Most things, in general, are cheaper here in Arabia. Gas, of course, is a lot cheaper. Adnan fills up his SUV for about $8-10. But not only that, an attendant pumps the gas for you and you get a free box of tissues with every purchase! In fact, we got 3 boxes of tissues with today’s fill-up! One of our kitchen cabinets is full of boxes of tissues. Adnan’s mom bought him a Toyota SUV for about $25,000 - an enticement she dangled in front of his nose to persuade him to move back home. I would guesstimate that a comparable vehicle in the States would run between $30,00-35,000 plus taxes. He recently took it in for service to the Toyota dealership and it cost $20 US for complete servicing, and it included a car wash.
One big reason why things are cheaper here is because THERE ARE NO TAXES! So think about it: vendors and businesses do not have to pay income taxes, sales taxes, city state or US taxes, occupancy taxes, licensing taxes, or any other kinds of taxes that US businesses are hit with, which in turn must be passed on to the consumers. Smaller businesses here have a much better chance of surviving because they don’t have to fork over so much to all the government agencies nickel and diming them to death like in America.
Food – whether buying groceries or eating in a restaurant - is also cheaper here. One night we went to a burger place and the three of us ate (burgers, fries, onion rings and drinks) for about $8. We’ve gotten into the habit of trying to get Dominos Pizza the first Monday of each month because they have a 2-for-1 special, plus you get a free TV movie guide. (So far I haven’t been able to find any TV programming guides, so this helps.) We get 2 large pizzas with whatever toppings we want plus 2 liters of soda, plus the movie guide for about $10-$12. By the way, the Dominos Pizza here is fabulous - I never cared much for Dominos back in the States. The pepperoni and sausage are not made of pork, of course, but whatever meat they use for it, it’s delicious and they are not at all stingy with it.
Fresh produce is incredibly cheap here when you buy it from the outdoor markets instead of a supermarket. For example, at one huge outdoor vegetable market, we got two crates full of big beautiful tomatoes, with about 24 tomatoes in each crate, for 5 riyals, which is about $1.25! Bread is about 75 cents for 2 loaves. We often share groceries with Adnan's mom - she has us over for meals several times a week and she always has tons of food. She even makes her own potato chips and cheese! She also makes a lot of things I have never had before. Adnan is a better cook than she is, but her food is good, most of the time anyway. Food seems to taste better here too. Now this could have something to with that maybe it has more fat and may not be as health conscious. Or maybe because it is fresher and not processed.
Clothing and shoes can be just as expensive as the states if you shop in the more expensive stores. But you can get really great quality clothing for a fraction of the cost if you go to the right places to shop. I have gotten some long traditional dresses made out of really nice fabrics, beautifully embroidered and embellished with beads and sequins for about $8 each. And that’s the regular price, not a sale price. We bought Adam some nice school pants and polo shirts for about $8-10 each as well, which is about half the cost of his uniforms back in Florida.
Electronics – cameras, TVs, DVD players, etc. – cost about the same as the states, if not slightly higher. But they do have sales, and we purchased a PS2 for about half the price of what it is in the states. DVDs and CDs are ridiculously cheap here – and this is because they are pirated copies, I imagine. They are at least 1/10 to 1/20 of the cost in the US. You can also purchase one single DVD with a half dozen Julia Roberts films on it, or all the Harry Potter movies, or a collection of action movies and the like, for about $1-$2 per DVD. You do have to be careful though when purchasing movies that have just come out in the movie theaters and are not yet out on DVD – the quality can be really poor.
One thing that is interesting here is that areas or streets have mainly one kind of business. Like if you want to repair your car, you go to, say, Al-Hera’a Road and there are dozens of car repair places right next door to each other to choose from. If you want electronics, you go down to another street. For household items, go down to the Al-Hindawiyah section, or if you need computers or electronics, just go down to this particular area or street. For fresh produce, there is this huge open air vegetable and fruit market with hundreds of vendors that everybody goes to, and the prices are amazingly cheap. You can also go to supermarkets similar to Safeway, but you end up paying twice as much for fresh produce. For some things, there is just one section in the whole city, which makes it pretty inconvenient if you live far away. But for other things, there are several areas you can go to in the city, so it is much more practical. It does make it easier, I guess, when you are comparison shopping. Like when we were shopping for furniture, we just parked the car and went from one shop to another in the same area. There are a few 1-stop shopping stores here now, similar to Super Target or Super Walmart, which are becoming popular. Pharmacies aren’t like Walgreens or CVS, which now carry many other items outside the realm of “drug stores.” If it doesn’t pertain to health, chances are you can’t get it there. At the same time, the only stores that carry aspirin or ace bandages are the pharmacies, so you still may have to go to several different specialty stores just to get your shopping done.
One evening, we went out looking for an optical shop to fix Adnan’s broken glasses. He had set them down on the front passenger’s seat of the car, and OOOOPs! I accidentally sat on them and broke the frames. These glasses were at least thirteen years old, big square shaped tortoise shell horned rim glasses. I broke off one of the arms by breaking the hinge. We spotted a small optical shop, so Adnan parked the car and dashed inside, while Adam and I waited in the car. Less than half an hour later, Adnan returned to the car wearing a brand new pair of glasses! The guy at the shop said that they didn’t replace the hinges on glasses but that he could take out the old lenses, cut them to size and put them in brand new frames. Now Adnan is not a fashion conscious guy at all, but I must say, he selected a really cool stylish metal frame that looks great on him. The frame is incredibly flexible – he can just about tie the new glasses in a knot! Adnan paid 150 Saudi Riyals for the new glasses – about $56 US! And the really amazing part for me is that he walked in off the street and walked out of the shop with the new pair of glasses in less than half an hour. Could this scenario EVER happen in America? I think not!
Most of the utilities are also less expensive here. Our electric bill for a whole month runs about $25-30 US per month. And that is with running the AC all day and night. Of course, each room here has its own individual AC unit, so the AC only runs in the rooms that we are using. In Florida our electric bill would run over $200 a month during the warmer months when we ran the AC and about $60 the rest of the year. Here you don't really get monthly bills in the mail. Since there aren't really street addresses per se, mailing out monthly bills isn’t an option. If you want to receive mail, you have to get a P O Box. The phone bill and the electric bill are actually sent to Adnan as text messages through his cell phone. I would have to say our phone bill charges are comparable to what we paid in the US, including international long distance. The hi-speed internet is handled like a prepaid phone card. You purchase the card and then you have hi-speed for the next month, or 3 months if that's how much you purchase, etc. The cost is roughly the same as the US. It's a tad inconvenient, especially when the time limit expires on you, but I guess people here are used to it that way. I don’t believe we have any more monthly expenses than those.
Tata has a full-time live in maid from Indonesia and her monthly salary is 600 Riyals, which is about $225 US. She gets her tiny quarters plus all her meals, but she works every day from early morning until night without ever having any days off. She was hired on a two year contract, which can be renewed. One of my sisters-in-law has two maids. One gets the same salary as Tata’s maid, and the other gets 800 Riyals ($300 US). Domestic help here is very cheap and is always performed by foreigners from poor countries, as well as hard labor and most service jobs.
Of course you can go to the big fancy malls and fancy restaurants and spend as much money as you want, as you can do anywhere, but so far my impression is that overall the cost of living here in Arabia is much cheaper than in the States.