May 23 2017

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – May 23, 2017

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 



Our April 2017 Costa Rica Cost of Living

In April, we were happy to see a month well below our goal of $2,000. We came in at $1,733.87, with no major purchases to outfit our new apartment in town.

Transportation – $79.24

This was probably our lowest month ever in this category. We had no major car repairs or expenses. Here is the breakdown:

  • $13.14 – Public transportation
  • $49.92 – Gas
  • $7.19 – Car wash
  • $8.99 – Repair muffler

Living in town and leaving our car parked unless we really need it has been a huge cost savings for us!

Groceries – $505.66

April was yet another high spending month on groceries. Three of the last four months have come in around $500 per month for groceries. At least in April, I can say that we went to PriceSmart which accounted for $131.00 of the total. With easier access to organic produce since we’ve been living in town, we buy it every week, and that has contributed somewhat to our higher grocery expenses. We have also been doing a lot more entertaining now that we’re settled in.

I think that having easy access to grocery stores, pulperías, and carnicerías is a contributing factor to our higher spending as well. When we lived in the country and didn’t have something we wanted or needed, we would weigh a trip into town against what we wanted and often decided to do without or fix something else to eat instead. Now, with lots of options within a couple blocks of our home, it’s too easy to pick up this or that. We will either have to rein in this tendency or just accept the higher spending for groceries.

Of the total spent in this category, $455.56 (90%) was for food and the remaining $50.09 (10%) was for non-food purchases.

Meals Out – $92.02

With grocery spending going up, at least our meals out are a bit lower for the month. We spent $92.02 in April which includes seven lunches (for one or both of us) and two dinners out.

Healthcare – $199.50

In addition to our normal healthcare expenses (monthly payments for Caja and MediSmart), our healthcare expenses for April include two visits to the acupuncturist (Gloria), one massage (Paul) and various supplements.

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $738.99

Here’s the April breakdown:

Electricity continues to run around $60/month. We were hoping that would go down but so far it hasn’t. It’s most likely due to running the dryer every week. We really miss being able to hang clothes outside on the line to dry.

Pets – $37.56

A trip to PriceSmart always means picking up some scoopable litter for our kitties as, in our town, we are limited to bags of clay litter. A 42 lb. bag of Fresh Step costs 9,495 colones (about $17) at PriceSmart and we pick up a bag or two every time we go.

In addition to litter and cat food, both kitties also got new collars and we bought some more cat toys to hang on the scratching post I built for them.

Entertainment – $66.63

As usual, in April, we spent $10.59 for NetFlix. I bought a Kindle book for $1.99. But the bulk of our entertainment budget went towards a trip to Termales del Bosque near San Carlos. It’s our “go-to” hot springs. It’s more of a Tico family place than one geared for tourists. We like the natural setting there, especially the walk through the woods to get to the springs.

Hot Springs at Termales del Bosque

The cost for a day’s access to the hot springs is just 6,000 colones but if you include the full buffet lunch, the cost is 12,000 colones per person (about $21.50). They also offer massages and other spa treatments, either in their spa building or in a small treatment room located in the woods. While we were there, Paul had a neck and shoulder massage for less than $20 (this expense is included under healthcare).

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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Paul’s Money Saving Tip: Find Reasonable Housing

This is a big one, because in the course of a year, you could save thousands of dollars if you are renting a house or apartment at a reasonable cost. So, what’s “reasonable?” At Retire for Less, we say reasonable rentals would be $800 or less; naturally, if it includes some utilities or services, all the better.

Let’s give some examples of reasonably priced housing using us. We’ve been in Costa Rica over eight years, and we’ve live in three reasonably priced rentals:

Cabinas of Costa Rica – $700/month

The Cabinas – We lived at “the Cabinas” for three years and 9 months. At the time, we paid $600/month with everything included: Sky TV, high-speed Internet, weekly house cleaning, propane gas for cooking and hot water, electricity, water, and use of a washer and dryer. The cabinas are furnished, include linens and the basic kitchen setup. Additionally, the Cabinas offer great security at no additional charge. Every cabina has a monitored security system. NOTE: the price has gone up over the years and now costs $700/month ($750 if you have pets) with everything included – still a great deal. All of the extras would cost at least $200, so think of the rent portion of the monthly fee as about $500.

