It is easy to live big on American dollars in Buenos Aires. My first weeks in the city I got continual thrills out of evaluating the prices of things in pesos and dividing by four, which is the current approximate conversion rate. But, a traveler’s mentality toward money is different from a resident’s, and I have finally begun evaluating prices pesos against pesos, rather than pesos to dollars. Now my thrills come from saving pesos while still enjoying all Buenos Aires has to offer, rather than thinking of how comparatively cheap a steak or taxi ride is here compared to in the U.S.
For all my fellow recent college graduates, and because I’m pretty positive saving money is a universal pleasure regardless of where one is in the world or how much he or she makes, I present my personal list of money-saving tips, based on my current life and experiences in Buenos Aires.
Shop often, but only for what you need. I was used to making big weekly or bi-weekly trips to the supermarket, but I have found I save more money, waste less food and eat more of what I want and need (than what’s simply around) when I shop day-to-day. I pass a small grocery store on my way home from work, and on my walk from the office I think about what I plan to eat for dinner that night and pack for lunch the next day. Then I buy what I need, and that’s that.
Break down your food shopping, and search out the cheapest produce stands and butcher shops. The general consensus is you will pay less for the same products in the smaller, individually owned grocery stores than in the big-box grocery stores. Investigate this and see what works best for you, though, because while I swear by the small places, my roommate sticks to the large Disco on our corner and often receives 15 or 20% coupons off entire grocery orders.
In Buenos Aires, produce stores and butcher shops populate every block, whereas large grocery stores are less frequen. As a rule, produce and meat in the smaller shops are cheaper, fresher and more local than what you’ll get at the larger grocery stores. Not all stands, though, sell for the same rates. I’ve located what I think is the cheapest (and tastiest) near my block. The other day I purchased a huge head of lettuce, two tomatoes, two avocados and a bunch of asparagus (about 10 stalks) for $11.50 pesos, or less than $3 USD. Also, since you’ll be buying it all ripe, it is best to follow the above advice of buying regularly.
Find coupons. Coupons are everywhere! I currently subscribe to Waku, Cuponica, Groupon Buenos Aires and Living Social Buenos Aires to receive their daily deals via e-mail. Some of the offers are for Pilates classes and teeth whitening, yes, but the many of them are food-related. Also — and this is particular to Buenos Aires — Guia Oleo, which is the Buenos Aires restaurant guide bible, issues a number of free restaurant coupons. You also will find food coupons in random places, like a 20% off sushi coupon with your grocery store receipt. (Note: Some Buenos Aires coupon sites, might not accept international credit cards.)
Similarly, look into what you already have going that comes with discounts. Prime example: Ironically enough, my gym membership gets me 15% off at a nearby helado (ice cream) place.
Go for local fast food. In Buenos Aires, empanadas, pizza and choripan (chorizo sausage on bread) are beloved local foods. They also come super cheap. Less than $4 pesos can get you a warm, stuffed empanada — baked here, not fried, so don’t feel too bad about it — and a piece of pizza or choripan with some chimichurri run around that price, too. Whenever I don’t feel like cooking but still want to feel “cultural” (as in not hit up Burger King or its ilk) I search out a new local empanada, pizza or choripan place.
And if you are craving sweets, visit the factura wall at your local bakery. Facturas are pastries that cost about $1.50 pesos each. Small enough to avoid guilt, big enough to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Also, choose between wine or water when dining out. I’m half kidding, but water is not complimentary here, you know.
Get on a list. You can find a list for anywhere if you try is a theory developed (and proved) while studying abroad in Barcelona. The same holds for Buenos Aires, where boliche (club) culture is especially strong. Club promoters do most of their work via Facebook, so a simple search for “____ lista” or “_____ invitados” (inserting the name of the club you want to go in the blank) will turn up groups and profiles with free admittance entry. Additionally, a Google search can turn up some legitimate Web sites for list information, such as this one for Buenos AIres. It doesn’t hurt to try to meet the promoters, too, because they might start to come to you with less-publicized events, such as free dinners. (Seriously!) Most of the time, finding a list also translates to skipping any silly bouncer business and lines at the door.
Investigate deals. Find a favorite bar, or many favorite bars, and look into any specials they have, like nights when girls drink free or beers are especially cheap. At many places, “happy hour” has been known to go until 2 a.m. America might be the land of deals and buying in bulk, but Argentines can’t say no to good drink specials, either.
