happy monday, friends. we have very little work travel this week or next (hooray for small gifts!), so took a few minutes this morning to sit outside and enjoy a cup of coffee on the back patio. in our little mountain town, mornings are always cool and crisp. even if it gets above 90 during the day, we can always bank on a cool morning. it’s one of the many things we love about where we live now.
but we didn’t always live here. for years, we lived in one of the largest cities in the west, and had a very different lifestyle. a lifestyle we enjoyed. a lot. but which we knew wouldn’t be sustainable long-term, if we wanted to retire early. you already know how this story ends: we left the city for the small town, in part to fuel our early retirement aspirations.
does it make sense to move for retirement, either to save faster, or to enjoy a different lifestyle once you’re no longer working?
moving from a high cost of living area to a low cost of living area can certainly accelerate your savings, assuming you’re still able to earn the same income, which isn’t always the case. oftentimes, the high income jobs are only found in the high cost of living areas. you may be able to telecommute to your current job, though, or make good money freelancing. or you could move to a lower cost area after you’ve saved and retired, which could help stretch your retirement dollars farther.
making a move can be a positive change, and can serve as a powerful symbol of our commitment to living a different lifestyle. but it’s certainly not right for everyone. if you love where you live now, if you have close friends and family nearby, if you live somewhere very walkable where you could age in place, if you can support a self-sufficient lifestyle where you are now, or you feel some indefinable sense that you just don’t want to move, then by all means, stay put.
moving also creates challenges socially. after about age 30, it becomes harder to make friends, because plenty of people are full-up on friends, and are no longer looking to meet new ones. if you move in your 30s, finding friends can be tougher than it would have been at age 22, when everyone is eager to go out all the time. if you’re able to move with a job you already have, and you begin telecommuting, what may feel like a sweet gig can actually be a major social hindrance. with no built-in social network of an office, it’s easy to feel isolated. we both telecommute, and have for sure felt this way. we’ve had to make a much bigger effort to get out and make friends.
but just as a lot of us today feel like there’s something wrong with the model of working until 65 and then retiring to florida, a lot of people are questioning aspects of modern life, like industrialized agriculture, mass production overseas, and the rampant pollution and abuse of workers that go along with both. it’s driving a lot of people to consider a simpler life. if you carry within yourself the desire to live a slower-paced life, or have romantic notions of living off-grid, then moving might make sense.
our advice: try before you buy
spend a good bit of time in the place where you’re considering moving. meet as many of the local people as you can, and ask a lot of questions. you’ll learn a lot about the area and what it’s like to live there by what the people tell you. but you’ll also learn a ton by how they say it. we visited a lot of mountain towns before we chose the one where we live now, and in most places, when we’d ask people what it was like to live there, they’d say some variation of “oh, you wouldn’t like it.” this told us two things: 1. we truly might not like it, and more importantly, 2. they weren’t into the idea of us moving there, and didn’t want to encourage us. we quickly realized that a lot of small towns aren’t very open to outsiders or new ideas, and that would have made us miserable if we’d chosen any of those towns.
just as important as meeting the people is knowing the full range of seasons. don’t just visit in the summer when it’s beautiful. go in the winter, and figure out if you can live with that. or vice versa. and stay in a house or apartment when you visit, rather than a hotel. shop and live like a local, and see if you really like it. better to find out ahead of time that you can’t buy some essential ingredient you need for your sunday night dinners, and realize that your chosen place isn’t a gourmet’s paradise, than to discover it only after you’ve moved. (that’s just an example of course — insert your own idea of what your deal breakers are.)
why we moved to a small town
back to our life in the big city. our money didn’t go very far there, so we had a small condo, with a small balcony as our only outdoor space. (and it still cost a small fortune.) and of course spending temptation was everywhere — we often ate at trendy restaurants, went to concerts, and occasionally bought stuff we didn’t need. we were happy there, but we also spent a lot of our weekends and vacation time traveling to the mountains. every winter along, we took at least 10 ski trips (most of them just a drive, but we usually flew to ski at least twice per season).
we didn’t set out to find a mountain town to live in, but we’d sometimes talk about what it would be like to leave the city. then one day, serendipitously, we found our town. a friend had a cabin there that we rented for a week, and it was darn close to love at first sight. we loved the place, we loved the people (friendly! welcoming!), we loved the location (not too remote!). we even loved the winter.
we visited a few more times in the next year, and then the stars aligned to let us both do our jobs remotely. we jumped at the opportunity, and started house hunting pretty soon thereafter. we bought what we dubbed our “retirement house.” at first, we thought we’d split time between the mountains and the city, and so didn’t think as hard about the move as we could have. but it quickly became clear that we didn’t like trying to live in two places. it was like our heart was always divided. we sold the condo and became full-time mountain locals.
for us, the move was about aligning our lives to what we value most: time outdoors, especially in the mountains. whether we were planning to retire early or not, the move would have made sense for us in terms of how we want to spend our free time. (though if we’d wanted to keep climbing in our careers, we might have wanted to consider a different mountain town with more career opportunities than ours has. fortunately, we don’t care about that.)
we didn’t make the move for financial reasons, though we are happy that our money went a lot farther here than it did in the city, and we were able to buy a house that we love, for significantly less than our condo had cost. and there’s a lot less temptation to spend money here. there’s minimal retail, not that that was ever a huge weakness of ours. we were more likely to spend on travel and restaurants. and we save a ton on travel now because we don’t have to get ourselves to the mountains. we’re already here. and restaurants are a lot harder to get to, close earlier, and are often packed with tourists. it’s much more tempting to eat at home, and way cheaper too. so moving has been a financial net gain.
what about the rest? so far, we’re happy with small town life, though it’s definitely different from life in the city. the traffic we don’t miss. the assortment of ethnic foods, we do. everyone talking about how busy they are all the time — we don’t miss that. but the range of cultural activities is a void now for sure. right now, while we’re working, we still have a lot of time in the city. but once we quit, and no one else if paying to fly us around, will we miss the city? quite possibly.
but for us, nothing can replace being able to wake up in the morning and say, “hey, what should we do today?” and know that basically every outdoor activity we enjoy is an option for us, with no advance planning. we can go climbing, hiking, mountain biking, road biking, paddling, skiing, or just go sit by a lovely alpine lake and take it all in.
just as good budget management is about aligning your spending to your values, we think that where you choose to live should align to what you think is important. for us, moving was the right decision.
have you thought about moving? does where you live now provide so many benefits that you plan to stay put? think you’ll move after you retire? we’d love to hear from you!