Cynthia Collette moved to Ecuador in 2012 from Minneapolis, Minnesota with five duffle bags and $700. Her monthly income at that time was just $600 a month.
Today, she says, “My base income has gone up a bit…to about $725 a month. In the U.S., there’s no way I know of to live on that amount, even extremely frugally.”
In the little village of Cotacachi, however, in the Andes mountains of Ecuador, she’s found that her income not only provides a decent lifestyle, but a far better quality of life.
“Cotacachi is an amazing little town,” Cynthia says. “We have the easy-going provincialism that makes everyone part of the same giant family. There are enough expats to keep me speaking enough English and not to feel isolated but not so many that I’m not making friends in my neighborhood and the Spanish-speaking community in general. The culture, cost of living, climate, and attitudes are what I’ve been searching for and I’ve found all of them in one sweet, little place.”
Ecuadorians, she adds, are much more relaxed and easy-going than North Americans tend to be. Family and friends are important to them.
“People care about their friends, family, and neighbors more than anywhere I’ve ever lived. It was a little odd at first to have my neighbors say, ‘Where are you going’ whenever they saw me leaving my house, but I came to understand that it’s genuine interest in my life more than being nosy.”
Cotacachi also has a well-organized and growing expat community. And Cynthia soon found that she had something to offer her fellow expats.
“Even though it really is possible to live here on as little as $600 a month—which I did for a year,” she says, “that doesn’t leave much for discretionary spending. When I discovered people needed someone to move into their homes to care for pets and the house while they were away on vacation, my extra income began. Depending on how many people are in need of my services, I generally add $250 to $300 a month to my income by house- and pet-sitting.”
The money is welcome, she says, “but it’s also great to have a little bundle of fur to spend time with.”
Cynthia has found other ways to add to her income, too…and by doing things she loves to do.
“I’ve been crocheting afghans and selling them for anywhere from $45 to $100, depending on costs of materials and time to make. I also make and sell zucchini sweet pickle relish. I probably only make $25 a month with that, but I enjoy doing it.”
It helps, she says, that fresh produce in Ecuador is one of the most amazing bargains around.
“The other day I bought a huge head of cauliflower, two very large avocados, a head of leaf lettuce, and 30 jumbo eggs for just $5.80.”
Other everyday costs are low in Ecuador, too.
“If I want to go shopping in the nearby town of Otavalo (about a 15-minute drive), I can take a bus for 35 cents or a taxi for $6. My rental house isn’t typical, but I live extremely comfortably in my small 300-square-foot house for $100 a month. I spend less than $5 a month for gas and electricity.”
As Cynthia points out, the typical going price for house and apartment rentals in Cotacachi is from $350 to $700 or so. The upper end is almost always fully-furnished and in a lovely building or gated community.
“When I housesit, I almost always get to have a washer and dryer at my disposal, which I don’t have in my own small home,” she says.
“I enjoy housesitting,” she adds, and says she feels fortunate to have a steady supply of clients. “But I also love being in my small, comfortable home. And when people tell me I need to get a pet of my own I tell them I have lots of them, they just live all over town.”