How to Retire Early: 5 IL Readers' Stories
“What makes you happy? The idea of never having to shovel snow again…never having to worry about mounting bills and the rising cost of living…spending your days doing what you want to do?
All these things make Cheryl happy…and she created a better life for herself when she retired early and moved to beach town Nicaragua.
Read her story below…
A Happy Early Retirement by the Beach For 75% Less Than Back Home
By Bonnie W. Hayman
“In the U.S. and Canada, people are driven to accumulate things, to work all their lives, to hold on and amass more and more, to own their house before they die. And for what?” says Cheryl Lafond. “All I wanted was a way to live a simple life, to be happy, and enjoy my surroundings,”.
The Canada native was in her early 40s when she lost her job as a safety officer in the oil and gas industry. Although was wasn’t near retirement age, she didn’t feel like scrounging for a job along with everyone else during such a bad economy in her hometown of Calgary.
So instead, she decided to retire early…to Nicaragua.
Cheryl now lives in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in the beach town of San Juan del Sur, and she feels right at home. She especially likes her rooftop patio for relaxing and she’s only three blocks from the beach. For $400, plus electricity, she has everything she wants here.
In Canada, Cheryl’s mortgage alone was $2,000 per month, which was cost-prohibitive without a job. Her total cost of living each month was coming to $4,000. In San Juan del Sur, Cheryl can live off her savings and she generally spends around $1,000 a month.
Cheryl has made lots of friends in San Juan del Sur and she enjoys meeting them for drinks and meals. And with over 60 restaurants in town, she has plenty of choices. But her favorite way to spend time with friends is lounging at the beach, where they can get fish carpaccio, chicken wings, or a veggie wrap each for $1 and a beer or rum drink for the same. And the killer sunsets are free.
“I’m an outgoing person, so it was very easy to make friends here,” Cheryl says. “But even if you’re not, there are so many activities to join…and that’s where you start meeting people. I participate in water aerobics, trivia, happy hours, and I do it more often now that I'm retired and don’t have to get up for work the next day. Who would have ever imagined that I could live a retired life when I was so young?”
Nicaragua’s warm weather was a big draw for Cheryl. “Who enjoys shoveling snow, walking in freezing rain, staying at home because it’s simply too cold to go out?” she says. “Here in Nicaragua, I live in a beautiful beach town where the weather is sunny and warm all year round. I’m surrounded by palm trees, plants, and flowers. Every now and then I see monkeys playing or beautiful birds flying by.”
A piece of advice that Cheryl offers to anyone considering living in Nicaragua is to learn Spanish. “I only speak a bit but I’m learning all the time and it's important to learn the language of the country you live in,” she says. “Then you get to know the locals as well and that makes such a difference…wouldn’t you always want to have friends from the country you adopted?”
Cheryl is loving her life by the beach in Nicaragua. “For me, I couldn’t have found a better place to retire so young,” she says. “Everything is so simple here. I do what I want. No one bothers me. I wear shorts or summer dresses and flip flops all the time.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m in a dream, it's so surreal to be here. The weather and simple lifestyle are perfect for me.”
The current retirement age is 66 in the U.S. and 65 in Canada, and it’s set to rise even further…climbing to 67 in the U.S. for those born after 1960.
But more and more, people are looking for ways to retire early…to places where the low cost of living means you can live comfortably even before your Social Security payments kick in.
Janette and her husband realized that, with some savings and the equity in their property, they could begin living their dream retirement at an age most people could only dream of…all thanks to the affordability of life in Ecuador.
Read their story below…
I Retired Early Thanks to Ecuador’s Affordability
By Janette Sullivan
Nearly four years ago, my husband, Brian, and I decided to pull the pin and move from Ontario, Canada to Cotacachi, Ecuador. This is not all that uncommon…except that we were 45 and 33 years old respectively.
The main question that people asked me was “What are you going to do with yourself; you’re too young to retire?” The honest answer to that was that I had no idea what I was going to do with my time. I would say “I’ll go for walks and work in my garden.” Little did I know that when I got here, I would soon become so busy that I didn’t know how I even had time to work before.
