Saturday, July 5, 2008

Cost of Living

I’m heading back to San Ramon tomorrow, July 4th after spending some time in my other home, Ithaca, NY. I’m in NYC at the moment, the ultimate contrast to San Ramon.

When I was growing up in the 1960’s, the United States and NYC was the land of opportunity for working and middle class people. Now the rich are richer and life is challenging for most. Watching the news leaves you with a bleak scenario for the American Dream moving forward.

During this time in the USA, it felt like a scary time economically. The stock market is tanking, gas hit $4+ a gallon, real estate and the banks that made real estate loans seem shaky. Health care is unaffordable and a college education costs 10 times what it did for me in the early ‘70’s.

I feel so lucky to have my life in San Ramon, Costa Rica for many reasons. As energy costs explode, I don’t use heating or air conditioning here and my monthly utility bill is in the $5 range. Virtually all the food I eat is local, excellent quality and either affordable or free. I just read in the NY Times about a restaurant selling a $100 hamburger and $12 for a cocktail is common in NYC. In San Ramon, for $2 I can get a boca of shrimp, fish or whatever. For $5-6, I eat and drink all that I desire.

Recently in San Ramon, I got a flat tire. Richard had it fixed and back on in less than 20 minutes and asked for $2. In my 8 years here, I have developed some strong relationships. I employ people to take care of my property, contractors etc. My staff said I treat them better than others. The $2 an hour they ask for, always includes a heartfelt thank you on my part and theirs. Amazingly, they all own their homes and while homes in the US are going down in value, their homes in San Ramon continue to appreciate significantly. Real estate taxes are negligible and most people own their homes outright with no mortgages. My $5,000 a year real estate taxes in Ithaca are getting harder to afford and services are dwindling. This all contributes to a life in San Ramon that is relatively non-stressful from a financial standpoint for both locals and ex-pats.

One of the things I’m really looking forward to is not driving. Between the cost of gas and the stress on the roads, it will be a pleasure to give up my car for awhile. In San Ramon, walking is social and good exercise. People ride their bikes to and from work. There are buses to every country town near San Ramon for 20-50 cents. An hour ride on the express bus to either San Jose or Puntarenas (nearest Pacific beach) costs about $1.75. Public transportation isn’t as viable an option or affordable an option in many parts of the United States.

So, for me, the American Dream of the past has now transformed to the Pura Vida Costa Rica Dream of the present. With no military and a friendly lifestyle, I am happy to be enjoying the present and not struggling with a dream that is harder to achieve.

Manana, I return to Costa Rica where I’m sure the stress of surviving in the fast expensive US lifestyle will ease as I re-enter my gentler, easier San Ramon way of life.