In 2016, my family and I packed our bags and moved from Chicago to Mazatlán, Mexico. After my mother passed away unexpectedly, my husband and I realized that life is too short to put off building the life we wanted.
We had about $20,000 in our savings, which was more than enough to get by due to the lower cost of living in Mazatlán.
Then, after two beautiful years in Mexico, my husband, Vernon, landed an incredible opportunity to teach at a medical university in Antigua, an island in the eastern Caribbean Sea that’s famous for its beautiful weather and 365 beaches.
Once again, we packed up our things and booked a one-way flight.
The initial months were difficult, especially because Vernon’s first few paychecks were prorated. I still had a very limited income — less than $1,000 a month — from my freelance gig as a copywriter.
We also incurred a lot of moving expenses, including the plane tickets, first month’s rent ($1,250), a security deposit ($1,250) and our rental car ($400 per month). Plus, our cost of living, though still cheaper than in the U.S., jumped significantly.
But we stuck it out because we love Antigua — and I’m glad we did. We’re now in a completely different place financially, as my business has grown and we’ve found ways to spend less. We plan our meals and eat at home often. Before making a purchase, big or small, we always ask: Is this a need or a want?
After saving up a good amount of money, and with the help of my in-laws’ interest-free loan, we purchased a used car for about $10,000, which we’ve now fully paid off.
I run my own copywriting business and do some mindset and business coaching on the side. I bring in an income of about $5,000 per month. My husband makes about $5,700 per month from his job at the university.
Our combined monthly income allows us to pay our bills, enjoy the island lifestyle, and save for the future. Since last year, we’ve been putting $500 per month into our joint retirement savings account.
We also paid off more than $24,000 in credit card debt. We still make regular payments to our $80,000 of student loan, but as of this past October, we are officially consumer debt-free!
Our monthly expenses in Antigua is about $4,762, compared to the $7,000 we were spending in Chicago. So we’re now saving more than $2,200 a month.
Rent is our biggest expense. In April last year, we moved into a large 3-bedroom home for $2,200 per month.
Despite the higher cost, the extra space allows us to host friends often. And coming from the inner city of Chicago, having a backyard and swimming pool is a big bonus for our kids — ages 8,9 and 10.
The second major expense is private school tuition for all three kids, which costs $622 per month.
To save on groceries, we shop locally and try to buy Caribbean brands rather than expensive U.S. imported products. Our family of five spends anywhere from $150 to $200 per week on groceries.
Here’s an overview of our average monthly spending:
- Food (groceries, eating out, drinks): $969
- Rent: $2,200
- Utilities (internet, water, cooking propane, electricity): $317
- Health insurance: $590
- Netflix subscription: $15
- Phone: $49
- Tuition: $622
Monthly average: $4,762
Daily average: $159
We spend $120 or less per month on entertainment or eating out.
Since Antigua is warm and beautiful year-round, a lot of the activities we do are outdoors, which means they’re usually free or low-cost.
We enjoy hiking and playing at the beach. There’s a nice, small secluded beach just one block down the road from us that we often go to. For a special treat, we sometimes head to the beachfront path for fresh $5 juice.
When we do choose a paid activity like going to the movies or scuba diving, we look for days with discounted prices. My daughter took her first scuba diving lesson on a special girls-only day, which was free.
We plan to continue living abroad for as long as we can. Our children are already thinking about the universities they want to attend — all in far-flung places like Dubai and the U.K. This is exactly what we wanted for them; they have well-rounded cultural values and are open to new cultures, places and ideas.
By being very intentional about our finances, sharing our priorities with one another, and choosing a place with a lower cost of living, we have created a life we love. We have zero regrets about the choices we’ve made and are grateful for all the lessons we’ve learned throughout our journey abroad.
Gabriella M. Lindsay, a Chicago native, is a copywriter, author and educator. She lives on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean West Indies with her husband and their three young children. “Living F.I.T.: A 40-Day Guide to Living Faithfully, Intentionally, and Tenaciously” is her first book. Follow Gabriella on Instagram and YouTube.