Comparing Cost of Living in USA and Nicaragua: It will surprise you!


“Everything costs something.”
Zara Hairston

When we lived in Nicaragua, we occasionally referred to ourselves as economic refugees. We took early retirement and lived off our small teaching pensions. We did everything financial experts advised to prepare for living abroad such as, becoming debt free, having an emergency medical fund, purchasing international health insurance plans, saving money for unexpected emergencies like trips back to the states to help our families, and living within our budget.

Thank goodness we didn’t burn any bridges. We rented our house in the states and kept our stateside bank account and address, which was important in keeping our U.S. credit card.  We were legal residents of Nicaragua and Tennessee and had the best of both worlds.

When the Nicaraguan crisis and Ron’s lumps in his neck made us reconsider moving back to the states, we were concerned about the cost of living after spending more than 10 years abroad with cheap, cheap living and all the comforts of home.

What we learned surprised us!

Most retired expats in Nicaragua will tell you that their main reason for moving abroad was affordability. They said they had a hard time living on a fixed income in their home countries.

But, what they don’t tell you is that everything costs something! It is cheap because there is no quality control, the education system does not prepare employees to be productive and skilled laborers, the infrastructure such as roads, utilities, and internet are pitifully unreliable (and many times unsafe), and most materials and foods imported come with a hefty price tag. In other words, you get what you pay for…and it isn’t much!

So, I made a comparison of the cost of living in Nicaragua and the USA for the month of February. I used eight general categories and color coded them the same in each pie graph.

The monthly cost of living in our home in TN is $1,626.20. The largest slice was miscellaneous, which included paying off our credit card in full each month. We rarely use cash here and pay for almost everything with our credit card. I missed that so much in Nicaragua, because I can always accumulate enough reward points to pay for several airline tickets.

Surprisingly, several items are cheaper in the states, like gasoline for transportation. It is $1.80 per gallon with my grocery store discount card. The package deal for fast internet ( I mean really, really fast…100 mbps) and cable TV is $101.24 a month. I paid much more in Nicaragua for the internet, not including the maintenance of a very tall microwave tower that was always breaking. And…AND…the speed, if we were lucky, was 8 mbps, when the system was working. The internet blinked on and off daily many, many times.

We have a heat pump and several small portable electric room heaters for the winter months. February is usually the most expensive electric bill according to our past usage. In the summer, we have whole house air conditioning and our electricity averages $75. Most of the time we don’t use the air conditioning. We prefer opening the windows and every room has ceiling fans and window fans.

We own our house in TN and are mortgage free. Rents are reasonable in our small town, averaging $871 per month for a 1 bedroom house or apartment. For a single person a monthly cost of living on average is $1,600.

 

In Nicaragua, our monthly expenditures were  $1,341.00 Our cell phones were cheaper… we had two cell phones and only one with unlimited data from  Claro. The data transmitted was only 3g and service was spotty depending on where we were in Nicaragua. In the states, I have 4g and unlimited data with free calls and text in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with AT&T prepay.

Transportation was more expensive in Nicaragua for two reasons. Gasoline is very expensive and taxis are expensive. Usually, we took a monthly trip to Managua with our taxi driver, Francisco. The cost round trip was $60 and we tipped him $10 and bought him lunch.

Although we had an abundance of fruits on our property, we enjoyed some imported foods like peanut butter, dill pickles, chocolate, and wine, which increased our monthly food expenditures.

Nicaragua is a cash society. We seldom used a credit card. Our miscellaneous fees included propane for cooking, house repairs, and workers.

We still support our goddaughter and my children’s library and librarian, so that has not changed.

 

Overall, the difference in monthly costs is about $300. When the weather warms, our electric will go way down and make up much of the difference. We can reduce our monthly internet/cable TV service by cutting the cable cord. The only reason we have cable TV is so Ron could watch his sports throughout the long winter cancer treatments. We can stream everything we want to watch, so the cable will be cut soon.

Our annual expenses are comparable in some areas, and more expensive in others.

Comparable:

1. International health insurance in Nicaragua and Medicare with Medicare supplemental insurance in the U.S.

2. VPN service for our internet remains the same.

3. Amazon Prime yearly bill is the same, but living in the states we have used it so much more for free shipping and streaming movies.

More expensive:

1. Property taxes $650 yearly in the states vs $60 in Nicaragua.

2. Car insurance is much more in the states. We bought and paid cash for a car when we returned…and we have to have car insurance. In Nicaragua, we had our dune buggy and our motorcycle insured for $75 a year. However, there is no telling what the insurance would have covered if we had an accident in Nicaragua.

In making comparisons, the best decisions we made were to pay off our mortgage in the states and buy our house in Nicaragua. Our house is rented in Nicaragua now. The worst case scenario would be that our house in Nicaragua would be confiscated by the government. If that would happen, because of our wise financial decisions, we would not suffer, nor would our retirement  funds be affected. We are not in any hurry to sell our place, nor do we feel pressure to sell. Although we will probably not return to live in Nicaragua, we have no regrets about financial decisions we have made throughout our lives.

