Sunday, July 8, 2012

Simple living

I was looking for my keys the other day and realized it's no wonder they're easily lost, since all that's on the chain is one house key, a small key for our travel Pac Safe and a tiny flashlight. That kind of minimalism characterizes our lives down here, and it's quite a change from what we used to think of as frugal simplicity in our former lives as "high class trailer trash" in New Mexico.

We're in a comfortable but certainly not luxurious two bedroom apartment, and though we've had to buy kitchen stuff, a coffee table, TV and DVD player and such, the big basic items (applicances, bed, dressers, etc.) are provided. Rent is $500 a month and that includes electricity and (non potable) water. Gas (propane) runs around $20 a month at the moment, though that's sure to double or triple in winter. The TV, internet and phone service bundle from Telecable costs us 499 pesos (about $38) a month. Botttled water for drinking runs about $14 a month.

Missing from these fixed expenses are a bunch of items we took for granted back home: all things car related (plates, insurance, gas & maintenance), homeowner's insurance and umbrella policy, high-deductible health insurance policy, property taxes, sewer and water bill, trash bill, Netflix, on and on.

Food and meal preparation have also gotten very simple. In isolated Silver City NM I maintained a large pantry with staples bought on infrequent trips to Costco and Trader Joe's in Tucson (3.5 hours away), plus a freezer full of grass fed beef and green chile. Here we have a small fridge that's more than adequate for our needs, since we can buy just-picked fruit and veggies as needed year 'round.

We usually eat breakfast and a light dinner (e.g. soup and salad, or quesadillas & nopales) in and have our main meal, comida, out. That's probably the biggest change from home, where even the cheapest restaurant meals were a strain on the budget.  Here, in contrast, is yesterday's comida, eaten at a great little restaurant two blocks from here:

 Chicken in mole negro with rice, beans and handmade tortillas

Erin's platillo: shredded beef in chipotle chile sauce

Total cost for this meal (including a drink, tax and tip): 90 pesos, or about $6.75. 

Lest I come off as an unabashed (or uncritical) Mexico booster, let me say that there are many, many things we miss about the U.S., and we're by no means sure that living here will be viable for us long-term. We never wanted to be full-time expats, and the nearly three months we've spent here (which feel like six or nine months, given the stressors) haven't changed our minds.

We're here primarily for economic reasons, and I think you can see from this post how much easier it is to live on a Social Security level income here than in even the cheaper parts of the U.S. Interestingly the few folks we know who do manage to live with a similar level of joyful frugality back home do so by living in a sort of informal cohousing that I believe was common before the post-WWII consumption boom. These are people who live in the same mobile home park or apartment complex who share vehicles, Costco memberships, shopping runs and major applicances. When and if we do return to the U.S., we'll be looking for that kind of community to join. 


Stan said...

I keep coming back to the ad-hoc cohousing concept as well. I've checked out the full-blown cohousing developments (two big ones here in Fort Collins), and find them more kid-centric, somewhat expensive, and I'm a little put off by some of the formal consensus-based mechanisms. Two ideas come to mind for me - buying a court-style small apartment development and turning it into condos with some provisions for co-housing style resource sharing (tools, gardens, maybe chickens), and maybe buy up a whole trailer court and make it condo-style ownership instead of space renting. Allow tiny homes instead of/in addition to mobiles.
Much of the appeal of cohousing for me is it restores a semblance of the extended family social (and material) support infrastructure that has been lost to recent generations. Then there was the big commune-style house full of counterculture folks I admired so much when I was in high school...

peggy markel said...

I have always admired your ability to keep looking for the right recipe for living. That not only includes a good town, but the quality of lifestyle and food available to soothe ones palate and spirit. It's easier to find outside of this country where there are cultures that have historically gathered and shared gardens and farming to feed larger families. Fast, cheap food was/is not an option. If so, it was street food and one could always find a loaf of good bread for cheap.

It's here in Boulder where we have a community and like-minded friends that I find challenging. Goods are available, organics are plentiful, but the cost of living is prohibitive. I haven't quite figured it out myself either, especially since I am here only part of the year. A new revolution solution is needed.

Victoria Woods said...

I love your posts. BUT, I'm a little confused. A few posts ago you extolled the virtues of San Miguel, including the possibility of community with like minded souls. I was enchanted.

Now, however, you state that you are in San Miguel for financial reasons only. Oh dear. What happened?

Selfishly, I hope that you and your wife will find contentment and will continue to live in San Miguel (and will be there if/when I come, hopefully a year or two from now).

My best to you. Victoria.

Kevin Knox said...

Hi Victoria,

I said "primarily" economic reasons, but not "only."

One of the things we're seeing as we get to know the expat scene here a bit better is that there are a ton of folks who come and go between San Miguel and second (or primary) homes elsewhere, and those "other" homes are often really nice houses in places like Boulder, Manhattan, Santa Fe, Paris, Barcelona, Toronto - you get the idea. On the other hand, we also have met and continue to meet people more like ourselves who are in search of community and some cultural amenities but need to live on a budget that would be challenging to make work in even the cheapest (and most culturally limited) small towns back home.

It's all part of the learning curve and we still love it here!