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Gap Year Budget Update: Halfway

With the end of November, we’re now six months into our year in Bolivia.  Holy hand grenade, Batman, are we really halfway through? Hard to believe.  November was an exciting (and expensive) month.  We spent eleven days in Argentina and Uruguay – our first trip outside of Bolivia since we arrived in June.  Even though we spent a lot, we’re still ahead of the game though, after five months of being under budget.  Here’s how our gap year budget stacks up at the halfway mark:

 

What Happened in November

We spent the first half of November in our Bolivian village, Villa Abecia, and then flew to Buenos Aires for two weeks in the big city and on the beaches of Uruguay.  We arrived back home in our village on the 29th.

 

Here’s where we went:

This was our big city trip, like Crocodile Dundee going to New York.  It was also our beach trip.  Bolivia has no coast (it’s a touchy subject for many Bolivians, even 150 years after losing their Pacific coast to Chile).
Anyway, on to the budget.  Here’s what we spent overall in November, including the trip:
ExpenseNov.
Budget
Nov.
Expense
Nov. Variance
Under /
(Over)
Total$2,333$5,343($3,010)
Living In Our Pueblo$833$978($144)
Travels$1,250$4,012($2,762)
Medical Expenses$0$246($246)
Long Term Storage in California$250$108$142
OUCH! Bleeding in every category except for our long-term storage back in California, which is locked in for the year.  Overall, we spent $5,343 vs. our budget of $2,333 for November.  That leaves us over $3,000 in the red!

Our Travels

Our travel budget is lumpy – some months we don’t travel at all, and other months we have expensive trips. We knew the Argentina/Uruguay trip would be expensive. It was the most expensive trip we’ve taken so far this year.  That’s because it’s also the first time we left Bolivia since June.

 

Bolivia is extremely cheap.  Argentina and Uruguay… not so much.  I’d say they are about as expensive some of the lower cost areas in the States, like the Midwest.

 

Our trip budget had a huge boost because we got six of our ten hotel nights for free, thanks to my credit card churning.  We technically had twelve hotel nights for free, because we doubled up with two connecting rooms.  Yet we still had to pay for the flights and we ate out at restaurants most of the time.  And that stuff adds up.

 

Here’s the damage:

Total$4,012
Transportation$2,144
Food$1,332
Hotels (4 nights paid)$370
Other$165
More than half of the cost of the trip was transportation: primarily the flights ($1,616) and a round trip on the “Buquebus” ($413) – a high speed ferry that goes across the River Plate from Argentina to Uruguay.  That’s the widest river in the world in case you didn’t know – wider than the Amazon, despite having only a fraction of the water flow.  It looks more like an ocean:
The River Plate in Uruguay

The River Plate in Uruguay – the widest river in the world

We spent over $1,300 on food – mostly eating out at restaurants.  That’s partly because we were staying in (free) hotels, without a kitchen, and partly because we were in the steak capital of the world.  My wife and I love steak, and we weren’t going to visit Argentina and Uruguay without taking full advantage of the situation. We certainly could have spent less on food… but damn it if that steak wasn’t good.

 

Besides the food and the transportation, we really didn’t spend much else.  We paid for AirBnBs with kitchens for the remaining four nights, at less than $100 per night, and we cooked at home those nights.

 

And we also stuck to free entertainment.  For example, in Buenos Aires, we saw a free tango show in San Telmo, and in Uruguay, the museums are free on Wednesdays.  Plus, the beaches are always free.

Buenos Aires with kids Tango

A free tango show in San Telmo plaza, Buenos Aires

Living In Our Pueblo

For the first time in six months, we were over budget on our village living expenses too.  And that’s spending only about half of the month actually living in the village. Here’s the detail:

 

November Living Expenses In Our Village

Total$978
Food & Household Supplies$459
Utilities$72
Clothing, Transportation, Other$270
Transportation To/From the City$101
Food in the City$75

This was one of those months where everything hits the fan.  We had to pay our property taxes for our house in Bolivia – $65.  Yes, that’s $65 for the whole year. How much were your property taxes this year?

 

We also had to take three separate trips to the city (Tarija, Bolivia) for different reasons – mostly dental.  Any time we go to the city, it’s for at least two or three days.  You can’t just go for a couple of hours and come back the same day – it doesn’t work like that.

 

The trip only takes 2 hours in a shared taxi, but the taxis won’t go if they don’t fill up with 6 people.  Often we have to wait a couple of hours for the taxi to fill up.  By late afternoon, you might as well forget about a taxi filling up.  So, you can’t go and come back in the same day.