Here are a few pictures of our cabina. Since we lived there long-term, we added lots of personal touches. We even picked out the bright, tropical paint colors, paid for the paint and supplies, and Cesar, the manager, painted our cabina for us.

Our rental house in Magallanes de San Ramón – We had a great deal here as well. The owners had previously rented the house for short-term rentals for $600-$650/month. When they decided to rent to someone year-round, they offered it to us for only $500/month. The house was fully furnished and outfitted. We had to pay for all utilities, though it did include a gardener. We lived there for a little over four years.

And finally, there is our current rental apartment in downtown San Ramon, where we have been living since January 1, 2017. Our monthly rental is $550 plus all utilities except for water which is included. This was our first unfurnished rental, so we had to buy not only furniture but all appliances. Here are some photos of the apartment as it was when we rented it:

And here are a couple of photos of the furnished apartment:

You can read about our expenses to outfit the apartment in the following cost of living articles:

If you are like us, and don’t have much money, it helps to have a reasonable rental. My Social Security is only $1,008.00 USD, plus we have a small pension of Gloria’s of $152/month USD. The average Social Security pension in the U.S. is less than $1,400/month. If you have a lot of money, it may not matter.

Though we recommend you rent, rent, rent when you move to Costa Rica, we realize that some folks will still choose to buy, either early on or after they’ve been here for a while.

Though we are not realtors, we recommend purchasing properties under $150,000 because they are both easier to buy and easier to sell.

At, we often run across real estate opportunities that fall within our “Retire for Less Philosophy” — in other words, properties that offer more value for less. So, we will bring you homes for sale that are $150,000 or less, and lots that would allow a modest house to be built on it for about the same price. Of course, upgrades will always cost more and are at the buyer’s discretion.

Here are a few of the homes we show on our website which fall into this category:

Lake Arenal: Secure Comfortable Home in Town-Drastically Reduced to $90,000

Property Reference: Ref # 194

Location: Nuevo Arenal, Lake Arenal

Sale price: Drastically reduced to $90,000

Beds: 4

Baths: 2 1/2

House size: 2,380 sq. ft.

Lot Size: 1/2 acre


This spacious, comfortable home in a quiet & friendly residential neighborhood of Nuevo Arenal has been renovated by a North American who is now selling it completely furnished and has made it very livable. It was built with concrete and steel for strength and has spacious rooms – 4 bedrooms, 2. baths, a large game room added in back which could be converted into separate apt. This home has been kept in perfect condition by the American owners and has all the conveniences and extras expected for comfortable living including central air. There is a large back yard with many fruit trees. A very large screened porch with a built in fire place. The size of the interior is 2380 sq. ft. and is on a double lot with a carport. Plus, it is within walking distance of the town center, yet it is in a non-commercial area of updated residences far enough away to be quiet and private. Situated in a very quiet neighborhood.

Click here to read more about propery #194, see more photos, and contact the realtor.

New, Affordable, and Comfortable Home with Beautiful Views-$99K Reduced!


Property ID: 197

Sell: $99,000 USD (Reduced from $144K)

Area: 2059 m2

Construction: 100 m2

Bedrooms: 2

Bathrooms: 1

Years Built: 2008

5 year old home with laminate flooring, tiled kitchen counter-tops, upgraded kitchen cabinets and bathroom, concrete driveway, front porch, reserve water tank. Sitting on top of a hill overlooking the mountains with incredible views. The land is planted with many different types of fruit trees. A smaller home which requires very little maintenance, perfect for a couple or a single person. Five minutes away from downtown San Ramon but in a quiet area away from noise and pollution.

Click here to read more about propery #197, see more photos, and contact the realtor.

Grecia: Small Home with Great Views on 1/4 Acre $120,000

8240_0Property ID #8240

Price: $120,000

City: Grecia
Neighborhood: Calle Rodriguez San Isidro

Construct. area: 750(sq. Ft.)
Meters Squared – Hectares: 1000
Acre – Lot size (sq.Ft): .25 acres

Year Built: 2012
8240-5Bedrooms: 2
Full Bathrooms: 1
Phone lines: 1



Great altitude and location, there is a lot of potential in this home! This small home is located in one of the best areas of Grecia.  The house is off a main street so it is quiet, but the main street is easily accessible where there is bus service.  The house features views to the east of the Central Valley and the coffee fields that abound in this area.  The dining area, living room and kitchen all have these views.


