When people move to Costa Rica, they hear stories of how much money they will be saving. Well that's not all together true. There are some things you buy here that are insanely expensive and will blow anybody's budget except for (maybe) Bill Gates.
For starters, gasoline is at least twice what you pay in the States but a hell of a lot less than what the Brits pay back in the UK. It's all relative. Anything manufactured outside of Costa Rica costs more here because of Costa Rica's excessively high tariffs on all imported goods. However, this month we focus on the cost of food.
Despite everything you read and hear, when you go to a "supermercado" in Costa Rica, be prepared to spend at least the same as you spent living back in the United States.
Our food budget in North Carolina, averaged $125 a week. Since we track every bloody colone spent in Costa Rica on a ridiculously complex Excel spreadsheet, I can say (without a doubt) our Costa Rican grocery bill runs the same as it did in the U.S. That came as a bit of a shock to us.
The good news is we have stopped buying the "all-American" branded foods and all those fast and easy "processed dinners in a box." We (Andy mostly) now prepares virtually everything from scratch. No more Hamburger Helper, Shake and Bake, Kraft Mac and Cheese, Lean Cuisine and DiGiorno Pizzas. We also have stopped eating such (heavenly unhealthy) comfort foods like Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia Ice Cream ($7.00 a pint in Costa Rica). But that's a good thing, because not only are we saving money, we are eating healthier and our waistlines show it.
So What's The Bottom Line?
I am attaching for download, the most current spreadsheet containing comparative prices. Periodically I will try to update the list, but truth be told, this may be a one-time only thing.
As you can see, the Walmart owned Pali, which I suspected to be the least expensive (across the board), was not. Pali was the most difficult to get direct price comparisons because of all the off brands they carry. I hope to have a more detailed listing of Pali's products in the next newsletter.
Conversly, I assumed AutoMercado would be the highest price store but they were not. If there was one clear winner in this assessment, the edge would go to Maxi Bodega (also owned by Walmart). They seemed to have items found in most other stores.
Fresh vegetables and fruits are all more expensive at all the big markets by a factor of 300% or more. In just one example, a single pineapple can cost between ˘705 and ˘895. However, at the local farmers market, I can buy three pineapples for ˘1000!
The same thing can be said for fresh fish. If I want to save huge bucks, we'll do a day trip south to the town of Puntarenas. Sure its a 2 hour drive but we tie it into other things like visiting our friends Deb and Rob in Esparza. At the fishing docks in Puntarenas, I can buy enormous jumbo shrimp for ˘8500 per kilo. Here in the stores, it will run ˘17,000 to 21,000 per kilo. The same can be said for other fresh fishes such as Pargo (Red Snapper), Mahi Mahi (Dolphin) and Tuna. See related story on the Foodsaver.
I think it really boils down to quality and convenience. To traipse all over town just to save a few colones makes no sense. For me and Fran, the most convenient store is Super Luperon. Their prices are almost equal to Maxi Bodega and their supply of items are more than adequate. Maxi Bodega is our second choice but it is located in Liberia, a 30 minute drive away.
Shopping at Pali is interesting, especially at check out. You better bring your own bags or be prepared to pay for "nuevas bolsas de plástico" (new plastic bags).
Now, if you are jonesing (craving) for traditional gringo food items available nowhere else, then AutoMercado is the place for you. AutoMercado is virtually indistinguishable from any "typical" super market you find back in North America, but be prepared to pay for this shopping experience. While some items, mostly a few cleaning supplies, can be lower, as a rule AutoMercado will hit your wallet the hardest of all the stores reviewed.
So there ya have it. Please don't accept my data as being definitive. My resources are small and the energy needed to maintain this commitment is even smaller.
If you have information that either supports or contradicts my data, I'd like to hear about it. Email me here.
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