Eating On a Budget In Romania: Part 2

Part one is here.

I see today the newspaper Adevarul has a new new article for their “Living on a minimum wage salary” series.

Unsurprisingly, the four boys are almost completely out of food. After literally wasting money right and left at the grocery store, they’re down to eating bread and butter, which is apparently “affecting” their studies.

Ridiculous to the extreme, especially looking at these photos. One of those guys is QUITE LARGE as in overweight. Not criticizing the guy, just saying he’s been eating extraordinarily poorly for years. It’s no wonder a small interruption in his diet is having a powerful effect.

I see also these monkeys bought a suc, which probably means a soft drink (cola). Huge waste of money! Then he eats “3 pretzels”, which in Cluj probably means the ones from the little sidewalk stands, running at 1 lei apiece for a total of 3 lei.

Three lei! Easily buy two kilograms of potatoes for that.

Furthermore, due to my cats’ diet, I’ve been trolling around the local meat shops here in town and there is a TON of cheap chicken for sale. Will it be the “nice” bits like boneless chicken breast? No. But there is both tacam de pui as well as other bits of chicken, which could be used to make soups and stocks for rice and other dishes.

Yes I realize the minimum wage is supposed to cover things like housing, clothes and transportation and those are clearly expensive. Yet for days I’ve seen these “university students” make horrendous budgetary choices. They could be eating quite well AND in volume for 100 lei a month – I’m absolutely convinced about it.

I’m going to assume these hefty boys have no stove whatsoever. I will assume that they have access to a microwave.

Instead of just criticizing them and picking on their choices, here’s a few options out there for them (if they ever read this article).

Drinks – These are always going to be expensive, ESPECIALLY if you’re drinking soda. Also, having a drink while in a bar/cafe/restaurant is also going to be quite expensive and will murder your budget.

Solution: Learn how to drink water. It’s cheap, it’s good for you and it’s healthy. It’s usually free to get a glass of water from the tap (Rom: robinet) with a slice of lemon in it from just about any bartender in town. That way you can hang out with your friends and have a drink but not be depleting your budget.

At home you can also make your own JUICE. For just a few bani you can get a storcator de citrice, a kind of plastic device to squeeze orange and other citrus fruits. Oranges sell for 4 lei a kilo these days in Cluj.

If you absolutely MUST have a hot drink, especially coffee, the big stores sell large cans of ness or instant powder. This is by far the most economical (per cup).

Making your own soft drinks (not cola flavored, but other flavors) at home is also extremely easy. All you need is some juice and some yeast and a jar with a tight lid, something sold everywhere in Cluj for 1 leu or so.

Breakfast – While hot food is nice, it’s super easy to eat a varied and nutritious breakfast completely without cooking. A few slices of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and whatever other bits you like make for a superb breakfast.

Lunch – Easy to go with sandwiches, as bread is cheap. But instead of EXPENSIVE ingredients (like butter), make it a vegetable pile-up – lettuce (Rom: salata verde), onions, mustard, whatever works for you.

Dinner – A few things can be cooked very easily in the microwave, including pasta, rice and soups. Simply adding these together plus water plus heat over a period of time could not be easier. Large batches of these can be made at one time, leaving you with several meals.

Potatoes can also be microwaved “as is”, just poke some holes in them and zap them.

If you absolutely “must” have cheese, this is far cheaper by bulk (Rom: vrac) either at the hypermarkets or the piata. Instead of eating it “plain”, mix it in with either your breakfast fruit/veg platter or else melt it into some rice/pasta dishes for dinner.

As I noted, meat is very cheap if you get the “ugly” bits. I saw a huge sack of chicken bones for just a few lei down at the grocery store and that would make a wonderful soup/rice stock. Eating a bunch of salami/pastrami is absolutely the worst mistake to make (budget-wise) as it is far too expensive.

There are also plenty of FREE things you can take advantage of here in Romania.

  1. Every hypermarket has free samples of food for customers. Eat these! It may not be a full meal but free food is free food.
  2. Every cafe, bar and restaurant I know give away sugar packets by the handful. Save these and you’ve got free sugar to use at home.
  3. If you’re truly on a reduced budget, the Romanian government has food assistance.
  4. Many sellers of food at the piata will let you take a bite of their products for free. Again it isn’t much but it’s free.
  5. Every restaurant I know puts little containers of oil and vinegar and salt/pepper on the table, free for the customers to use. While not quite ethical, one could easily bring a jar or two with them and pour out some of these items to take home.
  6. Do some exercise! (Rom: sport). Jeez, not only does this help you keep energized but it also gets your body in shape, more efficiently using the nutrients in your food.

Likewise, you can get free napkins at many restaurants, including at the international fast-food conglomerates. You can also easily get toilet paper and hand towels at various public bathrooms around town.

And this is only the beginning.

I’ve been living here in Cluj for years (and Timisoara, earlier), a university town, and I’ve seen students waste all their money for years. It’s nothing new nor is it particularly shocking.

What galls me is that these guys are apparently using their experience to append to some big academic report, including information on their diet from real professionals and the like. Seems a damn shame to waste such a noble effort on these four slackers.

BTW anyone besides me think that the fattest of the students looks like the big guy in BUG Mafia?

