A Better Life for Half the Price… Sound Appealing?


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A Better Life for Half the Price… Sound Appealing?

I recently finished reading the book “A Better Life for Half the Price” by Tim Leffel. This is the second edition of the book and it was just released this past November.

Why was I reading this book when I’m already living that kind of life? Two reasons:

1) It’s intriguing to read about living in different areas of the world and compare my experiences from the U.S. and Panama.

2) I’m quoted in it a few times (how cool is that?!).

The second bullet is what got me started on it, but I gotta tell you – this was one cool read! Even though it was fun to see my name and thoughts in it, the book really opened my mind up to other areas of the world. I’m still loving Panama, but there are several other appealing countries out there!

If you’ve ever been on vacation somewhere exotic and thought, “I could see myself living here”, you’re going to enjoy this book. It’ll help you realize if your daydream could become a reality or if you should just stick with vacationing!

A Better Life for Half the Price

Tim Leffel is a guy who loves to travel. He’s lived in various countries and, according to his site Cheapest Destinations Blog, he’s traveled around the world multiple times. Besides his blog, he’s featured in big-time news media all over the place, and he’s written a few travel books to boot. Tim’s mission is to help others travel the world for cheap. In his words:

I help people figure out how to travel well for less and show them where they’ll get the most bang for their budget. I write about the cheapest places to travel as well as great places to live abroad for less.

Cheapest Destinations Blog

The title of this particular book, “A Better Life for Half the Price”, says it all, too. It really helps you realize the improved life you can have in other countries for literally half of what your current expenses are in places like the U.S.

A lot of folks who haven’t traveled much outside of their home country might not believe that this can be true. But as a family of three who moved to Boquete, Panama in 2019, I can 100% believe it. Although the area we’re living in isn’t half the cost, it’s still a lot more cost-effective than what we were getting in the States. Not only that, but we’re living a more premium lifestyle.

Depending on how much change you’re willing to accept, there are places in the world you can live like a king or queen for a fraction of what you’re paying now.

A Better Life For Half The Price

“A Better Life for Half the Price” is not meant to be a deep dive into all the intricacies of every place in the world. Instead, it was written to give you a little bit of an idea of the pros and cons of many different places, along with some expected costs.

And different places there are – each of the 20 countries he selected has its own chapter. That’s not the whole book either – there are a total of 39 chapters in this 368-page book. Tim hits on the broad topics of why you should consider moving and are the question of if you’re even cut out for moving abroad. But he also has chapters that deal with some of the minutiae like bringing pets with you and working while in another country.

Tim did a great job researching for this book, too. He gives his commentary on the places he’s been to or visited, but a lot of the feedback and text was from interviewing so many expats living in those countries (like me!).

The first edition of “A Better Life for Half the Price” came out in 2015. Although I didn’t read that edition, I can tell you that this second edition is great because it takes into account a lot of the changes that have come into play in the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m not very knowledgeable about the good and bad of various places throughout the world so this book was a real eye-opener. For instance, I’ve heard great things about Thailand including the cost and taste of food there. However, here’s an interesting tidbit from the book:

If you like to party, that will drive your costs up significantly here because of high taxes on alcohol, Thailand is not a country where you can drink for cheap. You might want to stock up
every time you come through duty free and treat your visa runs as catch-up time. One beer or glass of wine can double the price of a simple meal. A night of partying in Bangkok can cost more than a cheap hotel room.

— Tim Leffel – “A Better Life for Half the Price”

Something like that wouldn’t be a show-stopper for me. I like a few beers a week but I’m far from a party animal! That said, it’s still something I likely never would have known otherwise.

And here’s one about healthcare in Malaysia…

The healthcare system in Malaysia is excellent. The main reason Malaysia doesn’t have the kind of medical tourism industry Thailand does is not because of skills or equipment, but rather a lack of marketing savvy. Prices and the quality of care are on par between the two countries. Thailand has just done a much better job in getting the word out.

— Tim Leffel – “A Better Life for Half the Price”

This is fantastic information for people comparing different countries. Healthcare is usually at the top of the list of concerns for folks who want to live abroad so this kind of information is very valuable.

In essence, it’s fascinating to see the differences (both good and bad) between places you might consider moving to versus your home country. But it’s also captivating to read about the differences between the various countries themselves.

What I liked

There were two big points I enjoyed about “A Better Life for Half the Price” (other than Tim’s writing style).

Excellent intro on the details

The amount of detail on each of the selected countries felt right. I wasn’t expecting a deep-dive into each place, but I also didn’t want just a quick generalization either. Tim hit the nail on the head with this one. In fact, I got more information out of the various countries than I expected.

It was a great introduction to different places that you could use to easily scratch off the places that don’t appeal to you. Based on the few places that do sound plausible, you can then do some more research elsewhere to whittle your list down even further.

I didn’t think I’d even care about reading about some of the countries. However, he did a great job bringing you in and helping you picture what it would be like to live there. In some cases, that’s good and in some cases… well, I’ll stick to Panama!

