What I spend in a week in Geneva, Switzerland

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We all know Switzerland is expensive. But just how expensive is it, and how much might one expect to spend while living here? I tracked my spending for a whole week. Here’s how it went down.

One thing to note: This week is a bit of an outlier in terms of social activity. I am an introvert and enjoy being at home, so usually my schedule isn’t this packed. Everything just happened to get squeezed into this week because I’m going on vacation next week.

First, let’s take a look at my fixed monthly expenses. (The CHF-USD conversion rate is roughly 1 to 1.08.)

Monthly expenses

Rent: 2,000 francs for a one-bedroom apartment, including water and heat (I receive a rental subsidy of 300 francs per month from my employer)

Internet: 40

Phone plan: 45 for unlimited roaming across western Europe (I get a 40% discount courtesy of my employer)

Renter’s insurance: 330 (annual)

Health insurance: 360, which includes global travel insurance. I get my health insurance through work, which is very unusual for Switzerland, as most people can only buy private insurance.

Entertainment: 16.90 for Netflix

Public transit pass for Geneva: 500 (annual)

Half-fare subscription for SBB (Swiss Federal Railways): 185 (annual) — this gives me a 50% discount on train trips within Switzerland

Union membership fee: 10 (not mandatory but I pay it to show support for my workplace union)

I also have just over USD 34,000 in student loans, but since they are currently in forbearance due to COVID, I’m waiting until December to pay off a big chunk.

Day 1: Sunday

This morning, I’m meeting my new Spanish-English language exchange partner for the first time. After having breakfast at home, I walk half an hour to the cafe where we had agreed to meet. She’s from Barcelona, and her English is much better than my Spanish. I order a cappuccino (5 francs), but when it comes time to pay, I don’t have enough cash on me, and my language partner graciously insists on paying for both of us. I promise to get her back next time.

Photo of pedestrians walking along a bridge in Geneva, with yellowing trees on the left side.

For lunch, I make pasta with squash. I spend the afternoon resting at home with a cup of tea. I use a free website to study basic Italian phrases for my upcoming trip.

For dinner, it’s a simple bowl of salad and a store-bought sandwich. Normally I would be cooking a big meal on Sunday, but I’ve been having some minor health issues this weekend and can’t do much.

Before bed, I prepare a tumbler of coffee for the next morning using a moka pot, since we don’t have free coffee at work. I also make a salad for lunch.

Total spent: 0

Day 2: Monday

I’m going into the office today. My commute is a little longer than I’d like — two buses for a total of 45-50 minutes door-to-door — but it’s also nice to sit on the bus and think. I hold an annual transit pass, which allows me to take unlimited bus and tram rides in Geneva.

This week, in addition to my regular job, I’m attending an online Drupal conference for my work, so they’re paying for my ticket (150 euros). The plan is to tune in to 5-6 sessions; I’m not a developer, so I’m mostly interested in learning about user experience, accessibility, and digital transformation.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, I have online French class from 12:30 to 2pm. I quickly eat the salad I’d packed the night before and log in to class. Since these classes are offered by my employer, they’re free for me to attend. Normally in Geneva, I would have paid 400 to 500 francs per semester for twice-weekly French classes.

After an afternoon of meetings and emails, I scramble to leave the office at 5:30pm. The shops usually close by 7pm, so I need to hurry and get some food and essentials. When I get to the supermarket at 6pm, it’s quite busy. I imagine a lot of other people also missed their chance to get groceries on Saturday, since most businesses in Switzerland are closed on Sundays. My total comes out to 62 francs.

By the time I get home, I have no energy to cook. I put some frozen food into the toaster oven and call it a day.

Total spent: 62 francs

Day 3: Tuesday

I’m working from home today. I spend all morning in back-to-back sessions at the Drupal conference, and the time flies by.

For lunch, I microwave a pre-made bowl of nasi goreng that I’d bought from the supermarket the night before. My phone dings with a reminder that I have a therapy appointment tomorrow. I log on to e-banking and send my therapist 120 francs so that it will arrive in her account by tomorrow. Unfortunately my therapy sessions are out of pocket at the moment. My old health insurance wouldn’t cover them because they considered mental health to be a pre-existing condition, and my new insurance requires a 12-month waiting period before it will start coverage in this area.

In the afternoon, I work while doing laundry in the background. I have a small semi-automatic washing machine in my apartment, which means I have to load and drain the water manually. It provides a nice break every 10 minutes or so from sitting in front of the computer. I don’t have a dryer, so I hang-dry everything on towel racks.

In the evening, I make steamed buns from scratch — just enough for dinner and lunch the next day. Later at night, I work out for half an hour.

Total spent: 120 francs

Day 4: Wednesday

I have an early start today with a 8:30am meeting. I underestimate the time it would take to get there after washing my hair in the morning, and with only 30 minutes to spare, the only way I can be on time is if I take a taxi. I call one using the Taxiphone Genève app. The 15-minute drive costs 25.70 francs.

I get to the meeting on time, but no one else is there. The person who’d called the meeting is running late — 20 minutes late, in fact. I sit there waiting for them, annoyed that I had just spent 25 francs for no good reason. Lesson learned: plan my mornings better next time.

