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Personal FinanceTips From Tijuana

Written by Brett McKay

I lived in Tijuana, Mexico for two years. While I was there, I picked up some personal finance/frugality tips from the locals. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Suba la calafia

The calafia is what Tijuaneses call their buses. They’re just old school buses painted different colors depending on the route they take. Riding the bus was cheap. It cost about 5 pesos, or about .50. Cars are money pits. If you have good public transportation, use it.

Ir de compras en las tiangues

Tiangues are huge street markets. Different colonias (neighborhoods) set up their tiangues on certain days. You could find anything you would ever need there and the kitchen sink. Seriously, they sold sinks at tiangues. Fresh fruit, meat, grains, clothes, DVD’s, video games, shoes, and tools are just samples of what you can find at a tiangues and you couldn’t beat the prices. Once, I bought pairs of brand new J. Crew, Sketchers, and Ralph Polo dress shoes for total of $30. Each week I could buy pounds of fresh fruit for just a couple of bucks. If your community has a farmers market, shop there. You’ll be supporting local businesses and you can find some good deals. Also, check out the thrift store. You’ll never know what kind of finds you’ll discover there.

Haga negocios con los vendedores

American’s don’t know how to bargain. I had to learn how to do it while I was in Mexico. Some vendors would try to picar tus ojos (pick your eyes out) with their prices. You had to play hard ball with them to get the prices down. A great book on negotiation is Negotiate to Win, by Jim Thomas. He gives advice on how to bargain almost anything. Next time you’re making a big purchase, like a washer, don’t be afraid to haggle some. Everything is negotiable.

Compra su gas por el tanke

Most people in Mexico don’t have direct pipes to their homes for natural gas. Instead, they buy it by the tank. Every morning trucks carrying tanks drive through the neighborhoods blasting their company’s jingle to let people know they can buy gas. A big tank costs about $20. I lived with three other people. With three hot showers a day and cooking, the tank would last us about a month. If we ran out before the month was over, we took cold showers and ate cereal. I don’t know how practical this would be for most Americans, but if you can, buy your gas by the tank. It forces you to use energy more efficiently

Empieza su propio negocio

If Mexico had regulations for businesses, no one followed them. It seemed like everyone had their own little microbusiness running out of their home. Some people opened little grocery stores in their living room, while others opened shoe repair shops. Another popular business was the michucana, or ice cream shop. If someone had knack for making tamales or tacos, they would sell them in the street. My absolute favorite small business in Mexico is the panaderia. If you haven’t had Mexican bread, you’re missing out. For as little as 10 pesos, I could stuff myself up with delicious sweet bread.

Find ways you can earn extra money. Every little bit helps.

Cosine con huevos, frijoles, arroz, y tortillas

I miss Mexican food. Not only does it taste good, it’s cheap. I was perfectly happy to eat a plate of eggs and beans, with a few tortillas. It tasted great and filled me up. Use simple things when you cook. You’ll be surprise how good a simple meal can taste.

No use el credito para comprar

Sadly, many of Mexico’s poorest are getting snagged in the credit trap. There are several stores that make their business solely off of high interest credit. It always saddened me to see a family living in a shack with an awesome stereo system bought on credit. Avoid debt at all costs. Pay with cash. Delayed gratification is a trait that needs to be developed if one wishes to become financially independent.

Constuye su casa con cemento

While there are a lot of plywood shacks in Tijuana, most of the houses are made with cement cinder blocks. These types of homes are extremely energy efficient. Unlike wood frame homes that are prone to energy leaks even with proper insulation, concrete itself slows down the passage of heat moving through the wall. The result is a cool house during the summer, and a warm one in the winter. I never used an air conditioner or heater while I lived in Tijuana, and I was completely