Saturday, September 8, 2012

Low Income Budget

[Update follows the full post]
I just got a comment on one of my posts saying that she had heard I did a blog post about living on $800 a month.  I didn't actually write that one (at least I don't remember it and I haven't put together a spreadsheet with my topics on it--yet--I may have to do that).

So, just a quick post to give you an idea of how little you can live on in Cotacachi.  This is based on one person.  The math on that is easy.

Rent for a 2 bedroom apartment (based on unfurnished and an original outlay of about $2000): $150
Utilities (generous): $10
Cable and Internet: $65
Fresh produce (lots of it): $40
Groceries: $90
Eating out (twice a week at approximately $5 per meal): $40
Miscellaneous entertainment (little trips, bus fare, incidental purchases): $50
Medical (this is assuming you don't choose to purchase insurance): $25
Laundry: $30
Total: $500

This is a very frugal budget.  Now, add on for little splurges with your groceries because things that are more processed are more expensive than in the States. You will probably want insurance and that can run between $65 and $120 (I don't have it so that's based on what I've heard).  You may want to have a very nice dinner out or add adult beverages to your meals out or at home.  It's pretty impossible for me to estimate prescriptions and you, of course, won't know what they will cost until you have a chance to check out the prices.  Chances are you'll want to spend more than $50 per month on other entertainment.  To give you an idea of what you might want to think about for that, I can take a bus with a group of people and someone to show me around various places in Quito for $25.  Add on to that for what you might spend there on things you wouldn't normally buy and you can count on your $50 going right there and that's low depending on what you might purchase.

This budget doesn't include clothing, electronics, replacement costs for household goods, books for your Kindle, etc.  Think about what you spend now and take a look at whether or not you might want to pay for that in Cotacachi.

It also doesn't include a car.  Bus transportation is so low I included it in the entertainment category.  It's $.25 to Otavalo, $.45 to Ibarra, and $2.00 to Quito (from Ibarra).  A taxi just about anywhere in Cotacachi is $1, $5 to Otavalo, and $10 (or $11--I forget) to Ibarra.  Owning a car here is expensive, potentially dangerous, and there are very few places you might want to go that would cost enough to warrant having one unless your circumstances are unusual.  When I decide to get a lot of heavy staples at the store (soft drinks, toilet paper, a gallon of yogurt, etc.) and really don't want to lug it all home myself, I walk there and take a taxi home.  If I'm having trouble with my back, the driver will carry it into my house for another dollar--a total of $2.

You can get an apartment for less than that if you're patient and are willing to live a little less comfortably.  You can get a larger place for proportionately less.  I just saw a notice for a remodeled 4-bedroom, 2-bath unfurnished apartment for $300 with an English-speaking landlord.

A few more notes--"unfurnished" means no appliances.  If you rent a furnished apartment it will include everything right down to the silverware in most instances.  You can count on paying anywhere between $250 and $600 for a nice place, with the higher end being in gated communities catering to expats. You can eat out at a local place for anywhere from $1.75 to $4 for the daily special.  Most of the places catering to expats will have many menu items around $4 to $5.  One restaurant I know of that is a medium-to-upper end local restaurant has a shrimp dish for $8.  A haircut can be had for $3 or $4.  Most personal care services have the same kind of proportionate costs.  I can get a massage therapist to come to my home for a one-hour massage for $20.

If you have more questions, please let me know.  I'm happy to help.

