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How I Spend My Money: A Tipperary man in Brussels on €30,000 who wants to move back to Ireland

He moved over with his fiancée a few years ago and works in an EU institution.

WELCOME TO HOW I Spend My Money, a series on that looks at what people in Ireland really do with their cash.

We’re asking readers to keep a record of how much they earn, how much they save, if anything, and what they spend their money on over the course of one week. Want to take part? Details on how to do it are at the bottom of the piece.

Each money diary is submitted by readers just like you. When reading and commenting, bear in mind that their situation will not be relatable for everyone, it is simply an account of a week in their shoes.  

On Wednesday, a legal secretary in Kildare talked about living at home to save for a mortgage, and today we have our first money diary from an Irish worker abroad who talks about his day-to-day life in Brussels and the big decision to emigrate.


Occupation: Assistant in an EU institution
Age: 25
Location: Brussels
Salary: €29,893
Monthly pay (net): €2,189.90
Monthly ‘expat allowance’: €398.57 

Monthly expenses
Rent: €400 (€800 in total between myself and my fiancée)
Household bills: Electricity and gas is €33.55 (my half of a €67.11 fixed-price bill) and my half of the broadband bill is €24.47 (total bill is €48.94)
Transport: €0 (I cycle round the city and only use public transport on weekends if I need to)
Phone bill: €20 (I still use my Irish phone)
Health insurance: I have insurance through work, thankfully 
Groceries: €120 (that’s my share of total €240)
Fitness: Gym membership (€15), training in an MMA gym (€65) 
Union dues: €30
Credit Union student loan repayment: €88
Savings: I save €200 to €300 a month (between myself and my fiancée we save €400 to €600 a month)
Wedding payments: €200

Myself and my fiancée are living abroad in Brussels after moving over together a few years ago. We’re currently paying for our upcoming wedding and saving for a deposit to buy or build a house back in Ireland – the plan is to get enough for a deposit first then we’ll decide. 

My base monthly pay is €2,491.05 and after tax I’m left with €2,189.90 (people in EU jobs don’t pay full Belgian tax). Then an ‘expat allowance’ of €398.57 is added to my pay every month. I qualify for this because I was living in Ireland immediately before getting the job here.

We live in a one-bedroom flat 20 minutes from the centre of Brussels. Rent is reasonable enough here and the market is regulated, which makes it better than living in an Irish city. We’re currently saving between €400 and €600 a month. Wedding bills and other expenses mean that some months it’s less, but in general we are strict with ourselves and make sure we do save money.

Living abroad has worked out well enough for us, although the added expense that goes with visiting home is a down side. I spend between €250 to €300 each a year on Ryanair flights. Although I’m far from a willing immigrant I can’t complain, there’s people who have it much worse off both here and back home.



7:30 am – I get up, eat my breakfast. walk the dog with my fiancée, then cycle to work. I get up earlier than I need to most mornings because my partner works from home, so we spend a bit of time together before I go to work. It’s a 10-15 minute commute on my bike, which I got second-hand back in March. Brussels isn’t the worst city to cycle in; traffic can be a bit chaotic, but there’s more respect for cyclists than in Ireland.

9:00 am – I run into the shop to buy teabags and milk. My supply of Barry’s is running low so I’ll have to make do with English breakfast tea (€4.40).

1:30 pm – It’s lunch, which means a trip to the microwave. When I started this job I felt rude not going for lunch with my colleagues, but they’re used to me bringing a lunch in by now.

6:30 pm – I get home from work, eat something small and relax for the evening.

Today’s total: €4.40


7:30 am – Up again and my morning routine is the same. Breakfast is almost always eggs of some sort or porridge. I take my time before leaving for work at 8:40 am.

1:00 pm – I forgot my lunch today so I go to a shop across the road from work to buy stuff for a sandwich (€3.89). Even when I don’t bring a packed lunch I try and buy the cheapest option available. Look at flights for next year over lunch. We’re planning a weekend break early next year so we’re looking at accommodation as well. I see a few options but hold off on booking for now.

