My financial advisor’s corner office literally hovers above Seattle’s Lake Union. From where I sit, you can’t even tell there is a building holding up the room we’re in. A bald eagle soars past the window and then perches on a lamp post to the east. I wonder what it would be like to work in a room with a window. My little therapy office a few miles away in the Green Lake neighborhood is landlocked. No window. No escape route if a fire were to combust outside the door.
“Let’s look at your numbers,” Andrea said.
Andrea, elegant, about my age, was recommended by one of my best friends who has been worried about me. Since I don’t have any assets to speak of, my friend wants me to get my money in order.
“Let’s do it,” I say to Andrea. I take in a deep breath, ready to hear the plan. This is my third meeting with Andrea. The first meeting was a grilling. What were my numbers? Where was my paperwork? What’s my budget? I worked hard to get her all the gory details. My debts, meager savings, and projected Social Security benefit–$1800 per month if I start taking my draw at age sixty-seven—have all been accounted for. In the second meeting, Andrea propped a whiteboard against her freshly cleaned, giant window and schooled me in all things financial. She explained what a bond was, what “tax-deferred” meant, and how the stock market works. I took copious notes and snapped photos of her whiteboard so I could study it later.
The purpose of this meeting is to unveil the plan that will get me from my current age—fifty-one—to retirement. How much money do I need to be putting away and where should I put it.
“Okay,” she brushes her bangs away from her pretty face and her gold bracelets jangle as she does this. She’s tall, white, with short, dark hair, and red lipstick. “Like I told you, before we can make you rich, we need to make sure you’re not poor.”
I nod. That sounds good.
“So first we have to get everything paid off. All that debt you accrued setting up your life again after your divorce has to go.”
“Sure, of course.” This isn’t news. I’m working toward being debt free.
“And then I want you to work toward getting sixty-thousand dollars in a money market so you have a cushion.”
I have to catch my breath, but I knew this was coming. She’d already explained to me that I need several months’ worth of living and business-operating expenses liquid and available in case of emergency. Since I work for myself and don’t have an employer who offers long-term disability insurance, I’m vulnerable without money in the bank. I nod again. “Okay, yes,” I say. “That’s on my radar. I’m plunking away at it.”
“And now for the bad news,” Andrea’s face doesn’t change expression so I don’t panic. I just wait. “If you want to retire at age sixty-seven and live at the same standard of living you have now,” she pauses. I think, Which is to say… living in a dingy little apartment where other people’s homes look in through every window. But I’m listening. “Which is to say,” she picks up where she left off, “living such that your expenses don’t change between now and then, you’re going to need to save TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS per month.”
I can’t breathe at first. I think I misheard her. “How much?”
“Every month?” I ask.
“Yep,” she says.
“Oh, that’s a lot,” I say. Fucking hell, I think. “How is that gonna happen?”
She must be able to feel my panic. “Well I’ve seen people do it.” She tells me the story about a client who started in my situation and ended up being “just fine.”
“Just fine” isn’t what I want for my life. There’s no place to go down from “just fine” if you have a bad day, except homelessness. “Okay.” I say again, trying not to cry. I sit still, look for the eagle outside the window. The absurdity of the situation sinks in.
“You alright?” she asks.
Not so much. “Sure,” I say. “Just thinking.”
She waits for me, pulls her elegant black cashmere sweater more tightly around her. Am I emitting a chill?
Then the seed of an idea comes, and I can feel my heart lighten just a teeny, tiny bit. I faint smile comes to my lips. Andrea cocks her head. “What’s up?” her expression says.
“I’m just thinking,” I almost whisper this so the idea doesn’t get scared away before I’ve caught it. In fact, I’m thinking about how I’d traveled on a shoestring down to South America the year before. For the cost of a plane ticket and less than a thousand dollars, I’d stayed in some lovely places, eaten good food, bussed myself from city to city, and visited beaches, museums, and art galleries every day. Then I remember years earlier when my ex-husband and I had traveled to Panama and had heard there were ex-pat communities snuggled away in the tropical hills of El Valle de Anton. Next a thought comes about a friend of mine whose father lives full-time in Mexico. “How much is my social security predicted to be again?” I ask.
“You can’t live on that,” Andrea says. “If social security is even still a thing by the time you retire.”
My health insurance policy alone is one third of the $1800 I’m expected to get per month. So for sure I can’t live on it HERE. But Panama must have a way for ex-pats to buy health insurance? Is the health care good there? I make a mental note to do a Google search when I get home.
“Well, hello Panama,” I say out loud.
“What are you talking about?”
“I guess I’d better find another country to retire in because this one is just too damn expensive.”
Andrea nods. She’s sympathetic to my situation. Her job is help people grow their money. I haven’t given her much to work with.
I gather my things. We shake hands. And I leave the building, get into my Kia, Soul and drive myself home to my apartment to look up, “healthcare for expats in Panama.”
Dear friends, looks like I’ll be leaving you one day to live somewhere where I can afford my life as a retiree. Help me out. Where have you traveled to that you can imagine yourself retiring? Put your suggestions in the comments. I plan to check out some of these places in the next few years! Here are my requirements.
- I have to be able to live on about $2000/month.
- I have to be able to run alone (I’m reasonable… I’m not expecting to be run through cartel territory–just through a park).
- I have to be able to get by with English (hiring a translator sometimes, perhaps) OR with a Romance language I think I can learn (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian).