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Thursday, April 24 2014 @ 04:40 PM EDT

The "Real" Cost Of Living in Panama - A Survey And Call For Input

Money Matters By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Good morning guys. I’m making a call for your input to an article I intend to write. One of the most frequent questions people want answered when they are considering a move to Panama is “what is the cost of living.” Very often there is a variant on this question – such as “can I get by on $2,000 per month?”

We have all seen this question asked and answered over the years dozens if not hundreds of times. I intend to publish a comprehensive article on www.panama-guide.com to answer this question. The article will be a snapshot as of the date and time of publication. You all know some costs tend to change over time as the price of chicken goes up, the price of gas goes down, a law is changed which affects tax burden, or what have you. So, this article will be the basis for a “snapshot” which I can update over time as things change.

And, there are big (huge) differences caused by how many people there are in your family, where you live, and the choices we all make in our daily lives. Some can live very comfortably on very little, some need more, and there’s no “right” answer – just the math and numbers behind the decisions we all make. I need your input to make the resulting article more accurate and valuable to anyone who is trying to plan for their eventual move to Panama. (more)

In order to create some sort of order out of the chaos, I’m asking for input along the following format and in accordance to these guidelines;

Confidentiality: – I will respect any level of privacy or confidentiality you desire. Some people could care less, while some are on the complete opposite end of the scale and don’t want their names to appear in anything, in any way. You know up front my intention is to use this information to write and publish an article on www.panama-guide.com, so please indicate your desires in your response somewhere as follows;

  • Level 1 – No problem whatsoever. Feel free to use my full name and email address in your article. I don’t care at all, and people can contact me independently if they like to ask additional questions. I love it here, have absolutely nothing to hide, and like getting email from strangers.

  • Level 2 – I’m more than happy to provide these details, and you have my permission to use my first name (and my spouse) in your article. However please do not use my last name or email address.

  • Level 3 – No names, but you can use our initials in your article. The husband and wife team of “Jim and Candy” would be “J & C” in this case. A man named “Jim Candy” would appear as “JC.” That way we can see and recognize our input to your article (for ourselves) and we can tell our friends and family, but outsiders or strangers won’t know or be able to identify us.

  • Level 4 – Here’s my input, but please do not identify me in any way – no names, initials, email address, nada. I trust you (sort of) but not anyone else.

  • Level 5 – DEFCON MAX – I’m sending this to you using a brand new, single purpose Hushmail account. I think you’re probably collecting this information to be used by either the FBI, IRS, or an alien species. I want to let you know how much I pay for tacos every month, but I’m the most paranoid bastard you’ll ever not meet. So here’s my data, but have fun trying to figure out who I am, asshole… (Hey, works for me.)

Demographics: In order to create a starting point, give me an idea about the people in your family. There are obviously big differences in cost for a single person living alone, a couple of retirees, and a large family with both small and adult children. So, how many people live under your roof full time. Don’t count visitors, relatives, guests, etc. I’m trying to determine a “standard” or “average” across the board.

  • Number - many people live under your roof? If you have a full time, live in maid or other employee, count them. They eat, use electricity, use water, etc.

  • Ages – How old are you guys?

Location: It’s more expensive to live in downtown Panama City for the most part. This is really simple – where do you live?

Time On The Ground: How long have you lived in Panama?

Full Time Or Part Time: The experiences of people who live in Panama part time are just as valuable as those who live here full time.

A Roof Over Your Head: We all need a place to sleep at night. In this area cover the routine expenses associated with your apartment or house (not utilities).

  • Do you rent or own?

  • If you are renting, how much do you pay every month?

  • If renting, what is included? Sometimes there’s a split in the utilities – like gas and water is included, but the tenant has to pay for electricity, cable television, telephone, internet, etc. So – what (if anything) is included in your rent?

  • If you own – do you have a monthly mortgage?

  • If you purchased, how much did you have to put down as a down payment?

  • Paid cash outright – If you purchased a home, own it outright, and have no monthly payments or mortgage, how much did you spend on your home?

  • Monthly maintenance? If you rent, how much is your monthly common area maintenance fee?

  • If you own your home, about how much do you budget or spend (month and year) to maintain your home? And remember, I’m looking of long term averages over time. If (for example) a tree fell down and smashed your patio roof once upon a time, that’s not a “normal” type of expense. What’s normal?

  • Other – what am I forgetting? Please explain.

Feed Me: Once you’ve got a place to sleep, you probably got hungry. We all have to eat, and we all spend a portion of our monthly budgets on food, one way or the other. For the purposes of this survey, I’m breaking it down to just two categories – groceries (for food you prepare yourself in your own home) and eating out.

