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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Real Reality of the Costs of Living Here

Howdy!!  Remember me?

I'm at home, catching up on things while a guy is here to clean my sofa and a couple of large area rugs.  I'll report on the results at the end of this blog.  While I have a zillion subjects to write about (never at a lack of those), what's been on the forefront of my mind lately is 'costs'.

I recently moved from the house I rented just outside of the city to El Centro, the downtown of Cuenca.  It's all part of a larger story I'll have to write about later.  But, suffice to say, I moved into a large apartment which was in horrible condition and needed renovating.  Thus, I had to buy a lot of stuff.  Thus, experiencing the wide range of costs provided an opportunity to share them with you.  After all, you might be wondering what reality is as it relates to living here.

I've written a couple of blogs in the past, detailing some expenses such as groceries....such as this one:


But, today I'm going to hit a bunch of fronts.  Very random.  Some with photos (at the end of the blog) so you can see what I got for what price.  Obviously, (so why am I mentioning it?) no need to post a photo of a tomato since you already know what they look like.

So, here goes...

  • Furniture
    • Sofa, hand-made, fabric of my choice (leather), + 3 accent pillows = $450
      • Taxes and delivery included
    • Dining table + 4 chairs = $450 (T&D included)
    • 32 feet of carpet runner = $135
    • Queen bed (individually wrapped coil springs (like BeautyRest)) with boxsprings = $330 (T&D included)
    • Living room armchair, fabric of my choice = $180
    • 43" LED SMART TV = $635
  • Utilities (average per month)
    • Gas (in the form of steel tanks weighing about 75 lbs, delivered)
        • for cooking = $2.50
        • for hot water = $2.50
        • for clothes dryer = $2.50
    • Electricity = $35
    • Water = $10
    • Internet = $45 (1 level up from standard service/speed)
    • Cell phone = $10
  • Recreation & Entertainment
    • Movie theater ticket = $6
    • Grande popcorn at said theater = $4
    • Museums = Free
    • Symphony concerts = Free
    • DVD's = $1.50
    • Relaxation in one of Bano's thermal spa 'resorts'.  Swim pool, steam room, mud caves, lockers, bathrooms, umbrella tables, and lounge chairs.  Entrance fee = $5 to $12.  No time restriction.
    • Bicycling = Free bicycles to ride on Sundays (provided by the City)
    • Olympic swim pool (city) = $2
  • Car
    • Fuel
      • Gas - Regular = $1.48 a gallon (fixed price, controlled by gov't)
        • Note:  It's been the same for the 5+ years I've been here
      • Gas - Super = $2.10 a gallon (price varies based on competition)
      • Diesel = $1.04 a gallon
    • Repair shop rate = $25 an hour
    • Alignment = $10
    • Car wash = $10 for an SUV, full service includes power wash undercarriage, engine compartment, hand dry, vacuum, windows cleaned, shiny treatment on tires, dash, etc.
    • Insurance = $600 a year, full coverage
      • Note:  Here, the cost of insurance is based on what you paid for the car (in this case, I paid $16,500).  That's your coverage.  It doesn't go down as the car gets older (devalued).
    • Parking = $1 for 4 thirty minute segments (total 2 hours)
    • Cost of a new car is not much different than what it costs in the USA, unless you are buying a brand where EC imposes a heavy import tax and/or brands not common here (ie; Chrysler, Mercedes, Honda, Acura, Audi, Jeep, etc).  Some of the most common cars here are Chevrolet, Hyundai, Ford, Kia, Toyota.
    • Cost of a USED vehicle is a whole different matter.  Used cars don't devalue here at anywhere near the rate as back home.  Example:  My 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee back home MAY be worth $2,000 per blue book.  But, here, they can sell for $9,000.
    • Transportation
      • Taxi = $2 - $3 average per ride
      • City Bus = .25 cents
      • Light Rail = TBD when it's up and running early next year
      • Bus to Guayaquil (4 hours) = $8
      • Van to Guayaquil (3 hours, 7 passengers) = $12
    • Housing
      • Rentals (apartment, townhouse, or house) = $500 (avg)
        • Now, don't jump all over me on this one!!!  Yes, there's plenty of cheaper places and many way more expensive.  But, there's so many variables....location, size, age, gringo-priced vs Ecuadorian (what it SHOULD be) priced, amenities, furnished/unfurnished, etc.  BUT, overall, it's easy to get good quality housing for this amount.
        • Usually requires 1st month rent + security deposit of the same amount.
      • Short-term rentals = $39 - $69 a night
        • Defined as apartments (sometimes a house) fully furnished and outfitted with everything a guest would need except food.  Typically located on websites such as Airbnb, TripAdvisor, and VRBO.  Perfect for tourists who don't want to stay in a hotel room for their 10 days, 2 weeks, month-long stays.
      • Hotels = $40 - $80 a night
        • Based on two-people at an 'average' (not a dump, not ritzy, and central location) hotel.  Plenty of classier hotels at a higher cost ($80 - $200 a night) and plenty lesser than $40 but you're probably only using it for an hour (tee hee).
    • Handcrafted Items (made to my specs)
      • One of my wrought iron chandeliers = $90
      • One of my candelabra stands = $40
