Welcome to an impromptu group post! Kyle was the first one to share her experiences of how much groceries cost in Chile, followed by Katina and Heather, with more people weighing in with comments on the various posts. A very common question from people who are thinking of moving to Chile is, understandably, about the cost of living in Santiago. When you come as an exchange student or tourist and are using dollars, Chile seems pretty cheap – especially with the stronger exchange rate these days. But when you’re making a Chilean salary, expenses skyrocket. Chile is expensive. Unlike in the US, the Chilean middle class does not, as a whole, save money. A large percentage of the population buys things on credit or lives paycheck-to-paycheck. So just how much of each paycheck is going to your local supermarket each month?
Rodolfo and I spend around $55.000 per week on groceries. We’ll usually do a bigger shop every two weeks, spending more than that and stocking up on non-perishables and more expensive items like meat and imported goods, and then a smaller shop on the in-between week to replenish supplies of fresher items like bread and produce. I’ve never sat down and averaged it out, but I think that $55.000 per week is a pretty fair guess.
What does that money buy us? Well for starters we eat a lot. We’re hungry people! We eat meat at most meals – beef, pork, chicken, fish (but not salmon, much as I love it, because Chilean salmon are kind of gross these days). That increases the bill quite a bit. I eat cereal for breakfast, and since I like cereals with ingredients other than sugar and chocolate, a box runs between $1,500 and $2,500 depending on which brand I’m buying. I realize that $2,500 for a box of cereal is ridiculous, but it’s something that makes me happy every morning, so I think it’s worth it. We also buy real fruit juice as opposed to the ubiquitous nectar, gross syrup that bears little resemblance to fruit or juice. For a country where produce is readily available and inexpensive, Chile has very little good juice, and a one liter carton is over $1,000. We only ever buy two cartons at a time since it needs to be refrigerated, and those are gone within the first 3 days after a shopping trip. My supermarket has some Safeway-brand products, and when those include cranberry juice and brownie mix I spend a few extra pesos to stock up. I feel bad about supporting the ridiculous practice of flying food around the world, but not quite bad enough to stop buying these products that taste like home. These things are our more usual luxuries, although I have been known to go crazy and spend on a can of refried beans or package of chevre-style goat cheese.
The rest of our shopping list contains the basics: pasta and sauce, rice, other non-perishables (which in Chile includes milk!), bread, cold-cuts and cheese, treats like yogurt and ice cream, produce and household items. We spend more than necessary on produce because we’ve been buying it at the grocery store lately. When we lived in Plaza Italia we tended to buy our produce at La Vega – unbeatable prices and quality. Now the amount of time and hassle it would take us to get down there means that unfortunately it’s not really worth it, although I did love feeling that our regular vendors knew us. We do have a verdulería close by though, so I want to compare prices and quality there. In Chile fruit and vegetables are cheapest at the open-air ferias, more expensive at dedicated fruit and veg stores and downright ridiculous at supermarkets, although your chances of finding out of season produce are much higher in a big grocery store. I like buying seasonal for the most part though, since although I do sometimes miss having a nectarine in the depths of winter, the fact of the matter is that produce tastes better in the months when it’s actually naturally ripe. Plus of course it’s cheaper and better for the planet.
A post about the cost of food in Chile wouldn’t be complete without mentioning just how often $55,000 worth of groceries feeds us. I usually end up buying my lunch once every couple of weeks but tend to bring leftovers from home. Rodolfo usually eats at home as well. We tend to go out for a meal twice a week on top of that, so call it 2-3 meals a week that we’re eating out. So $55,000 gets us somewhere around 24 meals plus of course the additional items like laundry detergent and toilet paper. It’s FAR cheaper than the UK, but it’s not all that much cheaper than I remember the US being. $100 for two people for a week seems do-able to me, depending on where you shop and what you buy. Am I totally out of touch? Chile doesn’t really excel in the grocery store prepared foods department (hello, unappetizing pizza), so in the US I would be spending more money at stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods on ready-to-eat items. Even if $100 in the US doesn’t go as far as it used to, when you consider the difference between Chilean and US salaries I think I’d still rather be earning and shopping in the US.