Thursday, July 07, 2011

Cost of living in San Miguel de Allende


There is a perception among some ex-pats already living in Mexico that it too expensive to live in San Miguel. Not true. I'm going to give you real-life examples.

Many of the people I know live here on their social security - I being one of them. Mine is $1,200 a month. I have a female friend who lives here and has lived here for five years on $700 a month. Don't believe it? It's true.

Now lest you think that people living on that little bit are being deprived of a wonderful life, let me spell out some of the ways to save in this great place to live. Their lives are full and exciting.

Shopping at tianguis for Ann Taylor, Liz Claiborne, Ralph Lauren, Polo - in other words, name brands often for 20 pesos or a little more. Yes, you do have the fun of digging though stacks but just like finding a diamond in the rough - the thrill of the hunt is part of the joy. The vicarious thrill one gets when complimented on an outfit and thinking, "Geez, this whole outfit cost less then $4US", or $10US or even $15US.

Shopping at the mercado for fruits and veggies. One can hardly carry the bag that costs 50 pesos - stuffed with bananas, melons, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, etc. etc.etc. Also Mega on Wednesday has the most amazing prices.....the place is a three ring circus of Mexicans and ex-pats getting the bargains.

When it comes to eating out, most of us on a budget eat out mid-day or for breakfast. Cafe Monet has an amazingly wide menu for breakfast at the startling price of 39 pesos. The palapa restaurant has tacos for 10 pesos and hamburger con queso for 25! Many, many restaurants have prix-fixe menus for around 60 pesos for a drink, entree, salad and dessert!

Meds come with discounts, if one gets the chains discount card or uses their INAPAM card for additional discounts.

We walk - don't use our cars except when leaving town. Don't eat out but a couple of times a week. Go to free concerts, lectures, art gallery openings and have meals at each other's homes - which is the most enjoyable.

Board games, cards, marjong, Scrabble and pool are a few other ways to spend time without spending money.

Books - we share - we pass on - we review in book clubs. We don't feel deprived.

Yes, there are people here with three cars, swimming pools, large amounts of money, and big houses. But, for the most part, they are generous and share. They share either with those of us who don't have as much or they share with all the charities here who raise funds for scholarships, schooling, uniforms, health care, meals, music lessons, computers. The list goes on and on and on. Volunteering, if you desire, is another free way to enjoy life.

Many ex-pats come here for creative endeavors such as writing, painting, sculpture or jewelry making, to name a few. Many pay rents of from $200 a month on up. And that $200 a month place that comes to mind is adorable - and that includes all the utilties and satellite TV with the most incredible views!

Bargains are here - you just have to look for them. And, for those who brag that it costs them thousands a month to live in Mexico or San Miguel, to be truthful, I feel sorry for them. They've missed the essence of the country.
Posted by Picasa


Marc Olson said...

Things sound really about the same as they are over here in Mérida, with perhaps somethings a little cheaper, some a little more expensive. For example, economical restaurant meals in my neighborhood run 25 - 40 pesos, a little less, but fruits and vegetables here seem to be more expensive that what you report.

I really appreciate your statement in the last paragraph. Lots of folks here have been able to find nice colonial style houses for reasonable prices, then spend a fortune turning them into showplaces, and unfortunately often without much respect for the original architecture. There are what I think of as the "house people" whose lives and social circles revolve around outdoing each other in having impressive homes. They fall into that category you so clearly described: "They've missed the essence of the country."

Tancho said...

Thanks Babs for reaffirming that one can live well on 1K a month if they want to. I have been telling people that if they are willing to live more modest life, they could even survive for a little more than half that and still eat out.
The most expensive thing that we seem to have are expenses like insurance, CFE, and filling the tank in the pickup truck. We enjoy running into Morelia at least 2 or 3 times a week, and that eats up the funds a little faster.
A change of basic life style will help a lot in order for one to survive comfortably!

Steve Cotton said...

Nice summary. And great myth-buster.

