Cost of Living at Lake Chapala, Mexico – October 2012

Many people are curious about the cost of our traveling lifestyle.

Obviously that varies dramatically from places to place, but here’s what we spent to live in the Ribera del Pilar neighborhood of the “Chapala Riviera” for the month of October 2012.

Groceries— $710

  • Ouch, that’s high! But we began the month with a bare pantry.
  • This number includes non-grocery items we bought at the grocery store like a juicer ($15), cleaning supplies, shampoo, sunscreen, trash bags, etc.
  • Our fridge stopped working, and about $28 worth of ribs we’d bought for a party spoiled and had to be tossed & the food replaced
  • I did too much shopping at WalMart (not cheap here) and Soriana (a big Mexican chain), because it was easier. I’ve already switched to the much cheaper local mercados and tianguis.
  • This total includes Mark’s beers!!!! 🙂

Entertainment — $25

  • A horseback ride for Scout — $8
  • Dinner and a movie for Scout (with friends) — $9
  • Pool day for Scout and me at a local hotel — $8

Meals Out — $163

  • Vendor food: Lots of street tacos and helados/nieves/paletas (ice creams, sorbets, popsicles)— $38
  • Dinner at a fancy place (steaks, wine, etc) for a friend’s birthday — $39
  • 5 take-away meals from our favorite chicken vendor — $35
  • 1 great lunch in Guadalajara — $23
  • 1 fairly good dinner at a casual restaurant on the Chapala malecón (but next time we’ll just get tacos) — $28

Rent + Gardener — $680

Car Expenses —$122

  • Mexican Auto insurance — $42
  • Petrol — $80

Medical Insurance — $165

  • International medical insurance, including evacuation coverage.

Propane — $67

  • The tank was bone dry when we arrived, so we had to fill it completely.
  • We used about 2/3 of the tank during the month for cooking and heating our water. I’m shocked how quickly we’ve gone through the gas. The boiler is really old and doesn’t seem very efficient.

Electricity — N/A

  • Still waiting for the bill to appear under the garage door

Phone & Internet — $155

  • Two pay-as-you go SIM cards for our cell phones
  • A long-distance phone card
  • A high-speed internet & TV package from Telecable

Education — $87

  • Spanish classes for Scout (four 1-hr lessons per week, 2 group and 2 semi-private)

Business Expenses — $193

  • Apple AirPort Extreme Modem from the Apple store in Guadalajara — $193

Miscellaneous — $135

  • Chicken wire to keep Archie out of the fancy hotel next door — $16
  • Clothing (t-shirt, shoes for me) — $30
  • Halloween decorations. — $35 (This kind of holiday crap is much more expensive than at home. Walmart stocks TONS of it and it’s not cheap, but the kid roped me into a few things for a party. Sucka!!!!)
  • Scout’s allowance — $6/wk
  • Other stuff I can’t identify —$40
Rent $680
Auto Insurance $42
Medical Insurance $165
Electricity $000
Gas $67
Phone & Internet $155
Groceries $711
Meals & Entertainment $189
Auto (Petrol and Maintenance) $80
Medical $0
Education $87
Housekeeping $0
Business Expense $193
Miscellaneous $135
TOTAL $2,357


So for our first month here in Mexico we spent $2,357.

Next month we won’t have the airport expense and hopefully we’ll be able to reduce what we spend on groceries & restaurant meals. I’d love it if we could spend under $2000. But all and all it’s not too bad, and we’re happy here. A good first month.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Clelie November 10, 2012 at 10:37 am

That sounds pretty good to me. Well done, you four. Is this about the same as it was on the road last year once you move all the rent/gardener into gas?


2 Renee November 10, 2012 at 10:41 am

Great question. We’ve been meaning to put together a total cost breakdown for Europe/Turkey, and once we do, I’ll be able to answer that question. Food in Europe was definitely more expensive…


3 Tom Medsger November 10, 2012 at 11:23 am

Hi Renee, Mark and Scout, buenos dias,

Very good and thorough accounting here! It makes me want to do something similar to see just how much I actually spend in retirement here in Los Angeles. Last time I attempted to figure all that out was in 2007, when my financial advisor asked me for a comprehensive report. I enjoy your colorful online entries a lot, and I really hope we can get together in Querétaro in February, on either the 16th or 17th.
¡Hasta luego! –Tom


4 Mark November 13, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Buenas Tardes, Tom!

I am surprised! I would have expected you to keep meticulous records. I enjoy the process and have used a number of different systems over the years. Quicken, Excel, most recently iBank. I find that what works in North America — when I am using credit cards a lot, is different when I am abroad and using cash all the time.

Somewhere I read that Thomas Jefferson never kept a journal or diary. But he DID keep very detailed business accounts daily. As a result, this was more revealing than most people’s diaries. This kind of accounting worked for us on our first trip to Thailand and we did the same for Europe, and now Mexico.

