I’ve never been great with money. In my early career, I made more than enough but didn’t know what to do with it. As I matured, I figured out a few things to do with it, but no longer had enough of it to make much headway. What I was, was great with people. I loved them.
Over the course of my career, after an eight-year military stint that took me to, among other places, Vietnam the Philippines and Alaska, I‘d worked in sales and management and owned several successful businesses. I eventually found my way into the non-profit sector, where I spent the bulk of my working years. I spent more than a decade working directly with sexually abused and emotionally injured children who had been removed from the custody of their parents. Later in my career, I worked with senior citizens and then with state and local governments on highway safety issues. There wasn’t much money in what I did, but I loved the work.
Diane taught Kindergarten for years and then began to do social work for a national mentoring program. We have never been a “Power Couple” by any standard, and certainly not wealthy. We each sought personal satisfaction from our careers and what fed our hearts didn’t make us a lot of money. There were also prior marriages and divorces with settlements and assets lost and redistributed and the accidental death of a son. Life happened.
I always envied those people who had 401K retirement plans, stocks and bonds and other investments; vehicles I imagined would provide them with a solid retirement. We weren’t in that category. We spent our money paying all the regular bills that families have. We never took regular vacations. Our “splurges” were the occasional dinner out with a movie. We had a house. It wasn’t fancy, but it was home.
The Crisis Worsens
And while the experts advise “pay yourself first”, that wasn’t always an option. Perhaps a bit late, we did set up a couple of modest money-market investment accounts and mutual funds. We checked our meager balances every few months, secretly hoping to see some growth.
Then, the financial collapse happened, nationwide…worldwide and in our own household. In addition to the financial circumstances we and millions of others were facing, in rapid succession, I had my second heart attack and lost my job. Our family income dropped by 65% in an instant. I was nearly 60 years old and competing in the toughest job market in generations. As the housing market crashed our home lost about 50% of its value seemingly overnight.
A series of geological sinkholes in the immediate area lopped off about another 1/3 of its value over the course of several months. We had bought right at the peak of the bubble, and quickly found ourselves under water. What little we had squirreled away was slashed in half in a matter of weeks. While I eventually found some minimal income, we entered a slow, downward spiral, made worse by the loss of my job-related health insurance, large medical bills and ongoing prescription costs. And the other thing is, well, I was tired. Not like tired from a long day or the recovery from my heart attack, but tired like I’d been running a marathon for 60 years. I wanted off the hamster wheel.
The three years that followed were the most difficult I can remember. We could no longer concern ourselves with retirement, but had our hands full just getting by day to day. As challenging as those times were…and they were, we made radical adjustments and crawled along a very bumpy path. We started a couple of small businesses and slowly regained some footing. Diane was working and her career was stable, but her income as a social worker has always been modest. I was now feeling panicked at the prospect of an underfunded retirement or working until the day I died.
Feeling Like Superman…A Plan Emerges
Over the years, I had heard of folks who went to Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize – some exotic sounding South or Central American country to retire. A regular person could live well without a lot of money. I knew nothing specific of those places but imagined that there just might be somewhere on the face of the planet where Diane and I could go and live on my Social Security income. Maybe there was a place where we could actually thrive and be more than okay. It would have to be cheap to live there, safe with affordable and good quality medical care and a stable government and economy. I was naïve enough to begin my search with those basic, if lofty goals in mind. In less time than I imagined and with the help of Google, I found a number of options; most quickly discounted for various reasons. I continued to search.
After a few weeks, one small country began to emerge ahead of the rest. I kept reading and exploring and it began to look like this small country might just be the mythical place I had hoped to find. At first, I did my research in stealth mode. I wanted to be certain that I had a potential solution before talking to my wife. The more I discovered, the more optimistic I became. After feeling hopeless for quite some time, I began to feel a bit like Superman! We could actually build a new life!
Ecuador had been named the “Best Place to Retire” by International Living Magazine for the past three years. Several other resources to Include MSN Money magazine have also named Ecuador as a prime retirement destination. This small country is located on the West coast of South America right on the equator. The topography provides a gorgeous coastline with the Andes Mountains running like a spine down the center of the country. The climate changes with the altitude with temperatures in mountain villages running from 55 to 65 degrees F and coastal temps at sea level running around 72-85 F.
Above is an excerpt from my first publication, Retirement Rescue, available on Amazon for Kindle.