Tag Archives: Budget

5 Considerations When Taking the Expat Plunge


Are you considering moving outside of the country and becoming an expat after you retire? You may be dreaming of new adventures, the excitement of living in and experiencing a new culture. Or maybe you are looking to find a place where you get more bang for your buck.  Whatever your reason, the world awaits. It is a big world and making the decision as to where to land is difficult at best.  You may decide to move to where every other expat is moving these days – the “latest” location touted by those expat retirement blogs – or you may do a personal search to find the location that works best for you.

In my search for the “right” location I have found a few cities that would offer me much of what I look for. I fell in love with Antigua, Guatemala years and hoped to live there someday. Then there is Cuenca, a beautiful, colonial city high in the Andes of Ecuador, that captured my heart as I wandered through el Centro on my very first visit. They are both viable options, but I am not yet convinced where I will hang my hat and I plan to continue my search… Guatemala, Chile, Spain, France, Sicily, Greece, Malaysia, Thailand…the list goes on and on.  So many locations to consider!

If you are thinking about becoming an expat here are five things to consider, besides location, before making your move:

Dig deep and ask the tough questions.

Why are you thinking about doing this? What is important to you? What do you need vs. what do you want?  Can you be happy with only the needs being fulfilled?  Are you willing to accept they way they do things in your new country or will  you expect they do it the way to which you are accustomed? Can you live without that red licorice or your favorite barbeque sauce?

Friends and family. How will you keep in touch? Will you be happy not seeing them in person on a weekly or monthly basis? Can you be such a long way from your grandkids?

Is this a forever move or will you only be going for a few years and returning or moving on?

All these questions and more need to honestly answered.  A trip to explore your potential expat city will help to answer some of these questions.  Digging deep and reflecting on your values, adaptability and flexibility will help clarify your reasons, expectations and likelihood of success.

Do your research.

Blogs abound about moving to and living other countries. The bloggers share their experiences and offer a myriad of suggestions for you to chew on.  Then there are sites like numbeo.com that provide costs and living expense comparisons, a very useful tool in seeing how far your resources will stretch.

Facebook has many groups for expats living in different locations around the world.  It’s a great place to interact with and ask questions of people who have already made their move. You will find those who have adapted well, some who are less than happy for numerous reasons, and still others who after a couple of years are heading back to their home country.  These pages generally give a pretty balanced perspective on living in that city or country and honest answers abound to any question you may ask.

Think about visas, residency requirement, and citizenship, if you are interested in going that route.

Healthcare. What are the options? Is there a government program with an option to purchase private insurance instead? What will it cost out of pocket and would that be within your budget?  Will you keep supplemental insurance for when you go back home to visit? Or will you just have travel insurance?

Then there is your best bud. Are you able to bring your beloved pet? What are the requirements to make that happen? Are there vets available and what does their practice look like? What is the culture of pets in the community?

Is the expat community active and welcoming? Starting by making some expat contacts and broadening your community to include the locals as well will only enhance your experience.

Make a plan.

A solid plan will take before, during and after the move into consideration.

Long before ever packing your bags, make a plan. How will all the “at home” requirements be handled? Will everything be handled by electronic mail?  Banking, credit cards, taxes, financial planning all need to be considered. How will those be handled? When will you move?  Do you need to sell a home before you leave? Or will you rent it…just in case?  What will your move look like? Will you only take a couple of suitcases and start fresh?  Or will you pack up your entire household and all your belongings and arrange for them to be shipped?  How will you stay in touch with family and friends?  Will emails and Facebook suffice or will you want to have more personal contact through Skype?

There is so much to consider and a written, detailed plan will only make things go so much smoother. The logistics related to the move need to be considered and fully understood. Stress mixed with excitement and anticipation will be high, so having all your ducks in a row before you hop on the plane will be critical to a smooth transition.

Set a few routines.

Set a few routines when you arrive to get you out into the community so you can begin to make connections with expats and locals alike.  Each morning after breakfast while living in Peru I would enjoy a leisurely cup off coffee in the house courtyard, and mid-morning I would stroll across town to the open air market to get exercise, enjoy the sights and sounds of the city and inevitably I would run into someone I was acquainted with.

While living in Guatemala City I had a routine on the weekends. Having taught school all week, I liked to take the bus to a nearby town, Antiqua, for the day and occasionally overnight on the weekends.  It became a favorite place to go to unwind, and I became familiar with the town and it with me.

If a weekend getaway isn’t an option, consider a Saturday morning walk along the river, ending with coffee and pastry at that quiet little bakery on the other side of town. Or maybe you will join a group with like interests, volunteer to read to children at the local school or help out at an animal shelter.

Setting a few routines at first to get out and about in a normal ‘I live in this town’ kind of way, not ‘I am here as a tourist’ kind of way can normalize your new life. It will provide you opportunity to meet people in those shops, restaurants, schools, clubs and overtime relationships will evolve and friendships will grow.

Create community.

For some this will be easy.  For others who may be a little more introverted or reserved this may feel like a daunting task.

Most cities where expats reside have welcome lunches or gatherings that are held weekly or monthly. Go to the expat hangouts to start the interaction.

Get to know the locals in your neighborhood. Understand that some cultures, though very friendly, may not invite you to their home for a long time. I lived in Peru for two years and I never made it past the parlor in friends homes where guests were welcomed to visit.

Walk softly, observe and learn. Local friendships will evolve naturally over time and more often than not, expats will welcome you with open arms.

Moving to another country can be a real adventure.  Having a well thought out plan and having fully considered your reasons for moving and expectations of the experience can make this new adventure fun and exciting.

What have you done or what are you doing to make your expat move smooth and successful?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow Underwear


Last night I spent the evening with friends who are planning on retiring to Cuenca, Ecuador, high in the Andes of Ecuador, in the next few years.  They had just returned from an exploratory visit to that colonial city. We spent hours talking of our impressions of the city, the food, safety, and what retirement would be like living in a land faraway.

After they left, my thoughts wandered back to more than a decade past when I was living in the jungle of Peru.  Memories that had been tucked away returned; thoughts of living in Iquitos, the traditions, foods, friends, cultural memories and unusual experiences raced through my mind. As I stood in the kitchen putting away the leftover food and drink, I thought how different life is living in a foreign country, the challenges, the surprises, the curiosities. As I was remembering the good and bad times from living in the Amazon, a memory of yellow underwear jumped to mind that gave me chuckle.

It was the morning of December 31st and I had been invited to join friends at a street party that evening. I had readily accepted. This would be my first New Year’s Eve in Peru and from the celebrations I had attended since arriving to the Amazon, I could only imagine that New Year’s Eve in the jungle would be one wild ride.  One thing I was certain of was that there would be lots of “beverage”, endless dancing, and very loud music with scantily dressed young chicha dancers moving their hips in syncopation to the Latin beats. That New Year’s Eve celebration under the stars ended up being one of the most memorable nights I can remember, but that is a story for another day. This story is about yellow underwear.

As I sat in the courtyard of the house where I was staying when I first arrived to Iquitos, enjoying my morning cup of instant Folgers coffee with heated milk and sugar, Juanita, the owner of the hospetaje, explained the yearend tradition which included flowers, grapes and yellow underwear. She told me that I needed to acquire those items, in order to be ready for that night, and told Charo, the housekeeper and cook, to take me to the market to get what was needed.

In the heat of mid-morning sun, with sweat streaming down my body from head to toe, Charo headed out of the house to the market with me in tow.  “Let’s go to the market. I’ll help you get what you need,” Charo said.  I nodded in appreciation. “Gracias.”  My Spanish language skills were still limited, as I had been in Peru for only a short time, so Charo would be my market negotiator and guide, as we collect the necessary items for the evening tradition.  We needed to move fast, as the flower concoction needed hours of preparation.

Heading across town in the heat of the day, Charo and I arrived to the mercado. The hustle and bustle of the  market and the excitement of the impending festivities was palpable.  Market stalls were filled with people searching the merchandize, fruits, vegetables, and plastic products of all kinds. The smells of fish and platano being grilled filled the air. I noticed, unusual to the regular market items, stalls filled with the tallest stacks of yellow underwear that one could imagine.  Some were plain yellow and others had small embroidered little flowers off to the side. All were cotton. No problem getting what I need, I thought to myself.  We should be done and back to the house in no time flat.

We weaved our way through the crowds to the flower stalls. Charo, without hesitation, selected the appropriate flowers and in minutes we had five bunches of varying colors.  Flowers for flower shower.  Check.  Off to the fruit stands we went to find the grapes.  After careful examination of the produce, we purchased a little bundle of green grapes that were placed in a small plastic bag and tied at the top.  Grapes.  Check.

