Cost of Living
The most basic fact is that if you try to bring your U.S. lifestyle with you, with the exception of labor it costs as much or more to live here. But, that isn't living in Nicaragua. Let me offer a comparision.
Bringing the U.S. With You
The big expenses in the U.S. for most people are housing, transportation and "things" where things get classified as either labor saving devices or toys. To some extent, food also fits here. That is, if you want to go eat in a nice restaurant eating what you would eat in the U.S., it will not be cheap because much of the ingredients will be imported.
Housing "requirements" are likely to be 100-250 m2 for two adults and, because of the weather there will need to be heating, cooling or both. Toss in a dishwasher, a few TVs and such and you get a good baseline. Plug in your own numbers.
For vehicles, it is likely you will have one for each adult (probably an SUV in there) and one for each child of driving age. Add a motorcycle, boat, jet ski, whatever. Again, plug in your own prices.
A night out probably means dinner and a movie, trip to the a nightclub or something along those those lines. What this costs will be a function of what you consider "your kind of thing", what you can afford and where you live. For example, dinner and a club in San Francisco will likely cost a lot more than pizza in Topeka. And even your clothing costs for that San Francisco dinner are going to be more. But, again, pick some numbers.
Living in Nicaragua
Some will call this a drop in the quality of living. Many of those people should probably just stay in the U.S. as long as the standard of living they want is there. I am not trying to "sell" Nicaragua but, to me, my quality of life does not come from a $100 dinner requiring a long trip in a private car after setting up reservations a week in advance. People make the difference.
The first thing that people should consider is the amount of "inside space" you need in Nicaragua is a lot less. That is, you can and do spend a lot more time outside. Inside time is mostly sleeping time. Even cooking and eating on a covered patio makes a lot of sense most of the time. Thus, a lot less inside space is needed reducing construction costs and, possibly more important, heating and cooling costs.
What about appliances? Well, that U.S.-brand (made in Mexico) dishwasher will cost as much here as in the U.S., possibly more. But, $100/mo will get you pretty much a full-time person that will cook, clean, water your plants, ... This is a huge difference that certainly does not lower your quality of life.
For some real Estelí numbers, here is what I saw last year when shopping. These are "in city" prices.
- Low-end 3-bedroom house: $16,000
- New but ordinary 3-bedroom house with garage: $20,000
- Building lot: $3,000
- Mid-range houses: $25-$35k
- House I bought: $50,000
- Absolutely wacko house: $137,000
The other big number is transportation. You don't need a car. Really. While people in California won't believe this, people in Manhattan will. They know cabs are the only sane choice. But, cabs aren't cheap. I don't know what a cab costs in Manhattan these days but the last time I took a cab home from the airport in Seattle we were at $6 on the meter when we actually got to the street outside the airport and the total cost was $40.
Taxis here cost less than $.50 to go from one end of town to the other (about 4km). Like in Manhattan, there are easy to get. They are "cooperative" meaning they might pick up and let off other passengers but they work. Buses cost a lot less. Buses to Managua (150km) are less than $3. Because the weather isn't crazy, motorcycles, bicycles and walking are all reliable alternatives. In other words, you don't need to buy an SUV to drive to the gym to get the exercise you need because you go everywhere in your SUV.
While a typical night out is sitting on the sidewalk talking to your neighbors, let's suppose you want to do "a big night". Pizza and beer for two and a movie for two will cost you around $10 total. Add an extra $1 for a cab home if you so desire. On the high end you could spend $10/person on dinner and maybe $1-5 cover at the disco. No, there won't be a big star there to feed your ego but there will be people you can talk to and have fun with. And, there could be a "big star" by Nicaraguan standards.
For me personally, I now have about $80,000 invested in a house (where six people will live). All my monthly expenses including car and motorcycle insurance, fuel, electricity for 24/7 computers running, food for three, sometimes eating out, ... comes to around $250/month. I am not trying to not spend more money--I just don't need anything else.
Now, I am buying some furniture for the house. When all done this will probably cost $2000. If we amortize that over 5 years that adds $33/mo to the costs and, someday, I may need to buy some clothing. Quality of life? For me, much better than anywhere else I have ever lived--no matter what it cost.