Europe, Inspiration, Portugal

The reality of saving money with a 500€ wage


I’ve read pretty much everywhere that if you really want to travel you’ll make it happen, as it’s not as expensive as people actually think, which I believe is absolutely true! Still, I’m here to give you a reality check on how saving money depends on the country you live in and the money that gets in your account by the end of the month.

You see, I’ve been working at a hostel, which has allowed me to get to know a lot of people from all over the world and the wage conversation always seems to pop up. I’m sure you are aware that the minimum wage in Portugal goes around the 500€, which should make you stop saying “Oh, Portugal is so cheap!” right there. I can’t recall having a coffee for 0,5€ anywhere else in Europe or other stuff that tourists in Lisbon seem to be shocked about and yes, Portugal is very cheap, if you are getting a wage that’s not Portuguese!

I had a conversation with a guest from Canada who told me that wage in his country is around 1200€ a month, plus 50€ to 100€ a day tips if you’re a waitress or a bartender. I talked to a girl from California whose wage is 12$ an hour plus tips. Am I from the wrong country or what? Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be Portuguese and I do love my country, but what kind of life is someone suppose to have by getting 4€ an hour? Or that giant amount of 500€ a month?


Now, the harsh part is that this kind of wage was my choice this time, but not because of what you might be thinking. You see, I’ve been bouncing between waitress jobs that I’ve hatted every single day, so this time, after I came back from my two weeks in Spain, I decided that I would prioritize a job that could make me happy over money. If I had gotten a job at a restaurant, like before, I would be getting between 600€ to 650€ plus some tips every month. With that and meals paid while working, my wage would be 150€ more and my expenses on food would be almost nothing.

Let me break down my month so you can see how impossible it has been for me to save good amounts of money every month, since I started working in December. I get 535€ a month for my 32h of work at the hostel. As soon as I get paid, I take 100€ to pay my share of the rent, plus 40€ in expenses (electricity, water, gas, phone, internet and tv). This leaves me with a total of 395€. Then, in order to get to work I need to take public transports, which means on this I spend 50€ in transports. How much do I have now? Oh yes, 345€!

Now, what do you consider a good amount of money when it comes to saving every month? 50€? 100€? I thought a lot about this and I just couldn’t accept anything less than 250€ a month of savings for my travels. So, what does this mean? If by my math I got 345€ left after paying my bills, and I want to save 250€ by the end of the month, I have exactly 95€ to spend on everything else during 30 days which mainly goes to food as there’s not much left after a couple of trips to the supermarket.


So, what does this mean? It means that in order to save that amount of money every month, with the wage I got here in Portugal, I have to say no to everything, every single invite to get a coffee or a beer, any night outs, any extra expense that will force me to touch the money that should be for travelling. It basically means I’ve had no life for the last few months, in big part as a personal choice, but only because I have travel as my top priority in life right now and I know that I have to make a lot of sacrifices if I want to go to all those places on my bucket list that keeps getting bigger and bigger.

What I’m trying to say here is that saving money to travel doesn’t come as an easy task for everyone who would like to travel. If I was from Canada, I would be earning 1500€ a month, and saving at least 700€ a month, which in Portugal takes me 3 months to save with a lot of effort, skipping big meals (specially lunch) and doing nothing so I won’t spend what I have left after expenses are paid. So, being from Portugal and having a job here allows me to save money every month, but way too less than I wish, which means that I’m able to travel but it always takes me longer than most people, because they save 700€ a month and I 250€ – when I actually manage to only spend those 95€ a month, which lets face it, it’s IMPOSSIBLE!

Everyone can travel if they really want to, yes, true story, but not on their own terms. People who earn low wages like me might just take them forever to save enough money for a big trip, specially if they have more expenses then me, which is not hard. In a few months I’m suppose to start paying my student loan, which would mean an extra 185€ a month of expenses. Can you imagine that? Absolutely impossible! Portugal is great for travelers, tourists, it’s pretty, it has 1€ pints and fifty cents coffee, but you know what it doesn’t have? A future for the young people, who have been studying their entire lives, only to choose between a 500€ wage or unemployment.

I’m sorry Portugal, I love you and there’s no country like you out there, but I won’t be here for much longer, or I will travel the world by the age of 80 years old.

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  1. Stefano

    How true it is! During my Erasmus I had to save money to travel with a €630 scholarship. Which in Germany it’s like saying your wage in Portugal. But I’m happy to do it and to eat rice salad or pasta almost every day instead of fancy meals outside. I’m happy to spend my time seeking the best deals for accomodation, air fares, etc.. It does mean that we shall move East, still not so crowded (manna from heaven for travel bloggers), beautiful as hell, untamed.

    Good luck with your savings and your travels. 🙂


    1. Rita Santos Author

      Thank you so much Stefano!!
      I hear you on the low scholarship. I had to live in Switzerland, a country extremely expensive, with a scholarship of less than 500€, and it was like a mission impossible!
      I’m also happy to say no to many things so I can save money to travel, but sometimes things are really difficult and frustrating that you are working really hard and by the end of the month, what you saved was little to nothing. I’m sure if I got a high wage by the end of the month I would be much happier with the amount saved as I wouldn’t have to cut on meals and things like that. And I guess about moving to another country, I’m sure it will happen in the future and it will be a hard decision to make, because there is no place like Portugal and home, but I’m sure we can adapt. We are world travelers!

  2. Jen

    This is very true, but not necessarily dependant on your country. I was struggling to get a job at all in the UK before I decided to travel instead. When you don’t have much money coming in, you have to really budget to travel, that includes cutting down on your day to day or looking up alternative ways to explore the world. I myself have volunteered, hitch-hiked, couch-surfed and lived without, my friends always ask me how I live a “lavish lifestyle” and I always reply “I don’t I just make the most of it” which makes it seem like I have a secret pile of money. The good news is I wouldn’t change any of it for a 5star hotel or an extra meal out; I have found that the more I budget the better it is, the more people you meet, the more culture you experience. Oddly travelling on a budget is often so much richer than any other travel. Good luck saving, I feel your struggle! Good post 🙂

    Jen |


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