Click here to check out our other properties under $150,000 and read about what to do before you buy.

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In the Mailbag – Tracking Living Expenses, Grocery Expense Breakdown, and “Being Gringoed”

emaildelivery-200pxWe always get lots of responses and questions from readers, both newsletter subscribers and on Facebook.

Lately we’ve had a couple of readers ask about how we track our expenses.

Les M. writes:

Hi Gloria and Paul! We’ve never met but I’ve enjoyed your postings for quite awhile. I’ve been in Costa Rica since December 2015. Lately I’ve been trying to understand my spending, something that you guys have been doing for quite a while. In the States where I lived before Costa Rica I mostly used credit cards and Quicken to see where my money was going. In Costa Rica I quickly realized that credit cards are not always welcomed plus, since my cards are from the USA, I pay a 3% foreign transaction fee to VISA whenever I make a charge here in Costa Rica. This cash economy concept blew up my accounting methodology. I didn’t know what to do and I pretty much abandoned accounting and simply handed out the cash in what I considered to be a frugal manner…But to get to my question, how do you keep your records so you can do the beautiful accounting of your expenditures? Are you using Excel or a ledger or Quicken? When do you work in Costa Rican colonies and when do you covert to US Dollars? Do you spend many hours per week keeping and entering expenses? I’ve been trying to use the MINT phone app to track expenses but it is dollar based. Trying to split up a grocery receipt into categories and breaking out the items in dollars is agonizing. And maybe it just has to be agonizing. But maybe you have a system you have worked out that makes it easier. I would love to know how you are managing this. Thanks, Les M.

And Sheryl J. writes,

Over the past few years as I have read and enjoyed your newsletter articles, I keep wondering what kind of system you use to track your expenses. I haven’t spotted where you have written about it and perhaps it has also evolved over time. I would be very interested to hear about your tracking system / approach, and I’m sure that many of your other readers would too!
Thanks for all you share!

Hi Les and Sheryl. Thanks for getting in touch. I’ve been using an Excel spreadsheet from the beginning, though it has evolved over time. In case you (or any of our other readers) find it helpful, you can download my template at this linkYou can, of course, make any changes for your situation.

I have to admit, it was agonizing until I got used to doing it. But now, it only takes a few minutes every couple of days to enter in the amounts. I’ve been breaking out food from non-food in the grocery category, and this year I started breaking out car expenses a bit more. I think it actually makes it easier to track and analyze the data in the long run.

We hardly every used credit cards until this last year. But then we got a travel card from Bank of America and there are zero foreign transaction fees. The main reason we use it though is the cash back or travel credit we get. I try to enter the expenses I charge on the card within a few days of making the purchase, checking online banking for the exact amount of the purchase. It gets a bit complicated if a purchase amount falls into more than once category, so I break it down as accurately as possible.

With cash purchases, I use the exchange rate in effect at the time I converted dollars to colones. So, one month’s expenses may reflect a couple of different exchange rates. I do NOT use the exact exchange rate available at the time of each purchase. That would drive me crazy! Besides, I think it’s better to use the rate I received on the day we converted dollars to colones at the bank.

Is it a perfect system? No, but I’m not trying to be an accountant. We’re just trying to get an idea of where our money goes and to share what things cost with others.

Hope this helps.


In response to our 2016 Annual Cost of Living in Costa Rica Summary, another reader wrote:

Your information is so helpful! We are vegan so I wonder how much of your food budget is dairy, meat, and eggs.”

That’s a great question, though I don’t have an easy answer. I can tell you that we do eat meat, usually once a day. We also eat eggs and cheese pretty liberally. But at the same time, we eat a lot of veggies. A typical dinner for us might be, like tonight, a potato corn chowder with a bit of ham for flavoring, or a salad with grilled chicken. I also cook vegetarian meals and am trying to increase these. I also cook a lot from scratch, so most of what we buy is whole food, not processed. Hope this helps some.

And on a completely different topic, Amas has the following concern:

I have received your newsletter for over a year now. Costa Rica has been on my list of favorite countries to possibly retire in.

