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A Typical American VS a Typical Russian: Where Does the Money Go? Posted by on Mar 18, 2014 in General reference article, Other Blogs, Russian life, when in Russia

When dealing with foreign culture, a lot us of frequently make the mistake of assuming that things are the same way there as they are in their own country. Even after years of living in US, I find myself falling into this trap time and time again. You won’t be able to completely escape this trap, but if you use my curious collection of comparisons of a typical American and a typical Russian on the subject of money spending, you will have a better picture of where their money goes.


Доход (income)

According to US Census Bureau, average individual monthly income in US is $2500. According to Rosstat, average monthly income in Russia is $700 (22000 рублей).

Ипотека or кредит на недвижимость (mortgage or loan to purchase property)

In America, the idea of taking out a mortgage and buying a property is pretty much introduced with mother’s milk. The very same idea has been introduced to the Russian market only about 10 years ago. However, the process of taking out a loan and purchasing property is still out of reach of most Russians, according to Vedomosti. This is due to unfavorable loan terms: typical mortgage rates are about 15% and typical mortgage term is 15 years compared to typical US mortgage rates of 4-5% and a typical term of 30 years.

 Дом (house) or квартира (apartment)

While a typical American residence is a house (with or without the white picket fence :-), a typical Russian residence is an apartment. Inability to purchase real estate due to lack of income and unfavorable lending terms results in parents sharing their quarters with children for quite some time. In many instances, you will see two and three generations living together in one apartment.

The room count in a typical Russian apartment is not conducted by counting bedrooms, but rather by counting all rooms with the exception of the kitchen. That means if you were told an apartment has 2 rooms, it literally has TWO rooms, plus the kitchen. A lot of Russians inherit their property from their parents, grandparents, or have received it from the government or their employer many decades ago.

Одежда (clothing)

A typical Russian person has about 2-3 good sweaters, 2-3 decent pairs of pants, and a couple of shirts/tops/dresses. A fairly small selection of clothing and particular care for what you have is explained by the high prices on clothing in relation to the income. An average Russian consumer (an equivalent of JC Penny, Forever 21, Kohl’s, or Gap customer) will have to pay between $35-60 for a sweater and $40-100 for a pair of jeans and $50-150 for a pair of shoes. With seasonal sales and clearance in their newborn stage, clothing takes out a decent chunk of an average Russian person’s budget. A typical American closet consists of about 10 pairs of pants, 5-10 sweaters, 10 tops/shirts, 5 dresses, 3 coats and 5-10 pairs of shoes – usually made possible by end-of-season sales, holiday sales and, sometimes, clearance. While you may pay the same amount of money for clothing in America as you would in Russia, you are spending a much smaller portion of your income, considering the averages in both countries.

Продукты (groceries)

While groceries in many categories are somewhat cheaper in Russia, when you compare the food prices in relation to the average monthly income, groceries put a significant dent in both an average American and average Russian budget. What varies thought is the food variety, grocery store size and the amount of trips to the grocery store. A typical American supermarket has an enormous amount of processed foods. While Russia is also on its way there, it cannot currently match the brand variety and, therefore, does not need stores of that size. Pedestrian life style of most Russian people also dictates how grocery shopping is conducted. Russian people usually stop at the store 1 to 2 times a week buying enough to last for a few days. Processed and frozen foods are becoming more and more popular in Russia, but most people still cook their own food.

Здравоохранение (healthcare)

We all know that healthcare in the US is not free 🙂 but is considerably more advanced, at least in my opinion, than healthcare in Russia. Russian healthcare is provided by the government and is available to all citizens somewhat free. Private clinics also exist but they are out of reach of most people. While the question of healthcare, its cost and quality is a very complex issue, I feel compelled to provide a couple of examples on the subject from my own life .

