Cost of Living — at home

Yesterday I reported on Steve’s and my half-baked effort to compare the cost of living abroad in four countries — Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, all which we visited in May and June. My friend Anne read the post and emailed me an excellent question: What would a similar basket of goods cost here?

I didn’t know. Curiosity thus drove me this morning to my local Vons, where I was reminded again what a messy, imprecise experiment we had cobbled up. Still, I was intrigued by what I found. It was cheaper to buy the overall basket of goods in Pacific Beach ($24.04) than in any of the four Latin American countries except Guatemala, where it had been $21.94, as compared to $25.20 in Panama; $27.42 in Costa Rica; and $32.76 in Nicaragua. The booze made the Nicaraguan basket cost so much, but when I removed that from all the baskets, the total for the other American products ($11.83) still came to just a bit more than that for Guatemala ($10.85) and Nicaragua ($10.90) and was cheaper than Costa Rica ($14.88) and Panama ($15.70).

I found it even more interesting to focus on some of the individual items. The Colgate toothpaste from my Vons was cheaper than that we found in any of the other countries, $1.50 for a 113-gram tube versus between $1.68 to $2.90 for quantities between 90 and 100 grams. Coke cost the least here too, if not by a big margin.

On the road, Steve and I heard more than one complaint about how expensive life was. Our little comparisons sure confirm that and make it tangible. The gross domestic product per person in Guatemala is $4,619.99. It’s less than $2,000 per capita in Nicaragua — versus more than $65,000 per person in the US. Yet it costs almost as much to buy those eight products in all three places.

On the other hand, nowhere in the four Central American supermarkets did I find the range of products that confronted me in my Vons. Should I include the Optic White variety in my basket? The Baking Soda and Peroxide? The Cavity Protection? One of the dizzying array of other choices? If time is money, should I have added the decision-making into the cost?

It almost makes me want to stay out of supermarkets when I travel — or at least not to think so much about what I find there.

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