How Living In The Caribbean Taught Me About Frugality

I never though living in the Caribbean could teach someone how to be frugal, but Cat learned a lot about frugality! Frugal living can be done anywhere. Check out these frugal living tips and ideas and incorporate them in your life, especially the second one! Your budget will thank you.

Almost two years ago, I took a giant leap into the unknown.

I went from having a secure job and a nice, normal life to living in a 270 sq. ft. apartment in the developing nation known as Grenada.

When my husband brought up the idea of applying to an international medical school, I thought pretty much exactly what you’re thinking right now, “Why not?”

After all, it’s hard to argue with someone who is asking you to live with them in the Caribbean.

As the weeks went by and my husband’s medical school interview went well, it started to sink in that this might actually be happening.

It wasn’t long before we were buying one-way international plane tickets and becoming expats.

I never imagined that I would live here. Moving to the Caribbean for a few years sounds like something someone else would do, not something two introverts who love to play it safe would do.

Yet, here we are, typing away at our small desks in our equally small apartment. Ultimately, I can say this: it’s been the experience of a lifetime, and it hasn’t been without its lessons.

Here’s what I learned about frugal living the past two years:

Poverty is Real

I knew that poverty was real, but in my 20+ years, I never truly saw it or interacted with those who were plagued by it until I moved here.

Every day, I drive to work, and I pass tons of people in the road. Some are walking to work; others are begging for help. Some are just dragging 12 goats and trying to cross the road.

My husband and I have helped the local population when we can, and we’ve been generous with our time, but you’ll never hear me tease about how “broke” I am ever again.

I’ve learned that, despite being in considerable student loan debt, we are wealthier beyond many people’s wildest dreams.

Related: How We Paid Off $80,000 Of Student Loan Debt In Less Than 3 Years

Smart Phones are Just an Accessory

Before I came to Grenada, I thought I had to have a smart phone. After all, how would I go from point A to point B without consulting my iPhone GPS?

Yet, when I got to Grenada, I didn’t have a job yet, so I bought the cheapest phone I could at $20 on a pre-paid plan.

I’ve kept that little phone for two years. It does the job, and when the people around you aren’t sporting fancy gadgets, there’s no external pressure to upgrade any part of your life.

Related: Republic Wireless Review – A Smart Phone Plan For As Low As $10 Per Month!

You Can Live in 270 sq ft. Without Killing Your Spouse

We chose our apartment based on safety. It’s tucked away on a hill in Grenada inside its own little fortress. Many people wonder how we live in a place so small, but the truth is that it’s easy when you don’t have much.

Sure, we bump into each other. Actually, I mostly bump into my husband and bounce off (he has ~100 lbs on me), but it’s something we laugh about. Had you told me I’d be living in a hotel-sized apartment with my husband and dog a few years ago, I would have laughed.

Yet, here we are, and we like it just fine. It turns out that you don’t need a nice house to be happy. You just need to be around the people (and furry animals) that you love.

Related: Would You Live In A Tiny Home Forever To Retire Earlier?

Food That Grows on Trees Makes for a Great Meal

One of the perks of living in such a tropical environment is the fruit trees. If I walk down my street, I can reach out and pick mangos, oranges, grapefruits, and limes any time I want.

I know that when I leave here, I’m desperately going to miss the mango tree that’s a few steps from my apartment door.

There’s truly nothing better than making a fresh fruit salad with fruit you’ve collected yourself.  It’s free, it’s simple, and it’s one of the small joys of living in such a pretty place.

Related: 15 Money Saving Tips For Grocery Shopping On A Budget

Minimalism = Happiness

However, the ultimate lesson that I’ve garnered from all of this is that minimalism does, in fact, equal happiness. The less I have, the happier I get, and the more money I save.

I would have never thought that I’d be the type of person who could go 10 months with only buying 1 article of clothing (a new bathing suit). I also never thought that I’d dye my hair back to its natural color, hang clothes on the line to dry, or only run the AC when it’s really hot.

Sure, the island has taught me how to be frugal, but it’s taught me more about myself, my life, and what I’m capable of than I ever imagined possible.

Catherine Alford is a personal finance freelance writer who lives in the Caribbean with her husband and spoiled pup, Julep. When she is not writing for other blogs on all topics frugal and fabulous, she enjoys sharing her adventures and misadventures on her blog,

This post was originally published on April 30th, 2013.

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About Catherine Alford

Catherine Alford is a personal finance freelance writer who received a B.A. from The College of William and Mary and an M.A. from Virginia Tech. She enjoys sharing her adventures on her blog,


  1. Sounds like a pretty cool life Cat! I’m sure your eyes are opened up to a whole new set of issues than we have here in the States. Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. Thanks so much for having me, Lance! =)

  3. That’s so very brave of you. You took the risk into the unknown and faced it. no matter how things get, you are really doing good. Congrats and more power. And oh, thanks a lot for sharing your story.

  4. I think you learned what was important in life which is a good lesson. Sometimes the absence of things make you realize what truely is important.

  5. It really looks like you’ve learned some life lessons that’ll stick with you for life Cat. We’ve been to the Caribbean several times and have been overcome about the poverty that is in many of the places, but people do with what they have and they’re in such a beautiful place. I think it’s a lesson many of us would benefit from. Our first apartment after getting married was a 500 sq foot apartment four miles from the Mexican border. No, it wasn’t glamorous, but we had everything we needed.

  6. Kyle @ Debt Free Diaries says:

    Great post! My girlfriend and I also live in a VERY small apartment, and have for a few years. It’s not nearly as cramped as most people would think, though I’m sure Leslie would like a bathtub, lol! Having fresh mangoes sounds spectacular!

  7. Jenny @ Frugal Guru Guide says:

    I haven’t sprung for a smart phone yet. I think I’m just too cheap! 🙂 We’re going to have to get one now that we’re writing apps for them–the irony isn’t lost upon us!

  8. I’ve lived in 3rd world countries as well and it taught me a tremendous amount about myself and life in general. I agree with every thing Catherine has mentioned, I’ve also learned not to complain when things get tough because some where in the world someone has it much worse than you do.

  9. Love this post, Cat!! Such an inspiration 😉

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