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.
This week’s positive and negative factors for retiring in Hawai’i both concern housing. If you’re retiring and plan on buying a house, in spite of extremely high prices there is some good news; if you need specialized housing, the news is not so good.
PRO: Houses in Hawai’i are an extremely costly proposition these days. However, Hawaii property taxes are still fairly low (we are frankly amazed by how low they are in Hawaii compared to other states), and senior homeowners receive additional exemptions on their taxes. Back when we were considering buying, because our ages our annual property taxes would have only been around $150! Currently, all Hawaiian homeowners receive a $160,000 tax exemption on their home but seniors 60 and over receive the following exemptions.
$180,000 for ages 60 to 79.
$200,000 for age 80 and above
Every little bit helps!
CON: Inexpensive elderly housing and assisted living can be difficult to find in Hawaii, especially if you need it sooner rather than later. Housing for seniors, government subsidized or otherwise, exists on most of the islands and as might be expected, most of it is in Honolulu. However, space in these places is limited, they can be costly, and it can take years to gain a spot in a government-subsidized housing facility. We know of three retirement/senior living facilities on Kauai, although there may be more. One is a full-scale retirement and assisted living center in Lihue. It is fairly new and is also very expensive. Another housing option for low-income retirees is the old Lihue theater, which has been remodeled and turned into subsidized one-bedroom apartments for seniors, a very clever way to save and utilize a historic building. There are income limits to qualify for one of these apartments, and our income is too high. Another senior housing complex exists in Kalaheo, near where we live, but we again have too high an income to qualify. I’ve recently seen openings advertised on Craigslist – when we lived here before I never once saw an ad – the only notice I ever saw was an announcement on the theater marquis.
In Hawaii, it’s very common for extended family to live together and manage care for elderly family members, possibly with help from the community. Continuing home health care is a frequently used option for seniors here, and Kapuna Care (kapuna = grandparent, ancestor, or honored elderly), funded by the State of Hawaii, allows seniors to stay in their homes and provides assistance with daily living activities. Other private companies and services exist as well to help elders remain in their homes or with family.
While not the only reason, current housing costs play a major role in our decision not to remain in Hawaii, as does the lack of options on Kaua’i for senior care, which may be needed in the future.
I’m still somewhat amazed at times at what Brett and I have accomplished on a not very big income, and the life we enjoy now. It wasn’t that long ago we thought Brett would be working into his 80s, and worrying about how we’d get the girls through college. We certainly never thought we’d be enjoying the good life in Hawaii or that we’d be able to travel and see the world (and never thought we’d be affected by anything like COVID either).
Looking back, it’s easy to see all of the things we did wrong. We spent when we should have saved. We almost always carried some debt, whether that was a car payment or a mortgage or consumer debt. We should have saved more, although there were times when that was impossible even when both of us were working. In retrospect we can see we did make the right choices in four critical areas and at four critical times, sometimes inadvertently, all of which have helped lead to the life we have now. We have more than most and less than many, but we are enjoying the comfortable retirement we once thought we’d never have.
Although it wasn’t obvious at the time, below are the four things in our lives that made a difference:
Staying in the navy. Brett ended up serving 22 years in the navy, but while he was in, retiring from the service was never a sure thing. It was a good life, but a hard life too, with lots of moves and deployments, and lots of time spent away and apart from each other and family. We used to joke that the first thing he had to do at each new duty station was turn in a list of all family birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates so they could make sure he would be deployed at those times. Brett did his service enlistment by enlistment. However, because we eventually made the choice to stay for retirement, we have had a guaranteed income every month for as long as Brett’s alive, and equally good, outstanding health insurance for life as well (that will continue even if I outlive Brett). That monthly income has made sure our rent or mortgage has been covered ever since he left the navy, and we’ve never had to worry about health care. We never thought about what it would be like not to have those things while he was on active duty, but we are grateful every day now that we stuck with it to retire.
Sticking it out at a miserable job. Brett spent his last 14 years before retirement working for a great company, at a job he mostly loved. He worked with and for people he enjoyed. However, he went through a really bad stretch of two years when he worked under the Manager from Hell. Miserable can’t begin to describe that period of time. The manager was the one who abruptly ended Brett”s overtime, causing his income to drop by a third and sending us spiraling into debt (the work never away either; it just kept piling up because he couldn’t keep up with it). Things got to the point where I begged him to quit because the girls and I couldn’t take his misery any more. He did look for, interview for, and was offered other employment during this time, but none of these employers offered anywhere near the benefits he received from the company, so he stayed while other co-workers, equally miserable under the awful manager, headed for other employment. The manager was eventually demoted, and Brett was subsequently offered his dream position within the company with a boost in pay for his final two years before retirement. Because he stayed, Brett was able to beef up his 401K before retirement and he also receives a small but steady pension, a benefit I will continue to receive if I outlive Brett.
