Cost and Relativity

Russians often talk about how expensive it is to live in Moscow, and I mostly believe them. I suppose it’s much more expensive here than living in one of Russia’s smaller cities or villages. Honestly, though, having moved here from DC, it feels refreshingly affordable.

My cell phone service costs me $0.50 per day for unlimited cellular data. (There are limits on SMS messages and talk minutes, but I use very few of those.) $15 a month is remarkably less than I used to pay. Likewise, my home internet is a fraction of what I was paying before: $7 per month instead of $107. My landlord told me to expect about $40 a month in water and electricity bills, which is about a third of what I used to put on the laundry card each month for our three-person household.

My rent here is 75% of what it was in Arlington, and I made the choice to splurge on a place in the city center that has room for guests. I could have trimmed this cost further had I chosen a smaller apartment and/or something further out. And, The Gallery is furnished.

Public transit costs are less than half my previous budget for gas, insurance, and maintenance on my car and public transportation in DC’s Metro system.

My salary is the same now as it was for the last academic year when I was working remotely for this university. That salary was about half the median income in Arlington, and meant I had one of the lowest wages among my group of friends with white collar jobs in tech, government contracting, academia, and law.

Here, that salary is obscenely high compared to the median income in the city.  It’s high even compared with my colleagues at local public universities.

On one hand, it’s nice to be at the top. It’s nice to have a nice space, to know I can go to the nearby grocery and not worry about the cost, to eat at a restaurant when I don’t feel like cooking. But as a person who has spent so much of her life on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, I also know I need to be both careful and generous.

Through these first weeks of transition, I’ve been indulging the luxury, but I’ll need to start paying more attention to expenses so that I can budget for things like passport and visa renewals next year, moving expenses when I’m ready to return to the US, and the unexpected things that happen to all households, and also so that I can use my relative affluence ease the path for those on the rungs below mine.

Today, instead of shopping at the semi-fancy grocery store on my block, I kept walking to a farmers’ market. For $18, all this bounty came home in my bags:
Seen from above, salad greens, cucumbers, persimmons, grapes, mandarins, peaches, pears, and cauliflower fill a kitchen table.

I might have been able to haggle, especially since I bought multiple things from each of the vendors I dealt with, and I was paying in cash, but I hate haggling, and I didn’t bother. This is certainly less than I would have paid at the farmers’ market in Arlington, and also less than at the semi-fancy store by The Gallery. Beyond that, though, it supports regional farmers more directly, which is a modest act of social justice.

I’m mindful these days of a conversation I had with my friend Taylor once about her work in western Africa. She noted that in (post)colonial spaces, one is always either the colonizer or the colonized. There is no middle ground. “When you think to yourself, ‘I can live like a king here!’,” she said, “you know you’re the colonizer.” Moscow is, of course, not a colonized space. It is the center of an empire. Nonetheless, I’m aware of the incredible privilege granted me by my private university salary, which, designed to be competitive with European and US salaries, blows past Russian salaries at ludicrous speed.

The next challenge is to figure out what financial support for ministries of justice and of mercy look like in this space and who is doing them well.

1 Comment

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  1. It is interesting to read about the many differences there are, between the two countries, when it comes to the living expenses!

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