Monday, February 24, 2014

A Week of Mixed Reviews....Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

In last week's post, I spoke of my good friend, Susan Heer's passing.  Well, right on the heels of that, I got word of another good friend's passing in Granada, Nicaragua.  Mark Leach was a big man and a bigger personality.  Although gone way too soon, he lived life to its fullest and never let any grass grow under his feet.  I ache for his lovely wife and friend, Nichola.  May his soul be forever entertaining others!  Hasta luego, mi amigo!!

We also gave our 30 day notice to our landlord here last weekend that we would be vacating early.  After some animated discussion, a mutual agreement was reached and we are now on the short down strokes of moving out. 

Mike even came up with a grand idea for getting to move out even earlier.  We have a banked week of timeshare so we called to find where there might be an opening the week before we can move into our new place.  Sure enough, we now have a week's stay at Villa del Palmar.  Nothing like going on "vacation" right here in our own town!! LOL

Spanish lessons continue to go well. One of my morning rituals is now to buy juego naranjo (fresh squeezed orange juice) from a lady who squeezes the oranges right in front of me while we have a rudimentary conversation in Spanish.  I then drink this juice during class and feel much more awake and engaged.  She knows my name because I introduced myself but she hasn't reciprocated yet.  This coming week, I will ask her in Spanish, of course!

This past week also saw Mike and me invited to speak about our process for making this journey and choosing a new home country.  It's not to be country specific but about the actual process we developed.  Yes, International Living has graced us with an invitation to speak at their 2014 Ultimate Event here in PV June 4-7!!  We are so very, very honored!!

I woke up in the middle of the night and started organizing in my head the PowerPoint presentation and talking points.  So the first thing I did when I got out of bed was to fire up the computer and see if I could remember how to use the program.  Yup, still got what it takes!  And, a very good head start on the 25-30 minute talking time.

Mid week saw me post our last month's budget update, which continues to show us that living on less than $1,000/month not including rent is way possible!!  It also spurred us to start formulating an actual full YEAR budget accounting within one country.  Being a true tourist destination and having a large snowbird population (3-5 months of living), we are finding that there really are 2 different Vallarta's. 

High Season and Low Season.  Each brings with it a different lifestyle.  Most of the fundraising, theatre shows, and other activities occur during the months November - April.  You literally could go broke and never have a down moment if you tried to do it all.  So we aren't.  Like anything else, we are having to pick and chose what's most important at the moment and prioritize.  Many events will just have to wait until next year's high season.

So, it will be interesting to see what happens with our budget once things come to a crawl around here.  And, we've heard that things pretty well completely shut down here in September.  That's when many of the restaurants close to go on vacation and it's supposed to be the wettest and hottest time of the year.  We'll see.  Maybe we'll take a trip up to the mountains and see a few places we've not been before where it's a bit cooler.

Tuesday was the Expat Happy Hour again at Langostino's.  This week we met Mike and Sandie Wick from Minnesota. Wonderfully delightful people!  We had no trouble finding things to talk about with all of ours and their travels.  And, afterwards we all went out to eat at Los Muertos Brewing for pizza and beer (I had wine, of course).

Mike & Sandie
Some random pictures from around town:
A pretty big guy!

A beautiful flowering plant that we pass almost every day. I have no clue as to the name of it.

Passion Flower

A photo op.

Mike has continued to work his shifts at the PCC selling tickets to the Oscar movies that started showing last Saturday night with a different one each night up until the Gala on Sunday.  We're going to all of the movies and have already enjoyed HER and American Hustle.  I have to say, I thought HER was absolutely fabulous and what a love story!!  I certainly didn't expect to like it at all but that's what happens when you keep an open mind.  Amy Adams was in both of these movies and she was terrific in both.

We've been invited to a private Oscar Party around the corner from where we currently live.  It's at Jim Lee's home, Casa de Perro Azul (House of the Blue Dog).  Jim is an event planner and we simply can't wait to be a part of this!  So, we have to get out our Red Carpet attire.  Hmmm, Mike's not a suit kind of guy especially since he's never owned one! Guess it will be Casual Dressy Beach attire for him.  He did buy a new dressy beach shirt at the consignment shop, Deja New, the other day. Stay tuned for an update on this event.