Buying a cheap house. When we bought our second home in Portland over 16 years ago, we decided to buy the nicest but cheapest house we could find that was convenient to the girls’ schools. The house we ended up purchasing fit the bill perfectly. It was new construction with simple, inexpensive finishes but a fantastic floor plan that was walking distance from the girls’ elementary school. However, it was located in a neighborhood that had friends and family wondering whether we had lost our minds because the neighborhood’s nickname was “Felony Flats.”. Almost to a person we were asked, “Why did you buy here?” and told we “could have done so much better.” But guess what? Our low mortgage payment helped us pay off our debt when times got tough. The house not only held its value, but increased enough that even following the burst of housing bubble we ended up making a small profit. In the nine years we lived in that house the neighborhood became a desirable location within Portland with the elementary school located across the street earning awards and developing a waiting list to get in. We could have afforded a much larger mortgage in a different neighborhood at the time we bought our house, but seven years after its sale I am still so thankful we bought that cheap house, and shudder to think about how things might have turned out if we hadn’t.
Adopting our daughters. One of the biggest reason we carried debt into our 50s and beyond is because we adopted not once but three times, beginning in our mid-40s. We knew with each adoption that we were spending or taking away from our retirement and future financial security, but we also knew it was the right thing for us to do, no matter the cost. Neither Brett nor I have ever regretted for a moment what we spent to bring our girls home and raise them, but we knew there was a chance we would maybe have to work nearly into our 80s because of our choices. However, unbeknownst to us, because we turned out to have dependents under the age of 18, Brett was eligible to receive extra Social Security benefits for the girls which along with our debt elimination made it possible for him to retire at age 63. By the time YaYu finally aged out, I was eligible for my Social Security and a lump-sum pension payment from Oregon. While we would most likely be enjoying an even more comfortable retirement if we had not adopted, we can’t imagine our lives without our daughters, and adding them to our family when we did surprisingly ended up providing us the opportunity to retire earlier than expected rather than face long-term financial hardship.
Brett and I made many bad financial choices and mistakes along the way to retirement. A few times it seemed we had done nothing but the wrong thing, and would pay dearly for it later. Now we can see we actually did the important things right, even though we usually couldn’t see it or imagine it at the time, things that are now providing us financial security, allowing us to make dreams come true, and providing a comfortable life as we age.
It’s tempting to think of sunny weather, palm trees, ocean breezes and mai tais in the evening when contemplating retirement in Hawai’i. For Brett and I, the weather was probably the main factors in deciding to retire to the islands, but there are many other things about Hawai’i that work in its favor as a retirement location. However, there are also several other factors that are not so positive. While it’s easy to consider the good, the negative or not-so-good aspects of living on the islands must be honestly considered as well.
Before we relocated to Kaua’i in 2014, we did a lot of research. A LOT. One of the best resources we came across on relocating to and succeeding in Hawai’i was So You Want to Live in Hawai’i by Toni Polancy. Besides having loads of a great information about the ins and outs, ups and down of daily life in the state, the book also had a chapter on retirement, and outlined eight good reasons to retire in Hawai’i as well as eight good reasons NOT to retire in Hawai’i. All of these pros and cons were factors we weighed carefully before making our move to Kaua’i in 2014.
So You Want to Live in Hawai’i doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2010, but the general information presented in the book, for the most part, is still on point and worthwhile. I ran this seven-part series several years ago in a former blog, and in the coming weeks, I want to again present two points based on Toni’s list from the retirement chapter, one positive and one negative, and discuss where we how we have dealt with them.
PRO: Statistically, living in Hawai’i may add four more years to your life. You may also be thinner and more active in Hawai’i than you were on the mainland. Hawai’i has the fewest overweight people of any state. Those are statistics, but the (mostly) good weather and availability of outdoor activities mean that there is more potential to get out and stay active here year-round. The abundance and affordability of locally raised fruits and vegetables and the higher cost of food otherwise has turned out to mean we eat less of some things (like meat) than we might have in another location, but more fruits and vegetables overall. It’s truly easy to stay active here, whether that’s walking, swimming, hiking, doing yoga, or participating in other activities – we just want to be outside as much as possible! I honestly believe we’re in better health, and in better shape here than we would have been in any other location we considered.
