How expensive is Norway, really?

landscape photography of mountain
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When I tell people I live in Norway, I often get this question: How expensive is Norway? 

I have been living here for nearly 20 years, yet I do not think it is that expensive. It depends a lot on each person’s priorities. I believe that everybody can get everything they need when it comes to material things, especially if one is not fussy about brands. Those are expensive everywhere. 

If someone has a place to live, which means a roof above the head and the walls around, running water and electricity, and can afford that, the rest can quickly come very cheap, even for free. 

Let’s see what a human being’s basic needs are to survive.

AIR

It is free and cleaner than in many other countries since Norway is very keen on keeping a clean environment. You find out as soon as you learn the rules in your town about sorting out the garbage and such. The expensive electric cars are bought mostly because they are friendly to the environment. Corona has made the air even cleaner since the travels by plane stopped. Of course, the virus was spread through the air, yet the rest of the polluting factors were reduced considerably. 

WATER

It is free. Tap water in Norway is good to drink. The same from the rivers and lakes on the mountains, for those who are fond of hiking and not only. Nature is very accessible in Norway. The human body is 90% water; therefore, water is the best liquid to drink. I heard once a wise man saying that water is for the brain what air is for the lungs. It is not my intention to speak here about the importance of water for our health. A simple google search can tell you more than me. We die faster without water than without food. This is also why nutritionists say that the first thing we need to do when we are hungry is to breath because we most likely don’t have enough oxygen. The next thing we need t do is to drink water because we ‘re probably dehydrated, and only after that should we think of food. Therefore, I think it is a good thing that water is accessible in Norway. In many other countries you need to buy drinking water, or to boil the tap water, because it can be damaging other wise.

Where I live, I get water straight from the mountain, from a well about 400 meters up my house. I cannot imagine the work people who built that house did so they can bring it all that way to the house. I was told by my neighbors that they dag those plumbing ditches by hand. When I moved there (very soon after I moved to Norway) I was having some troubles with my kidneys. Some sand thought they were a good place to form itself. A year after living there and drinking that water, the doctors found nothing at all, when I went to check this issue again. And the medicine came from the nature, for free.

As far as I know, all the water in Norway comes from natural sources, very close to where people live. If there is anything people are paying for is the building and the maintenance of the plumbing system the municipalities are doing. Unless they live in the country side and they have access to own wells, like I do.

Even in coffee shops, pubs, and restaurants, the water is very often offered for free. Of course, it also depends in how fancy the place is. 

Sodas and juices are available in the grocery stores, also on sale sometimes. Many locals prefer to prepare their own “saft”, which is concentrated berries or fruits (they pick themselves) with some sugar. They add water, and it is a great refreshment. 

If you are fond of alcohol, beer 4% or less, you can find them in the grocery stores only until 18:00h. Stronger stuff is available at special stores called “Vinmonopolet,” and it is expensive since alcohol is a state monopoly in Norway. However, that does not mean people cannot produce some at home, for their own use. If it is not commercialized and in moderate quantities, it is perfectly ok. Many people have beer and winemaking as a hobby, and loads of experiments are conducted at home. A lot of fun for those genuinely interested. 

I guess you can choose what you want to drink accordingly to how much money you have. It can be cheap or expensive. 

FOOD

The standard prices may look high, yet there are many sales due to the expiring date and not only. Few people know that Norway has stringent rules when it comes to food, and the expiring date is set on products about a week earlier than the product gets bad. And if you cook what you buy the same day, you end up both with cheap food and healthy.

Another trend that I see happening among young people in Norway is “Dumpster Diving” and it has to do with the environmental movement. It means that all the grocery stores must throw away what they do not manage to sell before the expiration date. They get huge fines if they do not respect this rule. As I said earlier, the food is still good after the expiring date. People spot where the dumpster is and go and collect what they think they can use. It is free. Some shops managers encourage this trend and leave the dumpsters open; some don’t and put locks on them. Depends on the person. 

It is good to have a freezer because one can end up with a lot of free food that needs to be stored. 

Organizations who work for the environment have deals with the shops and go and pick up the food before it gets out to the dumpster. One of them is called “People’s kitchen”. The food is brought to a place where it can be prepared and then shared. Whatever is left is taken home by those who have shared the cooking and the meal and whoever else is there. The important thing is that the food is not wasted. You just need to ask around in your town or do a google search or just go and speak with people working at the grocery stores in your neighborhood. 

In the countryside, farmers have deals with the stores, picking up the old bread. The animals love it, and it is also good in the toaster, even if it is a bit old. Same with carrots or other vegetables that can be good for animals. They are not ashamed of using it, even if they live in “the richest country in the world”. 

Some farms need help with the harvest, and they offer accommodation, food, and some money in exchange for labor. If you’re interested in a short-term adventure to start with, check out “work away” concept, for instance. 

If you miss food from your country of origin, there are also a good deal of international shops where you can find exotic products as well. Check out what is available in your town.

Worth mentioning here is the fact that Norwegians, in general, are fond of eating at home with family and friends. Dinner is not about the food, as it can be in many other countries. Instead, it is about getting to know each other: people spending time together, mostly around the coffee and tea, and of course, some wine, at the end of the meal.

If you already live in Norway, perhaps you’ve experienced that most Norwegians are very fond of food. Yet, even if they enjoy it, many of them consider it “fuel.” Something that our body needs to keep us going. You may have noticed that if you are familiar with the “matpakke” (work lunch brought from home). It is simple, mostly bread and cheese, and just enough to keep the blood sugar in shape.

The fashion of food has increased in Norway in the past 10 to 15 years since people started to travel more. Since the internet has spread, people can also see more of what food means in the world.

