Living off a volunteer stipend

Here’s something useful for people deciding whether or not to do this program, and maybe something interesting for everyone else.

One of the main concerns when going abroad is obviously the dinero. In this program, I’m getting roughly $400/month, and my housing is provided to me. Can you live off $400 a month? Probably not, if you want to take trips or go clubbing every weekend, but if you’re frugal, it’s enough to get by without dipping into your savings too much. Here’s a sample of what a trip to the grocery store cost me here in Armenia. However, it’s worth noting these prices would be higher in a place like Bogota or Cartagena.

1 giant avocado (seriously, they’re huge – .5 kg) = 1335 pesos = $0.66 (based on current exchange rates)

3 granadillas (my friends from Peru may remember these as the alien spawn fruits) = 1436 pesos = $0.71

a dozen eggs = 2880 p = $1.42

1 quart of lactose free milk = 2200 p = $1.08

A bundle of lettuce = 1250 p = $0.62

1 cucumber = 351 p = $0.17

1 pint of cherry tomatoes = 1980 p = $0.98

a bag of granola = 1550 p = $0.76

1 bag of ramen noodles = 800 p = $0.39

A small box of Quaker granola cookes = 3500 p = $1.72

A small bottle of Pantene conditioner = 6950 p = $3.42

A large bottle of drinkable yogurt (not really a thing in the U.S. but similar in size and taste to kefir) = 4900 p = $2.41

All in all I spent a little under $15 for a good amount of groceries. When I went out for a beer the other night, a bottle of domestic beer cost 4000 pesos or about $2. I ate lunch yesterday in a little restaurant near the school, and it cost 5000 pesos (about $2.50) for a lunch that included a glass of guava juice, a bowl of vegetable soup, spaghetti, rice, salad, a piece of fried plantain, and a piece of grilled meat. I was pretty hungry and couldn’t finish it all, because it was so much food. Another nice thing for me is that my apartment is within walking distance from the schools that I teach at, so I don’t have to pay bus fares every day. It’s also a plus, because I walk a lot more than I usually do, and will hopefully break my long tradition of gaining ridiculous amounts of weight after moving to another country. Because buying new pants gets expensive no matter where you are!

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4 thoughts on “Living off a volunteer stipend

  1. your blog has been so helpful, I’m considering the same trip! I have a question about your budgeting, if you don’t mind. Are you able to travel on the stipend, or save at all? If not, how much in savings did you come here with (just want to project what’s realistic so I don’t end up “up sh*ts creek”..without a dollar šŸ˜‰

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    • Hey! I am able to travel on the stipend, as far as daytrips go. For example, going to some of the little pueblos around Armenia like Salento or Filandia costs about $4-6 roundtrip in bus fare. Then, depending on what you do there, you might spend money on souvenirs, a buck or two for coffee, maybe some money for tours, but there’s plenty of free stuff to do. Also, I don’t go out a lot in Armenia, because it’s pretty quiet here, so that helps my budget (not blowing money on drinks). Looking at my bank account though, in the 2 months I’ve been here, I’ve taken about $1000 out of my savings. My trip to Cartagena accounted for about $500 (airfare, hostel, tours, food). And some other bigger expenses I’ve had while I was here were for things like shoes, a bag to carry my laptop to school, some new clothes, a monthly gym membership, and some souvenirs. I started out with quite a bit in savings, so I’ve let myself splurge on a few things, but if you’re on a budget and good at being frugal, the stipend can actually go a long way. Plus, they changed the stipend amount for the coming semesters, and you’ll be required to find your own lodging and pay rent. Not sure how much that will factor in to budgeting. Long answer! But if you have any more questions, just let me know!

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  2. Hi! Considering the same program. I know your blog post is a little older now and the stipend has now changed (1,500,000 pesos, not including rent), but I was curious over the long term how much you spent out of pocket possibly per month? And how much was your rent? Thanks!

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    • Hey! So this year is a lot nicer with the larger salary. I’m paying my own rent now, but I’m only paying 350,000/month for a really nice place in a good location (it’s a rented room in an apartment – utilities included). You can definitely find cheaper rent, too – mine is on the higher end of the scale. I am actually pretty obsessive about tracking my expenses, so I can tell you that on this salary, I’ve gone over a little bit each month, and am spending probably an extra 300,000 pesos out of pocket on average per month. However, that includes a lot of traveling, a lot of going out to eat, a gym membership…so if you cut back on the sightseeing and going out, you can easily live here without having to dip into savings. Hope that helps! – It’s also good to note that Armenia is a lot cheaper than some of the bigger cities or more touristy cities, so that will affect your budget, too!

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