One of the beautiful things about travelling to South America is that your dollar goes a long way. The second you step off the plane, you get a massive boost of wealth through FX magic. Thanks to a much lower cost of living and favorable exchange rates, you can likely afford the best hotels, restaurants, services, and experiences – often for less than the cost of frugal options in the U.S. You can eat a steak dinner every night, and still spend less than you do back home. Yep, you suddenly transform from an Average Joe into a real Don Juan.
I was a frugal guy in the U.S. (too frugal, according to my wife), but we’ve already established that here in Bolivia I’m not nearly as frugal as most people. So, as I always say, if you can’t join ‘em, then beat ‘em! That’s why I’m livin’ large in South America!
We’ve been in Bolivia for eight weeks now, and without a doubt, we’ve eaten out at more restaurants than we did in probably two years back in the U.S. (We rarely ate out). Partly, that’s because we’ve done a good amount of travelling. When you’re staying in hotels, you have little choice but to eat out.
But it’s also undoubtedly because the restaurants here are so cheap. You can experience some darn good food for prices that you could never dream of back home. And since labor is so cheap, restaurant food is sometimes not much more expensive than a home-cooked meal. A cheap restaurant meal is maybe $2-$3. The higher-end restaurants cost about $5-$10.
In our pueblo, we might eat some simple kabobs or hamburgers at night – the local street food – for less than $1. But when we visit the city, we go BIG. We’ve sampled Cuban, Moroccan, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, and then a whole bunch of Bolivian and “American” restaurants. Some of the restaurants have been admittedly lacking… but for these prices, who am I to complain?
My favorite place serves some of the most tender grass-fed Argentine beef and slow-cooked pork you can imagine. The quality of meat is easily on par with top steak houses in America. The restaurant is outdoors, with a garden and even a pool for the kids to swim in while the adults linger over their steak and wine. Truly an experience for everyone in the family! Here we are walking into the entrance:
Oh, and it costs about $10 per person – all you can eat.
Want a bottle of quality wine to wash it down? That will be $5 extra.
I know, I know… frugal living is the fastest route to financial independence. But when you can eat like a prince for so cheap, why not indulge a bit?
We live in the wine region of Bolivia. There are some very high quality wines here if you have the money to spend. But most of the wineries here are too small to export. That means there are some great wines for prices that will make your jaw drop.
Generally, wines here are about one quarter the price of what you would spend in America. A good Merlot or Syrah that might cost $20 in the U.S. costs $3-$5 dollars in Bolivia. The top-flight wines cost no more than $10-$20.
I usually stick to the lowest price wines back home. But suddenly now I can afford the crème de la crème. That makes it tough to be frugal! I’m not buying the best wines here, but I’m also no longer getting the cheapest either.
Here’s where you can really take advantage of FX magic: medical and dental care. Prices for medical and dental treatments in the U.S. are so out of control, it’s no wonder that medical tourism is a thing!
While I wouldn’t want to have open heart surgery in Bolivia, I am more than happy to have any dental work done. In fact, the best dentist I’ve ever been to is here in Bolivia. If you find the top dentist in town, they’ll have all the latest equipment and techniques, they probably speak perfect English, and they charge just a fraction of the price of what you would pay in the U.S.
We decided to take full advantage during our year abroad. This month, my wife had a root canal for about $50. My 12-year old son had four baby teeth pulled for $12 each, and my daughter is getting braces for six months at a total cost of $275. We have no dental insurance – that’s the full cost of treatment!
We go big here too: give me the best treatment you’ve got, Doc – no need to skimp! Please, take my money! Here is my daughter in the chair enjoying some dental tourism:
I’m used to the shock of dental bills…. But not because they were so low! These treatments would have easily cost us thousands upon thousands of dollars in the U.S. We’ve probably saved enough money on dental care alone that it could have paid for our flights to Bolivia!
If we truly wanted the frugal option, we could find some discount dentists for even less…. But no thank you! Here, it’s worth paying a bit extra for the best dentist.
Wealth Through FX Magic
The effect of wealth through FX turns frugal living completely on its head. We can easily afford the best, usually for only a fraction of what we would pay in the U.S. That makes it tough to continue being so frugal.
Everywhere we look, we are suddenly wealthy. The food, the drinks, transportation, the hotels… you name it. The premium we pay here for the best dentists, or the best wines, or the best restaurants still costs less than our frugal options back home. We are at the same time, living frugal and living large!