Nov 21 2012

Newsletter – November 21, 2012

Welcome to our Newsletter!

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue:

  • Happy Thanksgiving from Costa Rica!
  • Back on Track – Our October Budget Update
  • Costa Rica Isn’t for Everyone?
  • iPad Digital Art Workshops Coming to Costa Rica
  • The Central Valley Town of Grecia
  • Turn key Home with Great Views for Sale in Grecia-$122K
  • Raising Your Standard of Living
  • Give Me the Simple Life, by Jo Stuart


Happy Thanksgiving from Costa Rica!

To all of our friends, family, and readers living in the U.S., we would like to wish you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving Day. Though we are not there with you, we will be celebrating the day here with about 40 friends, both expats and Ticos, and will be enjoying turkey and all the trimmings. But most importantly, we will be focusing on all we have to be grateful for, not the least of which is YOU.


Back on Track – Our October Budget Update

We’re still saving at least 30% per month over our living expenses in the U.S., but about four years ago, when we arrived in Costa Rica, it was a little easier to stay below $1800 a month than it is today. However, we didn’t come to Costa Rica just because it was less expensive, though that was an important factor. If we chose where to retire solely on cost of living, we probably would have gone elsewhere. But no matter where you choose to go, if it’s just about the money, you’ll never make it. It’s got to be about more than that. But we’ll save that discussion for another article.

That being said, in September, a pair of eyeglasses and a new radiator blew our budget, but in October, things got back to normal. For us, normal means that we spend $1700-$1800 per month. We could always spend under $1700 a month if we were super-frugal about it, we know that. But as our financial position has improved slightly, we have gotten a little lax on our spending, doing things that we may not have done a year ago.

Our car-related expenses were higher than normal in October due to giving several tours and doing airport-pick-ups. We had to have some minor repairs done on the car as well but that was normal wear & tear. We average about 8,000 miles per year and, other than rent, the car is one of our biggest expenses.

All of the other spending categories were in line with what we usually spend per month.

Here are our expenses for the previous two months:







Costa Rica Isn’t for Everyone?

by Gloria

Last week, Jackie, one of our readers wrote, “I have read in your newsletter that Costa Rica is not for everyone. (Others) say the same thing… My question is, just what is it about Costa Rica that is not for everyone? In your opinion, other than the language difference, what are the three most challenging things about living in Costa Rica?” We had to step back and think about our answer, so we decided to answer her question here.

1. First of all, it’s a different culture, though you may not notice it at first. Ticos look like us, and in many ways are like us, but there are some basic differences in how they approach life.

They are not driven, like many people are in the U.S. They have a much more tranquilo lifestyle. This translates into a variety of attitudes and behaviors, like “If it doesn’t get done today, it might get done tomorrow. If not, well, it will be done eventually.” Or, “Who cares if it isn’t done perfectly…it’s functional; that’s good enough.” It also contributes to the bureaucracy.  Whether it’s all the licenses and approvals needed to build a home, or dealing with the police and justice department if you’ve been a victim of crime, many things aren’t done quickly, or efficiently, here.

A recent first-time visitor to Costa Rica made the comment to me, “Toto, this isn’t Kansas anymore,” when referring to the less-than-perfect building standards he observed here. Houses aren’t built to U.S. standards, sidewalks are broken and can be dangerous to walk on, and there are bars on the windows. My response to him was, “Bienvenido a Costa Rica! And you’re right, this is not Kansas! But in many ways, that’s a good thing. I have to confess, my first reaction was similar to yours. I wasn’t used to seeing all the bars on the windows and concertina wire on the walls. But it’s amazing what you can get used to, and look past, over time. And you definitely would need to let go of the concept of “perfection” if you choose to live here — or maybe even to enjoy visiting Costa Rica.” And while the houses aren’t built to U.S. standards, there are strict building codes here, which is why Costa Rica had such low damages and loss of life from the recent 7.6 earthquake.

Oftentimes, people can’t adapt to the culture and the language, and this affects every area of their lives. They may be unwilling — or convinced they are unable — to learn Spanish. And they are convinced that everything is done better back home. Ethnocentrism is judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture. While this may be natural, it can also be a prescription for unhappiness in Costa Rica. That leads me to reason #2.

2. Many people come to Costa Rica believing that they can pick up their lives back in the U.S., Canada, or elsewhere and just transplant it here in Costa Rica. They buy a piece of land, build an “American style” house, ship all of their belongings, and try to live their lives basically the same way they lived “back home.” We know one couple who bought a house and spent $20,000 to ship everything they owned, only to decide two months later that Costa Rica wasn’t for them. They couldn’t adapt and it was an expensive mistake to make.