Tim, of course, hit on the basics like weather, government, and language throughout, but I also liked the cost breakdowns. It wasn’t just a “hey, it’ll run you about $XXX/month to live here.” Instead, the various expenses were broken down by different areas in the country as well as how you’d be living. Maybe you could get away with renting a place for $300/month, but do you really want to if you’re living like a pauper and scared to go out at night?

In addition to his thoughts, it’s nice to get the take from different expats in the countries with what it’s costing them for their lifestyles. Some scrimp and some live extravagantly so you could see different levels of spending. It became much easier to put yourself in the place of someone in the country being discussed.

Doesn’t blow smoke up your @#$

Getting good information is what I’d consider the most important, but the second facet that I need is the no-BS factor. I can’t stand it when people just give you only the good or only the bad about something.

If you’re a follower of mine, you know I try to always give you both sides of everything in our lives – from early retirement in general to living in Panama (pros and cons). Nothing in life is perfect and it’s most likely not the end-of-the-world either. The key is to adapt and make the most out of things while continuing to make changes to improve some of the pieces in life that you don’t enjoy.

Tim does a great job of laying out what’s great about living abroad and what’s not. He doesn’t pull any punches to tell you that it’s for everyone. Living in another country is different without a doubt and not everyone’s going to like it…

If you only move abroad to save money, you are probably not going to be happy. This book uses your reduced living expenses as its main theme, but with no sense of adventure or a desire to get to know another culture, you may become one of those bitter expats that keeps complaining about everything that’s wrong in her adopted country.

— Tim Leffel – “A Better Life for Half the Price”

In the various chapters, Tim helps to give you a real sense of what it’s like to live there. So you’re getting the good angles, but he tells you the bad, too. In most cases, the good stuff will outweigh the bad quite a bit, but it’s not going to be perfect and it absolutely will be different than you’re used to living.

What I didn’t like

There wasn’t much I didn’t appreciate about “A Better Life for Half the Price.” However, there was one thing that bothered me – there were several spelling and grammatical errors throughout the book.

This surprised me because it wasn’t something I expected from such a thoroughly detailed book. I’m thinking that the book is self-published and there’s nothing wrong with that – I’ve self-published two computer-related books myself over the years.

But, hire an editor (or fire the one that was on this job). I’ll give you a mistake or even two, but there were probably a good dozen or so throughout the book and they were pretty blatant. It bugs me when I miss something on my blog, but with a print book, that shouldn’t happen.

Bear in mind, I read a version on my Kindle Paperwhite so it’s possible the print version doesn’t have these mistakes. Either way, that was just something that bothered me a little.

Other than that, there wasn’t much not to like. I’m happy to say that Tim really delivered with this book. Believe it or not, I’m not a person who would jump willy-nilly into moving to another country (Panama was years in the making!), but he’s got me convinced that there are a couple of other countries that might be right up my alley (Mexico or Portugal, anyone?!).

How I became part of “A Better Life for Half the Price”

In case you’re wondering about how I became a part of the book, Tim had put out the word last year that he was “interested in hearing from people who have moved to Panama to cut their expenses and have a better quality of life.” Um, yeah… I think that’s us to a T!

So I reached out and we ended up doing an interview via Skype. We talked a lot about our budget here in Boquete as well as how we’re living life, what we enjoy, and what we don’t.

Tim used various quotes from our conversation and -POOF- I got to be included in a great book! Thanks, Tim!

That’s my second inclusion in a book, too. Fritz Gilbert from The Retirement Manifesto was nice enough to give me a shout-out in his cool book, “Keys to a Successful Retirement: Staying Happy, Active, and Productive in Your Retired Years.”

And just the other day, Michael from Financially Alert just let me know that his new book is coming out on May 4. He told me it includes a section featuring little old me and the benefits of geoarbitrage.

Between these books and our appearance on House Hunters International, I might be well on my way to becoming a celebrity! Hey you, dear reader, would you like my autograph?? Get in on it before my fame launches me to A-list celebrity status!

No? Really? Not so much? Ok, maybe I’ll just stick with being an early retirement blogger for now… but if you change your mind, you know where to find me!


You can get “A Better Life For Half The Price” in paperback from my Amazon link here. Or, if you prefer a PDF or e-reader version, you can purchase that through Tim’s site here. Your purchases through my links should help me afford some of the cost of a tasty beer here in Panama – muchas gracias!

Now, about that autograph… Really? Still no, huh?

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

12 thoughts on “A Better Life for Half the Price… Sound Appealing?”

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful review Jim! I did run it through MS Word spell/grammar check several times, through Grammerly, and then hired a pro to proofread the whole thing after that. Alas, with 150,000 words, some wrong ones are still going to slip past all those gates. (I’m reading a traditionally published book right now that was a best-seller and have found several typos in there myself.) As with software code, it’s hard to get to 100% error-free. Glad you liked the content though and thanks for participating with your story.

