Premeditated Leftovers

The Occasional Nomads have two food-related goals this year: 1) eliminate food waste as close to entirely as possible, and 2) lower our food costs as well as know exactly what I have on hand in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. We spent much of January getting better organized, and I found several items I had no idea we had on hand.

We got off to a somewhat shaky start in early January with food waste because of a refrigerator still stuffed with leftovers from the holidays. We did our best and ate what we could, but still had to throw away half a container of pico de gallo salsa and some other produce that was past its prime. Otherwise we’ve been careful and creative about finding ways to use leftovers and odds and ends. I’ve been checking the vegetable bins in the fridge frequently to make sure nothing gets pushed to the back and forgotten, and I’m trying to be more observant about adding produce odds and ends to soups or making stir-fries.

Our mid-month shopping at Aldi, Whole Foods, Costco, and Trader Joe’s came to $242.47.

We’ve set a $450/month budget for food in 2023 and did okay in January, spending a total of $433.86, although that took both very careful planning and shopping. Whether that amount will stay doable over the year remains to be seen. I have been starting each shopping trip with a two-week menu, shopping carefully with a list made from that menu, and obsessively sticking to the list. There is absolutely NO “stocking up” allowed, even if I see a good price, something I was guilty of doing in the past, and definitely NO impulse buys. Those two things could always wreck my budget in the past, and we don’t have room for extras here anyway, no matter how good the price. This means we will be avoiding Costco as much as possible going forward, hopefully only stopping once a month for a few items. Costco will remain our go-to store for some things (laundry detergent, paper towels, vitamins, organic apples, soups, syrup, peanut butter, and oat milk are a few things that still make sense), but we had to shop there for almost everything when we were on Kaua’i, and it’s been a hard habit to break. Finally, I am only shopping with cash this year, something I got lazy about at the end of last year. We allot $200 at the beginning of the month, $250 mid-month and otherwise we don’t go into a store unless absolutely necessary (with planning, it’s kind of amazing how little, if any, we have to buy between shopping trips). Any leftover cash goes into our change/$1 bill jar!

I’m trying to be more conscientious about dividing up food into meal-size portions. For example, pork chops usually come four to a package but we only use two at a time, and in the past I was always scrambling to come up with a second pork meal once I defrosted the package. Ground meat comes in one-pound packages but we only use 1/2 pound at a time that meant more scrambling. An investment we’re making this year is in reusable silicone food storage containers (Stashers) that can be washed in the dishwasher when they’re empty (eliminating one-use plastic freezer bags or containers).

Our beginning collection of Stasher bags: two sandwich size, and one quart size.

We’ve also started making our own fresh dog food this year. The recipe I came up with comes from advice from friends, and reading what a dog needs for good nutrition. Using a pound of turkey I buy at Aldi, a pound of chicken livers from Publix, and adding brown rice, mixed vegetables, pumpkin, and vegetable broth (and salt and calcium), I can make two weeks of food for Kaipo in the slow cooker for $6.30 (it will cost a little more in the future when I run out of the pumpkin and brown rice we already have on hand). The best part? Kai absolutely LOVES his fresh food!

Finally, besides spending less time in the kitchen, one more personal goal this year is finding more creative ways to use leftovers and planning them in advance when I make my menus and go shopping. Premeditated leftovers are going to remain a work in progress for a while (a long while, I think), but they fit my desire to do less cooking so the effort will be made.

It’s going to be an interesting year, but our goals are achievable and I’m excited about finding new ways to cook and save!

Should We Do That?

Although we’ve recently been focusing on the idea of a big road trip, Brett and I talk almost daily about what we want to do and where we want to go when our time in Nashville is over. Mazatlan? Big road trip? New England? Settle down somewhere else in the U.S.? Something else? All of these appeal to us in one way or another, but they all come with pros and cons, and we’re grateful we have the time and opportunity now to examine all of them more deeply. It’s fun to have possibilities or to sketch out rough plans, and it gives us plenty to talk and think about together, but we’re not getting any closer to making a decision, let alone the right one. All we know for certain now is what we don’t want.

We decided this past weekend that it was time we set up a spread sheet. We need to define what we want and will need going forward, and then evaluate the different ideas and places we’ve come up with using those criteria. We’ve made a list of nine items once again, but unlike the past when many of our criteria were in support of our daughters and how a relocation would affect them, the focus this time was solely on our needs as aging retirees. We need to have a logical system for evaluating choices versus getting wrapped up in ideas that have us potentially changing our mind every couple of months or even weeks. Spontaneity, creativity, adventure, and trying something new have always played a strong role in our decision making, but this time is different.

