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Cost of living: How to save on groceries in Switzerland

Want to save more than a few francs when doing your weekly shop in Switzerland? Here’s how.

Fresh fruits and vegetables at an outdoor market
Saving money on groceries in Switzerland isn't easy, but it isn't impossible. Here are some tips. Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

While Switzerland’s grocery stores are a good bit cheaper than restaurants or bars, they will still often charge eye-watering amounts. 

That said, there are a few ways to save money when doing your regular shop. 

While some of these are Swiss-specific, others are valid everywhere (you might even remember them from your student days). 

If we’ve missed anything, let us know in the comments or get in touch at [email protected]. 

Tips for Switzerland (and probably everywhere else)

So as with almost everything on The Local Switzerland, the advice is tailored to life here in the Confoederatio Helvetica. 

There are some tips however which are universal and will help you save on groceries whether you are in Switzerland or abroad. 

Probably the first step in considering how to save money is to remember your student days. 

Cost of living in Switzerland: How to save money if you live in Zurich

Rice and pasta are relatively cheap in Switzerland, while meat and cheese are comparatively expensive. 

Making a large amount of food and freezing it is a possibility, particularly if you buy the meat from a discount retailer like Aldi and Lidl. 

Another tip is to keep an eye on food close to its expiration date. 

While buying expired meat and cheese is a sure fire way to upset your stomach (and perhaps anyone else in your vicinity), getting stuff close to its expiry date will pose few risks and save quite a bit. 

Also know the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘expiry/use by’ dates. 

While pasta and canned food may survive forever and well past the best before date, Bernese blood tongue sausage will not. 

Coupons and regular specials/deals – whether online or in print like supermarket magazines – are also very much a thing in Switzerland and are worth looking into. 

Discount supermarkets

After arriving in Switzerland, it won’t take you long before you work out the hierarchy of Swiss supermarkets. 

At one end are luxury supermarkets like Manor and Globus – and in the middle are Migros, Denner and Coop (although Coop tends slightly more expensive than Migros and Denner is the cheaper of the three). 

At the cheaper end are Germany’s Lidl and Aldi, which is known here as Aldi Suisse. 

These discounters offer some of the most reasonably priced groceries in Switzerland. 

Be aware that they lack the conveniences of other supermarkets in the UK, US or France. You won’t find many large brands, while you will often need to take your products out of boxes and bag your groceries yourself (although that is relatively common place in Switzerland). 

READ MORE: How the cost of living will change in Switzerland in 2022

Avoiding supermarkets entirely

Even discount supermarkets can be pricey in Switzerland, while the range tends to be relatively predictable. 

One option is to visit a farmer’s market, where Switzerland’s best and close-to-best produce can be bought at prices cheaper than supermarkets. 

Often the food will be fresher and while there may be a few spots on your apples, it’ll taste as good or better than supermarket fare. 

Be aware though that while farmers markets are cheap, not all outdoor markets are created equal. 

Fancy, inner city, designer markets will often have boutique and craft-style offerings where you can shake the hand of the cow that produced the cheese, but where prices will rival those seen in higher-end supermarkets. 

So when it comes to markets, be sure to shop around and compare the costs with those in your local supermarket. 

Farmers markets are a good way to save money on fresh produce. Photo by Jorge Franganillo on Unsplash

Farmers markets are a good way to save money on fresh produce. Photo by Jorge Franganillo on Unsplash

BYO bags

A relatively simple one which will become habit in no time, but bringing your own bags is a great way to save a little cash when doing your grocery shop.

EXPLAINED: How to find cheap train tickets in Switzerland

Swiss supermarkets, like many across Europe, have sought to phase out single-use bags for environmental reasons. 

If you’ve forgotten to bring your own bags there are always reusable or single use bags available, although you will have to pay. 

Readers from the US have previously told us that they didn’t realise they were being charged for single-use bags every time they did a grocery shop – which can add up to several francs at the end of the year. 

Loyalty schemes

Most major Swiss supermarkets have loyalty schemes where you can accrue points with every purchase. 

You’ll be offered rewards for your loyalty, while in other cases your points become purchase credits. 

EXPLAINED: The real reason Swiss supermarket Migros doesn’t sell alcohol

These loyalty schemes will usually be available at all retail outlets operated by the same company, i.e. Coop’s Supercard program is available at Coop Pronto (gas stations and convenience stores) and Coop City, while Migros’ Cumulus program is also available at Migrolino and Migrol (gas stations). 

As with all loyalty schemes, the idea is to get you to spend more at the one store, so be careful to ensure you don’t end up spending more than you otherwise would if you weren’t being loyal. 

Seasonal food

Switzerland remains a country of traditions and as such seasonal food is very much still a thing.

Foods in season will be more plentiful and likely cheaper, particularly as they will not need to be imported.

This especially applies to fresh foods like blueberries and white asparagus, but other staples will also see fluctuations.

White asparagus for sale at a farmers market. Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

White asparagus for sale at a farmers market. Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Don’t go shopping in Switzerland

OK so this isn’t always possible depending on where you live, but for people in cross-border regions it is common place to go shopping in either Germany, Italy or France (and even Austria, although the mountain passes can make it difficult). 

Shopping across the border can lead to serious savings over time – particularly in Germany – although there are Covid rules and tax regulations to be aware of. 

You can find out more about these at the following links. 

READ MORE: What are the current rules for Swiss cross-border shopping in Germany?

READ MORE: The rules Swiss cross-border shoppers in France and Italy should know

Keep in mind however that while most standard groceries will be cheaper abroad, this is not always the case. 

As we discussed in this article, some things are actually cheaper in Switzerland. 

