10 Years of Blog Archive

Monday, April 02, 2012

12 Ways to be Frugal and Go Local in Cuenca

Hi Frank and Angie;
After viewing your interview with lovely real estate agent in Cuenca I feel compelled to email the two of you. I believe we share the belief that when in Rome you should live as the Romans live. Your videos and website has convinced me that I can live comfortably in an apartment or home outside the city limits of Cuenca if I am willing to use the bus system, shop at the outdoor markets and do without the luxury items so many expats seem to need. I have not had a driver’s license in over 10 years and love using the public transportation here in Sweden. Shopping in the open air "farmer's market" is my idea of a good time. L. From Sweden
We’re glad you emailed us to let us know you’re ready to go local in Ecuador. We like helping those who want to retire in a new land and keep the cost of living affordable for everyone, not just the rich. 

The excellent rental deals are ALL unfurnished. The minute you add furniture to the mix, you’re entering the realm of tourist. Our long time readers know that one of our annoyances in our “12 annoyances video” about Ecuador is there are virtually no thrift stores. Funny thing is there are very few ads in the Cuenca papers or online Cuenca classifieds that advertise used furniture or appliances either.  

The demand for used items is very high within the expat community because many expats come for only several months and leave.  So, because of that when there is used furniture or appliances advertised they are pricey. 

So what can you do when renting an unfurnished home or apartment in Cuenca and prices of furniture and appliances are just out of your budget? First of all, do not panic because this just makes you go out and spend money unnecessarily. There are several ways to be frugal in Cuenca, or anywhere for that matter. Let’s start with furniture.

We built our own furniture. We know what you’re thinking, “You guys had your sons build your furniture and we don’t have our sons with us”. Yes, that’s true but that should not stop you, if you are able to and willing to learn how to build your own furniture perhaps you should just do it. We have made a step by step video on how to build your own couch in several easy steps. This video will be posted soon. 

update...here's the video on how to build your own couch. 

12 Ways to Be Frugal and Go Local in Cuenca 

1. Have Your Furniture Built: We’ve talked about this in the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide. You can buy cheap furniture in Cuenca but it is small, uncomfortable and will not last. Or, you can have your furniture custom built.There is furniture builders here. Tell them what you want and they will build it.

2. Ride the Bus: Ride the bus when you can (not after dark) instead of taking a taxi

3. Live outside the City Center: Rent a house or apartment outside of the city center. There are nice homes in nice neighborhoods at the local price in Cuenca. Keeping your rent under $300 to $400 is the way to stay frugal.  The DIY Landing guide lists some Ecuadorian rental resources. 

4. Choose Almuerzo: If you eat out during the day choose the almuerzo ($1.50 to $3) lunch. If you eat out for dinner, choose the Ecuadorian restaurant over the ones that cater to expats. The difference is a lot of money.

5. Shop at the Mercado: Buy fruit and some of your vegetables at the Mercado. Most fruits and some veggies are much better priced at the Mercado, probably fresher too. Cuenca boasts at least three Mercado’s so be sure to check them out during the day.

UPDATE 2015: After four years of living here we have noticed many of the prices at the Mercados have gone up and if you buy produce which is in season you can buy it at the grocery store called Coral Hypermercado for about the same price as at the Mercados. 

6. Appliance Comparison Shop: Do your due diligence when appliance shopping; it could mean the difference of several hundred dollars even within the same brand and size of refrigerator. Coral Centro does not have the cheapest appliances by the way. You would think they would but they do not.

For one or two people, if your budget does not permit a full-sized refrigerator when you first move here, opt for the half size at half price…later on down the road buy the full size refrigerator. Full sized name brand refrigerators here cost between $1,200 (not side by side doors) on up.

7. Wash your own Laundry without a washing machine: We know of several expats that come here for several months and make do without a washer and dryer. Once you see the prices of washers and dryers you’ll know why. It’s really kind of fun to wash your clothes by hand, and is how many of the Ecuadorians do it. Every house or apartment comes with a big laundry sink and they sell a special laundry soap that works great on clothes when washing them by hand.  Or, you can hire someone to do your laundry for you.  There are also service laundries but be sure to ask around for prices so you don’t get gringoed.

