Becoming Cuenca

Keeping Your Pocketbook Full

Jul 20, 2022

Remember the personal finance personality, radio show host, author, and businessman Dave Ramsey? He said, “I believe that through knowledge and discipline, financial peace is possible for all of us.”

The Ramsey Show is heard by more than 18 million listeners each week as people try to save money and keep their heads above water.

In a July 5th Monmouth poll, Americans were asked about the biggest concern facing their family, and the top four answers were some version of “inflation” or “the economy.”

Julia Coronado, the founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives, told the New York Times on July 14th, “I don’t think there is anything good about this report, as far as the Fed is concerned, as far as the U.S. consumer is concerned.”

It is very evident that it is becoming even more expensive to live in the United States. It has been said that to live comfortably in New York City, a resident would need to earn at least $82,637 a year. I truly do not know who came up with that figure that appears to be too low.

Some New York City property management companies require prospective renters to earn at least 40 times the monthly rent. In 2022, rent in Manhattan was a staggering $4,210. Brooklyn was $2,936 and Queens came in at $2,412. Using that 40X factor, one would need to be making $117,400 per year for a Brooklyn apartment.

I use New York City to show how expensive it can be because Numbeo uses it for cost-of-living comparisons. Every other city in the world has an index number that is based on their cost-of-living compared to the Big Apple’s 100 (percent).

Numbeo is “a collection of Web pages containing numerical and other itemizable data about cities and countries, designed to enable anyone to contribute or modify content. Numbeo uses the wisdom of the crowd to obtain the most reliable information possible. Numbeo then provides you with a statistical analysis of the data collected.” Most people consider Numbeo a very reliable source for statistics.

According to Numbeo, it is not surprising that Hamilton, Bermuda is the worst in the world with a 145.98 indices. It costs 45.98 percent more to live in Hamilton than New York City. At the opposite end is Peshawar, Pakistan with a 15.69 indices. The cost-of-living there is 84.31 percent less than New York City.

Where does Cuenca, Ecuador stand at mid-2022? According to Numbeo, it was the 374th most expensive city in the world with a 38.19 indices. Living in Cuenca will cost you 61.89 percent less than New York City.

There is a good chance you are living in the United States or Canada. To see how you compare to Cuenca, here are just some of the most expensive cities in those two countries:

 

95.43  San Francisco, CA

87.95  Seattle, WA

84.50  Washington, DC

83.71  Boston, MA

80.61  Denver, CO

79.37  Portland, OR

78.64  Miami, FL

77.66  Asheville, NC

77.65  Los Angeles, CA

77.35  Chicago, IL

75.40  Vancouver, BC

73.89  Atlanta, GA

73.28  Toronto, ONT

71.59  Edmonton, ALB

69.32  Montréal, QUE

65.08  Raleigh, NC

 

This is by far not all of the cities listed by Numbeo for the United States and Canada.

Raleigh, North Carolina looks great compared to other cities in that list, but you would need around $5,100 per month in Raleigh to have the same standard of living as Cuenca at $2,242 (assuming you rent in both cities).  Numbeo is saying that to live in Cuenca, you need $2,242 per month. Many expats claim it can be done for less than that. I think the figure is very close to reality for a comfortable life here.

Climbing to a new record high, the average asking rent in July 2022 was $1,900 in the United States, with single-family houses averaging $2,018 a month. Rent has been steadily increasing. If the trends continue, a report by Realtor.com projects the typical rent in the U.S. could be more than $2,000 by August.

Danielle Hale, Realtor.com’s chief economist, told CNN in April, “Rents are not only maxing out renters’ housing budgets, but are the biggest strain on their overall finances, even as inflation drives up expenses across the board.”

Because of that, rental prices in Cuenca are 76.72 percent lower than in Raleigh. The average rent for a nice apartment in Raleigh is about $1,975 thus it is about $460 for Cuenca (which is usually furnished).

I mention all this because for most, money is the big #1 concern. Are we going to be able to maintain our lifestyle in retirement? Unfortunately, many Americans may not be able to maintain it without working during retirement.

A 2014 household survey conducted by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System found that almost a third of Americans have no retirement savings or pension at all. They will only have Social Security.

