In 2016, my family and I packed our bags and moved from Chicago to Mazatlán, Mexico. After the unexpected death of my mother, my husband and I realized that life is too short to delay building the life we wanted.
We had about $ 20,000 in savings, which was more than enough to get us through due to the lower cost of living in Mazatlán.
Then, after two beautiful years in Mexico, my husband, Vernon, landed an incredible opportunity to teach at a medical university in Antigua, an island in the eastern Caribbean Sea that is famous for its beautiful weather and 365 beaches.
Again, we packed our things and booked a one-way flight.
The first few months were tough, especially because Vernon’s first paychecks were prorated. I still had a very limited income – less than $ 1,000 a month – from my freelance work as a copywriter.
We also incurred many moving expenses, including plane tickets, the first month’s rent ($ 1,250), a security deposit ($ 1,250) and our rental car ($ 400 per month). In addition, our cost of living, while still cheaper than in the United States, has increased significantly.
But we held on because we love Antigua – and I’m glad we did. We are now in a completely different situation financially, as my business has grown and we have found ways to spend less. We plan our meals and often eat at home. Before making a purchase, big or small, we always ask: is it a need or a want?
After saving a good amount of money and with the help of my in-laws interest-free loan, we bought a used car for about $ 10,000, which we have now fully paid off.
I run my own writing business and do mindset and business coaching at the same time. I bring in an income of around $ 5,000 per month. My husband earns about $ 5,700 a month from his university job.
Our combined monthly income allows us to pay our bills, enjoy the island lifestyle and save for the future. Since last year, we put $ 500 per month into our joint retirement savings account.
We have also paid off over $ 24,000 in credit card debt. We still make regular payments on our $ 80,000 student loan, but since last October, we officially no longer have consumer debt!
Our monthly expenses in Antigua are approximately $ 4,762, compared to the $ 7,000 we spend in Chicago. So we are now saving over $ 2,200 per month.
Rent is our biggest expense. In April of last year, we moved into a large 3 bedroom house for $ 2,200 per month.
Despite the higher cost, the additional space allows us to often accommodate friends. And coming from downtown Chicago, having a backyard and pool is a big bonus for our kids – ages 8, 9, and 10.
The second major expense is private school tuition for the three children, which costs $ 622 per month.
To save on groceries, we shop locally and try to buy Caribbean brands rather than expensive products imported from the United States. Our family of five spends between $ 150 and $ 200 per week on groceries.
Here’s a look at our average monthly spend:
- Food (groceries, restaurant meals, drinks): $ 969
- To rent: $ 2,200
- Utilities (internet, water, propane cooking, electricity): $ 317
- Health insurance: $ 590
- Netflix subscription: $ 15
- Telephone: $ 49
- Tuition fees: $ 622
Monthly average: $ 4,762
Daily average: $ 159
We spend $ 120 or less per month on entertainment or restaurants.
Since Antigua is warm and beautiful year round, most of the activities we do are outdoors, which means they are usually free or inexpensive.
We love to hike and play at the beach. There is a nice little secluded beach just a block from our home that we go to often. For a special treat, we sometimes head to the Seaside Path for a $ 5 fresh juice.
When we choose a paid activity like going to the movies or scuba diving, we look for days with reduced prices. My daughter took her first scuba diving lesson on a special girls day which was free.
We plan to continue living abroad for as long as we can. Our kids are already thinking about the universities they want to attend – all in remote places like Dubai and the UK. This is exactly what we wanted for them; they have well-balanced cultural values and are open to new cultures, places and ideas.
By being very intentional about our finances, sharing our priorities with each other, and choosing a place where the cost of living is lower, we have created a life that we love. We have no regrets about the choices we made and are grateful for all the lessons we learned throughout our trip abroad.
Gabriella M. Lindsay, originally from Chicago, is a copywriter, author and educator. She lives on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean Antilles with her husband and their three young children. “Living in FIT: a 40-day guide to living faithfully, intentionally and tenaciously“is her first book. Follow Gabriella on Instagram and Youtube.