This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more Membership Exclusives here.Bills and finances
Often when people are looking to save, they first think about cutting down on luxuries such as meals out or clothes and accessories, but there are often savings to be made when it comes to household bills.
Go through all your regular costs, and look for any payments you’re making for services you don’t use, or any that you don’t understand, then contact the company to clarify or cancel. For example, if your home insurance includes good travel insurance, you don’t need a separate travel insurance policy. If you get your bills sent to your home, you might be charged an administrative fee (administrativ avgift) which you could cut out completely by going paperless and checking your bills online.
The next step is to see if you can make any smarter choices with regular bills, such as upgrading your home insurance to include travel insurance if that is cheaper than paying for two separate policies, or going for a simpler TV or internet package if you don’t need everything you’re paying for. Often, you can save by switching: compare different electricity companies at Elskling and insurance and broadband offers at Compricer. This is especially worthwhile for internationals who may not have done price comparison when they first moved, but double check each year that you’re still getting the best deal, because offers change.
If you pay for your electricity individually (rather than it being included in monthly rent), see if you can cut costs by turning your heating or air conditioning down just slightly, making sure your dishwasher and washing machine are full before turning them on, and not leaving devices on stand-by mode. A cold winter has sent the cost of electricity soaring, so this will make a difference.
Going through bills might be daunting, but you might find you can save more than you realized. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
Once you’ve worked out how to save money on your bills, how can you make those savings grow?
Unfortunately, most standard bank accounts in Sweden offer zero percent interest, so your money will just be sitting there. There are alternatives, but it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each and work out if either would fit in with your lifestyle.
The first option is to find a savings account where you will earn interest – usually still less than one percent, but that all adds up, and you can find interest rates of up to three percent if you can commit to locking your savings away for a year or longer (look out for the bindningstid).
Some of the big names include Bank Norwegian, Avanza, and Marginalen Bank. The terms and conditions vary, so read them carefully before signing up and pay attention to sparkrav (minimum or maximum amounts you can save), whether you get fria uttag (free withdrawals), whether there’s rörlig eller fast ränta (variable or fixed interest rate), and probably most crucially, whether there’s an insättningsgaranti (deposit insurance, meaning that your money would be safe even if the bank ends up unable to pay its own debts).
The other option is to invest your savings in aktier och fonder (shares and funds, the latter being a collection of shares allowing you to spread the risk). Again, there’s a huge range to choose from, which you can start comparing at Fondkollen, and you should make sure you know exactly what you’re signing up to.
First, make sure you’re getting the best out of public transport in your area for day-to-day journeys. That might mean getting monthly cards instead of weekly ones if you travel regularly, or a pay-as-you-go card if you’re able to walk or cycle to most places. If it’s an option where you live, you can also register your travel card in your name so that if you lose it, the money can be transferred to a replacement card.
Long distance trains are often very affordable if you book a few weeks in advance, with prices steadily increasing until the day of travel, so book as soon as your plans are confirmed.
People who travel home regularly can save a lot by being signed up to airline rewards programmes. Norwegian and SAS, for example, both offer credit cards where you can earn airline points, so that even your everyday grocery shopping could slowly contribute towards a cheap trip home. Even Sweden’s rail company SJ has its own reward scheme. And look out for ‘points sales’, often around holidays, when you can get more for fewer points.
Photo: Christine Olsson/TT
There’s also an advantage to booking off season. Prices for accommodation within Sweden soar in the summer months, for example, while flights to destinations such as Thailand and Gran Canaria go up in price for December and January when many Swedes flee to find winter sun. And if you’re going overseas, think about the currency exchange rate. The strong kronor means you’ll generally get a good deal, but trips to locations such as Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland will be pricey even if you find a bargain flight.
Food and drink
If you’re thinking about saving money, you’ve probably already considered cutting down on any daily takeaway drinks and snacks and perhaps bringing lunch to work. But during the Swedish winter, most people would rather not go without that cup of coffee, cinnamon bun, or whatever it is that gets you through the cold, dark days.
If you’re committed to your coffee, be smart about it: does your local cafe offer a loyalty card or app? Can you get a discount by bringing your own thermos or reusable mug? Or if you’ll be holed up in a coffee shop for the afternoon, look for one which offers free or cheap refills (look for the word påtår, meaning ‘refill’) – surprisingly common in caffeine-addicted Sweden.