CON: Although you’ll be living in paradise, once the initial thrill is gone it’s possible you’ll miss family and old friends more than you imagined. Loneliness is a major issue for many who move to Hawai’i, especially those who have grandchildren back on the mainland (or like us, in another country). The average stay for new residents is under two years, and loneliness is a major factor in many transplant’s decision to return to the mainland. We currently don’t live near any close relatives, nor do we see them frequently, and Hawai’i didn’t actually put us nearer to our son and his family as flights from Japan to Hawai’i are about the same length as flights were from Japan to Portland. Our distance from our family has been one of the most difficult aspects of living here for us but we have found ways to communicate frequently and keep up with each other. There have been no rose-colored glasses either when it comes to settling in and making new friends and connections here, or what we gave up leaving Portland. People are very friendly, here but it can take time to make friends and find your place in your community as locals have seen newcomers come and go for years and like to see first whether someone is committed to staying or not.
“UNTIL ONE IS COMMITTED, THERE IS HESITANCY, THE CHANCE TO DRAW BACK, ALWAYS INEFFECTIVENESS. CONCERNING ALL ACTS OF INITIATIVE (AND CREATION), THERE IS ONE ELEMENTARY TRUTH, THE IGNORANCE OF WHICH KILLS COUNTLESS IDEAS AND SPLENDID PLANS: THAT THE MOMENT ONE DEFINITELY COMMITS ONESELF, THEN PROVIDENCE MOVES TOO. ALL SORTS OF THINGS OCCUR TO HELP ONE THAT WOULD NEVER OTHERWISE HAVE OCCURRED. A WHOLE STREAM OF EVENTS ISSUES FROM THE DECISION, RAISING IN ONE’S FAVOUR ALL MANNER OF UNFORESEEN INCIDENTS AND MEETINGS AND MATERIAL ASSISTANCE, WHICH NO MAN COULD HAVE DREAMT WOULD HAVE COME HIS WAY. I HAVE LEARNED A DEEP RESPECT FOR ONE OF GOETHE’S COUPLETS: WHATEVER YOU CAN DO, OR DREAM YOU CAN, BEGIN IT. BOLDNESS HAS GENIUS, POWER, AND MAGIC IN IT!”
William Hutchinson Murray
(This was first posted on January 16, 2018, but it seems timely once again, even in this time of unknowns.)
The best description I ever heard of the China adoption process was that putting the dossier together was like doing your taxes over and over and over and over and over and over . . . again and again and again and again . . . . A slew of documents needed to be assembled upfront: a home study, birth certificates, marriage certificate, medical reports, police reports, financial statement, adoption statements, immigration forms, etc. – there were nearly 20 documents required in all. Each one of them had to be notarized in the state where they originated, then each notarized document went to the Secretary of State of that state for the notary to be certified. After that, the entire stack, by now nearly three inches high, was sent by courier to the U.S. State Department for certification, and then to the Chinese Embassy for each document’s final certification and approval. Four copies had to be made of every page of the entire dossier and only then could it finally be sent to China and put in line for us to be matched with a child.
The process took several months to complete, and along the way, there was always the possibility for China to tweak or change their requirements. For example, we were almost done with the dossier for Meiling’s adoption when China suddenly announced that physicals could no longer be more than six months old, and ours were seven months old at that point. Panic! But, our doctor squeezed us in, and every other part of the certification process worked flawlessly (for a change) and in just a few short weeks the dossier was finally complete and off to China in late May of 1996. Matches and referrals were taking only three or so months back then, so our hopes were high that by the time we returned home in August from taking our son to college we would have news of a new daughter.
However, when we returned home and called our agency the news was not good; in fact, it was very bad. China had shut down adoptions for families that already had children, which of course included us. Our agency was moving families into other adoption programs, but China had been the only program that worked for us because of our ages (we were each over 40 years old). What had happened, we later learned, was a power struggle over the international adoption program had broken out between two different political bureaus in China, and adoptions had ground to a halt while they fought it out and reorganized. (We also learned our agency was convinced at the time that the entire program was going to collapse.)
All of our hopes and love, and quite a bit of money, had gone into the adoption process for more than a year, including all of Brett’s and my work assembling our dossier. I was in graduate school at the time, and my work began to suffer because I could barely concentrate. Brett unhappily slogged off to work each day as well. Our son was at college in another state, so it was just the two of us at home each evening, and we were glum, depressed, and unsure of what to do or how to proceed.