[Updated September 9]
Wow!  I got lots of feedback on this post and I realized it was less thought-out than some of my other ones so I'm going to respond to those questions and observations here rather than just in the comments section (for new readers who don't check the comments)

First of all, finding that low cost apartment isn't a piece of cake.  I saw one about a month ago for $90 and was seriously tempted to rent it!  That's when I did the research on what it would cost me to outfit it--more on that in a bit.  Fortunately, someone else got to it first so I didn't have to decide whether or not I really wanted to rent it.  I've since seen the apartment and will, in fact, be pet sitting there, and here's a description of it so you can get a feel for what that very rare opportunity offered.  On the second floor there are two very small rooms, one intended as a bedroom and one as the living room.  I would have preferred it be one larger room that would make it a studio than the two tiny rooms.  There was also a very small bathroom with a sort of reasonably sized shower stall with a suicide shower (if you're interested in what that is, I found two links about what they are here and again here). There is a terrace out behind there that is very rare in low-cost apartments and even more rare is the fact that the owner put in a sun room back there.  It's quite nice and I would have used that as my living room.  Again, I've never even heard of anything like that in a rental, let alone an inexpensive one.  Then it's up the stairs to the third floor for a small kitchen that has no hot water.  You have to heat water to do dishes.  It is really a very nice kitchen and has more cupboard space than I currently have but way less counter space.  Of course it has no stove or refrigerator and the new tenant purchased the little dorm fridge the previous renter had and got a regular stove/oven for it.  I'm guessing it is less than the 400 square feet I currently have in my apartment.  I also heard of one available for $120 that is on a very busy street (second floor, above a couple of shops) but I haven't seen that one and have no idea how large it is.  Of course it's unfurnished.  As I said, these apartments aren't easy to find and they lack some of the niceties we expats enjoy.

Oh my, I really did say it would cost $2000 to outfit an unfurnished apartment didn't I?  That was not even close to accurate.  It costs approximately $1000 (or more, depending on what you want) for a stove and refrigerator.  I was thinking about the costs I was looking at for myself and I was willing to start small and spare for my place.  I also brought my pots and pans with me and have added some of my own kitchen gear to what is already in my apartment.  I would have had to get very few things for there.  I was also figuring on a day bed to cover both my bed and couch needs.  I already own a plastic table and I would have purchased a few plastic chairs to go with it.  There were other incidentals like a propane tank for the stove, sheets and pillows for the bed, etc., but that would have been the extent of the furniture to get started.  That was actually about $500 or so but an additional $500 isn't going to get you anywhere near what you would want for a "regular" apartment setup.  Oh, it also didn't include a television set because I really don't watch TV and I can get it on my computer if I really want to see something.

What does it cost to get a furnished apartment?  My 400 square foot studio is $350 a month, totally furnished, including a lovely flat screen TV cable, internet, and all utilities. (Photos of my apartment)  I pay one bill per month and that's to the owner.  People tell me I'm paying way too much and that they have a lovely 2-bedroom apartment in a gated community for $500 a month.  That's very true.  I don't have $500 in my budget for an apartment and I certainly don't need two bedrooms.  I suspect I could get something for less than this that has most of the ammenities I have but that's "most," not "all."  I have a huge back yard I can enjoy when I want, I'm on the first floor but in an apartment at the back of the building so I don't have a window facing the street.  The building is less than a year old.  The owner of the building lives a block away and is extremely responsive to my requests for repairs, etc., I can catch the bus across the street from me and get off in front of my apartment.  I'm right in town and love the location, just a block from the park where just about everything happens and less than a block from a taxi stand if I should need one.  So, you see, it's worth it to me to have all of that.  I've heard the average cost for renting a 2-bedroom condo at Primavera is $600 a month and those are lovely units.  It's one of the places I pet sit regularly and I adore it there.  It has lovely shared garden areas and extremely good services as well.

I think that covers the questions and comments I've heard.  Thank you all for your feedback.  Let me know if there's more and I'll update once again.


  1. Thank you Cynthia, most valuable information as most everybody are hoping to meet a frugal budget.

    Just two questions: 1)Is it possible to find that apartment within a fairly short distance to downtown Cotacachi (like 15 minutes brisk walking distance)?
    2) I suppose "an original outlay of about $2000" in reference to the unfurnished apartment refers to furniture purchases?
    Thank you!

