Is ditching an expensive apartment in Vilnius and heading for the countryside worth it? It may depend on how you measure your life quality.
Eight years ago, Snieguolė and Remigijus Žižiai decided to move from Vilnius to Druskininkai, a town in the south of Lithuania with the population of 12,000.
The family says living in a smaller town saves a lot of time because of shorter commutes. Remigijus has calculated that in Druskininkai, he has one to two additional hours of free time every day compared to when he lived in the capital Vilnius
But the biggest benefit was financial. In the smaller town, the family spends much less on transport and extracurricular activities for their children.
Cheaper life, but lower wages
Lithuanian city dwellers do indeed spend more on consumption than people in small towns, data from Statistics Lithuania confirm.
In 2016, monthly consumption expenditure in the five biggest cities (Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Šiauliai, Panevėžys) was, on average, 344 euros per household member, compared to 285 euros in other towns and 248 euros in villages. The sum did not include rent.
The biggest share – 97.4 euros – of city residents’ expenditure went to food and non-alcoholic beverages. They also spent 54.6 euros on utilities and 36.5 euros on transport.
In villages, food cost on average 91.1 euros, while only 27.2 euros were spent on utilities and transport.
However, people outside the big cities also earned less. In the first quarter of 2020, the average monthly salary in Vilnius was 1,543 euros before tax, compared to 1,122 euros in Marijampolė and 1,087 euros in Tauragė.
Food costs the same
Food prices are similar across the country, says the economist Romas Lazutka. In villages, people can only save money if they grow vegetables themselves, but it requires a greater time investment.
Lithuania’s biggest supermarket chains have confirmed to LRT.lt that food pricing is identical across the country.
“Some discounts could be offered in certain stores irrespective of their geographical location,” Vaida Budrienė, a spokeswoman of the IKI supermarket chain, explains the likely price differences.
Meanwhile, costs diverge markedly for accommodation and real estate. According to the Centre of Registers, residential properties in Vilnius sold for 1,889 euros per square metre in the second quarter of 2020. The rate was 1,274 euros in other Lithuanian cities and 914 euros in smaller towns and villages.
“Real estate prices correlate with wages and unemployment levels. […] Our research found that the costs were lowest in towns with the lowest wages and highest unemployment rates,” says Saulius Vagonis, head of Valuation and Analysis at real estate agency Ober-Haus.
He notes that young families buying real estate in provincial regions can receive a government subsidy amounting to 15–30 percent of the price.
According to Lazutka, however, lower costs do not always mean a better quality of life.
“If a person lives in a village and needs to go bring water from a well in the morning, or collect firewood to heat the house, it is cheaper, but the quality of life is worse,” the economist says.
He adds, however, that the same can be true in cities if people are forced to live in tiny apartments due to expensive rents.