Our friends, Mitch and Stephanie, returned from their week of travel up in the states so we got together at their new place for drinks before going to a comedy show at The Palm.  The woman's name is Shaun Polanski, in case anyone has seen or heard of her.  She was funny but it just didn't click totally for us but we had a good time regardless. And, it's always fun seeing friends and being out and about in town.


Saturday we made our trip down to the PCC Co-op Market and Mike worked a 2 hour shift for tickets.  It was the busiest he's been with no time for any break, as the people were lined up waiting.  I, on the other hand, had a great time browsing through all of the vendor booths.  It was extremely busy and lots of people! You can certainly tell it's high season in full swing.

I bought a new beautiful handmade over the shoulder handbag, a bag of toasted candied pecans (yum!), and had a back, shoulder & neck massage!!  A great morning for me!  Then it was time to buy a delicious roasted half chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, and coleslaw for only $60 pesos ($4.50) and it was plenty to feed the both of us.


Then back that evening for the movie HER.  Since it finishes about 9pm, we decided it was way too early to pack it in for the night.  So a nice stroll up Basilio Badillo to Nacho Daddy's to hear our good friend, Joe King Carrasco, play with his band.  I hadn't seen him since he returned from the states where he released a new music video.  It was great to give him a huge hug and enjoy his music.

We finally got to sign our 1 year lease to our new "home/apartment" on Sunday afternoon!!  Dave Smelser and Frank Heck are our new landlords and we couldn't be more delighted!!  Dave is just a real down to earth kind of guy.  As Frank has been in the states with family, we haven't had a chance to meet him yet.  Looking forward to it!

Back up the 100 or so stairs from lower Pulpito to upper Pulpito for our trek back home (yes, and these are easy stairs!!), before heading back down for the movie, American Hustler, Sunday night. 

This is actually a good time to talk about the amount of stairs in the downtown/Old Town, Romantic Zone, Conchas Chinas area of Puerto Vallarta.  They are EVERYWHERE!!!  Due to the topography in this area (lots of BIG hills), which we love, and the fact that people walk most everywhere, there are stairs, stairs, and more stairs.  And, they aren't always built with consistency either.  Some are higher, lower, wider, narrower than the consistent stairs in the States or Canada.  The stairs we climb going to and from our Spanish classes just kill me!  They are higher and with my shorter legs, it just puts me through the wringer.  I will NOT miss them!!  You do get a great workout though.

So today starts another week of classes and movies every night.  I'll catch up with you all next weekend.  And, the countdown to move is on!!

Thanks for keeping up with us and following our journey as it unfolds .....

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

BUDGET UPDATE!!! (Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Mexico)

After all of these months, I have added a Line Item of EXPENSES W/O RENT.  Because our housing has encompassed so many different types of housing at extremely different rates AND, because we would NOT live long term in many of the places we did rent, I felt it was only fair and probably more accurate for each location to actually show what we spent without rent.

Before you go peeking at our expense chart below, I need to make a few statements:

* This is OUR full disclosure cost breakdown of everything we spent money on based on the way WE live our lives. 

* Our goal for a total monthly budget is $1,800 for living expenses ONLY.  Our income is higher but this amount is what we wanted to see if we could live with so that the extra could be set aside for savings toward further traveling.

* Our monthly rental goal with ALL utilities including WiFi is $800. We rented many different types of property from 1 bedroom/1 bathroom to 2 bedroom/2 bathroom; from 425 square feet to 1,200 square feet; high rise to apartment attached to a house, to single family home; from in town to rural to ocean front. We know we paid higher rents because it was only for one month. We also know that when we're ready to rent for a year, our monthly rate will either decrease substantially or we will get a lot more for our money.

* Phone costs are averaged based on what we actually spent over a 3 month period including initial purchase of SIM card, minutes, and data for both of us and any subsequent purchases of minutes/data. NOTE: I own our own unlocked iPhone. Mike "lost" his in Ecuador, so in Nicaragua, we bought him a cheap phone.

* As we must be out and about much more than we would if we lived long term somewhere, we are eating out more than our "normal" 6-7 times, and are out socializing and meeting people to get a truer feel for each area. Thus, the dollars in meals below reflects eating out on average between 15-20 times a month and the "drinks only" will eventually be incorporated into our Entertainment budget. Where we ate was either typical fare or moderate priced. On a rare occasion, we went out for a special meal that was still well below US prices.

* We have NO car so there is nothing in this budget to indicate each countries cost of gas, which varies considerably at the moment.

