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Budget-Friendly Central America (Cost of Living Breakdown by the Numbers)

Article Summary:

Many who move to Central America wish they knew the exact numbers of what it would cost to spend a few months living in various parts of the region in order to pin down the best spot for a budget-friendly life overseas.

Photo Credit: Home Away

Original Article Text From Costa Rica Times:

Cost of Living Analysis in CR & Central America

Costa Rica Living News – So many of us wish that we could spend a few months living in various parts of Central America in order to try to pin down the spot that is best for us for retirement or just living abroad.  Unfortunately, having the budget and time to do such research is not possessed by too many people.

Recently, Tricia Lyman and her husband Mike did this journey. To help us learn from their findings they blogged about their living experiences in each location as well as the cost of living. Below is direct from Tricia’s blog which you can find a link to at the end of this article. All photos are credited to Tricia and her husband and can be found on their blog as well.

Before you go peeking at our expense chart below, I need to make a few statements:
* This is OUR full disclosure cost breakdown of everything we spent money on based on the way WE live our lives.

* Our goal for a total monthly budget is $1,800 for living expenses ONLY. Our income is higher but this amount is what we wanted to see if we could live with so that the extra could be set aside for savings toward further traveling.

* Our monthly rental goal with ALL utilities including WiFi is $800. We rented many different types of property from 1 bedroom/1 bathroom to 2 bedroom/2 bathroom; from 425 square feet to 1,200 square feet; high rise to apartment attached to a house, to single family home; from in town to rural to ocean front. We know we paid higher rents because it was only for one month. We also know that when we’re ready to rent for a year, our monthly rate will either decrease substantially or we will get a lot more for our money. Thus, keeping the rent within our budgeted goal.

* Phone costs are averaged based on what we actually spent over a 3 month period including initial purchase of SIM card, minutes, and data for both of us and any subsequent purchases of minutes/data. NOTE: I own our own unlocked iPhone. Mike “lost” his in Ecuador, so in Nicaragua, we bought him a cheap phone.

* As we must be out and about much more than we would if we lived long term somewhere, we are eating out more than our “normal” 6-7 times, and are out socializing and meeting people to get a truer feel for each area. Thus, the dollars in meals below reflects eating out on average between 15-20 times a month and the “drinks only” will eventually be incorporated into our Entertainment budget. Where we ate was either typical fare or moderate priced. On a rare occasion, we went out for a special meal that was still well below US prices.

* We have NO car so there is nothing in this budget to indicate each countries cost of gas, which varies considerably at the moment.

* Currently, we are self-insured and pay everything out of pocket. So only the true consistent item of Dental Cleaning was included and averaged over each 3 months (every 3 months for me; every 6 months for Mike). We do have traveler’s insurance for catastrophic until we establish residency somewhere. Once residency established, a budget line item for medical/dental/vision will be made. Please see my note below under One-Time Expenses for a better understanding of our medical costs.

* Our meals at home became very simple and consistent. So that with what we bought at the grocery store being pretty similar in each location. Groceries include wine & beer. I don’t get into what’s more or less expensive in each country because it becomes a moot point when looking at the overall grocery budget. Same for the cost of wine & beer in local establishments.

* Our One-Time Expenses are just that :
Medical included my annual female checkups, swimmer’s ear in CR for Mike, a banged up shoulder in Salinas, EC for Mike and in Granada, we were both sick due to allergies. In my blog posts, I breakdown the costs for each expenditure at the time we had to make them and won’t do that again here. You may go back and read my blog posts for those individual occurrences. I have added up all the expenditures and found that averaged over the last 13 months, the average cost per month is only $89, under the $100/month that we have budgeted going forward for buying a medical insurance plan.

Dental included my new partial (1 every 15 years) and a new cap & veneer for Mike’s 2 front teeth.

Tours included our actual time being a tourist but we will not be doing those on a consistent basis but will incorporate those costs in entertainment. The exception was a trip to Granada from SJDS. If we live in SJDS, we would be making periodic trips by shuttle to Granada to spend time with friends there.

Hotels & Transportation is the cost incurred while getting to and from an airport or when taking a side trip which has occurred every 3 months and will not be part of our usual agenda once we live somewhere full time.

So, with all of the above said, you can see, for actual day to day living expenses we spent a total of $5,521 in Panama for an average monthly of $1,840; a total of $5,387 in Costa Rica for an average of $1,796; Ecuador for

ONLY 2 months on the coast, an average of $1,861 monthly; and, in Nicaragua for ONLY 2 months, we spent an average of $1,794. Interesting!! Only a $67 difference between the lowest to highest monthly average!!A few specific clarifications to help you understand the spending patterns:

*Gorgona, PA: Our apartment had a death trap of a kitchen, so we ate out often (25x). Thus, there is no separate amount in Drinks Only because we always had our drinks where we ate.
*Tronadora, CR: We have nothing in Entertainment because all of our Entertainment was actually “free”. We would go with friends to the Tabacon hot spring river with drinks & snacks and sit for hours in the steam for FREE! We also did not get any “medicinal” massages that we love so much that are included as Entertainment in other locations.

*Grecia: Here too when we went out for drinks, we ate.

*Salinas: Can’t put a finger on it as to why groceries were so much more except that everything was always just a bit more. A dollar here, a dollar there. Wine & beer were definitely way more for actually less quality.

*Bahia: Here we paid more for groceries but ate out less because there wasn’t much going on. Stayed pretty close to home and lived a normal day to day life while still enjoying ourselves.

*Granada, Nicaragua: I can truly attest that it’s less expensive to live in Granada. So to explain why our costs were as much as they were is to explain how bad our living arrangements were. We spent every day AWAY from home as much as possible because it was the noisiest place and home we’ve lived in. We’ve now been in Latin America for a year and we “understand and get” noise!! This home was 10 times worse than anywhere else we’ve been by far!

So to compensate, we went and paid to go to a quiet swimming pool to the cost of $88. This also meant we spent more on drinks while out, it also meant that Mike left home every Sunday, Monday and Thursday for football and thus paid for more drinks out. I also crashed my computer and it cost me only $65 to get it fixed (Incidentals)! Wine & beer are inexpensive at most places. But, beware there are places where you will pay dearly! So always ask to see a menu and what the cost is.

*SJDS, Nicaragua: Our place was a real “efficiency” apartment and we didn’t spend much time in it. The owners are dear people but the furniture in the living area wasn’t comfortable at all and the space was the smallest we’ve had anywhere. We felt we paid quite a premium for what we got due to “high season”, much more than expected for Nicaragua. Especially when compared to what we paid in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, also a surfing beach town and a country everyone says is way more expensive.

Each location presented its own challenges from awkward housing with deficient kitchens (the term “fully furnished” is very loosely used), too few choices for eating out, to too remote of a location. In ALL cases, we are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt based on the data we accumulated, that we could make the necessary adjustments to keep within our desired budget of $1,800/month including medical once we are established and NOT diminish our lifestyle.

Link to Original Article:

From Costa Rica Times

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