Monday, February 23, 2009

Cost of Living (Continued)

I am putting this photo of our pink bouganbilia bush as the first photo on this entry because I am so proud of it.  Our bouganbilia had been healthy but without many blossoms.  Shortly before Pixie left she suggested that our problem might be that they were getting too much water.  Since she's been gone, I've been abandoning my "if a little water is good, more is better" philosophy, especially with the bouganbilia.  You can see the results!  Here are some other photos of the garden as it looks today:

The winter months of December and January are somewhat dormant, but now, in late February, I am seeing that the plants are growing more and blooming.  A big project we've been working on is to plant a vine wall of "copa del oro" in the space on the west side of our terrace to block the setting sun which can make it too hot to sit out on the terrace during the late afternoon.  Our plan is to have the vines block the sun with an attractive wall of plants.  I was hoping to have it ready for the hottest months of April and May, but it looks as though it may take a bit longer:

In my last post, I discussed food shopping.  Today I will explore some other costs of living here, using specific dollar amounts, as estimated from the peso conversion.  Keep in mind that the conversion was 10:1 and is now aobut 14.5:1, so we are getting about 40% more pesos for the dollar.  I don't know how long this will continue, but for now, it give us more buying power.  

The cost of owning a home here is very inexpensive compared to our house in Maine.  This year's property taxes were 950 pesos ($64) and our yearly water bill 2400 pesos ($163).  We have no heating system, and our electric bill, if we keep it under 500 kwh per two month period, we get a cheap rate.  We've converted to fluorescent bulbs, unplug our microwave and TV at night, and generally try to conserve.  We've been doing well.  Our last bill showed a usage of 366 kwh for November and December, so the bill was 547 pesos or ($37).  Our latest telephone bill, which includes calling here in Mexico plus our DSL internet connection (to which our Vonage phone is connected) was 479 pesos ($35.50).  We pay our monthlyVonage bill ($30)  via our credit card which gives us unlimited calling to the United States.  We generally fill our propane tank (dryer, stove, and hot water) once every 2.5-3 months for 1200 pesos ($81).  We change our water filters for the purification system every six weeks at a cost of 360 pesos ($25). So as you can see, the utilities are not expensive.  Of course, those who have bigger houses, with pools, pay a much higher rate for electricity, as much as $250-300USD per month.  

Maintenance on homes is required and usually consists of sealing the roof every 2-3 years, periodic repair of salitrate (a salt decay) on the walls and subsequent repainting.  Labor is not expensive, so maintenance is not a big expense.   We have a maid come about 4 hours, one day a week, and we pay her 200 pesos ($14) plus bus fare (12 pesos).  Our gardener comes for a couple of hours just to weed and cut the grass for 100 pesos ($7).  

Eating out at restaurants is very reasonable.  Breakfast is very cheap, usually costing about 60 pesos for a full breakfast ($4).  Dinner entrees at most restaurants range from 70 pesos ($4.70) to 120 pesos ($8.00). Beer is about $1.5o while wine can be $2.50 a glass, and margaritas are cheap at about $3.00 or less (all in USD).  People tip between 10 and 15%. I like to buy roasted chickens, which are very popular here.  For about 80 pesos ($5.40) you can get a delicious roasted chicken including tortillas, salsa, and roasted potatoes.  Here is where we buy roasted chicken.  It's called the happy chicken, although I doubt that's true! 

Transportation is not expensive.  Most people in Mexico cannot afford cars, and buses are readily available.  I can stand on the main drag, about a block from our house, and take a bus just about anywhere.  It costs 6 pesos to ride into Ajijic or Chapala, and 35 pesos into Guadalajara.  Here is a typical commuter bus.  

Driving is similar in expense to the US.  Gas, which is sold only through Pemex stations, the national oil company, has remained steady at about 72 pesos per litre (about $1.90) per gallon.  There is no self-serve here.  Attendants fill your tank and sometimes wash your windows for a tip.  Here is what all Pemex station look like:

Tires are expensive here, with a large tire for our RAV-4 costing at least $100USD each.  Mechanical work is fairly reasonable, although it costs me about $50USD for an oil change because the 5w20 oil is rare here and needs to be imported from the US.  There is a Toyota dealer in Guadalajara, and I've heard prices are similar to the US.  We have a small problem with the rear end of our Toyota, and I'll wait till we go to the US this summer and get it looked at by a US Toyota dealer, since the warranty is not honored here.  

Here are some other places we frequent: (Clockwise, from top left) the Mexican post office where we get our mail, la pescaderia (seafood store), OXXO (equivalent to a 7-11), and a hardware store.  

In general, you can live on very little or spend a lot here.  Medical care can be expensive, but much cheaper than the US.  The difference here is that we usually pay out of pocket for everything.  Some drugs are generic and cheap, others very expensive.  Pixie had surgery which cost about $2500 total.  We are cancelling our private major medical coverage which costs us $3300 a year (with a $2000USD deductable, per event), but the cost is skyrocketing, and we will rely, for serious problems, on IMSS, the Medical Social Service medical coverage which cost us about $500USD per year and includes everything.  We've heard both good and bad things about IMSS, but it is what we can afford.  Electronic items, like computers, are more expensive here.  And, of course, many items we would have no trouble finding, may not be avaialble here.  (recent examples: magnifying glass,  turkey baster).  We live easily on a modest pension here, and we manage to save money for travel back to the states.  But we have to watch our money carefully sometimes near the end of the month.  We could live cheaper if we had to, and lots of our friends live in more luxurious style.  Many also live on much less.  

