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The Penny Pincher's Guide To A Millionaire Lifestyle In Latin America

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An affordable lifestyle was definitely one of the reasons we became expats nearly 12 years ago.

The opportunity to halve our cost of living and still enjoy better weather, healthier food, lower-cost-but-quality medical care, and a truly relaxed, "off the treadmill" pace of life was one we couldn't pass up.

Since then we've lived in several spots in Mexico, Central, and South America. And we can say from first-hand experience that you really can live better for less in some breathtakingly beautiful and interesting countries.

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Right now we live in a small village in Ecuador's northern Andes, between the towering peaks of Volcán Imbabura and Volcán Cotacachi. The views from our terrace are outstanding, the indigenous culture is fascinating, and our costs are low... one of our favorite lunches in town is a three-course almuerzo for just $2.50.

In Mexico, Panama, and Nicaragua, we've also lived in beautiful settings, and always at a much lower cost than we might at home.

But don't ask us to provide a spreadsheet that tracks, down to the last red cent, what we've saved during our time living overseas. We don't have one. That's why, as bonafide penny-pinching expat cheapskates, we're dismal failures... and proud of it.

Not that we don't watch our expenses. Like most regular, non-millionaire folks in these strange and volatile economic times, we do live within a budget. And we know we typically spend less than $2,000 per month... sometimes far less.

But a big part of the improved quality of life we were after when we moved from the U.S. in the first place was precisely the freedom not to have to worry about every nickel and dime we pull out of our pockets.

For example, when we go to the local produce market here where we live, we return home with our two reusable shopping bags full of fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers -- and we've spent somewhere between $5 and $7. Did the onions and garlic cost a nickel more than they did last week? Did we get an extra green pepper this week for the same price as last week? Were the red and yellow roses marked up 100% this week because of some holiday we weren't aware of... did we pay $2 per dozen instead of $1.25? Don't know. Can't tell you. It's all so affordable, we're happy to not pay much attention.

Same with our water bill. It was $3.78 this billing cycle. Was it more last billing cycle? No idea. We're not even sure exactly how long a billing cycle is...one month? Two months? We aren't actually "billed" for our water, we just go to the town hall and pay it when it's due but we can't remember it ever being past due... we just try to get to the town hall every now and then to check if we owe anything.

Sometimes we stop in and we don't owe a cent, but the town hall is right next to the town's main plaza, so it's no bother to check in when we're out for a walk. (And we walk a lot, even though public transportation is crazy affordable. We don't need a car here, so we don't own one. Kaching. Less hassle, more savings.)

That's exactly the lifestyle we were after when we moved overseas in the first place... a lifestyle so affordable that we no longer did a double take at the total on the supermarket register or shuddered in fiscal fear each time the furnace or AC fired up. (Thanks to the weather where we live now, we need neither furnace nor AC, so our fiscal fear on that count has simply vanished.)

We have lots of expat friends who know exactly how much per pound they paid for fresh corvina at the fish market last week, and whether it was more or less than the last time they bought fresh corvina. They tally precisely what a dozen hot corn muffins cost at the corner bakery this morning. They even remember how much they paid this month, last month, and one year ago for electricity. (We paid $17.72 for electricity this month, but we only know this because the last bill happens to be sitting on the table.)

We don't pay close attention to all these details because, thanks to the local economy, we don't have to. And that's just the way we like it. We're happy to let our other expat friends do the tracking and fill out the spreadsheets and compare bottom lines.

Some of them are very good at it, and every now and then we envy them their interest and discipline.

But most often we revel in the fact that, although we're not millionaires, we've found a lifestyle where we can relax and have the peace of mind of one... even on a meager budget.