I spent the entire month of February 2006 in Costa Rica.

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I did almost all of my shopping at the feria (street markets) and one night, out of curiosity, I made a list of everything bought that day.

I’d spent 5,100 Colones for the following items – that’s about $10.00. Most of these things were organic, too. I don’t have the individual costs of these items, but next to the item I’m going to list the US price.

  • 1/2 kilo eggs – $3.49
  • 1 head red cabbage – $2.99
  • 2 eggplants – $4.50
  • 1 beet (HUGE) – $1.50
  • 1 head lettuce – $1.79
  • 4 sweet potatoes – $2.50
  • 3 tomatoes – $2.00 – tomatoes cost 150 colones a KILO in Costa Rica! Here in the USA, they are $2.49/lb.
  • 1 bunch of basil – $2.50
  • 4 mangos – $8.00
  • 1 big papaya – $5.00+
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley – $1.79
  • 6 bananas – $2.50
  • 2 large plaintains – $4.00
  • 4 carrots – $2.00
  • 2 heads broccoli – $3.50
  • 1 small watermelon – $5.99

That’s a total of $55+ and I may have underestimated the US cost by about 10%.

But for $10.00 I had all the fruit and vegetables I needed for two people for a whole week in Costa Rica.

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I also bought some fish and chicken and spent less than $6.00 for both. I buy raw milk at the pulperia and pay $.60 for a two liter bottle. From that I make a small amount of butter, yoghurt and kefir.

I buy raw, unpasteurized milk here in Colorado, but it costs me $3.50 for a half gallon — 5 times what I pay for the same amount in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, I buy my cheese from the local farmer and that costs about $3.00 for a huge chunk of melt-in-your-mouth
queso palmito.

I also buy a pound of fresh-made butter for less than $2.00. If I want fresh butter from the dairy from which I get my milk here in Colorado, it costs $10.00 per pound.

I figure that my total food costs in Costa Rica for two people for one week will be about $35.00.

One of the largest ferias in Costa Rica is in the town where I live, and I can buy almost everything I eat there. I buy no packaged food of any kind (not even here in the States), and I don’t use plastic bags or aluminum foil or air fresheners and the only things I buy in the supermercado are olive oil, wine and other condiments, and toilet paper, which is about $.15 a roll if you buy the bio-degradable brown stuff and not the high-end white Charmin!

I’ve read the packaging on foods sold in the supermercado and almost everything is laced with preservatives, dyes, and other assorted chemicals that I choose not to eat. Most bakery products are loaded with trans-fats, so if I want bread, I make it myself.

I realize that everyone has their own level of comfort for living in Costa Rica, but I’m figuring that we can easily live on $1,200 a month and that includes the maid and the gardener, and have money left over to save.

Our house is totally paid for. Property taxes are $78 a year; utilities run about $15.00 a month or less. I’m shipping as little as possible to Costa Rica and am allocating $8,000 to completely furnish the house.

I’m only shipping linens, artwork, cooking pottery, and fine china and crystal. Everything else can be bought or made in Costa Rica for a fraction of the cost of buying furniture here in Colorado so for me, it doesn’t pay to ship anything other than what I can’t replace.

I live the same way here as I do in Costa Rica – the only problem is it costs a FORTUNE to live that way here in Colorado! I personally wouldn’t spend $5.00 for blueberries when you can buy a kilo of moras for a buck or so, and they are just as high in antioxidants as blueberries for a fraction of the cost.

I think one of the keys to living cheaply in Costa Rica is to eat like the locals and not be buying Ding-Dongs or Ho-Hos or chips or any of that packaged stuff they charge an arm and a leg for at Perimercado.

In the end, you will be much healthier if you shop at the ferias and feast on the beautiful bounty that Costa Rica has to offer. It also puts you right in the middle of the culture by having to deal with the local merchants and farmers. For me, this is the essence of life in Costa Rica.”

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Written by Patricia Griffon.

Prior to becoming an expat in Costa Rica, Patricia Griffon had a successful career as a video/record producer in Los Angeles and New York.

After moving to Colorado in the early 90’s, she joined her husband’s restaurant staff as a pastry chef and when their last eatery was sold in 1997, she began investigating and writing about the pharmaceutical industry. “Blind Reason,” a novel of pharmaceutical intrigue was published in 2002. Ms. Griffon and her artist husband reside outside San Ramon where she plans to finish the sequel to her novel as well as writing an e-book about her adventures of building a house in Costa Rica. She’s a frequent contributor to several of the bulletin boards regarding life in Costa Rica.

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