Ventanas Mexico

Resources for full- or part-time life in Mexico

Provides a blog promoting living in Mexico and promotes books on learning Spanish and how to rent in Mexico.

An Unheralded Way Living In Mexico Saves You Money


Vague comments about  the“lower cost of living” in Mexico don’t examine the nuances of why.

Just before leaving the U.S. to come back to Mexico this year I got scammed online.  Not by any of the top online scams like the emotional message from Nigerian student or the fake antivirus software alert, but rather by an anti-aging face cream company.

The company runs ads on internet to send you a free sample, saying you only need to pay the shipping. That’s how they get your credit card number.

When you check the box thinking you’re agreeing to the shipping cost, you are actually agreeing to let them send you their expensive product monthly at the end of the “trial period.” Somewhere in that shipping information it says you have 15 days to cancel. Of course you don’t cancel because you don’t know you ordered anything.

(In my defense, I had in the past actually paid shipping and received a single free sample as promised).  You have probably learned that most times these days, that box you check authorizes the company to bill you monthly, even though you were drawn in by an ad that misleads you into thinking you've purchased the service for a month.  You have to make the purchase, then immediately go online or call them to cancel.

This post isn’t about being fleeced online though. It’s about online shopping in general and how living in Mexico might save you money in ways you don’t imagine when you read all those vague statements about Mexico’s “lower cost of living.” You probably think of lower property taxes, lower dining and entertainment costs, lower food costs and lower utility bills. Those savings are real.  You save in other, much more subtle ways too.

How much do you order online?

According to Mintel, a global market research company, over two-thirds (69 percent) of US  adults shop online at least monthly, with 33 percent shopping online every week. Last year, for the first time, people were doing more of their shopping online than in person.

Not surprisingly, research shows people like the convenience, anonymity and the fact they can shop with their dog with them. Adults over 50 are the internet’s biggest constituency, and two-thirds of them buy online.

What is more, 48 percent of online shoppers admit to occasionally increasing the size their orders to hit the free shipping minimum. Free shipping is central to many online shoppers’ experience, so much so that nearly half (48 percent) of online shoppers admit to occasionally increasing the size of their orders to hit the free shipping threshold.

Retailers have learned something else interesting about your online purchases. Mintel’s research shows that the selection of products consumers buy online depends on whether they have an immediate need to use them.  

That is to say your online purchases, like my face cream, are more likely to be classified closer to the category of an impulse buy. The growing trend toward purchasing online over the phone, especially by men, makes buying easier still.  

Apparel, accessories and electronics lead list of items most likely purchased.  Online retailers are now figuring out to expand on that. They have my full faith and confidence because marketing is the kind of thing America does really well. They do it so well that Americans have a very difficult time saving money. The average American saves less than 5%.

Mexico doesn’t have a lower cost of living merely because of the lower cost of healthcare and housing and food (although that might be enough).  It also has a lower cost of living because Mexico’s culture is not driven by the most advanced, sophisticated marketing machine in the world like yours is.

Sometimes that machine is a glory to behold. When I have a little extra to spend, I rhapsodize about just how fabulous it can be - Nordstroms, Starbucks, Amazon and Whole Foods are all amazing.  It’s not that I don’t admire American marketing brilliance.  In fact, living in Mexico part-time makes me admire it even more.

Many an U.S citizen gets off the plane in Mexico and immediately sees an opportunity of creating and selling something.  Most of us seem to carry at least a trace of the genetic mutations that culminated into the frenzied, opportunity-seizing hominids Americans are today.  

While Mexicans are ingenious in many things, being a marketing professional here doesn’t carry the same cache in the culture as in the U.S.    

The Top 10 most admired retailers in the U.S. aren’t just admired for their level of service (which is apparent when you see that Apple is in the list). They are admired because they sell a boat load of product.

Mexico has different cultural priorities.  To illustrate that, an expat friend of mine told me that she often went to the same store to buy an item she needed. Often they were out.  When she remarked to owner that she loved the product, he told her he quit carrying it because he kept running out and didn't like to disappoint their customers. The story tells you a great deal about Mexico on many levels.   

Another aspect of Mexico that saves you from your crazy spending self is that Mexico is still largely a cash country.  Even in this day and age, paying cash makes a purchase register with you more.  As an illustration of that, many of my friends back home have started carrying a set amount of cash with them when they go out at night.

In Mexico, people often still pay their electric and water bills in person and often still in cash. The mail being what it is (bad), you will rarely order something online when you live here, although you can use UPS and other mailing services.  I would never have have ordered that face cream had I been surfing the web while in Mexico because I don’t trust the mail system.

shopping in Mexico

With the peso at over 19 to the U.S. dollar, it's not like you couldn't get into trouble here too.

I won’t demonize the credit and debit card industry, although it’s tempting. Paradoxically ride-sharing services like Uber and a host of other online services I use when I am back in Denver make my part-time expat life possible. The key is to determine how to make both systems work for you.

Not that I’ve never been fleeced in Mexico, but it’s always been by the actual perpetrator. Once it was a 14 year-old girl selling tamarindo candy.  

Now if I wasn't American, I probably have gone right back to that girl and lectured her about the disadvantages of being a con artist. Being American though, I just had to appreciate her nerve and sense for capitalism.

Judging by the non-sequitur responses to my inquiries at the face cream company, Jenny and Jeremiah, the customer service people there were most likely bots.  More and more of your experiences on line will be handled by bot (Facebook is selling companies information on how we communicate online so that their bots can be programmed to respond in a more and more human way.)

Bots have generally been written about as a positive development; answering routine inquiries and saving time (money) for companies. They will add a whole new layer between us and the companies we interact with online, including the ones that seek to fleece us.  

The good news is that people won’t be able to abuse the poor $15 an-hour customer service people anymore. The bad news is more people will not be able to get that particular $15 an hour job.

I don’t see bots making their way into my day-to-day Mexican transactions anytime soon. Mexico is very people-intensive. Notice how many people are hire to you at the car wash, the kiosk or the department store. 

Your more personal relationship with your money and and vendors in Mexico make it harder to misspend it, no matter how much you want your skin to look like Meryl Streep’s.

Related links:

Bots and the Future of Customer Service -  TechCrunch

"Ducking Out: The View of America's Economy from Mexico"  -Ventanas Mexico on how is looks from a rear-view mirror.

Most recent  New AT&T plan in Mexico takes away the decision-making process for the full or part-time expat.

Next up:  You can score some astonishing views if you brave a few month off-season. But don't fall in love with the first thing you the field.

Hi, I'm Kerry Baker, a partner for Ventanas Mexico and the author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online."  The best of online tools that Google (and expensive online courses) don't want you to know about, with lesson plans.  

Recently I released, "If Only I Had a Place" for aspiring expats planning their first long-term stays in Mexico. This book gives you a fluid system to use year after year, and a listing of local rental concierges in all the popular expat destinations.