Babs said...

Marc - The same happens here with buying and restoring the big houses. I don't get it - especially when they ship all their furniture from the USA. Recreating their previous life - doesn't make sense to me.
I've traveled all over Mexico but have not gotten to Merida yet - it is definitely on my "to do" list...soon.

Babs said...

Tancho - I don't have any insurance except car which is minimal - about $250 a year. As far as CFE goes, we all learned here to have two meters to keep the kwh down - then you go into the lower paying category and your bills are minimal. Like 40 pesos a month to 200 pesos a month!

Babs said...

Thanks Steve and hopefully so.

jennifer rose said...

Barbara, please be careful about commenting about the 2 CFE meters. Not every property configuration meets the CFE standard for that; there are many genuinely poor people who can't qualify as easily as some foreigners for that government subsidy on electricity.

Now, someone's going to read about the $200/month place with all utilities including cable included and wonder why landlords aren't sharing their wealth with them. Those are the rare, very rare finds, and they're not the rule. Prospective tenants usually do not have the first clue what utilities actually do cost.

Babs said...

Jennifer, here in San Miguel, if you rent from a Mexican family and not a gringo you can find some real deals on rentals. Cello who owns the pharmacy at the corner of Canal and Hernandez Macias has over 100 rentals and most are under $400 US a month......which includes utilities. They are well maintained and very, very nice. But, as I said you have to know who to ask and where to go.....

The only way I knew about CFE initially was when I first moved here the bill on the guest house was over 2000 pesos! I called, they put in a new meter and THEY suggested two meters. I would never have known or thought of that idea. Since then many people have learned about it when complaining to CFE about 5000 pesos bills. With two meters their bills are less then 1000 pesos a month.

roni said...

I enjoyed your post!


Babs said...

Thanks Ron!

Calypso said...

Thanks for the info Babs - In the Xalapa area CFE is cracking down on the two meter issue. You now must validate that the meters are in fact for separate abodes. We have friends that had installed the meter pods and separate wiring only to be refused that option (and know of similar stories). So that option may be going away.

Learning to live frugally is an ongoing education and dance. It is possible and fluid.

Babs said...

Hey Calypso - One does learn to just deal with whatever comes along. Luckily I had to live more frugally after my husband died then I do now since I had three kids to raise. So, I'm the Queen of Frugal. Luckily there were years inbetween that when my business was going "great guns" that I enjoyed about twenty years of not having to worry about money. Aaah, but, those days are gone. So be it.

billow said...

All of these posts here are fascinating and educational for us occasional tourists. Thanks.

Gin said...

Your blog is a favorite of mine. We lived in Alamos, Sonora for 11 yrs. and still own our home there but alas life has taken a different turn for us. I love your positive attitude about Mexico. It's so true that one can live on much less if they are content to enjoy the life around them and not the material things. We lived in a barrio, shopped around and learned the cheaper Mexican way of living. Having a wonderful Mexican neighbor to teach us the ropes helped. He taught us to ask what the lowest price would be and when it was quoted, he'd ask for a discount, lol, it worked. One thing you didn't mention is the very reasonable fees charged by the local repair men, i.e. electrical work such as A/C or appliance repair. They seem to be able to make anything work again.

Babs said...

Hi Gin - Thanks for writing. I would so love to get up to Alamos some day - when and how I have no idea.
You're so right about the repair people. The plumber is so reasonable that I think I should pay HER more - yes it is a Mexican woman!
My "handyman" gardener is great too. He just rebuilt the wooden stairs to the guest house with concrete for less then 20 pesos. We'll see how long they last....ha

Unknown said...

Greetings Babs -

As one who's seriously thinking of moving to SMA upon retirement, I love posts such as this! Though I'm confused about financial requirements to move to Mexico vs. live in Mexico. I realize one can live there on much less, though my understanding is there's a certain requirement ratio of income to the Mexican minimum wage? And if that's not met (and I understand it can, of course, change) then you are not allowed to become a resident?