  • How much do you budget or spend on groceries every month? Note: Include in this number the cost for things like cleaning supplies, laundry soap, toilet paper, etc. I know it’s not food but these are the things we typically buy at the grocery store, and these are the other “consumables” in our lives – the things we use up day to day.

  • Eating out – how much do you budget or spend every month on food you don’t prepare yourself, in restaurants or fast food?

Utilities: What’s your normal monthly bill for the following common utilities;

  • Electricity

  • Water

  • Cable Television

  • Internet

  • Telephone

  • Cell Phone

  • Other – please explain.

Transportation: How do you get from point A to point B?

  • Do you own a car?

  • Did you buy it here?

  • How much did you spend to buy your car?

  • Do you have a monthly payment?

  • How much do you spend per month on gas?

  • How much do you spend per year on insurance?

  • How much do you spend per year on maintenance or repairs?

  • If you don’t own a car, do you use public transportation such as taxis or buses?

  • How much do you spend per month on public transportation?

  • Bocas guys – tell me smart things about boats. Buying, operating, maintenance, fuel, etc.

  • Other – what am I forgetting? Please explain.

Education: Those of us who have school aged children have to educate them, and many times they attend private schools;

  • How many kids do you have in school?

  • How old are they?

  • How much is the annual inscription fee?

  • How much are the monthly fees?

  • How much do you budget or spend for monthly costs for lunches, school supplies, uniforms, etc?

International Travel: If you live in Panama but you’re not from here originally, chances are you make trips back to somewhere else. How much do you budget or spend every year on International travel?

Other Regular or Routine Expenses: If you have any other regular or routine expense, that’s either monthly or annual, please include it here, and explain what it is.

What’s your bottom line cost of living? I would like you to determine the total bottom-line cost of living, monthly, for each person living in your household. There are a couple of ways you can do this. If you know how much income you have total during the year, and if you spent it all, then that's your bottom line cost of living Divide by the number of people living under your roof, and that's the monthly cost per person. Or you can break down all of your monthly expenses, and come up with a number. Then take all of your annual expenses (such as car insurance) add them up, and divide by 12 to make it a monthly equivalent. Then add these two numbers together. Divide by the number of people in your household. This should be your bottom line cost of living in Panama, per person, per month. This is the number I’m most interested in.

Bottom Line Examples: The following are examples of the sorts of bullets I would like to include in the final article. The examples I include here are fictional - I just pulled them out of my head;

  • A couple of retirees from the United States moved to Panama four years ago. They purchased a condo in the Coronado area by paying $65,000 down and financed the rest. They own a car and travel back to the United States once a year. They have an active social life, like to eat out frequently at restaurants, and enjoy high levels of technological connectivity in the form of cable TV, high speed Internet, and things like cell phones and an iPad on an annual plan with data connections. Monthly cost of living per person = $2,350.

  • A single retired male from the United States gets by on just his monthly social security check of $1,500 dollars. He rents a small home in a rural part of Panama, surrounded by mostly Panamanian neighbors. He pays just $250 per month to rent the house. He has a small window air conditioner in his bedroom, which he almost never uses. He cooks almost all of his own food, and he supplements his diet with food he grows himself in a small garden behind the house (he loves gardening). He does own a car – which he bought used for $3,500 dollars when he first got here six years ago – but he only uses it to go to the local store, and he rarely goes to Panama City (why, for what?) He has a laptop computer and he connects to the Internet using a Digicel USB port, paying less than $10 month for access. He has a cheap $20 cell phone that he bought two years ago (still works fine), and he uses the prepaid calling cards to keep expenses down – but no data or email on the phone. Anything he doesn’t spend on basic living expenses goes for beer, cigarettes, and his girlfriend. But the bottom line is that he’s “getting by” just fine on his SS check.

  • A relatively large family of five – dad works for an International company and was assigned here in Panama City, while mom runs an Internet based business from home. They sold their large and comfortable home in the United States several years ago before moving here. It’s easy to determine how much they spend here every year – add up the income, divide by what goes into savings, and the rest got spent (mostly on video games, or so it would seem.) Monthly Cost of Living Per Person = $1,600 ($8,000 total per month, or $96,000 per year spent, divided by five family members).

So, get the picture? I know the details vary greatly depending on the personal circumstances and dynamics of each family here in Panama. I’m not looking for a perfect solution because that’s neither practical or possible. I just want to set the standard with a new article about the “real” costs of living in Panama, based on inputs from readers, in a format that can easily be updated and improved over time.

Suggestions: Please include anything I’ve forgotten in your calculations. You can respond here to the Americans in Panama Yahoo group if you want, because I’m sure the discussion and cross talk will spark some memories. And of course feel free to send your responses directly to my email address: don@panama-guide.com. Thank you very much for participating. The more information and data I get, the better and more accurate the article will be. There are no wrong answers, and we all find our own path. Thanks again.

Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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