Apr 02 2017

Our February 2017 Costa Rica Cost of Living

Yea! A month under $2,000. With all of the spending to outfit our new apartment, I expected to spend more in February. But even with buying a table and chairs for our kitchen, we came in at $1,932.80. If you take out the cost of the table and chairs, our February living expenses are down to $1,498.41.

Here’s the breakdown:

Our Costa Rica Cost of Living for February 2017

Transportation – $99.20

One of the most immediate benefits of living in town is the change in our transportation expenses. We just don’t need to use the car as much so it stays parked and we save money. Mostly, we walk and take buses, though occasionally we will take a cab if we are in a hurry or have packages.

In February, we spent about $4.00 on public transportation, about $50.00 on gas, tolls, and parking, and the rest (about $45.00 for an oil change) on car maintenance.

Groceries – $268.47

In January, after our move, we stocked our cupboards so when February rolled around, we only needed to buy perishables. One interesting thing to note is that our shopping patterns have changed with our move into town. Whereas we used to buy groceries a couple of times a week, we now “pick up a few things” more frequently. Of the 28 days in February, we purchased groceries of some type on 17 of them. We have so many options here. Every Friday morning, we walk to the organic market, just 2 blocks away and in the afternoon, we go to the feria (farmers’ market). When we run out of things or need something specific to make dinner or offer guests, we stop by Super Mario on the corner, Supermercado La Molina, 2 blocks away, or David’s produce stand just a block up the street. I don’t have to keep as much in the freezer, nor do I have to plan meals so far in advance. I’m liking it!

I am still separating out food items from non-food items on my spreadsheet. In February, we spent 9% ($21.88) of our total grocery spending on non-food items, so 91% ($246.59) of our grocery dollars went to food purchases.

Meals Out – $75.88

Chifrijo at The Corner Pub

Though I still cook dinner at home most nights, I can tell already that we will be eating meals out more often. It’s so easy to walk down to The Corner Pub for Paul’s favorite Chifrijo and to watch music videos from the 80s, especially after a day at the beach or writing all afternoon.

We’re enjoying the freedom to walk out our front door, stroll down to the park, maybe stop and have a coffee or ice cream at a little cafe.

A casado from Pa’ Que Lleve

Lunch is usually leftovers or something quick and easy, but we also eat lunch out several times a month. One of our favorite places for lunch these days is Pa’ Que Lleve, located on the same street as the San Ramón Correo (post office). They have great casados (a casado is a plate of rice, beans, salad, a vegetable, and a choice of meat) for only 2,000 colones, including a refresco (fruit drink), and pastas with salad for 2,500 colones.

Healthcare – $192.90

Other than our regular healthcare expenses — monthly Caja payment, vitamins and supplements, and our monthly MediSmart payment — we only had one other expense. I went to see Dr. Victor Ramirez, a local doctor who works in the Caja during the day and sees patients privately starting at 4:00 pm. Normally, I would see our Caja doctor, but with moving into town, our local Caja clinic has changed. We hadn’t yet transferred our medical records there, and frankly, I was feeling so bad I didn’t want to have to explain things, in Spanish, to a new doctor.

So, off we went to visit Dr. Ramirez, who we have seen in the past. He speaks English and when you are sick, that can be a blessing. He diagnosed my stomach pain as acute colitis and prescribed medication for pain, probiotics (Multiflora Plus), an antifungal, and an antibiotic. We were able to get two of the medications through the Caja and the other two we purchased at a local pharmacy. Here is the breakdown of costs:

  • Doctor visit: 25,000 colones ($45.54)
  • Prescriptions: 24,290 colones ($44.24)

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $784.89

Last month, our expenses in this category included a couple of final expenses (electricity and water) from our last rental for the previous month. This month, all the expenses relate to our current rental in town. Here’s the breakdown:

Water is now included in our rent, so we will no longer have that expense. Our Internet service, now through Tigo, will normally cost 21,000 colones (about $38), but this month’s bill included an additional 1,050 colones late charge. We hadn’t received bills for the two previous months since they had an incorrect email address, so weren’t sure when or how to pay. I called Tigo customer service and they corrected our email addresses, resent the bills, and agreed to waive the late charge. But when the bill came, the late charge was still there; I just didn’t want to deal with it again over $2, so I paid the bill as-is.

