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Recently, we read a New York Times article by Joe Nocera called My Faith-Based Retirement.
It was a cheerless piece detailing the failure of 401k’s as an investment vehicle, the decline of pensions, the lack of employer-sponsored healthcare benefit plans and the consequent reduction of Boomer’s retirement expectations. A dreary, rain-drenched, out-in-the-street future was being painted focusing on stark data from EBRI that states: “only 22 percent of workers 55 or older have more than $250,000 put away for retirement and 60 percent of workers in that same age bracket have less than $100,000 in a retirement account.”
Taking this information as the only premise from which you work out your retirement, you may as well give up. Just chuck the idea of having any appealing options, start on the cat food now and simply get used to it.
Houston, we have a problem
Remember the 1995 movie Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon? The future of these astronauts looked pretty bleak also, with the seeming possibility of arriving back to earth safely being all but a lost dream. What they did – what they HAD to do – was put everything available to them out on the table and take a hard look at what they had to work with. There was no room for mental darkness, no room for whiners. And time was running out.
From unrelated bits and pieces they fashioned the part they needed to repair a life-threatening problem and made it unscathed into their future.
If you find yourself in a future-threatening financial situation today, you, too, need to ask yourself — “What do I have available to me, and how can I make it work?”
But… but… but…
When we retired over 20 years ago, we had no pension and no guaranteed healthcare plan. We were 38 years old and too young to draw social security. Today, that situation would be described as a crisis. In the wisdom of the current moment, we would be told that our retirement is out of the question. Talking heads would paint a bleak picture, emphasizing the drop in our standard of living and the possibility of bankruptcy due to medical costs.
Accompanying this gloomy description from the media would be the bleating chorus of: “If only Wall Street wasn’t so greedy. If only the housing market hadn’t gone bust. If only health care was guaranteed and free. What a shame to find yourself in this state of affairs at this time in your life. Don’t rely on yourself, all is lost.”
Back to your future
In those long-ago years we chose to look at creative combinations to fashion our future. Mind you, there were no guarantees our plan would work, and there still aren’t any today. Our stance has always been to take advantage of options that are available, and make the most of them.
Keep in mind that it’s impossible to reach for the stars when your nose is pointed to the shadows. Caution! Looking only at the dark side of a situation is a dangerous road to walk. Believe us, you can find anything you want to support that line of thinking.
Instead, why not reduce your spending footprint, and increase both your lifestyle and financial longevity by looking at other places to live?
Some inspiration and a practical plan
According to the U.S. Government Social Security Website, the average monthly benefit received in 2012 will be $1,229 per retired worker. That equates to $14,748 annually. For easy math, let’s call it $15,000.
Billy and I just finished living in Panajachel, Guatemala for 6 months on just over $34 per day. That equates to $12,550 a year, and that was for the both of us. We ate out, took boat rides across gorgeous Lake Atitlan, sent presents home to family and friends, grabbed beers at a bar with friends and drank the best tasting cappuccino every afternoon.
It was not a hardship.
We met other couples in the thriving Expat community doing the same exact thing – living in beauteous surroundings with views of volcanoes, the lake, or majestic waterfalls and paying as little as $200.00 per month rent. All of us chuckled to ourselves over our good fortune.
Living in this location on one’s Social Security payment would be a breeze. If there were two checks coming in, you’d have money to spare. Medical care in the larger cities of Xela, Antigua or Guatemala City is top notch, and there were several dentists in our town of Pana who were highly recommended.
Don’t like Guatemala? Try Chapala or San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Medellin, Columbia, Chiang Mai, Thailand, Silver City, New Mexicoor any number of exotic, exciting and easy-to-live locations. Open your mind; open up to your options.
If you are one of the “unfortunate ones” who only have $100,000 in retirement savings, you can still bump your $15,000 annual Social Security income up another $5,000, and that $100,000 will last you 20 years.
The American Expectation Syndrome
Do you really want to keep your current standard of living? How’s that working out for you? If supporting this lifestyle involves the pressure of maintaining a mortgage, car payments, upkeep and fuel, credit card debt and hefty monthly payments – you may want to think twice.
Just because someone else imagines that you are “taking a cut in lifestyle” doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s entirely possible that they don’t know what they are talking about!
It may take a while for you to find the right combination in your new lifestyle. Allow yourself time. There is a natural process in letting go of the “American Expectation Syndrome.”
Years ago when we first retired, we had been living pretty high – we had a new home, and were illustrious members in the local town. We had gardening service, house cleaning service, dry cleaning service, and we owned two new cars. Dining in the best places wherever we went, we took high priced vacations, and our medical care was paid for through our employer (which of course, is no longer the case). We expected our lives to go UP from here (which meant more spending) and we “couldn’t” see value in simplicity.
But the stress was too much. We came face-to-face with some very significant personal choices. Keep up our expectations which incurred more spending and therefore more pressure, or simplify and set ourselves free.
We chose freedom
To be honest, the hardest part of the transition to retirement (and our freedom-based lifestyle of today) was just letting go of the psychological and financial weight of having these expectations. Equally as hard, was letting go of peer pressure to consume, peer judgments over our choices and our peers’ expectations – of us and of themselves.
However – just to clear away any confusion – we have been retired now for 22 years, have traveled the globe and opened our world (which has gotten larger not smaller), and our friends have continued to work for the last 2 decades. Now those same people are wondering how they can ever afford retirement.
If you feel that your retirement plan is in tatters, why not put everything you have on the table, take a hard look and be willing to consider the possibilities that are right in front of you?
There are many workable solutions if you are willing to look.
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.