What is your idea of living well? Would you like to spend less money to live better than you are living right now?
The idea behind the Expat Experiment is to find places where we can live well for less than living at home in Canada. Researching and learning first-hand traveling, we know places where we can do that and want to share some of our findings.
We use different resources to learn about basic costs in the countries that we consider visiting. Cost of living and easy, cheap accessibility are the major determining factors for where we chose to travel. Using resources like PriceOfTravel.com, Numbeo.com and different expat forums has helped us choose countries that best fit our budget, although both can be subjective.
We spent two months in southern Spain and were stunned how affordable it was to live well there. We knew it would be cheaper than costs in Canada but were surprised to learn how cheap costs were compared to other countries we visited like Colombia, Ecuador and Romania.
We lived like locals in a small community called Fuente Mar between the towns of Vera and Garrucha for eight weeks. Here is our experience with costs, culture, and the major money-saving elements that helped us live better for less two months on the coast in southern Spain.
Average Living costs in Spain were the Cheapest of all the countries we’ve visited!
Traveling like we do, staying in accommodations with kitchens we eat at home a lot to save money. Shopping for groceries in Garrucha, Spain was so much fun. Our grocery bills were the cheapest they have been, on average (for the items we like to buy) 263% cheaper than in Canada! There was no problem finding the things we love to eat, including gluten free options for me which hasn’t been our experience anywhere else we have visited.
In Colombia and Romania, we struggled to find certain items or found some things we wanted so expensive we couldn’t justify spending the money to buy them. We didn’t have any problems finding items we needed for agreeable prices in Garrucha.
There, we shopped for food at two places, local outdoor markets, and a large modern grocery store (Mercadona). Here is a breakdown of our average costs for common grocery items, and total costs for food bought including local outdoor markets:
At the grocery store in Garrucha, the total cost for all food, wine, and beer bought weekly\monthly at grocery stores was $54.50 USD weekly\$218 USD monthly. $218 USD monthly for a family of three!
Costs of basic individual items in USD:
Milk (1 Litre)- $0.75
Cheese (500 Grams)- $2.85
Eggs- (carton of 12 large)- $1.48
Bread (fresh baked 500 Grams)- $0.90
Chicken breasts (boneless, skinless), (1 Kg)- $6.48
Apples (1Kg)- $1.69
Oranges (1 Kg)- $1.35
Tomato (1 Kg)- $1.85
Potato (1 Kg)- $0.94
Bottle of Wine- $1.97
Domestic beer- (0.5 Litre bottle)- $0.60
Costs for items bought at the open air market in Garrucha were even cheaper than prices for the same items at the grocery store. Items we bought at the market were all fresh and would have cost a premium at home in Canada. Our weekly/monthly cost at the market was $ 36.74 weekly\ $146.96 monthly.
Costs of fresh local specialty items at the Garrucha Market:
Cherries (1 Kg)- $2.19
Broccoli (1 Kg)- $1.97
Olives (500 Grams)- $2.25
Cheese (Manchego), (1 Kg)- $9.87
Cheese (Gouda), (1 Kg)- $7.68
Cured meats and sausage (1 Kg)- Average $4.39
The Mercadona grocery store we shopped at in Garrucha was like the grocery store we shopped at back home. It had everything we needed, but prices were less than half for most items compared to the Safeway in Canada. There wasn’t a high concentration of chain businesses in both Garrucha and Vera, but we didn’t have trouble locating locally owned places to buy items we wanted or needed.
Our total cost for grocery and market items including beer, wine, and specialty items was $365 USD monthly.
Food costs were so affordable in Spain we ate out more than we usually would. Vera and Garrucha are popular tourist destinations and most restaurants offered specials for tapas and drinks to entice visitors to eat and drink at their establishments.
The specials were so reasonable, even the tapas bars in prime locations along the beach we had our pick of places that agreed with our modest budget. We like to find restaurants outside the tourist zones. Doing so saves us money and helps us make more meaningful local connections.
We found two great tapas bars a few blocks off the beach with even better prices than the restaurants along the beach and the size and quality of tapas was bigger and better as well! The service and prices were so good we visited those tapas bars two times weekly. The cost for six tapas, a basket of bread, a bucket of six mini beers, 3 glasses of wine, a coke, and a pastry came to a whopping $18.65 USD! We did eat at other restaurants in Garrucha, Vera and close to Fuente Mar as well.
Average restaurant Costs in USD:
Inexpensive Restaraunt (Tapas and drinks for three)- $11.00- $18.00
Meal for three in a mid to upper-class restaurant (three courses and a bottle of house wine)- $55.00
We enjoyed eating out two to three times weekly spending $272 USD monthly.
Accommodation is where we saved on living costs in Spain the most
Apartments for long term rent in Garrucha (near the beach)– You can find one bedroom furnished apartments for $355.00 per month, and two bedroom penthouses for $465.00 per month.
A lot of long term lets come furnished or partially furnished as well.
Vacation rentals: villas and apartments (near the beach)– Prices range from $247.00 a week for a fully outfitted 2 bedroom villa (that’s $35 a night) to $945 a week for larger 3 bedroom units ( $135 a night).
Our accommodation for the two months we spent in Spain is where we saved the most. Our total rental costs were $0.00!! It cost us absolutely nothing to stay in a lovely gated community with access to two beautiful pools; three short blocks from the beach! How did we do it?
We garnered two months free accommodation doing the one thing that makes travel so affordable for us, housesitting!
Housesitting is a major cost saving element for us and in Spain it made an affordable stay a downright steal! We landed a two-month assignment on HouseSitMatch, it was only the second assignment we had applied for on that platform and we got the job.
If we had rented a vacation villa in the same style and community it would have cost us $3120.00 for two months accommodation. Not having to pay rent for accommodation was a huge saving for us!
The average living costs in Spain were definitely right for our budget, but money isn’t everything, safety, culture, and how tourists are received are just as important to us.
We speak very little Spanish, which is shameful because we have spent almost an entire year in Spanish-speaking countries! The community, Fuente Mar was a mix of Irish expats, Spanish residents and vacationers from all over the world. There were many English speaking people in the community and in the restaurants and businesses closest to Fuente Mar.
Alternatively, we encountered very few English speaking people when we went to Garrucha and Vera. That wasn’t a problem because locals were genuinely friendly and interested in tourists. At the tapas bars and stores we frequented owners and shopkeepers welcomed us like the owners of our favorite places back home.
We didn’t rent a car because everything we needed was within walking distance. We felt very safe walking along the beach and in town, even at night. I went outside the community to the store or to walk with the dogs we were petsitting on my own at night and in the early morning and never felt at risk as a woman.
The bottom line on living costs in Spain
Living costs in Spain were the cheapest of all the places we’ve visited. Costs for food and accommodation were cheaper than Colombia, Ecuador, and Romania. We loved everything about the culture, the people, and the location (close to the sea). We spent $1495USD for all of our food, transportation (not including flights), entertainment, and accommodation ($0.00 thanks to housesitting). That makes our average cost per day $24.91 for a family of three!
Comparably, we spent six months with free accommodation house sitting in Panama and our average cost per day there was $41.12. Spain was 55% cheaper than Panama for us, and over 100% cheaper than Colombia, Ecuador, and Romania because of the accommodation costs in those countries. The most interesting thing is, if we had paid for a long-term lease in Garrucha we would have spent $2244 ($37.40 per day), Spain is still cheaper than Panama. Spain stunned us with how affordable it was.
Where have you visited that costs were amazingly affordable? Please feel free to share your findings in the comments.