The Cost of Living
Portugal is not a wealthy nation, but honestly I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. To quote just one source (the Bible): “…woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” and “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” which makes Portugal a shining example as to why that admonition works, even for a country.
As an aside, I think the Portuguese are the Eeyore of Europe. They have it a lot better than they think, but they tend to look at the negative side of things, just like Eeyore. And everyone loves Eeyore, he just doesn’t know it.
Of course, Portugal is by no means a poor, third-world country, but it doesn’t appear to obsess over obtaining wealth, either. The people’s needs are generally met, with very inexpensive healthcare and college education providing comfortable cornerstones. They also appear to have a “live and let live” approach, which may have something to do with not allowing money to become the primary focus of their lives.
(One caveat to that is that I’ve noticed fairly long lines in specific stores that sell lottery tickets. I guess the easy road to riches is tempting for lots of people, especially those who don’t see any other way to get them.)
In any case, in the US at least, there are many who believe that wealth is somehow a sign of God’s grace (despite the aforementioned biblical verses). That conviction keeps popping up over the eons, because, well hey, rich people enjoy being rich and everyone else wants to be. So all sorts of justifications are generated despite all the evidence to the contrary. Indeed, throughout history, the kind of wealth that’s currently concentrated in as few hands as it is in the US has never ended well.
Portugal doesn’t have loads of riches coursing throughout its economy, turning everyone frenetic in their quest to grab their piece of the pie so they can buy a bigger and nicer car, house, XBox, smart phone, computer, or $600 handbag. There is far more equal footing here than in the US. It looks to me as if almost the entire country is more or less middle class, especially by international standards. The result is a lot less lusting, a lot more inclusion, a lot less crime, and a lot more embracing of friends and family. Or maybe it just makes everything less expensive, which we certainly appreciate.
We pay $30 a month for internet services that cost us $150 back home. We paid $50 total for a half hour visit to a doctor without any insurance involved. We pay 17 cents for a 1.5 liter bottle of water. Going to the movies is about half the cost as it is in the US, plus you get to read Portuguese subtitles during the movie. Bonus! You can also get a great cup of coffee and a pastry for a couple of bucks. The list goes on and on. When you’re coming from a wealthy country with its exorbitant costs, everything in a poorer country seems like price-paradise in comparison.
Much of today’s American political dysfunction centers around money: how to generate more, or spread more around, or restrict more from the government and so on. In Portugal, there is no similar huge divide. Certainly, everyone’s not united in every belief by any means, but because there are no perceived riches to shove past others to go after, there is simply a lot less angst.
The comparative political peace and quiet here, the basic way of life unencumbered by lust of money, and the acceptance that life should be simple, and that family, not money, should be at the center of it, really makes us love Portugal.
I have an analogy about all that too. Let’s say you have two rooms and a group of kids. One room is stocked with candy. The other has vegetables. Now, if you ask any kid which room he or she would rather spend time in, they’ll naturally pick the one with all the candy. But if you divide them up randomly and put one group in the candy room and the other in the vegetable room, the kids who go into the room with all the candy will undoubtedly end up fighting over who gets what (not to mention gaining weight and damaging their teeth). In the other room, the kids would most likely just eat their vegetables without much of a fuss (until their friends from the other room bragged about all the candy they got to eat, I suppose). They’d be better behaved, healthier, and overall, just plain happier.
So I’m not saying most Portuguese wouldn’t want to live in a country with as much candy -er, wealth as the US, but the reality is I think they’re a lot better off, and happier, here. Except for the Eeyore thing I guess.
As for us, our goal here is to live on something between two and three thousand a month, keeping in mind we don’t have a house payment. Living on a budget like that is the only way we could afford to retire early, bridging the gap between now and when social security kicks in. It should all work as long as we don’t live to be 100, and if we continue liking Top Ramen.
This budget includes $450 a month for health insurance, which is only a major medical plan. Since regular doctor visits are so cheap in Portugal, unless something catastrophic happens, we’ll probably never touch the policy, so it’s a bit annoying that we even have to have it. It’s only that expensive because it’s not a Portuguese plan and is something designed for expats, covering us throughout the world. We’re looking forward to obtaining our citizenship in about six years, when our overall medical costs will undoubtedly be significantly less than that because we’ll be on the Portuguese socialized medicine program, which costs nothing to belong to when you’re a citizen.
In the meantime, a good bottle of wine here is only a couple of bucks. If worse comes to worse, we can just stay obliterated and figure everything is fine!