On one particularly bad day, one of my professors emailed me the quote above, and told me to “hang in there.” I shared it with Brett that evening, and we talked about how deeply committed we still were to adopting from China and had been from the start. All sorts of unexpected and serendipitous events had happened and helped us along the way to make our adoption dream so far a reality, and we decided that rather than pull out we would stay with it to the end and see what happened, no matter the outcome. We both felt in our hearts that our daughter was waiting for us there.
The William Murray quote was a turning point for us. And, it has proven prescient ever since. When we have committed to something, whether it was adding an additional child to our family again through adoption, or getting ourselves out of debt, or moving to Hawai’i, or planning a trip – when we have committed ourselves, as the quote says, Providence has always moved too. Things we couldn’t have imagined happened to help make our plans a reality, and we were given the drive, vision, and persistence to see our dreams come true and our goals reached.
Commitment has been the step where we’ve gone from “do you think?” or “should we?” to “let’s do this” and then started figuring out how to accomplish it. The path to success has not always been straight or smooth or easy, but time and experience have shown that the unexpected does and will occur along the way to help, especially when we need it most. As each journey continues we begin to see things in different ways and act on them accordingly, with our commitment to finishing growing stronger the further along we get.
As the new year began in 1997 we were still waiting, but Brett and I had reached the depths of despair. There had been no positive word from our agency for weeks, and we felt like we were hanging on to hope by our fingernails. We had enjoyed having our son home for Christmas, but he returned to school on January 9. So, when the phone rang on the morning of January 10 I assumed it was him asking about something he had forgotten and wanted us to send. I had been lying on our sofa, crying and asking God for some kind of a sign, that if there was to be no adoption to let us know somehow and we would let it go, but if we were to continue to hope then we would continue to hang on. When I answered the phone though it was not our son but our social worker: “Laura, there’s a baby girl waiting for you in China.” On March 12, 1997, in the hallway of a hotel in China, we met our little Meiling for the first time and she was ours.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!
I was very surprised when I came across this post from January 2011 because I thought this part of our journey had come much, much later.
Brett and I have long called ourselves “accidental retirees.” We had never thought much about or discussed retirement although we did save, but at the beginning of 2010 we did not believe we would ever be able to retire. We were drowning in debt at that point, had depleted our savings, and we were still raising young children – retirement was nothing more than a pipe dream. While we had committed ourselves to getting out of debt we were unable to see ourselves ever surviving without being employed somewhere. However, it appears that after just one (very difficult) year of debt reduction, we were not only thinking about but apparently actively starting to plan Brett’s retirement!
The game-changer was not only the elimination of over half of our debt, but discovering Brett would qualify for an additional family allowance from Social Security. Before January 2011 we had no idea such a thing even existed, let alone that we would qualify for it. I remember Brett and I talking with a counselor at Social Security, and finding out that because we had three children under age 18 that we would receive the full allowance, at least for a couple of years. With that, and with Brett’s military retirement, a small pension from his employer, his regular Social Security, and our debt eliminated, retirement became an affordable reality.
Brett did not retire in 2012 – that didn’t happen until June 2013 because stuff continued to happen and the rest of our debt did not get paid off as quickly as we hoped. However, at the beginning of 2011, we finally knew where the path we were on was taking us and how we were going to get there, and we had an even bigger motivation for finally getting rid of our debt. That journey never really got much easier, but knowing what awaited us at the end made a huge difference.
No, it’s not Rest, Relaxation, Reuse or Recycle. The R-word here is Retirement.
Brett is eligible to retire (Social Security-type retire) in just a little over a year. This is both exciting and somewhat frightening at the same time. The date is coming fast too, although frankly, not fast enough for Brett. He wants to be done with work yesterday, although he plans to continue working at his current position until the end of 2012. His huge desire to retire is the primary factor behind our urgency to pay off our debt.
The conventional wisdom is that you should work as long as possible, and put off taking your Social Security benefits in order to draw the full benefit upon retirement. We’re in a somewhat unique position though because we have dependents under the age of 18, so Brett will be eligible to receive the full family allowance for a while along with his standard Social Security payment. It makes sense for him to retire earlier rather than later. Social Security, along with his military retirement and pension from his current job, will provide us with an adequate income when he does leave his job. He will probably continue to work part-time somewhere because he’s not a sit-around sort of guy, but that’s an unknown for now. Right around when the time comes for our youngest (YaYu) to age out of eligibility for the allowance, my Social Security and pension will kick in to bring our income back up, although my pension will probably be just enough to buy milk every month. We’re not going to be rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ll be OK, especially if we don’t have any debt.