It was getting hotter in the mid-day sun and the market was so filled with locals that the air was still and thick.  Back to the entrance we maneuvered until we found the tables mounded with yellow underwear.  A slight breeze moved past and I felt a sense of relief that we would be done shortly and back in the house to cool down and rest before the evenings festivities. I let out a sigh.

Charo dug through the pile.  Pulling them out and holding them up, she looked at me and shook her head.  Nope.  That won’t fit.  Over and over again came the look and the head shake.  We moved on to the next table.  Again, more looks and more shaking of the head.  Charo dug and pulled and tossed yellow underwear.  Each was paired with the same shake of the head.  The lady vendor, sitting in the shade under a tarp, watched Charo’s determination to find a pair that would fit me and would glance over at me occasionally with a pleasant smile mixed with a “none of these will fit you” look.  “Gracias, Senora,” we said as we headed off for yet another mound of yellow.  Oh, please, let us find some soon.

After every yellow underwear vendor in the market was aware that I couldn’t fit in the underwear on their tables, we headed just around the corner and down the street to the underwear tiendas.  Yellow cotton underwear was not the norm for the these stores.  The merchandise they sold would put Victoria Secret to shame.  Inside of the open store front was a special table of yellow underwear, very out of place in the midst of sensual, sexual merchandise.  A middle-aged woman asked if she could help.  Charo looked at me and back at the woman saying, “Grande por la mujer, por favor.”  She’s asking for a large.  Ugh.  I had lost so much weight from living in the heat of the jungle that I would have easily been a small back home, but here I was a large.

The woman dug through the endless pile, shaking her head.  Grande. More digging. Grande. Looking at me and mumbling grande, the sales lady turned to Charo shaking her head.  “Ella no es grande.” I am not a grande? A large won’t fit me? The woman walked to the front of the open air store and yelled to the people in the street in Spanish, “I need GRANDE, GRANDE for the gringa! Anyone have GRANDE, GRANDE?  Everyone in the street stopped to look. I was horrified as I retreated into the shadows, hidden by lacey bras and underwear that hung everywhere. How in the world would I go back out into the street again?

Now, just let me say right here and now that I was thin, having lost weight from the unrelenting heat of the jungle. And I was considerably smaller in size from walking all over the city on a daily basis. So a grande was a surprise and a grande, grande was completely unexpected.  What was even more unexpected was everyone on the entire market street knowing it.

I turned to Charo and said, “The grande will be just fine.”  Charo looked a me in disagreement and I responded with, “Let’s just buy it and get out of here.”  Reluctantly, Charo made the purchase and handed me a small plastic bag with the “grande” yellow underwear and we slipped out of the store quickly, quietly, and I thought stealthily, as everyone on the street turned to stare.

Bundles of flowers, a bunch of grapes, and grande yellow underwear in hand, we headed back to the house with all the necessary items to bring in the new year.  Charo gathered the flowers and took them to the kitchen for preparation. The grapes were plucked, and twelve plump ones were counted and put in a bowl for later.  I returned to my room, unwrapped my purchase, sat on the bed and looked at the yellow underwear, wondering just how in the world I would ever get them on.  Note to self: next visit back to the States buy yellow underwear that I can actually fit in to.

The continued saga of the yellow underwear will be shared in a later post.  For the time being, think tingling legs and a tumble to the floor in the darkness of the night.

As my mind returned to the task of cleaning up after entertaining my friends, I thought how wonderful other cultures are, how much can be learned, what lovely memories are created, and how much humor needs to be ever present in every little thing you do.  And, yes, it’s always an adventure, even when going to the market to buy a pair of yellow underwear.

What wonderful memories do you have from living in or visiting other cultures?

Blame it on the Tiramisu


It has been a while since I have written anything in this blog.  I think writing is mostly inspired by our unresolved emotions, fears that haunt us in the quiet hours of the night, the stories of our past that create our now and future realities undefined. When I first started writing this blog, I started in a flurry. I was in a constant state of internal turmoil, circling my future life, the life that would be my retirement and, as a result, the words fell on the page in rapid fire. It was a time of questioning whether I would be able to live a good life when I retired. What would it look like and where would it be? I have to credit this blog and what could be called a public journaling experience to calm my soul and take me to a place of now. It’s good to be home again, in my mind, in my heart and in my soul.

A number of readers of this blog have asked me over the past few months why I had stopped blogging. The truth is that I never really stopped. I simply paused. I paused because of one cappuccino in a small café.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESIt was a few months ago that my blog postings paused.  And, coincidentally, it was also a few months ago that I traveled to Cuenca, Ecuador, a city high in the Andes that has been touted as the number one place in the world for US retirees to relocate. I had been planning to travel there 6 months later with a friend, but those travel plans were moved up so that I could get a taste of my possibilities, sooner rather than later.  I needed to know.  I needed to quell my uncertainties, satiate my curiosity and affirm that one of the many options racing through my mind was viable. Waiting 6 months to find out if it was an option was not reasonable for me, unless I wanted to waste 6 months racked with unknowns.

So, I hopped on a plane to find out if one of my potential retirement options was something that I could hold onto as an option or something that I needed to walk away from forever.

It was during my eight days exploring Cuenca, Ecuador that a shift in consciousness took place and for the first time since the market crashed and the shell of my nest egg cracked, that I felt at peace.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESAfter wandering the city for several days, meeting welcoming expats and locals alike, I found a little dessert café off Parque Calderon, at the other end of the block from where the cathedral stands. I settled in by the window to enjoy a tall Italian cappuccino and tiramisu. I sat with my thoughts and gazed out the window, watching life in Cuenca pass by. The cappuccino was tall, rich and beautifully layered. The tiramisu the best I had had. For the first time in a long time I felt at peace. I was present. I was in the moment. I was not searching for a solution to my future. I was living it. The cost of the cappuccino and tiramisu barely touched my wallet. I knew that I could afford to live here. I could be happy here. I liked the city. I liked the expats. I liked the culture and the locals. And, well, truth be told, I loved the tiramisu. Retirement would be just fine.

It was in that moment, sipping on that cappuccino, that I realized that not only did I have one good retirement option, but I had a world of options. I recognized that retirement can be anything I want it to be. It can be nomadic, moving from country to country experiencing this wonderful, culturally diverse world. It can be on a beach or in the mountains in a far away land. It can be in a small RV traveling around the US or in a park model nuzzled in with a community of other retirees. My options are unlimited.

I will be returning to Ecuador in the near future. There is so much more of that beautiful country that I would like to see, the smaller cities and villages, the hot springs, live volcanoes and waterfalls.

Truth be told, my reasons for returning are mixed. I guess on some level I want more of that delicious cappuccino and tiramisu in that little café just across from the park…or maybe, just maybe, what I really want is another dose of the peace that came with it.

7 Ways To Slash, Shave and Cut Your Monthly Expenses


Anyone can become a savings sleuth and cut, shave or slash their monthly expenses.  All you need to do is look around, the savings are there. Are you interested in cutting your monthly expenses? Then put on your detective’s hat and do some super sleuthing.  Searching for bargains can be really fun and satisfying when you know that you are going to cut costs and save some money. Together all those savings can really add up!

Find those hidden discounts

Always be friendly to clerks in the checkout line and ask if there is an unadvertised discount available. Often there are discounts that they can give you on your purchase that you might not have known about or weren’t advertised. I have successfully done this on more than one occasion. A few months back, I was at a craft store buying an set of artist’s colored pencils in a nice metal box. Anything with the word “artist” on it is way overpriced, and as I stood at the register cringing at the price I was about to pay, I asked, “Any coupons or discounts today?”  The young woman at the register said, “Well, there is a 50% off the first item. Do you have an smart phone?”  In all my excitement, I struggled to find the coupon online. After some time, she tired of watching me, opened the drawer below the register, pulled out a barcoded paper and wha-lah, the discount was applied to purchase.  I saved a lot of money that day with just a smile and a question!

Cut the frequency of service 

Depending on the amount of garbage you have every week, you may be able to get once a month service. I compost and recycle, and buy very little that is pre-packaged. The result is very little garbage. So, I called the waste management company and asked if they had less expensive options.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were other service options, and I was able to reduce my collection service from weekly to once a month, saving a considerable amount on my monthly bill.