They don’t have a very long tradition of eating out either, or just going out for a drink like we see in many other countries. When I moved to Norway nearly 20 years ago, I would not find a proper place to have lunch. The few restaurants in town were opened only for dinner, which was very expensive for a student like me, at the time. Lunch places have flourished only after 2010, and I could enjoy a proper European lunch or breakfast. Therefore, complaining that eating and drinking out is expensive, does not really make sense for many Norwegians. It is not something they are very used to.

CLOTHES

When it comes to clothes, you find the same chains and brands as everywhere else, with the same prices, sometimes even cheaper. But, again, there are sales most of the time and significant sales in January and August. 

There are also plenty of second-hand shops (Fretex, Salvation Army, Gjenbruk), which are actually quite fashionable. So you can find expensive, brand products at a small price, and you take care of the environment simultaneously. 

On Finn.no and FB, there are many clothes to be bought second-hand or even new because people buy them and then forget about having them. Other people give away lots of clothes. I have noticed there is a trend when it comes to small children. At least until they reached the age of knowing what it means to have new or brand clothing or not. They inherit clothes from older children in the family or group of friends or colleagues at work. Yes, Norwegian people also practice this because they are people too and need to take care of their budget. 

Another big trend in Norway is also making own clothes at home, tailoring but mainly knitting. It seems that everybody knows how to knit or has someone in the family who is knitting. You will see many people wearing homemade sweaters with famous Norwegian patterns or mittens or socks. It is a fashion that never wears out, and it is pretty cozy seeing it, and wearing it. Although I must say, I did not catch this knitting bug. Therefore I am delighted when I get something knitted as a present from my friends. 

Otherwise, you may notice that people in Norway are very casual, except they have really high positions in politics, the bank industry, etc. 

Shoes you can also find second-hand, if you don’t mind that, and if you do not have trouble with your feet. Then, you need to visit an orthopedist who can see what is best for you to wear, recommend a sole designer and particular shops where you can buy them. Unfortunately, these shoes are really expensive, yet, happy feet are essential for the rest of the body. 

You may also notice that not many women in Norway are fond of high heels. Even if they are wearing dresses, they would still go for comfortable shoes. They are very conscious about how high heels can hurt the spine and how uncomfortable that can be in the long run. They don’t put external beauty and/or pain above health. 

Another thing worth mentioning here is that the only occasions Norwegians dress up for are Christmas dinners and weddings. Therefore it is not worth investing in a “gala” wardrobe when you have no place to wear it. 

HOUSE ITEMS 

If you have the house/apartment/student house, then everything you need for it you can find in the same way you find clothing. I would say it’s even better because you find a lot of stuff people give away for free. I know Norwegian people who were patient enough to use finn.no and Facebook and friends. They furnished whole houses with free furniture and electrical utilities (fridge, washing machine, etc). They didn’t see the need to buy new stuff when they knew that what they can find is just as good. The reason people are giving it away is that they move out to other parts of Norway, and buying new ones (or finding them cheap or free) would be much more affordable than transporting them to the new place. 

New stuff people buy a lot from IKEA, online and then they use the assembly projects as family or friends bonding time by doing that together. 

TRANSPORT 

If you live in a place with good transport facilities, you do not really need a car. Buss, tram, metro are cheap if you have a monthly or yearly pass. It may be a bit expensive when you buy it, but it is affordable if you divide that amount by the number of days and travels you use it for. The prices also vary if you are a student, young person (up to 30 years old), an adult, or retired.

Many people prefer to invest in a good bike because it is a cheap way to move around and work out simultaneously. The same with walking. This is also the reason they prefer comfortable shoes.

Yet, a car is handy if you have children. You can find good vehicles, which can take you from A to B very cheap, depends on your needs and your budget. It also depends on what that car does for you and how it fulfills your needs (necessity, comfort, status). Some people prefer to rent a car for weekends or holidays. 

What is expensive in Norway? 

Services. Hiring people to do something for you: cleaning, cooking, building (carpentry, plumbing, electricity), fixing, or driving cars, transport. If you’re good at building, for instance, you have an advantage in the housing market. You can buy an old house, restore it and then sell it with profit, or not. Depends on what you want.

Dentist. It is considered plastic surgery, therefore it is really expensive.

Private health care. Norway has a really good health system, yet, there can be a long waiting time to get appointments for surgeries and so on. If you can’t wait, private hospitals are an option, yet they are expensive. For a psychologist, there are even 1,5 years of waiting time. If you need help quickly, you can get help from private therapists (like me).

Gass and car maintenance. Gas for the car is almost 9 NOK per liter. Car service, if you don’t know how to do it yourself, then is really a lot. Parking as well, it can be between 25 and 50 NOK per hour, especially in cities.

Electricity. Even if there is a lot of production in this country, from the gas, and waterfalls, and wind, getting it to the people seems to be a big hustle. Therefore, the prices went up a lot in the past 10 years.

Taxes. We pay high taxes because that money is distributed to education, roads, health care, people who cannot work anymore due to illness, retired people. 

Hobbies. Buying the stuff you need in order to perform your hobby can be expensive unless you find what you need in the same way I described above – through the internet and people who are selling cheap or give away stuff. Joining various clubs where you could meet other people with the same interests as you can be a challenge. It depends a lot on how aware are you about what you like and how much you are willing to pay for it. There are memberships and eventual classes you may need to pay for. Just find out what is available in your own town.

This article is meant to give you an idea about what one could afford in Norway and what one should expect in terms of money. But, of course, like in any other country, there is an elite who can afford the most expensive of the most expensive concerning everything. Yet, you choose yourself, how you want to live and which are your priorities. In my experience, there is a place for all lifestyles.  

If you want to know more about life in Norway, culture, written and unwritten rules, feel free to sign up for my newsletter on this link. You’ll receive more insights every week.

Best wishes from Norway

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