When Your Money Turns Red

 When your money turns red... When your money turns red…

“When your money turns red, it’s time to think”. That’s what he told us, the old Utilian gentleman did, in a little bayside store the other day. We were buying some plantain chips to go with our picnic lunch for the beach and I pulled out a few 1s to make the right change. You see, Honduran Lempiras are color coded, with 500s being a reddish-blue color, 100s are mostly yellow, 50s are more of an aqua blue, 20s are green, and so forth. By the time you get down to 1s, they are all red. He said he’d been in Honduras his whole life, that 1 Lempira used to buy something but not any more (they are worth about US$0.04 now). So, when all your money is red, you need to do something!

There’s been a lot of interest lately from our friends and fellow Knee-Deepers on the cost of living here in Utila, Honduras, and it’s a big interest of ours too! After all, if we can’t afford this, if we’re already spending too much then we’ve made a big mistake retiring early, now didn’t we? So we are keeping an eye on it, to make sure our money isn’t turning red on us while we’re busy not paying attention.

Fortunately, the cost of many things (but not all) are less than we’re used to. If it’s from Utila, it can be very cheap or somewhat more expensive, case by case. If it’s from the Honduras mainland or Guatemala, it is probably the cheapest. And if it’s imported, it’s usually the most expensive, sometimes much more so (plus there is additional tax added to import items). Each of these cases has exceptions though, as you can see below:

Foods from Utila:

 Yard birds Yard birds  Never turn down free food Never turn down free food

  • Chicken (excellent, from all over the island) $1.50/lb
  • Eggs (excellent, from our landlord’s yard chickens) $2.00/dozen
  • Eggs (fair, from the store) $4.00/dozen
  • Fish $2.00/lb but hard to trust the fishermen
  • Bananas $0.20 each
  • Mamey sapote (local fruit, delicious, serves 2 or more) $0.85 each
  • Cookies, chocolate chip & peanut (fresh baked) $4.25/dozen
  • Patastes (local vegetable, delicious) $0.85/lb
  • Breadfruit, lemons, and plantains (from our landlord) $0.00

Mainland (Honduran & Guatemalan) foods:

  • Dry red beans $0.75/lb
  • Potatoes (best ever!) $1.00/lb
  • Cucumbers $0.40/lb
  • Ground Pork (lean, excellent) $2.90/lb
  • Green Beans, fresh $1.00/lb
  • Kiwis $0.60 each
  • Small Dog Food (Dogui Brand) $1.30/lb
  • Hot Sauce (Guatemalan, delicious) $0.75/small bottle
  • Bag Lettuce (variety, washed, from Roatan) $3.80
  • Orange Juice (fresh squeezed, very delicious) $7/gallon
  • Granola $2.63/lb
  • Beer, Honduran $18.25/case (German Beer is ~2X the price)
  • Coffee (dark roast, very good) $5.00/lb
  • Coffee (same stuff, expired) $2.50/lb 🙂

 Sapote - flavors of honey, vanilla, melon, almond, sweet potato, maple, and egg custard - superb! Sapote – flavors of honey, vanilla, melon, almond, sweet potato, maple, and egg custard – superb!

Imported items:

 Island staples Island staples

  • Colby cheese (USA) $5.25/lb
  • Peanut Butter (USA) $5.72/18oz jar
  • Blackberry Jelly (USA) $5.00/18oz jar
  • Silk Almond Milk (USA) $4.65/qt
  • Milk (Costa Rica) $0.55/half pint
  • Wine (Chile, quite good!) $8.40
  • Rum (Nicaragua, 5 year, very good!) $12/liter
  • Salsa, chunky (USA, Tostitos brand) $3.85/small jar
  • OFF! Deep Woods (USA) $8 / 6oz can

Other random items:

 Such a deal! Such a deal!