Still hoping to drive over to see you in February — depending on how business is going. I would like to meet you there very much.


5 Mo' Money Mo' Houses November 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Wow that’s amazing for a whole family! 🙂


6 Renee November 12, 2012 at 2:09 pm

It’s not bad. Certainly much less than we would have spent in Vancouver!
Renee recently posted..Cost of Living at Lake Chapala, Mexico – A Monthly BreakdownMy Profile


7 Rebeca November 10, 2012 at 8:10 pm

What do you use to track your expenses? I really need to get about 100 times better at this than I am. :>


8 Renee November 10, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Rebeca, we use a spreadsheet. That hardest part is just remembering to jot down the daily cash expenses. My husband is better than I am about it, though once we spent a few months in Thailand and I tracked every single baht in a small book I carried with me. I still have the book and get a kick out of looking through it…it’s better than a travel journal because it captured EVERYTHING we did. 🙂


9 Sara November 11, 2012 at 8:27 am

That would be what we paid in rent in Canberra, Australia for a cheap 3 bedroom home in a rather not so great suburb. Including Petrol for the car for the month.
That is NOT including food, utilities etc…

Tis why we opted for Malaysia.

Mind you, I could be tempted by Lake Chapala indeed!!


10 Renee November 11, 2012 at 11:44 am

Sara, yes! It’s often SO much less expensive to live abroad. And Malaysia…great choice for both cost-of-living and cuisine. I’d kill for a good fish-head curry about now. 🙂


11 Amy @worldschoolAdventures November 11, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Wow you guys are doing great! And for your first month there? Just wait until you figure everything out, then you will be able to live for even cheaper! We are spending way too much money here on Phuket but we are having lots of fun. Hopefully Chiang Mai will be kinder to our bank account.
Amy @worldschoolAdventures recently posted..The Snorkel Trip We Almost Didn’t DoMy Profile


12 Renee November 11, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Thx, Amy! You guys will definitely be able to bring it down in Chiang Mai, no question. And what the hell, it sounds like you’re having a blast in Phuket…a good first taste of travel for the boys.


13 Escaping Abroad December 11, 2012 at 4:53 am

I checked out the house you’re renting.. that’s an incredible place for such cheap rent! I was surprised the internet/phone are so high, that’s more than I pay for high-speed in the U.S.! I’ve been considering staying in Playa Del Carmen for a few months so this was a great read!


14 Renee December 11, 2012 at 9:55 am

Glad you liked it. The cost of the internet surprised us too, though we’re certainly grateful to have a speedy, reliable connection. Internet = income!


15 Mark December 12, 2012 at 9:15 pm

The cost of the internet connection here is approximately $65 USD per month. When we were in Vancouver, we paid $70 for a very fast connection. The speed here is pretty good. I haven’t had any complaints. Like Renee says: “internet = income!”


16 Brenda February 2, 2013 at 9:43 am

What kind of a home are you renting and in what area?

Can you advise if you need a vehicle?


17 Renee February 2, 2013 at 10:37 am

Brenda, we’re living in the Riberas del Pilar neighborhood (between Ajijic and Chapala). I described our house in this post:

Whether you need a vehicle or not depends on how you like to live. If you enjoy walking or biking, and don’t mind public transportation, then you’ll be fine here without a car. Also consider how much out-of-town exploring you like to do. We choose to have a car, but that’s mainly because of the dog. If we didn’t have Archie, I’d sell the car in a heartbeat, because it’s expensive (insurance, gas) and a pain in the butt (importing to Mexico, crossing borders, etc). Also I get much more exercise when we are care-free. It’s personal preference really.

Hope that helps.


18 Jim July 21, 2013 at 2:19 am

Wow, that is cheap medical insurance. The cheapest I could find in Oregon is at the Kaiser HMO which cost about $800/mo for a family of 3 and I thought that was a bargain.


19 Nanc September 26, 2013 at 11:33 am

We will be retiring in a couple of more years and thus are looking for a place to spend the “cold half” of the year. My husband loves to fish. how is the area for fishing, and how clean are the lakes?


20 Gary D. Burleson November 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Is there a way my wife and I can befriend you? we plan on staying in Mexico for two months in 2014 and moving to Mexico in 2015 and have some questions. thanks,



21 Renee November 1, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Hi, Gary. Moving to Mexico, how exciting. I just emailed you…


22 Brenda November 26, 2013 at 10:03 am

Hi there, we have some friends living in San Antonio. We are going to visit them this February to look for a year round rental beginning October 2014. We are also from Vancouver and retired and just find it way to expensive to live here and vacation etc… If you could advise how’s it going there and any other info, it would be greatly appreciated. Do you still find it expensive to eat there..are do you do the Costco thing…. I have the area lacked many things that we are use to eating. Thanks so much, Brenda


