Nickel Bananas and Other Expenses!

White-faced Capuchin Monkey, Rescate Animal zooave (photo gallery)

Though I am saving receipts and trying to live simple, I am not keeping a penny by penny account of what it is costing me like the couple up the mountain from me are doing in San Ramon. Read their blog and/or subscribe to it at Retire for Less in Costa Rica. I enjoy reading their monthly posts and admire them for the exact accounting of what they are spending in their public monthly financial report. To read one month’s costs use this link to their September Expenses or at their site find any other month.

I subscribe to their philosophy, though I’m not budgeting as detailed as they are nor keeping such records now. Simple lifestyle and enjoy the place! My expenses are similar to theirs with me spending less than a fourth of their TRANSPORTATION cost since I do not have a car like them. They spend $500 to a $1,000 on a car monthly while I spend less than $100 on bus and taxi transportation right now. Plus I walk 3 to 5 miles a day for local needs. When I start traveling across the country exploring, it will go up but seldom over $100. I can take a bus all the way to Panama or Nicaragua for around $50. So far the most expensive bus has been to San Jose at about a $1.75 while local taxis are seldom over $2 for door-to-door service. Though a taxi all the way to San Jose or Alajuela can be $25! It would still take a lot to of personal driver trips to reach their $900 budget! And I think Atenas is a more central location for my later exploring the country! (Plus better weather!)   🙂  And oh yes! Very important! Once I have my Pensionado Residencia card as a retiree, all bus trips will be free! For over age 65.

HOUSING expenses for me are right at the same as the Retire for Less couple and it is of course my largest expense at $800 per month plus my first month’s electric bill was $22 which is less than the $30 I was told to expect. But by March I plan to work with the new management on a long-term contract for rental at less than the current rate. We will see how that goes. Water, TV, internet are included in the rent here. I only pay for electricity and fortunately I seldom use the air conditioner. And oh yes, for those in Nashville comparing, that is much less than half my rent at McKendree which was increasing each year. Now note that I have looked at two houses for about $400 a month rent plus utilities, BUT . . . old town houses nearly touching the neighbors, not as nice, or quiet, or large property, and no view! I’m doing all I can to stay where I am as much for the view as anything. Plus monkeys will start coming in March or April! 🙂

Yet I spend more than the Retire for Less couple on DINING OUT which is a priority for me – my one extravagance maybe. I eat out 5 or 6 times a week with each meal ranging from USD $5 to $14 as the most expensive so far. The high end is when I add fruit drinks or smoothies and/or desserts – again that is my extravagance. When I eat out it is usually for lunch (done dinner three times with friends), sometimes a late lunch and always as my main meal. That is where I get most of my meat or fish and most veggies, though some at home. Dining out will probably be around $300 per month which is almost what I spent in Nashville in addition to the $240 dining room charge at McKendree. So I’m spending less dining out here than in Nashville.

GROCERIES for me are close to what the Retire for Less couple spend in their budget, $300+ per month for breakfast and dinner food and household items like paper goods, cleaning supplies, kitchen tools at first. That is close to what I spent in Nashville. My usual breakfast at home is similar to then except more fresh fruit. I have a half bowl of healthy, whole grain cereal with nuts and raisins to which I add a half bowl of fresh fruits and then either cow milk or almond milk which is priced a little more than in the states. Cereal is all more expensive here (even Latin American brands) as are any brand-name food items. i.e. 300 grams of American branded tortilla chips is $4 while a similar Costa Rican product is $2 for 320 grams. Same for a jar of salsa. I’m learning to look for local products! Import tax is the primary income for the government here  making all imports more expensive. My groceries come from three places: I shop at the Weekly Farmers’ Market, plus Coopeatenas Super Mercado (a local cooperative), and sometimes Maxi Pali, a corporate super market chain by Walmart with their house brand products and claim of being cheaper. It is a longer walk, so I use Coopeatenas more. And once a month or so I may go to the real Walmart store in Alajuela and maybe someday will go to a bigger one in Escazu, though more time, trouble and expense to get there. And oh yes! Bananas were a nickel apiece at Farmers’ Market yesterday.

HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS are priced about the same as the states if I go for the Chinese brands, like a cheap wastebasket, laundry basket, kitchen utensil, hardware, etc. Again USA-made are more expensive and not as available. My house is about set up now, so I will seldom have these expenses. My new Atenas “Home Depot” is a neat little hardware/household store by the bus terminal where I’ve found things not even at Walmart. They are friendly and helpful even though I struggle for Spanish words for things. I even got a USB extender cable for the used printer I bought, so the shorter cable would not run across my desk and block access to the window. Show you my office later.

ENTERTAINMENT/TRAVEL expenses have hardly started yet as I get acquainted with Atenas and haven’t traveled further than San Jose and Alajuela which is budgeted in transportation above. My only typical tourist expense was my trip to see Rescate Animal zooave (click for my photo gallery) last week and without my residential card yet I had to pay the tourist rate of $21 to get in which would have been about $10 as a resident and maybe cheaper as a retiree. The bus trip was just a dollar there but when I had trouble flagging the bus down for my return, I spent $20 to return by taxi. All that plus lunch cost me less than $50 for a fairly local photo trip. I could spend hundreds when I start going to the beach, mountain lodges, etc. Just haven’t started yet which is good because of start-up costs. I hope to eventually be spending $300 per month on travel, my favorite entertainment. There are big movie theaters, live theater, symphony orchestra and all in San Jose, but I will be avoiding the big city as much as possible! I’m liking small town life better! I want to visit national parks, wildlife preserves, and other places for nature photos. It will take years to see them all!

A MAID has not been hired yet, but that will cost me $2 per hour for two hours once a week or about $16 per month plus a Christmas bonus of one month pay (required by law) making it $208 per year. Such a good deal that I need to get started soon! If I want to add laundry, cooking or other duties then the cost would go beyond two hours a week, but I probably will not. I’ve already got a laundry routine and getting use to sunshine clothes drying. And a single person doesn’t need a cook!

MOVE/START-UP EXPENSES have not been totaled yet, but shipping 51 boxes will end up costing me over $2,000, maybe $3,000, the biggest expense. Of course that is nothing like the people sending all their furniture in 40 foot containers. And I hope to get rid of half that stuff after I go through it here, mostly scrapbooks and artwork.

Once all the different fees and lawyer is paid, a residential card will cost nearly $2,000.

My Miami address costs according to what is sent through it, at $7 per kilo on packages plus customs/import tax on the invoiced value of the item (10-15%). Letters cost me $1.50 each when sent through Miami. They get here a little quicker than the two to six weeks when sent direct, but I am going to start encouraging people to use my Costa Rica address. I got several Christmas Cards I had to pay $1.50 each for AND had to travel to Alajuela to pick them up. I’m probably going to reserve the Miami address for internet orders, some of which require a USA address. That is what most people here use it for, including locals. It is an ongoing cost of maybe $40 to $50 per month, if I order much on internet. Two of my credit cards use that address and some other businesses, but most seem to prefer my Atenas address. The U.S. Postal Service would only accept the Costa Rica address and will not forward. But I’m glad now because if they had the Miami address they would be forwarding junk mail to me at $1.50 each! And I may try to get my own PO Box when I know I’m settling here. Right now it goes to the apartment’s box and the staff deliver to me on their time.

Local medical costs could be considered in start-up costs but I will list it separately. Even with that my total initial move cost is maybe $7,000 and I made more than that on the stuff I sold in Nashville including my car. So the balance sheet is okay for now.

