Working Again: Yes or No?

A couple of weeks ago, when I was checking out at our local Trader Joe’s, I was asked if I might be interested in filling out an application – the young crew member scanning my items said she thought I might be a good fit. Employees at our TJ’s run the gamut from young to old, and all work part time. For example, one employee I met this past summer lives in California, but comes to Tennessee every summer to visit family, and works a few days a week at TJ’s while he’s here. The woman I chatted with said I could pretty much set my own schedule; that is, how many days per week I wanted to work and she asked me to think about it. I thanked her and said I would, thinking in fact though I would walk out of the store and never consider it for another moment.

The funny thing is that over the past couple of weeks I have found myself actually weighing the pros and cons of working there.

Neither Brett nor I have ever needed to work or supplement our income since we retired – careful budgeting, saving, and living within our means has seen us through even when our daughters were still at home or going to college. We will be able to put all of next year’s Social Security and Brett’s military retirement pension increases into savings. I enjoy our current relaxed lifestyle; it’s what I always hoped for when I thought about retirement. However, the idea of having something to fill a couple of days a week while we’re in Tennessee has got me thinking, maybe it might be a good idea to work for a couple of days of week? Trader Joe’s treats their employees well and many consider it a great place to work and fun as well. There’s no dress code other than wearing a store t-shirt. I am a big fan of their products and would have no trouble promoting them. I have retail experience and mostly enjoyed it.

Plus, our Family Big Event in early 2024 is going to cost a bit, and some extra income would be a nice way to cover those costs so we don’t have to dip into other savings. I’d also be able to save extra for potential relocation costs when our time in Tennessee is over.

But, I also wonder whether I want to be on my feet for eight hours, even if it’s only twice a week? Do I still have the energy to put in a full day’s work (and it would be actual physical work)? I already dislike appointments – do I want to have to be somewhere on someone else’s schedule twice a week? Do we really want to pay any more federal tax than we already do (Tennessee fortunately has no state income tax)? Those are some of the negatives that constantly come to mind. And, is Trader Joe’s really be interested in hiring an older person like me, especially after all the current holiday hubbub dies off?

The idea of working a couple of days a week at Trader Joe’s is tempting, if they want me. I have no desire in starting until after the new year because of our holiday plans, but I can see advantages in waiting until the first of the year anyway. I can also clearly see the negatives, especially getting hired and discovering I can’t cut it after only a few days or weeks.

I don’t have to work, but part-time at Trader Joe’s might be fun as well as rewarding beyond earning a small amount. It could also be a non-starter or pure misery. I am fortunate to have a choice, and the time to think about whether the choice would be a good one or not.

What do you think?

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.

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.

Retirement Done Differently

Or, How We Got To Where We Are Now.

I never had any sort of idea for the longest time what retirement should or would be like, and certainly never thought ours would turn out the way it has. Brett’s and my path to retirement never followed any sort of regular route, but sort of got made up along the way. Brett retired from the navy following 22 years of service, when he was 42, and continued working after that for another 21 years. I finished my degree (after having to borrow a ton of money) in my 40s, and then also went to work as an ESL instructor. Just to keep things interesting though, during our mid- to late-40s we adopted three beautiful daughters, and I left regular employment in 2006 to stay home and care for them (for months afterwards I never could figure out where I had found the time for my job). Retirement seemed to always be the last thing on our minds, pushed to a back burner and mostly forgotten, and by the time we were in our 60s, and following a major economic setback, we gave up thinking we would ever be able to fully retire. Brett was convinced he would continue to work into his 80s.

