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How to live on a student budget in Copenhagen

Money — Start brewing your own coffee, quit buying kebabs on your way home from a night out, and get creative with your gifts for friends and family. Here is the ultimate guide to living on a student budget in expensive Copenhagen.

This article was first published in 2019. It has been updated 4 August 2020.

Straight talk: Most students who are eligible for the Danish SU student grant can’t actually make ends meet on that money alone. And plenty of foreign students don’t even have that option. In this article you will find useful tips on how to live a fabulous student life in Copenhagen on a tight budget.

The rental market in Copenhagen is extremely expensive. Renting a room in Copenhagen N. will set you back DKK 4,844 a month on average. If you’re living on a budget that does not leave much room for fun on the weekends.

So, how do you make your money last longer? Let’s find out.

Set a budget for yourself and keep an eye on your spending

We spoke to Louise Skjødsholm, a senior consultant at the Danish financial supervisory authority’s Money and Pension Panel, and she agreed to set up a reasonable budget for us.

A budget gives you an overview of your regular expenses, and the amount of money you have left when all the bills are paid. On the website raadtilpenge.dk/ENG you can access a super simple budget template and start making your own.

READ MORE: SU for international students – how to apply

Louise Skjødsholm suggests that you spend two hours getting an overview of your financial situation. Make it a thing! Buy your favourite cake (it may be the last time for a while), put on a pot of coffee, fire up the calculator, and log on to your bank account.

You need to be critical of your spending habits if you’re going to live on a tight student budget. Your spending history is easily accessible via your online bank account and you can go back in time to identify what habits need to be curbed and what spending can be cut. Pro tip: Be sure to check your automatic payment schedule. Are there any active subscriptions that you’ve forgotten to cancel? Make sure you do so.

It is, however, important to remember that some expenses – like insurance policies – are necessary, and cutting them may end up costing you in the long run, says Louise Skjødsholm. At the very least, you should have a home insurance and an accident insurance policy. If you are a member of a union (for instance, the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs which costs DKK 20 a month if you’re a student) you can get insurance at a discount (the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs offers an insurance package consisting of home, travel, and accident insurance policies for DKK 168 a month).

Remember that your union fee is tax deductible. Access your preliminary income assessment via the Danish Tax Agency’s website and enter your union and/or unemployment insurance fees under ‘Fagligt kontingent’ and ‘Bidrag til A-kasse mv.’ respectively.

If you are eligible to receive the DKK 5,300 a month Danish student grant, pay about DKK 3,500 in rent (which is cheap in Copenhagen, but hey, let’s be optimists!), pay your media license (it’s DKK 161 a month), spend DKK 100 on a mobile phone plan, pay the aforementioned DKK 188 in union and insurance policy fees, and spend DKK 1,000 on food a month that leaves you with only DKK 351 in your bank account.

That’s DKK 351 a month for clothes, contact lenses, streaming subscriptions, movie dates, fitness membership, tampons, birthday presents, dentist appointments, bike repair, bus fare, drinks, travel… you get the picture. So, what can you do?

Go for the low hanging fruit

Check to see if you’re eligible to receive rent subsidy
This benefit offered by the municipality is an awesome, little subsidy designed to help renters pay their costs and it can free up some money in your budget. It is a complicated process, but the time is well spent, because it can free up some money over a long period of time. This guide to the process is in Danish.

Devise a meal plan and limit grocery shopping to once a week
After a long day of classes and studying you’re completely zapped, the last thing you want is to go shopping in Netto, your guard is down and you’re susceptible to impulse buying. That’s why you need a meal plan.

Lots of bloggers out there can help you find inspiration when devising a meal plan on a tight budget. They don’t always have the most expensive camera equipment and flashiest Instagram profiles, but they can help you maintain your DKK 1,000 a month budget. Check out Mad For Fattigrøve and Sund på Budget and get inspired.

