LIVING IN MEXICO: SOME DIFFERENCES IN COSTS
I read in a magazine this morning that many people are not going to receive enough from their 401K account to retire comfortably. Social security faces solvency problems down the road. It started me thinking about how much cheaper it is to live in México. It’s not the first time I’ve had that thought.
We’ve lived here in San Miguel de Allende for about five years. We did not move here because it was cheaper, but we were aware of some of the differences. Coming from Minnesota, one of our concerns was the climate. This town is on the same latitude as Havana, but at 6400’ elevation, it has a climate that’s moderate all year round. On those rare times when the temperature does touch 100º, we usually have about 8% humidity, so it doesn’t seem oppressive. Our heating costs are almost non-existent because we have southwest exposure and great passive solar––an important consideration when buying or renting a house here. When it gets too warm, we simply pull some of the drapes. We don’t have central heating or air conditioning, but we do have three ceiling fans and several gas units in the fireplaces.
Our house is 4,000 square feet. In Minnesota, our house was 5,000 square feet. Our property taxes when we left there in 2007 were $8,300 a year. The property tax this year on our México house is $296.
Our average monthly cost for utilities is about $135. This includes gas for cooking, heat, hot water, and laundry; cable TV with many premium channels, Internet, electric, water, and sewer. In addition, we have a water purification system throughout the house that costs about $400 a year to maintain. This is about what we would otherwise spend on bottled water, but now we drink the water from any tap.
One of our biggest expenses is our grocery bill. We buy a lot of imported food, which is expensive. We could live much more cheaply by staying with Mexican products. Gasoline here is a government monopoly, and is currently priced lower than in the US. Because we can walk many places here––the town has a population of 75,000––we have only put 21,000 miles on our car in more than 4 ½ years. That includes a number of road trips.
Sending things to the US or bringing them down here is costly and time-consuming. It is one of those things I consider to be part of the unavoidable cost of living in a different country. I don’t know of any good way around it.
When I wrote my book about the expatriate experience (San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart). I intentionally didn’t mention any of these things. For one thing, that book is not a how-to book, but rather it’s a description of how and why people came to leave the US and live here. It is about the process of settling in, getting connected, and becoming an expatriate. It zeros in on the psychological and emotional aspects that such a change brings. Furthermore, it’s not about me or my experiences, because when I started writing it, I’d only been here less than a year.
San Miguel is known as one of the more expensive places in México. Prices are often driven by the presence of so many Americans and Canadians in the market: about 10,000 here full time. There are a few expatriates trying to live on social security here, and while it’s marginally possible, I don’t recommend it. On the other hand, it’s still much cheaper than living in the US.
A less obvious element of this picture is that México is not the consumer society that the US is. In a fundamental way, the values are different. There is far less pressure to be up to the minute in fashion or any other way. The town will celebrate its 500th birthday in three decades, and it looks like it. There’s no effort to be cutting edge. If you took the cars off the streets, it would look like it was 1700. People here aren’t as driven to overload their credit cards. Simply put, living here is not about having more stuff. It’s about enjoying the slower pace, and a culture that feels more exotic than the US. It’s about having good friends and getting together with them. It’s about living in a climate you never have to dread.
Is it better? That’s not a call I care to make. It’s too individual. I know that for myself, I prefer living here, and each year it’s harder for me to visit the US. Here I’m not deluged by messages to buy things. The holidays are not commercialized like they are up north. The pace is easier. People who have recently arrived here often seem to be vibrating without realizing it. It takes them a while to unwind.
Does the easier pace make us lazy? I doubt it. I work harder than I ever have, but I’m not driven and I do what I love. I’ve written two books in the last five months.
Among the people I talked to when I was writing about the expatriate experience, about one in six had undergone what I call the ‘falling off the cliff’ experience. It usually happened the day before they were to return home from their visit to San Miguel. They awakened with the feeling that they absolutely could not return to their former lifestyle. It was over, and by whatever chaotic means were required, they would disconnect from it and return to San Miguel.
It’s that kind of place.
Please visit Johnn Scherber at San Miguel de Allende Books at this LINK