It may be less expensive to live in Costa Rica when it comes to health care, housing, and many food items, but if you keep buying a lot of imported products that you used or ate back home, or you run a dishwasher or dryer on a regular basis, it can be more expensive. And initially, many folks come here for the less expensive medical care, but ultimately don’t trust the medical system (or their ability to communicate their medical issues). When they are old enough for Medicare, many of these folks decide to move back to the U.S.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with these choices – after all, people want different things – we think that these folks won’t be as happy here long-term, because it IS different. And Costa Rica is less different than some other countries such as Mexico and Ecuador. I think that the people who are happiest here are those that choose to come because of the differences instead of in spite of them. They tend to focus on the positives – all the things that Costa Rica is doing right.  It’s no accident that Ticos are repeatedly rated one of the happiest peoples on earth.

3. Another big reason that Costa Rica isn’t for everyone is the pull of family ties. People don’t realize how much they will miss their family – whether it’s parents who are getting older or children who are giving birth to your grandchildren. Modern technology, like Skype, makes it easier. Family and friends may come to visit. But even so, it may not be enough. Our friends, the Brinks, decided to leave Costa Rica after five years to move to Utah so they can watch their first grandchild grow up. All it took was holding that new baby in their arms to make their decision clear. It’s always been interesting to me that many of the expats we’ve met in Costa Rica are couples like us who’ve never had children. There is just less of that pull than couples with children experience.

It is estimated that more than 33% of expats return home within the first 5 years.”

So, is Costa Rica right for you? You should do your “due diligence” before you move here, but you won’t really know if Costa Rica is for you until you spend some extended time here, as living here is different from visiting here. Maybe you will find, as many do, that Costa Rica is right for you for a time. As Paul often says, “it’s not a contest. It’s okay to try it out.”

It’s funny, I realized as I was writing this that it’s not so much the things that are wrong with Costa Rica that make it “not for everyone.” Rather, it’s the expectations of the people who come here that, I think, is the main issue, and the choices they make once here. Our friend, George Lundquist, who runs the successful Retire in Costa Rica on Social Security tour, often says “don’t ask ‘is Costa Rica right for me?’ Ask ‘am I right for Costa Rica?’” I couldn’t agree more. I’m sure that some of you will disagree with my thoughts on the matter. Please feel free to post your comments if you would like to share your thoughts. And Jackie, I hope this answers your question!


iPad Digital Art Workshops Coming to Costa Rica

If you have an iPad and a desire to learn to use it as a tool to express yourself artistically, this is the workshop for you! It will be offered in up to three locations in Costa Rica, including San Ramon, this coming February, 2013.






Digital artist, Mandy McMahan, leads the class in interactive, step-by-step approaches and makes using the iPad technologically approachable, intellectually stimulating, and fun.

Using the iPad as a mobile art studio, participants will create their own digital fine art works using a combination of up to 6 drawing and painting apps.

Using your iPad as a mobile art studio you will:

  • create your own unique fine art, collage and photo altered pieces.
  • use iPad painting and drawing apps both individually and in tandem
  • navigate through importing and exporting source material.
  • learn methods for sharing your art on the internet.
  • learn how to take your art from your iPad to your wall.

All ages welcome. Materials: Any model iPad; an iTunes account and knowledge of downloading apps.

If you are interested in more details about this workshop, please contact us at

Sharing tools, techniques and approaches for the creation of beautiful art is one of the most satisfying things I can do in this lifetime.”

Mandy McMahan


The Central Valley Town of Grecia

Grecia Parque Central

Grecia is our 2nd favorite town in El Occidente, the western Central Valley. If we didn’t live in San Ramon, we’d probably live in Grecia. The cantón (county) of Grecia is located in Alajuela province. The town of Grecia is the capital city of the cantón and one its eight districts. According to the latest census figures from 2011, the population of the cantón of Grecia is 76,898 and the population of the town of Grecia is 14,859.

The downtown area is a tad smaller than San Ramon and I believe a little better looking – though Gloria disagrees with me on this – and, like San Ramon, it has a lot going for it. Grecia is known for being the “cleanest town in Costa Rica.” This designation actually dates back to August 1st, 1989, when Grecia was declared the “cleanest town in Latin America” during a meeting in Cuenca, Ecuador, of the Latin American Chapter of the International Union of Municipalities and Powers. I often tell people on tour that it’s the cleanest town in the universe, as the townspeople have really bought into it and keep it looking rather spiffy. And, of course, the guidebooks repeat the assertion frequently.

