Sunday, August 16, 2009

hello, dollars

How much will it take to fill a jar?

Remember those questions from our rhetoric classes in high school?

They were designed to make us think -- to deconstruct the proposition into its components -- before we started to solve what was obviously irresolvable.

What type of jar? What size of jar? Fill it with what?

I think of those classes every time someone asks me: How much does it cost to live in Mexico?

From what I have read on other blogs and on Mexico message boards, that must be the most popular question asked of those who have taken the leap. And I was one of the breed before I made the move. I wanted to know if I could afford to retire -- and still not starve.

I have been an attorney long enough to know that questions of this nature can always be answered in two words -- it depends.

It depends on the life you want to live and where you want to live it. You can live like a pauper. Or you can live like a king. It depends on what you want to spend.

Last month I talked about some of those factors in
luxury of la luz while discussing electricity costs in Mexico. But the best example would be my own expenses for the past four months.

I live in a little Mexican fishing village house-sitting a three-bedroom, two-bath home on the beach. It is just the dog and me. I take Spanish classes as my entertainment -- and education.

Here is the average of our monthly expenses over the past four months.

A few observations on those figures:

First, an obvious point: old dogs can be expensive. I use a veterinarian in Manzanillo, who has been very helpful to Jiggs. But he is more expensive than the local veterinarians.

Second, utilities appear to be inexpensive. Propane is not very expensive. I use it to cook with and heat water for washing dishes. Some people use it to heat water for showers. I don't; the water is warm enough without heating it. Fortunately, I do not use much electricity; it is a very expensive commodity -- based on my Oregon experience.

Third, auto expenses appear low. I did not include the cost of insurance that I bought in The States. Add in $50 a month for that. The rest is mainly fuel, and it is more expensive than in The States. I simply have not driven much in the last few months.

Overall, I save between 10% and 20% on my living expenses in Salem. Some things are more expensive, some less. As I continue my adventures, I am certain I will learn to marginally cut back on some things.

And, of course, if I move to the central highlands, my non-existent entertainment budget line will soar.

Every person's budget differs. It will be interesting to hear from the rest of you about your own expensive experiences.

Gentlemen and ladies, start your budgets.


Anonymous said...

i had wondered what you pay for the house. that is a great bargain!


Brenda said...

One question. If you are house sitting, why do you have a housing cost of 775 ? Just curious. When we house sit we do not pay rent, if it is a long house sit we pay the utilities; but never have we paid an amount equal to a rent.
Our housing rent is 1100 pesos a month; but then we have a tiny 1 bedroom apt..

Todd said...

Steve, you are south of the border now. It is not Hello Dollars.

It is goodbye dollars, Hello Pesos!


Steve Cotton said...

Teresa -- It is indeed.

Brenda -- I guess the simple answer is that was the arrangement.

Todd -- Because Jery Herman never wrote a musical entitled: Hello, Polly?

Laurie said...

In Honduras, I pay more for electricity, but a lot less for maid service. Housing for a decent place in the capital starts around $500, but much cheaper in some locales.

Babs said...

Well if you're "house sitting" you are getting ripped off. Not only are you paying rent - you're paying utilities, house repairs and the maid. Good grief, who ever heard of that? SHE should be paying you for protecting her house in that heat!
Oh well, live and learn. I have a friend here in SMA who is an artist that the first four years she was here she house sat - no rent for 4 years. It worked out great for her.
Your postage costs seem weird too. I don't think I've spent $70 in 8 years and you're spending that much a month?
I don't live like a pauper but I live on half of what you're spending. Of course I'm NOT on a beach and I DON'T have 3 bedrooms.
Enjoy your time there.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you finally came clean and produced your sinning budget.

You are obviously living too well.

May I suggest oats, kerosene and a horse-hair shirt?


Anonymous said...

What then is the meaning of "house-sitting"?

Constantino said...

At this rate you will be broke by the time you are 113.
Living in that area is very expensive! But all ocean fronts are. I will have to agree with Bab's. Living in Mexico is considerable less expensive, I think you are still on the American Plan.....
Our average for two, in the mountains here runs about 10 to 15 bucks a day, and that is not scrimping for anything. When friends visit that all goes out the window.
The car is probably our most expensive money pit here, with fuel, tolls, and upkeep, that is probably the most expensive but necessary luxury.
The biggest change was the clothes and shoe expenses, and the food is relatively cheap.
Have you found a burrow for your remainder of the year?

Nancy said...

Hi Steve,

Yes, I'd be curious about why you have to pay for a house sit. I know if I had someone sitting our house in the rainy season I'd be ecstatic just to have it taken care of. And if they paid the utilities that would be icing on the cake.

I think that you'll find if you move a bit inland, even a block or two, you will have a huge savings in rent.

I can't really comment on the rest of your budget, so many things are individual. We eat out a lot and don't really restrict our entertainment, etc. We have a big house with 13 ceiling fans and we run the air conditioning in the bedroom at night and during siesta. We give to charity, but have no rent payment since we own. But I imagine we live on about $2,500 US per month when we aren't doing all these crazy house projects.

