Sticker Shock

Costa Rica is among the top 5 most expensive Latin American countries to live in and the highest in Central America.

The Big Mac Index, published by The Economist, shows an informal way of measuring the purchasing power parity (PPP) between two currencies and provides a test of the extent to which market exchange rates result in goods costing the same in different countries.

The index takes its name from the McDonald’s hamburger. According to the Big Mac Index the five most expensive countries to live in latin America are: Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Chile.

Today we got to see first hand how expensive it is when we went to PriceSmart to shop. PriceSmart is the Costa Rican equivalent of Sam’s or Costco. Our adventure started out by driving an hour via back roads with no map, Waze app or cell phone through the mountains to the city of Alajuela. We arrived there safely and were able to sign up as members without speaking a lick of Spanish. (Aside, all those years of playing charades as a kid finally paid off)

The plan was to just stock up on essentials, no food or perishables since we are heading back to the States in a few days. We purchased what we would normally buy at Costco each month (red flag#1). We bought things like soap, toilet paper, tooth paste, paper towels, etc. We purchased name brands that we were already familiar with like Bounty, Dawn, Scott, etc. (red flag#2). Since we have not bothered to learn the Costa Rican currency conversion we were just winging it instead of being on a budget (red flag#3).

We arrive at the check out with the understanding that we spent around $150 USD since we did go off list for a couple of items – chips & cheese puffs. The cashier rings all of the items up for a grand total of 194,805 colones. What’s done is done…no sense in stressing over the purchase now, we have bigger things to worry about like getting back home without getting lost.

After making our way back to Grecia and getting up the rough side of the mountain in the pouring rain we sat down to do the math. 194,805 colones converts over to approximately $341 USD. This is not a lot of money when you have a car load of stuff but this was not the case for us. We barely had a trunk full of items. As I combed through the receipt I called out the high ticket items – Listerine 1.5L $30 & tortilla chips 1lb $18. We broke one of the cardinal rules of living abroad – do not shop like you are still living in the States. Well Toto I guess we are not in Kansas anymore.

This was an expensive lesson to learn but one that we had to experience for ourselves. Now we will have to buckle down and eat like the locals: fresh fruits, vegetables, rice and beans. This will not only allow us to live within our means but also get healthy.

Pura Vida.

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