      • Basic cafe tables = $15 - $50 (depending on size)
    • Repairs
      • Like back in the 1950's, things are repaired here.  We don't chuck 'em because they're too costly to repair or no one does that anymore.  Toasters, blenders, waffle irons, TV's, cameras, etc can be repaired for around $5 an hour plus cost of parts.
      • Plumbing.  Every single house or apt I've lived in here as sprung a leak or five.  It's part of life here.  Cost varies, of course, based on time and complexity.   But, I've had a lot of simple leaks (not hugely invasive) fixed in the range of $20 - $50 for the job.
      • Remodel bathroom.  Chip off all existing tile on walls and floor and replace with new tile. New toilet, sink, faucet, towel/tp bars, shower curtain, paint, mirror, electrical outlets, and light fixture.  All labor and materials.  $600  (toilet paper not included).
    • Decor (all handmade to my specs)
      • Drapes,  11ft long by 8 ft tall, pleated, plus an additional sheer curtain = $190
      • Blinds, 6 1/2 feet wide by 4 1/2 feet long, roller type, fabric, blackout = $85
      • Bench cushion, 9 ft long = $65
      • Accent pillows
        • I provided the cover, they provided the pillow/stuffing = $5
        • I provided the pillow, they provided the new zippered cover = $7.50
    • Pets
      • Doggie day care (ie; boarding) = $7 per day
      • Canned food = not carried much here and what there is, is EXPENSIVE!
      • Dry dog food, 16 lb bag = $16
      • Vet
        • Annual vacs = $25
        • X-ray = $30
        • Consult with Cardiologist = $27.50
        • Cat cremation $100
    • Food
      • Groceries
        • Note:  This is what I've paid by going to the local indigenous mercados.  The prices are doubled if you shop at a supermarket such as SuperMaxi.
        • Strawberries = $1.50 lb
        • Lomo Fino (filet mignon) = $5 lb
        • Trout = $1.50 lb
        • Large Shrimp = $6 lb
        • 8 Tomatos (med) = $1
        • 12 eggs = $1.20
        • Shelled peas = $1.50 lb
        • 6 apples = $1
        • Chicken breast (with bone) = $2 lb
        • Corvina (sea bass) = $2.50 lb
      • 4-course lunch (known as Almuerzo) including juice, bowl of soup, main entree, small dessert = $3.50
      • Coffee, freshly roasted and ground = $4 lb
    • Fines (uggh)
      • Most fines are based on a percentage of the minimum month wage (right now is about $350).  So, if the infraction calls for a 20% fine, it would amount to $70.
      • I've had 3 parking infractions that cost me over $70 each.  OUCH!!!!
      • Then there was the $130 fine AND 6 points off my drivers license for (smallest font so Mom can't read it) flipping off a traffic director.
    • Taxes
      • My property tax for 2 apts was about $150 (total) for 2016
        • Prop tax payers get a discount if they pay early in the year, with the discount diminishing as time passes.
      • Sales tax (IVA)
        • 12% on everything but it's usually included in the price you see.
        • Applied to everything...not one rate if you live here but a different rate if you live there.  Not a higher rate because it's closer to the airport or because you, as a tourist, are funding a new football stadium.
        • The rate is being raised from 12% to 14% for 1 year to help fund earthquake recovery efforts.  Sounds high, but that's only $2 more on a $100 purchase.
    • Primping
      • Haircut (for me, a male with short, boring hair) = $5
      • Massage 1 hour = somewhere around $20
      • Bikini wax = haven't been there/haven't done that
    • Medical
      • Gov't medical insurance, 100% coverage = $75 a month
      • Teeth cleaning = $35
      • Chiropractor = $15
    • 65 and over?  Known as Tercera Edad (third age)
      • Large discount on airline fares
      • Half off bus fares
      • Get a large chunk of the sales tax you paid, refunded to you
      • Exclusive (jump in front of) lines at banks, supermarkets, gov't offices
    • Clothes
      • This is a toughy.  Why?  Because most Gringos and Gringas are physically larger than Ecuadorians.  EC'ers are generally shorter.   So, it's VERY challenging to find clothes here that fit 'us'.  And, if you wear an XL back home, that same XL here is not the same.  It's the equivalant of an L.  Forget trying to find a 2XL (so you end up with an XL)...almost non-existent here.  Shoes can be a bit of a hard-find, too.  For example, I wear a size 11 (44 in metrics).   90% of the stores here seem to stop at 42.  The good news is, you can have clothes and shoes made here and, from what I hear, at a reasonable price (but not Costco price).
    • Stuff
      • Housecleaner = $10 - $15 (avg 3 hours) per visit
      • Movers = $160
        • Based on my recent experience.  Large truck, driver, plus 2 workers.  2 trips. Involved loading/unloading appliances, furniture, boxes, etc and carrying them down and up a flight of stairs.  Approx 4 hours duration.
      • Large (about 24" x 36") map of Cuenca, framed, glass, and hangar = $35
      • Tipping (if at all) = 10%
      • Bathroom mirror (sheet type), custom cut to 36" x 30" = $5
      • Copy of a key = $1
      • Handwoven basket = $7
      • Paint (1 gallon - Glidden) = $25

    Oh....and the cost for cleaning the sofa and carpets?  Took him an hour just to do the sofa and ottoman, then another hour to do a large area rug and a smaller one.  $65

    Most of those prices probably look pretty good to you.  Oddly enough, there's a lot of dye cot toh mee here, too.

