Guerrero, Mexico

The girls taking the public transportation to the swimming pool with their cousins. (February 2015)

Tlaxcala, Mexico

Erika picking out pan dulce at our favorite panaderia. (January 2015)

Bend, Oregon, United States

Our family photo taken in Drake Park with all three of my daughters (October 2014)

San Francisco, California, United States

Enjoying the beautiful view from the top of Twin Peaks (July 2015)

Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

Exploring the ruins of Palenque during our Great Mexican Road Trip. (May 2014)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Cost of Living-Santa Marta de Tormes

Finances are a driving force behind the stability of any family. The monthly budget balanced against the monthly income either creates a great level of stress or allows one to relax. When you set that task against a foreign background, it can be nervewracking because you don't know what to expect. My research had given me an idea of costs and that Spain was generally a lot cheaper than Bend, Oregon. We came with $6,000 in savings to help get us to the point where we were settled in and still allow for some traveling as well. By November, that money was gone and we were back to living on our monthly income alone. You're probably thinking "holy crap, that's a lot of money gone super fast, I could have done so much better." You might be right, who knows? It was almost a thousand dollars to move into our piso with the first month, month's deposit, and agency and prorated rent. I booked a couple vacations after we arrived to Barcelona, Málaga, Rome, and Germany so it wasn't all spent in two months. We average about $500-$1000 for a 3-4 day weekend when you add in flights, AirBnB lodging, car rental/gas, food, entertainment, and the such. I didn't intend to return from this experience with a lot of money in savings, that kind of defeats the purpose of moving to Spain.

We are fortunate to live a pretty cush life over here. I don't have to work and juggle full time school anymore. While we were able to live on savings the first few months, I was finally able to get my Master's program approved under the GI Bill. In December, the University received my tuition payment for the first semester and in February, they finally processed the refund and deposited the 770€ in our BBVA Spanish bank account. This happened to be the exact same week that they also received the tuition payment for my second semester so let's see if that takes two months as well.

So here's a breakdown of our incoming money and outgoing expenses.

  • Income:
    • VA Disability: $1698
    • GI Bill/Housing Allowance: $939
    • Housesitters: $600
    • Travel with Bender: $300
    • Monthly Income: $3537
  • Expenses:
    • US Mortgage: $555
    • US utilities: $170
    • US cell phone (T-mobile): $140
    • Car payment/insurance: $230
    • Life insurance for both of us: $93
    • Spain Rent: 350€
    • Spain utilities: 160€ every two months
    • Spain cell phone (Orange): 8.95€ x 2
    • Spain cable/internet/cell (Vodafone): 78€
    • José gym membership: 30€
    • Mexico (José's Mom): $100
    • Monthly Expenses: $1288USD  and 546.95€ before household expenses

  • Household Expenses:

    • Car rental: 300€ 
    • Groceries: 100-150€ a week
    • Tapas: 10-15€ a week
    • Household Expenses: 960

  • Total Budget: Income $3537-$1288 = $2249 - (1506.95 x 1.10 = $1657.65) = $591.35 extra

  • Obviously, our budget looks extremely different than someone else might in our same shoes. Many people rent out their US homes and that is enough to fund most of their travel. My mom and José's uncle are housesitting for us so they help out with some of the bills and such but we still make the payments and have that responsibility because we're going back to it shortly. Another traveling family is borrowing our car while they are visiting the US so they send us a little money to cover the wear and tear on our Escape and whatnot. Send us home and we live on $1698 a month when José is not working. You make more, you spend more. You make less, you spend less. That is just how life works.

    The car rental is a complete fluke and not one that we had planned on. By chance, I found out that there are cheap car rentals at the Madrid airport and it was possible to rent a car for two weeks for less than $50. We have used five different companies now with different experiences but I'll be blogging about that soon! When it comes to a family of four, it is usually cheaper for us to travel by rental car than by bus or train in Spain. It costs us over 100€ to take a bus two hours from Madrid to Salamanca and around 77€ to take the three hour train the same distance. If we want to do any traveling in our own area, we need a car in order to get out of the city and explore. Our major credit cards cover the insurance on a rental car up to a 15 day period so we just drive into Madrid and swap the car every couple weeks. Now that my second semester classes are held in Valladolid (over an hour away), the car will be a nice perk for getting there and back and my classmates can help chip in to cover my costs so it's not a total loss.