Shave down some of your utility bills 

Contact your water, sewage, electric and waste management companies to see what discounts they offer.  Some utilities offer discounts based on age, income, or both.  A friend of mine has reduced her city bill, for water and sewage, by a whopping 50%! You may also be able to pay reduced real estate taxes. Contact your county to find out what programs they have available.  It may be as simple as filling out a form. There is something to be said for becoming a senior, discounts abound!

phonesSearch for promotions

Think about your phone, cable and internet services. New promotions for these services are constant. I switched to a phone service provider that doesn’t require a contract. It is a monthly prepay option and costs about half of what I was paying before. Now, included in my service, I have unlimited data and texting included in the price that I didn’t have before. So not only am I saving on the monthly service fee, but I am getting more bang for my buck! Being without a phone service contract allows you to shift to another provider easily, when a better deal avails itself.  Plus, if you are a part-time expat you can stop your service while you are out of the country and start it up again when you return.

Find the “code”

Do your research before buying something online. After you find the best price and before you click to complete the sale, if there is a place to put a promotion code, use it. Often times, there is a discount for the item you are purchasing, or free shipping, if you put in a promo code. Search online. Put in the store name, promo code, month, and year in the search engine. There will a number of sites to choose from. You may find a code, or you may not, but it is worth the savings to take a moment and try.

Slash your bill in half

Going out to eat? Check the restaurant’s website before you go to see if there is a coupon, or call around and find restaurants that offer a senior discount or early bird special. If you don’t ask, you will never know.  A friend and I go to a favorite Mexican restaurant in town and the first thing we do before heading to the restaurant is go to the computer and download the restaurant’s coupon. Second entrée free! Can’t beat that!

Purple sofa - CopyDig for a bargain

Garage sales, thrift stores and community and church rummage sales are a perfect way to pick up something you really do need, at a great price. New items once purchased, become “used” once it comes through your door. Nothing is new forever. So, if you buy a gently used and in good condition item, then you are saving a lot of money compared to a new item that becomes “used” the first time you use it, sit on it, or wear it. When you are heading out the door, know exactly what you are looking for, otherwise you risk coming home with a carload of stuff that you don’t need and really don’t want. I like to keep a watchful eye for community garage sales in the higher end communities where you can find great bargains at a fraction of the cost.  I found a great purple sofa – yes, purple – at a garage sale that was recently reupholstered. They even delivered it for me, brought it up the stairs and set it in place.  My little dog, Maggie Mae, claimed it as her own immediately!

How have you cut your monthly expenses?  Share your thoughts below.

 

This Fun Adventure Can Add $24K Or More To Your Nest Egg


Is your retirement savings less than you would like it to be?  Maybe another $24,000 dollars socked away would make you feel a little more secure.  Do you love other cultures and traveling to other countries?  Are you a helper?  Do you have sincere desire to make the world a better place?  If you answered yes to those questions, then I think this idea might be perfect for you!

An Idea Is Born

I lay in bed trying to fall asleep as wonderings of my retirement years dance in my head.  What will I do?  How do I build my savings so that I feel more secure?  At this rate I won’t be able to stay in my home and will have to move, but where will I go?  Can I downsize and cut costs by maybe living in a park model or RV or a 55+ community somewhere warm?  Am I ever going to be able to travel outside the country again?  Oh, I so love traveling!  Maybe I could become an expat and live in a country where my money goes farther. On and on the thoughts circle in my head, until – flash! – the light bulb switches on and a new idea is born.

Now, let me preface this by saying that this idea is not for everyone.  If you don’t like helping people, or traveling to another country, or saving money, then this might not be your cup of tea, but keep an open mind and see if the seed that is planted begins to sprout.

I have spent most of my life working to pay my bills, like most people, and I envision myself not working during my retirement years.  That would be my ideal vision of my post-work era.  A good number of my jobs have been in the non-profit sector where I have gotten a great deal of personal satisfaction knowing that in some small way I was making a difference.  In my retirement, I hope to continue to be able to do the same.

Before I share my – flash! – idea, let’s consider a few questions.

Question 1. Would you like to have another $24K in your savings?

I can’t imagine anyone saying no to this question.  Like many others, my retirement savings took a hit a few years back when the market took a nose dive and I am rebuilding, so I am open to considering all types of options to increase my nest egg.  “From humming bird egg to ostrich egg,” is my retirement mantra!

Pictures from Memory Card 442Question 2.  Internationally, what country do you dream of visiting or living in?

Imagine living in another country, maybe in Africa, Asia, or Central or South America.  Maybe it is a country that calls to you on a deep level, one that you have always want to travel to. Or maybe the country you dream of is one where you would like to setup housekeeping during your retirement, but you don’t know the culture yet and haven’t had a chance to visit.   I have always had an affinity to Central and South America.  I think I might choose Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, or maybe even Chile.  What country would you choose?

Question 3.  When you retire, will you have the freedom, the desire, or the need to move?

Can you free yourself up from the housing ties that bind you?  Are you going to have a housing transition when you retire?

I realize that am going to have to sell my house when I retire, because my incoming won’t cover the outgoing.  I am going to enjoy my house for the next 8.2 years, and then my options will be wide open.  Are you planning on downsizing to smaller place?  Maybe you think about moving to a 55+ community in the land of the sun or buying an RV and heading down the road to destinations unknown?  If you are going have a “transition” period between the life you lead now and the life you will be leading after retirement, then this idea just might be for you.

Jungle house on the river peruQuestion 4.  Are you up for an adventure?

Retirement is a time to live the life you have always dreamed of. For some, that means having the adventures you have only read about in books or seen in movies. The exciting thing about retiring is that you can now create the life you want, including the adventures of your dreams.

Question 5.  Can you commit 2 years of your life to having the experience of a lifetime, while making a positive difference in the world at the same time?

If you could volunteer, save $1000 a month of your social security income, and have an international experience in the country of your choice, would you do it?  That would be a $24,000 increase to your nest egg in only 2 years.  Tell me, you aren’t just a little intrigued right now?

So, Here Is The – Flash! – Idea

Join an organization for a 2 year commitment, while volunteering and living in another country, and save money in the process.

First, you will need to figure out how to detangle yourself from as many bills as you can before you go.  Sell your house, rent it out to someone you trust, or plan the timing so your volunteering commitment coincides with the end of your lease. You now have the essential cost savings plan in place.

Now, join the Peace Corps!  Yes, the Peace Corps.  It’s not just for young adults anymore.  More and more retirees, couples (straight and same-sex) and singles, are joining the Peace Corps well into their retirement years… their 60s…70s and even 80s!  The application process has been simplified and the wait time for acceptance has been shortened to about 6 months.  You can pick the country you would like to serve in from a list on their website, as well as the kind of service you are interested in doing.  You choose!

For the 2 years that you are living in a land that you have dreamt of, while providing service to the community, you are not paying any rent, mortgage or utilities back home.  The money you would have spent from your social security check toward those expenses can now be dropped directly into your retirement savings!  Estimate a $1000 a month savings (yes, probably on the low side for some) for 2 years and wha-lah, your savings will have a $24,000 boost. Oh, and did I mention that they pay returning volunteers a readjustment allowance of a little over $7000?  Add in 48 days of vacation, full medical and dental, family leave in emergencies, travel to and from the country, training and more, and you have a perfect package for overseas volunteering.  What are the Benefits?

heartThe Most Important Consideration

Beyond the financial benefit, I think the most important consideration in this equation is, do you want to be of service on a global scale? Do you want to give back and make a difference in another culture?  If you do, then the financial increase to your retirement nest egg is only a small bonus. The biggest bonus is how much the experience will fill your heart and the hearts of those you encounter. It’s overall a win-win, wouldn’t you say?

Would you consider volunteering outside of the country when you retire?  Where would you like to go?  Your comments, as always, are welcome below.

 

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Expats – 5 Questions Before You Pack Your Bags


Are you considering moving overseas when you retire?  Have you asked yourself some of the key questions that can make or break your expat experience?   Moving to another culture, far away from family and friends, can pose some interesting challenges that many people never consider before making the decision to move.

When I moved to Peru, back in 2000, I had done some international travel.  I wasn’t a world wanderer by any means, but I did have a few developing countries under my belt.  Did I ask myself all the right questions before I left?  No. Did I make mistakes.  Yes. Did I wish that I spoke the language better?  You bet.  Was the experience something I regret?  Absolutely not.  Even with those questions and answers, I still wish I had asked myself these key questions.

Adapting and enjoying the expat life really is dependent on your personality, whether you are flexible, adaptable and can laugh at yourself.  These are key characteristics that will help you more easily adjust to and enjoy this great, new adventure that you have embarked upon.  Looking back on some of my experiences, living in both Peru and Guatemala, I identified 5 questions that would be useful for anyone considering the expat life.

