Mar 12 2016

Our February 2016 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses – $1991.73

Yea us! We came in under $2000 again in February, despite some out-of-the-ordinary expenses.

Passport Renewal – $124.72

First off, we spent a total of $124.72 to renew my U.S. passport. The renewal fee was $120 and the balance was to have a new passport photo taken at a place across the street from the U.S. Embassy.

passportIt was a surprisingly simple process. I started the process by making an appointment online  with the U.S. Citizen Services office at the U.S. Consulate in San Jose (Location: At the intersection of Calle 98 Vía 104 in the Pavas Section of San José, Costa Rica). The second step was to download and fill out Form #DS-82. On the day of my appointment, we showed up at the Citizen Services office and barely had time to sit before I was called to the window to be helped. I paid the fee, gave her the form and my passport photo, and was told that I would receive an email in about two weeks letting me know that my new passport was ready to be picked up any weekday between the hours of 8am and 11am. In fact, the email came in only 3 days, and when we returned to pick up my passport, it was just as quick. It took us more time to get through Security than to actually conduct our business. Well done, U.S. Citizen Services!

Groceries – $427.34

If you guessed that we took a trip to PriceSmart in February, you would be correct! In fact, we went twice, because the first time they were out of Fresh Step kitty litter (though that expense falls under our “Pets” category). A trip or two to PriceSmart always adds to our grocery bill for the month. What do we buy? Usually just items we can’t find in San Ramon, like large bags of nuts and chocolate chips, blocks of feta and Parmesan cheese, our favorite herbal shampoo, a large bottle of McCormick’s vanilla extract, and, of course, kitty litter! On this visit, we also purchased a professional quality non-stick 12″ frying pan for  just over $27; it’s included in the “Household” expenses category.

Transportation – $356.44

In addition to gas, tolls, parking, and any public transportation, we had a couple of car maintenance expenses in February. Since Costa Rica is not known for it’s smooth roads, Paul regularly gets our car’s wheels balanced & aligned, for which he paid the mechanic a whopping $15.00! The other expense was to replace the car battery which was weak. Paul bought a two-year battery right here in San Ramon for $85.00 installed.

I should also elaborate a bit on our expenses for parking. About 95% of the time, we are not paying to park in public lots. We are actually parking on the street and paying the local guachiman. Our friend, Ivo Henfling at Godutch Realty writes the following in his article, “Parking Your Car in Costa Rica:”

When you want to leave, a guy will walk up to you, help you get out of your parking spot and will hold up his hand. You didn’t know it, but he was there watching your car while you were away, so it didn’t get stolen or broken into. We call them a guachiman, watchiman or cuidacarros. In Costa Rica, a guachiman is an informal security guard and I’m sure the word was invented by a Tico who didn’t know how to pronounce the English word watchman…They each work a section of a city block, a certain restaurant, a bar, a beach or even the parking lot of a strip mall. They are either totally independent or hired by the business where you will be parking, but without a salary or social security, they depend on your tips.”

Pablo, one of our favorite "guachimanes"

Pablo, one of our favorite “guachimanes”

So, what should you tip your guachiman? We started out tipping them 200-300 colones, but now, seven years later, Paul tips 500 colones (less than $1 USD) unless he is parking for a very short period of time. We have gotten to know a couple of the guachiman personally and find them to be honest, helpful, and friendly.

Personal Care & Clothing – $42.83

Here’s the breakdown of this category:

  • Haircut & color: Gloria – $22.64 (12,000 colones)
  • Haircut: Paul – $3.77 (2,000 colones)
  • New blouse for Gloria (2,200 colones) and brand new shirt for Paul (2,400 colones) from Ropa Americana – $8.87
  • Shoe repair (repair the soles on Paul’s hiking boots) – $5.66 (3,000 colones)
  • Belt repair (sew belt loop back on one of Paul’s leather belts) –  $1.89 (1,000 colones)

There is a thriving business in Costa Rica of repair shops — for clothing, shoes, luggage, leather goods, and both small and large appliances. When things break or need to be altered, it’s easily possible to get the work done here. People tend to reuse and repair much more frequently in Costa Rica because there are services readily available and inexpensive. toasterWe were never ones to throw out serviceable items but, in the States, it was harder to find places to fix them. It was much easier and cheaper to just toss the old and buy the new. There is an ongoing joke in our household about our toaster. It’s a simple, 2-slice toaster that we bought about three years ago for less than $20. And it toasts great, but the lever won’t stay down. So, to make toast, we put a folded piece of cardboard in the slot to keep the lever down. The tricky thing is that, since it doesn’t pop up when the toast is done, we have to remember to pull out the cardboard and pop it manually. Did we take it to the small appliance repair shop, you may ask? No, that would have made too much sense. My sister even offered to buy us a new one when she visited recently. We said “no thanks” because the cardboard’s working, so we’re happy! Simple pleasures abound in our household!

That’s it for February. 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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