10 Years of Blog Archive

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Cuenca Ecuador "Cost of Living” Index Ambiguous - UPDATE 2016

"Can I live in Cuenca on $1,600 per month", a reader asks? We first published this article after only six months of living in Cuenca on November 2011. Wow! Do we have a lot of new things to share with you today!  All new updates in red text. 

Update 2016 - First of all, our monthly cost of living has gone up from $930 per month to $1,200 per month and still going up and we are known as 'the frugal family'.
Reader asks: your monthly cost is $930/month, with your food bill being $300/for a family of five. Apart from your fixed costs, you guys are living very frugally. I am a single person, so apart from the cost of food, it appears that most of the other costs are cut close. Do you think it possible for a single person to live in Cuenca with an income of $1600/month???

Update 2016 - "Can I make it on so and so budget in Cuenca"? This question is often posed on forums and blogs and we frequently get asked about this as well. In fact just recently our son Brandon was asked by a foreign visitor to Cuenca if he and his wife could get by on $8000 a month in Cuenca. How silly to even ask such a figure! We just shake our heads. Have they not done one iota of research? Apparently not. And this brings us to why cost of living is so very ambiguous.  He's probably living on $10,000 in the USA.

Why Cuenca Cost of Living is Ambiguous?

Our cost of living budget that we posted on this blog is our family’s personal budget and should only be used as a guideline for you to see as an example.   And anyone else's budget that they post on their blog or on a forum should only be used as a guideline as well. Each family or couple has their own personal cost of living index; no two families will share in the same cost of living while living in Cuenca Ecuador; its just not going to happen.

On the same note, we read on blogs all over the internet the cost of living for couples and families living in Ecuador, and the same applies here too. One family’s budget might be $300 a month for rent, while another family’s budget might be $750 a month for rent. Quite a difference there…so all we're saying is to use someone else’s cost of living budget as a guideline only.

Cost of living depends greatly on your lifestyle and personal choices.

There is a reason why we don’t talk about specific figures on the blog and why we don’t talk about our personal financial situation and that is because everyone’s situation is different.

This blog is intended to be your information gateway to Cuenca, and other parts of Ecuador.  We will keep posting relevant information about general cost of living, such as medium rents, how to bargain, where to eat, where to buy furniture, cost of clothing and food, and more.

You see, it starts to get a little complicated when we start trying to fit our lifestyle into someone else’s lifestyle and choices.  In other words, we can’t choose your lifestyle for you—no one can—we can only choose our own.

We can’t fairly answer your question of “will $1,600 a month be enough for you to live on” in Cuenca because it depends on “how you want to live”—it depends on your lifestyle. We don’t know you and we don’t know how you want to live.  What may seem like “cutting it close” to some, is actually a peaceful stress free lifestyle for us. 

We have a way of life and we have been blessed with contentment and with frugality and resourcefulness. We do not spend money on alcohol or cigarettes; we don’t buy frivolous things because stuff for us is not what makes us happy…our lifestyle choices allow for us to have everything we need without spending an arm and a leg—we happily make do. We lived this way before we came to Ecuador—it’s our personal lifestyle and our choices.


It’s not really a question of money; we put our monthly figures on this blog so you can use it as a starting point for your own budget. What we mean is you can add or subtract whatever it is that makes your lifestyle. So it’s not really a question of money, it’s a question of lifestyle and personal choices and we can’t choose that for you.

Here’s a quick story about a conversation I had with a 60 year old guy I briefly did some work for.  Let’s call him Don.  Don’s health is not good, he’s already had heart surgery, and he really needs to just quit working and take care of himself, but he thinks he needs to keep working until he reaches the magical figure of $700K, so he can live in South America off his investments.

I happen to know he already has $200k in assets and in addition to that he has $600 a month coming in.  But he thinks that’s not enough because he wants to drink “Chivas Regal” at “only” $30 a bottle in Bolivia, and spend his money on “women”.  I told him he needs to quit drinking and do some soul searching.  In the meantime, I don’t think he’s going to make it, his health is not going to hold up much longer.  Point is, your lifestyle will make or break you.  He’s still in the states driving himself into the ground hoping to reach that magical figure.

International Living states that two people can live comfortably in Cuenca for $950! They also say that a couple can live in the city of Cotacachi Ecuador for $580 a month! So what do you think? Do you think you can live here on $1,600?