Later in the morning, I have a panic attack, triggered by a completely out-of-left-field stressor. Panic attacks are very rare for me; I don’t even remember the last time I had one. I step out of the office and walk around the grounds, practicing the 4-7-8 breathing method. After about 15 minutes, I feel okay enough to go back in, though my hands are still cold and shaking slightly.

At lunch, my coworkers invite me to watch the Drupal conference keynote with them, and I feel calmer. After half an hour, I head back to my desk for virtual French class.

In the afternoon, I go for a walk with a senior colleague from another department, who gives me advice. Later, my boss’s boss also stops by for a long chat, causing me to be late for my therapy appointment. I run out to catch the bus and end up being 20 minutes late — oof.

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After therapy, I take the bus to a tiny hole-in-the-wall dim sum restaurant, where I catch up with a new friend who also happens to be American. We order har gow, steamed vegetable buns, spring rolls, rice wrapped in leaves, and split all the plates. The total bill ends up being 70 francs, so we each pay 40, including tip.

Total spent: 65.70 francs

Day 5: Thursday

I’m at the office again today. After a busy morning, I take the tram to a dental appointment near the train station. I had a filling replaced last week for 600+ francs, and today I’m just getting my biannual cleaning. (In French it’s called a ‘scaling and polishing’.) Afterwards, the hygienist gives me a bag of toothpaste samples, and I pay 140 francs. My health insurance will probably reimburse most of it, but this is my first time submitting a claim to them, so I’m not sure yet.

I buy a sandwich and green smoothie at the store (10.45 francs), then hurry back to the office for a call. Around 3pm, my anxiety starts rearing up again, and I calm myself by making a cup of black tea. I’m able to finish my work and head out around 5pm.

Before going home, I take the bus to my favorite supermarket and pick up a few more things like pastries, flour, and frozen vegetables. In the busy store, I accidentally drop and lose the bag I was going to use for groceries. When I go back to look for it 15 minutes later, it turns out someone has kindly picked up the bag from the floor and hung it on a pole nearby. My total comes out to 24.75. I head home and make a simple stir fry for dinner.

At night, I go on italki and look for a new French conversation tutor, since my old tutor has decided to stop teaching. I find two people with promising profiles and request an initial session with both. They both accept, and I pay with existing credits that I have with italki. (Both charge around 10-15 francs per hour, though I imagine they are keeping prices low at the moment since they’re new to the platform.)

Total spent: 175.20 francs

Day 6: Friday

I’m working from home today and exhausted. I spend all morning in meetings and calls.

For lunch, I eat leftovers from last night’s dinner. I wash my hair and change into outdoor-appropriate clothes, then go back to work for a little bit.

Just before 2pm, I walk to a local cafe to meet with a friend from my old job. I order a camomile tea, which costs 4.5 francs. It’s nice to catch up and hear about how the old team is doing; I really miss them.

Then it’s back at home and more work into the evening. At 6pm, I finish my last task for the week and log off. For dinner, I put some frozen food in the oven. While I eat, I call into a meeting with an advisor who works for my employer’s tax office in New York. We discuss my weird tax situation of being a US citizen who works 100% abroad for an international organization, and who is exempt from Swiss taxes but not US taxes. It’s deeply confusing, and she advises me to hire an accountant.

After dinner, I watch TV and crash. It’s been a long week.

Total spent: 4.5 francs

Day 7: Saturday

I sleep in today and don’t get out of bed until 9:30am. After breakfast, I walk 15 minutes to the hair salon for a haircut. I had gotten a truly disastrous haircut for 35 euros when I was in Spain last month, and after a month of trying to hide the uneven ends with a curling iron, I finally gave up and booked a session with my regular hair stylist, Paul. He takes one look at my mangled hair and fixes it with a flick of the wrist. The haircut costs 90 francs.

On the way back home, I stop by the local organic store to pick up olive oil, peanut oil and laundry detergent. I pay 35.75 francs.

At home, I quickly clean hair debris off my face and sweater before heading out again. I take the bus to a Chinese restaurant that specializes in baozi (steamed buns), where I meet a friend for lunch. I order a matcha latte, six jiaozi (dumplings), pickled cucumber, and a slice of cheesecake. The food is good, but the portions are tiny. My total is 30.70 francs.

After a long lunch, I walk to the department store and grab mouthwash and a box of masks (they give me a second box, since apparently there is a buy-one-get-one-free promotion). That comes out to 9.95 francs. In the supermarket downstairs, I pick up a few more food items like bread and garlic. My total there is 30.15 francs.

When I get to the bus stop outside the store, I find out that my bus has been rerouted due to a march today in central Geneva against the sanitary measures. It’s not a big deal, since my shopping bag isn’t heavy. It takes me about 25 minutes to walk home.

Back at home, I send a mass email to the guests who have RSVP’d to an event I’m hosting tomorrow. Every month, I organize a meetup in Geneva for people who want to talk to strangers and make friends. Even though I’m an introvert, I’ve really enjoyed creating this space — there’s a lot of lonely people in this small city.

After dinner, I do some more laundry and hang dry my duvet cover by draping it across two chairs. It’s probably going to take all night to dry. I work out for 45 minutes and get ready for bed.

Total spent: 196.55 francs

Weekly total

623.95 francs

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