8. Make Your own Couch Cushions: If you have your furniture built or if you build your own furniture the next step is to make your own couch cushions. If you know how to sew than this is certainly the way to do it. Coral sells the couch cushion material and in Cuenca there are several, huge fabric shops with amazing amounts of different types of fabrics. 

Amazingly, Ecuadorian women still sew and love to sew so there is so much to offer in this department.  Making your own clothes and other household items such as curtains, throw pillows and cushions is not only fun but frugal, especially when you see the prices for fabric here! I’m taking sewing lessons so I can make my own couch cushions for our custom built furniture!  This is getting really exiting. Frank just bought me a sewing machine. We’ll post more about this later. Yes, we’re living frugal and local in Cuenca and it is so much fun!

9. Patronize the FREE Entertainment: Did you know that Cuenca has free concerts, orchestras, plays and other live entertainment? They do, and the concert hall and live theatre hall is located downtown Cuenca.

10. Don’t Be in a Hurry: Don’t be in a big hurry to have your home fully furnished with a lot of furniture and appliances. Who knows what is going to happen in two to six months down the road. Some expats have had to leave because of the altitude, others left because they decided Ecuador was not for them? Even if you love it here and decide to stay, what is the big rush? One thing you’ll learn about Ecuador: everything is much slower paced here no matter what it is you’re doing. So go with the flow and enjoy yourself in the process.

11. Buy a Fixer Upper or Build Yourself: If you decide you want to live in Ecuador full time you might want to buy or build your own. When we see advertisements in gringo geared newsletters and forums we just shake our heads and hope that the people looking to buy in Cuenca will not fall for the waaaay overpriced real-estate.

Doing research we know you can buy the same amount of house for 1/3 less and can build your own for ½ less!!! Retirees come down here and get caught up in the International Living and House Hunters International Hype and think these overpriced homes in Ecuador are an ok deal. But they are far from ok deals. Please, please, come here and get to know some locals and talk to them, don’t take the gringo advertisements as the last word, because they are not the last word. 

There are some people who loyally follow our blog and then send us these overpriced real estate scams. Periodically we list these overpriced scams on the blog; well, here’s a couple more.


Did you see another house for sale in yesterday's gringotree? This one is not even IN Cuenca, it is a 12 minute drive away. They want $150,000 for land with a "small rustic house". I'm picturing the house as being about 500 square feet, maybe one big open room with hardly any windows and what windows there are being not very functional. Why is this so expensive? Is it because it comes with land?

I saw another ad for land in Chaullabamba for 75K, JUST a lot to build on. Chaullabamba is just outside Cuenca and apparently an up and coming neighborhood.  

These ads were in Gringotree, but I have to say that we have friends who are Cuencano (ancestors from Cuenca as far back as they know) who know nothing of gringotree and they have a 3BR house they want to sell which we have seen. It is a nice house but pretty ordinary. I asked how much they want for it and they said $100,000 !!!! We have other Cuencano friends who tell us that prices have gone up so much in Cuenca that they are seeing the first generations of people (Cuencanos) who will never be able to buy their own homes. This is in families where it was never a problem before. Rightly or wrongly they blame the foreigners for this.


The word is out, the Gringos will pay and  Cuencanos are and will play on the hype and also try to sell their house for what it is not worth. We need to be smart buyers! We need to be smart expats and know a bad deal when we see one and a good deal when we see one. There may still be house bargains in Cuenca, but we may have to put some effort into finding them.  We have to get creative in order to overcome the gringo damage that has already been done.

12. Sign up to this Blog:  Be a part of the solution…embrace responsible expattingIf you haven’t already, it would be to your advantage to sign up to this blog. So sign up today to receive ways to live frugally in Cuenca Ecuador.

1 comment:

  1. Friends,
    You are exactly on target about being a "responsible consumer", because to be otherwise is to be a part of the cause behind rapidly escalating costs for most things. The problem as I see it is that many if not most foreigners, specifically those from the USA, are the victims of various forms of "programming' and other negative effects on their thinking ability, and as a result they would rather believe a soothing lie than an unpleasant truth. The only real solution is for those migrating to countries outside the USA. is to "wake up and smell the coffee".


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