As a Canadian living in Istanbul, one of the most common questions I get from friends is “How much does it cost to live there?” I used to give my friends half-assed answers, but eventually I got curious enough to dig into my spending and come up with an answer myself. And that’s what I’m here to present: a complete, no-BS look at how I spend my money living in Istanbul.
How I Wrote This Post
I only use one bank account (my N26 account) for all of my spending and ATM withdrawals, so it was super easy for me to gather all of the information I needed to write this post. N26 automatically categorizes my spending into about a dozen different categories, which I then cleaned up one by one to get an extremely granular picture of my spending. Nothing has been skipped or forgotten.
The data you see below comes directly from my N26 bank statements over the 12-month period November 1, 2019 – October 31, 2020, removing any element of seasonality. All expenses are presented in U.S. Dollars.
How Much Does It Cost To Live In Istanbul, Turkey?
This is the rent I pay for my 1-bedroom, 750-square-foot apartment in Galata, a vibrant neighborhood in central Istanbul. It includes all utilities, Internet and TV, all of which are paid by my landlord.
This includes all of the typical groceries expenses you’d expect plus less obvious items like protein powder.
Bars & Restaurants: $65/month
This includes eating out 2-3 times per week, plus paying the bill about ⅔ of the time when my girlfriend and I go out.
I go to the gym at Soho House, which is a 3-minute walk from my apartment. I used to use Soho House’s other amenities a lot more, but these days I only really use the gym.
Travel & Holidays: $150/month
In non-COVID years, this number may be a bit higher, though I can’t say that I didn’t travel at all over this period. Flights and accommodations for my 2-week trip to Beirut and Cairo, my 1-month stay in Valencia, Spain, and my girlfriend’s birthday trip to the south of Turkey—plus a few other hotel stays and small trips here and there—are all included here.
Life Improvement Fund: $235/month
I give myself €200 (around $235) per month to spend on whatever I want. I generally try to be generous with this money, so I find that most of it goes toward buying dinners and rounds of drinks for my friends, and surprising my girlfriend with gifts. Occasionally I buy myself something as well, but not very often.
Private Chef: $50/month
One of the great things I did for myself this year was hire a private chef, who prepares delicious, homemade Turkish meals for me 3 times per week. She brings about 4-6 meals’ worth of food each time, so I regularly invite friends over for dinner, since it’s far too much for me to eat on my own, even over the course of several days. She buys the groceries on her own, and then I reimburse her, so my average cost per meal works out to about $1.25/meal, including what I pay her. I also save at least 4-6 hours per week, which is huge for me.
This is the cash I take out from ATMs. Most of it goes to bars and restaurants, transportation (taxi, metro and ferry rides), someone to clean my apartment once a month, plus other small purchases here and there. I’ve also included my phone plan here, since that only costs me $4/month.
How To Spend Less
The obvious place for me to cut my spending is on rent, since it accounts for over half of my monthly spending. And earlier this year, I did exactly that, negotiating a 15% discount on my rent from what I’d been paying the previous 2 years. Of course, I could also move into a less expensive apartment (plenty of my friends live in places half this price), but I’m truly in love with my apartment, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I’m thrilled to pay this much for my apartment, so I have no problem with this at all.
With that said, after writing this post and taking this hard look at my spending, I decided to cancel my Soho House membership because I no longer wanted to spend $75/month on a glorified gym. Soho House used to be a great way for me to make friends, but now that I have a solid social circle here, I stopped spending time there except for in the gym. Several of my friends have also given up their memberships, so the incentive for me to keep mine dropped even further.
Savings: $75/month (5% of my total monthly spending)
How To Spend More
Just as it’s a good exercise to see where you can spend less, I like thinking about where I can spend more to improve my life. For example, the $75/month I’m now saving on my Soho House membership more than covers the cost of my chef and my cleaner, both of which have an incredibly positive impact on my life. If I could find other ways to spend more on things like that, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
The way to think about spending more is to think hard about which areas of your life you enjoy spending money on the most, and which areas you don’t. For example, I’m happy to spend money on anything that makes my life more convenient—which is why I have no problem splurging for a chef and a cleaner—but I almost never buy myself new clothes. On the other hand, some people love spending money on clothes, and sacrifice travel for the privilege. We all have priorities when it comes to our money, so identifying your unique money priorities is a great way to start spending more consciously and creating a more enjoyable life on your terms.
Here are a few ideas I have for how I can spend even more on convenience:
- Hiring an even better chef to cook for me
- Getting my chef to make fresh juices as well
- Hiring a local personal assistant to buy groceries for me and run other errands
A Note On Turkey’s Currency Situation
The Turkish lira has lost about 30% of its value relative to the U.S. Dollar this year, yet the country's 11% inflation hasn’t kept pace. This means that anyone earning money in foreign currencies like the Dollar or the Euro (including me) saw “real” prices get significantly cheaper over the course of the year. It doesn't look like this trend will reverse any time soon, making it a great time to be someone earning foreign currency and living in Istanbul (or elsewhere in Turkey).
If $1,550/month sounds like a lot to you, maybe it is. It’s the highest monthly burn rate I’ve maintained at any point in my life, and I’ve lived quite happily on half that amount or less.
At the same time, if you saw the sort of lifestyle $1,550/month affords here, I think you'd be shocked (recall my private chef). And the fact that all of my spending is accounted for in this blog post—everything from month-long holidays to fifty-cent chocolate bars—means that there aren’t any expenses, big or small, that I’m overlooking. I don't let my finances surprise me, and I don't think you should, either.
How much are your monthly expenses where you are? Leave your burn rate in a comment below.