2013 cost of living survey for Cuenca expats

Sep 24, 2014 | 1 comment

By Deke Castleman

This survey, conducted in January 2013, received 282 responses: 240 from Cuenca and 42 from miscellaneous places around the country (Vilcabamba, the coast, Quito, Loja, Cotacachi/Otavalo, etc.).

Just over 200 respondents rented (73%); the rest (27%) owned.

Just under half of the renters paid $300-$499 per month. Another 15% shelled out $500-$599; 8% paid $600-$699, 13% $700-$999, 7%, 3% $1,000 and up. At the other extreme, 12% said they ponied up less than $299 a month for rent.

Of property owners, 35% paid no building or neighborhood fees, while another 24% paid up to $75 per month; 12% shelled out $76-$99, the largest percentage at 18% paid $100-$149, and 10% paid $150 or more.

Utilities (electricity, gas, water, and landline) for the vast majority, 76%, cost $50-$74. Another 20% paid $75-$149, the rest $150 and up.

For Internet, 6% of respondents got away for less than $20, while 60% paid between $20 and $49, and 25% shelled out $50-$74.

Not quite half of the respondents (41%) paid more than $50 per month for cable/satellite TV. Another 33% spent $30-$49 and 26% paid $10-$29.

For cell phones, fully 67% of respondents spent between $10 and $29 per month. Another 15% paid $30-$49, while 6% went $50-$74 and 9% didn’t own cell phones.

For food and groceries, just under 50% of respondents said they spent between $50 and $99 per week. Another 25%) spent more, while not quite 14% shelled out $20-$39 and 3% seemed to barely eat anything at $10-$19.

The following question, on dining out, also surveyed expenses per week: 28% spent $19 or less, 45% $20-$49, and 27% more than $50 per week at restaurants and bars.

Transportation expenses were generally low. Per month, nearly 72% claimed less than $50; 28% spent $50 and up (either by always taking taxis or owning their own cars).

Speaking of which, 20% of total respondents owned their own cars. Half said they paid between $50 and $99 per month on gas, repairs, insurance.

The question, “What else do you spend money on and how much per month?” received 156 comments, which included, but weren’t limited to (in a rough expense order):

  • high school and college students close to $4,000 per semester
    • mortgages $1,500
    • visa application $750
    • school 2 children $600
    • travel $100/$5,000
    • medication $75-$100/$120/$300-$400/$160/$60
    • health insurance $100/$71/$58/$330/$210/$110
    • medical $100/$75/$40/$200/$110/$80
    • farm caretaker $450; worker Social Security $59
    • acupuncture $300
    • alcohol $200/$150/$75/$60/$250
    • church $150
    • homeowners insurance $120
    • salon $120
    • clothing, shoes $100
    • entertaining $100
    • music classes $90
    • Spanish lessons $75/$32/$28/$85
    • elementary school $70
    • sponsor school children $70/$45/$25
    • e-books and New York Times (Internet) $80
    • veterinarian/grooming $60/$20/$50
    • pet food $20/$30/$100/$40
    • art lessons $75
    • horseback riding $60
    • entertainment $50/$25
    • gym $50/$20
    • dance lessons $45
    • art $25/$50/$75
    • Club Correos $40
    • cooking classes $40
    • yoga $30
    • movies $20
    • laundry/dry cleaning $15/$20/$10/$30
    • DVDs $10/$20
    • alarm system $15
    • cigarettes $3.20 per pack
    • flowers $4/$18/$50-$60

To summarize:

  • almost 90% of renters paid between $100 and $699 per month.
    • 72% of property owners who shelled out fees paid up to $99 a month.
    • 76% of respondents paid $50-$74 per month for utilities.
    • 91% sent no more than $74 for Internet, with most paid between $20 and $49.
    • 59% paid $49 or less for cable/satellite TV, though fully 41% paid more.
    • Of 235 cell-phone owners, exactly 3 out of 4 shelled out $10-$29 per month.
    • 67% paid up to $99 a week in groceries, while 73% spent up to $49 per week dining out.
    • 72% spent less than $50 per month on transportation.
    • Of car owners, 70% paid less than $100 a month.