A few years ago I was visiting my family in Russia with my three year old son. Sometime on Friday he started showing signs of a cold/virus. I didn’t think much of it. But then on Saturday evening, my son was in bed with a fewer of 105-106F. I was frantic. My father said we should call an ambulance. With my hands shaking, I dialed 03. In about 20 min, ambulance showed up and in came the doctor. She examined my son, gave him a shot, waited for about 20 min to see how he was doing, instructed me to buy antibiotic (which you do not need a prescription for, by the way), chewed me out for not calling the ambulance earlier and left. I got the medicine, and in the next two days my son was back to his cheerful self. Before I go any further, let me just say that I would have called that ambulance no matter what because you cannot put a price on my child’s life but, nevertheless, what was the price I paid for the above described incident? The price was $0.00. I did not have to pay a dime for the life-saving services that were provided.

A few years later, while I was working at a bank here in US, I had a chance to hear a horrifying story. One of our security guards was an elderly gentleman, who lived with his single daughter and little granddaughter. One day he did not come in to work. We found out later that it was due to the fact that his daughter passed away. His daughter, who was a struggling single mother, passed away due to complications from strep throat, of all things. Her fear of what it would cost her to get necessary treatment prevented her from visiting the doctor. After a few days of agonizing fewer, she passed away from an easily treatable condition, leaving her small child in the care of her elderly father.

The reason I decided to include these examples in this post is to illustrate that neither system is perfect and both need serious improvement. Maybe meeting somewhere in the middle wouldn’t be a bad idea.

To summarize, here is my perception of how a typical American and a typical Russian expenses break down in order of importance.

Typical Russian person:

-rent (if any)



-other loans (mostly electronics, household goods, furniture, sometimes vehicle loan+gas, etc.)

-clothing, recreational spending

less money + less debt = pretty tight noose

Typical American person:

-rent or mortgage (applies to most people)



-other debt (credit cards that are used for anything and everything, healthcare bills, student loans, car loans + gas, etc.)

more money + more debt = even tighter noose

In conclusion, I would like to pose the following question: на что у Вас уходят деньги? (where does your money go?)

I look forward to what you have to say!

Всего хорошего!

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About the Author: Jenya

Born in Russia, I spent the first twenty years of my life in Orenburg, Russia and Mogilev, Belarus. For the last eleven years, I've lived in New Hampshire and Michigan, US. While I continue to absorb and adapt to American culture, I am always thrilled to share my Russian heritage with those who find it interesting. Travel, photography and art play a special part in my life. Twitter: @iamnx2u


  1. Vyacheslav Trotsak:

    Jenya, thank you very much for your article!

  2. Kate:

    I hope to visit Russia for a year or so soon, so this blog has been very useful.

    This was a very interesting article. I’m currently spending the largest portion of my income on paying back student loans. I’m living with a lot of roommates so my rent is less than student loan payments. Next is food. I eat out too often because I hate cooking.
    I better learn to cook.

    • Jenya:

      @Kate Thank you Kate! By the way, Russians don’t eat out much. That might be nice to know if you go there. Of course, you are always welcome to do it, there are certainly plenty of places to do it, but your average Russian person simply does not have the funds for eating out, occasional trips to a reasonably priced cafe/restaurant are common among younger people but they are most likely weekly/biweekly if that.

  3. danvolodar:

    Wait, emergency care isn’t free or at least on loan in the US? WTF?!

    • Jenya:

      @danvolodar Danvolodar, few things are free in the US 🙂 ,however, loans are always an option 🙂 .Emergency care will cost you considerably more than “regular maintenance.” If you don’t have insurance, a typical visit to the ER will cost you $1000 and up, if you have to call an ambulance, we are talking a few grand. Now, if you have insurance, that greatly changes things. Although, there are cost variations, along with coverage variations, etc.

    • Jessica:

      @danvolodar Emergency care can be one of the biggest bills here in the US. From personal experience without health insurance for almost 9 years: the ambulance can cost around $500-$700 or more depending on how much treatment you need in transit to the hospital, by Texas law ER doctor’s fee is capped around $600 (but think, you may see more than one specialist or doctor who will each bill you separately) and that means every doctor will try to charge you the legal maximum they’re allowed. Then there is the bill for lab work and imaging, just a basic CBC blood draw can be $200-$300. Then fees get tacked on like room usage fees (Emergency rooms are usually the most expensive rooms after the ICU of course), you get charged for IV placement (sometimes for the unit and the nurse who puts it in), any drugs administered, any food or drinks (if you’re well enough, some nice hospitals give you a bottle of water and some cookies or crackers for free), and other miscellaneous fees, sometimes I’ve even seen charges for building use. Of course you don’t pay it up front in an emergency, but you will get the bills. I found the best place for medical bills is the paper shredder, like most uninsured or underinsured Americans. It hurts my credit score a little, but one visit to the ER can add up to about half of my yearly gross income. So it is what it is.