Have you traveled outside of the United States – to a developing country?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESMost expats move to developing countries where they will get more bang for their buck, allowing them to live a good life on less money. If you haven’t traveled to a developing country, you may find that living in one is a very different life. Values are different. The clock runs at a different speed. Food will be different. Guinea pig, anyone? English will not be the language of the land. You won’t find your favorite brands of clothing, foods and electronics and, if you do, they will most likely be quite pricey. On the other side of things, you will find beautiful people, a culture calling to you to be experienced, wonderful new friends and endless surprises.  You will be the one adapting to a country and culture, not the culture and country adapting to you.   If you haven’t traveled to the country you are thinking of retiring to, do so a few times before you make the big move.  Spend enough time to get a taste of daily life.  Rather than being a tourist and staying in a fancy hotel and eating at the best restaurants, instead stay in a typical hotel and eat the local menu in someone’s home.  Get to know the country and the people and think to yourself the whole time, “Can I live here?”

Are you patient?   Or at the very least, can you learn patience?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESPart of life in another country, especially a developing country, is that life is lived at a different pace. What might take an hour in the United States may take a few hours or all day in another country.  If you live in a larger, more cosmopolitan city within a developing country, you may find the pace faster somewhat faster, but live outside the city, life moves much slower.  One challenge I had that I never quite became accustomed to was time.  “I am on my way over” could mean I am on my way over, but if something comes up or I run across someone on the way, then I am still on my way over.  I remember I made plans for New Year’s Eve with friends when I lived in Iquitos, Peru.  They said they would come by at midnight to head to the street party.  At 2 a.m. they arrived with big smiles, ready to head out to the celebration.  I said, “I thought you were going to be here at midnight.”  They looked confused that I had expected they actually be there at that time.  They said, “We stopped on the way,” as if this was the norm, and, of course, it was the norm.  I smiled and said, “Well, I’m ready.”  Off we went to enjoy the most amazing New Year’s Eve celebration I have ever experienced.  I could have been upset.  I could have caused a fuss.  Or I could have said to myself, “This is part of the culture, let it go.”  Patience.  Understanding that what you expect may not be what the culture will offer you.  Take a deep breathe and go with the flow.  If you can’t let go of your expectations of life, then you may have challenges living in another country, let alone a developing country.

Are you interested in meeting locals or are you just going to insulate yourself by spending all your time with other expats?

There is nothing at all wrong with finding other expats to connect with when you move to another country.  They can add a bit of normalcy to your life and keep you connected to home.  That being said, my best experiences living outside of the country were with local families and friends. Through my relationships with them, I learned about the culture, family, traditional holidays, funerals, protests and celebrations. If you plan on searching out only other expats to the exclusion of locals, then you may be find disappointment in your expat experience and you certainly will be limiting the full experience of being in another country and another culture.

Can you be respectful of this new culture you have chosen?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWhen you arrive in a country that you have to chosen to move to, you have arrived in someone else’s home.  You are living in their culture, in their land, in their community.  I remember there were a number of expats in Iquitos who had lived in the jungle for a number of years. Sitting amongst them one evening, enjoying a cold beer, I remember the conversation turned to everything that was wrong with the life and people in the city.  It was harsh.  It was unkind.  And I was embarrassed for the waiter who had to serve these people who were bashing his city, his home, the city they had chosen to live. This was an “Ugly American” moment.  It was a sad example of expats who expected the culture to adapt and cater to them.

Are you ready for an adventure?

Everyday will be an adventure. This is a guarantee. You will learn something new about yourself, about the people of the land, and about this new wonderful culture.  Are you ready for it?

My life in Peru was one big adventure.  Day after day, I was always amazed at what I learned or the surprises that availed themselves that day. One late afternoon, I got lost in the jungle as it was growing dark, in a downpour, wondering where exactly that big cat was that just let out a growl.  I got stuck in the mud on the shore of the Amazon, knee deep in the mid-day sun, as 3 young Amazon guides did their best to pull me out. Sitting on a crooked and rusty metal chair into the wee morning hours, I shared a beer with locals bypassing a community glass, as we talked about life in a language that I was still learning.  I danced in the rain on New Year’s Eve, until the sun came up the next morning, surrounded by thousands of locals.  The most beautiful Christmas I have ever had was in the home of a local family that I had become close with, sharing their holiday meal, just a simple meal. There were no wrapped gifts to exchange, only the gift of friendship and love.

Adventure. Adventure means different things to different people. The new, the different, the challenging and the unknown are all waiting for you if you become an expat, but most of all guaranteed adventure.

Are you ready for an adventure?  Post your thoughts below in comments.

 

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A Tight Budget Doesn’t Have to Mean Disaster for Hair, Nails and Body


Have you ever had your hair cut and in the middle of it screamed, “Nooooooo!!!” and you knew, in that moment, that it was just too late?  Me too.  Mine happened in a small town on the Amazon River, just over the border of Peru, in Colombia.  May I say right now that my spontaneity and impulsiveness can sometimes get me into trouble.  This was one of those times.

Passport Renewal

I was living in Iquitos, Peru, in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, about 4 hours from the river’s source. I needed to get a new stamp in my passport to be able to stay in Peru for another 6 months and heard that all you needed to do was take a “rapido,” a speed boat, down the river to Leticia, just over the Peruvian border in Colombia, where the countries of Peru, Colombia and Brazil meet. I could have flown to a larger city in Ecuador or Chile, and looking back that probably would have been a better choice, but I decided that a ride on the river would be fun. I bought a ticket and planned to be at the Embarcadero, where the boats, fish and bananas arrived to Iquitos, early the next morning.

The Embarcadero

I walked through the vendors that had their bananas and fish on the cement floor for sale to locate the boat.  The stench of fish first thing is the morning caused my stomach to churn, so I held my bandana over my nose, as I moved quickly through the busy merchants, trying not to slip on the fish fluids that covered the floor.  I arrived to the other side of the dimly lit cement building to the river side where fish and banana were being grilled and sold to locals and workers for breakfast.  Locating the boat, a battered mess that I wasn’t sure would hold up for this long trip, I climbed on board, found a seat about 3 rows back from the driver, and settled in for a long ride.  The boat had a somewhat tattered canvas roof, which I thought would be good protection from the sun or rain and there was also plastic sheeting rolled up on each side, held up with rope, that would be dropped down in the event of bad weather.  With my fruit, cheese and a couple of freshly made rolls from the local bakery tucked carefully away in my backpack, I was ready to go.

10 Hours

Aerial PhotoThe rest of the passengers arrived, found their seats, and after waiting and waiting and waiting in the heat of sun, we took off down the river. Waiting is a way of life on the river, a different pace in the jungle.  I had been on a speed boat before, back home on the lake, and preparing to venture out on this adventure brought back memories of the wind racing through my hair and the lift off the seat when the boat hit a wave, but I had no idea what that would feel like for 10 straight hours.  Yes, 10 hours of a contant churning engine, hot wind burning my face and drying my eyes, and the ongoing assault to my back and my body as the boat attempted to maneuver the river’s everchanging mood.

Our second stop enroute was a small town on the Peruvian side of the border, before we entered Colombian and Brazilian waters, about 9 hours into the trip.  Passports were stamped as we exited the country. I wanted to kiss the ground I was standing on.  It wasn’t moving, bumping or spraying water in my face, but back into the boat we reluctantly climbed, knowing there was only a small distance to cover before arriving to the small river town of Leticia, Colombia.

Feeling Grimey

We finally pulled up to the dock in Leticia.  I was worse for the wear, exhausted and feeling a little more than grimey.  The heat of the day, the whipping of the wind and the river splashing on me for 10 hours had made me crave a shower.  Needless to say, I was feeling less than my best.  I wandered town for a while before finding a tiny and somewhat rundown little hotel to stay at the for night. Just a bed, that’s all I needed.  As I moved through the streets of Leticia trying to get my barrings, I noticed a little storefront offering haircuts.  Feeling less than optimal, I considered getting my hair groomed. A shampoo and cut would make me feel refreshed, I thought.  After checking into my hotel and enjoying a lovely meal, my mind kept returning to that little store where the woman was cutting hair.  I wandered the streets, until I came across the same sign that had grabbed my attention earlier.  To my surprise they were still open for business and I went in to inquire about a cut.

“No Tocar” Means Do Not Touch

As I sat in the chair, in my best Spanish, I explained to the woman with scissors in hand that I wanted my hair cut to the length of my ear lobes, a nice bob of sorts.  She nodded.  I assumed she understood.  I told her that I have a cowlick at the nape of my neck and this absolutely must not be cut, trimmed, or in anyway touched.  I pulled up my hair that was down to the middle of my back and said, “No tocar, no tocar.” Do not touch. She must not have heard the word no, because within a split second she dropped the scissors in her hand, grabbed the now buzzing shears that moved from counter to neck at lightening speed. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  And, in the blink of an eye, the hair that was not to be touched was gone. “Nooooooooooo!” Too late.

