Our December 2015 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses

Not too bad. That’s the best I can say about our spending in December. I would have been surprised if we came in under $2,000 so ending up at $2,181.76 wasn’t unexpected. After all, December is the month of “Christmas and the car.”

The Car

First, let’s talk about the car. December is the month in Costa Rica when the Marchamo (mandatory vehicle registration) is due. The Marchamo is a combination of yearly registration, taxes, and mandatory basic liability insurance. For our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner, our cost was $207.48 (109,134 colones). You can see from the graphic below, that our cost has gone up every year (though not dramatically), even though our car keeps getting older.


The deadline to pay was Dec. 31. As of January 1st, if one is caught driving without a valid 2016 permit on your windshield, the fine is about $90 (?49.000), plus the possible confiscation of your license plates. As of December 26th, Marchamo had been paid on only about half of the cars registered. After December 31st, payments will will accrue both interest and late payment penalties.

The annual permit also includes a small amount of liability insurance. To find our how much, click here to read our article on this topic.

Other than the normal gasoline, tolls, and parking costs, we had one other car-related expense in December. Paul had our mechanic replace a spark plug and brake fluid which cost us a total of $18.90.


Christmas means gift-giving and it’s the same in Costa Rica. For us, though, our pattern of giving has changed completely in several ways. First, Paul and I do not exchange gifts like we did when living in the U.S. A big reason is that we just don’t want stuff. There are no big thick Sunday newspapers with sales circulars tempting us, no television commercials since we primarily watch Netflix. And the little bit of U.S. television we watch on USTVNow features commercials for things we can’t buy anywhere locally in Costa Rica. More importantly, ever since we downsized to move here, we are enjoying living without owning a lot of stuff. And when we begin to accumulate extra things, we think about who we know who might make use of them.

The second reason our giving patterns have changed is that Costa Rica is not a tipping culture. That means that, during the year, we don’t tip our hair stylist, nor the waiters in most restaurants, nor most taxi drivers. But for Christmas, we make a point of giving a little something extra to the people who help make our experience here so special. We tip the women who do my hair and pedicures and Paul’s hair-cutter. We give extra tips to the guys who help us find parking spaces and watch our car while we’re gone. We buy small gifts or give plates of homemade cookies to some of our Tico friends.

ChristmasBonusOur housekeeper gets both a gift and her Aguinaldo (Christmas bonus).  Basically, the aguinaldo is an additional month of wages that employers are required by law to pay between December 1st and the 20th. The amount due is calculated by adding the total wages for the year (December 1st of the previous year through November 30th of the current year) and then dividing by 12. Our housekeeper’s Aguinaldo came to just under $60 and she has been working for us for about two year now, four hours per week.  We also gave her a raise on the first of the year, just as we did last year. Our total cost for housekeeping (included in the Rent/Phone/Utilities category) for the month was $110.16, which includes her Aguinaldo and payment for cleaning four times.

Groceries – A Whopping $546.62

Wow! Our grocery bill, at $546.62, was much higher than normal in December. Of that total, food items totaled $499.60 and non-food items totaled $47.02 (8.6%). Last year in December, we only spent $359.59. In looking over our spending in this category, I saw that we did not have a visit to PriceSmart to blame. We just made lots of purchases, right here in San Ramón. I’m not even sure exactly how we spent so much on groceries, but I have some ideas.

biscottiFor me, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without holiday baking. Last year, I made lots of pumpkin bread (an unusual delicacy here) to give to friends and neighbors. This year, instead, I ended up doing more work by baking lots of Christmas cookies, for us and to give as gifts. When we were back in Baltimore and my mother was alive, I would get together at our house with her, my sister, and my niece to bake traditional Italian cookies. I have continued the tradition every year, though without my family, though some of the types of cookies have changed because of the unavailability of ingredients. Holiday baking definitely adds to one’s grocery budget. Nuts, cocoa, dried fruits, extra flours, sugars, and eggs can get to be expensive, as every home baker knows.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Another reason our food budget was higher than normal is that a new grocery store opened in December (at least, that’s my excuse). Walmart-owned Mas x Menos opened its doors with some great sales and we took advantage of many of them — my favorite brand of coffee (buy 2 and get 1 free) and about half-price off on paper towels and toilet paper. Plus, I was able to find some products at Mas x Menos that I haven’t been able to find at other local stores.

And the final reason for an expensive December in our grocery category is that we celebrated Christmas with dinner at our house for 8 people. I cooked an Italian-themed dinner and we celebrated with friends who each brought something to contribute to the meal. Christmas2015-2It was a wonderful time and we had lots of great conversation. Before we knew it, it was 10:30 pm and everyone headed home. And it was worth every penny.

There wasn’t anything else of note in terms of our spending in December. I’ll be working on our 2015 cost of living summary soon and it will be interesting to compare it to prior years. In the meantime, here’s hoping for a less expensive 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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