Comparing Where-To-Retire Strategies

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, April 24, 2017

My wife Susan and I have been talking about possible places to retire. Right now we each have completely different thoughts on the subject. It would help if I laid out the possibilities. Making this decision feels like climbing a mountain. Quite often I want to turn around and go back down.


The Least-Effort Lazy Plan

Our house will soon be paid off. We could just stay here. We’ve recently bought a 30-year roof. Since the Social Security Life Expectancy calculator predicts we’ll live another twenty years, we’re covered so-to-speak. Twenty years seems like a long-time and not-too-long time. To give perspective, the film Titanic came out twenty years ago.

Retiring in place has many advantages. We know the city. We have our friends. We have our routines. We know all our doctors, dentists, plumbers, and such.

The main disadvantage is it’s the same old place and we could be living somewhere much more exciting — or secure.

The Secure Low-Maintenance Plan

Maintaining a house, especially while getting older, is a pain-in-the-ass. My idea for the perfect low-stress retirement is to move to a 55+ community and rent a nice apartment. It would need to be well-built and soundproof. I don’t want to hear neighbors or they hear us. But the idea of having no yard is overwhelmingly seductive. I’d also love to live somewhere where we didn’t need a car. I imagine moving to a retirement community near a small city would be a safer place for aging. The bustle of a big city is probably scary while aging.

Living in a 55+ community would also offer lots of social outlets and activities. Plus all the support services would be geared to people our age. Such a lifestyle would maximize free time by reducing chores to a minimum.

The Atomic Ranch Plan

I love old 1950s ranch style houses, like those profiled in Atomic Ranch magazine. If we wanted to keep a house and car, it would be cool to move to small Florida retirement community, find a corner lot with a ranch house, buy a vintage 1950s car, and then recreate a beautiful recreation of our childhood. I could collect 1950s science fiction books, pulp magazines, and old vinyl records. I could put in a 21st-century large screen TV to show old movies and television shows. If I wanted to get really weird, I could drop off the net, and cut the cord to cable.

This retro-retirement-recreation appeals to me, but I don’t think it does for Susan.

atomic ranch

The Cool City Plan

If we’re not quite ready to mosey off to the elephant graveyard to wait to die, we could pick a trendy city to live in and attempt to stay young for another decade. This would appeal to Susan more than me. I already consider myself old. She still loves going to parties, eating out, rock concerts and baseball games. If we chose this path I’d like to find a very liberal city, but on the small side, maybe a college town. I like living in flat cities but wouldn’t mind being near mountains or oceans.

The Not Likely Adventurous Plan

If I had the guts to be adventurous I’d love to live in several interesting cities before I died. I feel bad about not trying to see more of the country or even the world than I have. I traveled around a lot when I was young, but have been in the same city for the last 46 years.

It would be far-out to get a 1-year lease in a new city every year for ten years, and then settle down in a 55+ plus community. Such a plan would require pairing down our possessions to a minimum. We’d have to learn to make new friends quickly, and how to find new doctors and dentists wherever we went.

The Least Likely Political Activist Plan

It bothers me that conservatives have taken over the nation. Conservatives have worked for decades at the grassroots political level to achieve their goals. If liberals want to regain power they need to duplicate those efforts. It would help the cause if liberals living in urban areas would move to red counties, districts, and states. It would help even more if they got involve with local politics and social activities.

The Most Rewarding and Scariest Plan

I have a friend who plans to move to Mexico. I’ve been watching films about expat life with her and reading newsletters and books about living abroad. I’ve never traveled outside the U.S. If I really wanted to enrich my life before I die, living abroad would be the way to do it. It could involve living in a city, an expat community, or even an overseas retirement community.



17 thoughts on “Comparing Where-To-Retire Strategies”

  1. A good medium size liberal city with pretty scenery, great restaurants, active art community and a college town with an active senior learning institute (Olli) is Asheville NC. It does get a bit cold in the winter, but not like up North. It has an excellent hospital (Mission) and is close to many activities and local travel. I highly recommend it.
    You wouldn’t want a 55+, I don’t believe and overseas….I don’t know.

    Just my thoughts…check it out!

      1. I’m in Florida now and there are tons of those communities here and it seems most are much older than 55. I live in a golf community ( I don’t golf) , but it’s all ages although some retired snowbirds and I like the mix. There are homes and golf villas and some planned activities and a restaurant on premises. Just don’t want to feel older than I already am and some of these senior communities have a reputation for being quite the partying place and this is not my cup of tea…I’m sure a good one is great when you find it.

        Another place I’ve heard is great is Ann Arbor, Mich, but again the cold.
        Liberal and artsy and college town.

  2. Well. As you know, unpaid observances are worth what you pay for them. I suspect that many of your readers will provide heartfelt and informative suggestions, and it is a tribute to you and your readers that they do so. This then, is just another one of those.

    Do you need outside stimuli to make you take risks? Can and do you devise couples-based incentives to try new things? Are you constantly looking for outside influences to help/make you look into new ideas and opportunities? And most importantly, do you and your wife discuss and plan for options that you can share together?

    Me? in order: Sometimes, occasionally but not so much, yes and no, and finally the last would consist of a revolution that I have no confidence would keep me in government, much less with influence.

    Granted, that is a somewhat skewed series of comments since my wife has no idea I’m typing them into this email. At the same time, I don’t know that she would care; IF she did then you could get an entirely different set of comments/referrals.

    I suspect that a lot has to do with roots. If you have deep roots in a community, whether based on family or culture then making a major change is tough. Now that “community” has a new meaning, based on shared interests through the ephemeral internet, the “home fires” thing doesn’t have the same impact it did 40 years ago.

