We will tell you all about what everything cost to equip our new unfurnished apartment in downtown San Ramón de Alajuela, Costa Rica in our “January cost of living” article. But the process of shopping and buying what we needed has been a learning adventure, to say the least.
First of all, when you rent an unfurnished house or apartment in Costa Rica, it is normal for it to not have appliances. This is not what we are used to in the U.S., for sure. But we knew it ahead of time, so we were prepared for the expense. And since we are “Retire for Less,” bargain shopping was important to us.
Buying Used Appliances
We have a dedicated laundry room in the apartment, so during November and December, we looked on Craigslist for a used washer and dryer. We found a used washer in Santo Domingo de Heredia. The former owner was selling it for $250 USD and it appeared to be in good shape. Only problem is that it was pouring down rain the day we wanted to buy it and she wouldn’t hold it until the next day for us. So off we drove in the midst of a downpour, and after dark, to boot. It took us about 2 hours to get there and an hour and a half, at least, to get home. Thank you, dear Paul, for your patience and safe driving!
A week or two later, we found a dryer on Craigslist, this time near Lindora, in Santa Ana. The owner was asking $299 and, since she had had it listed for more than a week, we negotiated down to $275 USD. It was the same brand (General Electric) as the washer, and the two side-by-side look like a matched set (not mandatory, but certainly nice to have).
Once again, it took a while to drive there, test and pick up the dryer, and bring it back to store in the garage at our new apartment.
Buying New Appliances
When it came to buying a refrigerator and stove, it was important to us to get a warranty, so we decided to buy new. Plus, our appliance repairman advised us against buying used Costa Rican appliances. Those originally sold in the States are more durable, in his experience, so used imported appliances would be fine.
We went to every appliance store in San Ramón and in Palmares, the next town over. Since we had a size limitation on the refrigerator, we wanted the largest fridge available for the space. We wanted white, not gray or chrome, as seems to be the fashion now. And we wanted it before our move-in date of January 1st.
For the fridge, we decided on a Frigidaire that fit all of our requirements. Since I cook a lot from scratch, I would have loved a larger fridge. But one of the good things about living right in town is that we have a couple of grocery stores within a couple of blocks, so I don’t need to keep it as stocked as in the past.
As for the stove, we ended up buying an Atlas 6-burner stove. When we lived at the Cabinas, we had bought a similar stove, third-hand, from friends. Later, when we moved to the Magallanes house (which was fully equipped with appliances and furniture), we sold it to friends. Now, more than four years later it’s still going strong. That was enough for us, so we chose an Atlas. I must admit, it’s not anywhere near as heavy as stoves available in the States, but it works well.
There were two negatives that I realized about the stove after we had it delivered. First was that there was no oven thermometer, so I had no way of knowing when, or if, the oven temperature reached what I wanted. After 4 years using a stove from the U.S., I had forgotten this limitation of local ovens. You wouldn’t think think this would be a problem — you just go to your local Bed Bath & Beyond or Ikea and pick up an oven thermometer, right? Problem is that those store do not exist in Costa Rica. After checking every store in our town that sells kitchen stuff, we moved on to Cemaco, a large housewares store in the new Alajuela City Mall. A friend said he thought he saw one there. But no, they had every other type of cooking thermometer, but not an oven thermometer. About a week later, another friend posted that she visited a Tips store in San Jose and they had everything. Tips carries products for both professional and home cooks. A great day for me is spending an hour wandering around stores like this. After finding that they had a smaller store in Alajuela, we stopped by yesterday and found that, yes, they knew what I was talking about and had two in stock to choose from. What joy! This was an reminder to me of two things. First, that sometimes the simple things in life can bring the most joy, and second, that success is even sweeter when you have to work for it a bit.
The second negative about the stove is that it didn’t have an oven light. This problem was more easily solved — I spent 500 colones (less than $1) on a small flashlight to keep by the stove for when I need an oven light. Easy peasy.
I also wanted a gas, versus electric, stove. Gas is less expensive and it’s also better to cook with as it gives you more control over the cooking temperature. Problem was that the apartment was set up for electric and our landlady was hesitant to allow us to install a gas propane tank. However, after she talked to someone at the fire department and they assured her that it was safe as long as properly installed, she allowed it. She told us who she wanted us to use (“Doctor Gas,” located just outside the town of San Ramon on the Pan-American Highway), we had them install the gas line into the linen closet located behind the wall where the stove is located. We purchased a brand new propane tank, and when we get refills, we will also get them in new tanks. The cost for installation, parts, and a new tank full of gas was $127.50 (70,000 colones). We anticipate that a tank of gas will last us about three months, but we will report back on that, as well as the price for propane refills.
We were lucky in that our new apartment has lots of built-in storage, cabinets, and even a built-in bed frame with side tables in the master bedroom. So that limited what we would need to buy for our bedroom to a mattress.
