Living on $700 a Month in Ecuador

by | Feb 17, 2022 | Ecuador | 1 comment

Rumor has it one can live on very little money by moving overseas. Is it true?

I recently spoke with one man who claims to be living well in Ecuador on $700 a month. He agreed to share how he does it. Louis Bourgeois is a North American expat living on a small farm outside Cuenca, Ecuador, with his Ecuadorian wife and small daughter.

Not so Bourgeois by Dana Dwyer
Not so Bourgeois by Dana Dwyer

Louis hosts volunteers from around the world who help with farm labor four hours a day in exchange for room and board.

According to Louis, his monthly expenses run around $700. On that budget, and with the help of his garden and farm animals, he feeds his family and up to four volunteers.

Prepare for the reality

Louis advises those hearty or desperate souls who prize freedom over luxury to begin early preparing for the reality of life in an affordable foreign country.

Louis worked for six years as a seasonal caretaker at a wedding venue in Minnesota.  During that time, he lived, by choice, in a room in the barn without heat or running water.  Each morning, he carried his daily ration of water, six gallons, one by one, from the source to his converted space in the barn.

During his offseason, he traveled South America, searching for his retirement destination, and ultimately deciding on Cuenca, Ecuador.

Make friends with the locals

His advice for people arriving in a new country on a limited budget is to make friends with the locals.  Once you find someone with local knowledge; a command of the language, and a willingness to help, enlist them to assist with your search for housing. Keep a low profile and try to avoid being offered “gringo prices”

According to Louis, local rents, for large houses in the country, run about $250 a month.  Often, the houses need some work to be livable, but negotiation with the owner is often a matter of understanding the culture enough to come up with a win-win solution.  For Louis’ first house rental, he paid $175 a month but offered to build a wall around the property at his own expense.

A different kind of luxury by Dana Dwyer
A different kind of luxury by Dana Dwyer

He has since moved several times to larger properties with more grounds for his garden and his animals. On his land, Louis keeps chickens and goats, a garden, a water collection system, and piles of firewood.  All these contribute to free food and services for his family and his volunteer helpers.

But Do You Want to Do It?

Once a week, he makes his way to the local mercado, and for less than $10 he buys onions, tomatoes, and rice and beans.  He eats primarily vegetarian for the cost savings, adding pork and occasionally trout to the menu. His services, which include water, electricity and internet, cost about $50 per month.

So, it can be done.  The question you will need to answer for yourself is, do you want to do it?

Louis prides himself on what he calls “conscious” living.  He works hard caring for various critters, chopping wood, tending his garden and cooking economical meals for his volunteer helpers. Louis’ choices make for an admirable lifestyle, but this way of life is not for everyone.

Not without challenges

Louis’ “farm near Cuenca” is near Cuenca, as the crow flies,  but for pedestrians, it is less than accessible.  While near to town, the house is located high in the hills that surround this basin city (Cuenca means basin). The approach is by a rugged road; the house is over a mile from the nearest bus stop or taxi stand.

The day I visited, the road was muddy, and the walk to catch a bus into town was wet and cold.  According to Louis, buses occasionally run up this long hill, mainly to transport the school children morning, noon and afternoon.  So, if you want to travel into town regularly to enjoy an evening’s entertainment or meet with friends, add a car to your rent, food and utility expenses, or content yourself with staying home.

What is your budget now? Can one live frugally in a foreign county? Definitely!  But don’t imagine it will be a low-cost version of life in your first-world home country.

Louis’ plan to prepare by giving up first-world luxuries before you leave was a good one; foregoing daily, hot running water, eating more rice with little or no meat, walking or taking a bus, planning to stay home at night in a dimly lit room.

I do not mean to discourage you. I only want to help you with your expectations.  I understand the impulse to walk away from one’s current reality, to start over somewhere strange and new. Just be sure you know yourself and your “must-haves” well before you agree to give them up.

So now, what do you think? Is frugal living a lifestyle for you?  Let me know in the comments below.

by:  Dana Dwyer

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