One thing we are talking about now is whether to stay in Portland or move elsewhere and if so, where? Brett and I are both getting tired of the rain and the cold of Portland winters, but the girls love it here. Any move would have to be done after Meiling graduates from high school in 2014 as she does not do particularly well with change, and is the most embedded here. But I’m not sure we will want to stay an additional four years after that for YaYu to graduate. We have long dreamed of moving out to the Oregon coast, but realize we would face the same weather there as we do here. Although I’m originally from California, I have little desire to go back there, and any place on the east coast would be too far away from our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson in Japan. Hawaii is a possibility, although the cost of living is quite high there. We have lots to think about, and thankfully don’t need to make any quick decisions.
We made some not-so-smart financial choices in the past and would be in even better financial shape if we’d done a few things differently, but we also did some things right or smart, like making the commitment for Brett to stick it out with the navy for 22 years, even though it was not an easy life. Adopting three children when we were in our mid- to late-40s was maybe not a smart financial move, but the right thing for us, and the best thing we ever did in every other sense. Going back to school in our 40s and borrowing for that was also not the brightest choice we made, but we’re both glad we have our degrees, and in Brett’s case it has paid off. Sticking with his current employer for all these years has also turned out well, although he could have made more money elsewhere. His Fortune 500 company has provided incredible benefits that no one else could come close to matching, and some of those will continue to be there after retirement.
If I know just one thing now, it’s that time passes way more quickly than you ever think it will and suddenly something like actual retirement looms. When we were young, when Brett was deployed, time seemed to stretch out forever. I never gave much of a thought to retirement or what we’d be doing or how we’d pay for things but all of a sudden . . . here it is. “Old people” were always talking about retirement and saving and investments but we felt like we had forever to get there. How wrong we were! We know that Social Security, in its current form, should be there for us and for that we are immensely grateful. For our son, or our daughters, or others younger than us, maybe not. We’re lucky and we know it.
P.S. I was doubly surprised to see Hawaii mentioned this early as well, as I remembered that as coming much later too.
P.P.S. Neither of us has ever had to (or wanted to) work after retirement – with a changed, more frugal lifestyle, our income, approximately two-thirds of what we earned pre-retirement, has turned out to be enough that we haven’t needed additional employment.
Should we keep traveling or should we settle down? That’s the BIG question for the Occasional Nomads that we have been and are STILL discussing.
Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, which is why it’s become a neverending topic of conversation for Brett and me. How do we see our future unfolding? That changes frequently, sometimes from day to day. Have we had enough of all this moving around? Some days yes, some days no. Should we settle down? It sounds good for a while, then it doesn’t, then it does again, and so forth. Won’t we get restless if we stop?
It’s wonderful to have options and talk about them but at the same time, it’s beginning to get a bit confusing and even boring at times too. Thankfully it’s not something we ever argue about – we share similar concerns. However, we’ve been going back and forth about this for months now and have reached a point where we need to decide the direction this journey is going to take going forward and then get on with it.
The primary benefit of continuing our nomadic lifestyle is that our income can be devoted almost entirely to doing something we love: travel. We’re not paying for utilities, insurance, and home maintenance, and so forth – we pay for an Airbnb rental and all those other things are included. We also don’t have the expense of owning a car and all that goes along with that, or other expenses that come with staying in one place. We’re blessed with excellent medical insurance that covers us worldwide at no cost. By carefully selecting our rentals we’ve been able to enjoy a quality lifestyle and experience locations and life around the world that would have been difficult to impossible for us to do otherwise.
At the same time, our fund for transportation expenses is diminishing and we’re not able to replenish it now that we’re committed to contributing a not-insignificant amount each month to help YaYu with her college costs. Since we’ve also decided to upgrade our seats for longer flights, we’re eventually going to have to dip into other savings if we want to continue traveling before we’re able to start building it up again.
We’ve discovered along the way though that we don’t like staying in a place too long and begin feeling restless after a couple of months. This is the biggest concern and fear we have about settling down somewhere. One – to two-month stays seem to be the ideal for us, with three months in one place too long (except for Japan because of family there). On the other hand, we dislike short stays because of having to pack and move everything after a few days, and the go-go-go of it wears us out. Being Occasional Nomads versus Short-Term or Long-Term has turned out to be a very good fit for us.
