November 4, 2017

Retirement Done Differently


Last month, a reader suggested I explore the journey of retirees who have lived their life a little differently than many of us. That sounded like a fascinating idea. The problem? My retirement has been pretty standard. While I left the working world earlier than I had planned, I live in suburbia, have a steady life, and rather traditional goals for myself and my family. Something may go wrong at some time in the future, but I am not the person to ask about retirement done "differently."

What I can do is share some examples of what a "different" retirement may look like. But, then, the real expert is you. Either you have approached this phase of life on a less-traveled path, or you know someone who has. This should be a an interesting learning experience for us all! I guess this is a natural followup to the previous post about retirement being a personal path.



Examples of a Retirement Done Differently



1. Retire to a foreign country


Becoming an expat is the choice of a growing number of retirees. The State Department estimates at least 9 million Americans live in other countries. Of those, close to a half a million are 65+. Social Security checks are sent to those who live outside the U.S., but Medicare does not apply. 

Of course, in places picked by retirees good health care is often much more affordable than in the States. Plus, housing costs can be dramatically lower, too. For a look as some of the top reasons to retire in another country, click here.

If you'd like to read the stories of those who have chosen to spend their retirement years in another country click here for some of the most popular blogs. International Travel is another site that specializes in expat living: click here.


2. Living Full time in an RV, travel trailer, or boat


Living all or most of the year in an RV or trailer has been well documented. If you love to travel, don't mind small spaces and have few belongings, and can handle basic maintenance chores, living in a recreational vehicle may be the right choice for you. Check out this site for a quick overview of this lifestyle, or this article from the New York Times. Thousands of retirees earn extra money each year by accepting one of the jobs listed in the Workamper News.

One of the best summaries of RV living can be found here. This couple is not retired but their answers match with our experiences. Some of the better fulltime RV blogs are available here. I am a big fan of Wheeling It. They write well and provide plenty of excellent information.

A little less usual but not unheard of is living on a sailboat or motorboat. I found a web site with an excellent overview of what living on a boat full time is really like. Click here.

A new phenomenon is spending most of your retirement on a cruise ship. Not for those on a limited budget, there are benefits: meals are all provided, there is a doctor and medical clinic open 24 hours a day plus most entertainment options on board are free. Someone cleans your "home" every day. You visit fascinating foreign ports on a regular basis.  Actually, I wrote a bit about this choice in a blog post, Unusual Retirement Options a few years ago.



3. Starting over in dream location 


A little over a year ago I had a post about Brett and Laura, a couple who sold all their belongings and moved to the island of Kaua'i. Their blog, The Occasional Nomads,  is an excellent overview of their life, day in and day out, 2,600 miles from the mainland. They aren't hesitant to write about both the mundane joys and problems of living on an island.

Importantly, the couple spend two years researching the idea of a move before committing to such an upheaval. They have family on both the mainland and in Japan, so Hawaii is actually centrally located for them. Take a look at the blog post for some insight into their decision-making process.


4. Volunteering overseas 


Linda Myers has been a blogging friend for several years. She and her husband spend part of the year in Arizona and the rest in their home not far from Seattle. Her blog, Thoughts from a Bag Lady in Waiting, is one of my favorites.

Starting a few years ago, she and her husband, Art, started volunteering at a refugee camp north of Athens. Just this year alone she has been several times. Personally, I find that type of dedication inspiring and encouraging. An overview of her last, 31 day stint, is summarized here. Giving that much of yourself to those who really need your love and support is a special way of sharing part of your retirement.



5. Living off the grid 


I have no idea how many retirees have decided to disconnect from normal support services and live a low cost life off the grid, but I am sure there are thousands. Estimates are that less than a million Americans live without regular utility services. For our purposes, off the grid means not being connected to a normal supply or electricity or water. It might also mean no Internet or cell phone services.

Solar panels, a wind turbine, or generators for electricity, propane as a source for cooking or heating, a well or hauling water from another source, are alternate ways to maintain a liveable environment. A composting toilet or septic system would be involved. The house may be tiny, it may be on wheels, it may even be a canvas Yurt, though none of those options are required for disconnecting.

Why would some do this? I would suspect cost savings is the primary motivator. So is wanting to have as little a negative impact on the environment as possible, as well as living closer to nature. For others, a survivalist bent means being more self-reliant than most of us.

If this subject interests you a beginner's guide to on how to live of the grid  might be a good place to start. A couple's story of disconnecting in one of the harsher places in the country can be found by clicking here. For retirees, cutting as many ties to regular support systems as possible probably means living full time in an RV. (See Section #2 above)



I'd love to hear from folks who have picked one of these retirement paths, or even one I haven't noted. Just as interesting would be someone who tried a different path and found it wasn't for them.





31 comments:

  1. Oh thanks for all those interesting links! I have a single friend who couldn't afford to retire here in the US so she is living mostly in Spain and Mexico. She is an expert in transcendental meditation and so she teaches it in exchange for living expenses. It works very well for her. I think she is my bravest friend. I would never be able to do that alone as she does.