MEDICAL costs will eventually cost me much less here once I am an official resident. I arrived sick with something like bronchitis. A visit to an English-speaking doctor, “Dr. Candy,” and her four  prescription meds cost me about $100 cash ($50 for her). I can try to turn it in to my Medigap insurance but it may not be worth the trouble. Medigap is good for the first 90 days here. I am applying for a private insurance policy here in Costa Rica with my physical scheduled for Tuesday morning in San Jose. It will pay 90% of all medical costs after the first $300. I will carry it for at least a year or until my residency is official. Then I can choose to keep it or go on public medical care which for about $50 a month will be 100% coverage of all medical costs including Rx, surgeries, hospital, dental, eye care, etc.(Why can’t Medicare do that?) Just longer waits for some procedures. That is my plan. Then I may drop the private plan here and will probably drop my medigap plan in states sooner. Private insurance here will cost about $3,000 a year ($250 month) which is less than half what I pay for medical coverage in the states (Medicare+Medigap+Rx+dental insurance) with fewer restrictions here. Public healthcare will be even more of a savings here. If I go back to states for any reason, temporary or permanent, I will still be on Medicare – they will keep deducting it from my SS check and I am always covered when physically in the USA, but never outside the states. I cannot drop it. So it will become my medical insurance in the states and funny thing is, the private insurance here in Costa Rica will also cover me when I’m visiting in the states!

Bottom line, I am now living on about $2,500 a month that could get to $3,000 with enough good trips! 🙂 That is less than I was living on in the states. Simple living, simple pleasures!

Well, that is a lot, but I know that a few of you have wondered about the costs and if you are considering such a move, can you afford it? Well, I hope this helps those considering and friends who just wonder but too polite to ask. Most of you know that I don’t have secrets – and/or I talk too much!  (TMI one friend will say!) But that is me and my financial report for life in Costa Rica. I don’t plan to post monthly reports like my friends in San Ramon, but for such details, subscribe to their Retire for Less in Costa Rica Newsletter.

Sorry this was so long! But that is all I’ll say on money!

The Joy and Grace of Friends! And Let’s try Skype!

Collared Redstart
I photographed at Trogon Lodge in September
Also call the collared whitestart, it is a
tropical New World warbler endemic to the
mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama. 

Not only am I on the plane in 9 days, and my boxes were picked up today for shipping to Costa Rica, but the last few days have been an outpouring of love from friends here in Nashville, my home and family for the last 38 years! The Senior Adult SAALT Council at First Baptist gave me the biggest party at their last meeting with fun gifts and a beautiful cake by Kelly Porch with a camera and Costa Rica Flag on it! The Spanish Class sent me off last Thursday also and Saturday a party with my Sunday school class. The Christmas cards are nearly all thank you notes and farewell cards on top of Christmas Joy plus other farewells here at McKendree. One family takes me to lunch tomorrow and Saturday night a dear 91 year old lady friend is giving me a little party in her apartment. I am blessed!

I’m overwhelmed with love and the grace that goes with it (unmerited favor). I could start feeling guilty about leaving such a great support group – my Nashville family! Yet I am following my heart and believe this is God’s will and a fitting climax to my life of adventure as I truly try to obey God, allow Him to be central in my life and simplify living to an experience that pleases Him and me! I’m already feeling a new freedom without so much stuff to keep up with! Hopefully there I will figure out a way to diminish the quantity of art and books which is what I shipped. And maybe even reduce the amount of clothing.  🙂

Email will be the best way to communicate or stay in touch with me along with reading my blogs and commenting on them. I have also added a Skype account which means free phone calls with those of you who are also on Skype. I have even added the extra feature of a phone number you can call from any phone, but there is a cost for me on that. The number is with a middle TN area code: 615-649-4486. If I’m not at my computer when you call, I think it goes to a recorded message. NOW IF YOU ARE ON SKYPE, LET’S SET A TIME TO PRACTICE BEFORE I’M OVERSEAS. Most of the nights between now and Christmas Eve are available except Saturday, but we need to agree on a time to both be online for it to work.

Chao! Hasta pronto on Skype!

Two Weeks from Today!