A friend of mine has been visiting there frequently in the past, and several months ago moved there with the intent to stay for a couple of years.
What she was telling me is of some concern to me, particularly as I have never seen it mentioned before in publications like International Living, which does evaluate CR as top retirement country for many reasons. Perhaps you have a mention in your newsletter, as I have not read them all?

What made my friend ‘flee’ Costa Rica after only living there (not as a tourist) for several months, is that there is a DOUBLE STANDARD. Apparently, ‘foreigners’ are charged twice as much (or almost twice) for renting, eating out, produce, etc. That she speaks Spanish fluently did not make any difference.

This is of great concern to me – it doesn’t matter if twice is still ‘cheaper than’ costs of living in the US of A.

Furthermore she noted that some restaurants are entirely for tourists or expats, as Costa Ricans simply cannot afford eating there (not necessarily located in tourist spots).

So, if there is anyone reading this who could enlighten me on this topic, it would be greatly appreciated.

I am not traveling this year, and as for now I have removed CR from my list of possible countries of interest for me.

We welcome any responses to Amas’ concern. Here is my answer to her:

Hello! I can understand how this would be disturbing to you. Does it happen? Yes, at times. Has it happened to us? We call it “being gringoed” and, to be honest, it’s happened maybe once or twice in the 8 years we’ve lived here. We don’t live in a tourist area and we don’t frequent expensive restaurants. We think we have always been treated fairly and if we sense that we haven’t, we go elsewhere. This applies to stores and even buying things at the feria (farmers’ market). We believe that the overwhelming majority of Ticos are honest and fair and our experience bears this out.
Hope this helps.

Have you been “gringoed?” Please share your experiences, both positive and negative, with our readers. We always try to show both the good and the bad about living in Costa Rica and would value your input.

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Our Ultimate CR Healthcare Tour

We are proud to offer the Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica. When asked what he liked best about our healthcare tour, one of our guests wrote, “the wide variety of places we saw, the experts that Paul HCTOUR_030arranged for us to meet and talk with, and an emphasis on all aspects of health, not just doctors and hospitals. Mental health is just as important as physical, if not more so.”HCTOUR_008

We’ve lived in Costa Rica for over eight years and have used the Caja, Costa Rica’s public healthcare system extensively, as well as the private system, when needed. We’ve learned the system and have been referred up the ladder to see specialists in the maze that is the Caja system. Gloria’s even had surgery here.

Our blend of personal insights and on-the-ground experience combines to answer your questions about whether or not Costa Rica’s healthcare system could meet your individual needs.


But, while it is focused on healthcare, you will learn a lot more about living and retiring in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. Most of the second day of the tour takes place in the town of San Ramón where we live and use the services. And you will come to our home for lunch that day to listen to two presentations.

Our tour is designed to save you both time and money, packing a lot of information into a short period of time. Our goal is to show you the possibilities and to try to demystify Costa Rica’s healthcare system. Our tour lasts two days and 1 night and includes lodging, transportation, meals and non-alcoholic beverages.

Sample Itinerary

You’ll visit:

  • At least two private hospitals in San Jose area
  • Hospital Mexico, the largest and best public hospital (they even do open heart surgeries there)HospitalMexico
  • An insurance broker for a presentation on the various supplemental health insurance options, including public, private, and international plans
  • A senior living retirement community
  • CPI language school for a presentation about how learning Spanish increases your options for healthcare and some basic medical Spanish.
  • Our local hospital here in San Ramón
  • A local EBAIS (community clinic)
  • The office of our dentist in San Ramón
  • A local Seguro Social office where you would sign up for the Caja (national healthcare coverage)
  • A pharmacy
  • A local feria (farmer’s market) where you will see the abundance of fresh food available.
  • The local Cruz Roja (Red Cross) to learn about their services and programs.
  • A health food store (macrobiotica), and more!


You’ll learn:

  • If the Costa Rican healthcare system could meet your needs and put your mind to rest, once and for all, about this sensitive subject.
  • About the public system and how it works, about the private healthcare system, and how you can use a combination of both to your advantage.
  • About the EBAIS – where healthcare starts in Costa Rica.
  • Approximately how much you would pay for Caja.
  • About medical tourism in Costa Rica.
  • About home health care in Costa Rica.

Prices: $650 for a couple, $550 for a single.
Please contact us if you are interested in booking a tour. Space is limited.

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