When I read about all the economic turmoil around the world, I often thank my lucky stars that I am living in an affordable place. Even though I haven’t been able to save any money yet, and even though I often long to return to San Francisco, in Fes I have been able to find gainful employment and live within my means. And while I only make the equivalent of $20,000 U.S. a year, I do live in a house I own and have a relatively stable job. Fortunately, the language center where I work has a waiting list of students each semester and I can work as many hours as I want.
Some things are comparatively cheap here while others are over-the-top expensive. But it seems the things you really need are affordable and the frivolous or ‘exotic’ things are what cost an arm and a leg. Food is eminently affordable. Bread, which is baked fresh every day, costs only 1 dirham (>8 cents). A baguette is a dirham and a half. A cup of coffee that would cost $2.00 or more at Starbucks can cost under a dollar here. You can buy a fresh sandwich with lots of healthy ingredients for under a dollar. But then it’s going to cost you nearly $7 to purchase a “Big Tasty” from McDonald’s.
Utilities don’t cost much either but then I am unbearably hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. One does live with the elements here. But every month I spend less than $20 for my water and electricity. If I need to refill the propane gas for my heat and stovetop, each large canister (I have 3) costs 40 dirham to fill (5-6 cents).
Some skilled artisans work for very reasonable prices, too. I had someone build 5 cedar wood doors (each with nice detailing and including all the necessary hardware and installation), three shelves for my kitchen, and a step for about $750.
A taxi ride to work is about $1. Hiring someone to carry heavy items in his push cart from Bab Boujloud to my house is about $1.25. And you can hire someone to clean your house for a mere $7.00. I can even get a very professional haircut and highlighting for a fraction of what I would pay in the U.S.
But then there are some other ‘luxury’ items that cost way too much. A very small tube of foundation makeup cost recently cost me almost $20. Votive candles are cheap at home but costly here. Paper products like napkins, tissues, toilet tissue and paper towels are priced dearly. Cleansers and Edam cheese, familiar brand name products from home and 100% cotton sheets and towels all cost way too much.
So, you pick and choose what you need vs. what you want or can afford. And at the end of the day you realize how the choices between what you want and what you need are really simple choices to make … and it’s not always a matter of economics.
My biggest challenge now, economically speaking, is to save enough money to visit and live in the U.S. for three months next summer. I know I can manage to live on 100 dirham a day here when I have to. I can feed myself, take taxis to and from work, buy a cup of coffee and a pastry to treat myself and even have some money left over to handout to the local children or local indigents. But that same money will only buy me a fraction of what I need just to eat every day in the U.S. What can I buy with $15 there? Not much.