We all have retirement dreams, don’t we? We may not have written them down on paper or adequately planned out our retirement but somewhere in our brains we pictured how we wanted our retirement to be. For me, along with a gazillion other retirees, it was to buy a low-cost condo in Florida, near the beach and cash out my marital abode and invest that money for a cushy, comfy retirement lifestyle, for like forever. And, that’s exactly what I did!
It didn’t take long for my retirement dream to turn into a nightmare. A year and a half really. Eighteen months, give or take. Turns out the condo board only knew one way to make ends meet and that was by raising the HOA fees every six months. What started out to be a $7,500 a year housing expense turned into a $10,000 a year housing expense with no end in sight. At that fast rising pace, I realized residing in this particular condominium complex was unsustainable on a fixed income. Throw in the fact that condo living means you have one person living below you, another above you and one each on either side. Throw in the second fact that several of your surrounding neighbors smoked and you were now facing an early death due to the cancerous reality of second-hand smoke.
Nope. My first attempt at my retirement dream wasn’t going well at all. A quick sale and a fast exit had me return to Square One. I was back at the Marital Abode a little smarter and a little less solvent. Thinking my marital abode was going to supply me my lifelong retirement money, I foolishly spent what financial funds I had already accumulated. (Thank God we never sold our marital home! I was all gung-ho!. Hubby kept declining to enlist a real estate broker).
I’m a firm believer in the biblical phrase: Bloom Where You Have Been Planted. Since hubby and I have now become shy of relocating (we can no longer take the financial hit of moving to another locale) we decided to re-evaluate where we were living and adjust ourselves to our “new” surroundings as best as we could. Dave Ramsey always advised when you are challenged with a living arrangement such as what DH and I were facing (financial reductions) the first thing a person needed to do was to secure their four walls: housing, food, utilities, necessities (such as clothing).
The Four Walls are your basic necessities, like food, shelter (including utilities) basic clothing and transportation. So cut out the brand-name clothes, the fancy restaurants and even the expensive cable package.
Somewhere in all of this hubby’s health became questionable. Social Security and health insurance strategies had to be altered, delayed and re-evaluated. DH and I had to take a second step at learning how to live on even less than previously projected. Retirement dreams had to be re-focused, re-evaluated and re-engineered.
The first thing we looked at was our housing situation. We had already downsized our home in 2001 from a 9 room house in a very expensive NY locale to a 4 room house in a less expensive area in upstate New York. When we calculated ALL our housing costs (taxes, electricity, insurance, maintenance, sanitation) our total monthly housing costs were $809. Once one of us turned 65, we qualified for a Senior Citizen reduction in property taxes which has brought our total monthly housing costs down to $627.
Next, we reduced our grocery bill from around $600 a month down to a hovering $400 – $500 per month. I’m currently reading this cook book from author, Leanne Brown: Good and Cheap. The cookbook was on The NY Times bestseller list for weeks and for very good reasons: The book is filled with healthy recipes guaranteed to feed anyone for less than $4 a day per person!
We also cut back on our propane usage (which heats the home and provides hot water) by lowering our thermostat and my taking less baths and more navy-styled showers. We also cut way back on our electricity usage by installing LED lighting everywhere!
We used to get our clothing strictly at Goodwill and consignment shops but have recently discovered that sometimes the sales at Wal Mart and Old Navy can offer much lower prices than what the thrift shops were charging. Plus it’s nice to wear new clothes vs what someone else wore before.
We cut our cable bill down to the bare necessity ($38 a month). We live in the mountains, so, it’s difficult to get any kind of signal. We supplement our viewing options with basic Netflix ($8.99 a month). DH and I rarely eat out in restaurants anymore. If we do, it’s at our local, friendly, family-owned diner that offers $10.99 senior meals (soup to nuts). I cut our meal out category down to $25 a month because sometimes it’s nice to stop and have a cup of coffee ($1.25) or a freshly made doughnut (.65 cents) or a bowl of soup ($3.99) or a full McDonald’s breakfast ($12 for two!)
Lastly, we looked at our transportation options. We already owned two paid-for, recent model vehicles. One is used strictly for RVing and the other is used daily due to its expert low mileage (35 to 40mph) and maintenance costs. The RV we were using at the time we owned the Florida condo was a smallish model (17 feet) and it’s sole purpose was to provide bedding for the long trips we took back and forth to Florida. It really wasn’t designed for long term habitation. Once we realized that air travel and expensive vacations were no longer viable in our new living standards, we traded in our smallish RV for a more comfortable and longer/wider living arrangement RV model (22 feet). We could afford short winter stays in Florida now as well as even shorter summer stays at the ocean. Looking at our new budget and contrary to the teachings of Dave Ramsey (and my reluctance to withdraw any more money out of our retirement financial holdings) we opted for a low-cost (3.99%) loan on our new RV.
Our home locale is filled with biking and hiking trails, as well as a plethora of free activities such as festivals, concerts, art shows, galleries and events. Now that we are fully retired we can finally engross ourselves into many of these free activities. DH just told me the other day that he really enjoys the fact that he can get up in the morning whenever he feels like. After we finish our daily chores around the house, we can go for a long walk or hike along the many trails near our home and take our time in doing so. There’s no pressure or rush to accomplish anything anymore!
It’s been quite a journey only to realize at the end you were where you were destined to be all along. We’ve bloomed where we have been planted.