Dwindling Fortunes Update: December 2013

The cost of living in Guatemala

We’ve spent the entire month of December in Guatemala, mostly enjoying the quiet shores of Lake Atitlán, with the occasional escapade to Guatemala City to keep us sharp. Although staying put usually means less money spent, we’ve actually saw a bit of a drain in our finances due to my ongoing exploration of the medical routes of Central America.

Discover the world? Feel the salty breath of the ocean on my cheeks and dive into the mysteries of the world at large? Nah, I’ll just try a doctor in every country we visit and spend a bunch of money on medication. My body is a cage…

Still, we’re happy to report Guatemala can be just as cheap as Mexico, although perhaps not as gastronomically diverse and less prone to random outbursts of firework extravaganzas.

Anyway, on with the data:

Money talk

For the purpose of tracking our expenses we purchased a brilliant app called Trail Wallet, available for all gadgets starting with “i”.

The procedure is simple: we input our daily budget, fill in our own currency (EUR) and also choose the currency of the country we’re in (currently, GTQ). We then enter our purchases in GTQ, and the app will let us know how much we are spending in EUR and how we are faring in regards to our daily budget. We can also assign categories to our outrageous lifestyle. Here’s how it looked on the last day of December:

Trail Wallet December overview

Our daily budget is 50 EUR total. We averaged 25.88 EUR for the month of December, which means we spent 52% of our allocated budget. The good news is that we’re consistently under budget, the bad news is that it could have been a lot better if my sorry excuse for a body didn’t feel the need to collapse and convalesce and collapse again as if it were on a roller coaster.

On with the financial data then. Unless specified otherwise, all numbers refer to our total costs as a couple.

Below is the general chart for the month of December.

Trail Wallet December Chart

Each lovely color represents a category. We’ve added the following:


We used to also have the Entertainment category, to account for alcohol and such, but since we never do much of that, we decided to combine it with Cult… er, I mean Miscellaneous.

Most of the money we spent in December went for Accommodation, Food, and… Health!


Trail Wallet December Accommodation

Remember when we used to spend 600 Euros per month on accommodation? Well, we do. At least in this department, we’ve managed to make quite some progress. We hope to explore some other options in the future, but for now we’re patting ourselves on the back for the deals we’ve encountered.

Below is the daily rate of the two places we’ve stayed in. The exchange rate is approximate, since the Euro is a bit like that crazy uncle with narcolepsy. You know the one.

70 GTQ (7 EUR) – Apartamentos Don Moisés (apartment, Panajachel)
450 GTQ (42 EUR) – Casa Blanca (hotel, Guatemala City)

Please note the ridiculous difference between our lovely place in Panajachel and a mid-range hotel in Guatemala City. The amount we paid for one night inside a small room in the city is nearly as much as we pay for an entire week inside an apartment with all amenities included, not to mention a glorious vista of Lake Atitlán.


Trail Wallet December Food

Did I mention we have a kitchen?

Granted, eating out in Guatemala does not have to be a monetary free fall, being possible to enjoy a good meal for less than 5 Euros, but considering that amount is worth a week of scrumptious meals at home, well… you do the math.

We are fond of the bustle of local markets – the smells, the colors, the people, the ceaseless haggling – and are able to bring home the fresh produce and fruit we had missed so dearly while living in Amsterdam. Here, a real, tasty avocado will cost us 1GTQ/0,10 EUR and a juicy carrot half of that amount.

As a side note, potable water is a bit of an issue throughout the Central American lands – meaning it’s mostly non-existent -, so bottled water is the safest way to go. Another money-saving benefit of having our own place is being able to buy 20 L water bottles for 20 GTQ/2 EUR, which lasts us a little over a week.

The only reason our food budget isn’t even lower is due to heavy consumption of ice-cream (1 cone, 2 balls for 13 GTQ/1 EUR of utterly fresh deliciousness) and occasional splurges on chocolate and other delectable treasures. Yes, we suffer from Sweet Tooth Syndrome.


Trail Wallet December Health

I won’t go into the details of my body’s many failings again, but suffice to say it’s getting on my nerves…

After consulting with a lovely specialist in Guatemala City, I have been put on a very expensive medication regime in order to see if I can get rid of whatever is trying to bring my mojo down. Basically, I’m popping pills like there’s no tomorrow.

How I long for the days when this category was mostly comprised of toothpaste and the odd bar of soap…

Other Categories

Trail Wallet December Other Expenses

The remaining categories were responsible for 17.2% of our total costs.

Culture was a no-show this month. There were no museums or ruins to visit, and therefore no money spent. Nonetheless, our daily contact with locals and trips to the market also count as culture in our book, so we’re good.

Lifestyle is a fancy word for nicotine addiction. We’ll drop our cancer sticks as soon as the new year begins. Not sure about which year though…

Transport costs were a tad high for a predominantly static month, but we visited Guatemala’s capital twice and the expenses add up rather quickly. Here is more info on transport from Panajachel to Guatemala City.

