Sven Walther is not a normal Hartz IV recipient. He knows both sides of life. He was wealthy and had everything before his crash: wife, house, cars, motorcycles. His exciting story makes you shake your head and is difficult to compare – but with his tips you can save a lot of money.
Sven Walther is 55, suffers from the respiratory disease COPD and can no longer work. “I have to slow down,” he says in Berlin dialect. “I fell over at work, my bronchial tubes are blocked and their capacity is only just under 20 percent.” With COPD (a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), the airways are permanently narrow and inflamed. According to a study by Techniker Krankenkasse, 3.5 million Germans suffer from this common disease, and the trend is rising.
With COPD it is very important not to smoke. With the illness and in view of the financial bottlenecks of a Hartz IV recipient, this is a matter of course, one would think.
FOCUS Online: Do you smoke?
Sven Walter: I smoked for 40 years. I haven’t been able to stop it completely yet. But I smoke less and can last three weeks on one can of tobacco.
The can costs 20 euros, plus the e-cigarette, which lasts for six months. Sven saves, you can tell. He describes himself as a bargain hunter and finds Hartz IV too high. But more on that later.
You have some tattoos on your arm. How does that fit with the Sparfuchs?
Walther: I’ve had the tattoos for more than 20 years. And you only see a small part. I have a huge scuba picture all over my back – with shark, turtle, wreck, coral and fish. I had that done when I was a diving instructor, among other things.
What did that cost?
Walther: 2500 Euro.
A lot of money for a Hartz IV recipient.
Walther: That was at a different time, when I had money. Lot of money. I know both sides of life – the one with the golden spoon and the tin side.
Walther’s successful period began in 1986. He was a general agency for an insurance company and founded a real estate company with a partner. In the marriage he earned 25,000 marks net a month. And spent the money lavishly.
Walther: I built myself a villa in Falkensee. As a trained bricklayer, I know my way around and only wanted the best. I shot 300,000 marks into the villa. I had the house specially bricked for 40,000 marks, inside I had climate walls and underfloor heating and the latest heat pump technology. The highlight was a staircase with 17 steps, which I covered with granite. “Orissa Blue” from Brazil – I really wanted to have it. I didn’t care about the cost. I had them flown in for 17 grand.
Crazy. And what else was the money used for?
Walther: Holidays in the Caribbean three times a year, only wears tailored suits, eats regularly at the steakhouse and so on. The costs also rose: the insurance premiums alone amounted to 1,100 marks a month. And my passion was motorcycles. A new Suzuki GSX-R 1000 every two years.
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No car weakness?
Walther: And then there was always the BMW M3. I treated myself to one for 69,000 marks in cash. My accountant almost freaked out and insulted me, what an idiot I was.
Walther: From a tax point of view it would be much better if I leased it and deducted the advertising costs over several years. He was really angry. Then I only leased in the future.
Those were the days of the golden spoon. The tin ones that existed in prison were to follow. His partner cheated on him, he freaked out. And was in jail several times – a total of seven years for triple dangerous bodily harm. There was no reduction in detention because of the negative perspective.
Walther: After that the whole fortune was gone, my wife too. Leasing rates were no longer paid, there were foreclosures, my accounts were seized. I only paid 44,000 euros in court costs. I had lost everything when I was released in March 2018.
What happened next as a Hartz IV recipient?
Walther: I’m not directly under Hartz IV. While I was in prison, I only got 1.25 euros an hour for my work, but at the same time I paid into unemployment insurance. And that was enough for 20 months of unemployment benefits. 1100 euros a month. It only got difficult afterwards.
As a Hartz IV recipient.
Walther: Exactly, that didn’t fit anymore financially. I had to rethink and learned that if I, as a consumer, only change a few things, I can save a lot.
What did you change first?
Walther: The first step is always self-control. I divided the 449 euros of Hartz IV money into four envelopes and kept a household book. You don’t have to buy a doner kebab or cigarettes at the end of the month because I was too lazy to roll one. There are so many ways to save.
I have time.
Walther: Well, let’s start with the energy. I live on 40 square meters in a one-room apartment and only have LED lamps. I can turn all standby devices off with a switch. That saves me 75 euros a year. You just have to turn on your own bulb to save.
And how do you heat?
Walther: I don’t often turn on the heating and in winter 5-minute ventilation is very important. When it gets a bit chilly, I put on a cardigan. And in the kitchen you can save a lot of electricity if you use the residual heat.
With an induction cooker?
Walter: Right. I have high quality AMC induction cookware. When I boil an egg, I use the kettle to heat the water. After three minutes in the pot, I turn off the hotplate and use the residual heat. My egg is wonderfully soft after nine minutes. And I never preheat the stove, such nonsense. That adds up significantly. I was able to reduce my electricity prepayment from 90 to 36 euros. And I also save a lot on water.
With what measures?
Walther: I no longer shower every day, but twice a week. The other days I wash myself with a washcloth, I never stink. So I got 375 euros back for hot water and heating. I feel good, I have no restrictions and everything is organized.
Let’s go shopping: How do you go about it?
Walther: I google where I can get my stuff the cheapest. I have time and then write me a note. I save the most with a purchase from 8 p.m. on reduced daily goods, for example in Kaufland. For example, I buy two kilos of chicken for four euros. From this I make three delicious meals, chicken fricassee for example and have eaten healthy with the side dishes. Or I buy Kassler. I eat two slices straight away and freeze four slices with sauce. I boil twelve potatoes straight away, freeze two more portions and prepare them in the microwave on other days. You just have to adjust your behavior a bit. And of course I don’t go to the pub or can afford the latest iPhone. Overall I’m saving more than before.
Don’t you have any consumer spending?
Walther: Yes, I treat myself to billiards membership for 40 euros a month: pool billiards on tournament tables, I’m a club player. But that’s still cheaper than 65 euros at snooker. Football would of course be cheaper at 10 euros, but that’s not possible with my lung disease.
And what is the bottom line?
Walther: I spend around 300 euros a month on food, drink and the cats.
Do you still have cats?
Walther: Yes, a Main Coon and a Siamese Birman. For a while I spent a lot of money on the food for noble cats, but now I’m also saving 70 euros a month here.
Walther: My cats only get branded food, they live better than me. But I googled and at ZooPlus I can get a can of organic cat food for 1.19 euros instead of 1.99 euros. If you order for 20 euros, the DHL package comes with free shipping. I once followed the packages and found that they were produced in Eastern Bloc countries such as Bulgaria, Poland or the Czech Republic.
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And so you can still save every month despite Hartz IV?
Walther: Yes, about 100 euros. That’s why I say yes, Hartz IV is actually too high. I get 400 euros rent subsidy, plus 449 euros Hartz IV. That’s 850 euros.
If Hartz IV were reduced…
Walther: …then I wouldn’t be able to save any more. But when I consider that people who work sometimes go home with 1000 euros net, then the incentive is too small. I still wouldn’t understand a cut, because I see how other people fill their pockets.
Walther: The Bundestag now has more than 700 MPs who are being pampered. They get 10,585 euros a month plus 4300 euros flat rate and I have a thick neck. In comparison, Hartz IV is far too low. Or let’s take the 100 billion euros for the Bundeswehr, plus 13 billion so far for the Ukraine. On the other hand, the poor people in the Ahr Valley have still not seen any coal. We forget our own Germans. That has to be said sometimes, even if the truth sometimes hurts.
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