      Interesting article btw, this makes Russia not sound so bad! Americans can’t live this lifestyle without massive amounts of debt.

  4. Mark Walters:

    привет, женя!
    love reading your blogs and appreciate your facebook russian language help. this piece was particularly interesting to me. i looked for your twitter, @imnx2u, without success. is it correct?

    • Jenya:

      @Mark Walters Марк, большое спасибо! Here is my twitter link: https://twitter.com/iamnx2u
      But if this doesn’t work out either, you can always go to my site hypnoticrhythm.org and find all the social links there.

    • Steven:

      @Mark Walters Not all Americans live with debt. Or with credit cards. Of course we have credit cards for renting cars while on trips but as for using them for living expenses… no… never…(!)…..and no one I know uses them for that either.
      We live in a pretty nice part of California. (And Nevada and Arizona) … and we have learned to live without debt. All our friends live within their means as well. No debt. No using credit. Cash purchases only. A credit card for …Electronics? Household items? Clothes?…Never. Everything here is in crazy abundance. Furniture clothes electronics flat screen tvs. It’s nuts(!). Everything we ever need is looked at first in second hand stores …first! You have no idea the quality and variety the second hand stores have. New cars? I don’t think so. We live in a couple different cities in fully paid off homes. We never buy new cars yet we drive Lexus and Land Rover and Explorers and Subarus and and big old Buicks. (Half the year we are in the desert and the other half in the high mountains in deep snow… we really need 4wd) (by driving used cars bought with cash we have very low car costs and we get the best cars dirt cheap). Where we live has crazy winters. I mean really deep snow-it averages 450-500″ of snow each ski season) (that’s about 12-14 meters a year)
      Anyway. With hard work and living within your income… and by avoiding debt (except maybe a house debt when you are younger)… and by avoiding the scumbag banks and their idiot “credit” which eats up middle class income for no reason other than “I want it now… I’m a big baby who can’t wait 6 months during which I can can save up and then pay cash.” Enuff of bank talk. Those companies rile me. Anyway…
      As far as medical costs. With a normal job you will have your family covered with proper insurance. You will pay $15 for a childbirth. $15 for three weeks of hospital care after major surgery and $15 for your yearly checkup. If you are way underpaid or disabled the state covers you. If your idiot employer doesn’t carry insurance for you Obamacare will cover your entire family and cover from 50 to 95% of the cost of a very high quality insurance plan. Depending on your income. Such as Silver Blue Cross plan or similar. Only morons go into debt these days over medical costs. It happens but not often anymore. And it’s usually because someone is too lazy or too out of it to arrange for Obamacare. No one will sign you up. You godda do it yourself in this country. But geese already it’s damn near free.
      Life can be good in most countiries if people live within their means. And spend less than they make.
      We and most everyone we know live pretty darn well. Once every couple years we may run low. So…..We just stop spending money on needless stuff for a couple months. It’s not hard to do. We don’t use credit cards. We did that once. Years ago. Never again. Never. Credit sucks. Banks suck (when they push credit.).
      Spending money they don’t have seems to make some people happy. But it isn’t real happiness. Stuff is just stuff. Do something nice for people you don’t even know. Learn what the movie “Groundhog Day” is all about. And try your best to be productive and caring. And contribute to society. And the world. Not just your corner of it. And stay content. Live can be good. Wherever you are.