Miscellaneous can be anything, and this month it was mostly a staggering phone bill (holiday season oblige) and the occasional handmade bracelet or postcard.

Summing up: if my body had gotten over itself and started behaving its age we would have had a fantabulous month. Alas, one must always allow space in our lives for the unexpected – but it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

As for Guatemala itself, only good news so far. Food is yummy and cheap, public transportation a bit mad but also cheap, and there are fantastic deals to be found where accommodation is concerned. On top of that, the people we’ve met so far have been remarkably friendly and welcoming, so we may stick around for the entire duration of our visa (3 months).

In the end, we feel it’s a great place to enter 2014 in style…

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20 Responses

  1. Victoria says:

    We’re fans of trail wallet too. It’s so useful! Hope you feel better soon.

    • FW North says:

      Yeah, the Trail Wallet has been a great help in sorting out our finances. Don’t know how we would manage without it. Thank you for stopping by and happy 2014!

  2. I am a sucker for any budget posts. These are so helpful when trying to plan where to go next. I know we are a family of 4 and you are a couple, but it still helps. We have been in Spain for 16 months and heading to Southeast Asia next. We will eventually get back to the Americas. I spent loads of time pre hubby and kids, about 20 yrs ago in Guatemala. I have fond memories of the tiny village of Zunil, just outside of Quetzaltenango. Have you been? I wonder what it is today. Enjoy your time, that is a lovely country.

    • FW North says:

      Hola Heidi! We haven’t been to Zunil yet – we’re finding it very hard to leave Lake Atitlán 🙂 We read a bunch of budget posts before embarking on our current long-term travel madness, so we thought we’d return the favor. Hopefully they will help folks have a better idea of costs and such. Thank you so much for stopping by and have a great 2014!

  3. Loved this breakdown guys! We’re going to Mexico/Central America soon and Guatemala is where we think we’ll spend the most time – we don’t have a set plan yet though. Great to get a rough idea of a budget. Sorry to hear about all of the trips to the doctor!!

    All the best to you two in 2014 🙂

    • FW North says:

      Hola Dariece! Great that you guys are coming to this side of the world. Hopefully you’ll love Mexico as much as we did. Thanks a lot for stopping by and happy 2014!

  4. What a brilliant way to show people how much it REALLY costs to travel like you are. Now, drop those damn cancer sticks pronto !!

  5. eemusings says:

    Ahhh shit happens unfortunately, it’s great that you still did so well budgetwise!

    Was gutted our iPhone died just before the end of our trip, swallowing all the US data in Trail Wallet (luckily I had pulled out Asia and Europe data previously, but hadn’t backed up since then).

    • FW North says:

      Uh-oh… You reminded me I haven’t backed up in a while. Must do it now. Thanks a lot for stopping by and good luck enjoying the comforts of home 🙂

      • Erin says:

        The best thing to do is set up the automatic backups of Trail Wallet to Dropbox (accounts are free if you don’t have one) then you don’t have to worry about it. You can set it up in the settings page.

        Lake Atilan is somewhere we are considering spending some time so glad to hear it’s so inexpensive.

        • FW North says:

          Thanks for those tips, Erin! We highly recommend Lake Atitlán – inexpensive and gorgeous! Good luck and safe travels!

  6. That looks like a cool app, I will look into it 🙂 Thanks! Also, hope you feel better!

    • FW North says:

      Hola Chanel! We love the Trail Wallet, and couldn’t really manage our long-term travel adventure without it. Thanks a lot and happy 2014!

  7. Kellie says:

    Hope you feel better soon. I’ve had my own health issues recently but thankfully on the mend now. I felt like I missed out a bit as Rob bought a new travel guitar and I got to go to the Drs and buy drugs. It wasn’t half as much fun!

    • FW North says:

      Oy vey, traveling sick sucks… Good to know you’re on the mend. Hopefully we’ll both be able to start enjoying our travels without worrying about spending money on legal drugs. Good luck and safe travels!

  8. That’s great that you still went under budget even with the unexpected stuff. There’s definitely less pressure when you over-budget. I hope you get better soon, though! Traveling while sick isn’t fun.

    • FW North says:

      Hola Deia! Yep, over-budget is the way to go. Wait, that sounded wrong. Blast you, English language! As for the reasonable month, it’s all due to our savings in accommodation. If we were staying at a hotel/hostel, there’s no way we could have pulled it off. Thanks for stopping by and good luck!

  9. I love budget posts such as these. Great to hear that Guatemala isn’t much more expensive than last time I was there. It was such a bargain, but I did get sick of things like the electricity going out or we had water off for a few days straight one time!!

    • FW North says:

      Many gracias, Sharon! Electricity and water have so far been pretty steady. Internet is hit and miss though – but I’m not complaining (much). Guatemala is still a great budget option, but we are finding it a tiny bit more expensive than Mexico. Thanks for stopping by and good luck!

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