  2. Jim…
    One of your better blogs, as it relates to our family. We are across the street from you in VE; certainly not tiring of Boquete, but there is quite an exodus of six possibly a seventh (know in a month of so, they are visiting now) family that have left Boquete for Lake Chapala, Mexico. (Makes me wonder what is drawing them, your blog may have hit on something!). Is Lake Chapala specifically mentioned in Tim’s book? Lake Chapala from Wikipedia sounds to HOT and DRY, that’s why we left the TX Panhandle and why I LOVE Boquete!

    One other tidbit I am aware of for a couple of those relocating to Mexico, they are Canadians and the currency translation in PA is dinging them 30-35%; according to both much better for them in Mexico.

    1. Hi, Steve – I’ve been starting to hear a few people talking about Lake Chapala as well. I don’t remember that specific location being mentioned in Tim’s book but the chapter on Mexico is still intriguing nonetheless. I’m with you on the hot weather – I love the Boquete temps. It’s hard to complain when you don’t need heat or air conditioning! 🙂

      That’s interesting on the currency conversion rates. I had a couple from Canada tell me that it was pretty steep here on the conversions, but 30-35% is crazy!

      1. We are nomads just starting Year 6, and spent 2.5 months in Chapala, MX in 2019 (Feb-April) . Loved the always sunny days & temps then, big expat community, very walkable, great food & restaurants and lots of groups & activities for expats, lovely promenade and a nice waterfront park.

        BUT, there is alot of petty theft and home break ins & crime, incl drug cartel related shootings. Expats are not targets of the latter, but we watched a young man get shot in a targeted driveby & die in front of our Airbnb in town. So… It is very, very low cost to live there, but there is another price you pay for that. My opinion.

        The diehards will say there is crime elsewhere, too, which is true, but I never saw anyone shot and die in front of me near my old home of Atlanta, tho I know it does happen. I do understand the attraction for sure, as we liked it, too, and met lots of people and enjoyed ourselves. We would never live there just from some of the crazy home invasion & breakins we heard about. There was even a rash of car computers being stolen while people were inside grocery stores in broad daylight. I just don’t want to have to worry about such things. The lake is also too polluted to swim in, but it is very picturesque. Temps are fairly mild year round, FYI,, and there is a rainy season, but very dry outside of that.

        My sense is that people move there for the ultra low cost of living, including lots & lots of Canadian part time snowbirds.

        We have been hunkered down in Portugal since March 2020 riding out covid until we can get vaccinated & hit the road. Very, very happy we are here. Super safe with little to no crime, day or night. Low cost of living (not as low as Chapala, tho), but with a strong infrastructure, great healthcare, fab food, friendly people and a social support structure to help people struggling thru covid closures. No social support or even old age pensions in Mexico, thus 80 somethings bag groceries there for tips only. Quality of life is much better in Portugal for just a bit more.

        We will keep traveling, but will always be grateful for this beautiful country with clean beaches and peaceful & kind people who gave us safe haven during the covid storm.

        1. Thanks for all the great info on Chapala, Lisa! Wow, that’s crazy that you had that happen right in front of your Airbnb. Crime stats are an important number to always consider when moving anywhere – that could easily rule out a place for me!

          I’ve heard a lot of great things from expats in Portugal. Enjoy your time there and stay safe! 🙂

          1. Thanks, Jim. Also, there is another cute town near Chapala on the lake named Ajijic. Mainly all expats there & lots to do, so that may be a town Tim mentioned in his book. Chapala has more locals than expats. Same petty theft & break-in issues, tho.

            Another difference in Portugal for long term living is great drinking water from the tap, whereas you should not even brush your teeth with tap water in Mexico. Not a diss or deal breaker for us, as we travel to lots & lots of places where you cannot drink tap water. But, it is a difference between developing countries & developed countries with sufficient infrastructure.

          2. I’ll have to dig into Ajijic – Mexico is intriguing to me (even though I love it here in Boquete, Panama!). And I’m definitely with you on the tap water. Even though it’s not the end of the world, it’s nice to just be able to drink the water and not have to think twice. We’re good to drink the tap water here in Boquete as well.

  3. Yeap, wine is expensive in Thailand. My dad always asks me to get him a few bottles from Duty Free whenever I visit. Not this trip, though. No alcohol allows in quarantine.
    The book sounds interesting. I’ll put it on my reading list. I imagine South America and SE Asia are prominently featured.

    1. I was waiting to see what’d you say about Thailand, Joe! 🙂 I just finished reading your post about your trip… good luck on the quarantine there – sounds tough!

      Your assumptions are correct about South America and Southeast Asia. It was cool to read more about some of the different countries since I’m not well-versed in what life is like in them.

  4. Hey that’s really cool you got featured in the Book! It sounds like a fascinating book. There’s nothing like reading someone’s first hand experiences in a country.

    While traveling isn’t quite ‘in vogue’ these days, I’m certain people still dream of getting away and leading a new life. That dream just seems a little more distant in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    I hope the world starts to get a little healthier so we can visit some of those far-away places again!

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