Brett and I have never followed what many would call a “normal” pathway through life anyway, and our journey to where we are now was certainly no different. We had one child in our twenties and then adopted three more when our peers were thinking more about their IRAs and an empty nest. We spent the first 15 years of our marriage with Brett in the navy and all that entailed, including moving every two and a half years. The cost for many of those moves came out of our own pockets making saving for the future difficult. Military salaries were low, and it seemed we were always paying off the cost of the last move and trying to save for the next one. Brett’s service was done one enlistment at a time until we finally decided at around the 15-year mark that maybe we should stay to collect the retirement (the best financial decision we ever made). Owning a home was a pipe dream back then, an impossibility, not just because of the frequent moves but because of the extremely high interest rates in the 1980s. A house was just flat-out unaffordable for us, especially when it would have to be sold in a couple of years. Brett retired from the navy during the recession of the early 90s but went back to school, earned a degree, found work, and in 1995 we purchased our first home. With the addition of the girls to our family our focus (and our budgets) turned to raising them. Retirement was still out there but not something we gave a whole lot of thought as there always seemed to be more pressing and immediate concerns.

I’ve often called us “accidental retirees.” While Brett receives a monthly retirement check (and good healthcare benefits) from his military service, the amount has never been enough to live on, especially not with a family. Brett was hired by a company in 1997 that offered a defined pension and he became vested. Sadly, that plan was closed soon after and before he had time to accrue much into the account, but it provides us a small amount of income every month (“milk money”). We also knew that our Social Security benefits would provide another source of income, but even with all three streams it would not be enough that we could ever quit working entirely, especially not with three children at home. The accidental part of our retirement came when the SSA informed us that because the girls would be minor dependents (under 18), in addition to his regular Social Security payments Brett would qualify to receive additional family benefits. This was a huge surprise to us, but we we added up the numbers and along with eliminating our debt figured that Brett could afford to retire in 2013, at age 63. We decided that I would “officially” retire when I reached 64 and start drawing my Social Security once our youngest had aged out of the family benefit.

I’ve often said that many if not most would be surprised at the amount of our retirement income, that even with three streams it’s less than most might imagine. However, Brett and I have always had the ability to make things happen with a smaller income. Have we made mistakes and done stupid things along the way? OMG, yes!!! But we learned from those mistakes: to take our time, save what we can whenever we can, plan and set goals, focus on what’s truly important (needs vs. wants), and leverage debt when necessary. We’ve never been afraid of change or a challenge, of doing things differently, or waiting rather than having to have or do something right away. We’ve learned to be creative savers even when it seemed like there was nothing to save, and practiced frugality before we even knew what that meant. We’ve carried debt over the years but much prefer not having any, and we refuse to judge those who do have it, even in retirement.

Looking back, it sometimes amazes me to think of all we’ve accomplished over the years and that we arrived at where we are now. With the girls grown and on their own, we’re enjoying a comfortable retirement, one we never could have imagined a decade ago. My mother used to tell me “you have to have money to dream.” I disagreed with her: dreams are free, but you often need money to make them come true. However, once you commit to a dream and make a plan, you can and usually will figure out the money part.

The road to retirement is different for everyone, and how we got to where we are now is certainly not any sort of blueprint for others to follow. Our story is ours alone. I offer no advice about how to have a great retirement except to pass along what I’ve learned: 1) Know what you need and what you want and then set your priorities and go for it. 2) Do what works for you and do it in a way that makes sense to you; forget about what others think or what they have. 3) Don’t expect perfection or a straight line. 4) Sometimes what seems like a not so great choice or decision at the time can affect your future in surprisingly positive ways. 5) There’s a big difference between fantasies and dreams. 6) Adjust your dreams as necessary, but never stop having them. 7) It’s your story to write.

Aging Gracefully

December 1991

So many people from your past know a version of you that no longer exists anymore. Growth is beautiful. (Vintage Vivids)

Our son took the photo above in Hong Kong in December of 1991. Brett was deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Storm, and wouldn’t be home for Christmas. We had recently received all of our deposits back from our off-base rental, and not wanting to spend Christmas at home without Brett, I signed up our son (age 12) and myself on a Christmas tour to Hong Kong. He and I had a wonderful time eating, sightseeing, but mostly shopping. In the photo above I am ready to head into the old Kowloon Bird Street to purchase several bamboo bird cages while our son ogled the birds and all the live critters available for their dining (bugs, worms, etc.).

