This blog is part of the Blogging Abroad Blog Challenge. It will focus on money in my host country.
The exchange rate here is $1 USD (United States Dollar) to between $115-$119 JD (Jamaican Dollar).
Since Richard is visiting me I am going to focus on the one thing we have spent an enormous amount of money on, travel! From my community to Ocho Rios, my shopping town, it is $130 JD, if I want a ride to my front door with my groceries it is $250 JD. If I want to go from Ochi to Kingston it is $400-$450 JD depending on if they take the new toll road, which cuts over an hour off the trip. For me to get to the beach I either have to go to one in Ochi, and if the cruise ships are in it is chaotic, or I have to catch a different taxi to either Rio Neuva or Oracabessa Fish Sanctuary, or as the locals say, the fisherman’s beach. This incurs a totally different cost. For a trip from my community to the main highway (North Coast Highway) it is $90 JD. Then I wait to catch a taxi or bus headed in the opposite direction from Ochi. This typically costs about $150 JD. To catch a ride home I must catch the bus or taxi to Ochi for $160 JD and then catch a taxi to Three Hills for $130. I could get out at the bottom of the hill except that the taxi from Ochi is always packed and I can never catch a ride up. For this reason I just pay the extra fare and go all the way into the bus park.
After awhile all this little travel adds up and unlike back home there is no monthly pass to purchase to get unlimited rides. So I tend to limit my trips to when I really need to go and combine them so I can save some money. Like a shopping trip will also include a short beach trip just to keep my travel spending to a minimum.
Now let’s focus on the main expenditure in my budget: food! As a vegetarian I can get by on a smaller budget but I am also a picky eater so that ups my budget. Today I spent less than $500 JD and I got a small head of cabbage, some scallion (a lot actually!), thyme, some red peppers and two small heads of lettuce. This will make at least 3 meals for me and Richard. I have learned that buying from the farm stands is typically cheaper and has way less waste. In the grocery stores they tend to pre-weigh things and then put them on styrofoam trays and wrap the crap out of them with saran wrap. They even pre-weigh cabbage and individually wrap each one to price it! I try to avoid buying produce at the grocery for this reason, although kale and mushrooms are my one major vice. Both are quite spendy! Shittake mushrooms are around $900 a pound. The ones I can get here typically look a little haggard since they are imported. I tend to buy small quantities and use them sparingly unless they need to be used immediately then I make a mushroom broth out of them.
Things like cheese, yogurt and other amazing imports are a hefty price. I have bought a large tub of Greek Yogurt for $780 which feels super expensive when you have a Peace Corps budget. I typically spend my own US money almost every month on phone and internet. Living outside of Ochi increases the costs of most things. I pay the price, the import fees and then they up the price for tourists. This is partially why I like to limit my travel and I purchase in the outdoor markets to avoid those charges. Bonus points if you wait until later in the day, sometimes people are trying to get rid of as much as possible and will cut you a major deal. The price is almost never the real price! This includes clothes, shoes, toiletries, and general items. Basically anything that does not require refigeration you can find in the market. The major downfall is that people haggle you to buy things. Richard told me that I was quite rude to people in the market, but after a year of the hassle you just gotta be or they wear your soul down. I would buy from the craft market more often if I did not feel like walking through it was entering Dante’s 7 rings of hell.
My internet was $3000 a month but that just ended. My $9000 modem broke and is not repairable and they have no more modems. They never have modems, I just got lucky one day. Today I bought a new sim card for my iPad to tether to my laptop and it was around $560. A 3K plan was $2650 a month. I am now focusing on limiting my data usage just to get an idea of how much I use exactly. So at this very moment I am typing this blog up off line to post tomorrow. Frugal is something I used to be very good at. This month I have spent a lot of money but that is because Richard is visiting and I wanted to show him not only my island home but we took a lovely trip to Cuba. (Yes this was a legal visit and that blog will soon post!) If I was more responsible I would try to keep better track of my spending, but life just seems to happen!