Below is our list of nine criteria to evaluate the potential of particular locations or travel ideas. None of these have been ranked (yet) as being any more important than any other except for cost of living/affordability and healthcare. We discovered when we did this the last time that as we went through the process of evaluation our wants and needs mostly sorted themselves out and ranked themselves without our intervention. Back in 2014, much to our surprise, Kaua’i met eight of our nine criteria, but I don’t think that lightening is going to strike again. Our nine criteria this time are:

  • Cost of living/affordability
  • Healthcare/dental care
  • Housing
  • Proximity to family
  • Adventure/activities
  • Climate
  • Transportation
  • Taxes
  • Senior services

We have less than two years until it will be time to move on, and we’d like to know sooner rather than later where we’re going and what we need to be doing to get there in the most cost effective and efficient way. We’re fortunate to have a variety of choices and time on our side for now, but we know we have to get it right. There will be no more do-overs for us this next time.

Could We Do That?

Back in 2016, Could we do that? was the spark that began The Occasional Nomads’ Big Adventure. We were trying to pick a first location to visit after YaYu left for college from a list we’d put together when Brett said outlaid that he wished we could see them all. We looked at each other and both said, Could we do that? Everything that followed stemmed from that one question.

This past week we once again found ourselves asking each other, Could we do that?

Although we’ve been planning to relocate to Mexico when we leave Tennessee in 2024 we’re still feeling itchy to do a bit of travel first. This past week Brett and I were talking about possibilities for that and road trips came up. We’ve long dreamed of a road trip to visit all the western U.S. national parks, and it wasn’t long before we were asking each other, Could we do that?

We have a car again, and Brett loves to drive. I don’t enjoy driving as much as he does, but can do it and am otherwise a good passenger; long days in the car don’t faze me. Other than my remaining student loan balance we have no debt. Once it’s time to move on from Nashville we will have no obligations, nowhere we have to be at a certain time. It would be an ideal time to head out west and fulfill another dream and it would honestly be our last opportunity to undertake such a journey.

Could we do that?

Someone came up with an ultimate national park road trip map, but we’re only interested in doing the western portion.

We’ve been crunching numbers for the past few days, looking at maps, and gaming out what a big road trip like this might look like and involve. For a couple of days we got excited about camping along the way, and even looked at lightweight campers we could tow, but eventually realized that option didn’t really interest us – for a few days maybe, but not months of it. After figuring out possible expenses (primarily gas, lodging, and meals, storing our furniture) we figured out that by staying in pet-friendly budget motels/hotels and Airbnbs along the way, and sticking to a set daily food budget it would be affordable. We have a lifetime pass to national parks and monuments. We’re still trying to figure out what could be a workable route based on when we could leave but have also realized we need to research more about which parks are open when, which accept dogs and which don’t, and so forth. There’s lots to learn.

While we’re having a good time with this right now we’re still not quite ready to commit to something this big. There are too many unknowns for us right now, things like future gas prices or whether we will even feel up to taking on such a big project in another two years. Is this really even a good idea, we wonder? In spite of the unknowns, the idea is out there now and the big question has been asked.

Could we do that?

We’re beginning to think we just could.

Menu Planning In Retirement

xxx

In the past, everything in our freezer, fridge, and pantry would have had a specific purpose. These days it will all get used, but there’s no rigid plan for much of the food we buy.

I have been a menu planner for a long, long time. I was never a natural at menu planning and it was was a task I got better at over a long period of time. Menu planning has saved us a lot of money over the years, but my way of doing it has changed and adapted to my/our needs through the years.

Prior to joining the navy and meeting Brett, I worked as a waitress (food and then cocktail). I made good money for the times, and my menu planning during those days consisted of deciding what I wanted to eat that day and then stopping by the store to pick it up using some of my tips from the day. If I felt like having a steak, I bought steak. If I felt like having a sandwich, I bought a sandwich or all the fixings, and so forth. I was young and had few financial responsibilities, and the idea of planning a daily menu and stocking a pantry never crossed my mind.

When Brett and I got together, we were both in the navy and had very little money left over for food once our monthly obligations were met (military pay was pitifully low then). Our dates consisted of long walks, occasionally stopping at the bowling alley on base to share a 90-cent grilled cheese sandwich and seeing a movie once a month at the base theater for $1 each. We otherwise dined together at the chow hall for free. After I left the navy and our son was born, we had $36 every two weeks in our budget for food, and I menu planned using the pantry method out of necessity. After buying formula, the rest of our groceries routinely consisted of a big box of Bisquik, a couple of smoked ham hocks, a package of chicken breasts, dried beans, pasta, a few produce items, a quart of milk, a dozen eggs, a pound of cheese, flour, and yeast. I baked bread, made soups and quiches and everything else from scratch, and we ate a lot of pancakes. Menu planning consisted of rotating through the meals we could make with what we had on hand.

