plonkee money an english-er's thoughts on personal finance

September 12, 2008

English and American expenses

Filed under: budget — Tags: , , , , , — plonkee @ 2:19 pm

In a follow up to my previous comparisons of UK and US tax burdens, I contacted Mrs. Micah to ask if we could compare our expenses. Mrs. Micah lives in Washington DC with her husband. I, on the otherhand, am happily single living on my own in an English provincial city. However, we have easily comparable expenses for housing and utilities, and I’m using Mrs. Micah’s grocery list to compare the cost of food. Here goes.


Mrs. Micah’s Costs
Rent, electricity, heat or a/c: $783/month
Water/Sewer: $28/month
Internet: $30.70/month (split overall bill, since I couldn’t track down our paperless bill)
Tv: $30.70/month (split overall bill, since I couldn’t track down our paperless bill)
Phone: $0
Mobile phone: $88-89/month, depending if we get texted.
Gas: $65-80/month for gas,
Metro fare $41.85/month metro commute (normally a few extra trips).

Total Expenses $1036.55-$1052.55 (~ £585.62-£594.66)

Plonkee’s Costs:
Mortgage £500 (pcm)
Electricity £10 (pcm)
Gas £33 (pcm)
Council Tax £54 (split per month)
Water £10 (pcm)
Internet £5.45 (pcm)
TV £11 (tv licence, split per month)
Phone £10.50
Mobile Phone £10 (new deal, used to be £25)
Petrol £82 a month (assuming around £1k in mileage),
Bus Pass £37.50 bus pass

Total Expenses £763.45 (~$1351.31)


Rents for 1 bed flats in my not very salubrious area range from £375 to £700 per month, depending on niceness of the building, my mortgage is for a 2 bed terraced house, it would also rent out for about £500 or so a month. I don’t have a cable or satellite tv, but use a free digibox to get additional channels, cable starts at £9 a month and satellite from £17 a month. I don’t have a car, but estimated petrol costs from fuel consumption figures for a Ford Ka.


Mrs. Micah very kindly gave me her last set of food purchases, which I then comparison shopped in Tescos (£1 in 7 in the UK is spent at Tescos). This is about half a weeks food shop.

Mrs. Micah Shopping List
1 gal fat free milk $3.99
1 lb nonfat cottage cheese (tub) $2.00
2 28oz cans tomato puree $2.00 ($1/ea)
1 15oz black beans can $0.50
12.3 oz extra-firm tofu $1.79
16oz natural peanut butter $2.99
16oz canned mushrooms $1.39
8oz canned mushrooms $0.80
Loaf whole grain cinnamon bread $2.47 (sale)
1 lb brown rice $1.79
chicken thighs $3.02 ($1.99/lb)
9oz packaged spinach $2.99
celery hearts $1.99
2 lbs baby carrots $2.79
green peppers $1.44 ($1.69/lb)
bananas $1.35 ($0.59/lb)
3 kiwi fruit $1.50
1 bunch scallions $0.69

Total Cost = $35.49 (~£20.04)

Equivalent Purchases in UK
3.308ltr/6 Pints Skimmed Milk £2.24
650g Cottage Cheese Natural £1.45
4 300g Tin Tomato Puree £1.92 (£0.48 ea)
1 400g Tin Organic Black Beans £0.69
349g Tofu – Firm Silkstyle £0.89
454g Whole Earth Smooth Peanut Butter £1.68
750g Value Pack Mushrooms £1.47
Sliced Fruit Loaf £0.62
500g Brown Whole Grain Rice £0.81
618g Chicken Thighs Small Pack £2.03
300g Nottinghamshire Spinach £1.20
Small Bunch Celery £0.50
2 440g Prepack Mini Carrots £3.00 (£1.50 ea)
700g Prepack Peppers £1.38
6 Bananas Loose £0.84
Prepack Kiwi £1.49
Warwickshire Salad Onions Bunch £0.64

Total Cost = £22.85 (~$40.44)

food notes

I substituted for the Cinnamon Loaf as Fruit Loaf is more common in the UK, elsewhere some of the amounts aren’t identical, but it depends a lot on the package sizes that were available to each of us. For example, celery isn’t available in small bunches to Mrs. Micah, but is to me, whereas it was cheaper to buy twice as many peppers for me than the amount that Mrs. Micah picked up. Canned mushrooms are unheard of, I substituted fresh button cup ones instead.

Tofu, black beans and peanut butter are not particularly common purchases in the UK. Peanut butter in particular is nowhere near as ubiquitous in the UK as it is in the US. There isn’t an obvious substitute, as most of the other spread things – marmite, jam, marmalade, honey – don’t have quite the same usage. The black beans and tofu that I chose were pretty much the only ones available.


Overall, and somewhat unsurprisingly to anyone that has spent time in both the UK and the US, it’s quite a bit cheaper in America – around 20% cheaper at the current exchange rate. Let’s not forget that DC is notoriously expensive, and where I live – being neither in London nor the South East – is not.

To put it into context with the exchange rate, that would have to come down to around $1.40 to the £1 for expenses to be roughly the same for each of us. But, the Big Mac Index which estimates the true value of each country’s currency would suggest a natural exchange rate of $1.60 to the £1, suggesting that the UK is intrinsically more expensive than the US – something that every British tourist to Florida could probably tell you for free :) .

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