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Costa Rica on the Cheap

Posted by Emma on: Nov 18, 2010

traditional costa rican house
 - Costa Rica

fresh fruits from the farmers' marketWhen I moved to Costa Rica, I expected my living expenses to decrease, but I had no idea I would be able to live comfortably for under $1,000 per month. In fact, when my husband and I first got married, we lived well, albeit frugally, on about $850 per month. Though we counted colones, we were able to afford a nice three-bedroom home in a great location, with cable TV and high speed Internet, cell phones, and a few evenings of dining out each month. Try doing that in most world cities!

Living on the cheap in Costa Rica is just like pinching pennies anywhere else; however, prioritizing expenditures is just a little easier here. The biggest factor in maximizing a small budget is real estate, and there’s a lot more to it than location. First, identify where you want to live; beach areas and hip urban areas, especially those that cater to foreigners, will be pricey. Small towns in the Central Valley are a good bet, as they’re accessible to the capital, have reliable public transportation, and offer affordable rents.

After you’ve found your ideal location, aim for a Costa Rican neighborhood. Locals tend to build their houses without central hot water. Electric showers provide hot water on demand and help save a ton on your energy bill. If possible, find a home constructed of cool concrete – air conditioning is not necessary throughout most of the country, and in the hotter, coastal areas, a couple of strong fans will do the trick.

local buses are inexpensiveOne of the biggest factors in sticking to a stingy budget is food. Premade goods, even those that are extremely budget-friendly in the United States (macaroni & cheese, canned soups, etc.) are imported to Costa Rica and therefore more expensive. If you want to eat cheap here, you have to eat local. Scour the Internet and cookbooks for simple recipes that use fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. Seasonal produce is very affordable – you can easily grab ten pounds of fruits and veggies at the farmers’ market for less than $20. Staples like carrots, potatoes and dried beans are incredibly cheap and very healthy. Beef and pork are usually cheaper than in the United States, but boneless, skinless chicken breast costs $4/pound. If you want to be extra careful with your food budget, consider eating vegetarian at least half of the time.

The best advice I can give anyone on a budget is to plan wisely but don’t scrimp too much. Moving to Costa Rica should be an exciting and enjoyable experience, and if you spend every moment worrying about money, you’ll lose sight of the beauty around you.

traditional Costa Rican homeCounting Colones Budget Breakdown:

Housing: $150/month (shared apartment or small home)
Basic utilities (electricity & water): $15 (1/2 of total house utilities)
Luxury utilities (cell phone, cable TV & 1mb high-speed Internet): $40 (1/2 of total house utilities)
Public Transportation: $45 (equivalent to using four inner-city buses per day)
Restaurants & Entertainment: $100
Groceries: $200
Miscellaneous: $100

Total: $650

Little Bit O’ Luxury Budget Breakdown:

Housing: $300/month (private apartment or small home)
Basic utilities (electricity & water): $30
Luxury utilities (cell phone, cable TV & 2mb high-speed Internet): $85
Public Transportation: $100 (liberal use of buses & taxis)
Restaurants & Entertainment: $150
Groceries: $225
Private Health Insurance: $50
Miscellaneous: $100

Total: $1,040

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