It feels kind of weird to say we aren’t expats any longer. But, we are redefining the term expat. Possibly global citizens would be a better term. I’m in the process of writing a post about that. Stay tuned while we rewire.

 

 

 

Thankful, Cautious, Shrewd, and Charitable


“Be happy when you work, thankful when you earn, cautious when you spend, shrewd when you save, and charitable when you give.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo

This is a quote we live by…our mantra for financial security and happiness.
We leave for Uruguay and Argentina next week, so I have to prepare for our house sitter, which includes paying bills and planning ahead financially.

It is always a good time for me to report on our monthly expenses because I have receipts and bills spread out on my kitchen table. This time, I am dividing our financial “happiness” into four categories. Let me explain how this works for us. But, first a breakdown of February 2018 expenses.

Total February 2018 expenses = $1,467 Plus, $31 a month for SKY TV.  I forgot to include SKY when I made the pie graph because it is the only bill we pay with our credit card and I didn’t want to make a new pie chart.

My children’s library topped our expenses this month because I gave my librarian a raise and put him on a yearly salary including health insurance. Then, our internet provider GGnet, graciously provided my library with free internet if I would purchase the equipment.  The dish, cable, router, special surge protector, and installation was $500…but well worth the expense to open the door to the world of education through technology for the teachers and students.

The utilities include water ($3), electric ($58), internet ($115), phone plan ($52), and SKY satellite TV ($31).

The monthly university tuition for our goddaughter is $100. That includes her food, lodging, and books and materials she needs. She is starting her third year of university in March. She is a communication and theater major in Leon and we are so proud of her.

Our property taxes are due once a year. If we pay before March 15th, we get a 10% discount. $39 for two houses and 2 1/2 acres of beach front property on the lake. Not bad, huh?

Miscellaneous includes a bottle of propane, gas for the motorcycle, and emergency money for our house sitter.

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Cost of Living: March 2017


Since I am preparing envelopes for our house sitters with two and a half months of expenses, I thought I would give you an idea of our latest cost of living expenses for the month of March 2017.

We own our home, thus no rental expenses. This month, we paid our property taxes of $25 and I included that in the miscellaneous expenses along with gas, propane, and a few other small expenses.

The amounts are in dollars. The total monthly expenses are: $960.

screen-shot-2017-03-05-at-9-40-23-pm

If you are considering living in Nicaragua, it will depend on your location and your needs. Ometepe Island is cheaper for home rentals than most of the larger cities like Granada and San Juan Del Sur. But, there are some expenses that cost more, such as a rural internet provider since we don’t have cable internet available outside of the main cities. Our service provider is Ggnet and it is on the mainland. We built a tall tower in our backyard because we need direct line of sight to the mainland to receive a strong signal for our microwave internet system.

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How to Afford to Travel


“Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions.” ― Dallin H. Oaks

I love reading travel essays, but before we started traveling I was disappointed when the essays never explained how one affords to travel. I received a comment on my blog the other day asking me how we afford to travel six months of the year and live abroad.

I never gave that question much thought after we started traveling because we just did it, but it is a great question and one that I think deserves a thoughtful answer.

Let me break down the quote above because it explains our process perfectly.

arthurs-pass

Arthur’s Pass in the New Zealand Southern Alps.

 

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So You Want to Move Abroad if Trump is Elected President?


Update:  Nicaragua continues to experience political unrest since April of 2018. More than 500 protesters were murdered, 60,000 Nicaraguans have fled their country, and the people who remain are heavily oppressed. There is high unemployment, crime is on the rise because there is little police protection, there are travel warnings from many countries, and many human rights violations. We left Nicaragua last July and have no desire to return until the Nicaraguan people are free from oppression.

If Trump wins the U.S.Presidential elections, where are you going to go? It looks like Canada is not an option anymore.

But, never fear. Don’t lose hope. Nicaragua is always nice! 🙂

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As Much Money and Life as You Could Want!


“As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all – the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

 

IMG_5788What would you do if money wasn’t an issue? If you live abroad in a developing country like we do, would you move? Travel more? Buy a big house and a new car? Start a charity? Pay off college loans?

We initially moved to Nicaragua because we could retire early from our teaching positions with small pensions. Nicaragua is affordable and we could live easily and simply on a fixed income. I nicknamed us “Economic Refugees” because we could never afford to retire early on fixed incomes and stay in the U.S. Money mattered in our decision to retire in Nicaragua.