Finally, a word about the drug violence in Mexico.  Several of my friends and family members have expressed concern about US media reports of a huge increase in drug violence here.  This is true, but misleading.  There were thousands murdered in Mexico last year, and the trend is continuing this year.  The vast majority are drug reprisal killings against rival drug gangs, police, journalists, and politicians.  President Calderon has declared war on the drug gangs, and the spike in violence is a direct result of his efforts.  Most of the violence is in the three northern Mexico states, but there have been some killings in Jalisco (the state we live in) and in Michoacan (the next state).   I reported a few weeks ago that there was a drug killing in Riberas where we live, but that turned out to be a jealous boyfriend killing.  As far as I know there has been no drug violence in this area.  People here feel safe and secure.  We do not drive much at night, and we take security seriously, as you would in many areas of the US, but we do not feel in any danger.  Living in a foreign country, particularly one with problems like Mexico, is always a risk.  But, to those of us here, at this point at least, the advantages far outweigh the risks.  I suppose it could change.  I think the Mexican people were willing to give Calderon a chance, but many here are alarmed at the increase in violence.  The PRI may take a different tack if they are elected.  The REAL problem, of course, is drug demand in the US.  To me, we may be at the point where we need to look at the problem like we did prohibition and legalize drugs.  I doubt enforcement efforts will ever work when there is so much profit to be made.  We'll see.  But don't worry about us; we're safe.  

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cost of Living

Maggie found a squirrel in our small woodpile and spent the rest of the day trying to dig and root in the woodpile to try to find it.  She ended up with this dirty face.  Just when I think she is starting to have human emotions, I am disabused of the notion by her very "dog" behavior!  

I receved some feedback from people suggesting that the everyday activities were sufficiently interesting for many of you who do not live in Mexico that more detail on this subject is warranted.  So I thought I'd discuss shopping for food, etc. today.  One of the appeals of living here is obviously the cost of living.  I highly doubt we'd have been able to retire at our ages, and not have to work, if we'd stayed in the United States.  Right now, because of the worldwide economic crisis, the Mexican peso has slipped from about 10 pesos to the dollar to about 14.5 pesos to the US dollar.   This obviously helps us, for the time being, but seriously hurts Mexico, a country which is reliant on imports from the US which are now more expensive.  This is triggering inflation here, and I suspect it will continue.  

Shopping for food in the Lake Chapala area offers many choices.  If you want to get the same products you were used to buying in the US, there is Super Lake, a grocery store which specializes in importing goods for the gringos.  We buy a few luxuries there, including good tea, but we usually buy Mexican products for much cheaper:

One good thing about Super Lake is that it is a hangout for Americans and Canadians, and they provide a bulletin board where you can find rentals, items for sale, Spanish lessons, or just about anything else:

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the weekly outdoor market, or Tianguis (Monday in Chapala, Wednesday in Ajijic, and Thursday in Jocotepec) which features just about everything from produce, to street food, to medicinal herbs, fresh yogurt, flowers, pirated films, clothing, crafts, bread, fish, meat, plants, electronic parts, and much more.  We always buy our produce, yogurt, honey, flowers, and movies at the tianguis.  We have our favorite vendors, of course, who treat us well.  Here are some photos: 

We also have the opportunity to shop at large department-style stores, Wal Mart or Soriana, which are very Mexican and do not cater to foreigners.  So what you might normally think you'd easily find at Wal Mart in the US, you will not likely find at this one.  I do not prefer shopping at these stores.  

Neighborhoods all have small stores, or tiendas, which sell Abarrotes, which means supplies.  Here you can buy one egg, or one cigarette, or beer, or produce, soap, etc.  They are like mom and pop stores, and the family generally lives in the back.  I frequent the one about a block from our house, where I generally buy milk, charcoal, eggs, soap, bottled water, and other household goods.  Here's a photo: 

Now, how much do things cost?  Here is a list of some sample prices.  I have converted them to pounds (from kilos) and to dollars (from pesos):  

Milk  $1.50 2 liters
Eggs  $1.20 / doz
Yogurt $1.40/liter
Chicken (whole) $.90/ lb. 
Pork Chops $1.80/ lb
Steak, tenderloin $3.50/ lb
Tomatoes $.25/ lb
Bananas  $ .10/lb
Avacados $ 1.05/ lb. 
Carrots $ .30/lb
Limes $.50/lb
Oranges $.25/lb
Strawberries (now, in season) $.45/lb
Fresh corn tortillas $.30/ lb
Beans (precooked) $.40/ lb
Sugar $.60/lb
Dish soap (Mexican brand) $.25
Dish Soap (US brand) $1.50
Charcoal (small bag, enough for four grillings) $1.50
Tea (Mexican, not good) $1.20/80 bags
Coffee (Veracruz, from street vendor) $1.35/ lb 
Good British tea ($4.00/ 80 bags...but worth it!)
Tequila...ranges from $3.00-$120 per liter.  Good, aged reposado is about $14
Wine...Chilean table wine $3.50-7.00
Beer...Corona 6-pack $3.50
Dog food (Pedigree) 5lb bag..$2.20
Beggin strips, Maggie's favorite treat (imported) $4.00

Pixie is still in the US with her family.  Maggie and I are eating very cheaply.  

Next time I will continue to discuss other aspects of the cost of living here.  In the meantime, Happy Valentine's Day!  In Mexico this day is called Dia de Amor y Amistad, Day of Love and Friendship, a bit more broad-based.