Frugal way to have a dog in Germany

About 2 weeks ago, Martin and I got a dog!

Sort of.

She’s not our dog but we’re fostering her for a nearby, overcrowded shelter.

Meet Luna.

14525426094401

She’s a 3.5 year old Golden Retriever mix, is smaller than the standard retriever, and clearly has the face of an angel!

Can you believe, that she’s actually the neighbourhood’s newest terror-dog? She gets violently aggressive when she sees other dogs and disabled elderly people (they take too long to pass).

14525426105065

Luna comes from an abusive home so her actions are confusingly bipolar. She’s not like a normal, well-adjusted dog. Not yet.

She’s nervous if we get too close to her front (back is okay) and will jump half a metre away if we come close. She never licks or invites a belly rub. For the first few days, she would hang out at the furtherst end of the apartment away from us, and growl if we got close.

But she’s slowly warming up and making HUGE progress.

So are we. We have to exercise a lot of patience, and stick to training her. Germans like their dogs well-trained.

We hope to help rehab her by giving her a stable, loving, and active family life, so that she can be adopted into her forever home one day.

Why don’t we adopt her ourselves?

Seriously, I think it will be very heart wrenching to give her away once that day comes. She is getting attached to us and vice versa. But, we don’t want the long term committment of caring for a dog. We travel a lot to non pet-friendly places, and are also considering leaving Germany some day soon (this is my plan anyway!).

14525426104924

Right now I have time to look after her since I’m at home, and I’m blown away by how much work she is!

I walk her a minimum of 5 times a day, and feed her 4 times a day. She’s a huge princess when it comes to food, which is why I feed her multiple smaller meals because she won’t finish larger portions in one sitting. Since I’ve transitioned her to a nutritionally balanced, vegan diet, that I cook for her myself and mix with organic vegan kibble, it hurts effort/time/money-wise to have it go to waste.

How is fostering a frugal choice?

By being dog foster parents (new identity!), we pay for her food and that’s it!

All of her vet bills, liability insurance, and the dog paraphernalia that was loaned to us (collar, leash, bowls, etc…) is paid for by the shelter. They even gave us a gigantic bag of dog food, which we only used a little bit of to transition her over to vegan food. We’ll be returning the food bag back to the shelter soon.

In Germany, there’s a Hundesteuer (dog tax) paid to the city where you live. In our city, the Hundesteuer is 84€ per year, which is not the worst but also not something I’m excited to pay or take time to register. However with fostering, the Hundesteuer and administration is handled by the shelter!

Conclusion:

It’s a lot harder to foster than anticipated, but the experience is overall very positive on both sides. Martin and I tend to think only about ourselves or each other all the time, so it’s nice to step out of that and use our privelege to make a difference in someone else’s life.

We love getting to know Luna and she is bringing us a lot of joy and silliness! Since I’m at home now, it’s nice to have company and a reason to GET OUTSIDE. She is a sweet addition to our family. 🙂

Advertisements

2 years and the gift of cotton

futon

Today is our 2nd anniversary!!

We like to follow the anniversary gift themes, where year 1 is paper, year 2 is cotton, etc…

We won’t stick too closely to these themes, because we also don’t exchange gifts for any occassion. Not because we’re trying to be frugal, but because we just don’t care about gifts and like to keep things simple (no stressing about ‘the perfect gift’ here).

Last year Martin did give me a very nice paper gift. He made me a calendar with our couple-selfies from the same month in the previous year.  🙂

This year, gifting cotton was appropriate because our goal is to live a healthy life. We are slowly detoxifying our home, alongside detoxifying our diets. One of the things we wanted to switch out was our foam mattress with a non-toxic cotton futon. We spend a lot of time on our bed (ha!) and don’t want to breathe in the harsh chemicals that get sprayed onto mattresses. Perfect timing for a second year cotton gift, ja?