One major example is petrol, with Switzerland’s lower fuel taxes making non-diesel fuel cheaper in Switzerland – with the French and the Germans crossing the border to fill up here. 

READ MORE: Where in Switzerland can you find the cheapest fuel?

Order online from abroad

Good news for people who like to purchase goods on the Internet: from January 1st, Swiss customers will no longer be denied access to foreign online shopping platforms.

Currently, anyone in Switzerland who tries to access the “.de” or “.fr” version of a merchant site, is automatically redirected to a Swiss sales portal where the merchandise is more expensive.

But from January 1st, the law will ban geo-blocking on the internet in this area, a rule in force in the EU since 2018.

READ MORE: Everything that changes in Switzerland in 2022

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For members


Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland's childcare costs are among the world's highest, although there are some ways to save. Originally from the United States but now raising children in Zug, writer Ashley Franzen takes you through some of the most important things you need to consider when finding childcare in Switzerland.

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland has a peculiar dichotomy when it comes to childcare. Although many parents both work full-time, Switzerland has traditionally been hands off when it comes to childcare support for families with children under five, leading to some of the highest childcare costs in the world. 

For older kids there is before and after-school care that is offered by the canton, but for younger kids who haven’t quite started kindergarten, it can pose problems for parents who are in need of reliable care, particularly those who don’t have grandparents to rely on. 

According to the Swiss Federal Council, “Grandparents as well as daycare centres and extra-school care facilities are the most frequently used forms of childcare, with each category accounting for a third of provision for children aged 0 to 12 years. 81 percent of families in large cities turned to extra-family care for their children compared with 66 percent of families in rural areas. Parents’ satisfaction with the care facilities is high, but there is still unmet demand.” 

What alternative childcare options do I have in Switzerland?

There are various childcare and nursery options for babies and toddlers up through young children aged five or six. Each canton offers childcare, though often there are lengthy waitlists for available spots.

READ ALSO: ‘A developing country’: Why do so few Swiss children attend childcare?

An alternative might be a private or bilingual daycare, but the costs for these are even higher than the locally-run childcares, and sometimes have longer waitlists.

Get on a list early as it’s important to get the ball rolling on paperwork, especially as a foreigner in Switzerland. 

An alternate option is to find the equivalent of a Tagesmütter, or a carer who opens up their home to taking care of up to four children at a time, when there is space available.

The costs remain about the same, but it can be easier to get placement for childcare with an in-their-own-home carer.

Some families opt to hire a nanny, but it may not be possible financially for all families. As for bringing an Au Pair to join the family, there are specific rules and regulations in Switzerland surrounding pay, number of hours they can work (about half of which you would need to be present for), and language rules– the main one being they cannot speak the same language as the family. Additionally, language classes are stipulated for the duration of their stay. 

Suffice it to say, that there are quite a few hurdles to overcome and in order to make sure your family is supported with reliable childcare to meet your needs.

Below are five things to consider as you plan out and organise childcare in Switzerland.

Children play with educational tools. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

1. Compare the options

Childcare in Switzerland is top notch, albeit expensive, so make sure you take the time to figure out where you want to enrol your child.

Some of the best programs are actually run as not-for-profit organisations, such as KiBiz in Zug.

READ ALSO: What alternative childcare options do I have in Zurich?

Most daycares offer a pedagogically strong curriculum and having them at a local daycare gives your child the opportunity to learn the local language. 

2. Decide on someone to name as your emergency contact

This can be a bit harder if you don’t have family or friends nearby, but double check with a colleague or someone that you trust in the case of an emergency or illness.

Finding a colleague that is willing to help by picking up the kids when they were sick when both parents find themselves out of town can be incredibly helpful. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

3. See if you qualify for subsidies

According to the OECD, Switzerland has the highest cost for childcare among wealthy countries. Cantons are in the process of trying to increase the amount of money they’re able to allocate for assisting families with the costs.

If your household income is under a certain amount (it varies by canton), then it might be possible to have some of the costs of your family’s childcare covered. 

4. Consider having a babysitter or two on hand that you can call

As a foreign parent in Switzerland, sometimes it makes sense to have someone extra to call on for help with childcare coverage– even if you don’t think you’ll need anyone.

Meetings get moved, appointments need to be rescheduled, and sometimes there’s the odd school workday, where kids do not attend classes.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

In situations like these, having someone to reach out to, who can help provide coverage (and perhaps even the occasionally date night) helps provide a safety net for parents that might not have any backup to call at the spur of the moment. 

5. Be open for and prepared to have a hurdle or two, be it language or logistics

Many of the institutions around the country, particularly for younger kids are really good at filling in the parents on what the kids have done during the day, what they’ve eaten, how they’ve acted. The seemingly hardest part is actually filing the paperwork and piecing together care, particularly if you don’t speak the local language.

Wendy Noller is originally from Australia, and now lives in Luzern with her husband, and their two children, aged five and seven.

When they were getting signed up for Kita, she expresses that there were quite a few hurdles to consider.

READ ALSO: How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Initially they received a letter from Canton Luzern stating that there weren’t enough places for their daughter. “We had heard negative reviews from other expats, but learned that there really are a lot of myths around childcare– that it’s not good quality, or there aren’t enough places. My husband and I work 100 percent and [when registering the kids], found the local authority to be both very helpful and responsive.”

She adds that she would call or email every couple days after receiving the letter to express that they both worked full-time and were really interested in their daughter integrating.

In the end, just a couple days before school started, they were told there was a place available for her. 

While their situation had a happy ending, sometimes other backup plans need to be put in place. Organising childcare in Switzerland is doable and having a fellow foreigner who has gone through it before to help share their experience or how to go about it can make a difference in how easy or how difficult it feels.