Budget Review: Argentina

by Keith Savage · 17 comments

Argentine Pesos and Centavos

The time after a trip is filled with all kinds of denouement. Of particular importance to most travelers, especially those who are self-employed and need to file accurate taxes, is the state of the travel budget. Of course, if you’re looking at your budget for the first time only once the trip has ended, you’re probably not going to be happy. You might regret the week-long string of five-star steak dinners or buying that section of the vineyard that 10 years from now will yield your namesake wine.

During my month in Argentina I found a daily reconciliation of expenses to be a critical 10-minute exercise. In fact, this practice coupled with some useful tools helped me stay on budget to the tune of spending 87% of the $3,500 allotted for this trip. Tips, tactics, and breakdown below.

Tools & Workflow

Before I left for Argentina, I met with Sarah’s uncle, who is a great accountant, and he gave me some bookkeeping advice. Rule one: keep all of my receipts. This is crucial paperwork to have on hand in the unfortunate event I’m audited by the IRS after I’ve been writing off trip expenses. I brought along a simple envelope and stuffed all the receipts in there. Now that I’m home, I’ll file away the receipts and keep them for at least 10 years (the length of time in which the IRS can choose to do an audit).

Many of my purchases in Argentina did not come with a receipt, however. In this scenario, the best thing to do is keep a list of all your expenses. I jotted down the expense in the moment, and later I used Open Office’s spreadsheet tool to record each expense, describe the purchase, and list the seller.

At a macro level, I used the iXpenseIt iPhone app, a recommendation from Michael of A Tasty Pixel (you should check out his Cartographer app), to build a custom budget for Argentina in which I recorded all purchases and withdrawals in dollars. This helped me understand how much of my overall budget was left at any given time.

Finally, as most travelers do these days, I used online banking to check accounts and maintain a small balance in my travel debit account. I opened up a separate checking account for travel to prevent utter liquidation of our assets in case my debit card was lost or stolen.

My workflow was simple: after subtracting my airfare from my budget, I created a target number of dollars I could spend each day. I then decreased that number by 25% to create a buffer for those days I anticipating going beyond my limit. I had to recalculate this number after I rented the apartment because that was a sizable amount of cash to take out of the budget. I converted this dollars/day figure into a pesos/day limit and added it to my expense spreadsheet as a visual reminder of my target. In the end, I exceeded my limit on only three days and the majority of other days were well below it.

Cost Breakdown

Transportation $1,660.18 54.30%
Accommodation $513.61 16.80%
Food & Drink $590.91 19.30%
Entertainment $21.16 <1%
Other $53.65 1.80%
Fees $152.98 5.00%
Unknown $62.30 2.00%



It’s no surprise that transportation was the big expense. My accommodation expense was low because I CouchSurfed for half of the trip. The line between food & drink and entertainment is hazy, but entertainment expenses are those for things like tickets to a jazz show or entrance to a museum. “Other” includes souvenirs and necessities like toiletries while fees represent transaction fees and the reciprocity fee leveled at Americans entering Argentina. Despite my best efforts at record keeping, there’s still a $62 discrepancy between my records and my bank account. This is likely due to minor errors in record keeping and money lost in converting currency.


It’s great that I came in under budget, but saving for saving’s sake, much like travel for travel’s sake, isn’t all good. While I wasn’t penny-pinching, there were a couple of times when I decided not to do something because I felt it would be too expensive. Obviously, I had the breathing room to make it possible. I should also point out I’m not big on souvenirs.

Argentina is a very affordable country for Americans. You can eat well for a fraction of the cost in the States. For example, I ate several fantastic steaks for 35-45 pesos each. That’s $9-11 for a steak that would probably cost me $40-50 here (and it wouldn’t even be as tasty). Drinking at bars is particularly expensive as drink prices seem comparable to those in the States. Buenos Aires, as a whole, is priced like any major city. While the blow might be softened by using the peso, your wallet will still take a hit.

Have any of your own money-saving tips or tactics for Argentina or in general? Please share them in the comments!

CindyNo Gravatar January 12, 2011 at 7:13 PM

Argentina is a magic place that you all should visit! It has amazing landscapes of all kinds from Patagonia to Buenos Aires. Food is excellent too, especially “bifes” and “asados” There are many opportunities to know explore this part of the world. Many travel tours conducted to Argentina are really cheap. Also, if you make reservations in advance you can find several hotel deals where you can surely get rooms at low cost. There’s always a possibility, you just have to find it!

MagdaNo Gravatar January 4, 2011 at 6:25 PM

The inflation in Argentina is going crazy. I was there last year and some of my friends are over there now, and it’s quite shocking to see how much the prices have gone up….

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 4, 2011 at 9:23 PM

Do my costs make you say this? One of the guys I stayed with said that costs had gone up a lot even in the six months since his last visit to Buenos Aires. Now there’s talk of further devaluation of the peso. It doesn’t look good.

TalonNo Gravatar December 27, 2010 at 11:39 PM

Helpful article! Thanks!

Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The WorldNo Gravatar December 26, 2010 at 11:08 AM

Always nice to see a budget breakdown per country. Would love to visit Argentina during our RTW trip next year and from what I’ve heard it’s cheaper than Brazil? Since we’re vegetarians it might cost us less without all of the steaks :p

Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 27, 2010 at 8:05 AM

It might cost you less as vegetarians, but it might require more legwork to find some enjoyable meals. You should check our Never Ending Voyage – they’re vegetarians and recently spent a significant amount of time in both Buenos Aires and Salta.

EricaNo Gravatar December 26, 2010 at 3:29 AM

Hmm… sounds like Argentina may empty our bank account faster than I thought I would. Thank you for the break down!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 27, 2010 at 8:13 AM

Overall, Argentina is quite affordable for Americans. What kind of spending plan did you envision?

Ted NelsonNo Gravatar December 24, 2010 at 9:45 AM

It is always helpful for those thinking about a trip like this to know the break down in costs. Very handy post.

LauraNo Gravatar December 24, 2010 at 8:14 AM

This was really interesting Keith–I’m thrilled to hear the trip went so well! Have a wonderful holiday weekend! And keep writing!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 24, 2010 at 9:46 AM

Appreciate the encouragement – hope things are going well on your end 😉

Brooke vs. the WorldNo Gravatar December 24, 2010 at 5:39 AM

I’m curious as to how much your flight cost?

Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 24, 2010 at 9:40 AM

The flight came close to $1,200.

ErinNo Gravatar December 23, 2010 at 11:43 AM

Well done on keeping under budget! Couchsurfing and renting an apartment for a longer period definitely helps save on accommodation costs. The luxury apartment that you (and we earlier in the year) stayed in cost the same per night as a double room in a crappy hostel!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 24, 2010 at 9:44 AM

It was awesome, wasn’t it? Such a lucky arrangement and the place was gorgeous. If staying any extended amount of time in place, even 4-5 days, I would consider an apartment.

Alice D.No Gravatar June 8, 2011 at 9:34 PM

I’m going to Argentina for a month in the fall. Where’d your find your apartment? I’m looking for long-term stay options. Thanks!

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