In half of the European countries the average wage is sufficient to live on your own without denying yourself basic pleasures. Regrettably, Poland is not one of them.
The average pay in Poland for Q2’16 was PLN4,019.08 gross, according to the Central Statistical Office of Poland (GUS). For an employee who actually earns such a wage, the take-home pay amounts to PLN2,866.94. Most people, however, earn less than the average wage and Poland, as compared to the EU, is among the countries with the lowest wages. The Polish net pay in 2015 was ranked only 22nd among 30 countries analyzed by Eurostat.
A single in Warsaw stands no chance
Poles earn little as compared to other EU citizens but perhaps the purchasing power of Polish wages is high enough to maintain the decent living standard? We had a closer look at the data gathered by the numbeo portal. The data published on the portal is provided by its users. Thus it is possible to avoid complex, time-consuming and costly mechanisms so typical of state statistical offices. Information may be sent in by anyone, updates are performed on an ongoing basis and the prices published reflect the feelings of ordinary people. Moreover, the methodology, identical in every corner of the world, facilitates comparison.
The portal is a source of information on the prices of basic grocery products, properties, public and private transport services and the internet, among other things. The portal also asks its users about their net salaries and subsequently publishes the average wage.
The result? The situation of a single person living on an average wage in Warsaw is far from enviable. Even leading a frugal lifestyle, they can record a surplus in the household budget only if they decide to rent a room in a 3-bedroom apartment shared with two friends (far from the city centre). If they want to live on their own then even a studio could be too much of a burden on the budget. According to numbeo estimates a single person will spend almost PLN4,400 a month on living (including PLN1,600 for a studio far from the city centre). This will be difficult to achieve with an average net pay of around PLN3,600.
(Infographics: Łukasz Rosocha)
For the record it should be noted that according to GUS data, the average pay in Warsaw exceeds PLN4,000 net a month. The office, however, only takes into account people on employment contracts, omitting small companies (up to nine employees), and includes overtime, bonuses, prizes and allowances in its calculation of the average.
Getting back to the point, a typical single person in Warsaw is able to balance their household budget if they change a self-contained flat for a rented room in a flat shared with friends (monthly cost of about PLN900). The surplus saved in this way will not be impressive though – it is merely about PLN100 a month.
Another way to balance the household budget could be to give up using a car (we have assumed that a single person has one) as using it even sporadically would cost approximately PLN700 a month (according to the portal’s estimates).
A frugal lifestyle according to numbeo
For the purpose of this article, a single person’s cost of living was estimated conservatively, on the assumption of frugal living standards (according to numbeo). For the single person in Warsaw in question this means that they:
- rarely go out to see a movie or have a coffee (twice a month);
- rarely eat in restaurants (5 per cent of meals);
- choose cheap bars if they do go out;
- rarely drink coffee in town (1.5 times a month on average);
- don’t smoke, and drink alcohol only occasionally;
- own a car but do not drive it a lot (approx. 800-900 km a month);
- take a taxi once a month;
- rely mostly on municipal transport (a travel card);
- spend little on refreshing a wardrobe (in Poland approx. PLN50 a month on average);
- buy a fitness club pass every month;
- spend a fortnight a year on relatively cheap holidays.
The rest of the expenses go on home furnishings, electronic devices, the internet, utilities and others. The portal does not take into account the costs of training courses, professional development or children’s education. It also omits expenditure on medicines, healthcare, insurance, car parks and domestic services. Neither does it include tax issues (for example the fact that certain tax systems permit some expenditures to be deducted from income tax).
A majority in the EU cannot afford self-contained accommodation
How does it compare with the rest of Europe? Corresponding data is available for 40 countries (Cyprus is included conditionally as a member of the EU although geographically it is an Asian country). To make comparisons easier, all the amounts have been converted to PLN.
Contrary to appearances, the situation of the Polish single is not so bad at all. In half of the countries the average salary of an inhabitant of the capital is sufficient to support while living in a rented room. Poland belongs to this group, although it has the lowest surplus in a single person’s household budget. In 15 countries the average wage is enough to afford a modest standard of living and a self-contained two-bedroom flat.
(Infographics: Łukasz Rosocha)
It should not be surprising that most of the countries whose citizens are able to make ends meet are in the European Union. And so, in 12 EU countries (out of 27 available in the analysis, as data for Malta IS missing), a frugal single person would be left with a surplus in the household budget even if they rented a two-bedroom flat outside the city centre. The number would go up to 17 countries (the analysis would also include Poland) if instead of a self-contained flat the single person settled for a room in a flat shared with friends.
The inhabitants of Zurich are the best-off. With a monthly net salary of PLN23,000, they have to spend just PLN11,800 on a modest standard of living and their own apartment. Thanks to an even more frugal lifestyle (sharing a flat with friends), it is possible to reduce the monthly expenses to PLN9,600. This would allow a single person from Zurich to obtain a surplus of over PLN13,700 a month. This is an amount that would allow them to relatively quickly save for the down payment for their own flat, even though the price per square meter in Zurich is several times higher than in Warsaw.
Despite their high incomes, Londoners may have difficulty buying their own apartment. Although the average pay in London is estimated at PLN10,000 a month, the monthly cost of living (including rent) amounts to over PLN10,400. If the flat is shared, the cost of living with modest expenditure on pleasures could be estimated at PLN7,700.
This is hardly surprising, however, as more and less well-off investors have reported demand for real estate in London for years. As a result, the prices of real estate are high, and so are the rent levels. An excellent example is a comparison of rent levels in London with those in Zurich. Although wages in London are half the wages in Switzerland, rent is still approximately 10-20 per cent higher in London.
Ukraine is at the opposite extremity. A single person earning the average wage in Kiev (just under PLN1,000) not only cannot afford to rent a self-contained flat, but cannot even afford an independent room in a flat shared with a group of friends.
The author is a real estate analyst at Lion’s Bank.