cost of living

Go to The Earth Awaits. Enter your family size and lifestyle preferences, select a continent (or search the whole world). Choose a crime rate and pollution rate you are comfortable with (or throw caution to the wind and leave it at "any"). Set a monthly budget target range, and it finds cities that fit you. It will give you a sample budget and tell you about the quality of life, freedom concerns, healthcare, etc, in that city and country.

Because of the extreme poverty across most of Africa, there is an assumption that it must be cheap to live here. Certain budget items are cheaper here than in the US, but others - often unexpectedly - cost more.

Our cost of living is not that cheap. Rent is much cheaper than in Texas, but we spend almost exactly the same amount on food, a similar amount per kWh of electricity. We buy drinking water. We looked into a filtration system, but our water supply is too unpredictable. Better to have a sure supply of drinking water. We try to maintain a healthy, modest lifestyle - balanced diet, clean drinking water, with minimal treats/extras.

The only Kenyan city I see on The Earth Awaits is Nairobi. This screen capture is an estimate for a family of 4 living a "modest" lifestyle in a 2 bedroom apartment outside of the city center - approximating the Ken-Tex family.

Is it tacky to talk about our budget in specific terms? You may be curious, so I am going to share a bit. If you find it distasteful, skip the rest of this post. ;)

The first difference I see between their budget and our reality is the rent - the estimate for the apartment is about $80 more than we spend on our 2 bedroom house (with a yard). This is one benefit of living in a small town.

Their food budget is bigger than ours, and the only meat for the whole month is 5 kg of chicken breast at $5 per kg. We eat more meat than that, and we pay more than that for everything except ground beef. But we don't spend as much on most of the other items and all produce is probably cheaper in this small town than in the city, though we don't have access to as many imports. They estimate $1.59 per kg of bananas. We buy bananas at $0.10 a piece. Google estimates about 4 bananas in 1 kg.

I could remove the gym membership and transportation pass to save $100 because neither of those apply to us, but then I would have to add the expenses of owning a car. Which is a lot. Gas is now extremely cheap at about $3.56 per gallon (at the peak a few years ago we were paying $5.25/gallon).

The budget also didn't include hired help. We don't currently have this because once we got a washing machine we realized I could keep up with housework, and we could save that money every month. But most expats in Kenya - and most affluent Kenyans (middle class or higher) - have hired help. It also doesn't include school fees. We send our boys to a great private school starting at age 3. In the US, they would be in free public school, and Ben wouldn't have started yet.

As it is strictly about cost of living, it doesn't include charitable giving or putting money into savings, both of which are things we have in our own budget.

We don't make nearly as much money as The Earth Awaits estimates we need, even taking the differences into account. It would be nice if we did, though! How do we survive then? The biggest difference must be that our interpretation of "modest" lifestyle is probably more in the "very frugal" range. Each category of expenses in the sample budget is multiplied by 1.25 for modest living, more for a more luxurious lifestyle, less for a frugal life. We live on a shoestring budget and a prayer.


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