The Insured Retirement Institute released a study in 2019 that showed a whopping 45 percent of Baby Boomers have no retirement savings.

Retirement is a big change of lifestyle for anyone. After deciding retirement was the route for Joanna and me, avoiding pitfalls that many fall into was our concern. We wanted to make the most of our new lives.

Probably at the top of the list for almost all Americans looking overseas for their retirement home is healthcare. It was the genesis for Joanna and me leaving the United States. International Living says we are far from alone: “Healthcare is one of the most important factors potential expats consider before moving abroad and often one of the hardest to plan for in the U.S.”

The National Health Expenditure Accounts said U.S. healthcare spending grew 9.7 percent in 2020, reaching $4.1 trillion or $12,530 per person.  As a share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, health spending accounted for 19.7 percent. The United States is by far the most expensive country in the world for healthcare costs.

According to data released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2019, Switzerland, with an extremely high cost of living (They have the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh most expensive cities in the world), was a distant second at $7,732 per person. When you get to #10 Belgium, the cost per person is only $5,697. That is less than half the cost of the United States.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued the biggest increase ever in Medicare Part B premiums for 2022. Part B covers outpatient care and durable equipment. Premiums skyrocketed to $170.10 in 2022, up $21.60 from $148.50 the year before. This is a 14.5 percent increase. The deductible for Part B was just as bad. It increased to $233, a 14.8 percent increase. Inflation for the United States that year was less than half those Medicare increases.

Because of the out-of-control healthcare costs in the United States, medical tourism has increased to many parts of the world, including Ecuador. In December 2018, International Living reported, “The average cost of a knee replacement in the U.S. is $35,000—a sizable sum that when taken overseas goes much further than just paying for surgery. With rising costs of surgery in the U.S., more and more people are choosing to have their medical needs taken care of overseas, in better-value destinations, to take advantage of the lower costs.”

Their correspondent, Donna Stiteler, who lives in Cuenca, says, “Here, a knee joint replacement costs $7,000 and $1,300 for arthroscopic surgery on the joint. That’s a whole lot cheaper than the U.S.” That $8,300 procedure in Ecuador is just 24 percent of what it would set you back in the United States.

An American woman visiting Cuenca in 2020 had a bad accident and was surprised at how affordable her medical care was. She said on Facebook, “Went on a tour of Cuenca this morning. We wound up taking a tour of a private hospital because I fell while on our tour. I fractured my tibia because I was stupid and not paying attention. The hospital visit was 2 hours. Had an x-ray done and a computer tomography scan. Tomorrow morning, I will have an MRI to see if I tore ligaments. $270 total for everything including the MRI scheduled for tomorrow as well the medication, leg brace and crutches. WOW!”

In 2016, the online English news source, CuencaHighLife, stated, “Cost for services run from 10% to 30% of those in the U.S. A private hospital room in Cuenca, with full medical service and meals, averages $225 a day compared to $950 in the U.S.”

The newspaper added, “The removal of a subcutaneous benign lump with local anesthesia runs about $125. A colonoscopy, which costs $2,700 in the U.S., is $350 in Cuenca. A set of simple x-rays runs $45, while a full battery of blood tests costs about $75.”

From personal experiences, my wife had to get an MRI for her sinus and breathing problems. She went to a laboratory offering advanced diagnostic imaging services. The MRI cost us $85 in cash. You read that correctly. That same MRI in the United States would have averaged $1,325. A retired E.R. nurse and friend of ours confirms that figure.

So, are you getting your money’s worth in the United States? A 2014 Bloomberg survey of health care efficiency, factoring both cost and quality, listed Ecuador #20 in the world while the United States was #46.

This shows you that healthcare is a bargain in Ecuador.

I still remember a Chief Photographer at a Tampa, Florida television station telling me how low their pay was. He said, “We pay you in sunshine. Unfortunately, that does not put bread and butter on the table.”

It appears that less bread and butter will be on the tables of Americans. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported food shoppers paid sharply higher prices for a variety of goods in June as inflation kept its hold. The consumer price index soared 9.1 percent from a year ago, marking another month of the fastest pace for inflation going back to December 1981. Currently, Canada has an inflation rate of 7.7 percent.