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    1. I enjoyed a version of "arm chair travel" while researching this post. I dreamed of doing what some of these folks did, though I wouldn't ever consider changing where and how I live.

      Even, so, It is interesting to learn about some of the options we have.

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  2. I have friends who live off the grid while in Canada May-October, then spend their winters in Costa Rica. The snow that most of us Canadians experience is becoming foreign to them. Living off the grid affords them this opportunity in their retirement.

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    1. Interesting! 6 months off the grid is quite a feat. After growing up back east and having tons of it, I know snow is something I do not miss in the least.

      One of my daughters is off to Costa Rica tomorrow for a business trip..rainy and mild.

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  3. Bob, we're in a different category. I retired from the Navy's submarine force in 2002 and my spouse's Navy Reserve pension starts in 2022. We've lived on Oahu for 28 years, and our daughter was born & raised here.

    I wrote the book on military personal financial independence and I've blogged about it since 2010. We don't live totally off the grid, but we have a solar water heater (like almost everyone else in Hawaii) and we have a photovoltaic system for generating electricity. These days we enjoy slow travel of months in different countries.

    I donate all of my writing revenue to military-friendly charities. I'm happy to answer questions about Hawaii life, travel, and military benefits.

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    1. Thanks, Nords, for the offer and your situation.

      From what I know after many visits (both business and personal) to several of the Hawaiian islands, electricity is quite expensive. I'm not surprised that so many use the constant sun to take care of some of those costs.

      Arizona gets even more intense sun than the islands, yet solar here is the exception rather than the rule. The primary utilities have the power to control its spread through various pricing policies and have kept its use in check.

      I would welcome a guest post from you about some of your slow travels. Drop me a note by email if you are interested. the address is clickable from just under the blog header.

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    2. Thanks, Bob! I sent you an e-mail.

      Hawaii's photovoltaic net-metering program is much less generous these days too. We took a larger financial risk in 2005, when subsidies were higher, and at those rates it paid for itself in less than six years. Luckily we're grandfathered in.

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  4. Such interesting topics! When we were in Puerto Vallarta a year ago we met a Canadian couple who were there looking for a rental home.The husband had lost his job some years prior to being able to collect the Canadian pension and was unable to find more employment (I think he was in some sort of oil biz.) They had to abandon their original retirement plans and were moving to Mexico. We also have a friend who built himself a beautiful home on property he's owned a long time, in Cholla Bay, (Rocky Point) and plans to retire there in a few years. Ken and I thought we'd want to travel more. But we discovered we really don't like being away from home for too long! Surprise!! Dick Clark (American bandstand) said he only took 5 day vacations all his life! We like the shorter trips too. Ken loves to putter around the property-- fixing stuff, building stuff.. he enjoys his gardening, the cat, my home cooking! I enjoy my craft room, the library, my friends, church, my kitchen--Not sure a month away would work. At least right now do not desire that. We'll spend a whole week in Santa Fe around Thanksgiving.. that will be a lot! Off the grid?? My taste of the "rustic" life up in Pine was quite enough thank you! I like electricity, hot showers, and air conditioning!!!!! It's a blessing to know one's self.. but it is a life long process!!!!!!!

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    1. Betty and I have toyed with the idea of living somewhere else but it never gets very far: family keeps us close. Hawaii for a month or two in the summer would be grand, but that gets rather pricey. Flagstaff is cooler and closer!

      Living off the grid? Never, though I love that my eldest daughter's family have covered their roof in solar panels and have electric bills in the single digits. The program they took advantage of no longer exits so they jumped at the right time.

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  5. I learned a lot in real estate classes lately.. one thing is--In Arizona, solar panels can actually DECREASE the appraisal on your home!!!! When you go to sell, most people have a lease on the panels. The new buyers must qualify not only for the mortgage, but for the solar panel lease. It can kill a deal! Also, I was told that the technology is changing rapidly, and those thick panels will give way to newer tech and become obsolete..there are so many pitfalls..and I feel it shouldn't be! In Az. we could probably get ALL OUR POWER from the sun!!!!!! We need Obama back!!!!

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    1. Good to know about the panels. Thanks, Madeline.

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  6. That said,TWO neighbors have panels and enjoy better electric bills than we do.. and neither of them will be selling any time soon.

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    1. I had read somewhere about people developing solar paint for a house. Don't know if that is a dream or sometime in the future.

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  7. I am waiting for Tesla solar shingles....
    Excellent post! I enjoy living vicariously through other people's dream retirements. I do know one family off the grid in Wyoming. They own a large ranch and it is just easier. Their ranch has a combination of solar, wind and geothermal power. They have internet and life is good :).
    There are several friends who do the RV thing in our circle. It is a good life for them. All of them own a small home somewhere (usually near a child). The homes are "elderly ready", paid off and have low taxes. Life seems good for them.
    Me? I am liking what we are doing.

