What’s It like Living on a Peace Corps Volunteer Budget?

Let’s talk about that chedda.

No, I’m not talking about cheese, even though you know I’d like to be (since I’m from Wisconsin and all), I’m talking about money.

Or as we say here in Costa Rica, la plata. The silver. That cash money monaayyyy.  

You could probably guess with a title like “volunteer” that PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) don’t make a ton of money. It’s true. We’re all broke.

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Trying to not think about our financial well-being for the next 2 years.

The salary (well, ok it’s a stipend) for Peace Corps Volunteers varies from country to country, dependent on the average cost of living, but is meant to provide each volunteer with enough money to live similarly and equally to the people in their host community.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica, I make 270,000 colones every month, which comes about to be about $500 per month.

270,000 colones = $500 (ok $490 to be exact…)

I know you got excited for a minute with all those zeros right?

And don’t forget that PCVs are on the job 24/7 so don’t even make me convert that to an hourly wage.

Now you’re probably sharting your pants right now if you’re a normal working human being living in the United States with bills to pay and mouths to feed but from the perspective of a campo livin’ single gal in Costa Rica, I gotta say it hasn’t been that bad.

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In fact, I generally end up saving money every month. Imagine that!

I’ll be honest with you…I haven’t always been the best person at managing money. I spend when I wanna spend, I splurge when I’m feeling cheeky, and I throw a random chunk into my IRA account when I’m imagining myself as a poor wrinkled old lady. It’s not very efficient or strategic.

So over the past few months, I’ve been working on becoming more financially responsible.

How I feel about discussing finances

De hecho, Peace Corps is the perfect place to develop financial management skills because of the small, fixed salary that’s generally spent on repetitive things like rent, phone bills, travel and food.

At the same time as showcasing my fine excel sheet skills (no they’re not that great), I want to show you want a Peace Corps budget can look like.

Below is my monthly budget from December. Every volunteer’s budget is different from month to month, site to site, and country to country, but you’re looking at the basics.

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My favorite Costa Rican bill!

I’m totally a micro-management type of budgeter who likes to track all my expenses in detail but it really puts things into perspective, especially those little costs that over time really add up.

For example, when I buy papayas “here and there” and then realize I’ve spent almost $20 on papaya in a month. 

DIOS MIO

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I eat a lot of papaya…

While most PCVs choose to move out of their host families after the required first 6 months (for Costa Rica volunteers, housing requirements vary by country) but due to limited housing options in my community and a wonderful host family, I chose to stay with my family. Given that, my living expenses might be a little different than a PCV living on their own but between rent and food, probably not too much.

Here’s the breakdown:

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And look! I even saved $100 last month. 

A few things explained:

Rent: I pay my host family 100,000 colones ($181) every month including rent (60,000 / $109) and lunches and dinners for most days (40,000 / $72). Most people can find an entire house to rent in Costa Rica from 40,0000 – 60,000 ($80-$120) per month so paying that price for a small bedroom can sometimes be a little frustrating. I try to see it as financial support for the family that will last well beyond the 2 years that I am here. For me, the benefits — the company, the community integration, the Spanish, and the safety — outweigh the benefits of living on my own. At least for now…

Phone: I pay $20 for an unlimited data phone plan every month. This way I can stream like a boss and use data to call friends and family back home with FaceTime and Whatsapp.

Food:  Because it was December and I had visitors in my site and we hosted Christmas dinner, I bought some extra supplies and treats so my total was a little high. This is probably my biggest out-of-pocket cost when I’m in site but I place a high value on eating healthy and nutrient-rich foods which sometimes I don’t always get with meals from my host family.

Well there you have it. The financial life of one Peace Corps Volunteer living in Costa Rica. No doubt the life of a PCV is not a financially lucrative one, but the experiences and personal development after spending 2 years in another country and in another culture are well worth the sacrifice of a paycheck. Ok…many paychecks. But still.

Vale la pena. It’s worth it.

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She’s gotten so big hasn’t she?

If you’re interested in learning more about the financial, student loan, travel, medical/dental, career and graduate school benefits, click here to learn more.

 

 

 

 

 

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