    Groceries are such a personal thing too. It really takes awhile in a new area to figure out what to buy and where to buy it and which is better than another. We are also dealing in the metric system so it takes me a little more to figure out what is a better buy (compared to what I have no idea!?). For my Imperial readers, one kilo is approximately 2.2 pounds. One liter is .26 gallon. We buy our UHT milk in tetra-packs and we store them in the living room since they require no refrigeration until we open them. We buy everything in tetra-packs; milk, juice, tomato sauce, evaporated milk, chicken broth, wine. The nice part is that these are all recyclable and go in the yellow container in the street. To save money, I buy the generic milk that doesn't have a plastic spout, you have to cut open the top instead. 

    So what does food actually cost here? I know that is the burning question in everyone's mind. The current exchange rate is about $1.10USD to 1€ so it's easy for me to just add 10% to all of my purchases to get an idea of what it costs me. 

    • Grocery Store Prices (Carrefour in Salamanca)
    • Orowheat 12 Cereal bread 2,19€/$2.40
    • Carrots (1kg/2.2#) ,69€/$0.76
    • Head of Iceberg lettuce ,76€/$0.85
    • 1LT of Apple Juice ,60€/$0.66
    • Salted butter (250g/>8 oz) 1,10€/$1.20
    • 5L bottled water ,68€/$0.75
    • 1LT Olive oil 2,69€/$3.06
    • Peeled shrimp (.5kg/<1#) 4,90€/$5.39
    • 1LT Generic skim milk ,56€/$0.61
    • 6kg Oranges 4,50€/$5.00
    • Rice Krispies (13.2 oz box) 3,15€/$3.46
    • 1LT Almond Milk 1,85€/$2.03
    • 3/4LT Frizzante bubbly wine 3,99€/$4,39
    • Canned green beans (large) ,97€/$1.06
    • Sliced turkey (1/4kg/>.5#) 1,71€/$1.89
    • Box of herbal tea 2,00€/$2.20
    • Dozen eggs 1,20€/$1.32
    • Costco (Madrid)
    • 18" BBQ Pizza (food court) 9,99€/$11.00
    • Fruit smoothie (food court) 1,49€/$1.64
    • 3/1LT Almond Milk 6,49€/$7.15
    • Orowheat 12 Cereal breads 3,19€/$3.50
    • 2 6-pack muffins 5,99€/$6.59
    • Libby's canned pumpkin 15oz 2,99€/$3.29
    • Rotisserie chicken 4,99€/$5.49
    • 30 large eggs 2,99€/$3.29
    • Mozzarella (1kg/2.2#) 5,99€/$6.58
    • Clementines 5lb bag 2,79€/$3.07
    • 3 lb bag of Reese's mini 14,99€/$16.49
    • Local markets and butcher shops
    • Whole chicken raw per kilo 1,80€/$1.98
    • Ground chicken breast per kilo 5,45
    • Pork chops without bone per kilo 6
    • Ground pork per kilo 7
    • Onions per kilo ,40
    • Bananas per kilo 1,20
    • Manazas Gala per kilo 1,45
    • Mandarins per kilo ,99
    • Barra of bread (smaller than French bread) ,80
    • Ground meat (beef/pork) per kilo 4,98€/$5.49
    We eat 95% of our meals in the home and we sit down every Sunday evening and plan out our dinners for the week. We only go to the big supermarkets once a week if that where we stock up on the heavy items. As soon as we got home from the US, we drove to the Carrefour and filled up a shopping cart for 115,56€ and that included some more expensive items like shamppo, conditioner, body wash, and toothpaste. We try to get most of our meats and produce locally as we need them and it helps support the local economy in our small pueblo. Some weeks we could keep it closer to the 100€ mark and some weeks it is closer to the 150€ but it is quite easy to eat cheapily in our area.
    We were initially going out for tapas a couple times a week and then we got busy with school and life and stopped going. There is a bar/café every 100 meters so we are going to try going out and sampling a new place each week. Generally speaking, a tapa is less than 2€ and a glass of beer or wine is around the same price. The girls usually drink fresh squeezed orange juice which runs less than 2€ as well so we are all cheap dates

    Above all, keep in mind that the minimum wage for a Spaniard is around 700€ per month and the unemployment rate is 21% so we are extremely blessed to have the circumstances that we do!