Yep, two weeks from today I fly to Costa Rica and spend my first night as a new resident! After going to a small church Christmas Eve Service. It doesn’t photograph like the Catholic Church on the Plaza which I hope to go pray in at times. Here’s two shots of it with part of our tour group crowding around.

4 Weeks Minus 1 Day

Baird’s Trogon, Osa Peninsula, by Charlie

I’m scheduled to leave in 4 weeks from yesterday. So 4 weeks from today I will wake up on Christmas morning in Atenas, Costa Rica. And I seem to be getting busier or finding more that has to be done. But tomorrow is turkey with friends at McKendree.

Just got two text messages about two different items listed on Craigslist tonight. One item at a time is going!

Three Steps Forward, One Step Back

Bikes Rule! Shot leaving San Jose in August. I will get a bike but not a car at first.

That title means that most everything is moving along pretty much on schedule with more good things happening in the last few days. I sold another big ticket item and finished my last day in the Village Treasures Shop which is a relief. If you want to pray for something, pray that my dining room table and chairs will sell and the zebra desk for reasonable prices – both are expensive.

The one step back is that my Nashville Police Background Check was not accepted in Costa Rica without an Apostille, so I have to do that again and try harder for the Apostille which they didn’t seem to know about before. The same for the Social Security letter, but Jose said I can get that easily at the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica after I arrive. My first appointment with him is not until January 12, so I will have time. If you wonder what my rush for Residency is, it is because I want it as soon as possible so I can then get on their government health program which will be one of my biggest living cost savings in Costa Rica.

Another new wrinkle in my process comes from the moving company in Costa Rica that I will use for door to door service. Because I am downsizing so much, he now advises that I pack my stuff on pallets in the garage for  a forklift to come get and take in a truck to their warehouse in Tampa to save a lot of money on both storage and shipping. I hadn’t planned on that, but it seems to be the best way for me if I can do it in the next 4 weeks. I had thought I would use the neighborhood storage place, but it will cost twice what the other will cost and then the shipping would cost more because it wouldn’t be on pallets. So we will see!

As of tonight I have more than half of my address changes or cancellations made, so that is good progress this early. But I will wait at least another week to post addresses here. I don’t want mail piling up for me before I get there. Said as if I think anyone will write!   🙂

I heard from Mark and Kim again tonight, the couple I traveled with in August who live in Hacienda La Jacaranda where I’m moving. They will be moving to Panama in January (to try it out also) and have a printer for sale that I will probably get to start with. Well – that’s enough to report tonight! Hasta pronto!

Another Big Step Today

I sold my office furniture, entertainment center and TV today and it was all hauled off in a moving truck. The house is becoming more spacious and life is simpler, except that my internet-only connection with Comcast is not working effectively like it did when I had both TV & Internet – so I have to wait until Monday for a technician to come out. It gives me email, google, and my blogs (all on Google) but no other website. Strange! Tomorrow I pick up my new Asus Mega Laptop (G751) which replaces my desktop that I’ll be selling soon. The transformation to my simpler life in Costa Rica is happening daily and letting go of all that furniture today was another big step. 

ARCR Moving Checklist

That will be me in a few months!  🙂
A Biker I photographed near Puntarenas in 2011

I’ve been a member of Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR) since before the summer trip and it is the organization that conducted the seminar as part of the tour and provided me with an attorney who is helping me work through the Residency Application process.

They have helped in other ways and as part of the new member packet, I received a MOVING CHECKLIST FOR COSTA RICA that lists everything that must be done starting at 4-6 months before moving, then 3-4 months, 2 months, 1 month, 2 weeks, 1 week, and 1 day, plus a list for “After Arrival.” I have copied the activities related to me on my own countdown list with the specific dates counting up to December 24, so I will be ready. It gives me more confidence and peace of mind as I check off the things to be done, including my own personal needs. It is too long to place here, but I encourage anyone considering a move to Costa Rica to immediately join the ARCR and pay attention to their great checklist!