The Laura of thirty years ago mostly doesn’t exist any more. I was so very insecure then, and wanted to be someone other than who I was. I felt oppressed and frustrated by the navy’s social structure in place at the time (officer/enlisted), and under appreciated for my talents and intelligence. Relationships with my family were not solid ground either, but Brett and I had a strong, affectionate marriage and a wonderful son, and those were my comfort and where I centered myself. Some of who I am now was beginning to emerge though – I was a saver and I was frugal and looked for bargains (Hong Kong was full of them!). I loved traveling and new experiences. There were other things I didn’t understand yet, that I was an introvert and thrived on having time on my own to recharge. Back then I stayed socially active because I still thought that’s how I had to be, but outside of my marriage and a couple of close friends I was miserable.

I wish I could have told myself 30 years ago that things were going to get better, lots better, and that my dreams were all going to come true. I would earn an advanced degree, complete research, and work in my field. I would travel, to places I couldn’t imagine then, and form wonderful friendships. I was going to raise not one but four beautiful, accomplished children. Most importantly, I would become able to banish the demons from my childhood, and more importantly discover and accept that I was not the flighty, unserious person my family had labeled me. Many of these things would be learned the hard way, through work and difficult choices, but I was always a good learner. I wish I could tell the Laura of 30 years earlier that she would end up with a comfortable retirement, a loving family, and a happy life full of accomplishments and possibilities.

December 2021

I am content these days. I recognize and honor what I have accomplished even though I chose a different path than others. I have done all the things I wanted to do, and more beyond. I know what I like but still remain open to new experiences and ideas, and I continue to approach much of the world with wonder. I remain positive about life and look forward to each day, and still always carry hope in my pockets.

I am aging gracefully. My hair is gray, but curlier than ever and I love it. I need glasses these days, and I weigh a bit more than I did 30 years ago but am at a good place for my age. I have surprisingly few health issues. I’ve come to like myself very much while acknowledging and accepting my limitations. I’ve become more tolerant of some things these days, less so of others (far less so in some cases).

My life has been a magnificent roller coaster ride. I slowly climbed the steep hill to adulthood, lacking confidence, and with the slowness and views during the ascent leaving me a bit unprepared for how things were going to suddenly speed up as the car headed down into the rest of life’s twists and turns. A few of those moments almost threw me right out of my car, but others, although unexpected, were exciting and had me craving more as I grew better at seeing them coming and prepared myself. A few upside down loops have rattled me now and again, but I’ve always righted myself and continued, eager for more. I’ve gone beyond the halfway point of my ride now, but there is still more left to go, and a few more twists and turns to get through before I (hopefully) slowly glide in to the final stop.

My life has been the best adventure ever and I’m looking forward to what’s yet to come. It may not always be good news, and things may not happen as hoped for or planned, but I know now I can face whatever is coming because I’ve not only been growing older, but growing better, and with grace.

Noho’ana Hau’ole: Life Is Good

(photo credit:Dustin Belt/Unsplash)

Some of you reading this may recognize the title of this post! It was the name of an old blog that I segued into as we moved from paying off our debt to getting ready to move to Hawaii in 2014. It rolled over to another blog, The View From the Treehouse, which eventually became The Occasional Nomads in 2015.

You know what though? Life is still very good. It’s definitely not perfect, nor do we expect it to be, and things go wrong from time to time, but mostly things go right or we’re able to figure out another path to reach our goals. I have always been a “glass half full” kind of girl, and these days we look at life through a lens of positivity, and try to find joy every day.

Over the past few years, Brett and I have been able to pare down many of the things we thought we needed to live a quality life. We are living more simply these days, with fewer needs and a lot less stuff. Doing so has not only helped us reach our travel goals, but left us happier and with more time to pursue the things we enjoy. We consider ourselves a work in progress – we still have a ways to go to reach true minimalism.