* Currently, we are self-insured and pay everything out of pocket.  So only the true consistent item of Dental Cleaning was included and averaged over each 3 months (every 3 months for me; every 6 months for Mike).  We do have traveler's insurance for catastrophic until we establish residency somewhere. Once residency established, a budget line item for medical/dental/vision will be made. Please see my note below under One-Time Expenses for a better understanding of our medical costs.

* Our meals at home became very simple and consistent. So that with what we bought at the grocery store being pretty similar in each location.  Groceries include wine & beer.  I don't get into what's more or less expensive in each country because it becomes a moot point when looking at the overall grocery budget.  Same for the cost of wine & beer in local establishments.

* Our One-Time Expenses are just that :

Medical included my annual female checkups, swimmer's ear in CR for Mike, a banged up shoulder in Salinas, EC for Mike and in Granada, we were both sick due to allergies.  In my blog posts, I breakdown the costs for each expenditure at the time we had to make them and won't do that again here.  You may go back and read my blog posts for those individual occurrences. I have added up all the expenditures and found that averaged over the last 16 months, the average cost per month is only $72, under the $100/month that we have budgeted going forward for buying a medical insurance plan.

Dental included my new partial (1 every 15 years) and a new cap & veneer for Mike's 2 front teeth.

Tours included our actual time being a tourist but we will not be doing those on a consistent basis but will incorporate those costs in entertainment.  The exception was a trip to Granada from SJDS.  If we live in SJDS, we would be making periodic trips by shuttle to Granada to spend time with friends there.

Hotels & Transportation is the cost incurred while getting to and from an airport or when taking a side trip which has occurred every 3 months and will not be part of our usual agenda once we live somewhere full time.

LIVING EXPENSES Boquete, PA Pedasi, PA  Gorgona, PA Tilaran, CR Grecia, CR Tamarindo, CR Salinas, Ecuador Bahia, Ecuador Granada, Nica SJDS, Nica PV, Mexico PV, Mexico
Rent incl utilities  $             700.00  $             750.00  $             700.00  $             500.00  $             650.00  $          1,150.00  $             700.00  $             830.00  $             640.00  $             900.00  $          1,050.00  $          1,004.00
Phone incl data  $                21.60  $                21.60  $                21.60  $                15.00  $                15.00  $                15.00  $                29.00  $                29.00  $                26.00  $                26.00  $                16.00  $                16.00
Groceries  $             234.00  $             302.00  $             197.00  $             226.00  $             292.00  $             242.00  $             376.00  $             481.00  $             368.00  $             228.00  $             247.00  $             308.00
Meals  $             412.00  $             365.00  $             647.00  $             451.00  $             246.00  $             385.00  $             418.00  $             237.00  $             328.00  $             262.00  $             274.00  $             283.00
Drinks Only  $                66.00  $             103.00  $                89.00  $                14.00  $             206.00  $                94.00  $                81.00  $             185.00  $             169.00  $             211.00  $             193.00
Entertainment  $             200.00  $             132.00  $                60.00  $             248.00  $                94.00  $                  6.00  $                50.00  $             178.00  $                  8.00  $             110.00  $             114.00
Exercise (yoga,etc.)  $                38.00  $                40.00
Incidentals/Gifts  $                67.00  $                26.00  $             205.00  $                61.00  $             124.00  $             132.00  $             102.00  $                66.00  $                72.00  $             106.00  $                22.00  $                  4.00
Trans (Bus/Cab)  $                  6.00  $             116.00  $                75.00  $                97.00  $                18.00  $             125.00  $                55.00  $                  8.00  $                68.00  $                72.00  $                28.00
Dental Cleaning  $                30.00  $                30.00  $                30.00  $                14.00  $                14.00  $                14.00  $                  7.00  $                  7.00  $                  8.00  $                  8.00  $                  8.00  $                  8.00
TOTAL   $          1,730.60  $          1,773.60  $          2,016.60  $          1,431.00  $          1,700.00  $          2,256.00  $          1,857.00  $          1,836.00  $          1,813.00  $          1,775.00  $          2,010.00  $          1,958.00
Expenses w/o Rent   $          1,030.60  $          1,023.60  $          1,316.60  $             931.00  $          1,050.00  $          1,106.00  $          1,157.00  $          1,006.00  $          1,173.00  $             875.00  $             960.00  $             954.00
Medical  $             140.00  $             128.00  $             721.00  $             160.00
Dental  $          1,380.00
Tours  $             377.00  $             415.00  $             308.00  $             130.00  $             125.00  $             224.00  $             190.00  $             203.00
Hotels  $             128.00  $             231.00  $             160.00  $             225.00  $             191.00
Transportation  $                44.00  $                60.00  $                90.00  $                20.00  $             184.00  $                30.00  $                45.00  $                64.00
Spanish Lessons  $             285.00  $             117.00  $             124.00
TOTAL ONE TIME EXPENSES  $             172.00  $             345.00  $             321.00  $             557.00  $          1,935.00  $             845.00  $          1,072.00  $             125.00  $             429.00  $             254.00  $             320.00  $             124.00