    Home Spanish Home

    So almost six months here in the European country of Spain and it's time to check in and let you know how we've settled in and how we're doing. I'm sure that everything comes across as peaches and cream in my pictures. This has been a bigger adjustment than moving to Mexico was. Speaking for myself only, I came into this with some huge expectations that this was going to be all of my dreams come true. It became apparent within a couple months that this was not exactly going as I had imagined. Don't get me wrong, I am living in Europe so it isn't a complete loss.

    We've settled into our Spanish piso and found our groove. Setting up cost us a lot more money than we had anticipated. The kitchen cupboards were completely bare so it meant several hundred euros to stock up the pantry and the cupboards. It was fun scouting around for all the different spices and seasonings to make our basic meals. The piso was furnished with lots of outdated furniture and didn't quite have all of the amenities that we were going to need for a ten month stay. We were in luck because IKEA is only an hour away in Valladolid and offers a fabulous service here. Only 20€ a year for Premium service and most of your shipments are delivered next day. One of the first purchases was a 32"flat screen TV from Media Markt for 229€, kitchen appliances like a good blender for 52€, hot pot, pots and pans, cereal bowls, you name it. IKEA helped us stock up on towels but no blankets! Here is all about the duvet and cover, seriously! Our idea of a blanket was almost impossible to find until we got a chance to travel to the Costco in Seville. There we found the fuzzy fleeces just like we have at home for 20€. When all was said and done, it set us back a lot more than I had budgeted but it helped us settle in quickly and feel comfortable. 

    As I mentioned when we first arrived, we found a three bedroom piso for 350€ a month. We signed up for Vodafone which got us cable TV, unlimited internet, and one cell phone with 1GB and 200 minutes of talk for 78€ a month. Our first utility bill was only 25€ since we hadn't been here for very long. Our last one that I just paid last month was 161€ which is for two months of utilities. Water is included in the building fees and garbage/recycling is community based with 4 containers clustered up and down all the streets. You have to pay for your plastic bags in 90% of their stores so we have gotten accustomed to carrying at least one around in our pocket/purse. 
    This is our first real experience living in this type of apartment so to speak. We have a locked front door and people need to buzz our bell and speak to us over the loudspeaker so we can buzz the door open for them. Of course, this is common in other parts of the United States as well, just not anywhere that I have ever lived before. There are two sides to our building so you have to pay attention to whether you want the left or right side. So there are two 1A, 2A etc. We have to include Escalera Derecha (right stairs) with our address in order to receive anything. The building maintenance pays a lady to come in and clean all of the floors and we even have an elevator...right now to our front door so we can hear it go up and down all day long. In Europe, the ground floor where you enter is called the Ground Floor. When you go upstairs, that is the 1st floor so a four story building has 3 floors in it and sometimes an attic, the top story that includes the open roof/patio.
    When I am home in the mornings, I am always startled by the front door buzzing as we never receive any visitors. I answer the bell and usually hear "Correos". Our mailwoman doesn't have a key to the front door of any buildings so she buzzes every single apartment until someone opens the door. On each side of the stairs are the mailboxes. She doesn't have the key to these either. If she can't shove it in the slot at the top, you get a slip to go retrieve it from the post office. It is a system that leaves a little to be desired in my opinion. I won't even mention that I can slip in my hand in the slot and retrieve most of the mail myself. José has the mail key and I'm not a patient lady.

    We live a pretty quiet life here. We haven't made many friends outside of our landlords and a Mexican-Spanish couple that run a little mom and pop store a few blocks away. I met one English girl on Facebook about a year before we moved here so we try to meet up for tea/coffee once a week and chat. It's funny to compare American and British English! The people in this area are reserved and private so we're definitely outsiders and feeling like it. José goes to the local gym 6 days a week and he talks to a few guys there but that ends at the door. We are friendly with some of the moms at Mia's school and they help us figure out the odd question or recommendation. My classmates are half my age and most of them live in Salamanca and our local bus stops running at midnight and that is usually when they are just getting ready to go out. The frequent travel has helped to offset the loneliness. Now it's about time for us to start looking forward to going home this summer!


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