As our income eased up over the years I segued into planning a more structured and varied menu. We still shopped every two weeks (based on military paydays), but I learned to go with a shopping list based on two weeks of planned (affordable) meals that offered variety. I enjoyed creating a meal plan and fitting in new recipes as well as fixing favorite dishes. I used this style of planning for the next 40 years, whether we had one child or three at home. Menus were made for two week periods, although for a while I tried making a monthly plan and shopping just once a month. I thought I would spend less that way, but eventually realized that instead of saving I was actually spending more, and stopping at the store more frequently for odds and ends I had forgotten. The two-week planning worked best for us.

Before we began traveling I told Brett I was tired of and done with planning and cooking, and I wanted to use more prepared foods, and eat more soup and sandwiches and Brett said it was fine with him. This turned out to be a great solution for life on the road because there were so many new and interesting foods to try in the countries we visited, and many prepared foods were in a different league all together than what’s available in the U.S. and were more affordable too. We often never knew what we’d find when we walked into a supermarket, and were grateful we could add items that looked delicious and were affordable. We kept to a budget, but we shopped with a very short list and chose items more randomly. The smaller refrigerators in Europe proved to be a bit of a challenge at times, but we somehow made it work.

The new normal in menu planning these days somewhat combines our initial “pantry planning” method with the more structured “menu planning” method. I create our meals these days out of what we have on hand along with adding in more prepared foods we know we will enjoy, but it’s far more random than before. I continue to do the shopping, but Brett and I work together ahead of time to make sure I purchase things he needs or would like to have or try. This new way still keeps our budget in line, but we’re buying and eating less meat than we thought we would and our meals are frankly more interesting and fun. Best of all, I’m no longer worn out, frustrated, or bored when it comes to meal planning and preparation. I have an idea at the beginning of each week of what I can and would like to fix for us based on what we have on hand, and then decide each day what that will be depending on how I feel.

Our current retirement menu planning would never have worked for us back in the day when we were raising our kids, but it’s a great fit for our lifestyle now. However, old skills are being put back into use again as I start to think about meals for when the whole family will be here for the holidays. Three are lactose intolerant, one is glucose intolerant, and one is vegan, so meals will have to be planned around those needs but not break the bank as well. It’s definitely a challenge but sort of fun too. However, I remain thankful this will only be a temporary assignment and afterwards Brett and I can return to our new normal.

Yes, Airfares Are Expensive but Bargains Still Exist

Japan opened back to foreign visitors in September, so out of curiosity I decided to see what it would cost for us to visit Japan. Back in the day, combining careful timing and a little bit of luck, we could usually find nonstop, round-trip flights in extra comfort seating for around $750 – $850. These days Brett and I wonder if we’ll ever be able to afford a visit to Japan again, and what that could cost us because the best price right now for a premium economy seat is $2,391. Ouch. A seat in economy is $1,319, still horribly expensive.

It doesn’t matter these days where anyone is going, but airfares are higher across the board, currently at their highest point in five years. Between March and April of this year, ticket costs increased 16.8% in one month! Prices are predicted to increase even more as the holiday season approaches.

The airline industry was one of the hardest hit during the Covid-19 pandemic and travel, when both domestic and international travel slowed to a near halt. That period and the slow climb back has obviously affected today’s prices, but there are other things going on as well:

  • Supply and demand is the biggest force affecting ticket prices today. There are fewer flights and more demand for seats than prior to the pandemic. Anyone who has flown this year has most likely suffered through cancellations, schedule changes, and so forth. Airlines are trying to do better by restricting the number of tickets sold in order to reduce the number of delays that plagued travelers earlier in the year. Fewer tickets mean higher prices.
  • Staff shortages caused by the pandemic contributed to delays and cancellations. Many airlines are still understaffed, which mean fewer flights, more delays, and higher prices.
  • Rising fuel costs have also meant an increase in the price of tickets. Airlines typically purchase fuel months to years in advance, and if they’ve had to buy fuel recently, ticket prices have to go up to cover those costs. An airline that bought fuel when prices were low can continue to offer lower prices. Southwest is an airline that consistently does very well buying large amounts of fuel at low prices, which is a big reason they’re able to keep ticket prices low.
  • Lack of competition has meant that many major airlines no longer have to compete with low cost airlines. Prior to the pandemic, airlines like Wow, Norwegian Air, and others offered bare-bones services at prices that major airlines were forced to compete with, creating lower fares overall. Many discount carriers went out of business during the pandemic, or had to cut itineraries way back. For example, we used Norwegian Air twice to return to the U.S. from Europe because their fares and itineraries could not be beat. Norwegian Air no longer flies to any U.S. airports, and operates only regionally within Europe, offering no price competition to U.S. carriers for cross-Atlantic flights.
  • Because of current situations occurring in the world, air routes have had to change. Route changes hike costs for airlines. Current changes don’t affect domestic flights within the U.S., but they can affect the cost of international journeys.

