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The chances are good right now that I won't outlive my retirement funds.
Fifteen years ago, I couldn't have said that, because 16 years ago I was outspending myself and couldn't save a dime. Then something big happened.
I moved to a place where I could save money.
I could end the story right here…it really was that simple. I didn't get a huge raise, or suddenly inherit a fortune. I kept right on doing what I'd been doing before. In fact, I actually took a pay cut.
But, back in 2001, I started living in a place where the cost of living was so low, that I literally could not outspend my monthly income.
Because of where I lived, my utility bills shrank to a fraction of what they were before I moved from the States. The climate was so mild I didn't need any expensive heating or air conditioning machinery at all. My bills for water, gas, and electricity combined, never topped $80 per month.
I got rid of my car…no point having one with inexpensive and always-available buses and taxis around. So, my gasoline, insurance, and maintenance bills suddenly ceased to exist.
Aside from food and rent, there were no other bills I had to pay. At the time, I didn't even have insurance…doctor visits were so inexpensive that the few times I needed one, I paid out of pocket, and hardly noticed. So, I put some money in the bank.
Do that for 15 years, and it adds up.
Now, combined with what I'll draw from Social Security when I decide to take it, I'll probably have enough income and savings to retire comfortably without worrying about running out of money. As long as I keep living in a place, where the cost of living suits my budget.
Such a place has a temperate year-around climate that keeps utilities low.
Such a place has a quality national healthcare system that is low cost—and in some cases even free for folks of a certain age, with residence visas. And yes, I now have health insurance.
Such a place has low rents—and for those who own their homes, almost ridiculously low property taxes.
Such a place, welcomes foreign retirees as members of the community, and has well-organized expat and retiree groups for sharing information and activities.
Such a place has a vibrant local culture that values courtesy, friendliness, and respect for the elderly.
And such a place has all this plus good internet, decent roads, and available shopping and entertainment.
So where is this place?
In the past 16 years, my wife, and I have lived in seven of them, and before we officially retire, we'll probably live in a few more.
They all have their own particular characters, their own particular pluses and minuses, their own particular appeals.
We've loved every one of these communities—so much so that we've revisited several of them, for months at a time along the way.
And they all have this in common: They are so affordable that we can pretty much continually move from one to the other, and still keep our cost of living low enough to add a bit to our retirement nest egg at the end of each month.
I could list all the communities my wife and I have lived and saved money in over the past 16 years, but I'd be covering old ground. Each one is in a country that International Living covers, and has listed at one time or another in its annual Retirement Index.
They're all there, and they're all ranked by the same criteria we use when deciding where to live ourselves. They must meet the criteria I outlined above. And as I said, we haven't even tried all the places that qualify yet.
And as I also said, thanks to the savings we've enjoyed so far, I'm pretty sure our retirement funds will outlast us…which has the alternative beat all to heck.
Commentary by Dan Prescher, a senior editor at International Living. Prescher grew up in Nebraska and has lived and worked in Ecuador, Panama, Nicaragua and three locations in Mexico.
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