Our housecleaning expenses were higher than normal in February because it was our month to pay our housekeeper’s Caja. We have an arrangement with the four other couples she cleans for. We each pay for her Caja once every five months. Paul collects the money, pays the bill, and gives the receipt to Flor, our housekeeper, each month. She works for us once a week for four hours and we pay her 9,000 colones. Her monthly Caja costs $38.66 and covers her and her two children. It’s an expense we are happy to pay.

Our first electricity bill (for the month of January) in the new apartment came to 30,285 colones (less than $55). Both our hot water and clothes dryer are electric, so we are very pleased that our bill was so low. It may even be less for the month of February (which will be paid in March) as we now turn off the hot water heater once we’ve both showered, then turn it back on to wash dinner dishes.

We use propane only for our gas stove and we are still on the original propane tank we purchased and had installed a few days before moving in on January 1st. We expected it to last three months, so will probably need to buy a refill in March or early April.

Furniture for New Apartment – $435.39

The entire amount in this category for February was for a table and chairs for our eat-in kitchen. We shopped and shopped, saw lots of lovely sets, but never found just the right one for us. We didn’t want to spend too much so we even looked at used furniture via various Facebook groups, Craigslist, and Encuentra 24.  We also wanted something different, something suitable for an eat-in kitchen instead of a formal dining room. After seeing dining tables at The Corner Pub which were made out of doors, adorned with beer bottle caps, and topped with glass, we were inspired. We contact the same furniture builder and had him build one for us (but without the beer bottle caps!) This was the result:

The design was based on farm tables I’d seen on Pinterest, along with the tables at The Corner Pub. I picked the colors for the chairs as well as the stair for the tabletop and chair seats. I bought the little glass stones to decorate the table at Aliss (5 bags @ 390 colones, about 70 cents/bag). Luis, the builder, made the table to order so that it would fit perfectly in our kitchen, and delivered it to our 2nd floor apartment. He made the “door” part himself so we weren’t restricted to available sizes of manufactured doors. The cost to have the table and chairs built, stained, painted, and delivered was about $432, including the glass top. The decorative stones were an additional $3.50, and the chair pads (which we bought at Ekono in March and are not included in February expenses) added on another $38. We are delighted with the result!

Hardware & Other Household Expenses – $50.95

Other than miscellaneous items like light bulbs, there were only two purchases of note in this category. First was a new coffee/spice grinder for $23.66. I had brought an old one with me from the States, eight years ago, and after having it repaired twice, it was finally time to replace it with a new one. I found a reasonably priced one at our local La Molina grocery store. I use it mainly for grinding spices and seeds for cooking.

The second item was an oven thermometer for our new stove. Since I bake and roast a lot, knowing the temperature of the oven is important to me, but finding an oven thermometer in Costa Rica is no easy task. After checking every store in our town that sells kitchen stuff, we moved on to Cemaco, a large housewares store in the new Alajuela City Mall. A friend said he thought he saw one there. But no, they had every other type of cooking thermometer, but not an oven thermometer. About a week later, another friend posted that she visited a Tips store in San Jose and they had everything. Tips carries products for both professional and home cooks. We went to the Tips store in Alajuela. They not only knew what I was talking about, they had two in stock to choose from. The cost was less than $13 but the benefit to me was priceless.

Everything Else

We stayed pretty close to home in February, though we did have a beach day at Playa Dona Ana which cost next to nothing.

Paul and I each got our hair cut, and mine was colored as well. The cost for mine was 10,000 colones (about $18) and I love my new stylist—Yohanna at Shine, about a half-block from where we live. Paul paid 2,500 colones (about $4.50) at his regular barber shop in the Central Market.

In anticipation of traveling with our cats later in the year, we bought a used, soft-sided pet carrier that will fit under an airplane seat for $25. Since we paid close to $50 for a new one, eight years ago, we were pleased with the price.

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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