The news isn’t all bad, and there are still ways to save if you want or need to fly somewhere.

  • Think domestic travel versus international. It’s always going to be cheaper to go someplace in your own country.
  • Fly economy. Yes, the seats are narrower and closer together, but the price for that seat is going to be considerably less than first class or premium economy. Our rule of thumb is five hours: anything over that and we will pay the extra for more comfortable seating. Below that, we are fine with economy.
  • Choose a flight with stopovers versus nonstop. The more stops along the way, the lower the price (usually). Travelers can also sometimes work layovers to their advantage. At some airports it’s possible to leave and tour the city you’re in, or go for a meal outside the airport. We sometimes opt for flights that have a long overnight layover, and book a hotel room and get some sleep before the next leg of our journey. The cost of the room has always been less than the increased price for a nonstop flight.
  • Look for an alternative airport that’s nearby. Costs can sometimes be significantly lowered by flying out of a regional airport or one in a nearby city versus using only bigger airports in major cities. For example, we’ve saved by flying into and out of Love Field in Dallas versus choosing a flight that arrives at Dallas-Fort Worth International.
  • Consider budget airlines. These airlines usually have a low ticket price but charge for things like seat choice, luggage (even a carryon), food . . . just about everything. But, add up the cost of what add ons are really necessary and the price can still be much lower than a full-service airline. Almost all major airlines now offer “basic economy” seats these days, with no frills or seat choice, but with a lower cost than regular economy. Southwest Airlines has found its niche somewhere in the middle between a true budget airline and a major one and offer good value. Currently, a RT, non-stop ticket to Japan on a budget airline is only $689 (before any extras are added).
  • Find a ticket first, then the destination. Search for ticket prices that fit your budget and then choose a destination that fits that price. There are some amazingly low-priced tickets out there to wonderful places.
  • Use search tools to find the best prices. Skyscanner; Scott’s Cheap Air, Google Flights, and similar sites can help find the lowest prices around for tickets.
  • Use credit cards strategically. Travel credit cards can be used to earn points toward free tickets or upgrades. Opening a card usually brings a huge bonus along with it when a set amount is spent within a specific time period, and using the card for other purchases, like groceries, gas, or dining out, can offer double or triple points to quickly increase the point balance. **Only use a travel card if you can afford to pay it off every month.**

Airline fares are expected to remain high for the time being, but there are ways to work around those high prices. It requires some genuine effort these days to find the good deals, or a workable itinerary at an affordable price, but it can be done. Traveling is different these days, and higher airfares are just one part that will probably be around for a while.

Lessons Learned

Travel days are always exhausting, and occasionally things don’t always go as planned, but Brett still makes sure everything gets packed and we’re where we need to be on time.

During all our travels we’ve never lost a suitcase, or left one of our phones in a taxi, or made another major goof. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure how we kept those things from happening other than we had a good system for tracking things, and Brett proved to be a superb logistics manager, making sure everything was in place and keeping us moving.

Things still went wrong though. Often the problems we encountered were things outside of our control, and the biggest and best lessons learned throughout our travels were that no matter how well we planned or how well we tracked our stuff, things could and did go wrong, and an ability to pick our battles, adapt quickly, and stay calm determined whether there would be a successful outcome or not.

We counted late departures part of doing business when we traveled and something that was entirely out of our control, no matter how frustrating the situation. We knew the best way to deal with a late flight was go with the flow and hope for the best. A six-hour delay departing Philadelphia when we began our travels almost caused us to miss our flight to Buenos Aires, but we stayed calm as possible and eventually got to our flight on time (on only an hour’s sleep). All’s well that ends well – we ended up in the only row in the aircraft with empty seats which allowed us to stretch out and sleep! Our flight from Montevideo to Madrid was delayed by over an hour, which meant we would miss our connection to Paris – nothing we could do about that – but somehow we turned out to be “special passengers” and an Air France representative personally met us upon arrival with new boarding passes for our connecting flight to Paris and we arrived on time. Not all situations ended happily though – when we departed India, the airline determined our luggage was overweight (it wasn’t) and no amount of arguing would get them to budge. We finally paid the overage to get on our way. To add to our misery, we had to empty our carry-ons for security and then repack, and our departure. gate was the furthest one away – we thought we’d never get there.

