Advice for the Extranjero in Ecuador: Cost of Living

Todo es Relativo

Every time I get a new job here, inevitable questions follow about how much I’m getting paid.  The answer is usually somewhere around $5 and hour but can be as low as $2.50 or as high as $10. Before you gasp in horror at the $2.50 an hour, allow me to break it down for you. There is more to it then that. True, in New York I wouldn’t take a job as a taste tester for 5-star restaurants if the pay was only $2.50, but here, it’s not as crazy as it seems.

Housing:

Think about how much you are paying for where you’re living right now, your rent or your mortgage or whatever. Experts say, that in order to be financially comfortable, you should be spending around 30% of your monthly income on housing. I’m going to hazard a guess right now and say you’re paying more than that. With the economy the way it is, if you have your own place and a real job, you are probably thinking about 30% of your income and laughing. I could be wrong, and if you are an exception, props to you, I’m impressed. When I was living in Guayaquil, I was making $5 an hour, teaching a lazy 20-30 hours a week, living in a very fancy neighborhood, and spending about 20% of my income on housing. That’s including utilities and everything. So there.

Speaking of utilities:

I remember spending something like $50 to $100 or more every month for electricity back on Long Island. And then there was oil in the winter, water, cable, internet, phone plans. Here I split an $8 monthly electric bill. Let me repeat that for you. I SPEND $4 A MONTH ON ELECTRICITY. It’s the equator, so obviously I don’t need oil. Water comes out to about $5 which I also split, and we buy a big can of natural gas for the stove about once every 4 months for $2 from a dude on a bicycle. Are you jealous yet?

One of the biggest changes moving here was that there is no pressure to remain connected at all times. (Other than Mom of course, who needs her weekly email updates.) No one has cellphones with unlimited text plans, so no one texts you unless they need to. Without people texting you constantly, you don’t need to text anyone else either! No one is offended. No one asks you why you didn’t respond or why you’re ignoring them. It’s an amazing concept that I’ve almost forgotten actually existed in New York in the not-so-distant-past. I throw about $3 worth of minutes onto my cell once a month and that almost always more than I need.

I never really had TV, except for 3 heavenly months on Long Island before I moved here, so the lack of cable was not such a loss. However the lack of reliable internet access (no torrents!), and the existence of foreign IP address blockers (no Hulu!), have definitely required some adjustment on my part. As sad as it was not watching Treme this season, after accepting the fact that the TV shows were gone, I realized that I don’t really need to know who the next Biggest Loser is. It also hasn’t made a huge difference in my life knowing what happened to January Jones after the divorce. (Don’t tell me anyone, I might try to get a bootleg DVD eventually.) Life has gone on without knowing about all the insults the politicians have been throwing at each other, I can sleep just fine unaware of what celebrity has done what stupid thing most recently.

If there is something I want to see, like the tsunami coverage, or some important fútbol game, everyone goes to the house of the one neighbor they know with a dish. Or even better, the local tienda in Manglaralto has a big screen TV on the wall of the store. (Picture a 3-walled room with the open facing the street.) You bring a chair, buy some snacks and  cervezas from them, and hang out in the street in front of the store to watch the game with everyone else. What more do you really need?

Internet (slow but usable) is free at work or at my friend’s hostel. I use Facebook to see how my friends are doing. Podcast are great for weekly wrap ups of whats going on in the world and a little taste of home in the voices of Ira Glass, Jad Abumrad and Steven Levitt, and a quick scan the NYT and NPR sites every couple of days keeps me up to date on anything important going on in the world that I need to know about. Which I’ve discovered, is surprisingly little by the way.

Transportation:

Oh, think of all the money you are spending right now on car payments, insurance, maintaining the damn thing, and repairs whenever it starts sounding funny. Or if you are lucky enough, like me, to not live in an area where you need a car to get around, think about how much you’re paying on public transportation. What’s a Subway swipe nowadays? Something like $2.25? And MetroNorth and Amtrack, forget about it, it’s absolutely ridiculous. A ride between Montañita and Manglaralto is 40¢ on the bus or 50¢ in a car. Or I can walk, it’s about 30 minutes along the beach. Between cities, it’s about $1 per hour, so when I have to go the University’s main campus, an hour away, it’s $1. If I have to go to Guayaquil, 3 hours away, its about $4. So realistically, it’s about $6 a week on transportation. Oh yeah, and even if I did have a car, gas here is about $2 a gallon. Whahahahaha!!!!

Food:

Instead of explaining, why don’t I just make you drool instead.

A breakfast of 2 fresh local organic eggs with buns from the bakery in town – 40¢

Enough oranges for a week’s worth of juice $1.10

A pound strawberries (always in season here) – $1.5

Enough queso fresco, homegrown tomatoes, mayo, and bread (no need to pay for the basil since it’s in the backyard) to make caprese sandwiches for a week – $3

All you need to make a chicken and mushroom dish with a creamy garlic sauce with rice and salad, for 4 people (again all fresh and local). – $5.25

Ingredients for 10 Empanadas with seasoned carne with onions and peppers – $2

For 10 Empanadas with cheese, banana, and green onions – $1

Shall I go on?

Entertainment:

So, a night out at my favorite live music bar in Port Jefferson or Stony Brook NY meant throwing down at least $40. At least. Going to the city for the day, you better have at the very very least $150. Here, I no longer pay entry fees at the bars/clubs since I’ve made friends with all the doormen, so live music and dancing all night is free. A 20oz cerveza is $1.50. A large mojito, caipariña or colada made with fresh fruit made on the spot is $2 if you have the right friends and $2.50 if you don’t. A full course dinner with a large soup, a drink, and a big plate of rice, beans and chicken is about $3. A big bowl of ceviche mixta with fresh fish, shrimp, oysters, and clams is $5. And surfing, swimming, sunbathing, and people watching is free.

In conclusion, next time I tell you I’m making $60 a week, please, there is no need to feel sorry for me. I can promise you that not only am I doing just fine, I’m probably doing better than you.

Original published October 1, 2011, on tumblr

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4 thoughts on “Advice for the Extranjero in Ecuador: Cost of Living

  1. hahaa.. giiirl!!!! You tell them! 🙂 I think your last sentence is my favorite part! I want to come back!!! Or move somewhere in S. America!! So happy you’re such a rockstar! ❤ Paula

  2. Paula! Well I don’t have to explain anything to you, you know. I just saw that you have a blog too so I’ll be checking in on your South Korea fun. I’m suring you’re tearing the place up. Besos flaca!

    • Thanks Corinne! Sometimes when I think about how I could earn in one night in NY what takes me a week to make here, I can get frustrated. Then I remember all the other stuff that I mention here, and suddenly I don’t feel so bad 😉

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