 

Anyway, these trips to the city cost money, and it’s part of the reason our expenses were up this month.

 

We also bought some more furniture – shelves to keep stuff off the ground.  We came to Bolivia with six suitcases, and so we didn’t have much stuff to put on shelves in the beginning.  But, we’ve been accumulating for six months now, so now we need some shelves ($78).

 

And then, there’s the outdoor oven I’m building.  I paid about $65 for materials – bricks, cement, etc.  I’ve never mixed concrete or laid bricks before, so it’s been kinda fun. (Thanks YouTube!).  It’s not done yet.  Here’s the platform:

DIY oven platform

A DIY outdoor oven (platform only so far). Cost of materials = $65

Our Utilities added up to $73.  I always love explaining the utilities each month.  We paid $65 for our slow but always-on internet.  Then we paid $7 for electricity and $1 for water (rounding down from $1.25).

 

There were a few more odd things that add up to our high expenses for November.  But, we’re not too concerned about it, because this is the first month we’ve been over budget in our village living expenses.

 

Medical

Every month I get reminded that I didn’t budget anything for medical costs.  And most months we have some.  Not much, though.  This time, it was more dental work for the kids.  Both the kids have braces now, and we’ve spent nearly $300 year-to-date on perhaps a dozen dentist visits for the kids.  I shudder to think what we’d be spending if we were still in California. In November, we spent $72 at the dentist.

 

Plus, I lost my prescription sunglasses.  Ok, they were stolen along with my backpack in Buenos Aires.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had anything stolen after years of living and traveling around South America for years.  But those glasses were a high myopic prescription – useless to the thief.  The guy also got a book in English that he probably can’t read, and some prescription medication that’s no good for him either.  Probably a disappointed guy when he opened my backpack.

 

When we returned to Bolivia, I got a new prescription for $17, and picked out the most fabulous new sunglasses for $109, including polarized lenses.  I was able to replace everything we lost in the backpack for a little over $150, including the backpack itself.

 

Year-to-Date Update – Halfway

Let’s just get beyond November’s budget, shall we?  It was ugly.  Now for the good news: we’re still in great shape for the year to date, because we were under budget for the first five months.

 

Here’s where we stack up in the cumulative:

ExpenseAnnual BudgetExpected Thru
6 Months
Actual Thru
6 Months
Variance
Under /
(Over)
Flights To/From
Bolivia
$10,000$5,000$528$4,472
Move-In
Expenses
$2,000$2,000$1,374$626
Travels$15,000$7,500$8,369($869)
Living In Our Pueblo$10,000$5,000$4,729$271
Long Term Storage In California$3,000$1,500$828$672
Medical$0$0$1,527($1,527)
Visa & Other Paperwork$0$0$931($931)
Total$40,000$21,000$18,286$2,714

Of our $40,000 total budget for the year, I would have expected to have spent $21,000 by the halfway mark.  But, we’ve only spent $18,286, leaving us $2,714 to the good. (Yay!)

 

Most of that savings is still thanks to getting our initial flights to Bolivia for free.  We saved almost $4,500 on the flights.   Without that, we’d be over budget at this point. We’ve had a few large unexpected expenses.  It cost me $931 to get my visa to live in Bolivia for a year, which I did not anticipate at all.  Plus, we ended up getting  World Nomads travel insurance (for $837) just before we left on the trip.  It’s a good thing we got it though, because it totally covered the roughly $1,000 in hospital costs when my wife spent three days in a Bolivian hospital. The insurance more than paid for itself!  That policy was good for six months, so I’m about to renew it again in December.

 

A Travel Hiatus

But, no worries! This is probably about as ugly as our budget will look at any point this year, because we’ll be taking a hiatus from travelling for the next two to three months.  And travelling is by far our biggest discretionary expense.

 

This was our plan all along – to travel during the southern hemisphere winter and spring (June – November), and to stay in our village as much as we can during summer (December – February).  Summer is the holiday season in Bolivia, from Christmas through Carnaval.

 

Summer means the population of our village doubles as vacationers come to enjoy the holidays.  There will be a lot going on in our village. Everything is green and lush, and we don’t want to miss it.  But staying in our village also means we won’t be spending much money, because there’s not much to spend it on here.  So, even though our budget took a big hit in November, our expenses will be much lower for the next two or three months.

 

Cheers,

Jojo Bobo

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