  5. David Roberts:

    From a British perspective, what you write about healthcare is really striking. As I see it, the only thing wrong with the Russian system is that there’s not enough of it – like in the UK, where our governments prefer to spend money on following America into costly and pointless military adventures. Although it has to be said that in the UK system there’s a lot of inefficiency and too much spending on “management”. Whereas what’s wrong with the US system is that a lot of people can’t afford it when they need it. But if the principle that healthcare should be freely available to all isn’t a votewinner, that’s not going to change much. I think both US and UK should be looking to Germany and France as role models for healthcare.

    Izvinnite shto pishu po-anglishki v Ru Blog!

    • Jenya:

      @David Roberts David, большое спасибо за Вашу точку зрения! As someone who had the privilege to deal with both healthcare systems, I think that both of them are in serious need for improvement. The quality of Russian healthcare leaves much to be desired. There are literally thousands of horror stories on this particular subject but the basics, like if you have a high fewer, you can easily go and see your doctor or get antibiotics, are pretty well worked out. I don’t know much about Germany and France but, perhaps, looking at their experience wouldn’t be too bad. With US switching over to ObamaCare, who knows what it will be like in the upcoming years…

  6. Sally:

    Well, Russia *did* abandon socialism for the so-called ‘better’ of capitalism…

  7. Buck Adams:

    вотка (vokda) or вода (water)?

    Yes, and no.

  8. Morriah:

    Great Blog!!!

    I wish I find this before!

  9. trevar:

    Re size of supermarkets- disagree- In Russian cities I have been to supermarkets and stores as larger and larger than many western stores..supermarkets have wide variety of fruits, veg, etc …. Okai is example….. huge variety of goods…

    • Jenya:

      @trevar Trevar, thank you the feedback. The comparison is between US and Russia. It is very possible that western European stores are smaller than the ones in Russia, but Russian supermarkets pale in comparison to US supermarkets both in size and variety.

      • Mary:

        @Jenya I would like to visit Russia for a year or more. Does anyone know what is the cost to rent a house in a rural area? I might decide to stay
        permanently if I am happy.
        Also is it possible for a Canadian citizen to do this without major paper work?
        Can a Canadian apply for refugee status? I wish I was joking!

  10. Natasha:

    Привет, Женька! Nice post! I just want to add a bit about healthcare. IMHO, the biggest problem with the Russian healthcare is how NOT advanced it is. I am talking something more serious than a strep throat, for example serious heart defects. I had a friend whose 3 year old daughter had an issue that Russian doctors couldn’t do anything about. She came here and her daughter had an open heart surgery that for that particular doctor was “routine”. In Russia she literally had no chance, and she lives in a big city. Imagine how bad things are in other places. What I am trying to say is, you can criticize American system, but keep in mind that with all its flaws we are very lucky to have it.

    • Jenya:

      @Natasha Наташ, I totally agree with you, I remember the story about that little girl. There is plenty of room for criticism of both healthcare systems. The main issue with Russia is QUALITY, the main issue with US is COST. If the gap could be bridged somehow in both countries, I believe we would end up with healthier people. What we are witnessing today in Russia and US is a result of laws and practices that have been around for years and years. It is obvious that both systems are spiraling out of control and serious change is well overdue.

  11. Paula:

    Good article but I have a few insights from 12 years in Kyiv and 5 in Almaty. In general, I believe food from Russia that is cooked at home is probably much healthier than the processed stuff for sail in the USA. but in the health care realm, I found that in serious illnesses, the staff were always looking for private donations from the patients to supplement the staffs pay. doctors often work two jobs and the nurses 24 hour shifts. I had an operation in a Ukrainian hospital and my daughter was also operated on in one. We had to purchase all supplies for the operation, bandages, thread, meds, etc and there still was the question,Can you pay us this much for our help? Or can you donate a computer to our hospital ?

  12. Corentin:

    I don’t know much about either America or Russia but what I read here make me think I’m lucky to live in Belgium.
    Here, most people own a house with low mortgage rate (around 20 years to pay it back since most houses are around 400.000$) so a bit like in America.
    But, we have higher salary ; mean salary in Belgium is 4300$ gross or 2500 $ net (yes, we have an awful amount of taxes). But, those taxes are due to a socialist state which get us a lot of help when we need it :
    – healthcare is almost free, a box of antibiotics costs around 4$, painkillers 3$, a visit to the doctor is 6$, …
    – costs for university are really low, maximum 1200$/year (for the costlier studies)
    – unemployement is paid, someone who doesn’t have a job still get at the very least 1250$/month

    For the clothing, we are like Americans with a lot of them.