We actually bought the futon weeks ago, and have been sleeping soundly on it since. It’s a lot harder than our foam mattress, but I prefer it. Martin is still getting used to it but says it’s fine. 🙂

Even though cotton futons don’t cost much (starting at 200 EUR for a double), we ended up thrifting it even further by buying it used! I know that sounds gross, but the seller said the mattress was the guest mattress and hardly used. Okay so everyone who sells their mattress says this, but we decided it couldn’t hurt to investigate since ordering a new futon would take 6+ weeks to receive, and we wanted the mattress right away. When we got to the seller’s house, it really was the guest futon! The mattress was pristine, no dents or stains, and also didn’t smell. I actually leaned down to smell it! So for 65 EUR, we hauled it away and have a story to tell. :mrgreen:

It’s been a hard year for us, but marriage is suiting us well. We are used to referring to each other as husband and wife now, which took some adjusting to. We’ve been together for almost 8 years, but only married for 2. So the boyfriend/girlfriend titles were more automatic at first.

Most new people who meet me at work don’t know I’m married, because I don’t wear a ring and rarely talk about ‘my husband’. At first I was nervous to mention a partner at all, because I’m hyper aware that everyone assumes newlyweds are trying to conceive (which we are, sort of – more of this later!), and I didn’t think it was good for my career.

But I noticed that Germans don’t have this hang up with whether women will have a baby or not, and that it’s okay to have a partner. I even had a senior director drop by my office to convince me to get pregnant! He would say “f#$*% [company name]” – and go on a tirade about how I should do what I want, and that having a family is important. I seriously felt like I was in the twilight zone, but quickly fell in-trust with him and shared that we were trying. This is the same man who mentored me on negotiating my freelancing contracts. Sounds creepy, but he’s a swell guy!

Marrying Martin was also me agreeing to live in Germany. So one big positive to add to my Germany-list is that as a woman of child-bearing age, speaking about wanting to have kids is not taboo in a corporate setting. Or at least not having to go out of my way to avoid the topic like the plague.

Anyway, happy anniversary dear!! ❤

Yuppies in Toronto

Tdot

I love Toronto, my home town.

But it’s so bloody expensive there!

I read this recent article about the cost of living in Toronto for young professionals, and it’s scary how accurate it is. If Martin and I lived in Toronto (which was the original plan), we’d easily spend the quoted $2.6K per month to live in a condo, with no car, for a single person. Since we are frugal though, I think we could pay attention and get by on $3.5K for 2 people.

Martin and I don’t track our expenses, but we estimate that we spend about 1.7K EUR ($2.5K) per month living near Düsseldorf (one of the richest cities in Germany), and that includes living in a nice flat in a good area, driving a BMW, travelling often, and buying local/organic/free trade groceries. While we are more frugal than everyone else we know around us, we are still embarrassed to live such rich-yuppie lifestyles and are trying to cut back.

And cut back we will once we move to Niederrhein. Our expenses will drop to ~1.4K EUR ($2K) per month. Even that sounds high to me, but we probably do end up spending that much when we spread our travel costs over the year. (I’m not including my new freelancing costs, or Martin’s alternative treatments)

If I stayed in Toronto, I would still find this FIRE lifestyle, but it would take me longer to save enough to FIRE.

Now I get to FIRE earlier (hopefully!), while living a much more interesting life. Not that people in Toronto don’t live interesting lives, but after spending my entire life there, I was pretty bored with myself. I wanted to see something new.

Then I came here and felt really out of place and wanted to go back! But that’s another story.

I would still love to spend time in Toronto when I FIRE, just cuz it always feels like *home*. If my freelancing career takes off, I may not even have to wait until I FIRE!

8 + 1 frugal lifestyle choices

frugality

Fortunately, being frugal comes naturally to both me and Mr. German.

Which is great because it makes life easier to be on the same page. I would say that we approach frugality differently, with me focussing on optimizing our lives, and him focussing on buying good quality things.

Sometimes we experience a lot of tension in our approaches when they clash, but in the end, I am grateful that we both want to save money and not be wasteful. Plus, Mr. German is very cute and stubborn so he often wins. 😛

Here is a list of 8 frugal things we do:

  1. Saving on rent by living in a cheap city with a bad reputation. While this sounds depressing, we are enjoying it! We pay 610 EUR per month to live in a 65 sqm (700 sq ft) flat. It’s only a 20 min train ride to the rich city next door where everyone wants to live. I will admit, it was very tempting to move to the rich city, but then we would be paying at least 50% more than what we are paying now. Neither of us work in this rich city, though I pass through it everyday on my commute.
  2. Furnishing our flat almost entirely with used furniture. And it looks great, if I do say so myself!! If we wanted to sell all our furniture now, we would likely turn a profit as we bought everything at low prices, even on the used market.
  3. Packing our lunches to work. We cook a lot, and make extra dinner to bring to work the next day. Since we both work in the middle of nowhere (not in the same office), the alternative would be relying on our cafeterias for lunch, which is blechhh!
  4. Eating whole, vegan food! Yep, there are a whole bunch of tasty things we can make using plants. It’s not only cheaper, but also healthy and compassionate. Our estimated food budget is 200 EUR per month for dried staples (variety of beans, rice and spices) and mostly organic fruits and veggies.
  5. Using public transit. I commute to work by train, so have a monthly pass (88 EUR) that also lets me bring a passenger with me for free on week nights, weekends, and public holidays. Germany is great for that! On these days, we rarely use the car because the train is just so much easier.
  6. Buying groceries on foot. We literally live across the street from a Lidl (discount grocery store), and Aldi (another discounter) is also a few steps away. Every time we want something, we walk over to buy it. You would think this is normal, but a lot of our neighbours still drive to buy their food even though it’s right there. *sigh* There is also a Netto, Real, and Edeka nearby that we’ll walk 10-20 minutes to if we want something specific.
  7. Home hair cuts / cheap hair cuts. I cut Mr. German’s hair every few weeks! I’m no expert, but it turns out alright (most of the time!). Mr. German has also cut my hair before, and I’ve tried to cut my own hair before too. But I prefer to get my hair done professionally by my very talented hairdresser friend/life saver who charges me only 20 EUR. This happens about 2-3x a year as I keep my hair a bit longer than shoulder length, which is a very low maintenance hair style for me.
  8. Entertaining ourselves with physical activity to counteract our sedentary jobs. Everyday we either bike or take a walk in the forest that’s only 800m from our doorstep. We’ve also taken up long boarding which is really fun, and spent about 100 EUR in mostly 2nd hand gear to get ourselves started (this can all be sold to break even if we lose interest); we play tennis in empty parking lots since there are no tennis courts near us (!), and I’ve started running 3x a week to train for my mini-marathon.
  9. Volunteering to walk dogs at the shelter. This is the 9th bullet point on my list of 8. I’m adding it here because we intend to do this very soon, we just haven’t yet. We’re big dog lovers but unfortunately are not able to look after dogs at this stage (rarely home, travel a lot, small rental apt with no dogs allowed). Instead, we’d like to help out and get some dog-time. I know I’ll fall in love with all of them, which will be heart wrenching – but it’s not about me, it’s about them!

Writing out this list made me feel good. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit stressed about the whole FIRE thing. I just needed a pick me up and to remember that it’s a journey that requires one step at a time!

Dauercamping in Germany

When Mr. German and I were investigating the tiny house movement in Germany, we stumbled across an actual tiny house community about 5km (3 miles) from where we currently live!

It’s not called ‘tiny house’ though. The verb is dauercamping, which means long term camping, and is akin to living in a trailer park called a Campingplatz.

People live in these parks in what I consider to be very nice trailers. Average ones look like this:

And the sky’s the limit on fancy, but we’ve seen nicer ones like this:

woodcabin

They’re not always wood-cabin like. I just happened to lift these from the internet.

The Campingplatz near us has lots of amenities. Like a playground, tennis courts, communal showers, toilets, etc… It’s shared between people who live there long term, people who only visit during weekends, and transient tourist campers who drove their RVs there or who camp in tents (only in the summers).

Mr. German and I originally wanted to buy a ‘real’ trailer (ein Wohnwagen), as in one that looks like this:

wohnwagen

We wanted to park it there and live in it for at least the summer to try it out. But this Campingplatz doesn’t allow long term camping in these trailers, because the pipes freeze over winter. They also prefer to form a community of Mobilheime, not Wohnwagen (is this trailerpark snobbery I’m hearing?!!!). If we want to live at the Campingplatz full-time, we’d have to buy a proper Mobilheim like the first 2 I posted.

There are a few on sale at the park. The cheapest one is 8K EUR and similar to the first pic above. It’s on a nice plot of 150 m2 (1500 sq ft) with a yearly rent of 2K plus utilities.