We first traveled to Ecuador six years ago, and fell in love with everything about the country. We loved it so much, we returned a year later and bought a house. We bought a two-story, three-bedroom, three-bathroom house in a small development for $61,000. It was originally supposed to be a “five-year plan,” but after a few visits to furnish our house, and spend time here, we had no idea why we were waiting.
Actually, it was receiving a property tax bill in the mail that really made me say “why are we waiting?” It didn’t take long after that to make the decision to quit our jobs, sell the house, and pack our four suitcases and two cats.
Another question that people often ask is how we can afford to retire so young. It’s surprising how much money you make when you sell everything: house, household goods, cars, etc. We made a long-term financial plan, and taking into consideration the money that we made from selling everything plus our savings, we determined that it was doable if we lived on a budget. And with the overall cost of living here being much less than Canada, the money goes much further. We could never have afforded to retire and live in Canada at this age.
We set ourselves a budget of $1,800 per month. This consists of monthly utilities ($100), groceries ($300), a cleaning lady ($60), coffee dates and eating out ($200), gas and vehicle expenses ($100), health insurance ($190), and the rest for entertaining, traveling, and all the other things that make life more enjoyable. In nearly four years, we have yet to exceed our set budget in any given month.
As with moving to any new place, it took a while to meet good friends. I tried to participate in as many things as possible to facilitate this process. I met my first good friend on a cheese tour at a local dairy farm. We sat beside each other on the bus, and clicked instantly.
I started volunteering at a soup kitchen, which was a very rewarding experience. Not only did I begin to learn about the culture, and get to know many local Ecuadorians, but I met other expats as well. I also joined a hiking group, and this is where I started to meet more people who shared the same interests as me.
I soon met the four most amazing women, and before I knew it coffee dates and “ladies nights” were part of our regular routine.
Within a few months of living here, our friends and family started to cash in on our open invitation, and it was fun to show off our new corner of the world. Over the first few years we had a regular stream of visitors. We would take them to all our favorite places like the local hot springs, Cuicocha Crater Lake, Otavalo Market and, of course, the equator line.
After nearly four years, we are still very happy with our decision to retire early to Ecuador. We lead fulfilling lives and wouldn’t change a thing.
There are plenty of reasons to retire early overseas.
There’s the low cost of living that all the countries on International Living’s beat offer. There’s the excellent weather you get when you move to a tropical, equatorial, or Mediterranean climate. There’s the slower pace of life you find in a laidback culture.
And then there’s that feeling you get when you relocate to an environment so different from the one you’re used to…the feeling that you’re living somewhere exotic.
That’s the feeling Harry craved when he decided to retire early overseas. And the fact he could live a more relaxed lifestyle for less was the icing on the cake.
IL Chiriquí Correspondent Nanette Witmer tells you his story below.
$1,350 a Month for an Exotic, Relaxing Early Retirement in Panama
By Nanette Witmer
Harry Brouard retired early, moving from his home in New Jersey to Florida. But moving to Florida wasn’t quite enough, he felt that he still needed more. When recalling his life in Florida Harry says, “I quickly realized that I wanted something different, a more exotic lifestyle.”
He decided to take his retirement overseas.
Harry chose Panama as his new home for its retirement incentives and cost of living. He spent the next two years visiting off and on and did his research to decide if Panama was the right choice for him. He said, “I fell in love with the town of David in the province of Chiriquí. Using the Pensionado (permanent residency) program, I moved here in late November of 2014 and I am here for the long haul. I've been here for three years now and only went back to the states three times on different occasions.”
Harry loves his life in Panama. “It is much simpler and much more affordable than any state back home. Using my Jubilado (senior discount) I can shop in most fancy malls or any mom-and-pop stores or restaurants, where a typical lunch costs no more than $4. Or I can choose a lunch from $8 to $10 if I want.”
He finds his life in the province of Chiriquí to be pleasant, with most stresses reduced due to the slower pace of life. “Sometimes I don't even know what day of the week it is, let alone the date,” he says.