Babs said...

Dear Unknown - I won't even attempt to give you the answers on income and resident status etc. since the new Immigration law signed by Calderon is still being interpreted.

I suggest for all information, go to It is the most comprehensive site I know of for all the questions you might have about moving to Mexico.

An example, you used to have to have a menaje to bring your furnishings into Mexico. No more.
When the Gypsy Kids moved here on the 31st of December last year, the border persons at the Columbia Bridge said it was no longer necessary and never looked at it!

My point being things are in a state of flux, even for those of us who have lived here for a long time. My thought is that it will be easier, not harder. Stay tuned or go over to Rolly's site and read.

Good luck with your decision.

1st Mate said...

Well, it appears your cost of living is actually a little lower than in San Carlos, Sonora. Of course, we save quite a lot if we drive 20 minutes to Guaymas to do our shopping, and if we frequent tianguis. But we have to drive or ride a bike (not this time of year!) to get anywhere because our town is strung out along the main street instead of being clustered as SJA probably is. I want to come visit! What about hotel prices?

Babs said...

Hope you do get here some day - and I want to get up there! There is a website for any town in Mexico for hotels. It is

If you're coming for a week or more often it is less expensive to rent a house -

The little hotel that I used to stay in when I was driving around Mexico loading stuff to take back for restaurants is the Quinta Loreto - very minimally priced - has a good little restaurant on the premises and it is in a great location right next to the artisan's market........

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for your insight. I have been living in Cuenca, Ecuador for a year now (retired from the US). I love it, but the weather apparently changed drastically about the time I moved. The sunny day is rare here now and it's always cold inside because there is no heating.

So I have been considering a move to SMA. My SS is only $900 a month and the rentals advertised on the internet are too high for me.

Again, thanks for the encouragement and I look forward to meeting should should the move become a reality. Ciao for now....Sheryl Cooper

bill ellis said...

Why does having two power meters lower your power bills? Where do you think the best person or company to locate a long term rental. We lived in SMA for a couple of years about 12 years ago. We came for a short visit a year ago and was surprised at the changes. None seemed for the worse, just more Americanized so to speak.

Babs said...

There is a point when the kwh hours throws you into a higher paying bracket. Hence, if you have two meters it is unlikely that that will happen.
There are so many ways to find a place to rent here. I believe the Atencion newspaper is online now with their ads. Or just put in San Miguel rentals. I found my houses by sitting on the bench in the jardin and asking if anyone knew of a rental! I've been here 11 years. You can go through realtors, or vrbo or a zillion ways. There are lots of things we have here that weren't here when I came. Nicer grocery stores, more choice of items in the grocery stores, lots more to do. Mexico is not for everyone but I absolutely know I made the right decision. Good luck in your decision.
You can find places to rent from $375 a month to $3000 a month now.

Unknown said...

Hi Babs - I'm thinking of retiring in San Miguel next spring (2013). Can you put me in touch with Cello that owns/manages those many apartments for $500/month or less? Thanks! Jerry Toth

Babs said...

Gerald - Cielo owns a pharmacy at the corner of Canal and Hernandes Macias. I couldn't find a phone # for the farmacia. She HAS to meet you anyway, in person, and then if she has one, she'll show it to you.

I've sent people to her when my guest house was not available and it was difficult to get her to even show one to them.

I do have a guest house available but its available now. You might want to go to the current posts and read Casa Tranquilo. When you remove the cost of utlities, satellite TV and internet my house rents for $550. I include all the costs in one figure so the renter doesn't have to go to CFE, Telmex, Sapasma, etc. etc. etc. to pay the bills. Sorry to answer on the blog but you didn't send me an email address to respond to you privately.

Unknown said...

Hi, Very helpful post. Thanks for doing it.

Are Cielo's rentals furnished?

If not, what is the price range for furnished ones - a small 1 bedroom and a small 2 bedroom respectively?

Babs said...