Below are a few more reasons life is good these days:

We’re in good health and in good shape for our ages. Brett is 71; I’m 69, and all things considered we’re doing very well, health wise. Neither of us is without aches and pains and other issues of aging, but in the grand scheme of things these things are minor. We have been blessed with good health insurance (Tricare and Medicare), dental insurance, and vision insurance that will go with us anywhere in the world. We are vaccinated against COVID which opens up most of the world to us, and between mask wearing and social distancing we have avoided getting sick (with our fingers are crossed for the future). The (mostly) good weather in Hawaii allows us to exercise almost daily, and we can afford to eat a healthy diet.

Our income is sufficient. We have never made much money. When I look back and remember how little we had when we were raising our kids I’m frankly stumped by how we did it. Life is financially easier now because it’s just the two of us, but we are still not what anyone would call rich or wealthy by any means. We’re . . . comfortable. We’ve developed strategies for coping with high prices over the years, and those strategies have meant we haven’t felt inflation’s effects too much. We’re still able to put money away into savings each month, and help out with college expenses, and between our savings and income we can afford to travel and cover our Christmas expenses this year.

We live in an amazing place. The beauty of Kaua’i inspires us every day, even if we’re only walking at the park, looking out into the yard, or watching the sun set from our living room. We experience the beauty and grace of aloha every day as well in a myriad of ways. The experience of living here has been life-changing, and moving here one of the best choices we ever made.

Our children are doing well. We finally are on the cusp of having a truly empty nest. We always felt our goal as parents was to help our children develop the skills to fly and succeed with their own wings while still feeling grounded and rooted in our family, and as our youngest gets ready to graduate from college in a few months we feel as if we have succeeded beyond our wildest expectations.

We have something to look forward to every day. We are excited and full of anticipation over our upcoming travel schedule, but we always look forward to each day, and even the small things we do each day. We still have much to do to get ready for next year’s adventure, but every day we do at least one thing that brings us closer to our goal.

We have everything we need. We have what we need and more, actually, something we’re discovering almost daily as we downsize and get ready to go. Choices we have made along the way, the things we have bought, have served us well and brought us happiness, but it’s time for most of them to be passed on to others. We don’t want for anything.

A long time ago, when I became pregnant, a wise friend, a psychologist, told me I could experience my pregnancy in one of two ways: I could decide to be miserable, or I could decide it was the most wonderful experience ever no matter what happened. I chose wonderful, and in spite of being separated from Brett for most of the time (we were stationed in different places), plus having a physically difficult pregnancy followed by a difficult delivery, it still remains a completely wonderful experience to this day. Brett and I decided would enjoy retirement in the same way, that no matter what came our way we would enjoy this time of our lives to the fullest. Our lives and situation are not perfect nor will they ever be, but for now we are not only surviving but thriving, and looking forward to getting to do what we love most in the near future: travel! We are living the good life in a way that fits us perfectly, and each day is a blessing. Noho’ana hau’ole!

Retiring in Hawaii: Pros & Cons (Part 7)

Hawaii’s kupuna are loved and respected (photo credit: Hawaii Magazine)

I have gray hair and I look my age. Unfortunately, as it happens with all too many older people, I have sometimes been judged by the color of my hair and the wrinkles on my face and quickly dismissed, deemed to be an out-of-it old geezer who knows nothing about technology, or about the world or what’s going on. It’s not always true, of course, but it has happened to me enough to have been noticeable.

