Eating Well in Romania On a Budget

I have to give credit where credit is due. The Romanian-language newspaper Adevǎrul has been running an interesting series – can 4 university students live on the legal minimum wage, which here is 461 lei (after taxes)? At today’s rate that’s 107 euros or 147 USDollars.

Interesting concept but today I see the boys went grocery shopping and made some horrible choices. Still, they spent 90 lei, theoretically to buy enough food to last two weeks. I doubt it.

Right away you see there’s far too many animal products. These are clearly going to be expensive. Then he buys only 12 eggs, paying a far higher price (per egg) than he would if he had gone for the 24.

Even though he went to Cora (a hypermarket), he didn’t even buy the cheapest milk there, which can save you two or more lei than the other brands. And the most expensive meat of all is treated/cured/processed meats, such as fish in a can and the salami/sausages. Huge mistake!

If saving money is your sole object, you need to load up on cereals – they’re cheap and will both fill you up as well as give you calories. Can’t say it’s an ideal choice but if you truly are pinching every penny, that’s the way to go.

You can get a huge sack of flour (or corn meal) for almost no money and even the most retarded cook can quickly figure out both pancakes (Rom: clatite) or else mamaliga. Jeez!

Pasta is also insanely cheap, as you’d expect. The cheapest fats are going to be vegetable oil – a five-liter bidon of that and you’ve got tons of options from salads to fried foods.

Which brings me to my last recommendation, which is potatoes. You can get an entire kilo for 2 lei or less and there’s about 50 ways to eat them. They make you feel quite full and are chock full of starch so they’re quite tasty day after day.

In an earlier, related article, Adevǎrul followed a retired guy to see how he survived on his pension of just 382,5 lei per month (122 USD/89 Euros).

The man lives in Bucharest too by the way:

Our retired man lives in a one-bedroom apartment, which he owns free and clear. He has no internet connection, he doesn’t go out on the town, he spends no money on gasoline or on public transportation because he always walks. He has no debts. He only pays the maintenance fee on his apartment, the electricity bill and food. Just the bare necessities.

Sounds kind of frugal – and it is. Yet look at this:

Maintenance: 100 lei
Electricity: 25 lei
Toiletries: 25 lei

Left Over: 232,5

In other words, that 232 lei is his food budget. Since I think this is so interesting, I’ve translated the entire thing below. For a rough currency conversion, 3 lei = 1 USD and 4 lei = 1 Euro.

  • 30 loaves of bread = 22.5 lei
    20 eggs = 8.4 lei
    5 liters of milk = 17.5 lei
    1 kilogram feta cheese = 9 lei
    5 kilograms chicken (head/neck) = 37.5 lei
    1 kilogram beef = 23 lei
    1 kilogram pork = 17 lei
    2 kilograms salami = 13 lei
    1 kilogram salt = 1.5 lei
    1 kilogram sugar = 3 lei
    2 liters oil = 7 lei
    1 kilogram corn meal = 3 lei
    1 kilogram rice = 3 lei

Whew! Look at all these cereals and animal products.

  • 5 kilograms potatoes = 6 lei
    3 green onions = 1 leu
    1 kilogram onions = 2.5 lei
    1 bunch of garlic = 1 leu
    1 kilogram beans = 2.5 lei
    1 kilogram carrots = 1 leu
    3 kilograms tomatoes = 12 lei
    2 kilograms green peppers = 6 lei
    1 kilogram cucumbers = 3 lei
    5 radishes = 2.5 lei
    4 kilograms of cabbage = 2 lei
    1 celery (root) = 3.5 lei
    2 bunches of dill = 1 leu
    2 bunches of parsley = 1 leu

WOW! I mean I was just floored. Not only did this guy not exceed his budget but he could BUY ALL THAT FLIPPING FOOD! Wow.

Some of those prices are quite good but otherwise I’d say that’s about on par with the piata in my town as well. That guy is eating meat, eggs, fresh vegetables and fresh herbs by the boatload for 214 lei a month! Insane.

And of course if he could get off the meat train, he’d save a ton of money. The meat came to easily a fourth of his entire monthly bill.

What’s even more insane is that I doubt 1 in 100 Americans of ANY income level, much less a senior flipping citizen on a limited, government income, eats and consumes that many vegetables in an entire month.

Someone was being snarky in the comments a few days back about “how could Romanians live so long with their diet, blah, blah” Well look at all the vegetables this guy is eating and he’s OFFICIALLY POOR. Jeez!

Very, very interesting contrast between this elderly Romanian’s food budget choices and the university students’.

22 thoughts on “Eating Well in Romania On a Budget

  1. Well yes, that’s a different story, but for the purpose of that experiment they only consider food which I think is wrong. Yes, it would be difficult to pay rent, buy clothes and be out on the town. But the fact of the matter is that you don’t buy clothes every month so it would not be impossible. Yes, to take out 100 euros or more every month for rent and expenses you end up with nothing. Hope I never have to find out, but in this case it’s vital to keep a budget


  2. There’s a big difference between living for a month on the minimal wage (buying mostly food) and living for at least a year on it. Reading these comments, I’ve gone through my monthly expenses and noticed that it isn’t so difficult to buy food on those money. BUT, a big BUT, you also need to:
    – buy a house OR pay rent (and I find rent to be pretty expensive compared to our income)
    – put some furniture in it (if you dare buy a house)
    – buy clothes so you don’t get your ass freezed in the winter
    – ride a train (which I find pretty expensive these days, I paid 70 lei for a 250km trip, which lasted a whopping 4 hours, last week)

    And these are only bare necessities, but what if you have a family and you have to buy diapers and baby food and medication.

