A couple of years have passed since I made my way from northern Idaho to middle-of-the-earth Ecuador, but thanks to modern technology I’m able to keep up on the news and happenings from my friends back home. Recently though, it’s begun to feel as though I’m farther removed from them than by the space of a single continent.
For example, I’m hearing a lot these days about the arctic chill and endless snow that has enveloped many of the states this winter. Of course I recall days past of shoveling white powder while layered in wool socks and cozy sweaters, but it does seem a bit abstract lately. I’ve not touched a shovel, parka, or mitten in many months.
What initiates a lot of the griping though are the expenses associated with this winter fun. One friend mentioned that she is keeping her thermostat at a crisp 60 F, yet her heating bill for just one month ran well over $600. Another family I know had to replace both their hot water heater and furnace within weeks of each other—emptying thousands of dollars from their suffering savings account.
I’m reminded of those signs I used to see near subdivisions that said “If you lived here, you’d be home by now.” I want to tell my friends that if they lived in Ecuador they’d be warm by now. I want to say if they lived here they’d have saved more money by now. Of course I don’t. At least not in so many words. Instead, I empathize with them while subtly sharing my experiences this “winter.”
My friends all know that my house in the Andes near Cotacachi doesn’t need a heating or air conditioning system. If it gets a bit chilly in the evenings I throw on a sweatshirt or wrap up on the couch in my soft alpaca blanket. On occasion my husband, David, will light up a few logs in our fireplace, but that’s more out of a desire for ambiance than necessity.
I don’t want to misrepresent my life in Ecuador and I’ve made it clear to my friends that just because we don’t have to pay for heating doesn’t mean that we don’t have any expenses. David spent a recent afternoon paying all of our bills for the month. Our electric and Internet each ran $30, water was a mere $3.25, propane cost $7.50, and our annual property taxes for our new three-bedroom, two-bathroom house were a whopping $60. Yes, living here comes with costs, but I have little room to complain when my friends stateside are forking out 10 to 20 times what I pay each month in utilities alone.
I’ve noticed that my grocery bill is also a fraction of what it used to be. My family loves fresh fruits and vegetables yet when I would shop at the supermarket in the States those few items could come close to breaking the bank. But last Sunday my $20 bill bought me a bounty at our local produce market.
Half was spent on a large crate of ripe tomatoes and fresh basil which produced more than six gallons of homemade pasta sauce. An additional $5 was spent on onions, bell peppers, garlic, apples, pineapple, mangoes, and passion fruit. The last of my money was given to the gentleman in the corner booth in exchange for several ounces of turmeric, a small container of natural peanut butter, and 30 ounces of raw honey.
Thanks to the local expat community I’ve learned the tricks of shopping at the market. Getting there early in the morning gives you the best choice while avoiding the large crowds. Certain vendors are willing to give better deals. Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for a lower price if it seems unreasonable.
I try not to boast about my pennies on the dollar lifestyle, but what kind of person would I be if I kept all of this to myself? My friends should know that moderate weather, a low cost of living, and a good quality of life are not mutually exclusive. After all, I’m living proof that you can have it all!
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