Indulging Our Passions on $1,800 a Month on the Costa Brava, Spain

The smell of baking bread greets me as I walk along the narrow medieval streets in the early morning. The church bell is chiming. It’s September and there are no clouds to obscure the vivid cobalt-blue sky. It’s just another day in Palafrugell, the town we call home along Spain’s Costa Brava.

In 2015, my partner William and I began to consider moving overseas. We wanted to escape the spiraling costs back home in Southern California, and we sensed that we could have a lifestyle overseas that allowed us to indulge our passions for a lot less money.

In April 2016, we left the U.S. and settled in Palafrugell, a coastal town of 20,000 people. We wanted a quiet, yet still vibrant environment close to the sea, with a laidback lifestyle. And this place fit the bill. Normal summertime temperatures are in the 80s F. In winter, temperatures can dip into the low 40s F, with some rain but no snow. It’s our kind of weather, after Southern California’s constant heat.

To say our lives are more enjoyable is an understatement. We are both in our 60s, and here we are free to pursue our interests without having to worry about the escalating cost of retiring in the States.

We’re about two-and-a-half miles from the sea. During the summer, guitarists play traditional music at the beachfront restaurants, lending a romantic atmosphere to the beautiful surroundings as the sun sets over the ocean.

Our local market is open six days a week, all year. On Sundays it expands to include clothing, shoes, handbags, and household goods, in addition to the normal colorful vegetable stalls. The big fish market and the meat and sausage vendors next door have their own covered space.

We spend about $82 a week, including items like salmon and prawns. For two pieces of salmon, cut straight off the fish, we pay around $6.60. Locally grown tomatoes are $1.65 a kilo (2.2 pounds).

We can eat out for as little as $13.20 for two chicken salad baguettes, pan-fried potatoes with pepper sauce and light mayonnaise, and a decent red wine. Or we can splurge and spend $55 for a gourmet feast, a great bottle of local champagne, topped off by prunes in brandy with slivered oranges.

Our rental house costs $880 a month. It has four bedrooms and two full bathrooms. We have a deck with a gorgeous view over the town and beyond to the mountains, and an enormous tiled basement.

Our overall cost of living is just $1,800 a month, and this includes eating out most mornings for breakfast and twice a week for dinner. In California, our rental house alone was $500 a month more than our total expenses here.

We liked the idea of not buying a car here. We use local buses and trains to get around. Or we ride our bikes down to the beach, which takes about 30 minutes. Both of us feel much healthier here; we walk everywhere and have a push cart that makes local shopping easy.

Without a doubt, Costa Brava has the best healthcare either of us has ever had. Many doctors speak English, and there is a hotline for English-speaking people. It’s really amazing value. In California, a prescribed, medicated skin ointment is $100; here it’s $25.

If we need a prescription, we go to the pharmacy, which giftwraps your medicine in a thin, parchment-colored paper stamped with a red picture of an alchemist blending his potions. You can’t get that at CVS in California.

Image: ©iStock.com/gael_f 

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