A few specific clarifications to help you understand the spending patterns:

*Gorgona, PA: Our apartment had a death trap of a kitchen, so we ate out often (25x). Thus, there is no separate amount in Drinks Only because we always had our drinks where we ate.
*Tronadora, CR: We have nothing in Entertainment because all of our Entertainment was actually “free”.  We would go with friends to the Tabacon hot spring river with drinks & snacks and sit for hours in the steam for FREE! We also did not get any “medicinal” massages that we love so much that are included as Entertainment in other locations.

*Grecia: Here too when we went out for drinks, we ate.

*Salinas: Can’t put a finger on it as to why groceries were so much more except that everything was always just a bit more. A dollar here, a dollar there. Wine & beer were definitely way more for actually less quality.

*Bahia:  Here we paid more for groceries but ate out less because there wasn't much going on. Stayed pretty close to home and lived a normal day to day life while still enjoying ourselves.

*Granada, Nicaragua:  I can truly attest that it's less expensive to live in Granada. So to explain why our costs were as much as they were is to explain how bad our living arrangements were. We spent every day AWAY from home as much as possible because it was the noisiest place and home we've lived in. We've now been in Latin America for a year and we "understand and get" noise!! This home was 10 times worse than anywhere else we've been by far!

So to compensate, we went and paid to go to a quiet swimming pool to the cost of $88.  This also meant we spent more on drinks while out, it also meant that Mike left home every Sunday, Monday and Thursday for football and thus paid for more drinks out.  I also crashed my computer and it cost me only $65 to get it fixed (Incidentals)!  Wine & beer are inexpensive at most places. But, beware there are places where you will pay dearly!  So always ask to see a menu and what the cost is.

*SJDS, Nicaragua: Our place was a real "efficiency" apartment and we didn't spend much time in it.  The owners are dear people but the furniture in the living area wasn't comfortable at all and the space was the smallest we've had anywhere.  We felt we paid quite a premium for what we got due to "high season", much more than expected for Nicaragua.  Especially when compared to what we paid in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, also a surfing beach town and a country everyone says is way more expensive.

*Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 1st Month:  It's football season & playoffs, so what can I say other than Mike enjoys watching the games with other people to get into the spirit.  This means we've been out spending more than we would normally on drinks.  Also, because we can't see the sunset yet from our home, we've taken to going down to the beach and having drinks.  I've now been bribed away from my more expensive glass or two of wine ($3.50/glass) to the $1 margaritas.  A cost savings that begins to add up.  Also, because this is a much larger tourist town, there are many more entertainment options than we've had anywhere else.  And, we're gladly taking advantage of it!! 

*Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 2nd Month: Well, the BIG event of Super Bowl cost us $75, which is included in my costs above. However, what isn't shown is that Mike won the First Quarter pool and won $160! So we actually came out ahead with money in our pocket but since I don't post our income, it's still money we spent.  Also, this is still a trial and error period here and we went to a function that we'll never go to again but it cost us $60 to figure that out!!  Our rent is showing a bit less because we were able to pay in pesos and our landlord used a lower exchange rate than what we are getting for our money at the bank ATM, so a bit of a savings for us.
Each location presented its own challenges from awkward housing with deficient kitchens (the term “fully furnished” is very loosely used), too few choices for eating out, to too remote of a location.  In ALL cases, we are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt based on the data we accumulated, that we could make the necessary adjustments to keep within our desired budget of $1,800/month including medical once we are established and NOT diminish our lifestyle.  

Any comments or questions can be emailed to me directly at  I will continue to keep my budget log and will post the chart now at the end of each month with its results.