She finished the haircut, shaving both sides at the nape equally, creating a bob with bangs and a neck that reached up far beyond my hairline.  As I bowed my head to count my money to pay her, I could feel the movement of air on my newly shaved head.  This, I said to myself, is not a good look.

I learned that getting a haircut on a little obscure side street in a small town, in a developing country, with my limited language skills was probably not the best decision I had ever made.

You, on the other hand, can make better decisions regarding your self-care options and not break the bank.

AFFORDABLE SELF-CARE

Fortunately, there are cost saving options for haircut, color, manicures, pedicures, massage and acupuncture, all to make you feel renewed and wonderful, without the results that I had that day in Leticia.

There are many ways that you, in your own city, can find wonderful bargains on all those special services that elevate you and nurture you. Once I returned back to the United States, I couldn’t bear to pay the cost to go to a high-end spa or salon for hair, nail and body work, so I found other ways to get an affordable quality haircut or wonderful massage that would be perfect for anyone on a budget.

Here are some ideas to consider:

Hair Care and Nails

Woman getting a back massage in front of the white backgroundSchools of cosmetology require students to have a certain number of hours in hair and nails before they can graduate.  They just aren’t going to set them loose on the public without supervised practice.  I have gone to the local school in my town and have received great haircuts for a great price.  Schedule someone who is closing in on graduation, so they have some experience under their belt. A supervisor is observing from a distance as the hair is cut and comes over at the end to check for quality. Hair color, manicures and pedicures can also be had at a very reasonable price.

If you are traveling the country in an RV, or living in park model, you will find that often in 55 and over retirement communities you can find someone cutting hair in the club house or a trailer in the park.  Ask around and you will get a good cut at a good price.

Spa Days

Going to a high end day spa when you are living a on fixed income or limited budget can take a big chunk of your living expenses.  If you put a little money aside every week in a few weeks you will have enough money saved to go to a day spa that won’t require using your grocery budget for the month.  In the area where I live there are lower cost days spa called Korean Spa.  There are many of these located around the country. You can spend the day for about $30.  If you are lucky enough to find a Groupon coupon, you can get a massage at a greatly reduced price.

Massage

treatmentroom2If you don’t have a day spa that is affordable near you, then look to see if there is a massage school.  Massage students are required to log a certain number of practice hours to graduate and become licensed.  Often massages are provided at the school clinic for a fraction of what you would pay to see a masseuse in a clinic or spa.  When booking an appointment, request a massage therapist who is close to graduation.  You can often get a really lovely massage for a very moderate price.

Acupuncture

Many consider acupuncture as part of their selfcare regime and find it not only balancing and healing, but also extremely relaxing.  If you are fortunate enough to have an acupuncture school in your area, check out clinic appointments at the school at a very affordable rate.  Again, request to be scheduled with those in their last year of school.

Groupon, Valpack and Local Specials

Remember to double check those value coupon books that you receive in the mail.  Often there are new businesses opening that offer new client specials for hair, nails, massage and acupuncture.  Groupon is a great resource for discounted services.

Do you have other ideas for affordable self-care? Please share your thoughts below.

 

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Copyright 2014 Budget Retirement / Debra Zulawski  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

Cheap Thrills: 25 Low or No Cost Entertainment Ideas


Do you know anyone who doesn’t love something for free or at a discount?  Retiring on a budget doesn’t have to mean that you can’t go out and have a great time.  It just requires a little creativity and some online research to find activites and entertainment at low or no cost, so you don’t need to spend your entire month’s entertainment budget in one evening.

Lucky for me and a group of friends, a good friend of ours, Karen, takes the initiative to do all the research online and compiles a list of things to do that are free or are quite inexpensive. Every few months she sends an email called, “Cheap Thrills,” inviting friends to come along. The list of cheap thrills ranges from music to festivals to garden shows and community garage sales.  It makes for a fun circle of people joining together to share in a common experience, while being budget conscious.

Go online and type Free Events (Your City) (Month) and you will see sites that post free and low cost activities that won’t bust your budget.

Concerts – Part of the Cheap Thrills list that Karen sends out is a series of musical shows that cost $45 for a series of seven shows. The entertainers are excellent, and are as diverse as the old time do wop of the Diamonds and a traditional Japanese dance troupe. We also have a free summer concert series at the marina in my town weekly throughout the summer.  At the local casino, there is an outdoor amphitheater where some pretty big name musicians come to play.  Many people show up with lawn chairs and sit on the lawn “outside” the venue, enjoy a picnic dinner and listen to the music for free! Check out your marina, city center and local casinos for free concert schedules.

Music – Some of the best music can be found for free or for a small donation or cover charge at small local pubs, taverns,  and coffee shops.  Don’t miss this great opportunity to enjoy unknowns before they are discovered or  end up on American Idol or The Voice.

Theatre in the Park – Keep your eye out for Shakespeare in the Park or other outdoor theatrical productions for an evening of performance under the stars.

Community Theatre – Small play houses can put on some pretty wonderful shows at an affordable price.  I have seen some pretty good shows for $15-20 a ticket.

Outdoor Movies – Many cities have begun offering a free movie night outdoors in the park.  It’s a great way to spend a beautiful summer evening.  Bring a picnic dinner, a bottle of wine and romance abounds.

Summer Festivals – Festivals come in all shapes and sizes, each with their own flavor. They can be cultural, musical or celebrating something specific, such as the lavendar festival and cheese festival in our area, among many others. With festivals come festival food, great people watching, and always a surprise or two.

Farmer’s Market – Head out to your local farmer’s market. Pick up your veggies and flowers for the week and enjoy your community.

Street Fairs – Summer time is the time of the street fair.  Food, art, crafts, music.  Summer fairs provide everything you need to fill a day with fun and entertainment.

Gallery Art Walks and Gallery Openings – Think free wine and hors d’oeuvres while enjoying beautiful and interesting art.

Free Yoga and Tai Chi in the Park – In many locales you can find group tai chi or yoga classes in the park during the summer for free or a nominal charge.

Brewery and Winery Tours – Wine and brewery tours are often free.  The tasting that follows may have a nominal fee, but there is no requirement to purchase wine or beer to take home. So go, learn and enjoy!

Happy Hour – Smaller portion bar menu foods and discounted drinks, sometimes featuring entertainment, can make for a great evening with friends.

Library Presentations – Many libraries offer free classes or book discussions. It’s a great place to connect with others who love reading.

Book Signings – Bookstores bring in authors who are on a promotional tours to help promote their books.  It’s an opportunity to meet the author, possibly hear a reading and get the book signed.

Museums – Some museums allow you to visit certain parts of the museum without paying an entrance fee or they may offer a senior discount.  Call around and see what kind of deals you can find.

Local Community College and University Events –  The local colleges and universities sometimes offer free presentations, discussions, music etc.  At one of these events, we had an opportunity to listen to a Tibetan monk talk about his experience of being imprisoned by the Chinese government, which was both emotional and informative.

Dancing Under the Stars – Summertime is a time to dance under the stars.  Find out if your town or city offers this type of event.

Nurseries – On occasion nurseries and garden centers will host horticultural and gardening demonstrations and talks.

Parades – There are the standard 4th of July parades all over the country, but there are also many traditional cultural celebrations that include parades and performances.  Check with your local international district to see when they will be having a parade.  Think Chinese New Year!

Travel Stores – Some stores will offer free presentations on travel topics or talks by travel authors.  I recently attended a presentation at REI on El Camino in Spain and also one at a small independent book shop presented by a new author.  Both were equally interesting and free!

Senior Center Think bingo! BINGO! The senior center often has other activities besides bingo, including dances, local day trips and other special events.  Stop in and check out their monthly calendar.

Pow Wow – Often at the end of summer and into early fall there will be Pow Wows around the country.  What a great opportunity to join with the Native American community and watch traditional dance while enjoying some flat bread and other traditional foods.  This is an annual Cheap Thrill that I always look forward to.

Free Day at the National Parks – This a day when entrance fees are waived.  So, if you don’t want to buy an annual or day pass, plan to go on the free entry day.  This year it is August 25th, September 27th and November 11th, 2014.

Dining Out – Many restaurants offer discounts for seniors or early bird specials. Before you head out, check the restaurant’s website and do a general search on the internet to see if there is a coupon.  A local Mexican restaurant that a friend and I really enjoy going to has a coupon right there on the website.  As we sat in the restaurant enjoying our meal, we have wondered how many people there did not know they could have gotten one of their dinners for free.