Karen said...

Your budget seems right on compared to where we are near Progreso in the Yucatan. We are not there full time only for a few weeks at a time right now. Electricity is the budget buster here and we try not to run the AC unless we have to and being near Merida entertainment can be expensive because there is sooo much to do if you want. But it's a great place to be!!

Calypso said...

Without breaking things down we spend about 1200.00 US a month in Xico. But we pay no rent as we own properties. This excludes extraordinary expenditures like car repair or construction costs etc.

Right now we are in the US. Took our son and his girlfriend and my wife's brother (5 in total) out to eat last night 285.00 - ouch!

Looking forward to getting back to Mexico ;-)

Felipe said...

You are not house-sitting. You are renting.

1st Mate said...

I'm inspired! I think I'll try to do the budget thing. Of course, we don't have a maid...Wait, I'm the maid! But we have two boats and pay more rent for both of them even when they're just sitting there than we do for our house, that's our money drain. And we're running four air conditioners a lot of the time in summer (I'm not retired, so I rationalize that luxury). Your runs the past three months to the vet in Manzanillo hopefully won't be typical. I'm impressed with your $200 in charity a month, does that all go to one place?

Steve Cotton said...

Laurie -- I am purposely generous on the maid cost; she needs it.

Babs -- As you have noted before, staying in a house on the beach is not cheap. As for the postage, I have a box in Manzanillo that costs $29 a month. I am then charged for mail by its weight -- and I get a lot. But it is money well spent. I like having the service. And I am glad I had it to help replace my lost bank cards.

Anonymous -- I was thinking of ashes and sack cloth.

Anonymous II -- I watch the house. Sometimes, I sit.

Constantino -- As you see, I had no entry for clothes, but I soon will. Literally every shirt I brought along has large bleach or oil spots from around the house. Just like camping.

Nancy -- You are correct. I suspect that every person's budget varies. In a year, mine will probably look very different.

Karen -- If I had effective air conditioning, I suspect I would use it more often. We have only a little portable unit that helps create a breeze, but it does not lower the temperature.

Calypso -- Dining out in The States is far more expensive than the average restaraunt in Melaque. But it is still possible in Mexico to spend that type of money. I took friends to dinner at a sea food place in Manzanillo. Our bill for three was $140. In Manzanillo!

1st Mate -- All of the charity line goes to one source. I did not include the expenses I still pay in Oregon.

Steve Cotton said...

Felipe -- My agreement refers to house sitting.

jennifer rose said...

Your total isn't out of line, but the allocation of expenses is. You can't take a 3-month window and extrapolate that into an annual budget. You are living in a furnished dwelling, and you have no expense for acquisition of furniture and appliances. You have nothing budgeted for clothing, and even though you're living like a Noble Savage at the beach, sooner or later, you're going to have to buy some togs. There is nothing allocated for books, magazines and newspapers.

Unless you're planning upon relying upon Dr. Simi's $20 MN physician or having dental care at a dentist who uses a shower curtain for a door, you will spend more than what you've budgeted for medical and dental care.

You are still in the idyll of vacation. First-year expenses always differ from those you'll incur down the road. While sweating your ass off might be part of the experience now, you will reach a point where you'll say "To hell with the expense, I'm going to be comfortable." And those sheets and towels will wear out. A set of sheets at Costco will set you back over $1,000 MN. Oh, and then the refrigerator will break down, and then it's time to break out another thousand dollars. And the washer, well, there's $700 USD. You won't have money for a new iPod.

Steve Cotton said...

Jennifer -- Nor did I include the $18,000 cruise to Australia. Your suggested categories all make sense -- and I had included them in a draft budget I put together before coming to Mexico. I cannot seem to find a copy of it now. Even if I continue to rent, I am going to face the prospect of house repair costs. But I can certainly save on the rent line. I do not need a 3-bedroom house. I thought places that large would encourage more NOB visitors. So far, I have invited only pitying stares.

Constantino said...

Oh, Oh,
"I am purposely generous on the maid cost; she needs it."

They all need it! You are digging a deep pit, with a sad ending.....
Nice to have a Rich Gringo around!
You might as well paint a red circle on your back, my friend.

jennifer rose said...

Steve, may I suggest that you send me some money forthwith? I need it, too.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

WOW, I have to say that $775 a month is cheap to rent a nice house at the beach. that said, how often does the maid come? because ours is twice a week for about 5 hours each time, we pay $250 a week plus lunch, which is $1125 a month (4 1/2 weeks)or about $93 usd., if she had to buy lunch at a cocina economica that would run about $35 more pesos daily or another $315 a month and we pay more than the Mexicans we know. Some people also give their help bus fare on top of their wages.I think wages are low in the Yucatan compared to other parts of Mexico but food is more money.
We spend about $3000 pesos on medical so everyone's budget is different in different areas.

Anonymous said...

How much does it cost to live in Mexico? Well the first answer you have to give to that question is this. How much does it cost to live in the United States?

The answer, of course, varies widely. An investment banker in New York has one idea. A turkey farmer in Northwest Arkansas has an entirely different idea.

