Monday, February 16, 2009

Relative costs to cut costs

Before I moved to Turkey, one of my friends told me the thing she would miss most when she left was cheap food.

How cheap is it?

There's no one answer. Some people only eat out - for them, living in Turkey is about as expensive as anywhere else in absolute terms.

Take an average meal at a restaurant here. You could go to a middling restaurant and get a meal for 8 lira. With water and a small tip, your meal would run between 8-10 lira. Add alcohol, an expensive product in Turkey, or a soda, and the meal will run to about 15 lira. You can find cheaper, you can definately find more expensive, but consistently getting a 10-15 lira meal with a drink would be a pretty good deal.

In the US, a dinner or lunch would be comparatively priced. You may find cheaper, you may find more expensive, but getting a full meal, with tips and a drink for $15 would be a pretty good deal.

So, the food price seems the same, right? It does seem like that - until you look at relative costs. As with many countries or areas with lower standards of living, the cost of eating out is actually much, much, higher than the relative cost of groceries for a week. Why is that? The answer lies somewhere in the differences of restaurant cultures and demand - here, if people are eating out, they can afford to. Even in other countries with lower costs of living than Turkey, and cheaper restaurant tabs, it's clear that eating at home is significantly less costly relative to eating out.

It's a lot easier for me to reign in spending when I think about costs this way. For instance, for groceries last week I bought 8 tomatoes, 2 zucchinis, a bag of carrots, a bag of potatoes, a loaf of bread, 2 bags of pasta, a thing of yogurt, a thing of Nutella, a thing of cream cheese, a small container of milk, a Toblerone chocolate bar, 6 red peppers, 6 green peppers, 10 small green peppers, 3 pears, 3 bananas, a head of red cabbage, a thing of juice and a 1 litre of coke - for 27 lira. 27!

If you can't tell from the food I buy, I'm not living on a pauper's diet. I'm eating well - but eating frugally. In the US, I would have spent between 50-100 dollars a week on a similar shopping cart full of food. Looking at the relative cost - both time and money - of eating out versus cooking a meal in the US, it was only a little more expensive to eat out. Here, it is an entirely different story. That doesn't mean I never eat out. It does mean I put my spending into perspective.

I don't advocate cutting everything out of your life that's not dirt cheap. There are some things I love, and are worth it to me to pay more for. But try looking at your costs in a relational sense to figure out whether you really want those costs to stay the same. Make sure to pick a product that's in the same field - whether it's transportation, food, entertainment, drinks, coffee, or anything else so you can actually compare what their utility, costs, and value are to you.

1 comment:

  1. This is may favorite post so far. It is great for people traveling to Turkey.
    I miss Turkish food.