As for the weekly supermarket shop, check out discount chains such as Lidl and Willys, or sign up for a loyalty card if you shop at Hemköp, Ica or Coop. Smaller neighbourhood versions of these stores, such as Ica Nära, can charge more even for the exact same items, so look for the largest supermarkets such as Ica Maxi, where you’re also more likely to be able to buy in bulk and have more options. And don’t disregard the adverts you get through your letterbox, as these might contain savings coupons.
You don’t have to ditch the fika to save money. Photo: Susanne Walström/imagebank.sweden.se
Eating out less is another easy way to cut back on costs, but you can also be clever about how and when you do it. A huge number of restaurants and cafes offer generous daily lunch deals (dagens lunch), where you can often get the exact same food and portion size on offer in the evening for around half the price. Coffee is often included too!
Follow your favourite restaurants on social media so you find out about any special offers, or sign up to The Fork, a website that offers restaurant reviews as well as exclusive discounts. Another app, Karma, advertises hefty discounts on food which would otherwise go unsold by shops or restaurants.
Alcohol is undeniably pricey in Sweden, so look out for afterwork deals, the usual term for ‘happy hour’, when beer, wine and even cocktails may be cheaper than usual. Or try going alcohol-free on some nights out; non-alcoholic beer is widely available in Sweden thanks to laws against advertising alcohol, which have contributed to many breweries creating a non-alcoholic range.
If you’re eating out, tap water is available for free (usually without even needing to ask) and it’s not considered rude to skip ordering a drink altogether. You could also do as some Swedes do and stock up on lower priced alcohol when you travel abroad.
Secondhand shopping is huge in Sweden, and you can find everything from discounted designer bags to vinyl records and more at secondhand shops (check out Stadsmissionen, Myrorna and Röda Korset for a start) and loppis (flea markets: find a list of upcoming ones here) across the country. You can also look on apps such as Sellpy, websites like Blocket and Tradera, and buy-and-sell Facebook groups in your local area.
And don’t forget about free resources. Join your local library to check out books (most towns and cities have a good range of books in different languages, or you could read in Swedish for language practice) and see what events they offer: children’s activities, language exchanges, and more. You might also be able to use audiobooks, e-books, and even online newspapers for free or a much smaller fee than usual. For outdoor days, see if there’s a Fritidsbanken in your area: these spots all over the country let you borrow sport and leisure equipment for up to two weeks, for free.
Flea markets are very popular in Sweden. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/SCANPIX
When you want to buy something new, compare prices using a site like Prisjakt or Pricerunner, where you can see the cheapest shop to pick up everything from a new laptop to beauty products. And sign up to loyalty cards or membership programmes at your favourite shops, and to their newsletter so you hear about special offers – but sort those emails into a separate folder in your inbox so you aren’t tempted to spend every time you get their updates.
Another good email to sign up for is LetsDeal, which advertises discounts on all kinds of things from package holidays to beauty treatments, while the newspaper Expressen also collects current discount codes.
Events and activities
It’s often fairly easy to find free activities in Sweden, as so much of Swedish culture revolves around spending time in nature, or mys – cosiness, usually at home with family. Sweden’s right to roam (allemansrätten) means there are almost no restrictions to where you can travel and camp free of charge, as long as you respect the surrounding nature, and the huge amounts of water across the country offer opportunities for swimming in summer and ice-skating in winter.
You can also swap a pricey tourist cruise for a free one by being savvy about public transport. In Stockholm, ferry trips around the town centre are included in normal transport passes all year round, and in the off-season you can take longer boat trips out to the archipelago for no extra cost. A public transport pass in Gothenburg can help you reach archipelago islands like Brännö, Styrsö and Vrångö by tram and ferry. In Karlstad, you can take boat buses in the summer as part of the city’s public transport system.
Look out for outdoor gyms (utegym), running groups such as Park Run and free exercise groups. In Stockholm, for example, sportswear shop Lululemon offers regular free classes and in the summer there are free yoga sessions in many of the city’s parks, while Malmö has regular free exercise classes in the Pildammsparken.
Sweden’s 18 state-run museums became free to enter in 2016. Find the full list here.
