We moved to Nicaragua nearly two years ago. Along the way have discovered a plethora of ways to save a buck.
We now live in a nicer home and own and maintain a vehicle. Overall of our quality of life is better.
The interesting thing? Our budget hasn’t really changed.
Here’s how we do it!
BUY BEVERAGES FROM THE LOCAL DISTRIBUTOR
No matter where you buy it in Nicaragua beer and rum is cheap, but purchasing it at our local distributor allows us to save more than 50%.
To put things into perspective…
A can of Tona purchased at the corner store costs $1 USD, while a bottle purchased at the distributor rings it at just 0.53₵. If you want even more bang for your buck you can purchase beer by the liter – at the distributor – for just $1.14 USD per unit.
Another plus purchasing from the distributor? They’ll deliver the goods right to your door … for FREE!
EAT OUT LESS
When we arrived in Nicaragua the food was new and impressive, but within a couple of months it became very unexciting.
With access to fresh ingredients and more time to cook we prefer to eat most of our meals in. Eating more meals in allows us to save a decent amount of money, which in turn means we can afford to splurge on a special dinner out now and again.
BUY CELL PHONE MINUTES ON PROMOTIONAL DAYS
For the first few months after moving we shared a cell phone. During that time we were spending an average of $20 USD per month and we were constantly running out of minutes.
With a bit of research and some trial and error we now average $12 per month for two phones and we rarely run out of minutes.
We purchase minutes on promotional days where the carrier sometimes gives us up to six times our minutes. And instead of paying for individual text messages, we purchase packages.
PURCHASE FRUIT & VEGETABLES FROM THE FRUIT TRUCK
In Canada we bought most of our fruits and vegetables from the grocery store. Occasionally we would go to a Farmer’s Market for better quality produce. Ironically the prices were even higher.
Here in Nicaragua fresh produce is available at our local Pali (grocery store), but the freshness and quality of our local vendors is far superior, not to mention much cheaper. We actually prefer to support our local entrepreneurs – and 9 times out of 10 – that is exactly what we do.
Depending on what we buy and where we buy it, it’s possible to save as much as 50% on produce.
Here’s an example:
At the grocery store one medium avocado is 40 cordobas or $1.66 USD. At the local market the same sized avocado can be purchased for 25 or 30 cordobas. If we purchase from the fruit truck that visits our neighborhood daily we can get an avocado for 20 cordobas. And if we’re lucky enough to be around when a vendor comes to our door an avocado may cost as little as 15 cordobas.
LIVE THE LOCAL LIFESTYLE
I sometimes crave familiar brands from home, but have learned to limit myself to one or two treats (pretzels, peanut butter, chocolate chips and extra sharp cheddar cheese) now and then.
By learning to live without some of our favorite and familiar brands we’re able to stay on budget.
BEWARE: If you insist on buying imported products from your home country you will significantly increase your living expenses.
These are just a few of the ways we’ve learned to save while enhancing our lifestyle. We’d love to hear from other savvy expats who’ve found additional ways to save. Leave a reply in comments section below.
Grocery shopping in San Juan del Sur takes a bit of effort. One stop shopping is unheard of. In this article we’ll attempt to make your San Juan del Sur shopping experience better by telling you where to buy what and how much you can expect to to pay for things.
Although Pali (owned by Walmart) is the largest grocery store in San Juan del Sur it’s my least favorite place to shop. The aisles are narrow and the selection is limited. Pali stocks the basics and essentials, but not a whole lot more.
Items like sesame seeds, peanut oil, rice wine vinegar, wasabi paste and extra virgin olive oil can be purchased at Miscelania Sanchez. Nutella, Kraft salad dressing and Frank’s Red Hot Sauce are part of the regular inventory. They also carry instant cake mixes, confectioners sugar, baking soda and brown sugar. If you want cheese this is the place to go.
I’ve been told by other expats if you don’t see a particular item you’re looking for at Sanchez just speak to the owner Gloria. She’ll do her best to find the item(s) you’re looking for and and bring them in for you.
Feta Cheese (171 g) – $4.65
Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (680 ml) – $5.27
Nutella (350 g) – $7.59
Peter Pan Peanut Butter (426 g) – $5.99
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese $1.35
On a side note many spices have been difficult to find here in San Juan del Sur (or any other place in Nicaragua – including Managua – for that matter). If you have favorites that you absolutely cannot live without you should bring them with you.
For your shopping convenience there are two Sanchez locations in town – one next to the market (shown above) and the other kitty corner to Barrio Cafe (shown below).
Aside from fruit and vegetable trucks that drive through our neighborhood, the market is the best place to stock up on produce.
1 Pitaya (Dragon-fruit) – $1.06
1 Watermelon – $1.27
1/2 dozen bananas – $0.21
1 Large avocado – $1.27
1 Pineapple – $0.85
30 eggs – $3.38
The market has the best selection, but if you can find what you need on the truck there are deals to be had.
