Our January 2016 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses

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2016_JanbFinally! A month under our goal of $2,000! We’re still working on our 2015 Costa Rica Cost of Living Summary, so stay tuned. But let’s take a look at how we did in January of this new year.

Transportation – $320.70

January was a big month for tours for us. We met lots of nice people who are thinking about Costa Rica as a retirement location. So, we took our RFL tour mobile (AKA our Toyota 4-Runner) to the mechanic for some regular maintenance. Here’s what we spent:

  • Tune-up – $38.30
  • Oil change (with 6 quarts of oil) – $47.17

What would these services have cost us back home in Baltimore? The oil change may have been a bit lower since the oil is imported to Costa Rica, but I’m sure that the tune-up would have been much higher. What do tune-ups run where you live?

Groceries – $364.61

Groceries this month were right about average. We didn’t make any special trips to PriceSmart or Walmart. We did all of our grocery shopping right in San Ramón. We went to the feria (farmers market) for most of our meats, some of our fruit and vegetables, and the fresh flowers we include in our “non-food groceries.” In January, our non-food groceries accounted for 11% of our spending for the month.

GranBodega1The bulk of our other produce, we buy at La Gran Bodega De Las Frutas Y Verduras. We can buy everything from the fresh pineapple, papaya, and strawberries that I prep and freeze for Paul’s smoothies, to the unsalted peanuts I use for homemade natural peanut butter, and the dried flor de jamaica I use to make hibiscus tea. They always have a variety of fresh lettuces which I like to use when making salads. I can buy big bunches of fresh herbs — basil, cilantro, sage, rosemary, and more — for about 20 cents each. And I find their produce is much fresher than that found at most of the grocery stores. They now have several locations that I know of, including Grecia and two in Alajuela. Currently, they do not carry organic produce, however all of their produce is local, from Costa Rica, so there are no imported GMO papayas, for instance, like some of the other stores.

Health Care – $161.92

Nothing out of the ordinary in this category. It includes our monthly Caja payment, a couple of prescriptions that we take and pay for at the pharmacy, and various supplements at the macrobiotica (health food store).

One thing I do want to mention is that both Paul and I take a prescription that comes with a free offer. My prescription is “buy 2 and get the 3rd free,” and Paul’s is “buy 3 and get the 4th free.” The drug companies issue a membership card of sorts and when you have accumulated the required purchases, you return to the farmacia (pharmacy) with your receipts and the card to collect your free month of the prescription drug. It definitely cuts down on our healthcare expenses! If there are prescription drugs you take on a regular basis, be sure to check for any offers from the drug companies that may be available.

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $829.84

There are a couple of things of note in this month’s rent, utilities, and phone category. In case you don’t remember, we include weekly housekeeping in this category as well. There are two reasons that this expense is higher in January. First off, our housekeeper, Flor, has been with us for two years now. She works four hours a week and does a great job. She started out at 1,500 colones/hour (about $3) which was the going rate in our area. The next year, we raised her hourly rate by 250 colones/hour. Now, as she starts her third year with us, we have raised it again to 2,000 colones/hour, or 8,000 colones (about $15 USD) per week.

Also, January was our month to pay Flor’s Caja payment of 20,300 c0lones (about $38 USD), which covers her and her two children. We have organized the other households for whom she works and we each take a month to pay her Caja. Usually, Paul collects the cash from the couple responsible that month, and then he pays her Caja when he pays ours. We give the receipt to her so that she can prove that her Caja has been paid for the month in case she needs medical services for her or her family.


The porch at our rental house, now for sale

The second thing I want to mention is that this category will most likely be seeing some changes over the next year. Paul and I will be moving at some point, most likely into the town of San Ramón, where we can experience the culture more directly, make more Tico friends, and walk most places. We are currently looking at houses and apartments now, so if you know of something, please let us know. And why, you might ask, are we moving from this wonderful house we have been renting? The owners, who built this as a combination vacation home and rental, have decided to sell it. We have been here for over 3 years now and have loved every minute of it. We are surrounded by nature, with the only sounds we hear being the birds, breezes, monkeys, insects, and frogs. It is truly a special place and we will miss it when the time comes to move on. Many of you have visited here on a tour and know what I’m talking about. If you would like any information about the house sale, please let me know and I will send you the details.

Hardware/Household – $31.24

If you know me or have been reading our newsletter for a while, you know I love to cook and bake. Since we had friends visiting in January, I took the opportunity to order some things from Amazon to have them bring down. Since my old garlic press finally broke, I bought a new one recommended by America’s Test Kitchen – not the $35 one that came in first…after all, we are “retire for less!”…but the $15 one that was their best buy.

ovenmittsAnd since I’m forever burning myself taking things out of the oven, it was time for new oven mitts, also recommended by America’s Test Kitchen. These silicone, heat resistant oven mitts were also about $15. If you like cooking and baking too, and are looking for a real bargain, consider subscribing to the free America’s Test Kitchen podcast on iTunes. It’s entertaining, instructive, and, did I mention, free?!

Entertainment/Travel – $25.72

This category, as usual, includes our monthly fee for NetFlix ($8.47 USD) which is how we watch most television and movies in Costa Rica. We occasionally watch the free version USTVNow for live programming like yesterday’s Super Bowl, and with a VPN connection, we can also watch full episodes of our PBS favorites, like Downton Abbey, on pbs.org (also free). This gives us all the television we care to watch and more.

Another expense in this category was for the entrance fees and parking for our first beach day of the 2016 season at Playa Doña Ana, near Puntarenas. 22 of our friends and neighbors came, as well as lots of Tico families enjoying the kids’ summer vacation from school. The beach has secure parking (1,000 colones per car), picnic tables, BBQ grills available, bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms, lots of shady trees with monkeys in them (most of the time), a beautiful view, warm waters, and even a restaurant (though it’s not always open during the week). Entrance fees are 1,500 colones/person and only 750 colones/adult 65 and over. Here’s a peek at our beach day:

You can check out the location and get directions on Google Maps Costa Rica by searching for “Playa Doña Ana.” There’s a Maxi Pali grocery store about two miles before the beach (coming from Rt. 1) which is a great place to buy food and/or drinks. You can cook on the grills or bring something ready to eat. Everyone brings their own food though there is a lot of sharing going on!

Office Supplies, Copies, Faxes, Postage, etc. – $26.96

While I am a big fan of free shipping when ordering from Amazon.com, there are times you just need to pay to get it there on time. Our order in January was one of those times. Our order of the garlic press, oven mitts, and a supply of replacement heads for our Braun Oral B toothbrush cost us $10.54 in shipping. I hate spending money on shipping, don’t you? But our order got to our friend’s house in time for him to bring it in his luggage for us. Thanks Peter!

The only other expense in this category worth mentioning is the renewal of our apartado postal (post office box) at the correo (post office) in San Ramón. The charge has gone up a bit each year. For 2016, the cost is 15,000 colones (about $28 USD). Our actual cost was a bit less because we split the cost with a friend who will be sharing our box. We each get so little mail, it’s not a problem.

If you haven’t paid yet for your apartado postal, be sure to do so this month as a penalty fee will be charged after February 29th. And if you don’t have a post office box but would like one, March is a great time to get one as some always open up after the renewal time.

That’s about it for January. As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months. If you want more information about a particular month, just click on the graphic for that month below:



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