How is life with a low salary

The luxury of enjoying life

When an American friend of mine moved to Helsinki from New York City, he knew what to expect. He had visited Finland often, liked Helsinki, which is much smaller, and knew that winters can be rough here. However, one thing gave him a headache: the low Finnish salary.

The average annual salary of Finnish full-time workers is only 36,000 euros, which is about 43,000 US dollars. That may be high in many countries around the world, but for a trained professional from one of the world's largest financial centers it means a considerable loss of wages. My friend was used to salaries in New York City, and although New York people work for minimum wages, business people like lawyers, bankers, and sales managers usually earn a minimum annual salary of $ 100,000. Finnish salaries can't really keep up. Even so, my friend from New York soon realized that the loss of income was less severe than expected. The reason for this was very simple: he didn't spend any money in Finland.

Even as he said that, he had to laugh. Of course, he had to spend some money. Apartments in Helsinki can be incredibly expensive and groceries cost more compared to many other cities. There was, however, a deeper truth hidden behind his words.

In New York City, for example, the annual cost of childcare is $ 16,000. That is above average in the USA. In more than half of all US states, the cost is still $ 10,000. In Washington D.C. they are even higher at $ 22,000. In Finland every child is entitled to a place in a quality, public day care center where the children play outdoors for much of the day under the supervision of professionally trained, educated staff. The family contributions are staggered depending on income. The maximum amount, regardless of parental income, is 3,480 euros or the equivalent of 4,100 US dollars per year.

In the United States, new parents not only have to pay for expensive day care, they also have to save up for their children's schooling and education. The average tuition, plus board and lodging, to graduate from a private, nonprofit US college is approximately $ 45,000 per year. In Finland, university education is free for all Finns and EU citizens, and the government provides monthly grants to cover living expenses.

Infatuated with Nordic ideals

In the US, families have to dig deep into their pockets for their health insurance contributions. In Finland, health care is financed through taxes and patients only pay small contributions. Most of the health care for children and pregnant women is free. The annual contribution is limited to 690 euros or the equivalent of 850 US dollars. When a patient reaches the deductible limit, most benefits are free.

My friend found that while educated Americans make salaries that seem high at first glance, families in the United States may have to shell out an additional ten, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for such basic services after tax deductions. In a country like Finland you basically pay your taxes and that's that. Taxes in Finland are proportional to income. Income tax is also lower than most foreigners suspect (a Finnish salaried employee can on average expect to have to pay around a quarter of his income as tax). As a result, a seemingly small salary in Finland can go a long way.

People all over the world have recently become enthusiastic about a Nordic ideal, which in Danish is called “hygge”. It's about spending cozy hours with family and friends without working yourself to death for a higher salary. What is often overlooked, however, is the fact that people in Nordic countries have the leisure to enjoy their life in this way, as their societies have chosen to adopt some of the more complex and costly basic needs - day care, education, health care and the like - as common goods provide. This means that you neither have to research such services on your own nor procure them yourself. Anyone can get these basic goods regardless of income level. It is also a guarantee of high quality, as the same services are used by the wealthy and the middle class alike.

Now that my friend has settled down in Finland with a job and a newborn baby, he thinks it's a big deal. It's not about how much money you make. It's about what you can buy with it.

The top 3 things that work wonderfully in Finland

  • To go biking
    “In Finland, the cycle paths are usually separated from the carriageways and often run along waterways or through wooded areas, even in cities. What could be nicer than commuting along the water by bike? "
  • Day care centers
    “Finns are known to be quick to complain about public services that don't live up to their expectations. Most, however, praise the day care centers. There the children have fun and spend carefree, activity-filled days. "
  • Winter traffic
    “Driving in freezing rain, hail and snow is problematic everywhere, and such weather conditions also lead to accidents and traffic delays in Finland. But when I return to Finland after years abroad, I am always amazed at how well the Finns get along on the roads in winter. Life goes on, just like in summer. "

By Anu Partanen, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2018

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