An expat survival guide to being thrifty like a German
In my younger days in Germany, when I used to go food shopping with my flatmates, I was often baffled by the thriftiness that possessed them. It’s not that I was throwing money around left, right and centre, constantly living it large. Not at all.
However, in comparison to my German counterparts of the same age, I definitely was. To them, I was borderline careless with money. It was then that I started to learn an important lesson about Germans: they value thriftiness, above almost anything else!
Don’t be cavalier with your cash
For example, if I picked up a packet of cheese that didn’t have a red reduced sticker on it, I was promptly told to put it down. If there was a similar item that was - let’s say - seven cents cheaper in a supermarket a 15-minute walk from us, then it was always the obvious choice to go for the cheaper item there instead.
Another example of my apparently cavalier attitude towards money: the cashiers at the supermarkets would never let you off the hook if you turned up even one cent short of the sum required. I’ve tested this myself, and every time I was told to produce the missing cent.
Saving money is worth boasting about in Germany
The truth is, Germans love saving money, and they love boasting about how much money they’ve saved almost as much. Indeed, such a topic is very popular in all social circles, whether at work, in a pub, at home, or in any other setting. There is never a wrong time or place for this kind of discussion.
Germans are happy to discuss the money they have saved on car insurance, food shopping, gadgets, clothing, or even their last meal with friends.
Incidentally, that last point deserves a special mention. If you find yourself dining with your friends or colleagues, it is very common to split the bill at the end, down to the very last cent. There won’t be anybody saying, “Just give us a tenner mate” or “Let’s just split it all equally” and definitely not, “Just buy us dinner next time.”
Instead, there will be a meticulous process of calculating how much each and every person owes, including the tip, followed by each individual paying separately to the waiter. If the staff are particularly unhelpful, in some instances, you’d be expected to then add all these different sums of what you individually owe together, sort out the money amongst yourselves, and then pay as one bill. That’s often how it works over here.
The exception that proves the rule
Once in a while, many German people deliberately forget their thriftiness for one evening, a weekend, or even a week, and that’s when they go and splash the cash. The German term for this is gönnen - literally meaning, to treat oneself.
I’ve seen this many times in my experience as a hotel musician. Couples would arrive for a weekend package at a five-star hotel - the kind of place where a room without breakfast starts at about 300 euros a night. They would wine and dine, drink cocktails and champagne alongside fancy dinners, the whole smorgasbord, and as the weekend progressed they would visit the spa, go for various massage treatments, do walks on the beach and so on and so forth.
Others might treat themselves to a cruise, a holiday to Mallorca, or a skiing trip in the Alps. The principle is the same. It is quite common for the Germans to reward themselves for the hard work they do, and indeed, Germans do work a lot.