Forever Home – Far Away From Home

House for sale

Knowing retirement was coming up and fearing I wouldn’t be able to live on Social Security in the U.S., I started several years early and visited both Panama and Costa Rica as possible long-term locations. Even though I was looking at locations with mountains (since my dream included a babbling brook or quiet creek nearby), and a garden so I could fill my days with beautiful, aromatic flowers and herbs right at my fingertips – greenery that wasn’t readily available in Las Vegas, I had a friend in Florida who kept nudging me to come check out the state. He was not put off by my constant gripes that Florida had no mountains, I wasn’t really interested in sand in my shoes on a daily basis and they had hurricanes – not on my to-do list. Nevertheless, he persisted and so I visited a couple of times, with house-hunting at the top of the list. And what do you know? I liked the craftsman homes in the area, the greenery and the old-fashioned neighborhood feel.

I had it stuck in my mind that the thing to do was to cash out my 401K, use it to buy something outright so I’d have no rent or mortgage and then I could afford to live off my Social Security.¬†And so I spent countless hours scouring Zillow and Realtor.com and a couple of others for something that I liked that I could afford. Not an easy task. I discovered that my meager 401K wasn’t going to get me much. I had found lots of places I could afford in Costa Rica but I had no way to check out the areas they were in or even see if the photos matched the reality. That scared me into going back again and again to look at properties in Florida.

I was constantly disappointed at my lack of affordability. The houses I could afford didn’t remotely match my dream and the amount of repairs that would be needed would require even more. I finally decided to stop attempting to make things happen and turn my attention elsewhere. I was sure that if it was meant to happen, it would.

And then one day, I got an email from my friend in Florida that one of his friends had come across a cute little place in her own search and had told him she was not going to buy it but that I should have a look at it online because it had the garden I said I wanted and it wasn’t terribly expensive. spring time gardens

I gasped when I saw the photos. There was a lovely garden and deck in the back and French doors leading from the master bedroom to a screened-in porch. Are you kidding? I wanted that house from the moment I saw the photos. My friend convinced me to fill out the online Quicken Loan information to see how much I could qualify for.

I’m not really sure what happened from there. One minute I was dreaming of a house with a garden and the next minute I had qualified for one, the lender had contacted me for more information and I was suddenly buying a house and would close on it in 6 weeks. Panic set in.

My goal of a stress-free, relaxed retirement turned into anxiety and sleepless nights as I downloaded document after document and started paying for all kinds of not-disclosed-up-front and unexpected expenses like an HOA application fee, an inspection fee, a property surveyPaperwork vortex fee, a title insurance fee, etc. I was running out of money and I’d been instructed not to borrow from the 401K until it was time for the down payment. I was drowning in paperwork (most of which reads like a foreign language and is exhausting to plow through) and my emotions vacillated all over the map – exhilaration, anxiety, despair, fright and excitement.

In the end, I drove across the United States to Florida and although I’m still adjusting to all the changes from my 42 years in Las Vegas, I think I’m going to be happy here. I love the back garden and have plans to transform it into a peaceful haven full of beautiful flowers. I already have the butterflies, birds and squirrels and I love them. But guess what? Gardening is expensive – just one more thing I didn’t anticipate.

You Can Keep Your Advice to Yourself, Thank You

If I thought advice would cease once I turned in my notice at work, I was mistaken. Everybody, it seems, has expert advice on what I should do, where I should go, how I should maximize my Social Security, etc.

Here’s some of the well-meaning advice I’ve gotten.

On my 401K: Leave it alone and let it grow; pull it out and invest in an IRA; cash it out and buy a house so you won’t have a mortgage.

On all the free time: take up a hobby; travel (did they miss the part about my Social Security being about half of what I’m currently making?); get a part-time job (what was the point of retiring?); make a bucket list and then start going down the list; take a gardening class (that works really well on my apartment balcony); spend more time cooking; take up bicycling.

On extending my money: Become a vegetarian; take the bicycle to the store to save gas money; walk to the store; give up Starbucks (not a chance); move to a cheaper apartment (already on my exploration list); get all your doctor/vision/dental appointments done before you leave work so you don’t have to use Medicare; use as little air conditioning as possible (that’s a real winner in Vegas’s 116 degree heat); read only free online books; drop everything except basic cable; pay extra on all credit card payments (I actually agree with that one); cut out the monthly family dinner (not likely since it may be the only socialization I’ll have left).

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I’m kind of tired of it. Ultimately, I’ll make the decisions that fit my personality and lifestyle and, right or wrong, I’ll either be fine or I’ll learn from the mistakes.

 

Fixer Upper?

house

Knowing I would have very limited funds once I retire, I dreamed up all kinds of scenarios in which I could plunk down my 401K and walk away rent-free. Then I would be able to live off my social security and not feel like I had to go back to a living style that was acceptable back in my college days when everything in life was a big adventure. Since I know I won’t have enough money to buy my dream home outright, I came up with the idea of purchasing a cottage in a foreign country at a ridiculously low price so I would have enough left over to develop a backyard hideaway garden.

