Thursday, July 15, 2010

Saving money day to day in Rio de Janeiro

One of my biggest issues here is how to save money.  Let's keep things in perspective in that we don't do anything!  Our big splurges are basic household needs or taking our pre-schooler to the movies.

That's one area I just can't seem to get a hold of. How do I save money day to day here? I live here, I'm not traveling, and I have kids so eating cheap pasta every day is out.  

And our biggest cost is groceries.  I know fresh fruit and veggies are cheap but we still end up breaking the bank at the stinking grocery store. I've even converted to powdered milk as I save pennies each liter. It's just sad.

I considered myself a master of mão fechado (closed hand aka. cheap in Portuguese) in the states. I could make a dollar go so far and still enjoy myself.  Why can't I do that in Rio? 

My splurges for groceries include wine, the cheap R$16 wine. But I found a bottle that didn't make me vomit for R$7 on sale today. Got to love Argentina.  Deli meat and cheese.  This goes back to being sandwich people.  I really can't think of anything else. I can't.  Rice, beans, milk, meat, chicken, fish, and coffee.  We're pretty basic people. The snacks we do have are not the bank breaking types. 

But at the end of the month, for a family of four, we can not stay under R$1000.  It's killing me!  I don't even get to eat Filet Mignon weekly!  I mean, seriously, is there any other meat?

Ok, I did have Pate the other day.  We always buy decent olive oil when we need it.  Nescal (what we use to make chocolate milk in Rio de Janeiro) is always on tap here.  I guess there's a bit of fat I could trim but then we'd just be sad.

I'm officially offering my husband up to a rich, lonely, and single gal who wants man companion.  Once or twice a week at night will work.  I can vouch for his skills.  All I ask is that you pay of our mortgage at Caixa, or Satan as I like to call them. 

Not to worry, we're not destitute or even suffering for that manner. I just really get annoyed that I can't be all financially savvy here.  I don't know if it's truly impossible or I'm just Brazilian savvy retarded.  I think it could be a little bit of both. 


  1. I feel your pain! I cannot keep the grocery bill under $150 a week and that doesn't include Costco runs every other month. I stopped getting my nails done and my hair colored to save a buck or two. WTF! How do people live? I guess I could start feeding my kids Hamburger Helper and Mac and Cheese, but then I would die from shame. Who would feed them then? My MIL? Famous for her meals consisting of hot dogs, top ramen and marshmallows? I don't think so. Glad to know I'm not the only one with this problem! xo

  2. Luiz is the master of saving money, although I draw the line when he suggests we cancel our health insurance and cross our fingers for a few months to save some coins.

    For us the one Real coin has been our ticket to travel funds. We have a piggy bank and put ALL the um real coins that cross our path into it. The last time we brok open the pig she had more than R$1,300 in her!

    I posted about it here:

  3. That's awesome Jim! Great idea!

  4. Does Luiz have some good tips?

  5. Mostly his approach is self deprivation, and stuffing money into little clay piglets. He cooks rather basic meals. You will never see him buy a jar of sun dried tomatoes or nice size shrimp -- I do that, and then hear about it. He was a waiter for 20 years in the US so he absolutely refuses to eat out at fancy restaurants - his was scandalized by the price his clinets used to pay for their meals and swears to never pay it himself. I have to drag him out for sushi.

    He does have one rule of thumb he learned from his mother that is worth noting: If you put your feet out into the street, you will spend money. So he stays in a lot watching TV. Again, no fun, but it works.

    Right now we have two pigs going. One is for only un real coins, like I said, and the other is fed only R$50 and R$100 notes. Sometimes one of our clients will pay in cash with big notes. When he sees more than one such note in his hand at a time he considers it a sign that one must be fed to the pig. It's not logical, but it works.

  6. Same here, it is unreal how much we spend at the grocery store but things are really expensive! I think a third of our bill is just on beverages alone... juice, coconut water, nescau, matte, coke, beer and wine. The other third is household/cleaning products and then the rest is food. It hardly feels like a splurge but the numbers at the end of the month are insane.

  7. Hi, Rachel. I think it depends on where you live in Rio. I live in Zona Sul now, but I used to live in other areas that were cheaper to live. There were families living with less than R$500 a month. I mean, eating nice meals like "Arroz", "Feijão" and meat. And yes, you can get other meats like "Contra-filé" and "Alcatra". Very nice blog. Abraço!

  8. Rachel,

    You have a great blog, always interesting posts.
    I guess it takes a lot of cash to maintain a reasonable middle class standard of life in a large Brazilian city.
    We usually avoid eating out and cook a lot a home, but it sounds like you already do that...
    Rio and Sao Paulo are just too expensive, but worth every dime if you ask me.

  9. I don't know if this mind trick is going to work for me in Rio, but when I lived in Paris, I kinda ignored costs and money because the currency was different than the dollar. I basically consciously blocked out the cost of things (Paris is no bargain) using the different currency as an excuse. Am I good at denial or what? ;-)

  10. I have a lot of catching up to do! You have so many great and entertaining posts. My husband and I spend about 500 heais per month. When my school takes a break I have to cut corners. But the simply fact is all most people are under paid here. So saving is really difficult. AND I think most would consider you at the better end when the month is done and you are not in the negative. I try to cut all corners without letting some value of importance slide. I buy from open air markets, pay all bills a head (you can get discounts), spend less water, we went without internet until it killed us, eating less meat, eating out once a month, having joint cookouts (where everyone brings a little something), and doing one fun thing out a month. I mean always sit at home and it gets really old. We have to do something once a month.