The view from our balcony in Montevideo.

We also learned along the way not to judge a book, or rather an Airbnb, by its cover. Our apartment in Montevideo appeared to be in a rather seedy-looking neighborhood, and we were hesitant about it, but the interior was lovely and comfortable, and we had a balcony view into the city. The location turned out to be perfect for touring the city. Our Strasbourg apartment was tiny, less than 300 square feet, yet was also in a great location for exploring the city. The sofa bed we slept on there we count as one of our most comfortable beds and the apartment as one of our favorites. However, the apartment we rented in Bath looked great in the pictures, but turned out to be rather shabby with an uncomfortable bed. We won most of the time, but occasionally lost.

At the last minute we scored first class seats on our flight from London to San Francisco, and made it home on time.

Departing the UK in 2019 was our most trying experience, with just about everything that could go wrong going wrong, starting with our first train of the day being cancelled and the next one arriving nearly 45 minutes late. Rather than staying calm, we allowed ourselves to get flustered and ended up taking the wrong train into Reading Station from Oxford, arriving on the furthest track from the one we needed. We literally ran through Reading Station, up and down escalators and elevators, with Brett hauling our two big suitcases behind him, and we climbed onto the last car of the train to Gatwick airport with less than 30 seconds to spare. That train was still a long shot, our last chance to possibly catch our flight, but when we arrived at the airport the check-in lines were so long that we knew we’d never make it and resigned ourselves to rebooking for the next day. Lady Luck was apparently looking down on us though because there was suddenly an announcement that four remaining first class seats were available on our flight. Unusual for us, we made a quick decision and snapped up two seats, getting to the gate just as first class was boarding! Those first class seats ended up saving us hundreds of dollars over what it would have cost us to check our bags, pay for a hotel room for the night, and rebook our tickets. Lessons learned? Stay calm no matter what, be flexible, and recognize there are times to let go when it comes to your budget.

While we enjoy free walking tours, the paid tours we took allowed us to experience and learn things we wouldn’t have otherwise.

Other lessons we learned along the way? While we’re big fans of free walking tours offered in most cities, we learned that paying for a speciality tour now and again can give you a big bang for your bucks. We took an amazing small-group tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Forum in Rome that got us into places the free tours didn’t go. We took two different wine tours in Bordeaux offered through the city, and learned more than we ever could have on our own as well as got to taste come fabulous wines. We took three Airbnb Experience tours in Edinburgh and a tour of a local gin distillery, and again, went places and learned things we never would have otherwise.

Our farmhouse stay in Switzerland provided experiences we wouldn’t have had staying in our own Airbnb or in a hotel.

We also learned that staying as a guest in someone’s home offered cultural experiences and learning as part of the package. At the beginning of our travels we had been determined to always stay in our own place, but after spending two nights with a family in their 300+ year-old Swiss farmhouse, we changed our minds. We were treated to a traditional dinner (raclette) with the family on our second evening, enjoyed a massive farm breakfast in the mornings, baked bread with the host, and left with a big bag of apples picked from their trees. We departed New Zealand with a deeper understanding of that country because of the hospitality and knowledge offered by our hosts along the way.

The biggest lesson we learned? We discovered strengths and skills we didn’t know we had. We played to the strengths we did know, but adapted as new ones revealed themselves and evolved. My forte was and is planning, and Brett let(s) me handle almost all of that as well as entertainment, meals, and a daily or weekly schedule. Brett’s strength is logistics – he makes sure we get to where we need to be on time (well, except when trains get cancelled), makes sure everything gets packed, and is able to orient himself very quickly in a new location. Brett also keeps track of our finances – he tracked our spending every day so we knew whether we need to slow down or whether there was enough in the budget for something special.

Solid research and planning before departure made a world of difference in whether a change or problem felt doable or like the end of the world, and our knowledge worked for us almost all of the time. As we went along though we learned to open ourselves up a bit more and manage our reactions to what could potentially become a negative experience. We came very close to paying the penalties that come along from not staying calm and not being flexible with our budget when the time called for it. All these things have affected how we travel now – how we plan. how we spend, and how we react to and handle what gets thrown in our path.

