat yourself without worry is just another benefit of living in Italy.
A life lived closer to nature
Lombardy is filled with a wealth of parks, nature reserves, mountains, hiking trails, rivers and fields to explore. Save money on a gym pass and get outside. Italians enjoy being outside year-round, no matter what the weather. Take a cue from them, dress appropriately and return to nature. Whether it’s a simple stroll through your neighborhood park or a multi-day hike in the Bergamo Alps, you’re sure to feel the calming benefits of living closer to nature.
Free cultural activities
You don’t have to spend your inheritance to enjoy the incredible culture here. Chock full of museums, theaters and events, it just takes some research to realize that most are free or nearly free. From spring through autumn local sagre, or food festivals, are held to celebrate the area’s prized food. Museums nearly always have discounted or free days or afternoons each month and local theaters offer beloved classics at half the price. And you should definitely take advantage of the high-quality, ever-changing temporary art exhibitions in Milan!
The best way to enjoy Italy’s high quality of life is to live more simply. Though Lombardy is known throughout Italy as a fast-paced, non-stop region (it is compared to the rest), those willing to lower their rat-race standards can easily raise their quality of life.
Not planning on moving to Lombardia anytime soon? Learn how to travel to Milan on a budget.