    It’s a soul-searching sonofabitch Jim; and even if you can figure out what you want, you still need to figure out what you need – and what your family needs. As someone who thinks first and feels later, I know that I am in the minority among my families. I find that those circumstances make for conflict. I also find that I have to be careful not to enter into said conflict for the purpose of winning, even when I know I can.

    Thus, we come to the idea of negotiation. None of us are new to this idea, although some of us keep coming back to it like its a new deal. It’s not. And it’s a lousy way to make life work. But in my mind, its the best answer I’ve run across in 60+ years.

    When time is short, the best idea may be the one that works the bestest and the fastest. Or as a famous American said, “the fustest with the mostest”.

    Don’t be afraid to jump.

    1. Jim, I am trying to keep my wife in the loop. Actually, this post was aimed at her. She’s made some suggestions verbally, and I told her I’d think about my ideas. We’re both lazy and prone to inertia. But you only get one life, and I’m starting to make an effort to do more with my remaining years.

      What was that movie where the theme was to be ready to jump?

  3. Hi James

    An interesting series of options. I love the Atomic Ranch idea, my wife and I both love that style and I collect 50’s sf. We have been happy in our house for 25 years. We did see a house for sale (not a ranch) while walking the dogs the other day and checked it out online, for the first time we idly thought wow that would be a great house. But not having a 1/2 million extra to throw at it we sat down and the mood passed. We actually are lucky that we have a nice bungalow because we have a real housing bubble here in Canada and even houses in small rural communities are shooting up.

    What we did do when our house as paid off was look for land for a cabin. Out of the blue my brother in law approached us about buying some non arable land on the family farm, we bought 80 acres and with both my brother in law’s help we assembled a kit cabin. Now we spend 3 months there in the summer working on projects like the rain water collection system, visiting family, watching critters and driving around to the small towns. It is nice because it breaks up the year, gives us a change of scene and keeps us busy. Having followed you for some time I suspect it would be a bit woodsy for you.

    But a periodic change of scene with our current home to come back to does help us. I guess it is a bit like mole visiting the riverbank but keeping his hole among the field mice. We also try to take at least one trip a year.

    I know the retro retirement option is unlikely but if you did do it don’t drop off the net. I would want to follow your experience and live vicariously through your adventures. And you will probably need a Hawaiian shirt.

    All the best

  4. Uh, the movie about being “ready to jump”? I guess I missed that one. Hell, I missed most of the cinematic gems over the last 20 years. I remember a movie called “Jumper”, but unless you have some faster-than-light skills, I’m guessing that is not what you mean. And there’s no way you could be referring to “21 Jump Street”. Is there?
    I remember a song that is suggestive of jumping, aka “Ballroom Blitz” but that is unlikely.

    I do remember a meme from my early life wherein this wisdom was imparted; “Stay poised on the balls of your feet. You never know when or where you’re going to need to jump”.

    I’ve stuck with that one, although physical jumping is much harder to do these days than the metaphysical version.

    1. Ah, the anguish of unconnected memories. I remember a movie that one character tells another that there will be times they will have to jump. And then later in the film, which I think was light-hearted, that character hears in his head “jump” and he does, and avoids getting tackled by someone or something. It’s just a lingering impression, so I’m not sure the details are even correct.

      It’s been years since I left the ground. I’m not sure I could jump very high physically.

  5. Heh. Maybe Butch & Sundance – “Whoaoaoao!”

    Or perhaps Keith Laumer’s “Great Time Machine Hoax?”
    You don’t have to jump high if you start at the proper altitude/elevation. Or in the last example, the proper pocket universe.

  6. The Fantasy is always better than the Reality. As you correctly point out, you have about 20 years left. But, the Wild Card is your health. Maybe you’ll only have 10 years of good health and 10 years of doctor and hospital visits before you check out of this Existence. So the question becomes which option offers the best combination of low overhead (you’re going to need money to pay for your medical bills as costs go up) and access to quality health care. You and your wife will need to front-load any travel plans before they become remote probabilities as your locomotion declines.

  7. Gosh. There is so much to discuss here. Healthcare, family (and dis-functional family) affairs. Heirs, and who picks them?
    Extended family who believe they have an absolute right to interfere (ahem, participate) and actual children who either don’t GAF or are just waiting to cash out. And that’s just close family.
    If none of the above are involved, then you two can go your own merry way. Whatever happens after is somebody else’s problem. I strongly urge that the two of you clear the deck of that other crap, and just figure out what you want to do/be.

    “Doo-be-do-be-doo.” Yes, that is a Frank Sinatra reference. Those of you who don’t recognize it can just move on.

    At some point you have to focus on just you/yourselves and what is meaningful to you both. If there is extended family connections, then you need to work on that – as you both wish. If not, and you have given your hearts and souls to a movement or particular issue, then focus all your skills, knowledge and cash on that.

    If that doesn’t work, then you should focus on what makes you happy (again, by each or together). Given an infinite amount of time and money, I’m sure you (we all) would eventually come to an agreement/solution.
    Given the likelihood of the above, I suggest you work on some approximation of what will make you both “reasonably happy” and work on achieving that. As long as you can think (and sign checks), therefore you exist.

    1. I agree Jim, the key is focusing on what we love to do moment by moment, by ourselves, and with people. It’s the daily routines of our lives that really define us.

  8. Personally Mexico is my first pic (and the city where your pic is from is one of my favorite places!) I have traveled extensively within the country and it’s beautiful, safe and cheap. You can live well on $1000 a month. I’ll be heading down there again later on this year to write about retirement. : )

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