Our December 2017 Costa Rica Cost of Living

Seems like I say this every December, but…wow! Our normal monthly expenses are well under $2,000, but December is always higher, for a number of reasons we will explain. This December was no exception and, in fact, it’s one of our highest months ever. So here we go…

Transportation – $868.70

Our expenses for gasoline, parking, and tolls were low, totaling $125.52. We had zero expense for public transportation in December. But we did have some big expenses in the transportation category.

December is the month when everyone who owns a car must pay the MarchamoThe Marchamo is a combination of yearly registration, taxes, and mandatory basic liability insurance. For our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner, our cost was $204.83 (115,488 colones), a 9% increase over last year. Our Marchamo also includes emergency road service. You can see our annual Marchamo costs in the graphic below.

In addition to Marchamo, we paid our car insurance for 6 months and had some car repairs done. Here is the breakdown:

  • 6 months of car insurance: $147.74 (82,589 colones)
  • Catalytic Converter: $89.45 (50,000 colones)
  • Clean Exhaust System: $35.78 (20,000 colones)
  • 2 New tires: $196.78 (110,000 colones)
  • New rear brake shoes & minor repairs: $98.39 (55,000 colones)
  • Welding of parts on rear end of car :$35.78 (20,000 colones)

Groceries – $452.70

Our normal monthly grocery budget is about $350, so December’s spending was higher than normal, for two main reasons. December was our first full month back in Costa Rica after spending several months in Mexico, so that meant restocking the kitchen. Plus, for me, the Christmas holidays wouldn’t be the same without baking Christmas cookies, so lots of butter, nuts, chocolate chips, and other yummy (& expensive) ingredients were in my shopping basket. I’ve been baking Italian biscotti and chocolate chip cookies every Christmas since I can remember, and years when I’ve had more time, I’ve added other varieties.

We spent 93% ($419.80) of our grocery total on food items and only 7% ($33.48) on non-food items. We shopped at local grocery stores, AutoMercado in Alajuela for a few imported items we can’t find locally and Asiago cheese, and PriceSmart for big bags of nuts, chocolate chips, coconut oil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and blocks of cheddar and feta cheeses. We buy our fruits and vegetables at the local organic market on Friday mornings when they get their weekly shipment, and at the produce stand down the street in order to support neighborhood business. And I’ve been buying free range chickens from a Tico friend of a friend for 3,000 colones (about $5.40).

Meals Out – $113.13

Normally, we eat most of our meals at home. But with holiday events going on, we ate dinner out more often than normal in December. The total of $113.13 was for 5 dinners at about $20 each for two people and a couple of snacks.

Health Care – $265.63

The bulk of our spending in this category was for supplements which a friend “muled in” for us from the States. Since we can’t buy most of these items in Costa Rica, we take advantage of opportunities to order from Amazon.com or Vitacost.com. I actually split the cost over two months, so January will also reflect part of this expense.

We also renewed our MediSmart membership. For those who aren’t familiar with the plan, Hospital Metropolitano’s MediSmart is basically a discount plan, offering 40% to 80% off of everything from appointments with specialists like dermatologists and gynecologists to X-Rays, lab work, and even hospital rooms and operating room time. There are no exclusions for age or pre-existing conditions. The price went up a bit. Last year we paid $150 for the year for the two of us. This year, the price was $180. Though we paid for the year in advance, I pro-rate the expense monthly, so our December expenses only include $15 for the month. You can read all about MediSmart at this link.

Our monthly Caja remains much lower than what many other couples pay. We pay only 25,385 colones (about $45.40) for the two of us. The reason that it’s so low is that Paul’s Social Security, which our residency is based on, was so low when we arrived, only $922 per month. Over the last nine years, it’s only increased by about $100. The amount of monthly Caja payments is based on your monthly guaranteed income.

Rent, Phone, and Utilities – $1,311.63

Normally, our expenses in this category come in under $800, but we had greater than normal spending in two areas, and lower than normal spending in one area. Here’s the breakdown:

Rent and Internet spending was consistent with previous months, but electricity was lower. Our December payment actually reflects November usage. Since we were in Mexico for most of the month of November and our friend who was living in our apartment used less than we use for two people, the cost was lower.

Our phone expenses were much higher than normal due to the purchase of a new cell phone for me (Gloria). My older Samsung Galaxy Prime worked fine but I had very limited internal storage. And Paul wanted me to have a phone with a better camera so that I could stop carrying my Nikon everywhere. So, as a combination Christmas/birthday present, we chose the Huawei P10 Plus with its Leica camera and 64 GB internal storage. We bought it online and had a friend bring it from the States. The cost was $519.95, with an additional $6.99 for a spare charger. The negative to buying a phone in the States is that the warranty is only valid in the U.S. If there is a problem, I would have to ship the camera back to the U.S. for service. But so far, so good; I haven’t had any problems with the new phone and it takes great pics and videos. Our only other phone expense for the month was $17.98 for our Vonage VOIP service.

The other expense that was higher than a normal month was housecleaning. As you may know, employees in Costa Rica get a 13th month Christmas bonus called the aguinaldo.  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 $67.08. Our total cost for housekeeping for the month was $171.98, which includes her aguinaldo, payment for cleaning our house four times for four hours each time, and her Caja payment of $40.50 which covers her and her two children. We only pay her Caja every five months. Our housekeeper cleans for four other couples and we each take turns paying her Caja. That way, she and her family are covered and we keep our costs down. Paul and I coordinate the payment schedule, and when it’s their turn, the other couples pay Paul and he makes the payment each month.

Personal Care & Clothing – $46.12

When you are 6’2″, like Paul, and live in a country where men tend to be shorter, it’s hard to find pants that are long enough. But in Costa Rica, it’s affordable to have a tailor make a new pair. Paul brought his favorite pair of khaki pants to the tailor whose shop is in the same block where we live, picked out the fabric he wanted, and a week later, had a brand new pair of pants for less money ($41.11 or 23,000 colones) than it would have cost to buy a comparable pair from Land’s End.

Entertainment – $26.95

In addition to our NetFlix payment of $11.65, we had a couple of entertainment expenses.

First, we enjoyed a jazz concert by the Joe Anello Quartet at a local restaurant. Lunch was a la carte, with a 2,500 colones per person cover charge added on. We always enjoy these jazz concerts and like supporting local musicians.

We also went to our local movie theater to see Disney’s movie, “Coco.” Ticket cost for both of us was $6.43 (1800 colones per ticket). We went on a Wednesday when our local theater offers discounted ticket prices. It was actually the second time we saw “Coco,” the first being during our time in Oaxaca. The movie is special to us because it’s about the Mexican celebration of Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) which is based on a 5,000 year old Zapotec  tradition from the Oaxaca area. Here’s a look at the movie trailer:

Other Expenses

Of our other expenses for the month, there wasn’t much of note. We bought some new lights for our Christmas tree ($10.47), a new case for my iPad ($15.99), cat food and kitty litter, and gave our monthly donation to the Cruz Roja (Red Cross).

All in all, December was an expensive month and we look forward to getting back to more moderate spending in the coming months.

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