A couple, Tim and Alice, who are thinking of moving here took us to lunch to grill us about life in Costa Rica. Yes, we can be bought. They stayed at The Pura Vida Hotel and when we spoke to confirm our lunch plans, she said, "We are thinking of retiring here because the cost of living is so much less than in the U.S."
That’s what everyone believes because that’s the way it used to be. The reality is that it’s cheaper, but not so much cheaper you’d definitely retire here. In some ways, cost of living is less. In other ways, more. Overall, it is less expensive to live here than in south Florida. But so is almost anywhere in the world. You can buy a big house in Alabama for under $50,000 these days. You’d have to live in Alabama. Talk about learning another language…
Since we are living on a declining income (our savings) until we invent jobs, cost of living is as important to us as to retirees. We’ve been pondering it quite a bit lately.
Our biggest expense by far is food* and that’s darn near as high here as in the states: $150-$200/week for a family of four. We rarely eat out (unless someone else is paying). We eat lots of chicken, rice and beans, veggies, eggs, vegetables, coffee and organic chocolate. The basics. We don’t buy expensive imported foods like Welch’s Grape Juice or Triscuits or Frosted Flakes or Skippy. Even gave up Splenda because sugar here is practically free. Even though we eat regular food, groceries are still only about $50/week less in CR.
Our rent at $950 is just slightly less than half what is was in the states. We do get double the house and a million dollar view.
Utilities are quite a bit less. Our water bill is $2/month. Electric at $.10/kwh, is just a hair less than in Key West. Since we don’t have, need or want ac and heat, the bill is usually about $160/month. If we get an on-demand water heater, I’ll bet we can cut that by a third.
Cel phone is $8/month. Home phone is usually $6-$10/month. You do get charged minutes on your home phone so if you are really frugal, you use up those minutes first, then your cel minutes, then talk on whichever line has the cheapest overage. Since we don’t talk on the phone much and have only gone over once, I haven’t figured out which is less.
Internet is $70/month for hi-speed and TV is $30/month (cable with the networks – cable TV is the only one that gives you networks)(and there is still nothing on). So $280 in utilities every month.
Gas is very expensive, close to $4/gallon. Having a car is expensive and we’ve talked about giving it up. Buses here are cheap and plentiful as are taxis relatively… I don’t know. I think I’d rather give up one of the boys than give up my car. In fact, I’m sure of it. Nah – JUST KIDDING. Hal says the propane tank in the back saves us about $20 each fill-up. At least that covers my phone bill.
We don’t buy clothes here except occasionally at Pricesmart or Hipermas (owned by Walmart). But it’s rare. We usually wait for a trip back to the states and load up on $10 jeans for the boys. I am convinced from my experience and from hearing it around that what gets imported here is seconds. Irregulars.
Besides, we don’t dress for anything. My daily all-purpose outfit is a camisole with a built-in bra-top and yoga pants that I hemmed by cutting off two inches from the bottom (that’s attractive) and my crocs (from Neat Stuff in Key West). If I have to dress it up, I put on my Chico’s Traveler jacket. Those things are expensive but they last forever. Lipstick and voilà. I look like a million bucks. Ready to sit at my computer and try to think of things to do for money.
You can live cheaper, of course. We live in a great big ol’ house in Gringolandia, THE most expensive place to live in Costa Rica. And we bought nice furniture that we might have to sell for food one day soon… A friend of mine lives right close and she has a five bedroom house overlooking the valley (I bet I can see her roof from my house). She only pays $650/month… My deal doesn’t seem that great all of a sudden… The trick when looking for a place to live is to look hard and bargain harder. We are so happy here, I can live with the rent. Who needs furniture?
As you move farther away from San Jose, rents, food, sundries, get less and less expensive. You may have access to fewer services (hi speed internet, cable TV and a Pricesmart come to mind), but everything has a price. A friend of mine who lives about an hour away rents a great big comfortable tico home [like a CBS ranch home in new town Key West] for $300/month. If you are frugally minded, you can live on the cheap here. God knows, I prefer it to Alabama.
ALSO: See Erin’s comment below. She has good info on living on the cheaper still!