Also, and this is probably another obvious one but I will say it anyway, cheap tickets can be found to pretty much any show or event. Just look for student deals or the cheapest day to go.
Avoid buying drinks out. This holds true whether you’re in Chicago or Buenos Aires, but drinks will always be cheaper when you make them yourself. If you plan on going to a boliche, too, you won’t be leaving until probably 1:30 a.m., so use the time beforehand to arrange a social little previa (pregame). Argentines embrace the concept of previas, so make some friends and make some plans!
Sightseeing & Events
Hold on to your student ID. That expiration date? Probably not noticeable to the woman working the ticket desk at a museum in Buenos Aires. I’ve used mine a number of times without a hitch, and it usually gets me a significant discount — often free — entry. Otherwise, look for free or discounted days.
Read local event calendars and culture sites. A good place to start would be the websites of local culture publications (the print versions work, too, but you’re more likely to find up-to-date details online), such as TimeOut. You’ll find the most interesting, in-the-know, and often free events. Some popular ones in Buenos Aires are Vuenos Aires, the aforementioned TimeOut Buenos Aires, What’s Up Buenos Aires and (thanks to my Twitter friend @AustinWiebe), the official city agenda. In New York City I relied heavily on nymag.com for similar info. Expat forums also are especially informative in this aspect; see “ALSO:” below for my praise on that.
Talk to locals. Sure, you want to see the famous architecture and cruise through the notable museums, but when it comes down to it, sightseeing is about getting to know a place. Talk to locals to see how they spend their weekends, and that’s when you’ll do some real “sightseeing.” For example, park life is a huge part of the Buenos Aires lifestyle. People spend hours upon hours in parks on the weekends, drinking mate (read Tara’s explanation of Argentine’s mate drinking here) kicking around a ball, playing music and most importantly, just spending time with friends. And that costs nothing.
Bring a cell phone. Of all those old cell phones you have stuffed in drawers at home in the U.S., I bet at least half of them can be unblocked and used in another country. One of the biggest money wasters that comes with setting up life in a new place is buying an overpriced cell phone in the country you are in that features technology rivaling only the Nokia you used to play Worm on. Bring an unblocked cell from home and you will save money and have a nicer phone. Just make sure it operates using a SIM card, and you can buy a new card in your country for super cheap and get it going.
Get on Google Voice! And buy a Magic Jack. I do miss my family and friends in the U.S., sometimes too much. Thanks to the newly debuted Google Voice, though, I can call and text them, and anyone else in the U.S., for free (!) right from my computer. It is truly amazing. Google Voice is new, though, so it does not always work, and that is where the more reliable Magic Jack comes in. One of my friends in Buenos Aires is a flight attendant on leave; she travels often and swears by the Magic Jack. How it works is, you purchase the jack to plug into the USB port of your high speed internet-connected computer. You then plug a phone into the other end of the adaptor, and can use the phone to make or receive calls from the U.S. and Canada.
Use Twitter. Follow local journalists, bloggers, personalities and publications to get insight on what people are up to that sounds fun and cost-effective. People cannot help but broadcast a good deal or fun event, and I for one, do not mind! I have made a “Buenos Aires” list on my account so I can quickly check out what is going on in my current city.
Read Forums. The Buenos Aires Expat blog truly amazes me. It is a goldmine of advice, resources and tip-offs for everything related to Buenos Aires and expat life. I have posted looking for advice on buying polo tickets, best nearby beach getaways and finding Thanksgiving turkeys, and receive a slew of knowledgeable responses quickly. Additionally, because many expats are adventurous people looking to experience as much as possible, you hear about events and activities you might otherwise not have learned about. I have found CouchSurfing’s groups to be a good resource, too.
Don’t buy clothes — share. Or use cash. Living with two other girls = two additional closets, so I have not felt the need or desire to buy new clothes here, yet. If you do shop, pay in cash and ask for a discount! In many South American countries, the big secret is that the labeled price is for credit cards. Pay with cash and sales personnel will discount your purchase. Be sure to ask, though, because they will not always offer.
That’s my best advice so far, and I would love to hear any recommendations you have. Every peso saved is another peso toward travels during my time off around Christmas!
–Karina for TKGO