7:15 pm – I go to a grappling class in my mixed martial arts (MMA) gym. I would save money if I didn’t train, but it wouldn’t be worth it. I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager and it’s my main social outlet and also how I destress. I had to miss training for six weeks due to an injury last year and it drove me mad.

9:20 pm – I get home after training, have a quick shower then watch something on Netflix for a few hours before bed.

Today’s total: €3.89


7:10 am – Up at the usual time, have breakfast and head into work.

6:00 pm – I leave work, I go to the shop on the way home to get eggs and a few other bits (€13.82).

6:30 pm – Back home for the evening.

Today’s total: €13.82


7:00 am – I get up and have breakfast, eggs again. I go to the gym before work so I leave at 8:00 am. It’s the first morning I’ve had a chance to go this week -  in all honesty this is due to me being lazy.

9:00 am – I get into work. Thankfully there’s still tea and milk, which we buy between us in the office. It means my teabreaks don’t cost me money every day.

1:00 pm – It’s lunch. One of my colleagues heads out to buy food. I’ve brought some chicken and rice from home. It’s basic, but filling.

6:00 pm – I leave work and eat a quick sandwich before heading off to training.

7:30 pm – I’ve got my Brazilian jiu-jitsu class tonight. It’s just under an hour and a half of drills and then 30-minute rounds of sparring.

9:45 pm – Back home to relax. I have a shower before bed.

Today’s total: €0


7:15 am – Get up at the same time, but we decide to get some fresh pastries for breakfast. My fiancée pays.

9:30 am – A little late into work, but hey, it’s Friday. I’m also the only one in my office today so it’s quiet.

6:15 pm – We head to the supermarket after work to do our weekly food shop. It costs €30 each today, which is a bit cheaper than usual.

8:00 pm – We get home, put away the shopping and head to the gym together.

Today’s total: €30


9:00 am – We get up and have a breakfast before both heading to the gym.

11:00 am – We get back from the gym and spend some time relaxing and tidying the apartment. We Skype my mother at lunch – I make sure to Skype home once a week to stay in touch.

3:00 pm – We head into the city centre to have a look around at a few places for Christmas gift ideas. We get the metro in so we use our MOBIB cards, which are like Leap cards. We top these up a few times a month as needed. Using the card for this metro trip costs €1.40.

8:30 pm – We go to a bar to meet up with a friend who we haven’t seen in a few weeks. We ended up staying till after midnight. I pay for the food and drinks on my Irish card (€60). My Irish account is used for online shopping and some other generic expenses like socialising, I always keep at least €100 in it for this reason. 

Today’s total: €61.40


10:00 am – We both have a bit of a lie in after last night. This is the second weekend in a row we’ve had a night out, so it’ll probably be a few weeks now without one.

11:30 am – We head off to the local park for a walk with the dog. One of the nice things about Brussels is that it has a lot of parks.

1:00 pm – We get back from the park and just relax for a few hours. This is a lazy Sunday partially due to my mild hangover.

3:00 pm – I cook a large stir fry for dinner today and the leftovers will be my lunches for most of the week. I cook bulk meals every weekend so I don’t have to cook after work during the week. I tend to do most of the cooking for both of us as I like cooking.

6:00 pm – I realise I forgot a few things in the shop so we head to the local supermarket to get the missing bits. In total it comes to €6.48.

Today’s total: €6.48

Weekly subtotal: €119.99

What I’ve learned:

  • That’s my weekly schedule. It looks quite mundane but in all seriousness it’s not too bad. I spend time with my fiancée and friends while watching my money – I’m not a spender by nature anyway.
  • This is the first well-paid job I’ve had and I’m not from a family that you would ever describe as comfortable so I’m used to budgeting. Saving and having a target are important to focus on, but I’m still going to enjoy my life and have some small luxuries.
  • Emigrating was a big decision. In hindsight I didn’t fully understand how big a decision it would be, but it has worked out well for us.

Are you a spender, a saver or a splurger? We’re looking for readers who will keep a money diary for a week. If you’re interested send a mail to 


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