Although we work hard to stay healthy and active, and living in Hawai’i helps keep us this way, we know a time will come when we will need more care and assistance, especially for possible medical conditions. I’ve covered some of the issues involved with growing old in the islands, especially as it pertains to housing, and present below some more advantages and disadvantages, and how things operate here:

  • PRO: The strong influence of both native and Asian cultures translates into greater respect for the elderly in Hawai’i overall. The islands have a long history of caring for its elderly, or kupuna. Kupuna literally means ancestor but also infers someone who is both wise and beloved. Seniors outside of family are traditionally referred to as “aunty” and “uncle,” and the terms are used by children and younger people of all ages. Both Brett and I have yet to be treated with anything less than full respect here from everyone we have encountered, no matter their age, a somewhat different experience than we encountered on the mainland at times. The trend in Hawai’i is to keep seniors living on their own for as long as possible, and many services exist to help the elderly remain independent, including van service to doctor appointments, senior centers, Meals on Wheels or community meals, and low-cost or free housekeeping assistance. Traditionally families care for their kupuna but with demographics and the state’s economy changing, family care is changing as well and more and more elderly are turning to services provided by the state.
  • CON: While the number of assisted living and retirement centers has been growing in Hawai’i, the costs for them are growing as well. Even with more homes and senior residences available in every price range, with the growth in the elderly population there is a waiting list for vacancies. If round-the-clock health care is needed, nursing home costs in Hawai’i are approximately 44% higher than the national average. However, even having enough money to cover your costs does not mean there will be an open spot when needed. On some of the islands, private homes offer boarding where elderly can live and receive care. However, these are sometimes operated according to the ethnic background of the owner with different cultural norms, customs and even diet a part of the experience. Boarding in a private home can mean a loving, pleasant experience or it could be a nightmare of abuse and neglect. However, Hawai’i conducts unannounced inspections of licensed private boarding homes, and inspections have shown there to be thankfully few problems with these homes.

Brett and I moved to Hawai’i with the intention of remaining there until the end of our lives, but life has had other plans for us. With our son in Japan, and our daughters living back on the east coast, it makes more sense to eventually relocate somewhere other than Hawaii in spite of our love for the climate and lifestyle here.

All of the points made in the past few weeks about Hawaii retirement can of course be extrapolated to any other place. Some of the pros and cons are unique to Hawaii, but all still give ideas for consideration when deciding whether to stay in a location or move elsewhere in retirement.

Retiring in Hawaii: Pros & Cons (Part 6)

Container ship loaded with cars (Photo credit: iStock)

Whether or not to bring your car along or buy here is a big question when considering a move to Hawaii. Maybe you dream of living without a car and using public transportation, or living with just one car in retirement. There are both pros and cons to bringing shipping a car over, and while public transportation is an issue that may not affect many, as with everything else in Hawai’i there are both pros and cons, especially depending on the island you live on.

PRO: The cost for shipping a car to Hawaii from the west coast of the U.S. isn’t as expensive as one might imagine. We paid just $1000 for the service in 2014 but these days the price runs between $1500 – $2100. However, if you own a paid for, used car in good condition or are still making payments on a newer car it can make sense to pay to ship your car over because replacing your car here can cost a whole lot more.

Car registration fees in Hawaii can be inexpensive compared to other states on the mainland. There is an annual base state registration fee of $45 each year, and each county then assesses their own registration fees. On Kaua’i the rate for cars and passenger trucks is $1.25 per pound. We own a Honda Civic, a fairly light car, and our registration fees and inspection came to $178 this past year.

The availability of affordable public transportation means that seniors have the means to stay mobile and active longer, even if they can no longer afford to maintain a car or just want to reduce the amount of driving they do. People aged 65 and older can ride TheBus all over the island of O’ahu at a discounted cost. Those over 60 receive a discounted fare to ride the Kauai Bus, and 55 and older can get a discounted monthly pass on the Mau’i Bus. Bus transportation is free for seniors aged 55 and older on the Big Island’s Hele-On public transportation system (you must provide ID each time showing proof of age).

CON: If you’ve shipped your car to Hawaii, the system for registering your car in Hawaii is convoluted and complicated. The first step requires getting your car inspected, and since it isn’t registered in Hawaii it will automatically fail. The failed inspection inspection report is then taken to the DMV, where you show the title and/or any lien, pay the registration fee, any taxes due, or other costs based on the age of the car, the weight, and so forth. Once that is done you’re given your registration and Hawaii license plates. The car then has to go back to the inspection station to get approved, and inspection stickers are applied to your license plate (you only pay the inspection station when you pass the inspection) and you’re good to go. A new car purchased on the island receives an inspection sticker good for two years; all other cars, including new cars shipped from the mainland, only receive a one-year sticker.

