A dream is born! Is it affordable? Are we crazy?

We are everyday people.  We aren't wealthy.  Tom worked hard for 42 years on the railroad.  My career mostly consisted of owning a small real estate company experiencing varying degrees of success and failure, always subject to the turns of the market and my own life experiences ups and downs.  

We've lived in a fabulous lake house with upkeep that sucked up most of our income but rationalized it that the joy of living here together was worth the expense and sacrifice.  Our retirement income was growing due to Tom's contributions and we didn't really worry much about the future.

Then the economy burst... and we, like so many others, lost a chunk of that security while at the same time my desire to battle the failing real estate market waned day by day. I threw in the towel and retired eighteen months ago. Good grief, I applied for Social Security, after paying in for 45 years.  It was hard to believe that time flew by so quickly.  It was only yesterday we were chugging Vodka Gimlets and dancing at the disco.

I had often said that I'd never retire having loved the clients, the excitement and the gratification of helping people make the biggest financial decision of their lives. It was now over.  I felt sad.  What would I do but wrap myself up in the eventuality of Tom's retirement?

My goal was to come up with some ideas to present to my exhausted husband on the weekends who still working twelve hours days this late in his career, along with the two hours of driving time. I had felt a little guilty being home, not contributing more than packing his three meal lunch each day and the basic, relatively easy everyday running of our two person household.

The days until Tom's upcoming retirement has been a daily reminder in an app I had installed on my DroidX phone , Retirement Countdown Free  that today says: 7 months, 16 days.  I look at it everyday.  It doesn't seem to move.  But it does. It's Halloween.  I keep counting on my fingers to ensure it is accurate. It is.

Strangely, during this time, we negotiated a deal, albeit at a loss, to be rid of our house to free us to move on. Not what we had wished.  We knew that living on a retirement pension the upkeep would be prohibitive forcing us to live the last third of our lives in a perpetual state of stress, leaving no room to travel. We hadn't been on a real vacation together in over fifteen years never wanting to spend the money or to leave or beautiful home.

Invariable, Tom and I spent the bulk of our vacation time working on projects around the house, him oblivious to his skills as a hard working handyman.  He can fix just about anything.  I have been "the helper" washing the insides of the windows, cleaning, doing laundry and happily cooking our favorite meals and desserts (more fun when we weren't low carb, gluten free).  

Neither of us ever minded the definition of the stereotype male/female roles. We grew up in an era when gender roles were more defined than today.  We never fought it. We never fought with one another over it.  We relished in giving each other the very best we had to offer, without complaint, without judgement, without "snipping" (in itself, the secret to our marital success).

So, as we counted down the days, each weekend we began talking about that which most Minnesota "Snow Birds" do; move to a warm climate in a income tax free state, downsize our "stuff," sadly say goodbye to our family and friends, sell one of the two cars, and occasionally go on a Viking River Cruise with other "old timers" like ourselves.  

We finally relented buying the proverbial AARP card, good for a full five years. Wow...we can get a discount at Denny's in Las Vegas, Perkins in Rapid City, or Old Country Buffet in Miami!  Here come the Golden Years!  Ouch, more than those crunchy joints are hurting!

In our typical fashion of online researching of literally every thought our brains regurgitates, we investigated best places to retire in the US,  buying an RV, moving to a retirement community or simply renting a condo in Scottsdale, Arizona while we think it over. Although not an income tax free state, the climate is good in the winter, the desert appealing for its mysterious beauty and the population not unlike ourselves.  A good temporary solution.

On my laptop, an Excel spreadsheet in front of me, I plugged in formulas and numbers to create a "feasibility study" to determine our future financial life considering the average rental cost of a typical condo, utilities, groceries, health insurance, medical including prescriptions and co-pays, cell phones and Internet, food and entertainment, etc.  We could survive, we determined.  

It was Saturday afternoon, January 7, 2012.  We had just reviewed the numbers in the spreadsheet while sitting in our usual comfy chairs in the family room, the TV on quietly in the background, freshly poured frosty glasses of iced tea on the side table, the smell of pot roast in the oven wafting through the air (love that word!) and we looked at one another, our eyes locked in a gaze as powerful as an embrace.  Tom took a deep breath and quickly blurted out, his words running together awaiting my reaction and said, "Let's not have a home and travel the world instead."  

I gasped. I paused.  I said, "Wait, give me a minute."  I looked at the spreadsheet.  I removed the rent, the utilities, the car and its insurance, the annual vacation, and all the expenses that would go away if one didn't have a home.  

I added back the following onto the new worksheet: visas, taxes and tips, airfare, ferries, taxis, auto rentals, cruises, food (eating in 6 days a week, eating out once), a monthly (or longer) vacation rental home fully equipped with kitchen and all household goods, entertainment, unexpected expenses and on and on. We talked.  We giggled.  We dreamed aloud.  We accepted that our preliminary numbers were subject to change as we completed more research.

The pot roast was done. The time had flown.  We inhaled our dinner anxious to swallow the next bite in order to say something more, interrupting each other, as we often do. We couldn't watch the favorite shows we had taped during the week.  We talked all night long. The remainder of the weekend was a blur, fingers flying across the keys in our relentless pursuit of more and more information. 

Tentatively, tempering our enthusiasm, over the next several weeks, we came to this startling realization:  If we didn't have a home, with it's fixed monthly expenses, we could travel the world as long as we wanted to, living off of our monthly income alone, as long as it met a strict criteria.

Now, two and a half months later, after hundreds of hours of research, we have booked out and paid deposits for 492 days beginning October 31, 2012 with more plans brewing imminently.  Planning is a full time job in itself.  

The next post will include:  the strict criteria to make this possible.  And soon...the set itinerary thus far, the resources we have used to make this possible, the endless list of "to do's," the amazing people we have encountered all over the world and most of all the preparation we are making for all the "what ifs" that we will surely encounter along the way.  Then, of course, there are the "unknown's" that we choose to acknowledge exist and pray that our good sense and resources will guide us along the way.

Fearful...a little.  Joyful...a lot.


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