How Living Abroad In Mexico Granted Us Financial Freedom

Toluca, Mexico. Photo credit: Gabriel Balderas, CC BY 2.0.

After four years of teaching abroad, my boyfriend Max and I were ready for a well-deserved change. Sure, living and working abroad had its perks, and I could go on for days as to why it’s a great way to make money while you travel. But we got tired of it. Even though we got paid a decent salary, had health insurance, and our rent was paid for by our employer, we worked long hours and wanted something more.

During out last year working in South Korea, Max and I had both started freelancing on the side. I worked as a writer, and he worked as a teacher for VIPKID. It was hard. We would wake up at 7 a.m., work a bit, go to our actual job, get back home at about 7:30 p.m., cooked, cleaned, and worked some more before bed. It was like that for a year, but we saw the light at the end of the tunnel. If we could just keep up what we were doing, we would have the option to work remotely in the future.

Once we decided to take the plunge to work online full-time, it was scary. What if it didn’t work out? What would we do?

But… what if it did work out? What if it worked out so perfectly, we would never dream of going back to a 9-to-5 ever again?

We knew that we needed to move somewhere cheap. Somewhere where we could live legally and save up money in case the freelancing thing didn’t work out.

So we decided on Mexico.

I’m not talking about Cabo, or Cancún, or living in a villa in Puerto Vallarta, though if you like those places, that’s great! We chose a city called Toluca, located about an hour outside of Mexico City. A city that’s significantly cheaper than the beach towns, Mexico City, and—of course—any other place back in the United States.

Toluca has a low cost of living, but it also has all the the things you might find in an American town. There’s Costco and Sam’s Club. There are two malls with a Chili’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Starbucks, Forever 21, H&M, and even a P.F. Chang’s.

Financing our life here is not only easier than anywhere else we’ve lived or could have lived, but it’s truly a blessing. Max and I earn close to $5,000 together on a regular month. Our rent is $500 a month, for a three-bedroom home with a yard in a safe neighborhood. We don’t need a car here, so we walk or use Uber when we want to go somewhere. That costs about $2 each way. If we want to go to Mexico City, we take a bus, which is 158 pesos per person round-trip, or about $8.

Back in Long Island, a ONE-WAY ticket to NYC cost me $13.

We managed to pay off some of our significant student loan debt while living in South Korea, and now we put about $300 per month towards our student loans. We use our credit card to pay for things we buy at Walmart or restaurants, which we pay off every month to avoid accumulating interest. If we book a trip on the credit card, we get points and— most importantly—we pay no foreign transaction fees. This comes in real handy when we’re waiting for our money to be transferred from our U.S. bank to our U.S./Mexican bank, which allows us to make ATM withdrawals free of charge.

Because our expenses are so low, we have been able to travel a lot without worry. We’ve also been able to save. Realistically, on a good month with no travel plans, we can put away close to $2,800. If we booked flights or hotels on our card in the previous month, we’ll use that money to pay it off, typically with a decent amount left over for savings.

Because of the nature of my job and my experience as a traveler, we never spend the average going rate on a specific flight ticket. This December, we’ll go to Rome from Mexico City on tickets that cost $440 each. We’ve traveled to Cuba, Cabo, Ecuador, New York, Vegas, and Denver since living in Mexico, and this month we will go to Brazil. We use Trusted Housesitters to find us a dog sitter for free when we go away, so we’re not spending ridiculous boarding costs, either.

Other things we can afford which we could never back home:

  • A rental car when friends visit for a week: $60, or around $110 including gas and tolls.
  • A movie every Friday night: $7 for tickets for two, plus $10 for snacks.
  • A nice dinner or lunch once a week: $20, maximum.
  • A cleaning lady once a week: $10, including tip.
  • A case of beer or a wine bottle: $5 a week.
  • Fresh meat for our dog: $5 a week.

My boyfriend and I are frugal people, which helps. But, for the first time, we’re able to go places and not look at the price on the menu, or worry about not having enough to make rent. Since we work online, we don’t need to travel only during busy holiday periods or weekends. We can travel whenever we want.

However, right now we’re more interested in, as the phrase goes, “milking the cow.” We are traveling, yes, but we also plan over the next few months to travel less and save more. This money will hopefully be used to make investments that will benefit us in the future. We could buy a car, buy a house hat we could rent out to tenants, pay off more loans, etc. We want to use this time to enjoy ourselves, but we also want to be smart about what we’re doing.

It’s sometimes difficult to live the way we do here in Mexico when most of the population is financially struggling. We try to do what we can to help the people in our community, and never forget for a moment where either of us came from. Though we certainly are grateful for what we have, not a day goes by where we don’t think about the rough experiences we had with money growing up.

People don’t necessarily agree with our lifestyle, but I couldn’t see it any other way. We are free. We are frugal. We are financially independent in our mid-twenties. We have everything we could want, without being overly burdened by expenses. (We don’t pay for cable, we hardly ever buy new clothes, we shop for produce at the local market when we need it, etc.)

If you work online, this kind of move might open up new opportunities for you. Yes, you’ll have to adjust to a new town and a new culture, and you might miss some holidays back home with family. However, with all the savings you have, you’ll probably be able to afford that plane ticket when you feel the urge to return home for a visit.

Hana LaRock was born in raised in Long Island, New York, but now lives in Toluca, Mexico after four years living abroad, two of which were spent in South Korea. She’s a freelance content writer, an online teacher for VIPKID, and a U.S. Flight Searcher for Scott’s Cheap Flights. Hana enjoys traveling, trying new foods, reading, and watching foreign films. Learn more about Hana at her site, www.hanalarockwriting.com.

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