Wednesday, March 5, 2014



February 2014 TOTAL

We exceeded our $2,000/month goal by almost $250 in February. Looking at the categories, two stand out. The first is “groceries/household.” We expected to spend about $100/week for this category – and this month it’s more than $140/week. I thought that by baking my own bread, making my own yogurt and salad dressings, growing some of our food (at this point it’s mostly lettuce and spinach), and buying our meats and produce at the feria (farmer’s market), we’d actually spend less than $100/week.
Apparently though, I’m genetically programmed to hoard household items. Price Smart (the COSTCO of Costa Rica) is my Achilles heel. This month we went to Price Smart to get dog food, and left with a groaning grocery cart $230 later. Of course, we now have enough toilet paper and paper towels to last into the next decade, but we also bought some items considered “luxury” in Costa Rica – a block of feta cheese imported from Wisconsin, wine in a bottle instead of a box, and giant quantities of chocolate chips, pecans, dried cranberries and pasta.
I also visited AutoMercado, which is a Gringo-style, upscale grocery store. I needed cheese cloth for my yogurt (I’ve been using and rinsing out the same tattered piece since we moved here in October) and parchment paper for baking. I’d read on one of the expat Facebook pages that AutoMercado carried these two items, so on the way home from our February Blooms meeting, my friends Irina and Kathy and I stopped in to find these items. The parchment was easy to find (but expensive -- $8.63!) but there was nothing resembling cheese cloth. I approached a gentleman who looked managerial and asked if he had “fabrica de queso” when I should have asked for “la estopilla.” Unlike my husband, who is really good at looking up what he needs to say in Google Translate before he goes to the store, I just pulled some Spanish-sounding words out of the air.
Señor AutoMercado Manager scratched his head as he watched my wild gyrations. I was trying to mime putting yogurt into cheese cloth and squeezing out the liquid, but it probably looked more like I was milking a cow. So he said something to one of the clerks, who came back with a jar of Cheese Wiz. Meanwhile, Irina found two women shoppers and tried to communicate my cheese cloth needs to them. They said something to Señor Manager and he motioned us to follow him through the store. We got to the housewares aisle where he handed me a package containing a microfiber bag for storing lettuce. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that’s not what I wanted, so I bought it ($16.42). I’ve tested it to see if it will drain the whey from my yogurt – water does come out of it, so it may work. And it looks sturdy enough to last forever.
I’m hoping that we can avoid Price Smart in March so I won’t be tempted. We’ve only gone through about half of the giant bag of dog food, so we may be able to hold out until April. Our pantry is nice and full so it could be that we’ll even be under the $100/week for March.
The other budget-breaker in February was the doctor/medicine category. Paul had a chiropractic treatment, but everything else was me. I had to have a lot of lab work ($180) and my regular medicines are pretty pricey. They’ll continue to be until we get our residency and can use the CAJA (Costa Rica’s required medical insurance that is based on one’s monthly income.) We’ll be depositing my Social security check into a Costa Rican bank and that will determine what we’ll pay for the CAJA. It appears that for the two of us it should come to about $150/month. Once we get on the CAJA, I won’t have to pay anything for doctor visits, lab work or most of my meds.
This is the third month that we’ve published our budget. In March we’ll be going to Nicaragua for our 90-day border run – something we will have to do until we’re in the process of obtaining our pensionado (our category of residency). Many folks do a quick run across and back – but since we’ve never been to Nicaragua, we plan to spend several days visiting Grenada and doing some other touristy activities. So even if we sidestep the lure of Price Smart, we will have some trip expenses to account for. It will be interesting to see how close we can stay to $2,000 in March.
I love doing this monthly report and I hope that it will help folks who want to know what it’s really like to live in Costa Rica. Everyone’s experience is going to be different:  some folks may have much lower housing expenses because they’re perfectly happy in a one-bedroom apartment; others may spend much more because they choose to live in a fancy Escazú condo and spend every weekend at a beach resort. As I’ve written before, we were initially inspired by Paul & GloriaYeatman, who’ve been publishing their monthly budget for several years. It really helped us before we moved here to determine that we really could retire and live for less in Costa Rica.

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