Hikes – Well, this isn’t exactly “entertainment,” but I had to add it in, because nothing tops being out in nature.  Nature calls for you to come outside, get some exercise and enjoy the beauty that is our world.  Bring a picnic to enjoy at your destination, before turning around and heading back.

So, look for the Cheap Thrills in your area.  Make a list, invite your friends and then head out and enjoy!

Help grow this list. What Cheap Thrills have you found where you live?  Please comment below.

 

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Savings Saturday! 20 Simple Ideas To Make Your Money Go The Distance!


Are you trying to increase your nest egg for retirement? Are you already putting money away into savings or a retirement account on a regular basis, but you know you could be doing more?  Or maybe you are living on a tight budget and you just need to find ways to make your money go father. Making simple changes to your lifestyle choices can make it easier to save more.

  1. Volunteer at a theatre. Often they will allow you to go in and watch the performance in-between your volunteer responsibilities. Check with the local theater in your area to see if they have this type of program. This way you provide a service and get to see a show for free!
  2. Reduce the number of times you eat out each month. Homemade food always tastes better than restaurant food, you know the ingredients are fresh and you don’t have to leave a tip!
  3. Party the old fashioned way. Have a potluck! Putting on a full-blown party can add up quickly in the cost department. Ask everyone to bring a dish to share and the beverage of their choice.  Everyone enjoys contributing to the event and feels part of the community. It’s a win-win!
  4. Skip the brand name foods and household products at the grocery store. Private labels products are generally made by the same manufacturers as the well known brands, but cost less.
  5. Save on gas. Combine your trips to run errands with other appointments. If you are close enough to walk to shopping, work or your volunteer activity, well, why not walk and get some exercise at the same time?
  6. Shop around for the best gas prices. Some gas stations offer a discount for paying cash or using a debit card for your purchase rather than using a credit card. Some grocery stores have an associated gas station and using their loyalty card will provide you an additional discount, and some of the big box stores have pumps with good prices right outside in their parking lot. But weigh the distance traveled to get the best price against the amount you would be saving. Check out the phone app, GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas on the go.  The prices shown in the app depend on a community of users updating gas prices, so I am not sure how current the information always is, but it’s worth checking it out.  It’s free!
  7. Go the inexpensive route when cleaning your clothes. Do it yourself vs. using a laundry service, and make it easy on yourself and buy the no-iron shirts.
  8. Shop at the outlet mall. If buying clothing in thrift stores or garage sales (some of my favorite items came from there!) are not for you, then find a local outlet mall near you. They carry brand names with greatly reduced prices.
  9. Get the basic cable package for your television viewing.  Many weekly TV shows can be watched on the computer the day after it airs on TV and some movies can be watched. Netflix can provide you the ability to watch movies with money left in your pocket. Cheaper than going to the movie theatre! If you like the idea of saving a few bucks a month then basic cable may be well worth it to you.
  10. Wait for the latest movies to come on TV, rather than heading to the theatre.  But if you do go to the movies, take a snack in with you.  The prices of food at the movies is out of this world.  OK, so you aren’t supposed to take your own snack in, so if you do get caught, don’t say you got the idea here!
  11. Skip those fast food chains. Although you may think that they save you money in the moment, a cheap meal on the run now can, in the long run, because of the lack of nutritional content and high fat and sugar content, be the cause of an increase to your medical expenses. Be smart. Eat well.
  12. Have snacks with you at all times! This will keep you from running to the fast food restaurant, local coffee chain or convenience store to buy something that won’t satisfy and isn’t good for you. Bring along a travel mug or jar with water, coffee, tea or juice when you head out for the day. A piece of fruit and a bag of chopped veggies, nuts, trail mix or granola will come in handy for those moments when you feel hungry.  Think picnic!
  13. Get a roommate if you live alone and if you have the space. Think of the savings on rent or mortgage payment and utilities and the potential fun! Golden Girls anyone?
  14. Learn what days and at what stores they offer senior discounts. Even the thrift store in my town has a senior discount day. Most shopping discounts for seniors are during the week.
  15. Do it yourself. Using a lawn maintenance service? Start mowing the lawn and weeding yourself. It’s great exercise and you will save a pretty penny.
  16. Sign up for those online sites that send emails of discounted services and activities in your area, such as Groupon, LivingSocial, and Amazon Local, to name a few.
  17. Be careful of the “it’s on sale, so I have to buy it” mentality. If you don’t really need it, then is it really a savings?
  18. Reducing the temperature on your thermostat in the winter just a few degrees can cut down your bill each month. Remember to weatherproof your home by caulking holes and cracks and replacing old weather stripping on the doors, if needed, before the cold weather hits.
  19. Skip the bookstores and head right to the library.  Books are expensive and the library is free.  It’s easy to see that this is a huge savings for rabid readers.
  20. Don’t window shop. It seldom works out well in terms of saving money. Don’t wander around a mall just to kill time.  Head to the mall only when you have something you need and that needed item is on your list. That way temptation doesn’t creep into the saving equation.

This is just a starter list.  Take some time to look at your lifestyle, your monthly expenditures, shopping habits and entertainment choices.  Ask yourself, is it important that I have more in my retirement account or savings as I move into retirement or now that I am living on a limited budget?  If you deem it important, then make the choice, make the change, and save some money!

What have you done to reduce your monthly expenditures?  Was it hard to make those changes?  What made it easier?  What other things have you done to cut costs?   Please share in comments below.

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Poll: You tell me. Is size really important?


Have you ever pondered size?  Many retirees who decide to make a lifestyle change wonder just how big is big enough?

Housing decisions upon retirement for some can become the forefront of discussion.  There seem to be two directions that retirees tend to go.  One is that they stay in the same place they are living, happy with the size of their living space, location, and neighbors. Then there is the other side of the coin, those who decide to downsize and move to smaller housing or get a travel trailer or RV and travel around the country.  Everyone seems to take a different path when they finally break from the working life.

I drove by this trailer a number of times on my way home from work.  Such a curious sight.  I don’t believe I have ever seen a pull behind like this before.  When I stopped to take this picture, a woman who was walking her dog passed by.  Engaging her in conversation, she said this little Hobbit trailer was hers.  Paddle Boat TrailerIt was the tiniest travel trailer I had ever seen.  Can you guess what this type of trailer is called?  I nicknamed it the Hobbit trailer, but it is really called something else. If you take a closer look at the picture you will notice there are latches near the roof allowing the top to be removed!  Guess what you have then? Like magic, you now have a tiny trailer and a paddle boat, a “paddle boat trailer”.  She said that this little guy is over 50 years old, built back in 1962, and, yes, you could sleep inside.  I thought, maybe in 1962 when people were a lot shorter someone could sleep in there, but you would never get Magic Johnson inside that thing, unless he was twisted like a pretzel!

As I started pondering my life after retirement and living on a budget, I thought that a teardrop trailer might be fun for a while, traveling around the country. By comparison, it is considerably larger and has lots more amenities than the Hobbit trailer.  I could visit friends and family and see the country from a whole different perspective were my thoughts.  But then I wondered what I would do on a rainy day?  I would be stuck all day in a space that I couldn’t even stand up in, until the rain stopped and I could go back outside. It clearly wouldn’t be good for full-time Northwest living, that’s for sure. Rains here all the time! Then again, it wouldn’t be good for the hot temperatures of the Southwest region either. It certainly had it’s appeal, providing a sense of freedom from being tied to a location and freedom from being tied to a lot of “stuff.”  I decided it would be fine for a few months, but it seemed too restrictive in size to be comfortable to live in for the long term. Cross the Teardrop trailer off my list.

Next, I started looking into small RVs. Yup. The next size up. You could stand up in those and move around a bit.   As I had never traveled in an RV, my boss who happened to own a 20 foot RV offered to take me out in hers for a day, to experience “RV life”.  While we were out and about, she was doing the maintenance on it, getting propane, filling it with water, emptying the holding tank, replacing breaklight bulbs, and I, well maybe you have guessed it by now, I started considering the size. Could I be comfortable living in a 20 foot RV?  We headed to a nearby wooded campground, rented space for the day and spent a few hours just enjoying the setting.  I love being in the woods, always have. The quiet surrounded me like a blanket. This is so wonderful, I thought, until again, sitting in that RV the thoughts crept into my mind that maybe I would want one just a little longer, maybe just a little more spacious. Amazingly, I had gone from a tiny tear drop trailer to a 30 footer in zero to 60!