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The Bottom Line: Budgeting for Retiring Abroad


“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” –Joe Biden

 

One of our biggest challenges in planning for retirement abroad was creating a realistic budget before we jumped into a new life. After our ‘pretirement’ experiment in Nicaragua in 2004-05, we set a goal to become financially independent. Many articles have been written about adjusting and assimilating into a different culture, but few articles stress the importance of financial planning before making the big jump.

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How Long Would You Work for a Jar of Pickles?


At the current $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage has become a poverty wage. A full-time worker with one child lives below the official poverty line.
Bernie Sanders

Yesterday, we hit the jackpot when shopping in Rivas, on the mainland. For the first time in Nicaragua, I found a jar of whole dill pickles, French honey mustard, and Snyder pretzels. Today, I received my first Social Security deposit. I’m officially old and lovin’ every minute of it. Yet, both of these events got me thinking about the poverty level in Nicaragua.

Do Nicaraguans think they are poor or do we, who were born into a capitalistic society, only perceive Nicaraguans as poverty-stricken? Do Nicaraguans prioritize their lives around how much things cost? To help answer my philosophical ramblings, I asked myself, how long would a Nicaraguan have to work for a jar of dill pickles?
pickles copyOn the average, a full-time Nicaraguan employee earns 100 cordobas a day. That’s the equivalent of $4 a day at the current exchange rate. My jar of dill pickles cost 135 cordobas, which means the average Nicaraguan would have to work more than a day to buy a jar of pickles.

To put this into perspective, a minimum wage worker in the states would have to work about 42 minutes to buy a jar of pickles. Of course, pickles are a luxury item here, so the cost is much higher than in the states. My neighbor kids love mayonnaise. They beg for mayonnaise when they come to visit because it is pricy and out of reach for most wage earners in Nicaragua.

Honestly, I seldom look at the prices of most food items in Nicaragua. We buy very little processed food, but there are certain treats like peanut butter, mayonnaise, pretzels, chocolate and pickles that we enjoy when we can find them.

Out of curiosity, I’ve compiled a list of how long a Nicaraguan would have to work for various items that we normally think nothing of purchasing.

One day of work would buy: 100 cordobas or $4.00
1. 1 jar of mayonnaise
2. one giant Hershey bar
3. A week of telephone minutes ( depending on how long one talks and if calling a Moviestar phone from a Claro phone)
4. 4 pirated DVD movies
5. 4 bottles of Tona beer
6. almost a jar of pickles

One week of work would buy: A work week is 6 days. 600 cordobas or $24
1. A month’s Claro internet plan for a dongle modem
2. 3 jars of peanut butter…very expensive in Nicaragua
3.  A tank of gasoline for a motorcycle
4. A cloth hammock
5. 2 bags of cement

One month of work would buy: About 3,000 cordobas or $120
1. Rent under $120 a month for a small house.
2. One double mattress thick and padded
3. A used bicycle
4. 4 baby piglets
5. Two taxi rides to Managua from Rivas

One year of work would buy: 36,000 cordobas or $1,440
1. A cheap Chinese motorcycle
2. A refrigerator, a washing machine, a bottle of propane, and a small two burner cook top.
3. 2 rt airline tickets to Miami , plus the cost of the visas
4. A manzana of land for grazing cattle on the volcano
5. 2 fiberglass canoes

Compiling this list put a lot of things into perspective for me. Now I understand why the prices for most furniture, appliances, electronics, and vehicles are listed first in monthly installments with the full price at the bottom. Most Nicaraguans buy on credit with little understanding of interest rates. Usually, they will buy an item on credit, and if they can’t make the monthly payments, the repo man visits. The repo men are very busy in Nicaragua.

Now, I understand why most young families live with extended family members. Who could afford to rent a house? Even on Ometepe Island, where the rental prices are still reasonable, a small house with a tiled floor, one bedroom, and a flush toilet will run about $150 a month unfurnished.

Now it makes sense to me why mayonnaise is “rico” and gallo pinto for breakfast, lunch and dinner is the life force of Nicaragua. I can see why they cook with wood instead of propane because a bottle of propane costs about $15.

Now, I understand why the Nicaraguans barter, beg, or steal. They are their best when bargaining for a good deal. It’s accepted practice to never take the first price offered. In fact, it’s a performing art to watch the thrifty Nicaraguans bargain.

Now it makes sense why most Nicaraguans live a stress-free life and why making money or getting rich is not a main goal in their lives. I understand why they don’t have a clue about budgeting because they live day-to-day with little extra money to budget.

Finally, I understand what it is like to live like a Nica. Money is not high on their list because they have so little of it. They creatively make do with what little they have. They work hard, play hard, and laugh often. They don’t think they are poor. Their birthplace determines their future, and in my opinion, it has little to do with money. They prioritize their purchases depending on immediate needs, not wants. If their basic needs are met, then they buy luxury items on credit, or barter and bargain for them. Do I think the Nicaraguans would work a whole day to buy a jar of dill pickles? Not a chance!