It's a very very difficult question to answer, just as it is NOB. did a very nice article on said subject, though, and she even listed prices for a lot of different things.

However, don't forget that Mexico's inflation is several points higher than that in the USA, so the peso equivalents will tend to change more over time.

Thanks for sharing your budget. You must have the best-paid maid in Melaque, though. She earns almost as much as mine here in Boston.


Kim G
Boston, Ma
Where we were struck at how much cheaper it was here than San Francisco when we moved in 1995. Sadly, the gap has narrowed, though SF is still more expensive.

Steve Cotton said...

Constantino -- The maid issue is a ticklish one. I did not need one, and I did not want one. But the oewner did not want to lose her. I am terrible in these situations. The maid's calculation of her hours kept changing, and they did not seem to ever match my calculations. I just gave up. She comes in two days for cleaning. I give her $200 (Mx) for each of those days. I then give her an additional $40 (Mx) for one hour when she comes in to straighten up the patio area. It works out for both of us. Even though I do admit it feels more like protection money than employment.

Jennifer -- Great. Just what I need. More complications.

Theresa -- My maid comes in about the same as yours, but I do not include lunch. After all, I do not eat my lunch until a couple hours after she leaves. Besides, she thinks I put too many ingredients in my food.

Kim -- If I had my way, I would not have a maid. It is worse than having my mother live here. (Oops! She will probably read that.)

Anonymous said...

Steve´s sharing "invites" so to speak, criticism-but it is AMAZING to see the amount of negativity----maybe if it was done in a "resolution" sorta way, giving a tangible solution intended to resolve a perceived problem, based on some sort of similar experience, it would be digestable....bottom line: things are relative, and very subjective.....on that note....thanks for sharing your "first months´averaged expenses" NOT to be confused with a "set,all-inclusive, completely covering each and every forseeable circumstance" BUDGET----as if that is even possible anywhere.......and in México? suuuuerte! ;)

Leslie Limon said...

I hope the rest of the Mexico bloggers take you up on the budget challenge! It would be interesting to see.

I wonder what mine would look like. I feel like we live as Mexicans more than Gringos, but I could be seriously mistaken. Just yesterday, my in-laws were discussing how much they pay for their maids. The average came to about 80 pesos a day.

Saludos to you and the Professor!

Theresa in Mèrida said...

Steve, I think we pay about the same amount then if you factor in everything, I never pay less than $50 pesos whenever someone comes to work for me, the round trip on the bus is $10. My maid was working for $80 and $100 a shift when she worked for Mexicans and in one of those places she took 2 buses to reach them (no bus transfers so $20 round trip!).
Your expenses just don't seem so out of line to me.

Susan said...

I was thinking 220p a month isn't too high to pay a maid. We pay ours 400p a month - that is twice monthly cleaning. And we are accused of paying her too much. Too much? Josefina has worked for us for 4 years and has the keys to our house. No, I think it is the right amount.
But then I looked again and realized you were paying $220usd a month. I hope Josefina doesn't read your blog. I'll be in trouble.

- Mexican Trailrunner said...

Hi Steve, nice blog. I added it to my blog roll.

Here in Jocotepec, my fixed monthly budget is about 4000 MP or around $300US. It includes maid, rent, CFE, gaaaaaz, telecable, TelMex phone and internet.

Used to live at the beach, found it way more expensive than here in the highlands.


Steve Cotton said...

hmh26 -- I was merely attempting to show what I have spent. I had a projected budget, but I cannot find it now. Just as well, like all plans, it probably collapsed upon my first purchase.

Leslie -- I am willing to bet mine will be quite different within a year. At least, I hope so.

Theresa -- Thanks. Of course, you are a fancy city dweller. I am just a poor villager.

Susan -- And it is a long story how we got where we are.

Mexican Trailrunner -- I very well may join you soon in the highlands -- not to save money, but to get away from the heat and bugs.

Islagringo said...

I agree with the slippery maid slope, just like with the beggar children. But it is your life. (if you overpaid your maid where I live, you would probably get a visit from the local Gringo community to knock it off!)

I know we live on less than $2000USD per month. And live well. Now I am curious as to where we spend all that money. I'm gonna start a reckoning when I get home. (I would never call it a budget because I wouldn't stick to it!)

Wouldn't you be curious to know how much Andee used to live on? And she was as happy as a pig in mud!

Steve Cotton said...

Islagringo -- And I can get out of this slipery slope when I move on. It sounds like a line from an Edwardian play, but I am no good with servants.

Andee, of course, had the soul of a hippy. The fewer material things she had, the happier she was.

- Mexican Trailrunner said...

I knew Andee too, she was great! It makes me sad to know I can't drop by and see her when I'm at the beach.
She was indeed happy, but it was a struggle for her sometimes. She told me stories of her adventures living on little money. She was resourceful and found a way to get what she needed. She was loved by the people of Chacala. And her readers too!

Steve Cotton said...

Mexican Trailrunner -- At times, I think Andee was happier the less she had. I know that is not absolutely true because she often worried about getting by. But she spent her life learning how to enjoy what she had rather than what she could never get.