That little paddle boat trailer sitting on the side of the street, barely large enough for a Hobbit to sleep in, started me thinking about just how big is big enough?  Do I really need a larger space, or have I just become accustomed to it? Do I keep returning to thinking about size because of cultural conditioning? What pulls me back to thinking bigger is better?

 

 

I believe that in our culture we have too much “stuff.”  Years ago, before I moved to Peru for a couple of years, I emptied the house I lived in, in just one weekend. Sold everything in a garage sale. It was painless for me. It was freeing to release all those things.  I felt untangled.  I felt untethered and free.  So, as I think about size, I know it’s not because I need space for belongings. The belongings can go.  I can release those and they can release me.  So, what is it about size?  I continue to ponder, is size really important?

Do you think size is important?  Could you live in a small space?  Have you already downsized?  What was your experience?

Please share your comments below.

 

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3 Easy Steps To Saving An Additional $20K In Less Than 10 Years


Are you closing in on retirement and your nest egg could use a little boost?  Mine too, so I came up with a plan to increase my savings by just making a couple of small changes in my life.

Step 1. Take an honest look at your spending habits.

Most everyone I have talked with has lost a considerable about of their retirement nest egg over the past decade, or two, due to economic shifts. I know that I am right there with a lot of other hard working and hard saving people who got caught in the crossfire. The challenge for me was that without a huge increase in salary, or moving into a hut in the woods until I retire to cut down on housing expenses, I wasn’t sure how in the world I was going to increase my retirement savings.  What a dilemma, it seemed.  That’s where I took control of my future, taking an honest and detailed look at my spending habits.  What an eye opening exercise that was!  Yikes.  My money was slipping away like water through a sieve.  The next logical question was, what can I do about it?

So, this is what I did and it is going to result in a pretty nice payoff.

Step 2. Replace unnecessary spending with less expensive options. 

When looking at your monthly expenditures, find a daily expenditure of about $5, one that can be eliminated or decreased substantially.  I decided to say good-bye to coffee shop coffee and hello to coffee at home.

I started by cutting out the $5 cup of coffee, one day a week to start.  Overtime, I eliminated the number of trips I made to the local coffee shop during the week, and made my daily order of a grande, soy, extra hot, no whip mocha a special treat on the weekend.  Goodbye baristas!  Hello retirement savings!  I decided to replace those $5 daily trips to the coffee shop with a more cost effective morning coffee tradition.   Now, I make a nice cup of coffee in the morning at home.  It took me a while to find the perfect coffee combination that felt just as special as the one that my favorite barista would make for me, but I did!   I take my freshly brewed cup of joe, pour it into my favorite feel good ceramic mug, and top it with a splash of delicious hazelnut coconut creamer.  I get up just a little bit earlier in the morning,  and after preparing my new favorite coffee drink, I settle into my cozy recliner by the front window where I can watch the sky shift color as the day begins. It has become a lovely tradition and I wouldn’t trade it for waiting in line at a noisy coffee shop for anything!   At work, I switched to tea, just regular tea.  I got used to it.  It’s my new “habit.”  And, that new habit, plus my new morning coffee tradition, is saving me a lot of money.

Making My Morning Coffee At Home: 

Savings per week = $25.

 

Savings per year = $1300.

 

 

Amount saved by the time I retire in 8.2 years?  $10,660!!!

Next, find a $10 expense that you have on a daily, or almost daily basis. Maybe it’s buying bottled water and pop during the day and making a run to the vending machine for an afternoon pick-me-up snack.  For me, the next savings opportunity was not going out for lunch.

Let’s see what the savings amount to with this change.

I easily fell into the “Where do you want to go for lunch?” mode at work.  It is a social time for me, a time when I can sit and enjoy some good conversation and laughs with my co-workers.  The restaurants we go to are middle of the road with lunches running somewhere between $8-10. Usually, we go for Thai or Vietnamese, so the food is healthy, and that was part of my justification for eating out.  Healthy food!  Eating lunch out became a regular pattern for me, as not only was it a time to nourish my body, but also my social soul.  As I looked at my bank statement closely, I noticed just how many times I was going out for lunch each month.  It hits hard when you see the numbers in print!  So, I decided that I would started bringing my lunch, a good healthy, fill-me-up, well balanced lunch and only go out for lunch one day a week.

Making My Own Lunch:

 

Savings per week = $40.

 

Savings per year = $2080.

 

Now, for the grand total, the increase to my nest egg over the next 8.2 years?  Are you ready for this?

 

A whopping $17,056!!!!

Step 3. Redirect that money to an untouchable savings account.

Increased savings, the result of cutting down on coffee and lunches out over the next 8.2 years until my retirement begins, totals $27,716!!!  Woah!  That’s a nice chunk of change with just a couple of small lifestyle changes!

After identifying what expenses I could reduce or eliminate and putting those changes into action, the critical last step was to put that money away somewhere where I couldn’t easily access it.  Under the mattress or in a jar in the kitchen cupboard came to mind, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep myself from just “borrowing” a little of it and, well, you know, promising to put it back.  I had to chuckle to myself that I had even considered that might be an option!

It seemed to me that the best way to keep my hands off that money was to put it in a place where I couldn’t just open the jar and borrow a little of it.  So, I decided to have my payroll deductions adjusted to the amount I was now able to save, as a result of these small changes, and have that amount automatically deposited into my retirement account.  I was already spending it, now I am just redirecting it!

The end result of this redirection of funds gives me an increase of over $25,000 dollars in my retirement savings account when I retire.  The long term results make me smile, as I sit here in my cozy chair watching the sunrise, with my little dog, Maggie Mae and a delicious cup of coffee.

Redirected to Retirement Savings:

 

Coffee shop annual savings = $10,660!!!

 

Eating lunch out annual savings = $17,056!!!!

 

Money redirected to my retirement account in time for my retirement in 8.2 years = $27,716!!!

Have you taken a close look at how you spend your money? Maybe for you it is dinners out, getting snacks at the movies, daily visits to the vending machine, drinking sodas, bottled water or those expensive energy drinks.

What is your money sieve?  With a couple of small changes to your lifestyle, how much more money will you be able to contribute to your retirement savings?  Share your ideas and thoughts in the comment section below.

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Using the “B” Word to Create Your Retirement Dream


The question at hand – Are you ready to use the “B” word?

Dreams

What is your biggest consideration when planning for your retirement?  What questions are you asking yourself? Where you will live?  Will you move to the land of the sun, be a snowbird or stay near the grandkids, family and friends? Will you travel the United States or venture out to the far corners of the globe?  Is your health good or can you get those health challenges in control, in order to open up your options?

Certainly, all of those questions need to be addressed at some point, but before answering them there is one key aspect that needs to be looked at, and that is money.  Maybe you are one of those lucky people whose retirement fund has grown exponentially or has remained stable throughout the economic fluctuations of the past decade or two. However, if you are like most Baby Boomers, your future retirement has been greatly impacted by the economic shifts and you need to reassess and reconsider what your future holds.

Humpty Dumpty

A number of years back, I moved to Peru with a dream of starting a non-profit. At that time, I considered myself pretty set for retirement.  I had worked for over a decade for a large corporation that had an excellent 401K matching program, and as a result, I had stashed away a considerable amount of money. With continued growth of that account, even after leaving the company, those funds would over time have created a very nice retirement nest egg.  Security for the future!  So, off to Peru I went, and during the time that I was in Peru – CRASH! – the market dropped dramatically, and I saw my nest egg go from ostrich to hummingbird in the blink of an eye. To make matters worse, the big bad wolf had snuck in the coup while I was gone, leaving nothing but a tiny shattered shell.

Over time, I worked to rebuild that nest egg, but without an amazing matching program and a financial market that just won’t bounce back, it became increasingly apparent that that Humpty Dumpty had fallen and even all the King’s men weren’t going to be able to put him back together again.  All that I had left was a little shattered egg, laying there in little broken pieces, unable to grow.   Time for a financial funeral, some grieving and then, as healing begins – move on.

Before the big bad wolf had its hay day with my savings, my dream for retirement was to take a trip around the world and see all the places that I hadn’t been to yet.  I wanted to have a nice, modest home and live as I always had, enjoying time with family and friends, attending a wide array of entertainment of my choosing, traveling, adventuring, just living a comfortable life.

Looking for Some Answers

It was time to begin “re-saving”, if that’s a word, and start some major problem solving! With my retirement looming only 100 months away, I started concerning myself with retirement income.  One Saturday morning I got up, made myself some coffee and turned on the computer to start figuring it out.  What were my options? I looked and searched, and looked and searched some more, until finally, with a zillion ideas circling my head, I said to myself – How can I decide what to do in the future without all the information I need? It was then I realized that I couldn’t come up with the answer until I had asked and answered all the right questions.

