Tuesday, August 26, 2008

this little piggie went to market

Several of our fellow bloggers have recently posted food prices in Mexico. I really appreciated that information because I am trying to put together a retirement budget that will not make me the poster boy for the AARP's next propaganda campaign starring senior cat food gourmets.

On the way home, I stopped by Safeway to leave behind $52.55 in exchange for the cornucopia pictured above. (I can hear the underwhelming applause already.)

What makes those Safeway trips so worthwhile, though, is when the clerk folds up the receipt (giving the impression that the three sacks, you can carry out on your own, are filled with thousands of treasures from the far corners of the world), and says with all the sincerity of a presidential candidate: "Mr. Cotton, you saved $15.71 today." As if the subtext were: "Three more visits and you will have saved enough for that villa in Tuscany."

Here is how all those savings break down:

6 bottles Diet Coke (on special): $5.67 (plus $.30 deposit -- this is the People's Republic of Oregon, after all)
Dozen corn tortillas: $1.99
Jar of jalapeño peppers: $2.29
2 pints ice cream: $7.00

Dozen eggs (free range): $4.19
Baguette: $.99
English cucumber: $.99
Sweet mini peppers: $2.99
Sweet onions ($4.99 lb.): $2.63
Organic heirloom tomatoes ($4.99 lb.): $10.93
Olives ($8.99 lb.): $4.09
Hummus: $2.50
Feta: $5.99

And this is a perfect example of why the question "How much will it cost me to live in Mexico?" is a veritable Gordian knot. How would you translate a shopping list like this to my shopping experiences in Melaque? Over half of the items would not be available. The half that is similar to products in a Mexican market simply have different costs.

I finally have based my budget on some good advice from "Mexico" Mike Nelson in Live Better South of the Border in Mexico. He suggests discounting your current grocery bill by 10% and you will be close. Based on what I have seen in Mexican markets, knowing my habits, and learning from my fellow bloggers, I think Mike is correct.

So what did I do with my purchases? A good portion (cucumber, tomatoes, onion, olives, peppers, and feta) ended up in my Never-the-Same-Spoonful-Twice Greek Salad with a fresh mint and lemon dressing.

I may not be able to create the same salad in Mexico, but it will have a close cousin with some Mexican roots. After all, its Greek parentage was long ago smothered by the raw silk pillow of nouvelle cuisine.


Tom and Debi said...

Good Morning Steve
Beautiful salad by the way. And in all honesty I think you can get everything on your list here (Merida, Yucatan) with the exception of the adjectives heirloom, and in some cases organic. Although more organic produce is becoming available, it is not consistent. AND SOOOO MUCH CHEAPER! We have lovely white cucumbers here in Merida that are quite enticing.

Steve Cotton said...

Debi -- In the States we are paying a huge premium for locally-produced organic food. The reason is simple: it is now a food fad for people with more money than economic sense.

Jackie said...

You forgot to say that the clerk also told you earned $.10 per gallon fuel savings.
$10 for tomatoes? No wonder I go to the local farmer’s market almost every Sunday during the prime produce season.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

Hi Steve, Debi already said what I was going to say,but I want to add, if you want special tomatoes you can just grow some in a bucket on your balcony. I haven't ever seen the English cukes here,but maybe at Costco.
Well, you can spend lots or you can spend a little, it all depends, but for what you spent, I bought a whole lotta groceries and Mérida isn't as inexpensive as some places.

Steve Cotton said...

Theresa -- It was a fun exercise. I have never really budgeted for food. I simply check with Quicken now and then on what I have spent. And I agree with you that my grocery bill should decline in Mexico, but I will probably just buy more of something new.

Steve Cotton said...

Jackie -- Our Salem Saturday market charges more for heirloom tomatoes than Safeway (when the tomatoes are on sale; the usual price is $8.99 lb, just like the olive bar). I paid about $4 for each tomato two weeks ago at the street market. One of the local farmers told me the NPR-buy local crowd (he had me pegged right from the start) is pushing up the prices through their demand. The farmers' former market of pensioners can no longer buy the local goods because of price. He also told me that produce he would throw away in the past is now selling at a premium because it is "local." I was happy to hear that last piece of news. At least there will be less food wastage -- even if it does have the sound of putting road kill to good use.

I really miss the truck farms in Milwaukie. Now, that was some good produce.

Babs said...

Well there isn't anything on that list you couldn't get in San Miguel and for much, much less dinero.....EXCEPT for the Hagen Danz - here it is 120 pesos for a pint..........I really think about it before I reach in and buy it for "special occasions"....

Steve Cotton said...

Babs -- I guess this would be plaintiff's exhibit 239 to support Michael Dickson's theory that I belong in SMA.

gauthier022 said...

