Each morning when I wake up in my three-bedroom home in Toluca, Mexico, I have to stop and pinch myself. Before I make my coffee, before I walk my dog around the neighborhood, before I go shopping for fresh produce for the day, I have to make sure I’m actually awake.
My boyfriend, Max, and I chose to move here for various reasons, and it’s no secret that the low-cost of living was one of them. Before moving to Toluca, we lived in South Korea for two years, with short periods back home in the U.S., and a six-month stay in Pachuca, Mexico as well. Since we both work online—I work as a freelancer content writer and online teacher—we could really live anywhere. However, Mexico had everything we wanted, so it was an easy decision.
Choosing where to live in Mexico was another story. Although many expats might settle down in beachside towns like Cancún or foreigner-friendly cities like San Miguel de Allende, we knew we wanted something different. A chance to experience the local culture more intimately, without being too far away from the basic comforts.
Toluca has everything you’d want. It has two malls, a local market, movie theatres that show foreign films, an ice skating rink, Japanese restaurants, and they recently built a bowling alley. Of course, Toluca also has its own unique attractions. For instance, one of the largest volcanoes in Mexico, Nevado de Toluca, is just 45 minutes from us. Toluca also has the most museums in Mexico outside of Mexico City, and the historic center of Metepec is only a five-minute ride away. Best of all, we’re only an hour bus ride from Mexico City, so life is pretty good.
My home, which includes a front yard and backyard, costs Max and I less than $500 a month. The ingredients we need to cook with, which we buy at a market five minutes down the road, cost us around $3 a meal. On the days that we decide we’re too lazy to cook, we’ll get a big meal of barbacoa tacos with soup, which fills us up for the whole day and costs less than a cup of coffee from a 7-Eleven in the U.S.
Here, I never have to feel guilty about spending money like I would back home. I can go to a fancy restaurant, and it will cost us $20. We take Uber rides to get where we’re going, which cost about $1 to $2, wherever you’re going in the city. Another reason we chose Mexico was because of the cheap veterinary costs. We can get our dog’s vaccinations for about $5 a pop.
Some days I’ll go to a café to do my work. While I’m there, I’ll order a light breakfast of chilaquiles (a traditional tortilla dish), or huevos estrellados (sunny-side up eggs) with bread and french fries. On the side, I’ll order a fresh orange juice with a strong cup of coffee. I’ll write for a few hours, answer e-mails, and work with my partner on our new business—a business to help guide others to reach their travel goals, like us.
After paying the check and leaving a generous tip, we’re out about $7 for the two of us. We pick up our backpacks, and walk around the old city center of Toluca or Metepec. We walk on the cobblestone streets, admire the churches and colorful buildings, read a book in the sunshine, and maybe, stop at a bar to grab a $2 beer on the way home.
On Friday nights, we go see a foreign film at the movies. This is a good chance for me to practice my Spanish, since German movies don’t have English subtitles. The movie will cost us about $6 total, and if we catch a matinee before 3 p.m., we’ll pay only $2. This is a huge plus for me, since going to the movies back home was never really an option.
When my friends hear all of this, I find myself telling them: “Yes, that’s really what my rent costs…but wait until you hear about the price of avocados in Mexico…”