The ERE Challenge Day 1: Finding a Place to Live

Place to live

One of my first encounters with the FIRE-movement was through Jacob Lund Fisker’s Early Retirement Extreme blog. He is Danish like me and has a great sense of humour, which I enjoy. He also has a 21-day challenge, with day 1 being: finding a place to live.

I like challenges. I like having a list of things that tells me what to do and which leads to something meaningful. Often I create these to-do lists myself. But I also enjoy following challenges created by awesome and inspiring people, like Jacob. Doing so helps me expand my boundaries, get outside my comfort zone and most importantly: learn and improve as an individual.

So I thought I would try out the 21-day challenge and write about that journey too. I won’t be doing it in 21 days (sorry future financially independent me), but I will absolutely use it to reflect on my finances and the sustainability of my choices.

Where do I live now?

I am privileged enough to already have a pretty great place to live (approximately 1 out of 1000 people in Denmark are homeless; many others struggle to find an affordable place to live in the cities). I currently share a 56 m2 co-op apartment with my husband and our baby (cat).

Now, our apartment has a lot of upsides: that’s why we have lived here for 5 years. But it also has downsides: that’s why we’re moving. While we were looking for a new place to live, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I like and dislike about the apartment. Of course, I made a list. I love lists. But seriously, it helped us figure out what we were looking for, so I can’t recommend enough to spend some time reflecting on what makes you happy in terms of living accommodation. Your list might look a lot different than mine.

Upsides to my current place of living

  • It’s cheap (for the city). It’s a co-op, which means we have bought into becoming co-owners of the entire property and have the exclusive right to live in our apartment. Co-ops are often cheaper to buy than ‘regular’ apartments and rent is often cheaper than rentals (but more expensive than regular apartments). While we still had our €54,000 loan, we would pay approximately €1000 a month for rent, interest+loan and utilities. After we paid off our loan in March of this year (wohoo!), we pay approximately €700 a month.
  • It’s close to work, groceries and friends. We don’t need a car for our day-to-day. I can bicycle to work every day. I can bicycle to see most of my friends. And I have less than a 10 minute walk to at least 4 grocery stores. That’s not just great for our finances, but also for our health. Plus, most of the time, I really like that morning and afternoon bike ride to kind of mark the beginning and end of my workday.
  • It has two (small) balconies. Not that this is super related to finances or sustainability, but it does affect my quality of life. In the summer, it’s just nice to be able to sit outside in the sun and drink coffee or rosé wine, write my bullet journal, meditate or just be. In that way, our balconies have kind of been like small oases in the city.

Downsides to my current living situation

  • It only has two rooms. Now, although I define myself as somewhat of a minimalist, I do miss having an extra room where I can devote myself to my yoga practice or where my husband or I can work. Especially in these COVID-19 times.
  • It’s cold in the winter. We live in a really old, poorly insulated building. And the radiators are placed in the middle of the building. That means it gets really cold inside in the winter (I am wearing layers and covered in a blanket as I write this). This means we use an electrical heater, which is expensive and bad for the environment due to the electricity spent.
  • It’s loud. Again with the old building. It is not very soundproof. And I have reached the stage in my life where I get terribly annoyed when it sounds as if my neighbours’ party is happening in my living room.
  • There’s no garden. Well, technically, there is a shared yard, but I don’t use it a lot, living on the 3rd floor. And I don’t have the authority to turn all of it into a vegetable garden and grow my own food.
  • It’s far away from nice green areas. I like taking walks outside, especially in nature – or something as close to nature as possible. We currently do live near a small lake, but you are very aware that you are in the city even when walking around it.

What is my next place to live like?

Having thought about the above pros and cons, I knew that I wanted a place with an extra room, with a garden, close to nature, work, friends and groceries, relatively energy-optimised and without sharing walls with the neighbours. And preferably something not so very old. Obviously we also wanted a place that would not drastically increase our costs of living. That is a tall order when you want a house in Copenhagen.

But we managed to find a cute little house that actually (!) lives up to most of our requirements:

  • A 60 m2 house in Copenhagen, which means it is still close to everything and we don’t share walls with noisy neighbours.
  • Instead, we become part of a community of really lovely, crafty people.
  • Two extra rooms.
  • A small garden.
  • Awesome green areas basically right in our backyard.
  • Very close to a fairly big, noisy road – which is probably why we can afford it.

Why have we chosen this house as our next place to live?

A 1000 words or so back, I stated that this article sprang from an ambition to do the ERE challenge, starting with day 1: Finding a place to live. So of course, I have thought about the key points of Jacob’s article:

  • Location relative to your work.
  • Location relative to your grocery outlet.
  • Cost – a recommended no more than $200-300/month/person. That corresponds to approximately €170-255/month/person. Considering the development in the price index in Denmark since 2008 (when Jacob wrote his post), it’s closer to €195-295/month/person.

So how have we done?

Location relative to work and grocery outlet

We can check both of these off right away.

The new house is 2 km further away from work for me, but 5 km closer to work for my husband. This means we can both comfortably bicycle to work now, as well both have around 9 km. Check!

The house is also close to a few different grocery outlets. Unfortunately, none as great as the one we are close to now (we love our SuperBrugsen), but sufficient for our needs. Check!

This means we do not have to get a car or one of those fancy bicycles with a battery – both of which are big investments. In Denmark, there are approximately 200% taxes on a new car. It doesn’t end there: Gas in Denmark is expensive too, at around €1,5/litre. Adding insurance and maintenance, we are probably looking at around €265/month. And yes, I had to look all of this up, because I know nothing of cars. Nevertheless – I think it’s great that cars are expensive. It should be expensive to own and drive a car, considering the environmental and health impact. So I am happy we dodged that bullet.

Cost

We have not done as well here. The new house will cost us €384,000. We will need to borrow around €293,000 at an annual interest of 0,5%. With the monthly utility cost of around €265, we will end up paying in the vicinity of €1785/month. That’s approximately 3x recommended ERE cost. We have accepted that this is the price of living in the city, and that there are other areas where we will cut our spending instead. At least for now.

Sustainability factors of our new place to live

Finally, there are some sustainability factors (besides financial sustainability) that we have considered in buying this house.

  • There is room for a small vegetable garden where we can grow herbs and some vegetables and become slightly less dependent on buying our food in supermarkets. That’s good for our finances, and great for learning more about gardening and becoming self-sufficient.
  • The house is very small, which means it won’t take a lot of energy to heat it up. This is good for the environment and our wallet.
  • The size of the house and our aversion to clutter also means we won’t be buying a lot of stuff for the house. In fact, most of the extra furniture we need, we can get from our families.
  • We are still going to be able to bicycle everywhere, which means we are not going to be polluting by buying a car or driving it around.

Related article: My Search for Affordable and Sustainable Housing

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