Used cars on Hawaii go for higher prices than they do on the mainland and may not be in as good a shape. Rust, salt and sun damage are endemic. In some cases, it can make more sense to purchase a new car on the mainland and have it shipped over. There are no luxury car dealerships on Kaua’i, for example, and if you want one of those you will have to pay extra to have it barged over from Oahu.

As for public transportation, the system honestly isn’t very good. Other than on O’ahu, public transportation is less than ideal and seniors without a car usually must rely on cabs, ride share, friends, and relatives for transportation. After 10 years and still going, the much anticipated Honolulu light rail system is still under construction and only half complete, and costs for its construction have more than doubled. Bus systems on islands other than O’ahu are also less extensive. For example, on Kaua’i, while the bus travels all the way around the island from Kekaha in the southwest from Hanalei in the north, there are limited bus stops along the route, sometimes with several miles between them. If you don’t live near one of the bus stops then public transportation isn’t very convenient, useful or even worth considering, especially if you need to use it for shopping. It’s the same for the bus systems on Mau’i and the Big Island – they are limited. There is no public transportation on Molokai.

Our entire family were big fans and users of public transportation in Portland, and we were initially interested in using the Kaua’i bus here. We noticed during visits that the system appeared to be used quite a bit, with buses often filled to standing room only. However, the reality turned out to be no bus stops anywhere remotely close to where we lived during our first stay, and the bus schedules didn’t fit the girls’ after-school schedules either.

Staying mobile might not seem much of a hassle in Hawai’i, especially if you plan to bring your car along or buy one here as soon as you arrive (in many cases it costs less to ship your car than buy here). Except for Hawaii, the Big Island, the islands aren’t all that big. Still, gasoline is expensive, there’s wear and tear and premature aging to your car from the elements and you may find yourself sitting in traffic every day if you commute. We considered public transportation, and we currently live nearby to a bus stop, but so far our little car gets the job done and doesn’t cost us much to operate.

Retiring in Hawaii: Pros & Cons (Part 5)

Year-round growing weather means an abundance of fresh, local, and affordable produce at farmers’ markets and farm stands in Hawaii.

Back when we were still in Portland, when I would mention to anyone that we were planning to retire in Hawai’i, many would sigh and talk about paradise in one breath, and then turn right around and talk about how expensive Hawai’i is. Then they would sigh once more and mention paradise and the weather again.

Weather was the number one item on our list when it came to choosing a retirement location. It made no sense for us to move from the cold, dreary and wet winters of Portland to an area with even colder winters just to enjoy a lower cost of living. However, cost of living was still a major factor in deciding just where we could actually afford to live. Paradise is wonderful, but if you can’t afford to pay the rent or get out and enjoy it, then there’s really no point in living there.

The next two points about retiring in the middle of this series of pros and cons of retiring in Hawai’i (or not) are here for a reason. After working your way through the first four, the pros and cons at in this post can and should cause one to pause and maybe even reevaluate whether or not to move all over again.

PRO: The warm weather and tropical climate of Hawai’i is very kind to aging bodies and bones, and conditions like arthritis. Temperatures average between 75°-85° on most parts of all the islands during the day, and rarely fall below 65° at night. Both Brett and I definitely notice a difference in how our bodies and bones feel here. I have arthritis in one knee (from a bad fracture years ago) and the Brett has mild arthritis in some of his joints. We have absolutely no symptoms at all while we we’re here; in fact, we forgot we even had arthritis until we started traveling back in 2018. Anecdotally, I know of elderly who have been able to reduce their use of medication that was necessary back on the mainland, and who are in better health than ever. The tropical climate also means there is quite a bit of humidity, which can drive me nuts, but it’s honestly nowhere near as bad as what we experienced living in the eastern U.S. and Japan (the humidity here is child’s play compared to those places). Year-round warm weather also means a year-round growing season, so (affordable) locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables are always available, and it also means you can stay active year round as well.

