Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rio de Janeiro Middle Class is Killing Me!

Middle class life in Rio de Janeiro is killing me, financially.  And they are doing it slowly.

My cross to bear is that I´m American. I have a particular definition of middle class and it just doesn't always fit.  Like two-ply toilet paper and non-powdered milk.  I thought that at 30 years, I'd be sitting relatively pretty, wiping my toosh with comfort and drinking my chocolate milk. It's proving to be a little more difficult than just that. 

For starters, I've made a couple of mistakes.  We bought a home on loan from Caixa and we procreated.  Basically I was screwed twice, actually three times, in this equation.  Once figuratively and twice literally. At least I got pleasure out of two of them.  I'll let you figure out which.

The interest rates at Caixa seem slightly shocking on paper and heart attack inducing in real life.  It's like, YEAH it's payday! Oh wait, taxes.  Ok, still good.  Oh crap Caixa... It's the baby Momma without the past action and no obnoxious stepchild.

But you know, you can survive. And we did purchase before the big upswing in real estate prices.  So when we finally own our home, after both my husband's and my death after our loooong life, our kids will be sitting pretty.  Thank goodness. That last sentence may or may not be sarcastic.

And how do our beloved joys add into the equation?  Well, diapers for one are highway robbery. I almost considered that crazy Gisele Bundchen idea of potty training your 3 day old.  From a living in Brazil standpoint, it's worth being in the bathroom every hour and all the extra laundry.  I mean, a pack of diapers costs as much as a decent meal out.  We're talking R$23 to R$30 a pack. 

No I don't buy the super cheap ones.  It's not because I'm prissy but because they are crap!  I might as well strap some of my precious two-ply around my kid's butt. Not pretty.I think my wood floors would up and leave me if I put them through that again. 

Then there's school.  You start at 2 yrs here.  Totally normal, unless it's public school. My husband won't let me do public school on principal. No, not the one you think.  It's because those spots need to be saved for people who really need them. People who really can't afford private school.  I love him for that. My purse does not.

You would think my child was attending Harvard finger painting school.  I sure as hell hope they come out brilliant and socially fabulous.  Of course when they do, I will take full credit.  I mean, 4 hrs a day can not do miracles. That one belongs to Momma.

I've decided it's come down to groceries. My poor boys are having their cookies and whole wheat bread taken away. We're going rice and beans all day every day baby... Ok, I can't do that one either.  I can't look at the same food twice a day every day. Just call me a princess.  Actually I prefer Princess Rachel Sassiest Pants of the whole world.  That is, if you insist on calling me a princess.

So I guess I'm not that bad off and I really am not planning on changing my lifestyle. Maybe I just wanted to share.  But, then again, isn't that what a blog is for? 


  1. Welcome to the middle class princess !!! hahaha

    I love your blog, I can show the reality of Rio to my hubby.
    He has no clue about what looks like living in Brazil...

  2. Public school is not charity, it is a right for all citizens, not just the poor. The university daycare here became a city public school with 1/2 of the spaces reserved for the university community. I thankfully put my son in it and am appalled to hear comments from some teachers at the school that are similar to your husband - that we (university professors) should not have our kids in public school. However, the fact is that without us, there would be little parent involvement in the school. It is always the same 8 parents who get involved in my kid's class and most of us are from the university. A lot of people trace the decline of public school to when the middle class abandoned it for private schools. I really understand your husband's reasoning, I do, but if more of the middle class went to public school, the better chance it would have of providing a better education for everyone. I do not know whether Rio has the same infant education intiatives as Belo Horizonte, but the schooling my son is getting is first-rate. When your boys are a little older, I strongly suggest trying to get them into the "colegios de aplicação", schools linked to UFRJ (Pedro II) and UERJ (Colégio de Aplicação). TOP NOTCH and FREE.

    Other money-saving tips: have you tried getting diapers from a fábrica? It is cheaper than buying in stores and usually (not all) is pretty good quality. Another trick is to pay attention to advertised specials on meat and stock up.

    We spend way more than I want at the grocery store too. Brazil is just expensive!

  3. It's very difficult to get into colegios de aplicaçaos. They have a lottery for students that isn't, shocker, totally random. They "choose" kids and surprisingly get a lot of the kids of professors at the universities.

    And there are some good public schools around where I live and one daycare, that I know of, that is public and supposed to be amazing. The only issue with the daycare is that your kid has to be there all day, 8 to 5. It's the rule to use it. I don't need that much time and I feel that it's a lot of stimulation for a little guy. I like to keep it to a minimum.

    I thought about doing menus for each week as a way to cut costs and organize. It would be a treat not to have to figure out what I'm going to cook each day.

  4. It is really sad how low the payment is in Brazil. There are so many problems here and it seems a process of lifetimes to solve (thanks politicians who do nothing and the people who vote for them). The interest from your bank...... MY GOD. Brazil has a higher interest than most undeveloped nations in Africa. But it seems a lot the problems come from the super rich (Not paying enough taxes). AND I don't think middle class people are to blame for public schools being in the hole. Politicians and Super Rich; again, are the structural cause.

    The middle class kids leaving is a simple result of not accepting the shit education and endangerment of their children. So they just can't wait around and hope it will change. And I want my kids to have a good education. I am all about making the education a better place and advocating for it, but not at the expense of my child's education.

    Girl you said it. The problem is that we cut and cut corners until our head hurts or we are so stressed for having to cut too many corners. When we don't, it is because we won't or can't skimp on everything! I know there are a lot of people worse off than me. But I worked damn hard to get where I am and invested a lot of money. I think everyone should be entitled to middle lives and conditions. In our current economic system the super rich would cease. And we all know that is not going to happen right now. But man I would like to afford a child before I'm 40!

  5. Personally, I think all politicians should HAVE to use public education and hospitals. Make it mandatory if you are in any sort of public office or job. I´m sure all public areas would improve.

  6. It's expensive trying to be "middle class" here in Brazil.

    We have long held the conviction that you do not have to be rich - but it helps to have rich friends who can bring you along on their adventures.

    My heart goes out to parents... Don't get me started on the public education system. You hate it now, but wait until your private-school educated boys sit for the vestibular and out test all the public school kids. Then the tables are turned. Suddenly the rich get to send their kids to university for free.

    What's up with that!?

  7. Rachel I think you are brilliant and I LOVE your posts. And you are definately the sassiest of all Princesses (except for yours truly, well come to think of it I am less sass and more high-maintainence). Keep the chuckles coming and exposing the reaities of you experiences.

  8. Rachel,

    yes the colegios de aplicação are hard to get into. The false "lottery" does not work here at UFMG - we profs don't get special treatment for our kids. That's too bad that the public daycare near you is all day. Ours can be either all of half day. I have had mine in all day since he was 4 months old out of necessity but can totally understand not wanting them to go all day if you can be home with them.

    I did "Once a Month Cooking" for a while and it really did help with expenses and solving the "what's for dinner" question. You basically cook or prep about 15-30 meals in one day and then freeze. I liked using "dump" recipes, where you put meat in a marinade in the freezer and take it out the night before. Then when you get home it just goes in the oven. Of course, how much you can do depends on freezer size. Mine is pretty big for one that is the top part of the refrigerator and I still could only pack in about 10 meals.

  9. Funny you should post about this. I was just talking to one of my American friends today about how the middle class in Brazil is not the middle class in America, well at least in my view.

    It takes quite a bit of dough to live like a "typical" middle class American in Brazil. I don't know the average Brazilian could do it on a salary of $R1000-2000R a month.