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How To Live Well On A Budget Overseas

31 Dec
How To Live Well On A Budget Overseas

Secrets To Living Large On A Budget Almost Anywhere

I’ve been living overseas so long that my wife tells me I don’t know what things cost in the “real world” anymore, especially, she assures me, as my current frame of reference is Panama. Certainly, our first 24 hours or so in New York City last week, I thought she must be right. I must have lost all touch with reality.

Then, the longer we were in New York, my thinking changed. I realized that, even here, one of the most expensive towns in the world, you can spend what you want to spend, within certain extremes.

Go into a shop in Midtown near Times Square and US$30 earphones are marked US$150, but they’ll sell them to you, at a special discount, for US$60. A bottle of water runs US$2.50. A slice of pizza is 4 bucks. But those are the tourist prices in the tourist shops. Walk a few blocks west, and you can find that same bottle of water for US$1.50 and a slice of pizza for US$1 (same size). Those earphones are marked for sale for US$30.

You can spend US$50 per person to eat lunch or US$10, depending where in the city you choose to stop, even within a range of a few blocks. You can take a taxi uptown for US$15 or the subway for US$2.50. Or you can walk, as we usually chose to do, for free.

The cost of living anywhere can vary tremendously, depending on how you spend your money. People who like “fancy” can spend a fortune in New York. Or they can spend half as much to eat in the best restaurants (also five star, also international standard) in Panama City or Medellin. Of course, Panama City and Medellin aren’t Manhattan. My point, though, is that you can enjoy a comparable lifestyle many places in the world, at wildly varying cost.

If you’re an electronic junkie, you’ll spend more on the latest gizmos in Panama than you could in the United States (although you don’t have to pay the tourist rip-off prices I was quoted around Times Square last week). Processed food junkies will spend more on Aunt Jemima in Panama than in Baltimore. The question is how much of your budget goes to those kinds of purchases.

Cost Of Living Opportunities

The opportunities you can find for better and less expensive living around the world work on what I’ve come to think of as an “averaging down” dynamic. Gas can cost twice as much in Paris as it does in the States but, living in Paris, you don’t need a car so what do you care about the cost of a gallon of gas? When we moved from Waterford, Ireland, to Paris, France, everyone thought we were crazy, that the increase in our cost of living would crush us.

In fact, our overall cost of living worked out to about the same. The big difference was the cost of housing. Our house in Ireland sold for what we paid for the apartment we then moved into in Paris, more or less. Of course, we went from 400 square meters on 6 acres to 120 square meters in a building in the middle of the city.

That trade-off meant many things, including lower heating bills. No car meant not only no monthly gas budget but also no insurance payments or car repair bills. Instead, we bought metro tickets. We spent about as much on groceries in Paris as we had been in Waterford, but we had more food options and, more important, more and better wine options.

All in all, our monthly expenses were the same…until you add in the extras. I’m thinking mostly about shopping. Waterford has few shops of interest, other than Rody’s Auction House, and you can buy only so much furniture even with a big house to fill. In Paris, on the other hand, you pass interesting shops and boutiques everywhere you turn. Avoid those, along with the tourist spots for food and drink, and you can live in this city without breaking the bank.

You just have to decide what it is in this world that matters to you most…then go find a place where you enjoy that way of life on the budget you’ve got to work with. The wine life in France or Argentina. The beach life from the Pacific coast of Nicaragua to Puerto Vallarta and on and on. Clean mountain living in Medellin or Cuenca or Boquete…

The adventure is out there waiting for you…and it will be more affordable than you imagine once you dig into the lifestyle.

Lief Simon