  13. Jenya:

    Thank you, Corentin! Maybe we should all just move to Belgium :-)!

  14. Keith:

    What the article didnt mention is the savings rate. Russians save very little of their income as to start with its low, but even good earners would trust having goods rather than money in the bank. Also, a lot of people have free housing, apart from utlity and local tax payment, inherited from Soviet time. I cant agree that shops are not big in Russia. In the UK there is hardly anything the size of Auchan, Lenta, Okei, and they are in regional cities not just Moscow. Regarding the health system Ive been in a Russian hospital and wouldnt want to go back unless you paid me though the doctors themselves are good.

  15. jakikantor:

    I have been absent for a while, but now I remember why I used to love this web site. Thank you, I’ll try and check back more often. How frequently you update your website?

  16. Nelieta:

    A great article and very interesting! I have to add that when we visited family in Russia in 2012, I needed a prescription for antibiotics. They refused to sell it to me over the counter withour seeing a doctor.

  17. Dmitry:

    I am from russia and RUSSIAN salaray is very little.programmist-$1500/month. Prises are very big.Country is very underdeveloped.

    • Jenya:

      @Dmitry Дмитрий, thank you for your comment. I thought it would be worth mentioning that there are plenty of Americans whose salary is $1500/month. $1500/month is a great number for Russia, considering the averall cost of living; try living on that in the US and it will seem indefinitely harder.

      • Steve:

        @Jenya I get social security and disability that adds up to $850 a month I live in USA the help of ssi and ssdi is horrible and certainly not enough but better than nothing My rent is $900 a month for a 3 bedroom I also have to pay electricity and heat with the help of food stamps of $298.. I’m a single father with custody of my son. it is incredibly hard to live life in America being disabled for us yes health care is free but we are treated differently than people that have Money.

  18. jeff:

    I am a farmer, and I’m wondering what Russian farms are like. How large is the average russian farm and do they use modern farming methods?

  19. puneet:

    i lived in russia from 2001 to 2007. i found russian system to be better than in many countries especially education and health. all the major surgeries like neuro and cardiac are free and they cost huge amounts in us and here in my country in india. people have a professional approach and they are friendly. i found them to be healthier than people in us. you cannot compare people of different countries because national character is different indians being softer than us and russians being similar to indians at heart. but anyhow i like russia. and specially russki ezik. ochen krasivie ezik

  20. Lolakitty:

    If Americans had less clothes and ate out more they could afford to pay for health insurance. They just don’t want to.

  21. Lolakitty:

    Ate out less often… Sorry

  22. Jake Starr:

    It differs greatly… the term “birds of a feather flock together”, couldn’t be more true… location is a big deal too whether it’s metropolitan or vast wilderness. Of course remote places seem to have less work unlike it’s counterpart, but if there’s people present; then there’s work. Disparities differ greatly from location to who you bump shoulders with. No poor person is going to provide a greater income by knowing them… The basic untaught rule of life. You can’t squeeze a dime out of a nickel. Education can only take someone so far as well. I’m self taught and I’ve acquired skills in tons of fields. You can drop me off any where in the world flat broke and i’d do just fine. Remote locations i’d seek employment at mills or farms… use income to move into a mildly populated area and seek construction employment. From there, in just 8 years i could own a company and several homes. What you know will always be more valuable than who you know or can meet… Couldn’t be more true there, knowledge is power… though it’s nothing without dedication and large goals…

  23. Mark:

    Found this very interesting Jenya. My biggest question is, how is everyday life if Russia?

    We all have things we can or cant afford and most try to live within there means, but how is the average spirit? Are the Russian people generally happy in spirit? Do they smile as the walk around? Do they laugh with each other? Do they go out and have coffee with friends & family and visit? Do neighbors visit with each other?

    Some people in the US always try to paint the picture that its pure misery there and I just dont think thats the case.