CON: We call it the “paradise tax,” but everything costs more in Hawai’i. Everything (except maybe a trip to the beach). Although we save on income taxes, housing is more expensive than on the mainland, as are utilities (Kaua’i costs for electricity are the highest in the nation). Gasoline costs more. Food and medical costs are both expensive and also taxed (4%, although prescriptions are exempt) as Hawaii imposes a general excise tax versus a sales tax. All living expenses should be carefully investigated and evaluated before deciding whether a move to Hawai’i is feasible. The best means of keeping costs down in Hawaii is to not expect to live like on the mainland, but to learn to live like a local. That can mean changing habits, learning to eat new foods (and giving up old favorites), and practicing frugality at every turn.

I think the biggest reason Brett and I have succeeded here is because we w-a-y over-budgeted before we ever arrived. We researched rental costs for nearly a year to see what we could get for how much and where. We kept up with gasoline prices on the island, and food prices as well, and did our best to understand how much utilities would be. We made choices on where to live based on how a location would affect our budget. Once here, we learned over time where to shop and how to shop like a local (Costco, Walmart, Big Save, farmers’ markets and farm stands). We stuck with an economical small car and kept/keep our gasoline costs down. Our determination to live under our means in spite of the high cost of living here has provided us with a quality, healthy life using only our retirement income, and has allowed us to save, help our girls get through college, and enjoy travel out of the state and overseas. Living in Hawaii is expensive, but it can be doable.

Retiring in Hawaii: Pros & Cons (Part 4)

One of our favorite parts of living in Hawaii is giving and receiving the Shaka. It can mean hello, thank you, take care, right on!, goodbye, but most of all . . . aloha. (photo credit: Kukui’ula)

Once we decided that we wanted to retire in Hawai’i, Brett and I began reading as much as we could about the state and living there as retirees. We also talked with as many different people as possible, those who were living on Kaua’i when we visited, or had previously lived in Hawai’i, to pick their brains about the best and worst of life in the islands. This week’s positive and negative reasons for retiring in Hawai’i are the two aspects that almost everyone spoke about or mentioned most often.

PRO: We have found that Hawai’i residents are, without exception, the friendliest people that we have ever encountered. From locals who were born and raised on the islands, to those who relocated years ago to recent residents, almost everyone we meet takes the time to talk with us (‘talk story’) and offer help when needed. Almost without exception, everyone we pass on our walks greets us, friends and strangers alike and asks about YaYu. Residents gave us tips on how to settle in, get involved and make friends, and let us know where volunteers were needed. We were told about the best hula instructors, where to learn ukulele, take cooking classes and so forth, but also the best markets to shop and find bargains, best places to eat, best places to visit. Aloha is something we read about, but to experience it is something else.

CON: Geographically speaking, the Hawaiian islands are one of the most isolated places on the planet, alone and surrounded on all sides by thousands of miles of the Pacific Ocean. One of the most difficult adjustments new residents face is that distance from everything else, especially family and friends. Almost everyone we spoke with before we moved here told us the importance of budgeting in an amount every year for travel off the island you live on. Whether it’s to reinforce ties with family and friends back on the mainland or just to visit another one of the islands, everyone said it’s important to be able to “get away” somewhere once a year.

The spread of the virus has made it difficult to impossible for us to get away since we arrived back in March of 2020. Visits to Japan are off the table for the foreseeable future as they deal with their own surges and quarantines remain in place, and we haven’t felt any desire to return to the mainland. Savings goals have kept us from visiting another one of the islands. We’re looking forward to our daughters’ visits at Christmas this year, and to see other friends next month when they come to Kaua’i. In the meantime we stay hunkered down in order to stay healthy, but we do miss greatly being able to get away once in a while.