U.S. Department of Labor data showed the consumer price index climbed 7 percent in 2021. Last year, the average inflation rate in Ecuador amounted to about 0.13 percent compared to the previous year. This year, it is a lot higher with a projected inflation rate of 3.21 percent.

And just the other day, the World Bank reported that only one country in Latin America (Ecuador) is reporting inflation of less than five percent. Most countries reported rates of eight percent or higher.

I don’t want your eyes to glaze over with these figures. It is my goal to show that consumer prices in the United States are currently climbing about three times as fast as they are in Cuenca. And it was a lot worse for Americans than Ecuadorians last year.

Inflation alone should get your interest about Ecuador, but food prices (“butter on the table”) should get your full attention. The cost of food in Cuenca is a selling point to many expats. Being on a fixed income can really make you watch your wallet.

The cost of food is a lot cheaper than in the United States. Numbeo truly is an excellent source for price comparison. Instead of using dollar figures, percentages will be used for common food items.

According to Numbeo, a loaf of white bread in Ecuador is just 58 percent of that same bread in the United States. Milk is a tad more expensive in Ecuador than the United States. Rice is used for a lot of Ecuadorian dishes, so it is about 34 percent more than what it costs in the United States.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are exceedingly popular with expats, and that includes me who did not eat a lot of fruits and vegetables prior to moving to Cuenca. This is good news as they are about 55 percent cheaper than the U.S.  Bananas are 33 percent cheaper; oranges are 73 percent cheaper; lettuce is 57 percent cheaper; and onions are 54 percent cheaper. With so many varieties of potatoes available in Ecuador, they are about 41 percent of the cost of American spuds.

Avocados are everywhere in Ecuador thus they are about a fourth of the cost as what one pays for it in the United States. In February, when the United States issued a temporary ban on avocados from Mexico after a verbal threat was made to a U.S. inspector working in the country, avocados were about nine times more expensive than in Ecuador.

For meat lovers, chicken is about 39 percent cheaper in Ecuador. Beef is harder to compare, partially due to the cuts of meat in Ecuador being different from what is found in the United States and Canada. Add that most beef in Ecuador is not aged like the United States. Nonetheless, beef is about 48 percent cheaper in Cuenca. Ground beef is a better deal than that. I paid less than two dollars the other day for a pound of ground beef with a 14 percent fat content.

There’s something magical in the way that coffee can brighten our morning mood and give us that kick start for the rest of the day. You will be thrilled to be living in the heart of coffee country! Some of the world’s best coffee is from Ecuador. Earlier this year, a pound of Ecuador Chirimoya coffee sold for over $100 per pound!

Now, that wholesale price of $100 is for the “cream of the crop.” Joanna and I enjoy wonderful coffee from Vilcabamba (in the southern region of Ecuador, in Loja province) at a very affordable price.

We pay $4.50 for 400 grams of Café Doña Julita coffee. That comes out to $5.10 per pound for high-quality coffee. An April study of coffee roasters by My Friend’s Coffee said the average price in the U.S. was $16.90 for a one-pound bag of freshly roasted coffee

Overall, Numbeo says grocery prices in the United States are 93 percent higher than in Ecuador. But there are certain items that cost a lot more at three degrees south. Peanut butter is a lot more expensive in Ecuador. Many expats crave it but cut back due to the high prices. That syrup for your pancakes will cost you more in Cuenca. Canned tomato paste and tomato sauce are more in Cuenca. Want a can of soup? That Campbell’s soup is about three times more in Cuenca than in the United States. And that price is for the soups you can find. There are some soups that can’t be found all the time in Cuenca.

Frankly, many canned foods are more expensive. That is because Ecuadorians cook from scratch. They are not buying convenience foods for their meals. And, of course, most familiar North American brands are imported.

Hopefully, this post shows you that you do not have to burn a hole in your pocket to live in Cuenca. It is a very affordable place to live while maintaining your quality of life. Frankly, I think your quality of life will improve greatly by living here in Cuenca.

A lot more information on life in Cuenca can be found in my book, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life.” Some say it is the most thorough book out there concerning moving to and living in this beautiful city.

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Salud, mi amigos.

Una Nueva Vida – A New Life

- by Stephen Vargha

There are over 80 professional-quality photos shot by me to give you a clear ‘picture’ about life in this historic mountain city.