The “B” Word

So, I started with the basics, a budget.  Yes. There, I said it – the “B” word. Budget. I began looking with a critical eye at my day-to-day spending, down to the penny.  I use my debit card for all my daily spending, checks for some of my living expenses, and credit card only for large purchases or expenses that were emergent. Fortunately, I only had 3 accounts to look at. With a hot cup of coffee, my laptop, and Maggie Mae, my forever companion by my side, I created a spreadsheet that showed me exactly what my monthly living expenses were for the past 12 months.  Included were those expense items that fluctuated, such as gas, groceries, medical expenses etc., as well as those that were the extras, things like travel expenses, entertainment, lunches out, and coffee.  Yes, coffee.  Living in the Northwest corner of the U.S., there is a coffee culture and it sucks the money right out of your bank account.  What an eye-opening exercise this had been!  So long major Seattle coffee chain!  It has been good knowing you!

All of this information went into a spreadsheet for future reference, saved onto the computer and printed out.  Now, I have the information I need to make an informed decision!

Boone’s Farm Wine

As I looked at what my monthly resources will be in retirement, and after detailing out my present budget, and estimating my retirement income, I realized that I could stay in my house after retirement if  A) I never go anywhere, B) I never do anything, and C) I sit in the dark in the evening with a candle for light and warmth, sipping a glass of Boone’s Farm Strawberry wine.  It’s not exactly what dreams are made of. So, after a “feel sorry for myself” moment, I decided to take the bull by the horns and find a way to make it work.  As a result, I have come up with a number of exciting options and I feel optimistic for the future!

Tips

My recommendations to those readying for retirement is to first bite the bullet, sit down and looked at your budget with a fine tooth comb.  Asking the right questions and having the necessary information at your fingertips, will allow you to make informed decisions.

  • Know your current monthly expense. Create a budget based on the real numbers. Make it detailed.
  • Identify your monthly retirement income. Include the guaranteed monthly retirement income from your employer’s plan, social security income, monthly annuity payments.
  • Ask yourself – Does my projected retirement income cover my present expenses?
  • If your anticipated retirement income doesn’t meet your present expenses, then recognize that some creative thinking and problem solving is in order. How much is the gap? If you make some minor changes in lifestyle and spending, can you make it work? If not, then it’s time to regroup and look at options.  Oh, and remember to add inflation into the mix.
  • Take a deep breath and visualize a great retirement. You deserve it. Know that there are a myriad of amazing options out there for you to choose or create, regardless of your retirement income!  It’s like plucking apples off of the tree!

Have you taken the time to look at your present budget and projected retirement income?  What are some ideas that you are doing now that can help close that gap?  Share your thoughts and ideas below.

 

Expat: To Be Or Not To Be…


That is the question.

Does the idea of becoming an expat call to you?  Do you enjoy new experiences, different cultures and want a retirement adventure?  Then moving to another country may be the perfect option for you.

There are many countries that offer a better lifestyle on less resources.  Deciding which one to move to can be overwhelming without a plan, and moving to a new country without completely researching it is a recipe for potential regrets.

For me, moving to another country that is within my budget is certainly an option worth considering.  Having lived outside of the U.S., in both Peru and Guatemala, I know that I enjoy other cultures and adapt well to countries that could be called “retirement affordable,” but I also recognize the need for planning.

“Life might be difficult for a while, but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completes a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.”

 

– David Sedaris

Once you decide that becoming an expat is an appealing retirement option, then it’s important to take time to make the best decision for you.

Read, Research and Ruminate

Do some reading.  There are lots of resources on web, books in the library and videos on YouTube that will help inform you. There is a lot to learn so start dreaming, but back up those dreams with data.  Travel guides can provide you solid information about a country you are considering, the cities, culture, weather, getting around etc.  You will want to have a travel guides on hand when you actually visit that country for the first time.

Vacation

Once you determine that the expat life may be an option for you, then the time would be sooner, rather than later, to begin determining where you will move to when you retire. Vacationing is a perfect way to start.  In the week or two you are vacation in a location you can get a feel for the city and culture your are considering.  If you are not an experienced adventure traveler, then you may want to visit the country of your choice with a tour group first.  You will get an idea of the culture, food and climate from a tourist’s perspective.  You will see the major sites and you may even get some free time to wander around the city.  It’s a great way to get a mini and usually rapid paced look at part of a country.  If it feels right and you think you might be happy there, try to get back a couple more times to explore further, branching outside the city into the small villages, hamlets or pueblos.  It may be that you decide after further exploration, to your surprise, that you prefer small village life over the hustle and bustle of the city,

Extended Stay

As time get closer to making the move, you may want to consider an extended stay in the country of your choice.  Vacations can provide some information about a country and the culture. An extended stay will provide you with a more day-today experience, a closer taste of what life might really be like.

In many countries you can stay in a room in someone’s house. I lived my first 6 months in Peru in a “hospetaje,” somewhat similar to a B&B in the United States, in concept, but with a different cultural twist.  You can stay for a short time or for an extended stay at most of them.  Choosing to stay in this type of accommodation offers an opportunity to meet locals and get to know the owners, maybe even become friends.  It’s a nice way to start your time in new city and is easier on the wallet, and more culturally real, than staying in a hotel.

Another excellent option is to rent an apartment.  In many locales you can rent an apartment for short term leases, month-to-month or a few months at a time.  Living in an apartment will give you a more realistic perspective of what daily life would look like if you were to move there full-time.  Daily life would afford you the opportunity to shop in the market, cook your own meals and occasionally venture out to a local restaurant for a meal or to a pub to listen to some local talent.  It will give you the chance to search out and connect with expats who live in the area, ask a few questions and listen to stories of their adventures.  Most expats are happy to connect with someone from back home who are considering relocation and share their experiences.

Once you have considered the various countries that you might like to live in and decide where you are headed, it’s time to learn the language.

Are you considering retiring to another country?  What research have you done to ensure you are making the right choice for you? Share your thoughts below.

Countdown to Retirement


How Much Longer?

A few years back, I lost my retirement nest egg, not unlike many others, due to the stock market crash, banking debacle and housing market bust. Closing in on retirement age, I started to wonder what retirement would look like for me. Most everything that I had saved was severely diminished by those events – Poof! Nada! Gone! Well, not completely gone, just reduced to a laughable amount. And now, at the age of … well, closing in on 62, rebuilding that nest egg seems like a daunting task. How in the world am I going to make this work? Will I ever really be able to retire? Will I have to work the rest of my days?

One day I realized just how many of my friends were retired. Lots! I would hear of their plans and how they spend their days. They are having a ton of fun! Living the life! Having worked from the age of 13, I am more than ready to move into a life of NOT getting up before the crack of dawn to ready myself for a long commute in the dark, a high paced day of work, and a long exhausted commute home. How long until I can retire, I would think to myself, how much longer? I started obsessively thinking about how to rebuild my nest egg in time for retirement and how long until I can make that shift. Age 65 was no longer an option. Neither was 67. So, 70 it is, I decided! I can do this! I can!

The Countdown

About 30 years ago I remember a high level manager who worked for a large corporation who was getting ready to retire. He would walk through the factory every day of that last year prior to his retirement and yell out to the workers…365! 364! 363! Each day the number would decrease, until it was 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1! And retirement began! What a brilliant idea!

It was a few years ago when my retirement fretting began. Looking back, it started just a year or two before my 60th birthday. I wonder if that is the time when retirement creeps into the thoughts of most people. Anyway, I decided that having a countdown would help. How could I start my count down, I wondered? A little over 11 years seemed like forever! I thought of counting down in hours, but that seemed a little excessive. Days? Way too many! I tried working the numbers in a variety of ways, until I finally arrived at months! I decided that counting months seemed to allow for a more rapid countdown, and once I broke the great 100 mark, it would be smooth sailing from there. I first started my countdown at 136 months. As of this post, I am at 100 months and counting. I see the future ahead. I have my destination date. Now, I just need a plan.

Birth of a Blog

And so, this blog was born…out of fear, anxiety, trepidation of the future unknown, as well as a lot of excitement, anticipation and dreams for the years to come. I focus on the anticipation and excitement, in order to overcome the less than productive emotions of fear and anxiety. Positivity and problem solving are my friends!

On this page, I will take you on my journey to and into retirement on a budget. I will share ideas – the pros and cons – the traditional, as well as the out of the box ideas that arrive without thought, in both my night time dreams and my waking hours. Join me on this journey and please feel free to share your ideas in the comment section below!

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Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
~ Mark Twain