May was not a typical month for us in any way. Our cat, Tori, became ill and our lives became centered around her for much of the month. That’s one of the reasons our expenses were so much higher than normal. Another reason is that Paul had some dental work done. Here’s the breakdown:
Transportation – $184.75
Usually, our transportation expenses are limited to one fill-up per month at the tank, some parking and tolls, and maybe some minor car maintenance. In May, we filled up the tank of our Toyota 4-Runner three times due to a lot of trips to Alajuela and Escazu (45 minutes to one hour from our home in San Ramón). Of the total amount we spent in this category, $165.35 was for gasoline and the remaining amount ($19.40) was for tolls and parking. Thankfully, we had no additional transportation-related expenses in May.
Groceries – $344.17
With all the traveling back and forth, we ate out more often, so our cost for groceries in May wasn’t as high as it has been in some recent months. Of the total spent, 87.6% was for food ($301.60) and 12.4% was for non-food items ($42.52).
Meals Out – $170.53
In May, we spent about three times the normal for meals out. We ate lunch or dinner out in restaurants ten times in May. Of course, a few of those times were at our favorites — Savory a la Thai and Filipos — but we also ate lunch one afternoon at Jalapeños Central Tex Mex in Alajuela, a long-time expat favorite. The cost of lunch for Paul and I was $12.92.
We also ate at a couple of restaurants in Escazu. The first was The Breakfast Club, located near the Multiplaza on Centro Comercial Boulevard. We were looking for a restaurant serving breakfast on a Sunday morning that had bagels on the menu. The Breakfast Club fit the bill and turned out to be a very popular place. In case you are wondering how the bagels were — the search for a good bagel in Costa Rica can be intense — they had so many yummy dishes on their menu that none of us ordered a bagel! The food was very good, though a bit expensive for our budget (the cost for 3 people for breakfast was $26.74). The second Escazu restaurant we visited was Sisso-Sabores de Jerusalem, located on Route 310 in a shopping center. We were in the mood for pizza, it was late, we didn’t know the area, and we decided to try Sisso’s. The pizza was small and not to our taste but my guess is that, had we ordered differently, we would have been more pleased as the restaurant gets good reviews. We split a pizza and a salad and the cost was $20.33 for the two of us.
Healthcare – $449.38
In May, we had a significant expense in addition to our regular Caja payment, pro-rated monthly MediSmart membership fee, and supplements. Paul had a crown replaced by our dentist whose office is conveniently located downstairs from our apartment (she also happens to be our landlady). He had three office visits over the course of about three weeks and he left with a brand new crown, costing a total of $308.00. I remember the last time I had a crown done in the States, my co-pay was $400, so we were delighted with the price.
Rent/Phone/Utilities – $769.18
No real surprises here. The only item of note concerns house cleaning — because there were five Wednesdays in May, Flor cleaned our apartment five times instead of four. We pay her 10,500 colones for four hours of work each week, totaling just under $90 for the month of May.
Our total phone expenses include cell phone service ($34.09) for both Paul and me, as well as our Vonage VOIP line ($18.98) which allows us to keep a U.S. phone number. Our cell phone service is pre-paid which means we don’t have a regular plan. We pay as we go and only add money to our accounts when the balance runs low.
Personal Care and Clothing – $71.19
Every time I walk past a shoe store I peek in to see if they carry women’s walking sandals. The only brand I typically see in Costa Rica is Hi-Tec, though usually the stores only carry men’s sizes. In May, however, I finally saw women’s Hi-Tec sandals in one of San Ramon’s many shoe stores (this one was near the bus station). They had my size so I bought a pair right away. I have learned over the years that if you see something you want or need, buy it then because it may be a long time before you see it again! I also bought a pair of comfortable shoes at another store that would be comfortable to walk in. We do a lot of walking, both in Costa Rica and Oaxaca, Mexico (where we don’t have a car), so comfortable shoes are a must!
Pet Care & Supplies – $443.06
So now we come to the category that is hard for me to write about. Our dear cat, Tori, who has been part of our family for 10 years, became ill. We looked at her one day and she just didn’t look like her usual alert self. It was something in the eyes. We took her right away to our local vet who said that she was running a fever. Tori was given injections for pain and to fight the presumed infection and we were sent home. Cost for the two injections and a bag of Science Diet cat food for senior cats came to $36.64.
Two days later, we were back at the vet’s. Tori wasn’t eating and barely drinking. Our vet gave her two more injections and said that if she didn’t improve in a few days, she would run a blood panel. Cost for the injections was 4,500 colones ($7.65). The weekend passed with Tori again not eating and drinking a tiny bit. We were getting concerned about dehydration and I started to research giving subcutaneous fluids. First thing Monday morning, we took Tori back to our vet who told us to leave her for several hours and she would take a blood sample to analyze. The next day, we went back to the vet for results. It was very serious, she said. The blood tests indicated feline ehrlichiosis and the treatment itself was dangerous, consisting of three injections spaced every week or so. We allowed her to give the first treatment injection and took Tori home. Cost for the blood tests, injection, and some soft food to try to get Tori to eat came to $78.53.
