Living Large on a Small Budget in Mexico

Just north of Tulum (Source: Linda Kurtzweil)

When my wife and I first moved to Mexico almost two years ago, we were concerned that our monthly budget – which was significantly less than it was when we were both working full time back in the States – would require us to live a very frugal existence in Mexico. Nevertheless, we decided to give it a try to be able to enjoy our days on the sun-drenched beaches of the Riviera Maya.

To ensure that we were living within our means, we started tracking every single peso that we spent using a phone spending app. Each morning, my wife would divide the remaining budget by the number of days remaining in the month to determine our daily budget. We would then plan our daily activities to keep spending below that magic number.

I used to tell my wife that if we couldn’t live within our means in Mexico, we would have to return to the old country, get jobs and become responsible members of society again – and neither of us wanted that to happen!

Although tracking every peso probably sounds unnecessarily tedious to some people, it convinced us that not only could we live in paradise on that reduced budget, we could live very well on it.

Budget Surplus

We’ve become experts at living well under budget. Since we rarely spend the allotted daily amount, we often have  surplus at the end of the month. We use the money to travel, buy something for the condo or just spend a couple of days being pampered at an all-inclusive resort nearby.

Discounts

People often ask us how we’re able to do so much on a tight budget. One of the main reasons is that most of the businesses in this area will give us a significant local’s discount. For example, the discount at a restaurant will range from 10%-20%.

To be considered a local, most businesses will ask for proof that you live somewhere in the State of Quintana Roo. In our case, we just show them our Mexican driver licenses.

It’s even possible to get a locals discount at a resort or hotel; however, those special rates are generally only available during the low season (September, October, Early November), or when hotel occupancy falls below a certain percentage.

Since the savings can be as high as 50%, we take the majority of our staycations in the fall.

Let’s Wrap This Up

The concept of living within one’s means is foreign to most Americans because we’re so accustomed to buying things on credit and carrying debt. In fact, the average household debt in the United States is 112% of net disposable income.

When we lived in the States, we were definitely among that group. A large percentage of our income went toward car payments, credit card payments, and a hefty mortgage. When I think of how much money we wasted on interest over the years, it still makes me cringe.

In 2015, we decided to break the cycle by selling everything, paying off all our debt, and buying a small condo in Mexico with the money that was left over. We now live 100% debt free and we’re happier than we’ve ever been.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) is a former lieutenant from the Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida. During his 25-year career, he received numerous commendations to include two of the agency's top honors: a Meritorious Service Medal and a Medal of Valor. In 2015, Paul retired and moved to Mexico with his wife. He now spends his days enjoying the Riviera Maya and blogging from the beach.

25 Comments on "Living Large on a Small Budget in Mexico"

  1. I always learned something from your blog & I look forward to reading it everyday. The truth is, I sometimes envy your life specially looking at the pictures you posted but please keep them coming. Your blog gave me hope & encouragement. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences.

  2. Hi Paul
    I’m wondering about the policing in Mexico. I’ve had friends who have spent significant time in Mexico and have rented cars to get around. I’ve heard quite a few stories of them being stopped by police for no apparent reason and been made to pay a fine. Some being threatened with worse things if they didn’t pay. Im concerned that expats are being targeted and maybe not just only when driving. Have you heard of this or had any experience with it?

    • Hi Heather,

      There has long been a problem with law enforcement officers stopping tourists looking for a bribe (while driving). In recent years, Mexico has taken significant steps to improve its police forces and reduce this problem. Nevertheless, I still hear about it happening.

      The vast majority of officers that I have met in this area (Riviera Maya) have been honest and helpful. Don’t let a few bad apples keep you from coming down and enjoying this great place.

  3. Charles Benfante | July 11, 2017 at 10:33 am | Reply

    I did the same budgeting when I moved here. I bit crazy at first but after the first year I found out I did need it anymore;

  4. Christy Fleck | July 11, 2017 at 10:44 am | Reply

    I love reading your posts it has been my dream to retire somewhere in Mexico and each time I read your articles it let’s me know it is possible I travel to Mexico (Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen, Cabo & Xihua) many times during the year even lived in Playa for six months and lived it! I know you bought your condo but was wondering what your thoughts are on renting for a year at the beginning to see how you like it? So basically rent your house in the states and rent in Mexico ?
    Thanks.
    Christy

    • People ask me this one quite often. It’s not a bad idea to rent to see if you like it; however, if you do that, you have to keep two things in mind: 1) property values will probably continue to rise in that time, and 2) the money you spent on rent could have gone toward your investment (i.e. a property). So many things to consider 🙂

  5. This article was helpful. We go to Mexico for three months each year and try to budget our daily spending. What phone spending app did you use. It sounds like that would be very useful for us.

  6. Hola Paul…when you received your permanent visa in Fl. did the immigration people in Mexico give you an immediate permanent residency or did you have to go thru the 4 years of temp residency? And thanks inadvance for your help! Linda

    • They actually gave us a choice but we went with temporary at first because we wanted the option to bring a foreign plated car. We like to keep our options open 🙂

  7. Way to go, Paul! Debt free and frugal is how I live. I’m heading to Mexico for a lengthy stay later this year, and I like the idea of the daily spending app you mentioned. Can you suggest what app you found to be most useful? Thanks

  8. Alice Gooding | July 11, 2017 at 11:59 am | Reply

    I have been following you for about a month now. I really enjoy your posts. Me and my husband are considering a vacation to Riviera Maya in the fall of 2018 to celebrate our anniversary of 29 years. Can you recommend an all inclusive resort/hotel to consider. I have been looking on trip advisor etc. Why 29 years and not wait until the milestone of 30 you may ask? Well we just lost a close and dear friend and it has opened our eyes to just how short life can be so we have decided to do some things earlier instead of waiting.

    • I would never ask why you didn’t wait until 30. I believe it’s important to celebrate every day because tomorrow is not guaranteed.

      There are several wonderful all-inclusive resorts. We just came back from the El Dorado Seaside Suites and we really enjoyed it — especially the food. If you want something a little smaller and close to the turtles, then you should try Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness. It’s been our favorite for almost 15 years.

  9. Betsye McDonald | July 11, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Reply

    Hi! I am moving to Puerto Aventura the end of August. I am super excited! I am a retired teacher. I would love to meet you and your wife for a drink one day. My treat for all your hard work on the blog!

    • Welcome to the Riviera Maya! There are several people from Puerto Aventuras who show up at Lol Ha Restaurant on Akumal Bay on Fridays at 5:30 for Happy Hour. That’s when the expats from all over the area gather together. It reminds me a bit of that scene from City of Angels where all the angels gather at sunrise…lol. Maybe we’ll run into each other there 🙂

  10. Another great article as usual Paul. That is also our concern when we move to Mexico. This article eases our concerns and makes us feel like we are doing the right thing leaving our jobs and moving out of the U.S. Any chance you can share the particular app Linda uses to track your budget? It sounds like a good tool to use until we become more familiar with the cost of living on the Rivera Maya.

    Thanks again,
    Rick & Flower Plourde

  11. I can’t wait to live down there. I am in the planning phase. Keep the articles coming. You give me hope!

  12. I am wondering what a “small budget” is as that is such a relative term. Can you give a ballpark of monthly living costs? Thank you 🙂

  13. Your posts are so well-written and informative. I really appreciate the budgeting / personal finance posts. I know you’re not in the accumulation phase of your life at this point, but do you still save money? Perhaps for an international vacation or local investment i.e. condo to rent?

    • Thanks, Brad. We do save some money every month. That’s how we were able to take a recent trip to Ireland. We adjust our spending to put some away for a rainy day.

Leave a Reply