  2. My experience, having periodically lived in Cotacachi for several months in the past few years, is that two bedroom apartments for $150 monthly are difficult to find, unfurnished, and less than conveniently located. To adequately furnish an apartment with appliances, furniture and household amenities would cost considerably more than $ 2000.
    Sorry Cynthia, I disagree with your projected expenditures.

  3. Chocolate Lily,
    Can you elaborate on your two points, please?:
    1) If not $150, what is the next rate up?
    2) Furnishing apartment, how much over $2000?
    What about a ONE bedroom apartment?
    Thank you,

    1. Oops, forgot to address this in the update. I don't see many one bedroom apartments available but I'm thinking they are going to be in the general range I've talked about.

  4. I've updated the original post to include the very obvious deficiencies in the original. Thanks so much for all your feedback and questions.

  5. Edward,
    1) Rates are variable, and Cynthia's estimates between $150 and $600 are accurate. Lower end apartments are uncommonly available, and one should not go to Cotacachi expecting to find one for $150, although one might if fortunate or if one waits around. It is easier to find accommodation (furnished apartments or unfurnished houses) between $300 and $600. During my last visit, the lowest priced unfurnished apartment I discovered was $150 but it did not become available for several months. The least expensive furnished apartment I found was $250 several blocks from the central area,small but adequate, in the lower level of a house. It included only basics (e.g no cooking utensils), and excluded TV and internet services.

    2) Furniture, large appliances, electronics, household furnishings (stainless pots and pans, towels, bedding, small appliances, etc.) are similarly priced to North America. It is possible to have some furniture handmade, and in this case, costs are often lower than 'store-bought' pieces. I doubt if one could furnish a kitchen OR a LR/DR for under $2000. Of course, this depends upon what one wants and the quality of such.
    Hope this helps,

  6. Sheila,
    Are you familiar with lower end furnished apartment rates in the surrounding cities: Quiroga, Atuntaqui, Otavalo and Ibarra? After all, one could spend a few months in any of those cities until a bargain jumps up in Cotacachi.

  7. No, Edward, sorry, I cannot help with that. Sheila

  8. Hi Cynthia, etc.,
    This is good information for us (including some of the replies) as we will be brand new to Cotacachi when we come in January. I think initially at least we are going to want a 1 bedroom although Barb feels we should look at 2 bedrooms for the extra space. Furnished is necessary for us since we'll not have the experience in shopping around to furnish an unfurnished apartment initially. Internet access is a definite must since we both have 1 parent, elderly, and our 2 children and grandchildren and some friends we want to keep in touch with back in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota via Skype and Magic Jack plus. I am thinking about starting to put feelers out later this week or early next with Jack Moss's e-mail circular, the Cotacachi characters website, etc. The area you describe sounds almost exactly like an area we'd like to live in. We don't want to go the gated expat route, not only for budget reasons but because we want the contact with the locals, participate and observe such things as the upcoming Jora festival, etc. Since we decided to not do an initial visit we'll have to beg, borrow and steal to get helpful input from whatever sources we can find.

    I think initially we'll want a furnished apartment for at least 3 months. This will give us a chance to get acclimated, see if there's that right "fit" for us in the community, etc. A big part of our budget (allowable) is whether or not we can sell at least 1 of our 2 properties here in Wisconsin. So in a somewhat long post I think I've pretty well described our situation. Other than a few days in Quito to meet with our Attorney, etc. we'd like to be in Cotacachi within that first or early 2nd week of January and would obviously be prepared to pay rent for the full month of January.

    So any leads will be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks, Barb and Ken (private e-mail: (Ken) or (Barb)

    1. It's an excellent idea to do a short term rental at first. I'll keep my eyes open for something that might be good for you. As you say, putting something out to Jack's list may be helpful as well. With over 300 people receiving his emails, someone may well have the perfect rental for you.

  9. Cynthia, thanks so much for responding to my question!