Yes, Cielo's rentals are furnished as are most rentals here. In fact it is difficult to find rentals that are unfurnished.
I suggest you put in San Miguel house rentals and you will get lots of info. Also the Craigslist for Guanajuato where there are San Miguel rentals.
I know what I rent my guest house for and it is typically below market for the quality of the furnishings and the maintenance of the grounds and house. There are so many rentals, I couldn't begin to quote prices Good luck in your search.

Casey said...

Hi everyone. Not sure if I fit in with this group, but I am thinking of moving to Mexico and the lifestyles you all are describing are so very appealinfg to me. Difference? Age. I am only 32. Anyone have advice regarding employment? I have no interest in starting a business or teaching ESL. Just want to hear from actual people instead of clicking on generic Google links. Thanks. Casey

Babs said...

Dear Casey - The immigration laws have changed in the last year as to who can work and live in Mexico as a temporary resident- that is a category which allows you to apply for a work permit. Work permits are allocated based on your profession and the job. The new requirement is that you can prove an income of $2500 a month if you rent, $1900 a month if you own property. Jobs are not plentiful for people in your age range in this area and almost none pay that much that I'm aware of. So, unless you have some other means of income it isn't a bright picture.
I suggest you come down for a bit on a tourist visa which is good for 6 months only to check things out.
Good luck.

Casey said...

That's what I was afraid of. Nevertheless, my mom and I are making a trip to SM next month. If anything I expect being in the country will reawaken my desire to try to move there. Thank you for your honest reply, Babs.

jdv said...

Thinking of visiting SMA and possibly retiring there but with so many Americans moving to Mexico I wonder about inflation--will prices skyrocket? Love your blog, Babs, and wonder what you've experienced over the past several years as far as inflation goes.

Bloomington, IN

Babs said...

Hi JDV - The advantage is that we operate on the value of the peso..and the dollar for the most part has been strong against the dollar.
However, the immigration laws for residency in Mexico changed last November. Now, if you own property you must show income in US dollars of $1950US per month. IF you rent, as I do, you must show $2450 a month. Up until the change it was $1200 a month. THAT is significant.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic web site! I am loving it!! Will be back later to study some much more. I am using your feeds also
can an engagement ring be a wedding ring
henri daussi

MKTG 20261 Marketing Student said...

Hello! Love your blog! A few years ago, you mentioned that Cello who owns the pharmacy at the corner of Canal and Hernandez Macias has over 100 rentals and most are under $400 US a month. Does Cello still do these economical rentals? If so, how do we contact him/her? Thanks!

Babs said...

Thanks Mktg for your comment. Yes, Cello does still have rentals. She has retired but her son is now handling the rentals.
You must go in person to the farmacia to meet and ask about the rentals. We are still an informal society where meeting in person, not by internet is required.
Good luck in your quest.

Unknown said...

So love your blog. I am now subscribing to receive updates weekly. I'm new to the blog business and not sure of the etiquette, so I apologize if I make a faux pas! I will be in SMA November 29th thru the 26th and would love to buy you a dinner if you are available. I can't think of anything better than sitting down with someone who has the experience you have. I hope to retire in 2-3 yrs. and am considering SMA and Tequis. Please let me know if you will have time for a lunch or dinner this November.
Thank you so much.
The "other" Barbara

Carol Troy | Cheap Chic said...

I'm looking for a place to rent -- before I decide on a long-term place on SMA. Haven't been there since 1998 or so. Does your pharmacist/rental source still exist? I'm coming down mid-November!
Carol Troy

Babs said...

Hi Carol - The woman who was the pharmacist has retired in her 80's and she is no longer handling the rentals.

I do suggest you look at the Craigslist, VRBO, the Atencion newspaper and best of all "word of mouth". I found my place sitting on the bench in the jardin. Rents have gone up dramatically since 1998. If you wish to email me for more info, please send an email to I'll be glad to answer any questions I can.

Thanks for writing.