I was a single parent raising a daughter in the U.S. and working in logistics management. Every time I was laid off, which happened several times, I was thrown into complete panic—how would I pay my bills and keep a roof over my child's head? It was the most horrific fear I've ever experienced. Each time I built up savings, the next layoff would deplete them. I endured this for close to two decades.
In May 2016, I suffered another layoff. After being at home for a few weeks, I realized that I was now eligible to collect Social Security at a reduced rate. I was determined not to enter the roller-coaster of the upper management work force again. The question became: how do I make this work?
My Social Security check would not be adequate to pay my bills and the private medical insurance I would need to purchase. So, I started looking into the best places to retire on a budget. The only affordable options in the U.S. were in cold areas of the country with small populations. This was not for me. Then I saw an International Living link pop up in my search and the rest is history.
I attended a three-day conference in November 2015. This powerful, life-changing seminar allowed me to hear from people living in many different countries as well as have private sessions with them on the countries that interested me. I left knowing where I wanted to move to and about how much it would cost to live there. I decided to explore León because I was told it is an authentic Nicaraguan city.
Within three months, I had done my "boots on the ground" research and knew that I had decided correctly. The people were welcoming and friendly and tried their best to communicate with me with my lack of Spanish. I freely walked the streets in town by day and into the night because they are always alive with people. I caught a free concert one night and just sat and listened to the wonderful music. The restaurant scene is top-notch, on par with any major U.S. city—except the price you pay for an excellent meal. One evening I had a steak dinner and two sangrias at a high-end restaurant and paid just $15.
I moved to León just last month and so far it is the best move I have ever made. My day starts with breakfast and a walk with my dog. I may go into town by convenient bus and walk around looking in the various shops and street vendors, or sit in a park, or my dog and I may explore our neighborhood. León is also just 20 minutes from two large and lovely beaches.
León has a lively night scene. I have made several friends from the expat group here, and the biggest decision is which event to attend on any given night.
I have a housekeeper and the amount I pay ($55 monthly) won't break anyone's budget. I am able to pay all of my bills, eliminate my debt, and save as well as travel as much as I want. I live in a one-bedroom, fully furnished apartment in what is considered the best neighborhood in León, with hot water and air conditioning, for $450 monthly.
My budget with housekeeper, rent, utilities, groceries, internet, cable TV, phone, and food for three animals is about $1,000 a month. This includes going out to dinner and drinks twice a week, a movie on Sunday, and at least one out of town trip with other expats monthly.
I don't have a formal healthcare plan as the prices for routine medical, vision, and dental visits are quite low. If you have pets, the veterinarians are also priced very affordably. I accompanied my friend to get her dog shots and could not believe the low pricing. For a series of shots that cost me $150 in the States, she paid $10.
Moving to León has not only saved my life financially but enriched me so much. I am in a warm, welcoming culture surrounded by both Nicas and expats that are friendly, helpful, inviting, and caring. If you are open to new experiences, patient with occasional power outages, tolerant of cultural norms different from yours, and like the energy that a vibrant town can bring, I strongly recommend León. It has certainly fit my lifestyle more than I'd hoped for.
Commentary by Dolly Lee, a contributor for International Living who moved to León, Nicaragua, from the United States earlier this year.
For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.