An expat guide to saving money in Germany


Updated on Sep 25 • 5 minute read

Even though Germany isn’t one of the most expensive countries in the world, it’s always nice to spend your money on things you actually enjoy. So, today we’re sharing our tips on how to save money in Germany! We’ll take a look at how you do grocery shopping as well as making the most of some more administrative hacks.

Saving on groceries - weekly offers

One of the best ways to save money on your groceries at essentially any supermarket is to make use of their weekly offers! You will often find these at highlighted areas at the store, but there’s usually also a paper and digital list of items that are discounted that week! This makes it easy to save a few bucks on your usual purchases, but also to try new things and, if you’re like me, not have to think about what you’re going to cook that week. Just let the discounts determine it for you!

German discount stores

There are plenty of supermarkets around your German city of choice, and most people will often visit whichever store is closest to them. Makes sense, right? Well, if you’re looking to do your groceries for as little money as possible, you might want to make a slightly longer trip to one of the following stores:

Aldi, Lidl & Netto

What makes a discount store a discount store? Well, you trade the perfect looking tomatoes and apples for their bumpy, grizzled looking - but just as tasty - brothers. Presentation and service wise, it’s also lacklustre, with rows of products not neatly lined up and presented, but still in the box. Also, for the americans among us, be prepared to bring your own bags and to pack them yourself. Just saying. That said, though, buying the ‘real’ products instead of the picture perfect produce or top brands, as well as the aforementioned weekly deals, can save you anywhere from 10-30% on your grocery bill. The numbers might seem small on a product level, but these savings add up over time!

Local markets

Alongside supermarkets, most towns also have a (bi-)weekly market with vendors that sell all kinds of products. However, most interestingly for us, this is often where you can get the best prices for fresh produce, fruit, nuts and even bread. These products often come straight from the farm and aren’t the picture perfect products, but they do often taste better than the perfectly round stuff from the supermarket! At the same time, it’s also a good place to purchase less perishable products such as rice in bulk. So, ask a local (or your landlord, if you don’t have any local friends yet), and ask them when and where the best market(s) in your area take place.

Don't forget to claim your tax return

Now, this is where you can really save some money! If you are a regular employee who pays their income taxes in Germany, you probably don’t have to submit a tax declaration. While this saves you time, you might be leaving money on the table in the form of your German tax return!

If you plan on submitting your tax declaration, you need the following information at hand:

  • Your tax ID (Steuernummer). ( If you’re new in Germany, you can leave this blank and one will be assigned to you after your tax return.)
  • The IBAN number you use for banking in Germany
  • Your wage tax certificate, the Lohnsteuerbescheinigung issued by your employers at the end of the fiscal year.
  • Any receipts, invoices or proof of payments for tax deductions you plan to make.

Because you probably want to go beyond a standard declaration, you will need use the more advanced Mantelbogen ESt 1A tax form. By doing this, you get to claim tax-exemption for many different kinds of expenses. You can declare the following in your tax return:

  • Employment expenses (usually up to €1000 euros a year) You can declare some of the expenses you made being employed in Germany, as long as you still have the documentation and your employer hasn’t already reimbursed you for them. Think relocation or commuting costs, equipment or training costs.
  • Insurance contributions deductions (fully- and partially) When you work in Germany, you’re required to contribute to certain insurance schemes, such as healthcare and unemployment insurance. These schemes are tax-deductible, either fully or up to a certain amount, so make sure you check your contributions!
  • Personal expenses (partially) There are a number of personal expenses that some of you might be dealing with, that are also partially tax-deductible. Think Alimony payments (up to €13.805 euros a year), contributions to charity (up to 20% of your gross income) and the interest on you pay over your mortgage.
  • Child-related expenses Raising a child is very expensive, so the German government will help you cover for some of the expenses. You can claim a child allowance of €3906 per child registered in Germany. Additionally, you can claim additional childcare costs for children under 14 (€4000 per child, per year). And, if your children attend a private school in Germany (or elsewhere in Europe), you can claim 30% of the tuition fee every year (up to €5000 per child).

Church tax

Did you know you automatically pay an extra 8% or 9% in income tax in the form of a church tax called KirchenSteuer? If you’re not religious, Muslim (this tax goes towards Christian and Jewish religious organizations after all) or simply don’t want to contribute to this fund, make sure you list yourself as an Atheist on your tax forms or make sure you apply for an exit from the church also known as Kirchenaustritt, to save yourself hundreds, if not thousands of Euros a year.

So, don’t leave hundreds- or even thousands of euros on the table! That said, the German tax system, like any tax system, is complicated and full of legal jargon. So, to save yourself the headache and the risk of accidentally committing tax fraud, hiring a German tax advisor is a great idea that will probably more than pay for itself.

Use a free bank account

When you’re coming in from abroad, you probably already have a bank account in your country of origin. This account might not be suitable for use in Germany, and will at the very least need a German equivalent if your bank has a German branch. Alternatively, you can use an online bank, which is often free or very cheap. This will help you save money in a number of ways:

  • No or low account fees. This speaks for itself. Nothing beats free!
  • No fees for ATM withdrawals (often up to x withdrawals a month) Some banks charge a percentage of the amount withdrawn, or a fixed amount per withdrawal. So, in a society where cash is still king, this can save you a pretty penny.
  • No transaction fees. This means no extra or hidden fees for transferring money to- and from your foreign bank account. Most online banks don’t charge you to move money between accounts at all!
  • International nature. Online banks are often modern, international, and innovative businesses. This show in their policies! So there’s no hassle surrounding paying with different currencies. Make sure to check which bank has the most favorable exchange-rate policy for you, though.

Student discounts

If you’re a student or recent graduate who still has their uni card, you can make use of the special student discounts knows as Studentenrabatte! This nets your discounts at many different kinds of businesses and can save you quite a lot of money. So, whenever you’re going out to a cafe, or trying out the cinema after COVID 19 dies down, make sure to ask for the student rates. Did you know that students are usually entitled to free public transportation in Germany? Get in touch with your university if this applies to your university as well!

Here are some examples of German businesses that often offer student rates:

  • Cafés and bars
  • Restaurants (usually have a student menu, or discounts on certain days)
  • Kinos (cinemas)
  • Gyms
  • Telecom and software

Cash is king

As a final note, Germany is a country where cash is still widely used and accepted. Taking part in this will actually help you save money! Go to the UTM and withdraw your weekly budget in cash, so you know how exactly how much you’re spending and how much you have left in your budget. We all know how easy it is to swipe our cards when making a payment, making it very easy to lose track of how much you’re spending.

So, now you know how you can make your life in Germany a little bit cheaper by shopping at the right stores and markets, claiming your tax return and making use of the discounts available to you! Happy saving!

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