Brett is more enthusiastic about settling down than I am, but we both like the idea of getting our mail sent directly to us, having a regular family doctor and dentist, getting our prescriptions renewed easily, and having a place with our own things where the family can gather. We like the idea of learning to live frugally in one place, from getting haircuts to buying groceries. However, when we think about possibly owning a car again or paying utilities or having a mortgage or keeping up with home maintenance, those sort of things immediately take the shine off of the idea. Having to acquire furniture and other household items once again leaves us cold. Weather, particularly cold weather, has become an issue for both of us as well and limits where we could or would want to settle. We’re not even sure at this point if we want to live in the U.S. anymore.
I’ve always been someone who likes to know what’s happening and see the path going forward. I like to have a plan. When Brett was in the navy and it was getting close to the time for a transfer, I would become an absolute nervous wreck as he waited for orders, wondering where the navy was going to send us next. The not knowing was hard for me because until we had those orders there was no way to plan anything or get ready to move again – we were in limbo. We have plans now for the next seven months, but if we’ve learned nothing else it’s that the time goes by very quickly these days and before we know it that those seven months are going to be over. It’s starting to feel now like it did when we were waiting for orders.
We still have a bit of time on our side, but by early next year a decision is going to have to be made, one we can commit to and make plans for. Our hope is that a compromise solution can be found, one that satisfies our love of travel but also gives us a chance to settle for a while. That, however, may be an impossible dream. We will be talking with our children in the next couple of months to get their feedback, ideas, and concerns, and will work toward figuring out the “big picture” of what our future could, would and maybe should be.
LOL – I said I wasn’t going to write this week, but guess what I’ve been doing!
For the past several weeks, day after day after day we have talked and talked and talked some more about where or whether to settle, have over and over the pros and cons of each option again and again, have made lists, and have debated whether we wanted to buy a house again or not (we even went so far as to get a pre-approval from our bank to see how much house we could afford) or buy a car.
We changed our minds several times, and went back and forth, with a new option added to our list at one point, not that we needed another one in the mix. But, eventually we were able to come to a decision.
I now believe that our indecision is what brought on or worsened my insomnia – once we made up our minds all of that went away (well, that and a drastic reduction in the amount of caffeine I consume). All I could think about every night was where should we live? What’s the best location for us? It was driving me crazy and keeping me awake.
The order of our final list feels right. Nothing has been chiseled into stone yet, but we can finally start thinking more about and working toward what comes next.
Here is the new list, and how we ordered our choices:
San Clemente, CA. I’m still a California girl at heart. And, I’ve always loved San Clemente and the surrounding area (Dana Point and Laguna Beach) – back when we decided to leave Portland, it was the #2 area on our list after Hawai’i. The opportunity to live there now ticks off a lot of the most important boxes for both of us though: warm, sunny weather, low humidity, being close to the ocean, and friends living nearby to name a few. It’s eas(ier) for family to get there, and a place people love to visit. Our biggest hurdle will be finding an affordable place to live – coastal prices in California can be like Hawaii’s, or higher, but we’re into living small and simply these days so that will help us find something affordable. We’ve definitely decided we don’t want to buy again, and we’ve also pretty much decided that we’re not going to buy a car, and that we’d like to try to get by without one for as long as possible. However, there’s a trolley service in the San Clemente area that can get us around somewhat and otherwise we will use a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft, or we’ll walk. If we want or need to take a longer journey we’ll rent a car. Also, Amtrak connects San Clemente to both Los Angeles and San Diego – San Clemente is located halfway between the two cities.
Another year of travel. This option sort of popped up unbidden, but once we started talking about it we became interested in the idea, and realized we could continue if we wanted. There are still many places we want to visit, and we’ve come to see that a longer stay in each place works best for us rather than moving around ever few days or so. However, while the thought of spending time in new places is motivating, it also feels a bit exhausting right now. To be honest, I was more enthusiastic about the idea than Brett – he would rather settle down and then travel once a year or more, staying in a place for a month or so and being Occasional Nomads versus Full Time Nomads.
Northern Arizona. This was our mystery location, another choice that just sort of popped into our consciousness, but once it did it really took hold. We liked the area a lot when we visited in 2017, and there were several locations to consider: Flagstaff, Williams, Prescott, and Sedona. The big drawbacks for us were the extreme dryness and lack of water, and the cold winters, but we otherwise love the natural beauty of the area, and the proximity to the Grand Canyon and other areas in Arizona and the southwest. We’d absolutely need to purchase a car here though, something that eventually made this location less appealing.
Strasbourg, France. This option went to the bottom of the list not because we don’t love, love, love Strasbourg, but because as we talked it over and got into the weeds, we could see how complicated it would be, from the language to applying for a visa to finding housing to the kids visiting and so forth. A move there is really more than we want to take on at this stage of our lives.
