Copenhagen is an expensive city, and I want to talk about money. Every one of us comes here with different funds available and different priorities in how to distribute them. At DIS, you ultimately have autonomous control over your life and spending. You should expect to meet people who have similar budgets to you, and others whose budgets are drastically different. This is all part of the world; welcome to it!
My last weekend was very fun, but was also on the higher end of my budget, and I want to talk about what I enjoyed and why it was worth it for me. And then I want to talk about how I take both the fun and mundane aspects of my life and try to finance them. This is not advice, because 1) I am not doing a great job at it and 2) the decisions I make are dependent on my own situation and priorities. But hopefully sharing this aspect of my abroad experience will give one example of how spending can work while in Copenhagen.
The Weekend – The Louisiana Museum, Food, and Walking
I went out to the Louisiana Museum last weekend with a friend on a rainy day. It was a 30 minute train ride into the Copenhagen suburbs, and then a short walk to the art museum and surrounding grounds. Their main exhibition right now is Ann Veronica Janssens’ “Hot Pink Turquoise,” which is on until May and features light as its main medium, through changing colors and reflections and its diffraction through water. We waited on line for her installation Red, Yellow, and Blue (2001), a closed room with white walls and no windows that was glowing with color from the outside. I expected to be underwhelmed, but the experience was in fact astounding. Janssens fills the room entirely in mist that holds the color thickly in space, and is so dense that you can’t see more than a foot in front of you. It felt like closing your eyes to find lurid color instead of darkness, like the blue that blends into fluorescent pink as you walk “forwards” into the absolute unknown. Lots of visual art aims to unsettle our sense of perception, but it often reads like a gimmick to me. From my startled perspective, this piece really sold it.
We also looked at Lauren Greenfield’s “Generation Wealth,” which takes a grotesque look at human desperation for wealth and beauty. It features photographs of people in their mansions that they can no longer afford to furnish, extravagant lifestyles of the ultra-rich, plastic surgeons and those they have operated on, and celebrities at exorbitant parties, all accompanied with written accounts from the subjects. Greenfield exposed an emptiness at the heart of rabid consumerism, and the exhibit made me profoundly sad. We ended with the paintings and then walked around the museum grounds and sculpture garden, watching water from the Nivå Bay rage against the rocks below.
I loved my Louisiana visit, and I had to find space in my budget for it. If you live longer than walking distance from classes, DIS provides a commuter card that covers all trips in the zones between your home and the classrooms. (Alternatively, you can get a bike). I have zones 1 and 2 covered, and while 95% of the places I go are within these zones, I do have to buy individual tickets for longer trips outside of the city. It costs 92 DKK each way to get between The Louisiana and my place, and the museum itself costs 115 DKK for students. I also ate out a couple times this weekend, including a great brunch at Wulff & Konstali in Nørrebro and dinner at a burger restaurant called SPIS. All in all, I spent 672 DKK this weekend (about $90) but only 144 DKK (about $20) on groceries for the rest of the week. Usually my spending between the weekends and weekdays is much more balanced.
I had so much fun at all these places, and feel that what I paid was ultimately worth it for this weekend, particularly since I’d spent much less during the weekdays. After my brunch, I spent the rare sunny afternoon in early February walking and talking around Nørrebro and Superkilen park with some friends. The most important ingredient is good people, and that ingredient is free.
How I Try To Budget
I have decided to expose my entire financial situation here – because why not? If I am remembering correctly, the expected “living expenses” calculated by my college’s financial office for the DIS program was roughly $5000, not including the flight to Copenhagen. I am very lucky to be in a situation where this is available to me through a combination of financial aid, my very caring parents, and my savings. I have also seen in previous blogs that others have gotten by with much less than this. My goal is to spend less than $4000, but I have an absolute cap of $5000 to make sure I don’t leave with my savings account at $0 on May 9.
I aim to spend $120 (around 825 DKK) each typical week, which adds up to just over $2000 for the entire semester. I am also reserving about $1500 to spill over into travel costs (plane tickets and extra meals out), my cell phone plan (only 99 DKK per month) and my first week here, when I had to buy a little more to stock the kitchen and bathroom. This leaves a $500 additional spillover chunk. This is not tried and true, and it might all fall apart. I have nevertheless found it helpful and reassuring to break down how much I should be spending and aim below that ideal benchmark. Wiggle room brings peace of mind.
I track my weekly expenses in google sheets. This is what some of the weeks look like. As you can see, the first week I went over my goal of 825 DKK/week by quite a bit, which I expected considering the preliminary things I wanted to buy and the meals I initially ate out at restaurants. It can be helpful to break it down further and see how much you’re spending on groceries vs. excursions.
I was originally going to primarily withdraw cash here, but there were drawbacks. For one, the atms I’ve tried so far only allow you to withdraw about 2000 DKK at a time, which is not cost effective considering international withdrawal fees. I’ve also been to a few cafes that only take cards. Since international fees are so high for my debit card, I’m oscillating between paying with cash and a credit card. I keep track of how much I spend on credit (which is my parents’) so I can siphon back what I’ve spent at the end of each month from my account. The system has been working!
DIS has a stipend equivalent to roughly $600 for kollegium students that you can use for groceries at certain stores, including Netto, and this has been a huge help. Normal is a toiletries and general store where I often go, and Flying Tiger is a chain that has, really, everything. This is where I found toiletries, notebooks, and supplementary kitchen supplies when I first came for relatively cheap prices. The Danish holy trinity is the Netto, the Normal, and the Flying Tiger, and I stand by this.
This is not advice, just documentation. And if you are anything like me, you will “budget” for the week and then spend half your weekly allotment on a dinner-shopping combo in one day because impulse control can sporadically jump out the window. What do I know about money? My one sturdy piece of advice for students who supply all their meals themselves is to cook at home as much as possible. Otherwise, that’s all I have. I found that it all works itself out once you settle into a routine. Budgeting isn’t a constraint to your immersion or fun abroad, but a part of it, and it’s a way to wield independence over your time here. I spent almost 100 DKK on a bag of movie candy today, and I have no regrets.