Taking a rough pass over all the numbers, it looked to us like an average couple that rented ($500 + $60 utilities), had fast Internet ($50), cable ($50), and cell phones ($30), and didn’t own a car, spent in the neighborhood of $1,100 per month for these basics in early 2013. Note that it’s somewhat higher today, nearly two years later (see below for more on that).

Which brought us to the question, “How much do you spend every month?” which received 208 responses.

Some people provided a range ($1,200-$1,500, for example), which we averaged.

There were also a few extreme highs ($7,000 including tuition for several high school and college attendees; two $5,000, one $4,500) and lows ($200, $300, $350), but we figured they washed.

Sixteen didn’t provide a number, writing things like, “I try not to look,” “I never add it up,” and “Still too much.” So that lowered the total to 192.

Adding it all up and dividing by 192 (with a slight margin for cross-eyed errors), the average came to $1,198. Pretty close to our $1,100, plus $100 in miscellaneous expenses as cited above.

The last general-comments question attracted 74 responses.

A number of respondents took us to task for fatal flaws in the survey methodology (no accommodation for size of household; week-month differentials; some people own and don’t include rent in the calculations, etc.). We pled guilty as charged. We didn’t pretend our surveys were scientific, though they were certainly instructive.

A few people admitted spending way too much on alcohol.

A few planned to move from the expensive city to the cheaper campo.

More than a few railed against the consistently low cost of living promoted by the Internet hypesters.

Here are just a few representative responses.

“Don’t move here to save money. Move to Mexico if money is your concern.”

“Cuenca is beautiful. But it’s not so cheap.”

“Our costs for obtaining visa and cédula are much higher than we expected. To date, we have spent $4,500 and we don’t have the cédula yet.”

“All the reports of Cuenca’s costs are consistently too low, resulting in many expats coming here briefly, then leaving after a few months. Thanks for trying to stop this heart-breaking misinformation!”

A follow-up question in September 2014 elicited responses about how much the cost of living had increased since the survey was conducted 21 months earlier.

The cost of living has risen substantially over the last 20 months, and is anticipated to continue rising. The reputation that Ecuador has of being inexpensive will slowly vanish as inflation rises.”

“Not only have prices substantially increased in 20 months, price have almost doubled in the four years that i have lived in Ecuador. Thanks for the survey. Maybe people who are moving to Ecuador because they have read that it is so inexpensive, will understand that it is no longer cheaper to live here than other places.”

“I have seen many costs rise in Cotacachi during the last 1.5 years. Rent is the fastest change. When rentals change hands these days, the rent is usually increased from $50 to $100/month each time. One example is a $500/month apartment/condo has risen to $800/month. In this case a North American purchased it and has turned it into a vacation rental. Gringo-owned restaurants have also increased their prices.”

Finally, no survey and set of comments on cost of living in Cuenca and Ecuador could be complete without a little back and forth over the (alleged) effect that expats have on prices.

“As long as gringos compare every price to the U.S. and do not bargain, I’m afraid they drive up the price for everybody and basically trash the place as they have trashed many real cool places on this earth by wanting to transform every place into America with high-priced dishes and luxury living in gringoland or gated communities.”

Which elicited the following responses.

“I am so fed up with unsubstantiated claims (gringo urban myths) that 4,000 gringos supposedly drive up prices for everybody in a city of 500,000. How does this make economic sense? Somebody explain this to me with facts …”

“I’m not sure how much prices have risen here in Cuenca in the 2-1/2 years I’ve been here. But it seems to me that blaming whatever prices have increased on the influx of expats is to demonstrate a profound lack of knowledge about economics. The largest estimate I have heard for expats in Cuenca is 5,000. The true number is probably closer to 2000. To think that 2,000 or even 5,000 people can have a major impact on inflation in a city of 530,000 is just wrong. The inflation, if any, is more the result of Correa’s economic stimulus and the prosperity that our city and Ecuador in general have enjoyed over the last seven years.”

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