That Didn’t Take Long

Brett told me the other day that he never wants to move again. It’s not that he’s fallen in love with Tennessee, but he said he’s tired of all the packing, unpacking, setting up, etc. that goes with moving. Our last few travel experiences didn’t help his mood: the long plane flights and schedules that were changed without notice, lugging the big suitcases around, driving a big van through all sorts of crazy weather and having to unload it every evening and load it again in the morning, and on and on. At age 72 he said he’s had enough.

While I still enjoy and look forward to traveling, our experiences since we left Hawaii have left their mark on me as well, and I admit to being somewhat relieved to be settled again with our own things, even if many of those things are actually new to us. I honestly did not enjoy the whole moving part of the past few months, but also know that I don’t want to stay in Tennessee for more than two years. I know that means we’re going to have to pack up and move once again.

I’ve promised Brett though that next move will be our last, and that someone else will move us and do all the work. One of the reasons I’m so fierce about saving once again is that if we are not going to do it ourselves, we are going to have to pay someone else to pack our things, load a truck, move our stuff, and unpack at our destination. I’m all done with that part of moving.

We are 100% decided at this point that when we leave Tennessee we will head to Mexico, to the city of Mazatlán on the Pacific coast. We enjoyed our time in San Miguel de Allende, but knew that while we could happily live in Mexico, SMA was not the right place for us for a variety of reasons.

Why did we choose Mazatlán?

  • It’s beach town on the same latitude as Hawaii but with a much, much, much lower cost of living. We can easily afford an oceanside modern condo or apartment, or a house with an ocean view and Pacific breezes as well as a housekeeper (and gardener if needed).
  • We thought the cost of living in San Miguel de Allende was fantastic, but Mazatlán’s COL is even lower. We can live very well there on half of our income. The other half can be used for travel, investment, and saving. And, I can continue to afford to live there if Brett predeceases me.
  • The city has an international airport with direct flights to several American cities (two hours from Phoenix, for example) as well as Mexico City. We can fly from Mazatlán to the U.S. and either up to the northeast to see the girls, or over to Japan. We could afford to visit Japan and the girls every year as well as travel to another destination in the world.
  • Although our health and dental insurance cover us worldwide, good health and dental care are available and extremely affordable in Mazatlán. As we age, we can also afford to hire home health assistance if needed.
  • There is a large expat community in Mazatlán, but not an overwhelmingly large one like there was in San Miguel de Allende. There is a tourist season, with an influx of snowbirds and visitors, but nothing approaching the numbers of SMA or cities further down the coast such as Puerto Vallarta or Acapulco.
  • The city has well-run public transportation, and we would not need a car there (two of our daughters are already interested in purchasing our car from us).
  • Mazatlán’s weather is hot and dry. It can be quite hot during the summer and into the early fall, but the rest of the year is pleasant and warm. There are numerous walking venues, and a long, accessible beach. The city is known for it seafood, shrimp especially.

Will we move all of our stuff to Mazatlán? Yes – it would be an affordable move. We like the stuff we’ve purchased here and if it holds up we plan to keep it.

Mazatlán has everything we want, from an oceanside location to a low cost of living that will allow us to continue to travel while still being settled somewhere. We will get everything we want at a cost we can afford. We’ve got two years to go here in Nashville, but we’re back in savings mode once again so that when the time comes we’ll be ready to make our move!

Sticker Shock?

This past week we ran into one of our SMA neighbors at City Market, and shared a taxi with her to come home. She had just gotten back from a trip to Texas and told us to be prepared for some real sticker shock when we returned to the U.S. A Clif Bar, she said, was $3.00!

I guess in comparison to what things cost here in Mexico prices in Texas probably did seem quite high to our neighbor. However, after our years in Hawaii we’ve been suffering from reverse sticker shock as prices here have seemed almost artificially low. We have no idea what things are going to cost in Nashville in comparison but we feel confident they’ll still be less than they were on Kaua’i.

We’ve been working on our monthly budget for Tennessee, but currently there are still too many unknowns to nail things down. For example, we know how much rent we’ll be paying, but have no idea what utilities will cost, and we haven’t paid a utility bill for nearly four years (and Kaua’i utility costs were high). We don’t know how much Internet service will be but we’re guessing it will be close to what it was on Kaua’i, maybe a little less if we’re lucky. We were paying over $5 per gallon for gas when we left Kaua’i in May, but prices in the area we’ll be living in Tennessee are currently under $4 per gallon so I think we may initially feel some slight reverse sticker shock there. Car insurance for our new car will most likely be more than what we were paying for our older Honda Civic.