And there are plenty of other free things going on. Check sites such as Meetup for activities aimed at the international crowd, as well as Kul i Malmö for events for children and teens, and Gratis i Stockholm for dozens of free activities in the capital. Many churches, universities and schools also put on free concerts and performances, so keep an eye out for posters.
Your accommodation is probably the category where most of your pay check goes, and it can seem a tough area to cut down on. But by making the right choices when you choose where to live, you can save thousands of kronor each month.
In the cities especially, housing costs a lot in Sweden, so you might need to pay a lot more for the same amount of space you are used to. Think about your priorities and consider if you could save money by living further out of a city, cutting down on living space or sacrificing luxuries like spare rooms or a balcony. Locations by the water are very popular in Sweden, and sometimes there will be big price differences between identical apartments or houses if one has a lakeside view.
Financial experts tend to say that buying property is a good investment in the long-term, and historically that’s certainly been true in Sweden. But expats may want to exercise caution. You’re not only vulnerable to changes in Sweden’s economy and housing market, but also to currency fluctuations.
READ ALSO: How to navigate Sweden’s crazy rental market
Photo: Doris Beling/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se
If you don’t end up in Sweden long-term, you might end up having to sell at a lower-than-optimum price and dealing with capital gains tax if you need to leave the country. Profit made from the sale of property is subject to this tax – 22 percent of the profit, which can currently be deferred up to a certain amount if you use the money to buy a new house, but only if that property is in Sweden or within the European Economic Area (EEA).
If you’re renting, do plenty of research to understand the market rate for what you need. Many internationals end up paying above average for sublets simply because they aren’t familiar with Sweden’s housing market and are keen to accept the first offer they get after hearing about the housing shortage.
If you’re in the flat-hunting stage, be alert to the possibility of scams and overpriced apartments, and if you suspect you might have been ripped off with an overpriced rental or withheld deposit, find out how you can challenge your landlord and recuperate costs in our guide for sub-letters (below).
MEMBERS’ GUIDE: What rights do I have as a second-hand renter in Sweden?
Know your rights
If you’re an employee, check which benefits are available through your company. Hopefully your HR department made this clear when you were first employed, but it’s well worth going through what’s on offer, whether that’s relocation assistance when you first move, subsidized Swedish classes, or a friskvårdsbidrag (health contribution) which means you can get money put towards a gym membership or sports activity of your choice.
Healthcare in Sweden isn’t free but there is a cost ceiling which means you’re entitled to free care once you reach it. But watch out: in some counties the cost is tracked digitally, but in others that’s not the case and you are responsible for keeping track of your receipts, which you’ll need to show to healthcare providers in order to avoid extra charges. Find out which of these systems applies to you on your first visit so you don’t end up paying unnecessarily later on.
READ MORE: How the Swedish healthcare system works
Students should check out which discounts they’re eligible for, and it may be a surprise to learn that young person discounts (ungdomsrabatter) are often available up to the day you turn 26, in many cases even if you actually have a full-time job. We’ve collected a list of some of the best discounts for students and for under-26-year-olds.
Seniors aren’t forgotten either, with special offers and lower prices available on everything from coffee at 7/11 or Pressbyrån to many sightseeing activities to train tickets with SJ. If you fall into one of these categories (and especially if you don’t immediately look like you do!), it’s always worth asking politely if there’s a discount available.
And all shoppers should be aware of their rights as a consumer so you don’t end up losing money on faulty or misadvertised products. It’s often possible to return unused goods if you’ve had a change of heart too.
Finally, if your concerns about money go deeper than wanting to cut down on coffee or save on your electricity bill, every municipality in Sweden has a specialist consumer advisor who can give you impartial advice regarding budget and debt planning. There’s a lot to consider if you’re new in a country with a different salary, different tax rates and perhaps new or changed expenses, so ask for help if you need it.
- Scheduled dialysis for undocumented immigrants saves money and lives
- A Bill-by-Bill Guide to Saving Money on Your Monthly Expenses
- Top 10 Ways to Save Money Right Before the Holidays
- The importance of saving money
- How Canadian cash-back websites help consumers save money
- The only right way to save money for a house
- 12 clever ways to save money every day, according to financial experts
- Two easy ways to save money with Tiq by Etiqa Insurance
- All your embarrassing questions about saving money, answered
- 6 tips to save money while spending online