Hi Steve,

We spend the 6 winter months in Melaque (Villa Obregon) and here's is what I temember of the prices.

6 bottles Diet Coke: probably similar price
Dozen corn tortillas: 9 Peso/kg

Jar of jalapeño peppers: .25 cents

2 pints ice cream: Similar price

Dozen eggs: no free range or sometimes yes: 9peso Kg

Baguette: $.99
English cucumber: $.25Sweet mini peppers: $25
Sweet onions: $50

Organic heirloom tomatoes: No heirlooms? but $.50 Kg

Olives ($8.99 lb.): similar/expensive
Hummus: Not available
Feta: similar/expensive

Laurie said...

My favorite comfort food costs over $2 in the States, but here in Honduras a whole bag of CHEETOS is just 50 cents! And when I get tired of Cheetos, I switch to Doritoes, which are about $1 a bag in Honduras. Occasionally I eat veggies, which are usually less than 50 cents a pound. So I am doing ok with junk food and veggies in Honduras. Meat? That's another story.

Steve Cotton said...

gauthier022 -- Thanks for the prices. I think I need to develop a better shopping nose in Melaque because I certainly ended up paying a lot for my groceries.

Laurie -- It sounds as if Honduras has its priorties straight. Cheap comfort food is always a plus for me.

Billie said...

Steve, San Miguel is more expensive for groceries than say, Patzcuaro. I'm talking about the mercados not the Walmart-Costco route. Still I'd say that the cost of what we buy is about 2/3 to 3/4 what I would spend in the USA. And, yes, you could get everything for your salad (except maybe ENGLISH cucumbers---just regular cucumbers) right here in town. It just might take 2 or 3 grocery store stops to find it all. But that is the adventure.

Steve Cotton said...

Billie -- And, as I keep saying, "adventure" is the reason for my move south.

Anonymous said...

Hola Steve,

How much does it cost to live in Mexico? Well how much does it cost to live in the USA?

I read enough of these expat and expat-wannabes (such as myself) who ask the first question, without ever asking the second question.

But the second question makes it pretty obvious that there's really no good answer to the first question. Which is to say it depends highly on where you live in Mexico and what you regard as important or essential.

That said, the best answer I've ever found to the first question comes from UBS Wealth Management. In 2006, they published a study which compared the costs of living a western expat life of a couple with two kids in various cities around the globe. Then they compiled this into an index. In 2008, they updated the report to adjust for inflation and currency moves.

You can find the report by googling "ubs prices and earnings 2008". It's a PDF that's available in the four major European languages.

Bottom line, including rent, Mexico City costs about 49% of the cost of a similar lifestyle in New York City. Ex rent, the cost is 61%. To me, both figures seem high, but they include a lot of imported consumer goods, which are particularly expensive in Mexico, and a fairly high standard of living. (No eating at taco stands for this bunch). Obviously as Mexico City is (by far) the most expensive place in Mexico, Melaque will likely be quite a bit cheaper again.

The study is interesting and well worth reading to see which areas are cheaper, and why. They provide a lot of detail, and I personally found the report fascinating.

Buenos Aires is looking better all the time.*


Kim G
Boston, MA

*Substantially cheaper than even Mexico City, though the weather's not as nice.

P.S. Since you are going to be retired after all, you might even consider growing your own tomatoes and making your own baguettes. Here's a youtube video on how to make artisan bread with absolutely no skill required.

"Making no-knead bread"

P.P.S. The salad looks yummy.

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- I have stopped asking the "how much will it cost" question because it will make no sense for me until I start spending my retirement in Mexico. I am convinced I will have sufficient.

As for growing my own produce, you have obviously never seen my gardening skills. Perhaps I will have time to develop some new talents.

And I really liked the bread video. I should try it here -- soon.

mexpat said...

Mmmm, can I come to dinner? I'll bring the wine and dessert! :)

Anything that's produce is MUCH cheaper here. Anything that's packaged is generally a little more than at home. Oh, and they don't have any readymade stuff, like cookie dough in the refrigerator section (which was really a blessing in disguise for us).

mexpat said...

Ok- and a pint of Ben & Jerry's is more like $120 pesos here.

Steve Cotton said...

Tonight I finish off the salad -- along with some fresh pork tostados.

Tafreeburn said...

love that first paragraph!

hope you got my e-mail about arrival.  it`s rainy season and after i said in an e-mail that i was woken up by thunder but we hadn:t had any rain, it started to pour.  i didn`t mind at all as it maed for a cooler day than the norm. i don`t really mind the heat though.

take care and keep those interesting posts a comin`.


Steve Cotton said...

I got your email.  Glad to hear that you made it safely (after a long flight) to Japan.  Keep those adventures coming.