I turned my attention to a show that would help me do that in a foreign country where the cost of living would stretch my retirement dollars far farther than I can do here at home. That was the basis for that first trip to Costa Rica and the one the following spring to Panama. Not having any idea of safe areas to check out or how to find a reputable realtor and being a fan of all the shows that appear to help you find a home, I sent an email to see if I qualified to get on it. Stupidly, I thought they actually found a reputable realtor for me and then I’d just have to make a decision based on the choices that were presented to me. What was I thinking? The response I got said, “I just wanted to get an update on your moving situation. Do you still have interest in being on the show? I ask because we are currently looking to cast people who are very close to closing on/renting a home or are already living in one.” He went on to say, “Furthermore, you would receive monetary compensation for appearing on the show ($1,500).” Say what? So the real incentive would’ve been $1,500 and the opportunity to see myself on television? I crossed that one off my list.

Then I turned my attention to domestic fixer upper shows, figuring maybe I could afford a cheap Craftsman that could be renovated within my budget to look like a new home and I’d still have some left over to plant that garden. I found tons of great bargains but then the problem was that I didn’t know what sort of neighborhood they were located in. Solution? I decided to take three days of PTO from work, fly to the city and have a realtor show me decent fixer upper areas. What could go wrong with that plan? Well, I’ll tell you. I found a realtor online and sent an email. She answered me by telling me what the average fixer upper in the city sold for which, of course, was contradictory to what I was finding online. I replied that I had found lots of affordable properties online and she didn’t bother to answer me again. I guess she wouldn’t have gotten as much as she was accustomed to by helping me out so I wasn’t worth her time.

Ok, I thought. I’ll rent a car, take a list of the neighborhoods with me and just start asking around in the hotel and restaurants. The only other issue is that I wasn’t really sure I wanted to live the city I was contemplating. As it turned out, one of my cats got violently ill the day before I was due to fly out and I ended up cancelling the trip to care for her. I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe in coincidences and decided that city wasn’t meant for me.

I have a co-worker who tells me I’m over thinking things and I just need to decide on a place and go. I might have done that in my twenties, figuring everything would turn out alright, but I’ve lived just long enough to know that the devil’s in the details and things don’t always work out well. And, if I can make them turn out better by doing some research and planning ahead of time, why wouldn’t I? I think it’s important for me to look at what the weather’s like most of the time wherever I go (I’ve lived in Vegas long enough to hate too much cold weather). Is the property in a safe area? Am I close to good medical care? Do I know anyone there? Is it a green part of the U.S where I can develop that dream garden? What’s the cost of living in that state? Can I afford to live off my social security? And, maybe a stupid concern but, what sorts of insects and bugs are there? How much rain will there be?

So the bottom line is that I’m still toying with ideas on how to accomplish my goals on very little money and getting nowhere fast.

 

Gnawing Doubts

HobbiesAs much as I hate to admit it, work had become ingrained in me. It’s become the way I see myself – a person whose routine for decades has been to get up, put on makeup, get dressed in clothes I’d just as soon trade in for sweat pants and T-shirts and haul myself off to work for the better part of the day. It may not be as easy as I’d like to think to flip the switch to total leisure time.

It sounds great on the surface and I’ve spent several years talking about how I can’t wait to have all my time to myself – the do what I want when I want and sleep late to boot thing – but when I really think about the fact that those things will no longer be for a short week or two each year but every single day, I start to wonder if things will lose their luster. I’ve read all the studies about the seniors who couldn’t wait to retire and had big plans and then died within a few months of doing so. I sure as hell don’t want to be one of those but what makes me any different? Not all of those people retired and then became sedentary around the house. I figure it must have to do with the mentality. But what about the mentality?

It’s difficult for me to imagine a day when I might be bored or depressed. I just have too many interests. Here are some of the things on my to-do list (in no particular ranking). Of course, the problem with many of them is that they’ll require money, something I may have in very short supply once a retire, unless I find a part-time job but then doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of retirement? Anyway, here’s my off-the-top-of-my-head list:

  1. Cooking classes so I find a way to focus on nutrition and yumminess instead of the chore of chopping and slicing (which, of course, feels like work)
  2. Visit Machu Picchu
  3. Take voice lessons
  4. Finish my play and get it published (that’s the one I really want)
  5. Finish my novel that ambitiously hopes to be the first in a series based on my years in show business in Las Vegas surrounded by the “old days” when the mob was here – the Tony Spilotros and Lefty Rosenthals and my subsequent years in casino marketing
  6. Learn to distill my own essential oils and hydrosols
  7. Plan, plant and maintain my dream garden – a sort of hideaway from the world in my own backyard (competes with my play for first place on the list)
  8. Put more time and energy into my essential oil company so it finally takes off
  9. Increase my menagerie to include my two cats and maybe a dog and a bird
  10. Discover a cave
  11. Travel around the U.S., stopping when I feel like it and taking in all the tucked away, hidden spots that are spectacular and only a few people know anything about them
  12. Read all the books and magazines piled all over the house
  13. Become fluent in a foreign language. Although I loved my semester in American Sign Language, it’s also the hardest one I’ve tried to learn but it’s beautiful
  14. Take a pottery class

The bottom line is that I can’t imagine a time when I’d be bored but even though I’m a pretty social person, I’ll need to make an effort to meet people. I won’t be surrounded by conversation all day long any more. I tend to think I’ll like that, but who knows? Maybe that’s the mentality thing I mentioned earlier that eventually gets to you. If you have the answer, please enlighten me. I don’t want to be part of those statistics.