Being so close to the ocean has it’s advantages. We know of four fish markets in town, but our favorite (shown in the photo below) is located just beyond the marina. To ensure you get what you want plan to make this your first stop, early in the day.
Lobster – $6.34 per lb
Shrimp – $4.65 per lb
Mahi-mahi – $2.96 per lb
For the best deal on beverages we go directly to the distributor in town. It is located on the main road as you’re coming into San Juan del Sur. It’s on the right hand side, just down past Pan de Vida Bakery, about two blocks from the beach.
24 – 350 ml bottles of Tona – $13.87
12 cans of Coca-Cola -$5.07
5 gallons of water – $1.78
Even though we have to drive thirty minutes to Rivas to get to the nearest Maxi Pali it’s my favorite place to shop. Maxi Pali is as close as you’ll get to a North American supermarket. The store is bright and clean and the air conditioning is chilly.
Maxi Pali offers a bit more variety when it comes to certain items. Here we can get green, red and yellow peppers. They also carry grapes, kiwi and strawberries. We prefer to buy our meat at Maxi Pali.
Filet Mignon – $3.38/lb
Ground Beef – $2.05/lb
Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast – $2.55/lb
Like other Maxi Pali stores in Nicaragua the one in Rivas has a pharmacy and a small clothing section. They also carry housewares and a few electronics. They even have a “dollar” section.
And last, but certainly not least is on my list of places to shop in San Juan del Sur is Pan de Vida.
Pan de Vida is located 100 meters West of the Uno. It is here is where you’ll find tasty bread and other delicious baked goods you won’t be able to find anywhere else in Nicaragua. Everything is baked in the brick oven.
To date I’ve only tried the foccacia bread, the cinnamon buns and the banana bread, but I can’t wait to sample more of their daily offerings.
Banana Bread $4.64
Foccacia Bread $1.48
Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread $5.70
Round Multigrain Loaf $5.06
Items at Pan de Vida are a bit on the pricey side for an expat on a budget in Nicaragua, but if having good bread means giving up a few Tonas per month – I’m in. These delicious baked goods are worth every penny!
When we add everything up we usually spend between $250 and $300 on groceries each month. We don’t eat filet mignon and lobster every night, but we aren’t eating gallo pinto every night either. We also eat our fair share of meals out.
Hands down we eat more healthy then we did in Canada. We are eating a lot more fruits and vegetables. And it’s rare for a week to go by that hasn’t included a nice thick tenderloin steak grilled on hard wood coals. Now that we have more time meal planning and prep is something we both really enjoy.
Life and food in Nica is A-OK!
When Elisha and I decided to move to Nicaragua we knew that we would need to be on a budget – and believe it or not it was something we had never done before.
Elisha’s budget was always based on spending any extra cash that she had, while I saved whatever extra money I felt I didn’t need. That being said we have always lived below our means and have never been extravagant people.
Although we’ve been told by a few people that a budget of $1,200 USD per month in Nicaragua is quite high this is the amount we agreed upon.
We figured it would take some time to find out which restaurants, markets, shops and grocery stores would have the best deals and accepted the fact that December and January would be “learning months”. We weren’t surprised to find out that were were over budget for the month of January.
Total expenditures for the month came in at $1,201 USD.
We learned a few things things this month and have decided to make a number of changes.
First and foremost, we are going to prepare more of our own meals and have fruit on hand for breakfast. When we reviewed our detailed spreadsheet of the month’s expenses we realized we ate out 3 meals per day, more often than not. Although the nearly 50 meals we had out were cheap ($280 USD), they weren’t necessarily healthy for the waistline or the budget.
Another change will be our drinking. Apparently we’ve been celebrating because not a day went by in January where we didn’t have a cerveza or two. Even though our total expenditure for alcohol was just shy of $160 USD, we will make a couple of changes here as well. We plan to cut back some and be smarter about where we buy our liquor. Instead of paying 100 cordobas for a 375 ml bottle of rum, we will buy the 2 litre combo pack at Pali for 189 cords. And instead of paying 18 cords at the grocery store for a 355 ml can of beer we will buy a case of 12 litres at a cost of only 36 cordobas per bottle.
We spent $205 USD on groceries. With a commitment to eat in more often we expect this amount to go up slightly for the month, but since we’ve figured out the best places to shop we aren’t expecting a huge increase.
$32 USD was the amount we paid to purchase a cell phone and talking minutes for the month. For February we have purchased a package that cost $7 USD that should last through to the end of the month. $60 USD went to Amazon and iTunes for books, music and iPAD apps. $30 USD went to transportation (bus and taxi fares). We spent $52 USD on a nice dinner out to celebrate our 5th year anniversary. We enjoyed a delicious meal with 2 appetizers, a main course of filet mignon, a nice bottle of Italian wine AND pecan pie for dessert. A great night out and worth every penny we spent!
Although our friend Glyn lives on $300 a month (and thinks we are living the life of rock stars and drinking champagne every night) we happen to think we did a fine job with our first attempt at following a budget!