“I did research on several countries in Europe and Latin America,” says Kate Sparks. In April of 2018, she and her husband, Barry McKinney, pulled up stakes, leaving Bucks County, Pennsylvania, for the colorful surrounds of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
“Basically, our choice was based on the following factors: cost of living, weather, culture, and ease of traveling back to the U.S.” Many years before, they’d lived in Switzerland for a few years, when Barry worked for a Swiss pharmaceutical company. But as retirees they were seeking a much less expensive landing spot.
When their research was complete, San Miguel came out on top. “San Miguel has a lower cost of living than Pennsylvania, beautiful weather, and wonderful culture,” explains Kate. “And, we can reach the Texas border in one hour.”
Before retiring, Kate owned a flower farm and wedding floral design business. They now live at the south edge of San Miguel, in the colonia of Los Frailes. They opted for a modern development where many expats own homes. “Los Frailes provides a quiet retreat from the traffic and noise of centro. Plus, I have space for a garden,” she adds.
“Selling my floral businesses was a tough decision,” says Kate. “Los Frailes is an established neighborhood with lovely parks and tree-lined cobblestone streets. I’m very happy to have space for a garden at our home. I’ve planted flowers that attract hummingbirds and monarch butterflies. Barry and I enjoy breakfast outside when the weather is warm, which is most of the year. And—with seven other families—we are refurbishing the park at the end of our street.”
Redesigning and renovating the garden has been a labor of love for Kate. “During the first year we lived here I walked around various neighborhoods,” she says, “checking out what grows well before deciding what to plant in my garden. The weather and growing conditions in Pennsylvania are completely different than here. This is a high desert environment. Some plants which grew well in full sun in Pennsylvania burned up in my garden here. And I’ve learned to use vines to soften the high walls around our property. Bougainvillea is colorful and easy to grow. One of my favorite vines is pasiflora (passionflower), another is white jasmine, which produces clouds of small, fragrant white flowers.”
Our monthly bills are about 40% less than there in the U.S.
San Miguel is one of the most expensive cities in Mexico, but Kate and Barry find they can live comfortably on their Social Security income. “We have never spent more than $4,000 per month, which is less than what we receive from Social Security,” says Kate. “Our monthly bills are about 40% less than they were in Bucks County. One reason our cost of living dropped is that we no longer have the expense of a car. We use public transportation and taxis to get around, so don’t need a car. Another reason is the mild weather; we don’t need air conditioning in the warmer months. Our electric bill went from $250 per month in the U.S. to $30 a month here, and the cost of eating out is much lower.”
San Miguel’s weather has met Kate and Barry’s expectations. “I love the weather here,” says Kate. “Winter lasts for two months, with an average temperature of 65 F. We no longer have to shovel snow! The warmest season is from April to mid- June, with an average high temperature of 85 F. Due to the jacaranda trees on our property, and our house’s stone construction, all we need to do to keep it cool is open the windows.”
Medical care has exceeded their expectations. Kate says, “We have found the healthcare in Mexico to be excellent. Barry fell and punctured his lung last year. The doctor at Hospital H+ saved his life. We both have coverage on Mexico’s social medical system, and Barry maintains his U.S. Medicare health insurance.”
Kate and Barry are involved in a variety of activities, which keep them busy. “I’m currently taking Spanish at the Warren Hardy Spanish School three afternoons a week. Three mornings a week I take tai chi classes,” says Kate. “Barry volunteers with So Others May Eat [a local group which provides meals to the elderly]. And I’m getting involved with the Elisabeth Kubler Ross Foundation [a grief support organization]. It’s never boring in San Miguel!”
Barry and Kate also enjoy attending the quality musical concerts offered. “The music scene here is wonderful. We recently attended a performance of Mozart’s Requiem on the Día de Muertos. The performance featured a 24-piece orchestra with 60 singers and soloists. It was outstanding,” says Kate. “At Christmas the Chorale performed the Messiah by Handel, with a baroque orchestra, a complete choir, and soloists. There is so much to do here, it’s often hard to choose.”
San Miguel is well known for its culture and architecture. But given Kate’s floral design background, she relishes the town’s abundance of gorgeous flowers, vines, and gardens. “I encourage all visitors to explore and enjoy the beautiful gardens and courtyards of San Miguel de Allende,” says Kate.
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