Because we chose to stay in a resort area by the beach, there aren't many restaurants in walking distance. To our knowledge, there are three places to eat within walking distance- 1) a pizza place, 2) a dinner joint that opens sporadically, and 3) the resort itself. All of these places charge about $10 per plate, and the resort charges $10 just for breakfast, $15 for lunch, and $20 for dinner.
Hubs and I don't budget at home; we spend only what we need/want to. We've tried budgeting before and it is kind of pointless and frustrating for us as a couple. I tend to feel like a failure if I don't budget lower and lower each month, and Hubs feels obligated to spend more than he needs to just because it was budgeted. We keep track of expenses every month, but if you are living far below your means, I don't think forecasting or "limiting" future spending is necessary. Away from home, though, expenses can easily get out of hand. We could just be penny-pinchers like we are at home, but that's no fun on vacation. A budget helps us know what we can afford, without coming home to find that we spent $10k or something.
All that being said, spending $45 per person per day on food was not in the budget. Thankfully the condo has a nice kitchen, so making great meals at home was is option. Even though groceries cost just as much or more here than in the US, spending $1.50 per plate as opposed to $10 is a massive savings.
Eating Regional Foods to Save
One thing I was looking forward to was finding underpriced food items and cooking locally. In Guatemala the produce is cheap, cheap, cheap, as well as "street food" and little hole-in-the-wall tortillerias. You could buy avocados for $0.60. Here in Panama we've had a harder time finding deals like that. One majorly underpriced item we found was rice. People joke about "rice and beans" being cheap, but in the US I can find meat priced cheaper than rice. Here, rice actually is a good deal. We bought some at $0.40 per pound, not even on sale. Produce prices were comparable to the US, and meat was more expensive- most meat was at least $3.00 per pound, though we were able to find some chicken and seasoned beef for less than that. I saw some hot dogs for $1.50, but I can eat cheap hot dogs at home. We also found some seafood for $3/lb. Is that a good deal? We usually don't buy seafood at home.
When we were at the store, I decided to try some new fruit. Tomarillos, or tree tomatoes, are used to make salsa, desserts, and in Columbia (the country on the east side of Panama) they are blended with ice, sugar and water to make a sweet juice drink. Eaten on their own, they aren't all that great.
In addition to the rice and more boring foods, we also bought some fun foods, because, it is vacation after all! Cereal, Nutella (which I would NEVER buy at home!!!), and we also found our favorite Chiky cookies from Guatemala. We bought those too, of course!
Some Things Are Better In the US
Things we don't like buying in Central America are pizza and ice cream. They put strange toppings on the pizza (hotdogs...) and the ice cream just doesn't taste quite right. Dairy products are pretty expensive, and I noticed that the yogurt and cheese have a "homemade" aftertaste. There is some real refrigerated milk available here in Coronado (almost $6 per gallon!), but the first grocery store we went to only had non-refrigerated, ultra-pasteurized milk in boxes. This is typical in Guatemala as well. Lastly, lunchmeats can be weird here as well. The ham we bought tasted like tuna fish, and other ham we've had tastes like bologna or hotdogs.
That being said, I hope all you at home are taking advantage of the great deals and eating real pizza and ice cream this week.
Adios de la playa!