Update 2016 - That figure ($950) from IL does not apply anymore; the new figure from IL is $1,680 per month taken from this article they wrote. Click article to see the monthly break down from rent to health insurance. After looking it over we easily concur with this budget as being an average monthly living index for Cuenca Ecuador. However if you do not have a maid or car take $215 off the top and it comes to $1,465 monthly.


We were also asked “what percentage of your budget are you living on now as compared to when you were living in the states”?   For an example they want to know, if a person were living on, say $5,000 a month in the states, are you living on 25% of that in Cuenca?  Well here again, my response to that was -- it’s not relevant to mention percentages because different parts of the country have different cost of living indexes.  This is not how we made our decision.

Parts of the u.s. south compared to other parts of the country is less expensive to live, unless you live on the coast, like Myrtle Beach.  We were quite self sufficient when we lived in the south, growing our own food, baking our own bread, doing the flea markets and online auctions...and we were frugal and industrious for 20 years before we came to Ecuador!

The point is, what we lived on in the south is not necessarily what you would live on if you lived in south. And then again, you might live in NY or Miami or Atlanta etc. and these places have a much higher cost of living than some of the other cities that are located in the southern parts of the u.s.  So talking about what percentage of our budget we are spending now compared to what it was, may not, and most likely will not apply to you.

Update 2016 - Bottom line is we can count on cost of living in Cuenca going up not down.  Our cost of living is going up slightly every year and we still rent for $250, at least for now. We have been blessed for five years living in a lovely area with nice Ecuadorians but it is not forever.

At some point we will have to move from this home (our landlord wants to build another unit above us and the construction noise would be too much to bear) and you cannot find a home like ours (value-wise) for $250 anymore in Cuenca, not for $350 either... nor for $400 either...maybe $500 if we really were diligent in our house hunting. So, there you have it, sadly, rents have gone up that much in five years. $50 per year rental increase on $250 equals a 20% increase per year.  There goes the much heavily pumped 5% inflation that the pumpers want you to believe, not on rents anyway. 

We didn’t come here with fear or of being unprepared; we knew that whatever situation presented itself we had a fair idea what the basics were and we just worked within our means and that’s what we are still doing today.  And is what we will continue doing.

Our personal opinion is that one person, unless they are just throwing money around, left and right all the time, and if they are careful, $1,600 is going to go a long way here in Cuenca.

In fact, if you keep your rent under $500, you will have a hard time spending $1,600 in Cuenca Ecuador. Unless you’re taking trips to the beach and flying all over the country, $1,600 is going to go far in Cuenca, if you're diligent.   But here again, we don’t know how you want to live. Perhaps you want to live in a $1,200 high-rise penthouse overlooking the city. Well then you will have to be careful with the how you budget the rest of your money. 

Until we write again, you might like to read these articles about renting and cost of living in Cuenca Ecuador.
We're an expat family of five living frugal, healthy and happy in Cuenca Ecuador. We have a lot of adventures and experiences to share with you. So come along and enjoy the ride. 


  1. I posted earlier asking for a guesstimate of setting up house. I would like to clarify that I'm not interested in U.S.-style furniture. If I'm going to be living in Ecuador, I want my furniture to reflect that.

  2. Hi Diane,

    There are all kinds of furniture styles here. You should have no problem finding what you need in Cuenca. The Ecuadorian's are also very handy with wood and they can custom build you whatever you want.

  3. For people reading this post I would recommend the following:
    1. Find the budget example from the multiple sources that ties most closely to your lifestyle approach.

    2. Put together your budget of how you live now, where ever you live.

    3. Put together your budget of how you would expect to live when retired (in the place you live now). This is usually cheaper, around 70% of your non-retirement budget is usually a good estimate.

    4. Compare that to the "costs" shown throughout this blog, or others if you find another that matches more closely to your own lifestyle choices.

    5. Be honest with yourself and how you will/can live. It is not necessary a bad thing to go live in a Gringo community if that is what you need but understand you will not be living on $1100 a month if you do.

    This should allow you to "estimate" how much you will pay to live in Cuenca.

    NOTE: This blog offers a frugal budget, more frugal than most North Americans are capable of in my experience :)


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