We’ll have an abundance of food shopping options near to us in Tennessee including Trader Joe’s, Costco, Aldi, and many other stores, and I know we’re going to find prices to be lower than what we were paying on Kaua’i along with an increased selection of things available. However, at the same time those prices will most likely seem high after Mexico, so I’m guessing we’ll fall somewhere into the neutral zone with sticker shock, but we’ll again be bringing all our frugal shopping skills to bear to get the most for our money. We’ve determined an initial budget amount for food each month, but as always the goal will be to spend less, if possible, and put the difference into savings. Dining out will once again become the rare exception it was in the past rather than the norm it’s become here in San Miguel de Allende.

It’s been a few years since I purchased a Clif Bar, but I wanted to tell our neighbor that $3 would have seemed like bargain after Kaua’i, where it would have probably cost somewhere between $4-$5. We’ve prepared ourselves for higher prices than we’ve been paying in Mexico, but hopefully we’ll get to enjoy some of the benefits of reverse sticker shock as we compare Tennessee prices to those we were paying in Hawaii. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

Three Choices (for now)

A couple of months ago Brett and I had convinced ourselves that following our time in Nashville we could move up to Maine, buy a house, and settle down. Or, we could ditch our car, store our furniture and travel the world with our dog. We had it all figured out.

But deep down a move to Maine never quite felt right to either of us. Neither did flying around the world with a dog. It turned out we were both caught up in the idea of living in Maine or traveling the world with our dog versus the reality of either of those options. Deep down we were uncomfortable with the idea of purchasing a house again and all the work and maintenance that would entail, especially in Maine. We also honestly didn’t want to keep track of all the paperwork necessary to take our little dog into different countries. We were more uncomfortable than either of us wanted to initially admit with facing winter in Maine at our ages (72 and 74 when we would arrive), and what that might cost us (either buying loads of equipment or paying someone to dig us out). As much as we loved the idea of living in Maine, we knew it would in reality be a lot more work that we wanted to take on. Same for traveling with a dog.

So, we scratched everything and went back to the drawing board. We made a list of the things that make us happy and that would be important this next time around. We came up with seven items that are important to us at this stage in our lives – proximity to family, cost of living, taxes, good weather, financial security, quality healthcare, and travel – and using those came up with a list of three possible options for a post-Nashville life. We listed the positives and negatives for each, but didn’t rank anything for now.

Below are the three options we’ve come up with so far:

1) Honolulu Condo

POSITIVES:

  • Life in Hawaii fits us like a glove. Granted, busy Honolulu would be very different than slow-tempo Kaua’i, but the underlying basics that we love about Hawaii would still be there.
  • Owning a condo appeals more to us than owning a single family home: it has all the benefits of apartment living but we can alter the interior if and as we please. There’s no yard work, external maintenance, and insurance costs are less. Many HOA fees in Honolulu are lower than they are on Kaua’i, with greater benefits.
  • Honolulu has all the amenities we would need as we age: good healthcare services (including Trippler Army Hospital), good public transit, military services (commissary and exchange), walkability, and an increased availability of goods and other options compared to other locations in Hawaii. Plus, there’s still that great Hawaii weather that we love.

NEGATIVES:

  • The cost of living in Honolulu would still be very high. We know how to deal with Hawaii’s high cost of living, but we’re not sure how much we want to continue to have to do that as we age.
  • It would be very difficult for me to afford to continue living in Hawaii if Brett predeceases me.
  • We’re still not convinced we want to or even if it’s a good idea to purchase a home (condo or otherwise) at this stage in our lives.
  • It would be expensive for our children to visit us, and for us to visit our children, meaning we wouldn’t see each other as often as we like even though travel to Honolulu versus Kaua’i would be easier and less costly.
  • The move back to Hawaii would be something of a hassle and expensive.

2) Road Trip: Canada, Western National Parks, and Baja California

POSITIVES:

  • We really do enjoy being nomads, we’d have a car, and our little dog along for company too, with lots to see and do along the way. Our schedule would be of our own making.
  • There would be no expenses associated with settling down, i.e. buying furniture, setting up utilities, and so forth.
  • Driving through the west and visiting all the national parks has always been a dream of ours. Plus, we could pick where we want to be when – maybe Canada during the summer, Baja in the winter, and the west coast in between, for example.

NEGATIVES:

  • A road trip at this time of our lives would be doable but tiring, more than we’re maybe able to admit to ourselves right now.
  • We’d put lots of wear and tear on our car and who knows what the cost of gasoline will be, or lodging. Both are difficult to predict right now, and would tie up much if not most of our monthly income.
  • It would difficult to form friendships while we’re on the road, and we would still have to eventually find some place to settle.