  • Charter Plane between islands (carries 3 people) $375
  • Charter Boat between islands (carries 6 people) $300
  • Diver Down inflatable float for safe snorkeling $35
  • BillaBong Swimsuit from the Thriftstore $1.25 (score!)
  • Excellent Haircut for Deb $6.50
  • Gasoline – we don’t buy it but were told it is 40% higher than the USA
  • Electricity – $0.36 / Kwh (this is triple what we paid in Colorado)

As for what we’re spending, see below. We only use our Schwab debit card to get cash from the ATM and we spend cash from there. Using cash has a spending limit effect, if you don’t have the cash you won’t buy anything, or you’re getting a little short, you will spend less. And that Schwab card reimburses international ATM fees.

Monthly Spend

  • $725 cash – this gets us all of our food (we cook the majority of it, but also a few meals out). It also buys our drinks whether it’s in house with Deb’s Special Piña Colada and a beer on the deck for Norm or a Cuba Libre at a waterfront dock bar. It pays for any small bit of shopping, a haircut, a couple of taxis, and tips for deliveries & other services. This is our second month and this spending is pretty stable.
  • $410 for international health insurance from Cigna (was $1200 in USA)
  • $165 family plan cell phones (USA + International, 5 phones)
  • $550 rent (edge of town, better than in the middle of it all)
  • $65 electricity
  • $15 drinking water
  • $20 laundry
  • $0 for car payment, gasoline, tags, car maintenance, home repairs, TV cable, Internet, water, sewer, property taxes, and fast food

If my math is right and it usually is, that’s $1950 per month. Our budget says we can spend a maximum of $3300 per month at this time so I’m feeling good about this. I say “at this time” because this budget isn’t a fixed budget forever.  Our plan has quite a few stages in it, starting with “cheap adventures”, going through “nicer tropical living”, “living closer to good health care” as we age, and eventually “sitting in a rocking chair”, the quiet lives of 100 year olds. 🙂 Of course we know that life will determine our future as much as our silly plans.

But I read an article from an early retired couple (I track a few of these) that said they have to make themselves spend more money sometimes. This is because of the natural worry, especially early on in retirement, that you’ll need that money someday (no matter how many spreadsheets you’ve run!). But you can risk sacrificing happiness just “sitting around saving money” all in the name of worry. And that’s not the right trade-off for us. Their solution was to put the extra money away and have a semi-regular way to splurge with it, or at least part of it. I like the idea of saving part of it and spending part of it on new adventures.

But we don’t have that luxury yet, because we have one big variable cost while we remain vagabonds. Most of you know our original plan was to be living in Vieques, Puerto Rico now, but that plan got restructured by Hurricane Maria. So we’ve been biding our time waiting and hoping that they can get power, water, and the other basics back before we go there. So, here we are in Utila. It’s great that the costs are low, but we can’t stay here forever. In fact, we have 3 months in Honduras, and then we can buy a 1 month reprieve. After that, we have a decision to make and it goes one of three ways. One option is to do a “border run” to another country for a few days and reset our 3-4 month timer in Honduras. Another choice is to head off to Vieques with fingers crossed, likely living on generator power for 2-4 hours a day. Finally, we could go somewhere else entirely. The reason I mention all this is the money it takes to travel around, and the dogs drive the cost up (they roughly equal an extra person with the vet certifications, forms, airline fees, etc.). In really round numbers it’ll take about $2500 to do a big move, like to Vieques or a new country and it’s closer to $1500 to do a border run and return to Honduras. So those numbers, done often enough, will definitely impact our budget in a bad way.

Back to the spending list, note that rent amount – it’s pretty good, right? You can rent fancy places on the water around here for $2500 a WEEK, so that number could go way up. But that’s not us. We can’t afford that, and we don’t want it. That’s a tourist on vacation price, and it includes a boat because that’s the only way to get to town from a fancy joint like that! We are getting a much better feeling of the island here with real neighbors, one of which parties LOUD and often in his big house across the street, and the guy next door with the machete who is semi-crazy. But that’s real life! And that’s our life from here on out. As our new friend Mamita said, it’s island shopping. And to do that right, we have to have a good feel for what life is really like for real residents.