One of the biggest factors contributing to the order of our list as well is that beginning in 2021 we will need to contribute somewhat significantly to the cost of YaYu’s education at Bryn Mawr during her last two years there. While all the girls currently receive generous financial aid because of all three being in school at the same time, that number dwindles to two next year because Meiling graduates this June, and beginning in the fall of 2020 it will be just YaYu attending college. She’ll still qualify for aid, but it won’t cover the full cost, and we want to help her through enough that she won’t need to take out student loans, or at the least, borrow very little (both Meiling and WenYu will graduate with no debt). After crunching the numbers, a simple life in Southern California actually puts the least amount of strain on our income, even with the high rents. Although California has high taxes, we’ve done the calculations with our income and ours shouldn’t be much, especially if we don’t own a car.
We also want to set aside money every month to cover the cost of a long-term visit to Japan every 15 months or so (for at least a month) and for other travel as well, and we have to buy some furniture too, so all those are some other financial considerations.
Anyway, a decision has been made and we can now move on to planning what comes next and when. It is a big relief to us to finally have a decision, and we’re feeling very good right now about where things are.
At every stop since we began traveling we have been asked: Where are you going to settle when you finish? The answer is always the same: We still don’t know.
I almost can’t believe we haven’t decided where we want to end up when the Big Adventure is over. I made a list this past fall of possible locations and ideas, but after some more travel we’ve decided against some of those. We had thought Seattle might be a great place to land, but after a month in Portland in December we were reminded of why we left the Pacific Northwest, so that idea fell off the list. After just a 10-day road trip around New Zealand, and never being able to unpack our suitcases, our idea of a long-term driving trip around the U.S. felt a whole lot less interesting as well. We thought for a while that Tucson, Arizona might be a great place to end up – it ticked off a lot of boxes, and we could afford a house with a pool there! – but then we stepped off the train in the middle of the Australian desert and realized we did not want to deal with the climate, pool or no pool. Just as we would be stuck indoors during the winters in Seattle, we would be stuck inside during the summer, or trying to escape.
So, since time is becoming more and more of the essence, we’re still talking about what is important to us, and getting those things on a list. In no particular order, they are:
We are happiest when we’re near the water, especially the ocean, but lake or rivers make us happy as well.
Abundant sunshine is a must, although we don’t like dealing with extreme temperatures or humidity. We don’t mind cold weather, or snow once in a while.
We enjoy city life, but don’t miss it or need it as much as we once thought we did, especially big cities. We’re OK living near a city, but not necessarily in one.
We would prefer not to own a car, but can see now that we will probably need to have one no matter where we live, with a couple of exceptions. This will be specially true if we don’t live in a city.
We like locations where we can walk, even if we own a car and it’s just for walking’s sake.
We need to live where it’s easy and somewhat affordable for our children and their (eventual for some) families to come visit, or for us to visit them. This is the primary reason we decided not to return to Kaua’i, as much as we miss it and would love to go back.
There’s a few more things, but we are clearer now about what we’re looking for in a location, and have narrowed it down to three options. We are still doing our due diligence on #3, so I’ve left off the name of the place for now:
Strasbourg, France. We’re still in love with this city and it still has a lot going for it. Pros: The size is manageable and there’s lots to see and do; there is great public transportation (no car necessary); it’s flat and very walkable and also a great place for bike riding; it’s quite affordable; the food is wonderful; it’s in a great location for travel to other places we want to see; and, as for water a river runs through the middle of town. Also, our family have all said they would come visit us there as we’d only be 1.5 hours from Paris. Cons: The visa process (mostly time consuming), and the big one: we don’t speak French! We would have to spend a lot of time and money on French lessons before we go and after we arrived.
San Clemente, California. This charming beach town was my home away from home growing up, and is located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego in Orange County. Even though I know it’s not the same now, it still holds a special place in my heart (along with Laguna Beach and Dana Point). Pros: The weather and the beach are the primary ones, and it’s a walkable town if you’re located on the west side of US 101 (El Camino Real). We also know people who live in the area, a big plus for us. Cons: Housing costs are very high (think Hawaii high), and there is not a lot available in our price range. We would have to have a car again, and Southern California traffic can be hellish at times. Also, California is not a great place for retirees when it comes to taxes, although we’ve crunched the numbers and our tax burden wouldn’t be much. Living in San Clemente would be all about location, location, location, and because we no longer have children living at home it’s something we can afford to do. It also costs a LOT less to get to and from here than it does from Kaua’i.