23 David Christian Newton November 15, 2013 at 10:30 am

We have a little place up against the Sierra Madre Oriental on the other side of the country. We operate it as a little one-room w/private bath bed and breakfast. nature reserve….and as our retirement place. It is all adobe, with a split tile roof, looking every bit the place that might have come from the early 1700’s. We built it ourselves, about 12 years ago.
You can review it fairly quickly on our home-made website that pretty well describes everything. With reference to our living expenses, without considering the care and feeding of guests…it winds up being about 900 USD/month – including water, gas, electricity, petrol, groceries, a nearly full-time mayordomo who does all small to medium upkeep and repairs. Although we have Medicare that is recognised here, we essentially self-insure from our own resources.
Our property is on about a two acre tract that fronts upon a spring-fed river with huge Montezuma (Bald-root) Cypress trees lining both sides of the river’s route from the very high mountains four kilometres to our west. Our general area has a 450 specie annualised bird count and numerous….perhaps 200 species of butterflies, including a main-secondary flyway for the Monarchs.

Your accounts and descriptions are fascinating, and provided considerable enjoyment to us here. I am writing at this time from McAllen, where we maintain another residence. Our family has been active in Mexico in commercial, industrial, tourism operation, and agricultural terms since the 1880’s and it is good to see that there are still people who can find their way through the press reports…some of which are even partially to mainly true…to search out the whole truth and nothing but the truth…so that they can learn, as Paul Harvey said, “The rest of the story.”

El Gringo Viejo
(David Christian Newton)


24 jas January 1, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Hello There

I am wanting to move to Lake Chapala. I would like to rent a one or two bedroom villa. Would like to know, how difficult it is to find something really nice and clean with a view. Any direction would be appreciated. Thank You.

Jas Sidhu


25 MJ Miller May 13, 2014 at 7:05 pm

We are thinking about Lake Chapala the summer of 2015 or 16. I’ve done extensive research and this place fits all of our criteria. Do you find since you are gringos that people up the prices of all things accordingly. Thx so much!


26 Steve May 14, 2014 at 7:14 pm

hello from the v_a hospital in biloxi mississippi. When I finish my treatment here I’m going to jump in my truck and head to the southwest. Overnight in Houston with my daughter. Another day’s drive to the border1 more night south of monterey. Then pull in to Guadalajara mid afternoonI met a lady living in Lake ChapalaI figure I can live easily on $2,500I am retired single was still a lot of livin to domaybe I’ll have a chance to meet some of you nice people


27 jim brogan June 4, 2014 at 7:17 pm

hello. Im an american retiree 71 yrs of age. im living in the philippines for 14 yrs now but getting to dangerous where im living so been looking at lake chapala to move to within the year. If I may ask a few questions I would appreciate your take.. i have 2500 dollars for income. IM alone and will rent. In your opinion is that enough to live comfortbly. I dont smoke or drink.. maybe im a little to boring.. Is that safe place for retirees? I have no health coverage and need that for sure and heard foreigners can obtain health insurance in mexico pretty reasonable. I would totally appreciate your opinion. thank you for your time..
jim brogan


28 Rich S. June 9, 2014 at 2:19 am

Jim, I’ve lived in this area 12 years, on more than off.
You can live very, very, well for $2500/mo.
Medical care here is as good or better than the US, several insurance options are available and the serious crime rate is lower.

20-30 minutes away from Ajijic (10- 15 east of Chapala) is MUCH cheaper to live and quieter. I pay 1500 pesos (120 USD)/mo for a nice 1900 sq ft, 2 story, 3 bedroom home. Phone with 3Mb/ sec internet is $28/mo which allows me a US phone and US TV via VPN internet.

I live very comfortably (maid & gardener twice a week, take out or eating out 5 times a week) on less than $1000/mo, with a car and motorcycle.

I prefer the south side of the lake but I speak passable Spanish and am pretty self contained with my Mexican friends which you need to be over there. This side you can find lots of kano activities.
There is not much of a skin tax here as long as you act nicely, don’t flash money, etc. Understanding Spanish helps, but courtesy helps more.

I prefer Equador, where I have a small farm, to here because of the weather, culture and lower costs but there is a lot to be said for this area.

Ramblecrunch hereby has my permission to give you my email address if you wish to contact me. Just curious where in Phil you live. I used to live outside Dapitan City but couldn’t take the humidity.


29 Renee June 13, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Hi, Jim. Thanks for commenting. You’ve just received a good answer from Jim. Lake Chapala is a very safe area, and yes, $2500 per month will go a long way there. As Jim mentioned, if you speak Spanish you can bring your costs down even more by renting out of town a bit (though his rent is crazy low for a big house…you should expect to pay more than that.). If you get residency, I’m pretty sure you can buy into the Mexican healthcare system, but you’ll need to investigate that. Are you familiar with the “Expats in Mexico” facebook group? That’s a good place to ask about healthcare in Mexico.


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