The real cost of living in Cuenca: We ask our friend Bob, ‘How low can you go?’

May 16, 2016 | 46 comments

By Liam Higgins

You almost never hear someone ask, “Hey, what does it cost to live in the USA?”

Bob at the office.

Bob at the office.

People understand that there are variables. Are you talking about living in lower Manhattan or Arkansas? In a penthouse or house trailer? In a suburban neighborhood in Coral Gables or Paris, Texas? Will you pay monthly dues to the local Elks lodge or to the yacht club?

Well, it depends.

Funny, though, that asking about the cost of living in Cuenca, or anywhere in Ecuador for that matter, seems to be perfectly logical among expats and expat-wannabes, even though the same variables apply as in the U.S.

To explore the topic, I consulted an expert last week. I found Bob (his real name) where I expected to, in one of his favorite watering holes. His favorite watering holes, by the way, are those that offer the best (the strongest) happy hour specials. Bob is not only an expert on cost of living but many other expat topics as well.

“Yes, it’s a bullshit question,” Bob says, agreeing with my point about the variables. “Usually, what people mean when they ask about the cost of living is how cheap can I live there and even then it’s a bullshit question because the answer depends on your creature comfort requirements.

Bob orders another round.

Bob orders another round.

“But no matter, you hear the question all the time at parties and on those stupid expat forums and Facebook pages where people ask for the millionth time how long they can stay in Ecuador on their T3 visa and can they bring their pet lizard with them. I’m blown away by how lazy people are who want to live here. Instead of doing a little research, they ask other stupid people who have nothing better to do than sit on their fat butts in front of a computer monitor all day. No wonder they get wrong answers.”

“But anyway,” Bob continues, taking a tug on his whisky, “Like I say, what they really want to know is how cheap it is here.

“Ok, I’ll tell you my budget and it’s definitely low-end and I don’t recommend it. My ex back in Texas (he hums a few bars of a country song) gets most of my money and I have to scrap by on the rest.

“I live on $775 a month. I know this because I worked it out on the back of a bar napkin last week and taped it to the refrigerator in my apartment, which, incidentally, I pay $250 a month for.

“I spend $25 for gas, electric and water, $35 for Internet — so I can sit on my lazy butt and read the forums — $30 for taxis and buses, $200 for food, which includes eating out for almuerzos and some bar food. I belong to the IESS health program which sets me back $72, although that may have gone down a little the last month or two — I need to update my napkin.

“Then, I have an incidental budget for non-regular costs like taking care of my teeth, visiting a lady in Vilcabamba, donating to the earthquake folks, other stuff like that. And there’s a couple things I’m forgetting. And then there’s my bar tab.

“Pretty basic, but it’s fine for me.

“On the other end of the spectrum, there’s my friend Tony from New Jersey who lives large in Challuabamba and has a nice car, a big  house, a heated swimming pool, and a Colombian girl friend — she’s heated too. I can’t give you the breakdown but he spends about $4,000 a month.

“I don’t see as much of Tony as I used to. A couple of the bars I frequent stopped carrying Grey Goose so he had to move on. You can probably find him at Mansion Alcazar or Santa Lucia.”

Bob adds: “But there is actually a kind of bottom line formula that might be helpful for some folks. A couple months ago I figured out that the cost of living here runs about 40% or 45% what it does in Fort Lauderdale, where I used to live. I did a lot of real life comparisons on my last trip up there, basics to basics, apples to apples.

“I did that on another napkin that I’ve temporarily misplaced. I’ll drop you a line when I find it.”

 

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