Mystery Location, USA: We’re still doing research, but this small town is fairly near a couple of bigger cities with a university and medical facilities but without being too close (i.e. not a suburb). We’d have to drive to those cities though for many things though, including some of our groceries and such, so we’d definitely need to own a car if we settle here. The area gets plenty of sunshine overall but without high temperatures in the summer, and humidity is low year-round (it does get some snow in the winter though). The area is affordable, and it’s an OK location tax-wise for retirees, and is located near some beautiful natural areas that we love to visit, so some more positives. There are a few small lakes in the area, but not really a lot of water around which is a bit of a negative for us.
We have no need to buy a home, at least not initially. We enjoyed not owning a home when we lived in Hawaii (in spite of our awful landlord), and we’ve gone over the numbers and with new tax laws in place having a mortgage no longer makes much sense for us other than we wouldn’t have to worry about rent increases. We recognize that we are still “restless people” at heart and would prefer not to be tied down with all the many things that home ownership entails.
We’ve committed ourselves to a firm decision by the time we leave Japan in mid May so that we can start working toward that move. In the meantime we will continue to research our options, consult with our son (who is no longer quite so opposed to us living in France), and think about what will be best for us and our family in the long term.
In a recent post on his blog, A Satisfying Retirement, Bob Lowry wrote about his granddaughter comparing growing older to the most exciting part of a roller coaster ride, the ending with its big, exhilarating runs. It’s a great analogy: a roller coaster ride typically begins with a slow climb, and few tame dips and turns. As the ride continues things pick up, and twists and turns, climbs and drops begin coming at a faster pace, but the when and where are a mystery and add to the excitement and increase the thrill level. Finally, the car once more heads for the top to begin its big, exciting finale before finally slowing down and coasting to a stop.
Brett and my start together was like that initial slow climb. He was one of my first instructors in the navy, for a two-week course I was required to take for my rating following boot camp. It was pretty much love at first sight for both of us, and as soon as the two-weeks were over we began dating, and before long we were talking about our life together and how we saw that unfolding. There was never a distinct marriage proposal that either of us can remember, but somewhere along the way we both realized we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with the other. We’ll celebrate 42 years together next year while we’re in Tokyo.
Just like a ride on a roller coaster Brett and I have already passed through two distinct phases in our married life: our beginning years while he served in the navy followed by a second phase in civilian life and raising our daughters. Both time periods were very different from the other, full of twists, turns and surprises (not all of which were pleasant), but we had different goals and expectations during each one, and in hindsight both phases were positive for the most part. We were always looking to the future. The segue from the first into the second phase was fairly bumpy, but we somehow managed to get over and through those bumps and came out stronger than before. Our life choices, especially adopting three additional children in our mid- to late-forties were not the ones that most people would make, and we’ve paid or are still paying for some of the choices we’ve made, but as Brett and I have always said, we can’t imagine now having done things any other way. We chose the right coaster for us.
Brett and I have been raising children for most of our time together. Other than the short time we had before our son was born there was only a six month period with an empty nest after our son headed off to college and before we brought Meiling home. Before I met Brett I had no dreams or desires to have children, let alone four of them. Or, to have them in two separate groups with a nearly twenty-year gap between them. However, that’s how it happened, and of all my life’s accomplishments so far I am most proud of my children, of their efforts and accomplishments and the adults they’ve become. Our goal has always been to give our children roots, but wings as well so that when it’s been time for them to leave the nest they would be able to fly. It’s been exciting and rewarding to watch each of them take off and soar, with their wings spread wide.
We’re segueing now into a third phase, a time when Brett and I will also leave our nest and spread our wings. For the last 40 years our lives have been completely entwined with our children, with our schedules determined by their schedules, our plans and finances controlled by their needs. But, beginning in August it will just be the two of us, and we are ready to fly. I am so excited about being able to explore the world with my best friend, the person that knows me best, but I also realize it’s going to feel “different” for a while. It’s going to take time for me to adjust to not having children to accommodate in one way or another. Thankfully the segue into this third phase has been easier so far than it was between the first and the second because I think we’ve done a better job this time of preparing ourselves for the transition.
A roller coaster ride has been my metaphor for life for a while now. As my mom approached the end of her life a couple of years ago I kept thinking of roller coasters, and what a ride she had, and I’m beginning to see my life in the same way. Are Brett and I making that last big climb to the top? I don’t know right now, but we are preparing for an exciting finale that will hopefully go on for a good long while. Our ride up until now has been full of thrills, chills and surprises but it’s never been dull. And, like Bob’s granddaughter pointed out, I believe the best and most exciting part is yet to come!