Grecia Sugar Cane Field

It’s also a little warmer than San Ramon, as Grecia sits at 3,000 ft. elevation, while San Ramon’s elevation is 3,450 ft. Most expats live high up in the hills surrounding Grecia. Popular areas are El Cajon (4,000 ft.) and San Isidro. Both have stunning views of Grecia and the entire central Valley, with cooler temperatures and more rain that in town. Grecia’s main agricultural crops, from the time of its founding in 1828 up until the present, are coffee and sugar cane. We always know when we are driving through the canton of Grecia by the fields of sugar cane along the Pan American highway.

Grecia is also noted for it’s unique red-metal church, the Iglesia de la Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes. The metal panels from which the church was built were fabricated in Belgium, then in 1892, transported by ship to Puerto Limon on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, and then by rail to Alajuela. For the last 20 km. of their journey, the metal panels were transported in oxcarts to the Grecia town center where the church was constructed.

Grecia has a modern mall with a multi-screen movie theater. It is said that Grecia has more doctors and lawyers living there, per capita, than any other town in Costa Rica (though we couldn’t find any facts to confirm this). It has a small hospital and small branches of several universities. Unlike San Ramon, it sits 9 km. (about 4 miles) from the Autopista (Rt. 1) and is less than 30 minutes from the Juan Santamaria International Airport.

Just wanted to tell Paul how nice it was to see him the other day. (Your tour guests) were very nice people. Of course they had a very good tour guide. I also want to thank Paul for all his help in finding us our house in Grecia. My friend Meg and I enjoyed being with you and seeing what was available in the San Ramon and Grecia area. Paul, you showed us all kinds of places, and of course when I saw this one that did it. Bob and I have really enjoyed being here and we owe it all to you. Again thank you, thank you. Hope to see you two soon.


Nancy Trinidad”

Turn key Home with Great Views for Sale in Grecia-$122K

Though we recommend you rent, rent, rent when you move to Costa Rica, we realize that some folks will still choose to buy, either early on or after they’ve been here for a while. Though we are not realtors, we recommend purchasing properties under $150,000 because they are both easier to buy and easier to sell. We have just added a home in Grecia, with more to come in the next week or so.

Property ID Number: 5073

Price (US$): $122,000


Geographic Area: Grecia and Naranjo areas

Property City: Grecia

Neighborhood: El Cajon

Meters Squared or Hectares: 232.12 m2

Lot Size (sq. Ft.) – Farm Acreage: 2498 Square feet

Year Built: 2009

Construction (sq. ft.): 1,100

Bedrooms: 2

Full Baths: 2

Garage Space: 2

Property Description:

This is a great opportunity in one of the most desirable areas of Grecia. This newer home is being sold turnkey with tasteful furniture, and full size appliances. The home features excellent views of the central valley, and the surrounding mountains. Because the house is built above the lower area is perfect for a studio apartment, art studio, gardens, or an outdoor kitchen. Don’t miss out on this opportunity, this home won’t stay on the market long, it is a perfect investment, with your IRA, it can be rented out easily.

To see more photos and/or contact the realtor for this property, click here.

If you are of retirement age and are thinking about buying or selling any real estate, you should read Paul’s “Money vs. Time” article first.


Raising Your Standard of Living

by Paul

I’ve always been somewhat confused about the term, “raising your standard of living.” It seems to me that it’s based more on material things than it should be. The dictionary defines standard of living as a “level of material comfort as measured by the goods, services, and luxuries available to, enjoyed by, or aspired to an individual, group, or nation.”

After World War II, there was a big push to raise the standard of living in the United States. It began innocently enough. Every family had a car, and home buying was in vogue. The so-called “American dream,” was facilitated by the G.I. bill which assisted our troops in education and home purchase.

I even used the G.I. Bill myself, to purchase a home and four years of education. I used those benefits to the max, as a matter of fact, the education benefits allowed me to attend a very good private university in Chulula, Puebla, Mexico. It was enough to pay for my housing, food, and tuition.”

After WWII, everything seemed possible. The U.S. was the top dog, while the Soviet Union and the Cold War gave us an enemy we could focus on for the next 45 years. Meanwhile, the war helped get us out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. There weren’t credit cards yet, so people still paid for things in cash after saving up for them. They bought homes with 30-year mortgages and actually paid them off in 30 years. It’s no wonder that they called these Americans the Great Generation, for they did so much for the country. Good, solid, hard-working people who wanted to raise the “standard of living “to make life easier for them and their children.