Harry’s days are pretty easy going, starting about 6:30 a.m. until about 11 p.m. “I do whatever I want: some exercises early morning, breakfast while watching the news from back home and some from Panama, I read a bit, then go out shopping downtown or to the modern malls in this area. I may meet a friend for lunch or do any other activities that I need to or that just please me to do. I usually eat in local restaurants when downtown. There's always a chance to talk to people who want to talk to you and knowing at least some Spanish makes life so much more pleasant, as you're better appreciated. It doesn't take much to be qualified as a friend here. Wherever you go, you’ll find the locals friendly and helpful, if you make the effort to meet them.”
Rent is less than a quarter of Harry’s monthly income. He lives in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom private home in a safe neighborhood. All monthly expenses including rent, car insurance, health insurance, groceries, utilities, internet, and cable TV rarely run over $1,350 a month, and that includes eating out.
The area of the Chiriquí province has lots to offer. In about two hours’ drive you can get from the beach where its hot and humid to cool mountain towns.
Harry says, “My advice to anyone relocating here is not to fall in love and buy the first house you see. Live in the town for a while, compare with other areas. Be familiar with the services available… Just do your due diligence before investing in such a long-term commitment.”
There are some differences to life in North America, which he says take some getting used to. “If you can live, or learn to live with the nonchalance and slower pace of life, come and spend some time here,” Harry says. “Then come back at a different time of the year to learn and experience what it really means to be a resident of Panama.”
On June 14, 1985, near the tiny town of Schengen, Luxembourg, an agreement was signed that would prove to have a significant impact on anyone interested in living internationally in Europe.
The Schengen Agreement led to 26 European states essentially being turned into one country for purposes of visas and passport control.
Tim and his wife Christina have taken advantage of the rules of the agreement to retire early and spend their retirement exploring Europe without having to worry about the hassle or costs of visas every time they move. They’re living a jet-set European adventure…and doing it all on their pension income.
Read their story below…
We Retired Early – Now We’re Living All Over Europe on $2,600 a Month
By Sarah Daggett
“Traveling is a fountain of youth,” says Christina Daggett, as she sits down to dinner with her husband, Tim. It’s evening in the town of Hawick, Scotland, where they are currently staying. “I can’t imagine going back to the States or our old lifestyle. Nothing could be better than what we’re doing now.”
What they’re doing is traveling around Europe on their pension income. They’ve explored 16 countries so far—all on $2,600 a month.
Their life of travel began in 2009. Tim and Christina moved to Ecuador when Tim was offered early retirement from the postal service. “We chose Ecuador after reading about it online,” says Tim. “The cost of living was so low compared to the U.S. The climate was perfect, the landscape beautiful, and we could live there without a car.”
Although happy in Ecuador, the couple thirsted for more adventure. After a couple of years, Tim asked Christina, “If there was a way we could travel through Europe, would you?” Her response was an immediate yes, so they went home right away and started their research.
“When I started reading about Schengen and non-Schengen countries, I realized this was our chance,” says Tim. “We could live in a Schengen country for three months and then move to a non-Schengen country for three months, alternating between the two.” (The Schengen area includes most of the EU—U.S. and Canadian citizens can stay in these countries for 90 days out of every 180-day period.)
In 2011 they packed their suitcases and went to Budapest, Hungary. “We got our first place on Craigslist, which can always lead to being scammed,” says Tim. Fortunately, they later discovered Airbnb, which was just starting to gain popularity.
“Airbnb was an absolute miracle for us,” says Tim. “We can so easily find an apartment, plan our trips months in advance, and have a secure way to pay.
“Don’t limit your Airbnb search to one specific city like Paris or Rome. Search within a wide area, or even the whole country in general. We shop apartments first by price, and then we look up what city they’re in.”
“By doing things this way, we have found so many lesser known cities that have fewer tourists and have given us a much more authentic experience,” Christina says. “We were in Ukraine, waiting for a train to Kiev, and knew it would be a few hours, so we walked over to a bar nearby. We met a group of university students who were very curious about us. We bought a bottle of vodka and shared stories with each other.”
The Daggetts rent apartments in buildings full of locals and shop at the grocery so they can cook at home most nights. This approach easily keeps them within budget.
“On average, we spend around $700 a month for rent, and a further $1,200 a month for all other living expenses. That includes groceries, public transportation, and at least two days out each week to places like museums,” says Tim. “We’ve lived in supposedly expensive countries, like France and Italy, on this budget.”