I remember when I was a kid, my bed had wood slats and my parents put a mattress on top. I don’t remember box springs back then. That’s how it is here. You buy or build a bed, add slats or other support, and top with a mattress. It’s far less expensive than buying a mattress and box spring set, and, from what I can see, more comfortable. We went to a mattress factory right here in San Ramón and purchased a queen-size, top of the line, pillow-top, orthopedic mattress that was 13 inches high, very comfortable, didn’t sag in the middle or on the edges when you sit down on it, and came with a 15 year guarantee. Cost: $358.84 (197,024.64 colones including tax and free delivery).
Our guest room, while it had a built-in dresser and closets, did not have a built-in bed. We posted in a local Facebook group that we were in the market for a bed and mattress, and friends, who are selling their house and moving back to the States, offered us their guest room bed. It was a beautiful king size bed frame built of guanacaste wood, topped with a Tempurpedic mattress. The room was big enough for a king bed, the price was right, only $200, but the guest room was on the 2nd floor. Would it fit up the stairs? We measured and took a chance.
We hired a local guy with a truck to pick it up and deliver it. They tried every which way to get it upstairs but finally gave up and stored it in the garage below our apartment. The next day, we got in touch with a Tico who builds furniture, thinking it might even be the guy who built the bed. He came by with his tools, spent about 4 hours taking the bed apart (he had to cut that beautiful wood in two places), bringing everything upstairs to the guest room, putting the bed frame back together in a sturdy fashion, and then reassembled the bed. Paul asked him what we owed him and he said 12,000 colones (less than $24). He had worked so hard that Paul gave him 15,000 colones instead. With a bedspread on top, you can’t tell that the wood had been cut and it looks great. Plus, it’s incredibly comfortable.
We still need a bedside table, but basically, our guest room is open for visitors!
The kitchen was another area for which we needed furniture. Since there is a built-in breakfast bar, we started off buying two bar stools so we had someplace to eat our meals. We bought them at Pequeño Mundo, a Costa Rican chain of discount retail stores. They had to be assembled and we found that the screws provided to attach the chair backs were not long enough. So Paul went to the hardware store to buy longer screws. In Costa Rica, you can buy screws, nails, and other small stuff by the piece, so he was able to get just the number we needed, costing 1,860 colones ($3.40). The chairs turned out fine, though the backs still wobble a bit.
Buying a kitchen/dining room table and chairs was even more challenging. We didn’t want formal dining room furniture, we didn’t want dark wood, and we didn’t want to spend a lot. We wanted something that would be bright, comfortable, the right size for the space we had, and, if possible, a little but funky. You know, something different and fun. So, we ended up having something custom made. We’ve paid a deposit and it should be another week or so before it’s delivered. We’ll show you pictures and give you the cost in our next newsletter.
Our only other furniture purchase, so far, was a china cabinet. China? Why do you need china in Costa Rica, you may ask? Yes, I know. With the hard tile floors and the tendency to dine casually, something like Corelle would make more sense. However, there is a story here. When we moved from our home in Baltimore, eight years ago, we got rid of a lot of stuff. But I wasn’t ready to give up our wedding china and crystal (we’d only been married a little over five years), nor my mother’s and Paul’s mother’s china. So I packed it all in four large boxes and there it sat in the basement of our house for five years, until we sold our house in 2014. At that point, we shipped the four boxes, along with nine other boxes of belongings, to Costa Rica. We unpacked everything else, but the china and crystal stayed in their boxes. When we moved to this apartment and finally had room for a china closet, I was determined to buy one and unpack everything.
When we were out shopping for a table and chairs, we found just the perfect cabinet for us. It is made of solid wood, matches the teak cabinets in the kitchen, and has plenty of room for everything. The price was only 90,000 colones (about $164) and included free delivery. We bought it from Felipe Ulate who has a used hardwood furniture business, Muebles Ulate, in San Ramon. He delivered it the same day. We would definitely buy from him again.
The best thing about this purchase is that it has brought us so much enjoyment. We sit at our breakfast bar and eat some of our dinners on Paul’s mother’s china. Sometimes we use my mother’s china, especially when I cook Italian food. And I look forward to having our first dinner party after our new table and chairs are delivered, and serving our friends on our wedding china. I’m not going to leave it sitting in the cabinet. I’m going to use it, and every time I do, it will bring back wonderful memories.
We are still shopping for living room furniture, so more on that, hopefully, next month. There were lots more purchases, which we will break out in our Cost of Living article, but this is the big stuff. I have to admit, I will be happy when we’ve gotten the shopping and buying part out of the way and can get down to just living!
- Our January 2017 Costa Rica Cost of Living
- What’s Up with the Yeatmans-January 23. 2017
- Con Mucho Gusto: The Tico Way