What’s Not on the Bill

The rent for our new three-room flat in Munich is four times higher than the mortgage my dad paid for our two-story house with a garden that’s twice as large. The numbers are mind-boggling. I can’t even find an apartment quite as expensive in my hometown, and the only thing that comes close is a brand-new, five-room, multi-story, semi-detached house in a prime location. It’s nuts.

What’s also nuts, however, is that this morning, when I googled treatments for myofascial pain syndrome, a rather niche condition, not only did I get plenty of results, I even found a guy who will come to my house and treat me there. Back home, I’d be lucky to even discover a handful of therapists who know what MPS is. This difference, too, is included in my rent, even if it doesn’t show up on the bill.

Munich offers so many free vents, gatherings, and festivals, it’s hard to keep track of them, let alone attend them all. In the summer, you can go to any beer garden, bring your own food, and enjoy nature and companionship at the same time. You can float down a dedicated stretch in the Isar river and ride the tram back to your starting point for free. They even have an artificial wave spot for surfers. Within a stone’s throw of the Apple store, where you can go whenever you have any phone-related needs or issues, there are dozens of beautiful churches and historic buildings, and wherever you can’t walk within ten or 20 minutes, a bus, tram, subway, or commuter train will carry you. Upgrade to a rental car, which start from less than 100 € per day thanks to the heavy competition, and in less than an hour, you can go to any of a myriad of beautiful lakes and mountains, and hike, swim, or enjoy the scenery — also all for free.

Where I grew up, we’re used to needing a car just to get groceries. There are no on-demand rentals, of course, so you’ll have to lease your own. You’ll spend hundreds of euros on fuel every month — perhaps to go to your physiotherapist, who resides a 45-minute drive away — and even if you live dead in the city center, it’s not a place where much of anything happens. The lack of things you might enjoy, too, is included in the rent, even if it doesn’t show up on the bill.

I’m not arguing for living in big cities or swallowing exorbitant rent prices without blinking. I’m not even arguing for Munich (though I do love it very much). There’s a time to go big and central and a time to go small and rural, and each of them can make sense in different seasons, even for a lifetime. What I would like us to do is consider what’s not on the bill. We think we’re comparing apples to apples when we look at two three-room flats, but drop one into New York City, the other into Eureka Springs in Arkansas, and that comparison becomes apples-to-oranges very quickly.

Just like when the price goes up, things might improve, paying more for the same elsewhere can also come with hidden perks. Some of them you won’t discover until you try it; others you won’t miss until you’re back where you began. The best part of what feels like a bad deal at first might be something you’ll easily miss if you don’t blink twice. In rental contracts as in life, look for what’s not on the bill.