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Higher taxes

Though Buhl didn’t explicitly touch on Danish taxes in her video, many of the comments did. Some scoffed at the 35.5% average tax rate, the 21st highest amongst countries included in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). But others disagree.

“[Y]ou pay a lot of tax but you get so much back through services,” one commenter says.

It’s true that Danes receive a lot of social benefits because of the high taxes, as the government website proudly announces. Residents have free health care that’s untethered to employment and fully funded school from pre-K to university.

In contrast, Americans pay 30.5% in taxes, the 29th lowest tax rate amongst OECD countries. That may be a better rate, but that 5% decrease means Americans have to pay much more out of pocket.

Because health care is largely tied to employment, about half of Americans struggle to afford this cost, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy research group. Public schools may be free, but nearly half of parents’ faith fell in public schools after the pandemic, education publication The 74 discovered. And university and college tuition is so outrageous that about 1-in-5 Americans have are left with student loans, according to The Washington Post.

And these expenses take such a toll on Americans' budgets that it should come as no surprise that as household debt climbed in the third quarter of 2023, borrowers started showing strain in managing those accounts. Federal Reserve Bank of New York analysis shows that consumers are increasingly struggling to keep up with bills like their auto and credit card payments as delinquencies increased by 3% that quarter.

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Higher cost of living

The upfront costs of getting an apartment in Copenhagen were quite a shock for Buhl. Danish apartments don’t often come with light fixtures or appliances included.

Though one light fixture may not seem like a big deal, things like furniture and household items are much more expensive in Denmark than America. Copenhagen is the ninth most expensive city in the world, according to Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living City Ranking. By comparison, Buhl’s former home of Dallas is in 53rd place.

So in the short-term, Buhl definitely lost money. But long-term, she says that many people in Copenhagen end up staying in the same apartment for a long time. Plus, Denmark has rent control laws (Texas doesn’t), so even if she spends more money on food, she’s able to offset that cost when it comes to the huge expense of housing.

Life satisfaction

One thing that Buhl kept mentioning in her video was how much more relaxed she felt in Copenhagen than Dallas. She says that Danes tend to prioritize life over work, so she can spend less time at work, feeling less stressed and have more time with her family.

It’s not just Buhl who’s feeling relaxed: Denmark consistently ranks as one the top five happiest countries in the world, according to the World Happiness Report. The U.S. clocks in at 15th place last year, having never hit the top 10 since the report was created in 2011. The big things that Buhl mentioned — social assistance, freedom to make choices — are a major reason Denmark ranks high and the U.S. ranks lower.

That should come as no surprise in the country that invented hygge, a term for the act of "taking time away from the daily rush" to be with the people you care about (or even alone) "to relax and enjoy life's quieter pleasures."

But you don’t necessarily have to move to Denmark to improve your personal satisfaction. With all the tax savings you see in the U.S., why not impose your own “Danish tax” by setting aside an extra 5% of your income to help offset those higher expenses for education, health care and child care.

You could even free up more of your income to set aside (and to grow) by ensuring you’re only paying taxes on what you owe, maximizing tax credits or by claiming uncashed refunds from previous years.

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Sabina Wex is a writer and podcast producer in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Fast Company, CBC and more.


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