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Eye-popping U.S. Prices Force Americans Southward

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Not to be a nag but, hey, American businesspeople, what's up with the astounding prices we're seeing for everyday things? By way of evidence to support my griping, I present here a short and random assemblage of consumer items whose prices have made my jaw drop and my eyes pop in recent days.

A certain prolific cook I know (my wife) periodically wears out one of those little knobs on top of the stove that control the gas burners. The last time I ordered one, however, the price had shot up to (including an obviously inflated mailing charge) a cool $60 -- for a little plastic knob. KitchenAid, and the third party to whom they've (all too characteristically) outsourced the provisioning of these knobs do have the nerve, don't you think?

Then there's that display of candy bars at Whole Foods Market -- one of the myriad of "impulse items" positioned right by the checkout line so everyone has to go by them (well, it's actually more of a checkout gauntlet, festooned on both sides now with rows and rows of impulse items). But, come on, folks. Has it come to this? Five dollars for a candy bar?

I was just quietly stewing until now, when I was finally moved to document my pain. What forced me into action was when I espied, again at Whole Foods, what they had done with the price of asparagus. I do try to buy organic when I can, but $5.99 a pound for organic asparagus? Hmmmm...I think I'll go with the conventional at a mere $3.99 a pound this time around. Or is it time to change grocery stores in favor of a place with fewer Land Rovers in the parking lot?

Meanwhile, the price of Whole Foods stock has risen 500 percent since the bottom of our economy's little flirtation with "Great Depression Part 2" in 2008. At least Whole Foods shareholders don't seem to be suffering.

Getting even by bugging out

Changing grocery stores is one way to rebel, I suppose. But an even more radical idea has been percolating in my mind for a few years: moving to Mexico, Ecuador or Panama.

I travel -- to Mexico in particular -- and I know that prices for many things in my favorite corner of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, are much lower than here. Rather palatial homes in Merida are going for $200,000, nice ones for $100,000, and if you don't believe me, check out the real estate listings at Tierra Yucatan (no, they didn't pay me). Merida is dripping with culture and class and beautiful architecture, and my friends who live there love it -- except, perhaps, for about five months of the year when it gets really hot.

Even more adventurous is the scenario in my mind about moving to Quito or Cuenca, in Ecuador. Beautiful furnished apartments in Cuenca, a Spanish-colonial university city, rent for $600-800 a month. Very nice condos sell for under $150,000. A four-course mid-day meal at an excellent restaurant costs $1.50. And you wouldn't believe the produce (much of it organic) grown in this verdant climate. On the equator but at 8,000 feet, days are in the 70s and nights in the 50s, a climate that Kent Zimmerman, formerly of Boulder and now residing part of the year in Cuenca, describes as "Aspen in the summer, year-round" (Kent has a blog where you can tune in on his enthusiasm for South America).

Another place is Panama. I've talked with Zach Daudert, a new-tech guru with Boulder's People Productions and Boulder Digital Arts. He spends half his year in Panama and loves the warm climate, the lifestyle and the prices.

It's no wonder that a growing number of American boomers, as they move into their retirement years -- which for many are also the fixed-income years -- are seriously considering a move south. In fact, not just considering, but bugging out. Quite a few of them are writing blogs. Googling and reading those blogs will give you a good sense of what it's like to undertake a major change of domicile to Latin America.

You have to be willing to learn Spanish and, yes, overlook poverty, stray dogs and other inevitable challenges of being an expat. But in return, you're in a New World. And maybe a world with fewer "capitalists gone wild" charging those ridiculous prices.

(A somewhat different version of this rant appeared in The Boulder Reporter, which the author edits.)

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