Lots of things were invented or improved upon in this era and, by golly, every American had to have one (whatever “one” was). After all, it was our right as Americans. Do you remember when television was young, and there were ads for new refrigerators, stoves, and other appliances designed to make life easier for housewives and all Americans. At this time, many women had started entering the workforce and it was common to have two paychecks and maybe two cars in the driveway.

As the years went on, gradually, everything grew. The consumer society was in full swing and you no longer needed money. You could do it with credit, and better yet, a credit card. If you were a really good credit risk, you might have several credit cards. At this point, you’d considered yourself very successful. Now you could finance the American Dream on credit and pay over time. Wasn’t that wonderful?

Well, as you can imagine, all this purchasing, all this raising of the “standard of living” got us into a lot of trouble & a lot of debt. Credit and credit cards made it possible to live beyond our means, with lots of things, lots of stuff to fill up our basements, attics, garages, and even storage units. We thought all that stuff was so important and we just had to have it. Of course, it all took time and energy to pay for and maintain.

In the late 70s and early 80s, people in the United States started talking about the “leisure ethic” and what they were going to do with all that extra time. With the advent of the computer, we were going to have a paperless society. We were going to be more productive. They often talked about the 35 hour work-week like the French had. Whatever happened to that? Instead of working 35 hours, we started working 45 and 50 hours or more.

So, what is “standard of living” anyway? And should it be redefined? Personally, I think the U.S. always had it backwards, but I’m the first to admit that like most Americans, I bought into it too. It seems that we all got it wrong. It was innocuous enough. I mean, what’s wrong with raising the standard of living, making life easier for all of us so we can work hard, be productive, and pay for all that stuff? Wasn’t it our right as citizens of the “greatest country in the world?”

As a country, the United States always felt entitled, that we were number one in everything. We were insulated by two oceans from much of the rest of the world. We had the perception that we could do no wrong. That we were going to lead the world. We were the most generous. We were holy. God was on our side. However, we’re not number one in everything. Far from it. Matter of fact, we hardly number one in anything except maybe the number of prisoners we have in jail. Have you seen the video clip with Jeff Daniels in “The Newsroom,” where he talks about these issues? I think he says it well:

It’s kind of like we lost our way, and materialism had a lot to do with it. Makes you think, huh? It seems to me, the “standard of living” has less to do with money and things and more to do with health, family, friends, and more specifically, your mate or partner. And it helps if your expectations are low and you are satisfied with less. After all, you’re born naked, you die naked, and you can’t take any of that stuff with you.

That’s why we recommend that when you come to Costa Rica, you rent before you buy and hold off on shipping all your stuff. Live here for a while, at least a year or two, and then if you still want all the stuff you left behind, you can ship it down. If you are like us, I promise, you will realize how little of what you left behind is important, and how little of it you really need. If you lost everything, the loss would not be as great as you first perceived as your views on what is important will have changed, and hence, you will re-evaluate your whole “standard of living.”

We’ve been in Costa Rica over three and a half years. We haven’t shipped anything down, though we have brought belongings in suitcases on the plane. We didn’t bring our car down.  We live a simple life, but we do have more than the basics. We’ve got our health. We’ve got each other, and enough money to live. We have high speed internet, good food to eat, transportation, telephones, our freedom, and a sense of adventure.  We go on trips when we want, but mostly we just like being at home together. We may be living the Retire for Less lifestyle, but we’re not suffering. We have, what we think, is a very high “standard of living.”


Give Me the Simple Life

by Jo Stuart

Friends in the States ask me what it would cost “to live a simple life” here. I am not sure I can judge what they mean by “simple.” Just as one man’s treasure is another man’s trash, one person’s simple is another’s luxury. Actually, my own idea of simple is pretty nebulous. Mainly, it is not accumulating a lot of “stuff.” Except maybe, books. It’s not being a big-time consumer, and being concerned enough about the environment not to pollute it any more than I can help, by recycling. Recycling not only helps to live simply, it helps to live more cheaply. I live, for the most part, on products that are available in Costa Rica. But not entirely. I am delighted when some new product from the U.S. or Europe comes into the supermarket. But I rationalize that it is the global economy.

However, there are people living here who have built simple homes near a rainforest or in a small town, far from San Jose, who really live a simple life. They grow their own organic crops, make their own bread, and survive very nicely without TV or telephone – or even electricity. I could not do that.”

From Butterfly in the City, page 209. Used with permission.

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That’s all for this month, but we’ll be back in touch soon!  If you enjoy our newsletter, please share it with your friends.  We hope to see you online!

Gloria & Paul Yeatman
San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica

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