*We’ve never actually taken a hard look at our food bills so this is an educated guesstimate. In September, we are going to write down everything for a month and see what the actual numbers are.
I’m SOOOOO glad you moved to Costa Rica!
We don’t talk much but I feel a connection with you and your writings about CR. You tell what I think.
Not just me but everyone that experiences the Perils of Paradise (hmm, I like that). You make me laugh and brighten those rainy days (like today). Thanks and remember, here, you can live in a BOX on the BEACH, it’s legal! Not that you would want to but it’s comforting to know if “worst comes to worse” (I’m part ‘Bama – my dad’s part).
I can’t wait to read your book…are you working on it yet or still too busy pura vida-ing?
I enjoy reading your blogs and comments. This one is certainly one to ponder. Ponder in the sense of I am thinking of relocating to Costa Rica sometime next year. After looking at all the information and blogs about Costa Rica it is starting to sound like CR is becoming another state. It always amazes me how we from the U.S. have the idea that if you can do something, over do it. I lived in San Jose in 1973 and 74. I am visiting in November and am preparing myself for the shock.
Keep up the good writing.
If you want to live relatively American in Costa Rica, you’re 100% right: it’s not that much cheaper. But if you can bear to live tico style, you’ll definitely cut a lot of costs.
1 or 2-bedroom apartments (unfurnished) in tico areas of the city can cost about c80.000 (about $155). That apartment furnished will run you c120.000 (about $230). I pay the same $2 for water, $30 for cable, and $7ish for home phone, but I pay $35 for 1mbps high speed Internet and $16 for electricity. Note that I don’t have a hot water heater, but use the tico-style “suicide showers” and make do without hot water elsewhere in the house.
I pay a bit too much for groceries, at about $60/month. My friend’s family (tico), made up of 3 adults, pays c60.000/month ($115), and they eat very healthily. The key is going to the ferias (weekly farmers’ markets) and stocking up on all the dirt-cheap fruits and veggies there. You can easily buy more food than you can eat in a week for $10.
If you throw this budget together, you’d be living a very comfortable tico lifestyle at less that $400/month for a furnished apartment with all the basics. Of course, there are plenty of additional expenses, like dinner out, movies, clothing (like you mentioned, I prefer to buy in the States), travel, etc. But living comfortably on $700/month is doable here in San José (with a few adjustments made!), something that I can’t say for most major US cities. I think that’s fantastic. 🙂
Thanks, Erin! Lots of good info, I put a note on the post to not miss your comment. I’m an edging poco a poco (if there’s a spanish expression for slower than that, it would be more accurate) toward more tico living. I still don’t have any “stuff” around my house… like it simple and quiet.
You’re welcome! 🙂
Actually, if you’re interested in lowering your food bills, my best advice is to talk to your any of your tico friends (or your cleaner) that cook. I live next door to my landlady, who is the best woman on earth, and she has shown me what the ticos do to keep costs low. Here are some of my suggestions off the top of my head:
-Buy lots of fruits and veggies from the feria. Your protein shouldn’t be the meal’s main attraction, but more of a garnish.
-Make as many things from scratch as possible, like yogurt, drinks (fruit in water, iced tea, etc.), and sauces as you can.
-Find as many ways to cook rice as you can. It’s so cheap and filling that it will really cut your food bill down. (Try allrecipes.com .)
-Eat as much from your backyard as possible. Again, a tico comes in handy here, as they eat things that we wouldn’t think of. For example, we eat clovers as garnish, flor de itabo as a main dish, and lots of other things.
There are a ton of things to do to keep those bills down, I just think it takes time to figure them all out. If your housecleaner will help you, do ask her because she’s probably on a tight budget and knows how to cook. Best of luck!
Dear A., Love that name! Am I married to you???? Coming here now after living here so many years ago, you are in for a shock. Latin American citizens still think the US is where it’s at… they want to imitate it. Very sad and it will change so much for us expats. Plus, CR is pricing itself out of the retiree market. Somehow everyone got the idea that retirees are rich!???! What a riot! But, as Erin points out, you can still live on the cheap here. And there is still much to recommend Costa Rica – hope you find it here. Pura vida!