There are a few other things we do that help our cost of living here. For one example, we didn’t turn on our water heater for the first 3 or 4 weeks we lived here. It was so hot out, why would we want to pay for a warm shower? Now the weather’s cooled off considerably so we turn it on for about 7 minutes a day, for our evening showers. Seriously, that’s what we do. Why pay all that money (high electricity costs here) to heat water you’re not using? We also have AC in the bedroom. Again, we used it at night only in the first few days when it was very hot, and we also bought a $16 fan. But we haven’t turned on the AC in the last month, there’s just no need. I guess the lesson is to check your habits and go with the flow the weather gives you.

 That's highs of 79-81F and lows in around 75F. No need for AC! That’s highs of 79-81F and lows in around 75F. No need for AC!

And living a simple life makes for plenty of free entertainment, like chilling on the beach, or in a hammock on the deck, going for a hike across the island, or a walk through the neighborhoods where we’ve met the most interesting people.

 This is free This is free  This was a bit of a hike, but also free! This was a bit of a hike, but also free!

The vagabond life keeps us from spending money on things we can’t haul with us, like rods and reels, paddleboards, surfboards, diving weights, spearguns. I suppose though, that those costs are just delayed. Many of the things we spend money on are cheaper than in the US and the things that are more expensive like gas and electricity, we’ve either minimized or eliminated. This isn’t a happy coincidence BTW, we are doing most or all of this on purpose. It’s part of the adventure, to prove to ourselves we can do this, enjoy our lives tremendously, live in the tropics, without having to work until we’re 70 to afford it.

TODAY’S SPECIAL: “If I had a Million Dollars” by Bare Naked Ladies, if we had a million dollars we wouldn’t have to walk to the store, we’d take a limousine cuz it costs more! Plus, haven’t you always wanted a monkey. 🙂 🙂 🙂



  1. Deb on November 21, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    See that tiny bit of sand, on the tiny island in this last pic? We snorkel there and chilled!

  2. Kevlar on November 21, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    Absolutely fascinating #’s. It really de-mystifies the logistics of making ends meet down there. It also allows me to fantasize more accurately on when/whether I could also make such a change. And interesting foreshadowing on changes to come, eventually. (Good literary technique!)

    • Norm Pyle on November 21, 2017 at 10:34 pm

      Glad I could help clear things up Kevlar! I’ve been trying to relay that this isn’t resort living, it’s real life. And I think the numbers help. Also, thanks for the encouragement! 🙂

  3. Marsha on November 21, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    I’m wondering about reading material….libraries….used book stores. ( in English )

    • Deb on November 21, 2017 at 10:38 pm

      Marsha,We brought a few books and plan to leave them on Island when finished. Islanders love new books. No booking stores, or magazines to be found. I haven’t seen or heard of a library, I’m guessing the schools have them. I saw a coffee shop with a book exchange. It was closed that day, and also a week later when I ran by. We will see if they are just gone for vacation. We have kindle books also. We also have two boxes packed at our sons house for book rate shipping when we get somewhere longer term. Also I am so impressed, a lot of locals are just as fluent in English as Spanish. Many visitors speak English,Spanish and German. Very impressive.

      • Norm Pyle on November 21, 2017 at 10:41 pm

        Kindle is my friendle.

  4. PaulB on November 22, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    Great info Norm! Love the details here… thanks

  5. SQ on January 4, 2018 at 1:50 am

    Hey my friend. I think i am becoming more of a numbers guy as i get older, and this article on the spend was really great. I’m a little bit behind. There’s been a lot of shit going down with work that would have made a great discussion at Bent fork or the fish place. I really enjoyed this article quite a bit. I have been behind the whole month of december, there was a ton of work and personal commitments, but i’m catching up. on to the next one:)

    • Norm Pyle on January 4, 2018 at 8:22 pm

      Definitely watch the numbers for the sake of your future self! We may have pushed our luck a little, retiring this early, but no regrets so far. It did take a while to get comfortable with those numbers though.

      • sq on January 4, 2018 at 11:20 pm

        if anyone can work a spread sheet, it is you my friend. I remember our last chat at bonefish about this. ANd you did say there are all these unforeseen things that can change your budget. Hey, you could always be an illegal in Utilla!

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