3) Mexico:

POSITIVES:

  • Even if the cost of living in Mexico increases in the next two years, we could still live a very comfortable life with many amenities, including beautiful, furnished housing and almost everything we use regularly (foods and other items and products we like). We would have enough disposable income to continue to travel throughout the year (to escape the weather we don’t like).
  • Everything we would need as we age is available here, from healthcare to home care. And, it’s affordable.
  • The visa would be easy to obtain, and the move down fairly easy as well.
  • We could afford and enjoy dining out regularly.
  • We could have a car if we wanted, but could also manage without one if we choose.
  • We could fly for a reasonable cost to the U.S. and then on up to see the girls in the northeast, over to Japan to see our son and family, or on to other international destinations. Likewise, it wouldn’t be difficult or prohibitive for our family to visit us here occasionally. The cost of living in Mexico would allow us to travel fairly frequently.
  • We could afford to live near the ocean again. There are many wonderful locations to consider in Mexico.
  • I could continue to enjoy a comfortable life in Mexico on a reduced income if Brett predeceases me.
  • There would be loads of opportunities to connect and form friendships within the expat and local community if we choose, no matter where, as well as get involved (if we want) in activities that interest us. We could have as much or as little of a social life as we desire.
  • Learning Spanish neither scares us nor seems as impossible as other languages have.

NEGATIVES:

  • The dry and at times hot weather in places, or the hot and humid weather in other areas could be miserable.
  • A big unknown is how a potential expat community and their influence in any location might affect us. We like having other expats around in some ways, in others, not so much.
  • Although we’re not afraid of learning Spanish, it’s still something we would need to commit to and then work at, both before arrival and while we live here.
  • There are places in Mexico where it’s neither safe to live or travel.

Two of the above choices, the condo in Honolulu and the road trip, are more emotional choices, with Mexico on the sensible side. I would have thought recognizing that might help make a decision easier, but it really doesn’t. In the past Brett and I have always let our hearts rule us – which has thankfully always worked out – but we’ve previously had time to fix errors or make changes, something we don’t feel we have as much of any more if at all.

So, after more discussion and research than you can possibly imagine, and a LOT of back and forth, we still don’t have any idea what we want to do or where we want to go! Mexico looks like the obvious winner but it’s just not that easy. Trying to come up with a decision is sort of making us crazy as well and we think we may need to give ourselves at least another year to weigh our options, talk with our family, and maybe come up with some other ideas. There’s a good chance we’ll stick with one of the three options above, or maybe we’ll come up with something else. No place is going to be perfect and have everything we want, but we know we need to get it as right as possible this time.

So, as I like to say, stay tuned! We plan to enjoy our time in Nashville while we’re there but we’ll be working on making a final, firm decision and getting ourselves ready to make a move in 2024. Where that will be will continue to remain an unknown for the time being.

Game Changer

Brett and I are still coming to terms with how much of a game changer our move to Nashville is going to be for us going forward.

We have absolutely NO REGRETS about accepting our son and daughter-in-law’s request to move to Nashville for the next two years. The request was unexpected, but there was never any doubt about accepting. Brett and I have loads of experience making changes on the fly, can quickly adapt and adjust, and we always make the best of any situation.

However, this move not only changes our plans for the next couple of years, but, as we’ve been figuring out the last few weeks, also for years ahead.

There will be loads of things happening in the next few months we were not expecting to have to do again for a few more years, including purchasing a car and once again buying furniture and other things we’ll need, from a coffee maker to mixing bowls to bed linens and towels. We thankfully didn’t get rid of everything, but most of what we owned here in Hawaii is now gone.

With international travel off the agenda for the next couple of years, Brett and I knew the odds of returning to full-time travel once our DIL and granddaughter returned to Japan were greatly diminished. We talked about whether it made more sense to rent furniture for the next couple of years and buy a used car, but decided we would be happier in the long run if we purchased furniture pieces we could live with for the rest of our lives, and a car that would last the rest of our lives as well.

Once we accepted the above, we realized we wanted own a dog again as well and would adjust future travel plans around that reality. We’ve come up with two paths once our time in Nashville is over: putting our furniture and other possessions into storage and setting off on an extended road trip around Canada and the U.S. along with our puppy for a couple of years, or buying a house and settling down somewhere in the northeast, most likely Maine, and traveling during the winter months (our middle daughter, WenYu, has already offered to store our car and all of the girls have volunteered to watch Kaipo). Both plans have lots of positives and potential for us.

Brett and I were very excited about our upcoming full time travels once again, and have honestly felt sad at times about abandoning those plans. But we are both forward thinkers and optimists, and we also like the options and opportunities we’ve been given. We plan to make the most of our future, and will remain nomads, even if that only turns out to be occasionally.