Basically after buying the Mobilheim, we’d halve our housing costs to 300 EUR per month for rent and utilities. Since it’s not far from where we currently live, our daily lives wouldn’t change too much either, unlike the gorgeous Altbau option which would increase my commute to 1hr45 min.

The downside is that the Pacht (plot rent) of 2K/year is quite high for a Campingplatz. If we owned the Mobilheim, we’d have to sell it along with the Pachtland agreement since it’s not movable. This will be hard to re-sell and we don’t want to get stuck with something that has 2K running costs per year, especially when we retire. 8K is also quite steep for an older Mobilheim that needs work.

Is living there legal?

Like with tiny houses, dauercamping exists in a legal grey zone. In Germany, you have to register your address with the authorities so it’s highly dependent on whether the Amt lets you register a Campingplatz as your main address or not. This doesn’t affect people who have another primary address to register, but for us, we’d only do dauercamping to reduce costs, not to have a second address for a weekend retreat.

There were so many nice people at the Campingplatz, mostly older retired people who have been living there for 30 years.

So it appears doable to register as a primary address, but it’s still not 100% legal and there is an ongoing discussion about whether people should be allowed to live full time in Campingplätze. It depends entirely on the city and whether the immediate community complains or not.

We would totally try it out with the towable trailer if it were an option. If it didn’t work out, we could easily sell the towable trailer, or even if we couldn’t, just move it to a much cheaper parking spot to store until we sell it (or use it to tour Scandinavia!).

It’s too bad because it’s a very nice park. Though it has opened our eyes to other options.

We are casually looking for a similar set-up that’s not on a park and on our own land (Grundstück). Then we wouldn’t have to pay the yearly Pacht fee and can own some land while we are at it! This is not so common in our state, but there’s no harm in looking.

Travelling vs. driving a BMW

travel

Travel is my thing, and if I amortize the cost of our travel over the year, I easily spend what Mr. German spends on his BMW! (about 300 EUR per month)

So I can’t really pick on Mr. German’s auto choice, since he thinks I pick on him for that. 😕

To tout the BMW’s horn, it benefits both of us regularly throughout the year, and also contributes to Mr. German’s ability to earn an income (since he uses his car to commute to an office that is difficult to reach with public transit). While I don’t drive the car much, it’s also helpful for me to have easy access to a car when needed.

OTOH, my habit of travelling is concentrated to a few days or weeks throughout the year, does not contribute at all to income generation, and is also not very relaxing due to my travelling style. Travelling also tends to benefit me more than Mr. German, since Mr. German is not thrilled about any distant travel.

I’m trying to cut down on my travelling though. Like last year I did not travel at all internationally (for leisure), and this year I’m also planning to stay the course. This also means though, that I likely won’t see my parents and my 90 year old Grandma for 2 consecutive years in total. I spend most of my travel budget on visiting family.

Did I mention I’m close to my family? 😦

But! There are other reasons why I’m resisting going back to Canada. That’s because I can get quite homesick, and visiting my home town only quells the sickness temporarily yet makes it more difficult for me when I return to Germany. The emotional rollercoaster is too much for me to handle, so I’m choosing to focus on building my life here in Germany with no interruptions.

It’s better for my long term comfort, especially since I’ve decided to stay here in Germany until we retire (in 7 years).

There’s also so much going on with us right now. We’re trying to buy property, set up our FIRE strategy, and also get pregnant.

The pregnancy thing alone is enough to make me not want to travel. I can’t imagine how un-fun it would be to travel while pregnant.

So while I love travelling, it’s better that I don’t plan any long, faraway trips in 2015 at least. I’ve also travelled enough to scratch the itch, so I can take delaying travel for now.

Not very FIRE-y

Our frugal car?

One of the very un-frugal things we do is drive a fully loaded luxury car with a big engine.

That’s a picture of our car above.

Mr. German bought the car in cash when it was a few years old, which means it’s certainly the frugal choice in the luxury car market.

He also thinks I hate his car, but I don’t hate it.

I’m just not comfortable with it, because I’m used to driving old beaters. With this car, I’m stressed to dent it or scratch the rims or something.

What I do like about this car, is that Mr. German feels comfortable on his daily commute. 🙂

I also know that he plans to drive this car to the ground, so in time, it will eventually become a FIRE-car. It’s just not one right now. I’m okay with that. Not thrilled, but okay.

Compromises, you know? 😉