Bring your lunch from home – every day
You often end up buying an expensive dish in the cafeteria, and it is, really, a waste of your money. It’s important that you eat lunch so you have the energy to focus on your studies, and you should spend your money on something better than a gross buffet experience. Pack your own lunch from home – cook a huge batch of, say, pasta salad, so you have enough food for at least three days. That way you don’t have to worry about it every morning. Remember to buy supplies for your lunch when you go grocery shopping.

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Make your own coffee – or find a free alternative
Bringing your own thermos with coffee is normcore, it’s also way better for the environment, and it’s a cheap alternative to buying coffee out. If you’re not into making your own coffee at home, try to find the cheapest or even free alternative. The University Post actually already did all the legwork for you here.

Make sure you have snacks at home when you get back after a night of drinking
We’re not sure how you can afford going out partying, but it happened, and now the post-party snack is about to destroy your carefully planned budget. Curb your kebab craving by stocking up on snacks at home. As long as it’s salty and greasy, it will do the trick, right? It can be anything from dinner leftovers to a hummus and sausage sandwich.

Cancel your expensive fitness membership
Ask for a yoga mat for your birthday, find instructional videos on YouTube (there are tons of them), form a jogging club, find your nearest park with access to work out equipment.

You can also Greenkayak! The good folks at Kayak Republic will lend you a kayak free of charge provided that you pick up trash in the canals as you paddle along. It’s an excellent workout, and it helps keep Copenhagen clean. Win-win!

Whatever you do, please don’t pay DKK 400 a month for a crossfit membership. Being able to lift tractor tires won’t do you much good,if you suddenly need root canal treatment.

By the way: Remember to floss
… and pray that your wisdom teeth come out post-graduation when you have a full-time job.

Use free streaming options
Streaming services are typically a major expense in any budget, but it’s actually quite easy to save some money here. You’re not permanently cutting yourself off from entertainment if you cancel your Netflix, HBO, Prime, Viaplay and Cmore subscriptions.

Instead watch DR TV – they have a ton of good stuff online, but a lot of it is only available in Danish. They have some English shows and films though. At the moment, you can stream the Oscar-rewarded American documentary Minding the gap, this documentary about the former CEO of Fox News Roger Ailes or watch the amazing Danish film (in English) Bridgend. Are you up for some reality indulgence, they also have the American version of Married at first sight.

Watch YouTube – it’s free, because it’s chock-full of commercials (although, for now, you can avoid them by installing the Adblock plugin in your Chrome browser). Among other things, you can get your daily dose of late night shows like John Oliver, Jimmy Fallon, and Stephen Colbert – they’re all on the tube.

– History shows: Check out The Great War about World War I and the years following it, as well as Feature History that presents short videos about various historical topics.

– Shows about all kinds of different things: Are you the curious type? Wendover Productions answers various questions about logistics – like how does a submarine actually work, and why is train travel so expensive. There’s also The Infographics Show which can tell you what happens, if you’re bitten by the most venomous spider in the world, and what happens in your body, when you have sex.

– Use the library streaming service, Filmstriben, where you can watch three movies for free every month. Among other films you’ll find Holiday, La Vie d’Adèle, and In Bruges.

– If you absolutely must watch the latest hit tv-show that everybody’s talking about, form a show-club with friends. It is much nicer watching shows with your friends than by yourself and an HBO subscription is way cheaper split 12 ways.

Swap out your things and buy second hand
Need knew pots and pans or a new winter coat? Go to a swap meet. More and more of them pop up around town, and they trade in free stuff. You don’t have to bring a lot in order to take cool stuff home with you. You can check out the schedule here and at this Facebook-page. You can also organize your own swap meet with friends and classmates and trade in your dad’s old blender for your friend’s nice sandals.

There’s also a bargain to be made at flea markets. There are flea markets all over town, especially during the summer months. Make a list of things you need and set a spending limit for yourself before you go. Be sure to stick to it.

