Food, Travel and Tech

66-year-old retiree who left the U.S. for Mexico: 'Here's what you can buy here for $5 or less'

A pound of fresh wild-caught shrimp costs about $5 — cheap enough to have it whenever I want.
Photo: Janet Blaser

Even though I've lived in Mazatlán, Mexico for 15 years, I still find myself surprised at how much — or, really, how little — things cost. Once you get away from the resorts and tourist areas, prices plummet.

As a single, 66-year-old retiree living largely off Social Security checks, I have to watch what I spend. But in Mexico, I pay just $420 per month for an apartment half a block from the beach. And aside from the basic necessities, I spend an average of $160 a month on things like eating out, entertainment, and the occasional whimsical purchase.

In a country where the minimum wage is the equivalent of $8 to $12 per day, here's what you can buy for $5 or less:

1. The basics

One reason I enjoy living in Mazatlán is how affordable my monthly living expenses are. I pay $5 or less for these basics:

  • My monthly water bill for my two-bedroom apartment
  • My monthly electricity bill (when I'm not using air conditioning)
  • A premium hand car wash
  • Two hours of gardening
  • One hour of house-cleaning service
  • Decent-sized, decorative palm tree for my apartment
These palms are an inexpensive décor option.
Photo: Janet Blaser

2. Groceries

In Mexico, fresh produce, dairy products and meats are accessible on a budget. Buying seasonal helps keep prices even lower. Right now, $5 buys you half a dozen pineapples. In the summer, it gets you 16 pounds of mangos!

When mangos are in season, they're so cheap it's unbelievable. A kilogram is 2.2 pounds; 15 pesos isn't even $1. You do the math!
Photo: Janet Blaser

When it comes to groceries, with $5, I can regularly buy:

  • 40 eggs
  • 10 pounds of sugar
  • 5 pounds of fresh ginger
  • 5 pounds of turmeric root
  • Eight heads of lettuce
  • 12 pounds of carrots
  • 10 pounds of tomatoes
  • 3 pounds of avocados
  • 10 fresh oysters
  • A pound of fresh-caught swordfish or dorado
  • A whole roasted chicken with potatoes, tortillas and salsa
  • 1 pound of 3-inch wild-caught shrimp
  • 4 quarts of organic milk from a local dairy
  • A half-pound of locally roasted, organic coffee beans
A pound of fresh wild-caught shrimp costs about $5 — cheap enough to have it whenever I want.
Photo: Janet Blaser

3. Drinks and beverages

They say beer is cheaper than water in Mazatlán, and sometimes that really is true! Small cafés on the beach will serve cheaper drinks than fancier restaurants, but compared to the U.S., alcohol prices are inexpensive everywhere.

Here's what you can get for $5:

  • A 10-pack of Pacifico or Tecate beer 
  • Two 3-liter bottles of Coke
  • 15 gallons of purified water
  • Two 3-liter bottles of Coke
  • Two liters of freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • A cocktail made with name-brand alcohol
  • Four big bottles of Topo Chico mineral water
  • Two cappuccinos or lattes
  • A 16-ounce draft of artisan beer, plus another 5-ounce pour
  • Three fresh coconuts

4. Full meals

Going out to dinner in Mazatlán doesn't have to break your budget. There are many affordable cafés and taco stands where meals hover around $5. 

At some more "formal" restaurants, certain entrées can be within this budget, too.

Going out for lunch in Mazatlán doesn't have to break your budget.
Photo: Janet Blaser

Here are some of the things I've had for $5 or less:

  • Three to 10 street tacos
  • Three restaurant tacos
  • An order of Huevos Rancheros with coffee and juice
  • A BLT
  • A burger with fries
  • Eight boneless chicken wings and beer on tap
  • A dozen chicken wings
  • Seafood or tortilla soup
  • A four-topping medium pizza at Dominos
  • Almost a pound of grilled pork ribs
  • Four large croissants
At my local bakery, I can get four of these buttery croissants for $5.
Photo: Janet Blaser

5. Fun activities

Mazatlán is known for banda, a traditional Sinaloa music style that sounds like horn-heavy German polka. You can enjoy a private concert from a strolling band on the beach for $5.

But that's not all you can do with a $5 budget. That's enough for:

  • A bicycle rental for a little more than an hour
  • A salsa class
  • A yoga class
  • A Zumba class
  • A reserved seat at a movie theatre
  • A dozen red roses, for a great date
  • Three round-trip boat rides to Stone Island — beachy coastline to the south of Mazatlán proper
$5 gets you three round-trip boat rides to peaceful Stone Island.
Photo: Janet Blaser

6. Health products

You've heard that medicines, doctor visits and prescriptions are significantly cheaper in Mexico. But what will $5 really get you? These necessities:

  • Two consultations with a licensed doctor
  • A 236-milliliter bottle of Pepto-Bismol
  • 30 600-milligram ibuprofen tablets
  • 30 550-milligram Ciprofloxacin antibiotic tablets
  • Four Oral-B toothbrushes
  • Three tubes of Crest or Colgate toothpaste

Pet not feeling well? A basic vet visit or a shot of antibiotics are also just $5.

7. Transportation

While gas is pricey ($5 gets you just more than a gallon), public transportation in Mexico is incredibly affordable. Here's what you can get for $5:

  • 16 rides on Mexico City's very efficient Metro subway system
  • An Uber, Lyft or Didi ride
  • Nine rides on Mazatlán's "green bus," which goes along the coast

Prices like these make my life in Mexico pretty close to stress-free. With everyday costs so low, I'm able to do more of the things that make me happy. I can live the life I love — and love the life I live.

Janet Blaser is a writer who has lived in Mazatlán, Mexico since 2006. A former journalist in California, her work now focuses on expat living. Janet's first book, "Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats" is an Amazon bestseller. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

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