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This 68-year-old retiree lives on $620 per month in Mexico. Take a look inside her $160,000 home


My 1999 vacation was a weeklong with a good friend. Mazatlán, Mexico — and it was love at first sight. I was so smitten with the beach city that I went to a realtor the next day and bought a small house for $28,000.

It was my plan to use it as a second residence for times when I needed to escape from California. But in 2002, at 49 years old, I decided to follow my favorite mantra — “Leap, and the net will appear” — and left the U.S. to live in Mexico full-time.

After a few years in Mazatlán, I was ready for a change. I considered several places, including Oaxaca and the Lake Chapala area, before turning my sights to San Miguel de Allende, a colonial-era city in Mexico’s central highlands, known for its baroque architecture. 

Photo by Irene Barajas, CNBC Make It

It was a great experience to find a beautiful place in my budget for just $160,000. Since real estate in Mexico is a cash market — 90% of foreign buyers are cash buyers — I had to sell one of my rental properties in Mazatlán and take a small loan from my brother to come up with the money.

Three months were required to complete the transaction. I finally moved in 2006 after being fully relocated.

Build the ideal home

The ground floor of my 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom San Miguel house has a courtyard. You will find the living and dining areas, kitchens, small terraces, as well as the bathroom on the second level.

Clayton Conn for CNBC Make It

The home has plenty of space and is gorgeous. As a retired artist who also does printmaking, painting and sculpture, I needed a place where I could work.

So in 2007, I began construction to add a third floor studio and a rooftop, expanding the total space from 900 square feet to 1,600 square feet.

Clayton Conn for CNBC Make It

I built two metal stairwells from my front door — one to the rooftop garden terrace, and the other leading to my studio so that visitors who come to see my artwork don’t have to enter through the bedroom.

Clayton Conn for CNBC Make It

The living room has a fireplace and small library. I read a lot there. The small dining area connects to the kitchen, which is decorated with beautiful Talavera-style ceramic tiles.

Clayton Conn for CNBC Make It

The studio is beautiful. You have plenty of natural lighting, ample space to host workshops, and there is a huge wall for my art.

Clayton Conn for CNBC Make It

Renovations totalled $32,000, and were completed in less than one year. to complete.

San Miguel: What I Love About It

Since 2008, San Miguel has been a Unesco World Heritage site. It is an old-worldly city. 

There’s nothing like walking on the cobblestone streets and passing the colorful colonial facades draped with bougainvillea. You will find many small cafes and yoga studios as well as restaurants, and even events for artists and writers.

Photo by Irene Barajas, CNBC Make It

Art galleries are something I love to do. I sometimes visit smaller venues in order to listen to live music. It costs me $15 or less.

Photo by Irene Barajas, CNBC Make It

The only major downside is that the weather is much cooler here than in Mazatlán, which prompted me to buy sweaters, jackets and heaters that I never needed before. 

Although I prefer to walk, my car is used primarily for transportation of artwork and day trips to other nearby towns.

Mexico, my income and expenditures

My income, which ranges from $1,100 to $2,500 per month, is a combination of Social Security, book and art sales, workshops and rental property in Mazatlán.

Below is a snapshot of my monthly spending habits:

  • Property tax $41
  • Private insurance for health: $250
  • Insurance for cars/gas $50
  • Utilities (water, electricity, phone, internet): $70
  • Groceries: $110
  • Entertainment/dining out/shopping: $99

Total: $620 per month

Clayton Conn (CNBC Make It) Photo

This is not my permanent home. Mazatlán still holds a special place in my heart, and it’s possible I will move back at some point. For the next five- to ten years, however, San Miguel will be my home.

This is a life I would not have had if it weren’t for the U.S. Mexico’s low cost of living allows me to have the life I want and still be able to teach, create and surround myself with art.

Glen RogersShe is an artist and lives in San Miguel de Allende Mexico. In her quest for connection, understanding, and inspiration, she has visited many sacred places, including Newgrange, Ireland and Knossos on Crete. She also explored caves and the southern part of France, and Las Labradas (Mexico). You can find her here Facebook.

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