Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Price of Things

Fellow blogger and friend Janna asked me to do a post about the cost of things in Mexico. She said, "I'm curious, what with the economy issues here. And how do they convert to American dollars?"

I haven't done much research on this topic, but I can tell you what I know from living here. That's why you read my blog anyways, right? (Note: all of this is based on my observations.) In terms of the economy, while there are wealthy people, a larger percentage of people live in poverty. The difference is what that poverty means. In the US, if people don't make enough money, there are programs for food (food stamps), health care (medicade), education (public schools), etc. Here, poverty means no electricity or running water, and you're lucky to get milk or meat once a day.

The Mexican government does very little for it's people. There is no free school, and while it's not expensive, parents have to pay every month for their child's education. They also are required to buy uniforms.

I know people will argue with me about my statement about health care in the US, and I hear you, but here if you don't have money, you don't get help. Some things are cheaper - you can get many prescription medications for a lower price and my doctor's appointments have cost roughly the same as what I paid at home, but here I don't have insurance. So I'm actually paying less because there's no premium. The doctors also spend more time with you and take their time figuring out what's wrong. They don't rush you out, even if there are five people waiting outside.

In our town, tourism is a huge factor in people's lives. Fishing is the main industry, but after that it's foreigners spending their hard earned money. People clamor for the seasonal jobs at hotels and restaurants, hoping to make enough money to get them through the long, slow summer. Many, many people own their own businesses. I believe you don't need a permit to open one and if you have the space and the will, you can have your own shop. Vendors line the streets selling fruit, straw hats, model ships, you name it.

One thing I didn't mention is gas. Mexico has one gas company called PeMex. It's run by the state and is the only place to get fuel for your vehicle. Attendants pump your gas, and I only recently found out you should tip them because they make next to nothing. And here next to nothing means a couple dollars a day. I've had trouble figuring out the cost of gas because 1) it's in liters, and 2) it's in pesos. Our car has a 14 gallon tank and 200 pesos fills it halfway.

Right now the peso:dollar ratio is 13:1. I generally do an even 10% switch in my head, but for the past couple months the peso has been losing value (a sign of the economy, no doubt) so that math is a little off. But, if I were to follow the 10% rule, 200 pesos would equal $20US, which would mean it takes $40 to fill our tank. When I left the US in February '07 it was costing between $35 and $40 to fill the tank, so my guess is... we're about the same for gas, with Mexico possible being a little cheaper.

Now, food. Prices vary, but most things are cheaper, especially produce. But it all depends on where the food originated. Imported food is naturally more expensive, especially things that don't come from the US. Seafood and produce seem to be the cheapest items, but I'll do a basic rundown for you, based on our shopping this week. A quick refresher - one kilo equals 2.2 pounds.

At the Market

4 kilos oranges & 1 cantaloupe: 33 pesos
1/2 kilo of fresh shrimp: 50 pesos
3 sandwich buns: 6 pesos
3 gala apples & 2 pears: 33 pesos (those are always expensive)
3 pieces of marinated, flattened chicken: 20 pesos
1/2 kilo freshly ground coffee: 35 pesos
6 bananas: 7 pesos
1 papaya, 1 potato, 1 onion, 2 chiles, 2 avocados (also expensive): 30 pesos

The Grocery Store

1 liter skim milk: 12 pesos
drinkable yogurt: 4 pesos
1 liter cooking oil: 35 pesos
1 pkg US-brand granola: 33 pesos
loaf of American bread: 30 pesos
dozen eggs: 19 pesos
single can of soda: 5 pesos
jar of red pepper flakes: 16 pesos
4 heads of garlic: 7 pesos
large jar of mayo: 31 pesos
900ml container of sour cream: 16 pesos
fresh tortellini: 34 pesos
1 stick of butter: 8 pesos

I know this is kind of a random mix of things, but this should give you an idea of the price of things. One thing I didn't mention is electronics, which tend to be much more expensive than in the US. Household items (large and small) tend to be about the same, as do clothes. You find a lot more cheap clothes here, but I think that's just because of the economic reality of people living here. Larger metropolises have expensive stores, like anywhere else in the world.

