How cheap is Moscow?

Only recently my boyfriend's mother, Elena, visited Moscow. It was her first time in the city since 2002 and, after living abroad for a long time, she detected major changes in society. “People in the metro don’t look so poor. There are well-dressed ladies in fur coats,” she noted.

Back in 2002, she said people who used the metro were at least looking poorer. “The upper class was probably just driving their cars.” Personally, I think oligarchs are still driving, but there might be just the middle class rising. I just don´t feel like being squeezed between a crowd of poor people and some fat oligarchs. A general smell of rising society and economy is in the air – it just feels like being in the right place to the right time.

Elena seems to feel something like that, too. In 2002, discount supermarkets were not that common, she said. "Most supermarkets looked simply fancy and expensive, not everyone could just go and afford everything there, especially older people with their little pensions.” Elena remembers. But the pensions are still low. According to The Moscow News, the average pension in January 2010 was only 7,100 roubles (235 Dollars), an amount you can easily spend on one evening eating out at a nice restaurant. During my time here in Moscow I have seen many elderly people giving out flyers at metro stations, selling home-grown berries and other vegetables, usually what they grow at their dachas. Some old women even work as living billboards, a job that usually students would do. In the parks in the center, elderly women walk around the benches selling beer in summer, to earn something on the side.

I recently talked to a guy from India who came to Moscow as a student in 1987. He had a student job and made about 300 rubles a month, which back then was just great. “I did not even know where to spend all that money since there were no places to go out like nightclubs or restaurants. So I just spent it on my girlfriends.” Oh the good old times. People who came as pioneers in the 1990s surely have a lot to tell. Today you can get a Starbucks-shake for that money.

Since we came to Moscow, we lived in more than five places, leaving us every time with a predetermined supermarket – the one closest to our house. I remember when we had a wonderful western-style supermarket “Azbuka Vkusa” next to our house. Well arranged products from all over the world made us leave easily 3,000 roubles on the counter for simply nothing. Half a liter of fresh fruit juice at this shop costs around 400 rubles (10 Euros/$13)! In Austria, I would spend only 3-4 Euros in a local supermarket. Then we moved to another apartment and became frequent customers at Perekryostok, a supermarket which is neither very expensive nor is the quality very good. Even there we had the feeling that we spent a lot of money to buy very little. But there are also discount chains, like Pyatyorocka or Kopeyka.

With our struggles to get set in Moscow, renovation and job search we are definitely not rich and of course we compare prices, trying to shop with the local middle-class. Only recently, we started shopping at Auchan, a French hypermarket chain which opened in 2002. Their stores are mostly in the suburbs which makes it much more convenient to go there by car. Here we finally fill up our shopping cart. We spend usually about 3000-4000 rubles each time and our fridge then is well stocked for about a week. Naturally here it also depends which products you buy. Their macaroni noodles are 8.50 roubles per package, but we do not necessarily chose the cheapest products. Of course we took Elena there too during her stay.

“Last time I was here there was nothing like Auchan," she said. "I saw a lot of old people and also young couples there today buying groceries. It seems like even the retired people can afford shopping here.”

Elena still remembers the time when she and her family left the country in the 1990s. Back then people used to queue for essential things like toilet paper or food. Today´s young generation knows this only from their parents and enjoy a choice of products that their parents never dreamed of. The queues are back – but this time in the fashion departments of major western designers.

There are ways to get around pretty cheap by Moscow standards, if you check out all your options:

Auchan: Definitely a good place for cheap groceries and goods for daily life. Some examples: Baguette for 9,50 rubles (30 cents), Macaroni noodles (package) for 8.50 rubles...

Ikea: Hot dog for 20 rubles (60 cents) (this hot dog seems very famous, every time there is a big line), ice cream for 10 rubles, free refill soda for 25 rubles (probably one of the only places here that dares to offer free refills)

Kofe House: breakfast for 99 rubles (3 dollars) with drink and blini or muffin, business lunch between 229-299 rubles (7-9 dollars) (depending on the menu, either just soup, salad, roll, drink, or soup, roll, salad, drink and pie)

Shokoladnitsa: breakfast for 180 rubles (5-6 dollars) (coffee, fresh juice, blini or toast with ham and cheese or other things to select), lunch deals

MuMu: Russian cafeteria-style restaurant, rich soups for about $2, lunch deals for 99 rubles (3 dollars)

Affordable shopping centers where you meet also Russia's youth: Evropeisky (station Kievskaya), Atrium (station Kurskaya), Okhotny Ryad shopping center (station Ochotny Rjad),

Watch out for business lunches, in general you can get a very filling meal at a great price.

As an expat, you might want to do your clothes shopping next time when you are visiting your home country.

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