Borrow, borrow, borrow
Going to a wedding? Going hiking? Inviting your family over for hot rolls and cake? Don’t rush out and spend a fortune on a fancy dress/hiking gear/coffee service. Borrow from friends, and be sure to share if you have something they need.

Swap out the plug for a cup (we don’t advise you to share this one)
If you’re the kind of person who menstruates once a month, you know that pads and tampons cost a fortune (and they’re bad for the environment). The menstruation cup costs 150 kroner, and it will last you a looooong time.

Eat at public kitchens
Maybe you can afford to eat out after all. Copenhagen is full of public kitchens that offer a communal dining experience at a low cost. Every day, Absalon on Vesterbro serves dinner for DKK 50 a plate – on Mondays and Wednesdays it’s vegetarian. If you’re looking for an even cheaper option KraftWerket in Valby offers vegan food on Tuesdays for DKK 25 , and on Thursdays Ungdomshuset will dish out a vegan course as well, also for DKK 25. A Google search reveals even more options.

Get a Rejsekort, but never (or only on rare occasions) use it
Biking and walking is free, but if you absolutely have to take public transportation now and again, please, dear God, make sure you use a Rejsekort. SMS-fare and other options are super expensive. The price of travelling two zones within the city is cut in half if you use Rejsekort. Here is a guide on how to use the Danish rejsekort.

The low hanging fruit that kind of sucks

If you’re a smoker, you need to quit
Cigarette prices are increasing, so if you haven’t quit already, do it now.

Learn to fix your bike
Bike repair is expensive, especially in Denmark where your average bike lives on the street year-round in all weather. Teaching yourself basic bike maintenance is a great investment and will save you a bunch. You won’t have to pay your local repair guy DKK 150 every time you have a flat. At Bicycle Innovation Lab on Amager there’s an open repair shop, where you can work on your bike. They regularly advertise events on Facebook where you can learn everything about bike repair from experts.

If your bike is stolen, and you can’t afford a new one (or an old one), try sending an application to Studiecyklen, where students can borrow a bike for a year for free. The bike will be decked out with ads from various companies, but hey, it’s a free bike for a year!

Get creative with your presents
This one is going to be hard at first. Your mom may be happy with getting a hug for Christmas, even though she’s given you an expensive dress. But your friend/boyfriend/brother/cousin is probably not as easy to please.

Before taking a deep dive into the world of free or cheap presents, consider it carefully. You need to think long and hard about this if you don’t want your presents to suck. You can only give this type of present once per person, so here’s what you do:

– Gift that special someone a hand-crafted gift card good for a homemade picnic at the beach.

– Pass on your favourite book and tell the person you’re gifting it to, why it will resonate with them.

– Go for a walk in the woods or on Amager Fælled and pick wild flowers for a bouquet.

– Visit your friend’s favourite second hand store and buy an inexpensive but personal item that you know he or she will cherish.

– Give your granddad ten free lawnmowing sessions. You’ll see him more, too.

– Don’t have a special talent? Offer a croquis course or a reading of your infamous slash-fiction story.

– Pick elderflowers in Søndermarken (or any other park) and make your own elderflower juice.

– Pickle stuff (cucumbers, red onions, carrots, beets…) and decorate the jars for added effect.

Talk about money – even the money you don’t have
If you’re broke, tell your friends. That way they know you’re not turning them down when they ask you out. You just can’t afford it. A lot of people see money as a taboo subject in conversation. Let’s change that!

All the fruits have been picked, and you need a loan

You finally need that pesky wisdom tooth pulled, you dropped your mobile phone in the toilet for the last time, or your bike was stolen (again!) Whatever the issue is, don’t take out an expensive consumer loan! That’s Louise Skjødsholms number one piece of advice.

Research your options. If you can increase your account overdraft with your bank or take out a student loan those options are much smarter. When you’ve secured the money be wise about how you spend it. Maybe a three-month loan will do the trick. That way you’re not stuck with endless debt after you graduate.

Finally, maybe you should look into getting a part-time job…

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