House and Garden Maintenance Costs

When we begin to think seriously about a major move, for instance retiring to a foreign country like Mexico, especially if we’re lucky enough, or desperate enough, to do it early, we begin to look at the costs of everything there compared to the costs of everything here at home. One cost we do not usually have in the US or Canada is household help, e.g. the maid who may possibly also be a cook and the gardener. We are accustomed to one of two ways to deal with home care back home. Either we do it ourselves or we live in a community with shared “common expenses” like gardening and maybe pool care, if you live in the southern US somewhere. If the work is farmed out, you lucky people already have an expense you can use to compare with the costs in Mexico because here in Mexico almost everybody has at least a part time maid and an occasional gardener. Trust me. It’s way-y-y cheaper in Mexico.

I had a maid when I lived in the orient. She was wonderful, educated (unusual for the culture, but she and her husband were ambitious and had plans). She taught me to cook local foods that were simple and scrumptious. And her fee was higher than most. She charged $1.50 USD per hour. That was in the orient and it was the early 60s. Welcome to the 21st Century – no comparison with the 60s in the orient. Then once again, I hired a maid while I was a single mother with two teens. This was in Vancouver, British Columbia. She was lazy, always late, and I discovered she was on drugs. I had to fire her, and from then on, the kids and I formed a team.

A place called “Ah-hee-heek” Mexico (Ajijic)

When the years of bedlam settled down with an early retirement caused by the doctor warning me that either I slowed down or I would never make it to retirement, a fellow I worked with suggested I take a vacation to a place called “Ah-hee-heek” (Ajijic) in central Mexico.

“Where?” said I with a blank look. He extolled the virtues of the Latin lifestyle and then he described the lake, surrounded by mountains, the semi-arid land with semi-tropical plants that bloomed all year round and birds that migrated here from northern climes in winter. He had my attention.

When he told me I could rent a house for $450 – $650 USD per month and have a maid and gardener, I listened more intently. It sounded like the gateway to heaven.

“But,” I said, “I don’t speak Spanish.”

He laughed. “You will,” he replied. “Besides, they make it easy for you by being the happiest people you’ve ever lived with.”

Mexican Music, People and Culture

Mexican music began to fill my mind with pictures of brown-skinned people with smiles on their faces and cheery outlooks. What a difference from the money-centered world of the US and Canada in the late 90s. I was ready for that vacation trip to the “place where water springs forth”, the fishing village of Ajijic, part of the township of Chapala in the state of Jalisco, Mexico.

The romance of it all grabbed my imagination, but I still wasn’t completely sold. I had a list of buts…you know, the kind of worrisome stuff that holds us back.

What about medical in Mexico?

“Mexico has an active medical tourism business because their medicine is cutting edge and their facilities range from middle class to royalty on your medical insurance or pay-as-you-go. They are about 1/10th the cost of US medical.”

Wow. But how much does everything cost when you add it up?

Well,” my friend said, “while you’re there on vacation, make a list and check the prices. Include things like long distance telephone and satellite TV. Compare the budget with your present expenses. My guess is the overall costs run between 40% and 70% less.

OK,” said I. “I’m spoiled. I want what I have become accustomed to, and that includes super highways, great shopping centers, locally grown awesome produce and tender steaks from free range cattle. And speaking of free-range animals, eggs from hens that live alongside their roosters the way nature intended. And I want it in the country, not suburbs, just close enough to a city if I want to go there.”

I had no idea about the wonderful coffee that’s grown in Mexico, the gorgeous fabrics that are the pride of indigenous people and can be purchased for very little and the stores that provide the best of anything you want for an up-and-coming Mexican middle class. And the idea of having a maid and a gardener when I was no longer tied down to a job? I was clueless.

The idea of having a maid at such a low cost

To sum it up, I came – I saw – Mexico won me over. My maid is paid better than most. She earns $50 pesos per hour, and she tells me that the average runs from $35 to $50 pesos. I also pay her $20 pesos for bus fare. It takes her time to get here and home, or to her next job. She comes once per week and works 3 – 4 hours each time. She is a pro. She gets my two-story town house clean, washes any dishes I didn’t have time to clean up, irons perfectly anything from the previous week’s laundry, stitches anything that needs repairs, and if I asked her, she’d cook for us too. Mexican domestic help works an average 50 hour week, and my part time maid usually leaves early because she’s that good.

Oh, yes. She also cleans additional things poco a poco (little by little). That’s for what doesn’t need cleaning every week, like the inside of the refrigerator, windows, door and window sills, etc.

The idea of having a gardener at such a low cost

The gardener we used to have cost $30 pesos per hour. He was almost qualified to be a horticulturalist. He knew his plants, and we had a gorgeous garden as a result. But he was nearing retirement, and the next gardener didn’t work out as well even though he got paid $40 pesos per hour. Now we live in town with a small garden and we do not have a regular gardener. I like getting my hands into the dirt sometimes, making things grow and then reveling in the beauty of it over a cup of coffee in the morning.

The point I’m making is that there are choices. What you will not see here is a concrete garden painted green and a few potted plants to simulate a front yard. Here, we have gardens and birds and songs in the air, some of which are hummingbirds’ wings flying past your ear to catch a shower from the hose while you water your garden.

Full Time gardeners

Then again, you might opt for a full time gardener. He takes pride in his work and turns your garden into a private park if it’s spacious enough like the quinta (large private land) we lived on for a while. Even on a smaller scale, it feels like your private park. It takes a bigger budget, not usually for the gardener but for the garden. Still, there is something very healthy about living in the sunshine, surrounded by so much color. He will make it beautiful, and you will have your dream home.

A word to the wise is necessary, however. What people usually do not tell you is that there are government regulations about paying people who work for you. Check out www.rollybrook.com/employee-pay and it will tell you about the Aguinaldo, vacation and IMSS requirements, depending on whether they contract their services to you or whether they are classified as employees. Be fair. At $4 – $5 USD average pay per hour, they earn it.

And we get to live in paradise.

By Kay Davis, Access Team Writer

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