    Appliances such as refrigerators, washers/dryers, microwave ovens, etc can be mortifyingly expensive.  If you walk into a store and see the sticker price on these things, you'll probably turn around and walk right back out....like I did a few times.  BUT, 9 out of 10 times, that price is the CREDIT price and it's waaaay lower if you pay CASH.  From a business marketing standpoint, I don't understand why they don't post both so they don't have people like me doing a 180.  But, one salesperson stopped me and asked if I'd be paying cash and I said 'yes'.  He informed me there was discount.  I thought....'yeah, yeah, a whopping 10%'.  But, nooooooo....it can be 40% - 50% off!!!   Case in point.  I just purchased a TV where the sticker said $1,190.   YIPES!   But, by paying cash, that price dropped to $635!!!

    Other pricey items are those where the EC gov't slaps a hefty import tax on them.  Goods they believe are 'luxury' (meaning you don't NEED them) or are not made here in So America, can be adorned with a 40% tax.  Examples;

    • Abosolut Vodka = $50 (but you can buy EC vodka for $10 - $15)
    • Chivas Scotch = $100
    • Tide laundry detergent = $25+ (after all, we DO have good laundry detergents right here!)
    • Can't live without your Whirlpool washer even though an EC brand is just as good?   Ok, go ahead and pay $500 more!
    • I recently tried to find a reasonably-priced toaster.  OMG....$50!!!  For a TOASTER!!!
    • Thick and fluffy towels?  $25 - $30 for the bath size.
    • 42,965 thread count per square inch sheets made of cotton from a lamb's butt in Nigeria?  $100 (or more) for a Queen set.
    • A very nice looking, simple, and well made bedspread that doesn't look like you just threw up in Alice in Wonderland?   $300   KID YOU NOT!!!!

    Ok, so we've seen a taste of low prices and high prices.   What about same/same (same here as there)?
    Yep, we have that, too....a lot of it, actually.  I'm always surprised when I see things that cost just about the same as back home.  Cuz, after all, we've been led to believe everything is dirt cheap here.


    • Toothpaste, toothbrushes
    • Deodorant
    • Q-tips
    • Car oil
    • Foil
    • Paper towels
    • Toilet paper
    • Condiments
    • Bottled spices
    • Shampoo
    • Aspirin 
    • Tires
    • Light bulbs

    GADS....I could go on and on!!  Ooops, I guess I already did.  Time to stop.

    Of course, I can't possibly cover everything such as soap, a prostitute, socks, Depends, a hamburger, or a 'doobie'.  However, I thought you might find the above interesting even if it doesn't address the cost of a Vente 1 1/2 pumps of chocolate, goat milk, no whip, 5 cubes of ice Mochachino in a no-tree-kill cup.

    Til next time.....


    Leather Sofa = $450.  Candlestands $45 each.

    Dining table = $450

    Armchair = $180

    3ft wide wrought iron chandelier = $90

    Another candle stand = $40

    Dining room blind = $85

    9ft bench handmade cushion (w/o pillows) $65

    11ft handmade pleated drapes and sheer back curtain = $190

    Framing a large map of Cuenca = $35

    Small desk = $20

    TV stand = $25

    Bath remodel = $600

    14" handwoven bowl = $7


    1. The hand woven bowl was priced way too low. Beautiful piece.

    2. Everything looks wonderful and thank you for sharing. Would you please tell me the location where you purchased the couch, chandelier, drapes, and cushions? Thank you, just moving into our own place and need EVERYTHING! - Carol

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Thank you again for sharing. I always enjoy reading your blogs.

    5. Great info Dano and as always, very, very detailed. Please post or email the links to your rentals in Cuenca. My wife and I are wanting to visit Cuenca again. Too hot and too much shaking going on here on the coast - Ray

    6. Thank you for your extensive list! Inquiring minds still would like to know the cost of a bikini wax, but I'll gladly wait until I'm there in person.

    7. Hello Dano, would you tell me where you had the couch made and café tables? Please e-mail me clifford.prince5@gmail.com
      thanks Cliff Prince

    8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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    About Me

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    Palma, Mallorca, Spain
    This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Spain, in the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca in the middle of the Mediterranean sea!! I moved from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador, South America and lived there for 7 years before moving here to Spain in early 2018. To read about my adventures in Ecuador, check out my other blog "Ahhh Cuenca!!". I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live in Europe....across the pond.

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