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:
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
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
- These 7 expats left the U.S. to start over—here’s how they earn an income overseas: ‘We spend less on all expenses’
- This 68-year-old retiree lives on $620 per month in Mexico — take a look inside in her ‘charming’ $160,000 home
- This 35-year-old left the U.S. for Croatia: ‘I live on $47 a day — here’s a look at how I spend my time’