We were concerned about a couple of things, over and above Tori being sick. First, our vet didn’t seem to be concerned about dehydration and didn’t want to try subcutaneous fluids or IV fluids. The second thing is that the blood test results came from J&M labs which is a lab for human blood tests; additionally, the test results were labeled “canine” instead of “feline.” So we researched alternatives for veterinary care beyond what was available in our town of San Ramón.
I discovered that Hospital Veterinario Agromédica in Escazu had a 24-hour emergency, full-service veterinary hospital and that it was part of MediSmart’s “PetSmart” plan. I called Medi-Smart and explained the situation; they added Tori to our plan ($2/month for the remaining 6 months of our current year’s plan) and authorized it for use right away instead of the usual 24-hour waiting period). Thank you MediSmart! We took Tori to Hospital Veterinario Agromédica that same night. They examined her, started her on IV fluids, and began a series of blood tests. Their initial tests showed that the blood counts which were abnormal in her first lab work (indicating ehrlichiosis) showed up as completely normal. They needed to wait until the other bloodwork results were ready before they could make a diagnosis and they encouraged us to leave her for a few days. Based on the anticipated treatment plan, we paid a deposit of $170.70 and left our dear kitty in Escazu.
Over the next few days, additional blood tests and an ultrasound confirmed that Tori had advanced liver and kidney disease. I shared the test results with a friend who is an emergency vet in the States for a second opinion and everyone was in agreement. There was little that could be done for Tori, short of putting in a feeding tube to extend her life. She ate a little food while in the veterinary ER and two bags of IV fluids had her hydrated. We decided to take her home and hope for the best. We didn’t want her to suffer, but we didn’t want to end her life prematurely either. As long as she wasn’t in pain, we wanted her with us as long as possible. We left the vet hospital paying our balance due of $92.53, which included three nights in the hospital, all the tests, some medications, vitamins, and kidney formula cat food.
I can’t say enough positive things about the vets and staff at Hospital Veterinario Agromédica. They were wonderful, caring, and more-than-willing to confer with our friend, the emergency vet from the States. That gave us a sense of trust in the diagnosis, as difficult as it was. Their lab is in-house and much more accurate for animal care than a “human lab.” Plus, they could perform other tests like the ultrasound and, if needed, surgeries.
Postscript: Tori was with us for another three weeks, into June. We spent as much time close to her as possible. There were moments when she seemed like her old curious self. But she had stopped grooming, hardly purred, and every day we could see the increasing weight loss and lethargy. Finally, we decided that the time had come to say goodbye. We arranged for our local vet to come to our house to euthanize Tori. She was surrounded by people who loved her. The only pain she felt was the initial injection of a sedative. Our vet friend from the States was there and he confirmed that the procedure was done well and humanely. We wrapped Tori in a blanket with one of her favorite toys and the next day we buried her on our friends’ beautiful finca, with the sound of the nearby river, flowers, and birds in the trees. We will be forever grateful that we had those last three weeks with her. Tori was a force, a loving animal, with a strong purr and playful spirit. We will miss her greatly.
Since our month was dedicated to Tori, we didn’t do much socially. Our only entertainment expenses were our monthly NetFlix bill (now $13.81) and Paul’s subscription to the Baltimore Sun online ($2.00).
Miscellaneous – $63.20
This category includes a little bit of this and a little bit of that — earbuds, passport photos, watch batteries, and the only expense of significance, a renewal of our PriceSmart membership ($35.31) for 12 months. PriceSmart is like a Costco or Sam’s Club; in fact, they even carry some of the Kirkland products. It’s a great place to buy things we can’t get locally, like blocks of feta and other cheeses, good olive oil, big bags of nuts and chocolate chips, big jars of coconut oil, and even some supplements like fish oil and vitamin B complex. We tend to buy as much as possible from local businesses in San Ramón as we have found the cost savings for many items not to be that great. We also like to support our local vendors. But, for us, PriceSmart is great for things that we can’t find in San Ramón.
We have the luxury of having our clothing ironed, as needed, for less than $1 USD per piece. We spent $8.50 for the month of May to have Paul’s shirts (and an occasional blouse of mine) ironed by a local lady.
As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months reported. If you want more information about a particular month, just click on the graphic for that month below:
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Visiting the Veterinarian
- MediSmart: An Affordable Alternative to Private Health Insurance in Costa Rica