One of their favorite places was Dazio, Italy, a gorgeous town in the Alps only a couple of hours from Lake Como. “It was a town with zero tourists, and we lived below a real Italian family,” says Christina. “We would sit downstairs eating spaghetti and pinching ourselves, thinking we couldn’t really be where we were.”
Health can also be a big concern for many retirees from the U.S. But Tim says it doesn’t have to be. Dental work is significantly cheaper in countries in the Balkans, for example, and very good. “Pharmaceuticals are very cheap in many countries here, especially in Eastern Europe, and most of the time you don’t even need a prescription.”
As for their relationship, Tim and Christina say they feel closer than ever. “When we lived in the U.S., Tim worked at night and I worked during the day,” says Christina. “We never saw each other. Now we get to spend every day together and we couldn’t be happier.”
IL Thailand Correspondent Michael Cullen and his wife, Vivien, were looking forward to retirement. They wanted the freedom to pursue their passions and live a better, richer life…and they didn’t want to wait.
But the spiraling cost of living meant that early retirement at home was not an option. So, they began to look overseas and Thailand, with its easy retirement visa, good reputation for medical services, and low cost of living, stood out.
Then they discovered the coastal town of Hua Hin and everything fell into place…
The Freedom, Fun and Adventure of an Early Retirement: At Home in Hua Hin
By Michael Cullen
When my wife and I decided to retire in our mid-50s, the cost of living was a big factor in choosing our perfect destination. We didn’t have buckets of cash stashed away—just our meagre savings and proceeds from the sale of our home and other assets. That meant our “new life” overseas had to come in well below what it would have cost us to stay at home.
We coined the term “new life” because we did not want to replicate what we had before—we wanted new…new opportunities…new discoveries…new adventures…
I’ve always had a passion for photography and said to myself, “one day I’ll learn.” But working full time that “one day” just never seemed to come. Photography requires dedication, discipline, and continuous practice to improve. Now, happily retired in Thailand’s royal resort town, Hua Hin, I’m finally free to pursue my long-held passion.
We chose Hua Hin partly due to its location; just a three-hour drive from Bangkok’s two international airports, we knew friends and family would find it easy to visit us. Combine that with the inviting four-mile-long beach and strong expat community and we knew we were onto a winner.
In fact, we were so happy with our decision that we bought a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house, complete with a pool and surrounded by a small tropical garden. All in, it cost us just under $112,000.
Hua Hin has been home for over a year now and we’ve certainly been able to prove to ourselves that a very comfortable, varied, and fun life can be had for less than a third of what we spent back home. Our monthly budget now comes in at around $2,000. Included in that is $20 for our mobile phones, internet for $30, and vehicle running costs are around $70. We also spend about $60 on outings in the local area plus around $320 on entertainment and dining out.
Thailand is such a fascinating place and we are loving learning about the culture, cuisine, and history. Vivien has immersed herself in learning the language and my Thai cooking skills are developing well. A tasty breakfast of tropical fruits like papaya, mango, sweet pineapple, and bananas—all fresh from our local food market—really is the best start to the day. Around $12 will give us enough fruit and veggies to last the whole week.
Cooking is another of my passions and when I posed the idea of a Cookbook Club to some of our new expat friends they jumped at it. Our club was off and running almost immediately. Every month sees all 10 “cooks” and their partners sitting down to a feast from a selected chef’s cookbook. We challenge ourselves by cooking a brand new recipe and it all comes together in a very fun and social environment with tasty food galore.
Travel is another great love for us and Thailand offers such incredible opportunities for exploration. Spectacular off-the-beaten-track beach locations, ancient cities to rival Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, and national parks of unique beauty and habitat, populated with rare and exotic species of plants and animals. Every chance we get, we’re off exploring—who wants to sit at home when there’s so much to see and do…much of it in our own backyard?
Coming back from a recent road trip to the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, Vivien said, “Remember when we worked and a vacation came to an end, we would start thinking about work; the amount of stuff that had to be dealt with on our return. Stress levels automatically kicked in just thinking about it. But now, we’re permanently on vacation, we have none of those stresses.”
And she’s right. A permanent, stress-free vacation. Who doesn’t want that?