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    1. I would have thought we would have been one of those part-time RVers, spending a good percentage of the year on the road. But, it was just too much work, too confining, and frankly, too lonely away from family.

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  8. Thanks for the shout out, Bob!

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    1. You are very welcome! Based on your plans starting next year I guess we won't be able to get together when we are thinking of coming to Kauai in 2019! But, your 12 month travel adventure is one for the books.

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    2. I'm sorry too that we won't be here then. We are planning be in Portland that summer though, so if you're up Oregon way maybe we could get together then? Just curious - where do you like to stay when you come to Kaua'i? So many choices, all of them good.

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  9. For awhile Deb and I were seriously considering living the RV life full-time, but never pulled the trigger. We like our home in TN too much, I suppose, so instead we travel the timeshare route 4-5 out of the year. We usually go for about 3 or more months starting sometime in December, mostly in FL and SC. Then we get another 1-2 months in at various places around the country.

    We haven't given up completely on selling our home and going the RV route, and one of these days we might make the leap. But for now we are staying put and traveling a large part of the year

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    1. As I noted in a comment above, we found the RV life too much work. Driving a multi-ton vehicle is tiring, things break, they aren't really made for hot weather, you have to make a lot of compromises, and many of the RV stops have become mostly full-time manufactured homes or people living all the time in a trailer. Short-stay RVers aren't as welcome as they once were except in the much more expensive "resorts."

      I am very glad we had the 4+ years of experiences and travel. But, it was wearing us down by the end.

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  10. Although we have a traditional, suburban retirement my brother has retired in Costa Rica and loves it. He is a bird watcher/photographer and nature lover and Costa Rica is perfect for him. He lives in an affordable, gated community and volunteers at the local schools. He has excellent health care and wonderful weather year round. He enjoys traveling to many birding and rain-forest lodges in the area. He has a blog if anyone is interested:
    https://costaricadecisionprocess.blogspot.com

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    1. Fascinating! I will check out the blog while my daughter is there for a week.

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  11. We dreamed of retiring to the seashore. But the expense ... the constant maintenance ... the in-season crowds of tourists. So we just rent for a month or two and that seems to fill the craving.

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  12. I think we have a fairly standard retirement and we live in the same small house we've owned for 30 years. We do travel to Europe once a year and we spend 3 winter snowbird months in Mexico (average February high 77F). We rent a house in a regular Mexican village that is popular with retirees from Canada & the U.S. If you are feeling even a tiny bit adventurous you could look at where we stay, the Lake Chapala area in Mexico, for a summer visit. It's in the mountains so it's temperate (average July high is 79F so it doesn't change much) there's a good "expat" infrastructure and prices are very reasonable -- you'll find most things are cheaper, often significantly, than anywhere in the U.S. I know a number of "sunbirds" from Texas, Arizona and Florida arrive in the summer and it has many U.S. retirees that live there full time.

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    1. I have heard of the Lake Chapala area but never really considered it as a summer heat-escape choice. Thanks for the suggestion. I will check it out.

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  13. HI Bob, really enjoy your work and always read your posts. I retired at age 53 from the state of TX gov't; that was 10 yrs ago, and through a set of surprising developments, a few months after retiring I started a new humanitarian career with a Swiss NGO, so moved to Montreux, Switzerland. In under a month I reach the women's retirement age here (women retire a year earlier here than men...that's a long story), but I've got a one-year post-retirement contract continuation that's renewable if both parties agree. I'd say that Switzerland is the most perfect place to retire with only one big drawback...the very high cost of living. It's so worth the expense if you can come up with the finances to swing it! I will visit Thailand for the first time and be there for my birthday. Will meet up with a friend of a friend, a British woman who has lived there several years and hear first-hand what expat life is like for her there. I'm still thinking and exploring for my 3rd phase of life after my work finishes in Switzerland. Thanks for the interesting links, esp all the good expat blogs.

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    1. You are the first reader to report the possibility of retiring in Switzerland! My wife and I will pay our first visit to that beautiful country next spring at the end of a river cruise. I hear nothing but good things about it (excerpt for the prices!)

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    2. If you're coming near Lausanne/Montreux area, do look me up. You will love it. Brace yourself for $4 coffees (no refills) and $15 Big Mac menus, etc. But other than that, it's paradise here in every way.

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  14. The area of northern British Columbia where I used to live was a popular destination for back-to-the-landers in the 1960’s and 70’s, for Americans avoiding the draft or following a dream, and for Canadian urban kids pursuing a romantic frontier lifestyle. After a decade or more of building homesteads and living off the grid, or repopulating abandoned ghost towns, eventually many of these people found their way to the small towns in this region and continue to live there today. Many of my friends there had an off-the-grid experience, and I always love to hear their stories. None of them would choose to retire living off the grid!

    Jude

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    1. I watched a Netflix special on Canadians all cross the country who live off the grid. While I applaud their inventiveness and determination, most lived in very unappealing circumstances. The homes were ramshackle, the yards were dumping grounds and they lived near the edge of failure. Not my choice.

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