by Rob Evans
Recently, Greg Seymour gave me a great insight into living in Costa Rica. We were talking about expats’ obsession with the cost of living analysis, and Greg mentioned the best money saving idea he discovered was not to spend money. What? It took a little while to sink in, but eventually it made so much sense. Greg explained that without the convenience of a car or stores, he had less opportunity to spend money. Many of the articles about the cost of living in Costa Rica center on how much less is typically spent on healthcare, certain food items, and property tax. The cost analysis approach assumes expats are going to live the same lifestyle after moving to Costa Rica. So the cost of living articles line up the cost of eggs, a car, gas, etc. in Costa Rica and compare the unit price to the US price to demonstrate that living in Costa Rica is cheaper.
What Greg was telling me was the least expensive strategy was NOT to spend the money in the first place, which turned the cost of living discussion on its head. It is not the cost of the items, it’s is the change in lifestyle: when you don’t have a car and you rely on the bus, you don’t need to worry about the cost of gas, insurance, or inspection. If you rent, you don’t need to worry about property taxes, home insurance, or alarm costs. If you can only get to the store once a week, there is no pizza delivery, and Amazon cannot find your home, you limit the opportunity for instant gratification and impulse buying.
I mentioned to Greg that, in the States, we would go to the grocery store for food many times a week; to the drugstore for batteries, paper, ointments; and to a department store for storage needs to hold all the stuff we bought. At the end of the month, we would always be a few hundred dollars over budget from frequent less- than-$10 charges buying “stuff we needed.” And when we started to move and began purging stuff and found all the pens, poster board, ointments, nail clippers, plastic crates, screws, picture hangers, poster board, expired super glues, and batteries that have accumulated over time, it finally hits me how much I spent (wasted) in small purchases over time.
Greg helped me see that if you cannot satisfy your consumer desires easily because you rely on a bus, you will find an alternative or you will realize you really don’t need it. For example, we often came home tired from work and would order a high-cost, high-calorie pizza; but now, living where we do in Costa Rica, going to get one (no bus after 4) or having one delivered are not options, which “saves” us $15 or more per week. Not being able to get to the hardware store or the storage store has “saved” us $20 per week. It is amazing how those “savings” add up over a month from just not spending the money in the first place.
Saving money by not spending it in the first place is something everyone could do in the US, but being habituated to the convenience of a car, multiple 7/24 stores, Amazon next-day delivery, and a consumer climate is hard to shake—it’s like trying to get off drugs while living in a crack house. Moving to Costa Rica can be like going into rehab. One day, Amazon drones may find me and offer to deliver, but not now.
When my father helped me open my first checking account, he told me the goal was to use up the deposit slip before the checks. Living here without a car and with limited access to impulse buying options has helped us achieve that goal of depositing more often than withdrawing. And we have discovered the best way to save money is not to spend it in the first place. Thanks Greg for the insight.
Bio: Rob and Jeni Evans moved to San Ramon from Raleigh, NC, in November 2014 after three years of unloading all they owed. Rob worked for IBM for 32 years and Jeni was an English teacher who homeschooled their children. Their goal now is to live fully and to see as much of Costa Rica as walking, buses, and taxis allow.
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Don’t Buy a Car
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Taking the Bus
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Buy Just What You Need