Did I miss anything? Something else you'd like to know about? If you ever have a topic you'd like me to address, just let me know!


spyscribbler said...

Wow, cool! Food has gotten expensive here. What about rent/mortgage? DH worked with someone from Mexico and he said pays the equivalent of $200 a month for a house as big as ours.

Melanie Avila said...

We try to buy as much fresh food as we can, since that keeps the price down. Produce at the grocery store is twice as expensive.

I'm not really sure about rent. Because this is a tourist town, a lot of prices reflect that, but you can get cheap places. Our condo is 2 bedrooms/1 bath, roughly 600 sq ft, and we paid just under $40K US for it. So that's definitely cheaper.

Pink Ink said...

Yay, Melanie! Congrats on finishing NaNo!!!

Melanie Avila said...

OMG, I can't believe I forgot to mention that! D'oh.

Thanks. :)

ac said...

No free school???

I am so angry.

How much does it cost to send a kid to school and buy the uniform (in US dollars).

And do most of the kids go to school? What do the kids who don't go to school do during the day?

CJ Harley said...

Cool post. I have always wondered about the cost difference too. Thanks for sharing.

Congrats on winning NaNo.

Janna Qualman said...

Thank you! Awesome, fascinating post!

And, yes, CONGRATS on NaNo! ;)

Melanie Avila said...

AC, I'm not sure exactly. I asked Ibis and he wasn't sure. When he was in school last year, they paid 50 pesos every two weeks, so 100 per month. That was only for two hours, so I don't know if that reflects the price for smaller kids.

I think Ibis only had two uniforms as a kid, whereas the wealthier students can afford five. And it's quite common to see kids playing in their school shoes because those are the only ones they have.

They split the days into morning & afternoon, so you always see kids around - especially working in stores - but that doesn't mean they don't go to school. It's hard to say how many don't go, but I'd say they work in the family business most of the time.

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks CJ!

Melanie Avila said...

You're welcome Janna! I feel like I could've done a better job if I'd bothered researching at all, but this at least gives you an idea.

And thanks!

Jen said...

Interesting post, Mel. Thanks for sharing! I was curious myself. Love those prices on fresh produce, I have to say.


Zoe Winters said...

This is very interesting. So what's your view on healthcare then? How do you think it should be?

Janna Qualman said...

Nah, no research necessary. This is exactly along the lines of what I was curious about. :)

Robin said...

That was so interesting! The fresh produce sounds totally yummy. Prices sound so similar, I can't figure out how people afford to live. I always imagined things as being super cheap.

Major congrats on NaNo!!!!

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks Jen.

Melanie Avila said...

Zoe, do you mean here in Mexico or in the states? Things are cheaper but the average person is so poor I don't know how they manage. Mexico doesn't have much in the way of taxes, so unless that changes, they can't change the health care system.

I'm for a socialist system like in England, France, or Canada, but I doubt that'll happen in our lifetime.

Melanie Avila said...

Robin, it's sad when you realize a lot of kids don't get the nutrition they need. Even the basics.

colbymarshall said...

This remined me of funny story--When we went to Mexico on our honeymoon, we shopped at a little store and got our receipt for 1000 something pesos...but when I first glanced at it I forgot it was in pesos and almost had a heart attack! A THOUSAND DOLLAR!!?!?! And then I was like, oh...wait...

Melanie Avila said...

Colby, you should've seen me the other day when Ibis whipped out a 1000 peso bill. I was like "we're rich!"

Nadine said...

Wow, $40k for a condo? That's awesome! I don't think that would buy anything where I live. Not even a wooden hut.

Fascinating stuff about where you live, thanks for sharing!

spyscribbler said...

Whatcha doing down there for T-day? Ignoring it? A special dinner?

Melanie Avila said...

Nadine, there's plenty here for prices similar to in the US. Ours isn't in a very nice neighborhood.

Melanie Avila said...

Spy, I'd love to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but Ibis works until 8pm and all my friend are Canadian. Just yesterday an American friend called and invited me to go out to dinner with her - we're having Italian. Hopefully Ibis can join us after work.