How to save money in Brussels?
Money. Don’t you wish it would just grow on a tree? Preferably one in your own backyard of course. Keep on wishing… it won’t happen unfortunately. However, in our perennial search to balance our monthly budgets, there are certainly a few things we can do on the debit side. In other words, how can you lower your expenses without giving in on what and how much you buy or do?
In this post I would like to share a few of my experiences to save money in Brussels. It is not about budgeting or money saving in general (e.g. taking shorter showers, use the car less frequently …), but it provides some concrete examples of how I saved a lot of money in Brussels quite easily over the past few years. Some may work for you, some may not. Either way, I hope they can be of any advantage to you and obviously I would love to hear about your tips & tricks to save some euros!
Tip 1 – Renting a house
Most likely your largest monthly expense. If you are renting a house, this will probably cost you anywhere between €700 and €2.000 per month, often excluding service charges that could add up to several hundreds for luxury apartments. When I came to Brussels 4 years ago, I believed that most rental prices were simply too high. I noticed the high number of vacant houses on the market and that many of them were empty for a long time already (6 months or more). When I began to negotiate virtually everybody was willing to drop the price immediately, often with €100 or more. One even offered €400 discount, although I must admit that was a superb apartment that was way beyond my budget. Long story short, in case you are searching for a new house try to get at least 10% off the asking price. This could save you up to a few thousand euros per year!
Tip 2 – Shop at the right supermarket
Love them or hate them, but German chains as LIDL and ALDI are offering high quality products for considerably lower prices compared to the major chains like Delhaize and Carrefour. And often the products are exactly the same with only a different label on it. A personal example, the first time I entered the LIDL it was because I noticed a special offer for Greek yoghurt. At the time this sold for €3,68 for four little cups at my local supermarket, but to my surprise exactly the same yoghurt was sold at LIDL for just €1,39. The cups and yoghurt were identical, the packaging and even the numbers on the bottom of the plastic cups matched. The only difference was the colour and the printing on the package. What about other products? Eggs, 60% to 75% cheaper (same grade, free-range eggs), cheese, cold cuts, salmon, pie dough, toilet paper, cleaning products, everything is just much cheaper. “A Penny saved is a Penny earned” should read “a Euro saved is a Euro earned” at these supermarkets. Bottom-line is, you can save an entire holiday!
Tip 3 – Pump at the right gas stations
Gas is another big expense for the average household. If you’re not lucky enough to have a company car with tank pas, you may want to consider the following. Over the years I’ve discovered several gas stations that are much cheaper than the ones in downtown or along the highway. The station at the Cora in Woluwe (big supermarket but not necessarily cheap) is always a good one to go to. The self-service station across Tours & Taxi is another one. Or the stations on Boulevard Industriel between Gare du Midi and the highway entrance close to the power station. In fact, did you know there is a handy website available to figure out where to pump your gas the cheapest? At the moment of writing, the lowest price I can find is € 1,519 for a litre of Euro 95, whereas the station around my neighbourhood ask up to €1,68 per litre! That’s a whopping 16,1 cents more per litre. With 50 litres in your tank, that adds up to €8. With 1 tank per week, that’s over €400 of savings. Not exactly a luxury holiday, but definitely a really nice city trip! For international comparison, you can visit the VAB website.
Tip 4 – Your other shopping
Shopping! Who doesn’t love it? Actually there are people who don’t, myself for instance! But even I have to get some new clothes and shoes once and a while. My favourite places are surely two outlets where you can buy many great brands for low prices, including Hugo Boss, Armani, Sarah Pacini, Desigual, Adidas, Nike, Gucci, Lacoste, Façonable, Versace, as well as a range of non-clothing brands. The first is Maasmechelen Village, close to the Dutch border (1 hour drive), and the second is the Roermond Designer Outlet close to the Dutch-German border (1,5 hours). Not around the corner, but you would easily earn a multifold of your gas expenses back in savings. You could of course wait until the solden are going on in Brussels in January and July (btw, always wait until week 2 or 3 for the better deals as the first days you would often only get 15-20%). However, I guarantee you find much better deals in both of these shopping centres!
Tip 5 – Great deals in Brussels
A specific store where you could find quite a few good deals is called DOD. I’ve still not figured out what their business model is and how they actually earn money, but their branded items are of high quality and often dirt cheap. In particular I’m amazed with the ultra low prices for children’s clothes at the store on Avenue Louise (close to Rue du Bailli). Top brands can be bought considerably cheaper than normal clothes in regular cheap stores. Jackets that normally costs €75-100 you can grab here for just €10-15. T-shirts for €3-4, trousers for €5, sweaters for €7-10. Especially during sales it seems they just want to get rid off it. Young parents, forget about any other store, go to DOD on Louise. Trust me on this one!
Tip 6 – Markets
The many markets in Brussels make living in this city very attractive. Living in the Louise area, there are three markets I could choose from. Châtelain on Wednesday, it’s a bit more up-scale market with lots of delicious food and a great atmosphere. And the Flagey market on both weekend days. Especially the latter has become a regular one for my family to buy fruits and vegetables. Besides saving 20-30% easily, it is also a great meeting place and just spending quality time with friends and family.
Tip 7 – Plug it in!
Electronics… whether it is a dish washer, a TV, vacuum cleaner, a fridge, some new headphones, a printer or cartridges, we all need to buy a new one so now and then. But instead of running to the major chains, maybe you would like to consider finding an online seller. Service with the earlier-mentioned stores might be better, but when it comes to prices they simply cannot compete. I recently tried finding a fridge. Due to the particular size of the kitchen only very few fridges actually would fit, so comparing their prices was a piece of cake. One particular model I could find online over €250 cheaper than in those stores (with full warranty, delivery, installment etc.). Just Google it in Dutch or French, e.g. “koelkast online” or “wasmachine online” and you will find many offers. A great comparing site is www.beslist.be. My fridge was delivered last week, perfectly on time, perfect service, great price!
Tip 8 – Shopping abroad
Coming back to the fridge, on a respected German website I could find the same model over €500 cheaper than the lowest offer I could find here. This says a lot about the general price level of Belgium compared with our neighbouring countries. Shopping abroad may therefore sometimes be a great alternative. If you’re driving through Luxembourg, fill up your tank there. But if you go to Holland, make sure to go there with plenty of fuel because the price per litre is up to 30 cents higher! Germany has much better prices for almost everything, so a daytrip to Cologne or Düsseldorf could be cheaper than staying in Brussels if you immediately shop for clothes, pump gas, buy a new appliance and do some groceries. You may also want to check foreign booking sites for flights, rental cars and hotels, or even board a plane in Eindhoven, Lille, or one of the German airports. It may be less convenient than boarding at Zaventem, but if you can add an extra day or two for your well-deserved holidays, why not?
What are your favourite opportunities to save some money? Or would you like to receive more free tips?