15 thoughts on “Eating On a Budget In Romania: Part 2

  1. You can live on a budget of around 40 – 50 euro/ month, for food, even outside of Romania. I`ve been studying in The Netherlands for 2 years now…and coming from Romania I had a limited budget. How I did it? Well, rice (loads of rice), instant noodles and other various cereals which you can boil with water ( these I get from the Russian shop). And because I don`t really like their plain taste I mix soy and chilly sauce with the rice and noodles, and sugar (which I “borrow” from the uni coffee place) with the other stuff. In the exam period, I buy some meat and fruits to feel better :)
    How do I feel? Great…I have a healthy weight ( something that was a problem back home) and I appreciate every cent I can save a lot more.
    Now, I have a few jobs and am able to pay for myself.

    Hope my tips help somebody, I know a lot of students don`t have enough money to live , just remember that life is an adventure !


  2. I don’t totally disagree with you. You can really live on such a low income. But think about the fact that Romanian people have been living like that their whole lives.
    Someone said here you can even buy clothes from this income. Yes, you can… but only a few clothes, and you’ll need to wear them all year long. I personally only shop in second-hand stores (i really can’t afford something else). I have a winter jacket and a spring/autumn one. I don’t think it’s enough! When i wash that jacket i have to stay in the house for the whole weekend. Yes, i complain, it’s normal.
    I admit, i like the country, and people’s way of seeing things. There’s always someone who’ll cheer you up even in the hardest moments. My dad just had a broken spine, but while in the hospital always found a joke to cheer us up.
    A life like this is always sad. You can never go somewhere you want, you can’t go to a concert/movie/theater, you can just think about what cheap meal to cook next, and make sure you have enough money to pay rent/electric bill and internet. No TV. It’s useless.
    So yes, you can live on this very small income. But have you questioned the quality of the life someone has in this situation? Life is not all about food you know.


  3. They’re doing an experiment for a month to live on a budget, but a considerable number of people I met while I was a student lived with less than that and not for a month, but for years. And I have to say, I think the guys with the least money ate best, as incidentally they knew how to cook and manage their money tight.
    These guys are living with a budget of around $150, I used to have around $120 a month out of which about $100 were food/transportation/fun budget (staying in a dorm is cheap and walking is free) and I was doing ok. I’m not saying I had it worse, but I’m sure there were plenty of people that did and they didn’t starve, nor were their learning abilities impaired due to starvation (can’t say the same for alcohol :) ).
    I think if they were to live with this budget for at least a few months they’d make better choices and their study would be more relevant.


  4. This is not the place nor the time to discuss politics or policy but really, Isarescu lost his Eliot Ness status a few weeks ago. Pitty, because he was such a….level headed person.

    Romanians have many thins innate that never get a chance to come out when they live in Romania because of the environment. Put them into a different culture and you’ll see them behave freakishly responsible with everything, including money.


  5. The main problem here is that most young people in Romania don’t know how to manage a budget, as you yourself pointed out, not necessarily that they don’t have enough money. They usually live sheltered lives where the family takes care of everything from shopping to cooking and household chores and this leaves them without any experience when being faced with the world and without parental help.

    Unfortunately this is endemic to most of the Romanian youth and, coupled with the lack of proper work ethic and mentality (on both the parents side as well as the kids – in the end, how many times have you heard a parent say “Why should he work at this young age?” when asked why not let the offspring take a part-time job over the summer) leads to the issues they are now facing.

    School (and I’m referring here to high-school mostly) is also lacking the “real world” training such as managing a budget and making informed choices regarding your own lifestyle, which further accentuates the problem.

    The sad part is that I don’t see an easy way out of this mess because it involves a rather dramatic shift in mentality, a thing which is never easily achieved.


    1. Honestly I’ve never met ANY Romanian (and I’ve met bankers) who could properly manage money. It’s a wonder what’s gonna happen when Daddy Isarescu isn’t around anymore.


    2. Wholeheartedly agree! I have the utmost respect for that man and how he manages to keep things going despite everything that’s happening.

      I think he’s the best professional I’ve seen in a public position, and that’s been proven by managing to stay in charge no matter who was running the country.


  6. I’m not sure how is the tap water in Cj but you don’t wanna drink that crap in Bucharest. It tastes awful, it’s never cold and you can always get weird stuff in it.

    For 3-4 lei you can buy a 5 litre water jug and that will last you for a few days. It’s cheap, economical and quite good.


      1. I can vouch for that too! Whenever I’m in Cluj, I only drink tap water. I couldn’t get used to the water in Bucharest, even though I have friends who’ve been drinking it since they were kids and they’re just fine… It’s just not the same mountain-y fresh taste!


  7. they don’t need a nutritionist to tell them that they’re eating bad. I could have told them as much, covrigi and suc make an excellent diet don’t they? It would have been interesting if a girl would have participated in this experiment and the differences between what they would have chosen to eat. This way we’ll never know, but it should have been one that knows at least how to make cartofi prajiti/french fries (sadly i’ve seen some who can’t do even these basic stuff…in romanian it’s “nu stie nici sa faca cuburi de gheata”/doeesn’t know how to make ice cubes

    oh well, I just hope their report ends up beeing lost in the mountain of paper that is birocratic Romania :))


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