    I totally agree that the 4 students in Adevarul initiative got it wrong. But let’s not delude ourselves, you cannot actually LIVE on that money. Perhaps only EAT and SLEEP.


    1. PS: by “buy a house” in Romanian we actually mean buy an apartment OR house. I think this expression (“imi cumpar casa”) is more common in Bucharest.


  3. well, yes, the perks of living in this country from childbirth :))) I have more, and also some slang ones, that even my friends from Bucharest don’t understand :))


  4. that’s so true. but i have a feeling that this is just “praf in ochi” to distract the public opinion “oh, you can’t survive on that salary, we should get a raise, quick, make a greva/strike and ask more money”. I’m well beyond that… besides working in the private sector and not really carring for the strikes. I admit, Cluj is a sort of expensive city if you compare it to other romanian cities, but let’s face it, we do make a lot less money than Europe but the food especially is a lot cheaper. You don’t pay 1,5 euros for a loaf of bread…and as you’ve demonstrated in the post you can buy a lot of things with a lot less money. But no…we like to “intindem mai mult decat plapuma” and buy salami, which has 50% shit in it. I shall wonder even this year why people take “credite” to eat at the hollidays and them bu january they cannot pay.

    Sorry for the ranting but I too was mesmerized by the articles in Adevarul de Cluj… and I’ve just reacently found your blog and feel the need to comment hehe

    Oh, and sorry for the spelling mistakes, it’s been a while since I have wirtten this much in english


  5. I don’t think that the case, they just don’t know how to use it. There are kitchens in the dorms, they don’t live in the woods. But they may find it “difficult” to go to the oficiu/kitchen to cook. It could prove a very difficult task to cook without pots and pan, but still, borrowing is a common practice in the dorms…


    1. well if these mf-ers don’t care then why are THEY assembling all of this into some kind of report to PARLIAMENT for goodness’ sakes? Why is one of them president of some kind of blah blah board or whatever? That’s what makes this entire thing ludicrous. You can find 4 students who are idiots about money simply by throwing a rock out your window in this town :)) You don’t let them write academic papers!


  6. the problem of the college guys is that the can’t really cook for what i can see. I mean, i agree, there a cheaper options ot there but they require cooking. Or canned fish and meat, salami and milk doesn’t require cooking. I found it much more expensive to live like that than to cook every day, and I’m not even on a budget but I try to refrain myself from unnecesary purchases. I don’t buy anything canned except for tuna which is about 4 lei/can and I don’t really use that much. I buy chicken, and potatos, and rice, and stuff like that, that requires cooking. I can feed 3 people with 10 lei If i have to. And it’s balanced and everything.
    Besides, that college experiment is rather porely made, I mean, who else besides stupid college students would gamble away their money in poker games. Admitedly, he won, but come on…


    1. Yah I was guessing they don’t have a aragaz/stove but still microwaves are fairly ubiquitous and even a “college student” (read: idiot) can find ways to prepare food a lot cheaper than shit chocolate bars and greasy salami.


  7. aight you guys clearly don’t know what you are talking about…as a student in romania you go to school everyday between 4-6 hours…getting to school and coming back another hour….plus for you to be able to learn some shit you need balanced meals, and quick means of energizing your brain which chocolate, fresh fruits, meat can do for you….meanwhile the old guy what does he have to do?.,…how can you compare the eating habits of a highly functioning, stress enduring human being with someone who does little to nothing…


    1. I dont know.. he said 100 lei, which is 3.3 lei per day (x 30 days). You can get a kilo of some decent vegetables/fruits for that price, especially in the summer. I say it’s definitely doable and still be healthy. If Adevarul pays me, I’d definitely do the “eat on 100 lei only” in a month challenge :D


    2. I did that… and guess where? In Geneva!!!! (one of the most expensive cities in THE WORLD). Of course not for a long time… but it worked when I didn’t had much.
      You just have to cook and buy raw food (find the best deals… there are a lot… you just have to search). Then take advantage of all the bargains there are out there… free samples, 2 for 1 offers and so on!


  8. I don’t know if those students ever experienced real poverty. From what I read I see that they didn’t really made a budget of necessary things, but mostly bought what they wanted. That’s not how a person low on money acts.

    “Am luat de toate, de la fructe, la salam, brânză, ciocolată” After all, you can live without chocolate and buying it sets you back a lot when you are short on money. How much is a chocolate? 3 lei could get you some potatoes, bread and some change. That’s at least a meal.

    Just look at what the retired man bought because he planned in advance.

    The students are used to live big. For better results it would have been better if they followed an already impoverished person to see his behavior.

    p.s.: From personal experience I know you can spend just 100 lei on food per month. There’ll be no royal steaks, but you could get half of what the retired man got and make some delicious and healthy meals.


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