An Open Letter to the Involuntarily-Retired
What I Have Learned by Living Part-Time in a Cheaper Country for Three Years
It was 2014. Pot had just been legalized in Colorado. Same-sex marriage had become legal in several states. and the Ebola virus hit American shores in New York. None of those things seem that long ago, do they? How much can happen in three short years?
Since moving to Mexico in August 2014, I’ve written a lot of blogs about the American and Mexican health care system, learning Spanish, building a social life in another culture and the more curious aspects of expat life in Mexico.
This three-year point seemed like a good time to think about where I was going with this blog in the first place, and what I hoped to achieve.
There was nothing unusual about my circumstances in 2014. Like many of us, I had the misfortune to lose my job in the Great Recession. After five years of looking, I got it through my thick, stubborn skull that I wasn't going to get my career back post 50.
My beloved city of Denver had become considerably expensive. Would I be able to afford to stay and still be able to afford it?
If you have been forced into early retirement, you may be thinking of severing your ties and moving to a smaller, cheaper town too. After all, it’s not a bad plan and has worked for plenty of people.
But do you really want to give up your city and the relationships you’ve established over the years? I didn’t. Thus began the Great Experiment.
Contrary to the mindset that when you move to Mexico or a cheaper country, you are leaving your life and friends behind, what I've found is that living part-time in a cheaper country may be what will enable me to keep them: The money that I save living in Mexico part of the year has subsidized the higher cost of living in Denver. It's just math.
But it’s not just about the money I've stretched. I will promise you that moving to another country rather than a cheaper neighborhood will make you grow as a person.
Adapting to another culture will test how much your beliefs have calcified since you started working (You will be surprised). You will see yourself as others see you in a way you can’t when you share a language.
You may be pleasantly surprised. I was often appalled. The graciousness of the Mexican people was like a a mirror and I didn't always like what I saw.
Living in another country makes you just uncomfortable enough. When have you ever grown without a degree of discomfort?
Now maybe you’re done growing. Maybe you are who you are. I hope not because if you don’t grow and change (hopefully for the better), you disappear.
Another thing you learn with a two-country system is how to let go.
In the Buddhist religion, clinging and grasping are at the root of all of our suffering. While he wasn't a Buddhist but rather a Baptist pastor, F.B. Meyers summed it up like this:
As long as the bird lingers by the nest, it will not know the luxury of flight. As long as the trembling boy holds to the bank, or toes the bottom, he will not learn the ecstasy of battling with the ocean wave.”
It’s not always easy to let go. I have to confess that it’s difficult to leave Mexico, and in turn it’s difficult to leave the U.S.
Each pending departure makes you look at the things and people you love in a whole new way. Your social calendar jams up in the last month as you and your friends try to spend extra together.
You might see them more in the weeks before you leave than you did in six months before you adopted this lifestyle. We all want to spend more time with our friends. You will ask yourself, “Why can’t it always be like this!”
The weeks before your departure is when the guy (or girl) you’ve been working-out next to for months at the gym decides it’s time to start a conversation. It’s when the band you’ve always wanted to see finally comes to town (ironically for me, it was Maná, a Mexican band).
Of course, moving to another country, even part-time, is for the select few. According to H.P. Lovecraft, the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest fear is fear of the unknown.
The only solution to any kind of fear is knowledge. If the idea of a two-country life does intrigue you, as you do the research you can be comforted by the fact that at least a million American expats live in Mexico alone. Most of them are probably over 50. That doesn’t include all the part-timers and snowbirds.
Their old life in the U.S. often seems just as unreal to them as expat life may seem to you now.
This blog has never been about abandoning your current life completely though.
For one thing, I’ve never done that, and I've always promised you only first-hand accounts (or damn close). Not that full-time expat life isn't something to consider if you're really fed up.
In the meantime, my personal experience is that you can build two equally satisfying and far less routine lives for less money than it takes to have one (I live on between $25,000-$30,000 a year, splitting my time between my apartment in the nicest neighborhood in Denver and the various places on the ocean when I’m in Mexico).
The information to get your feet wet is all here in these blogs. Whether or not you ever buy a book or a product, there is ample advice to get you started, written by someone who's doing it. Aside from the more introspective blogs, here you will find out about
- The best practices in subletting your apartment or renting your home worry-free,
- How car-sharing services make a lot of sense when you live part-time in the U.S.
- Why even a little Spanish saves you money and maximizes the expat experience
- How much you save on entertainment, dining, pampering, and food
- Why you should be worried (very) about the American healthcare system and how Mexico’s compares
- Videos of different styles of living in Mexico, from mobile homes to funky expat complexes.
- How to cut your phone expense by 60% and other technical challenges
You will see that far from what you read, Mexico is very safe, especially for expats.
Thanks for your interest in my journey, I hope it inspires yours.
Drop me a line if there’s anything in particular you’d like to know.
Related Link: The retirement crisis for Baby Boomers is real, as discussed by the Star Tribune.
Most recent: Websites administered in Spain offer some of the best free tools, especially their radio/video sites.
Coming up: To celebrate the publication of my new book about renting in Mexico, I'm giving you a playlist (a sure sign of my lack of marketing ability).
Kerry Baker is the author of this blog and two books, the Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online, and If Only I Had a Place, on the ins and outs of renting in Mexico.