My name is Dan Coffey, and for most of my adult life I forgot to get a real job. I was a member of a comedy troupe which formed just as we were all leaving graduate school. We moved to San Francisco and worked very hard at is for twelve years. During that decade, I made about ten thousand dollars a year, on average. Amazing that I managed to live and raise a family in one of the world’s most expensive cities on that incomet, but I did. Eventually, when it became apparent that we weren’t going to be discovered nor given our own television series, I moved back to Iowa. By this time I was on my second marriage and was supporting four children and a wife.
Back in the Midwest I scrambled to put together a teaching career, but found that my services were desired only on a part-time, or visiting basis. Within a few years of leaving the West Coast, I was selling shoes at a department store and working at Radio Shack.
And it never really got much better, at least income-wise. I tried a little of this and a little of that. Co-wrote three books, had a couple of important sounding things happen, but still, nothing really worked out. I got fired several times, and despite the fact that I had a somewhat impressive if spotty resume, the Big Break never broke and no big payoff ever materialized.
And then, at the age of sixty-one, I got fired from a low-paying, mind-numbing teaching job for the last time. I know it’s the last time, because I’m no longer sending out my mildly impressive yet spotty resume. I’m not ever going to work again, unless it means working for myself.
For the last ten years I have been spending all my extra money traveling, trying to find a place I really wanted to live where I wouldn’t have to feel poor or worry about money. I’ve found several, but I want to share my stories about two of those places, and make some general statements about the neighboring countries, as well.
The countries I found that really trip my trigger, that excite and delight me, make me feel rich and attractive, give me hope and make me want to learn more about them each day I’m there are
NICARAGUA and THAILAND
Even though they’re on opposite sides of the planet, they’ve almost the same place. I’ve spent more time in Thailand now than I have in Nicaragua, but I’ve made more trips to Nicaragua than to Thailand. They’re both about the same latitude (distance north of the equator) and the vegetation and scenery are similar. And they’re both about as inexpensive compared to the United States. In other words, if you’re making over a grand a month, you can live comfortably.
When I sold my house, my motorcycle and my car, and put a few plastic boxes of photographs and mementos into storage, I was free to go wherever I wanted, provided it didn’t cost too much.
On what I get from Social Security and my meager teacher’s pension (part-timers usually don’t get retirement benefits) I could either live in a van down by the river in the States, or quite well in Nicaragua or Thailand. As I write this, I’m in Thailand. I rent a delightful house surrounded by greenery, have a relatively new motorcycle and a new bicycle, and do pretty much whatever I want, when I want to. I get at least a one hour massage every day. I swim in a fifty meter pool that is largely empty of people, and I eat tasty, nutritious Thai food in restaurants at least once a day. It is possible to eat a meal in a restaurant here for one dollar!
If I get tired of Thailand, I’ll jump up to Laos, or hop over to Nicaragua. If I get tired of that, I’ll head down to South America. If I get tired of, say, Ecuador, I might head back to Asia. These emerging economies share many of the same attributes to the retiree in our position.
There’s a good chance that I’ll remain here in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a long time. The thought of dying here doesn’t scare me. It seems like a delightful place to spend the last twenty or thirty years I might have left.
So what’s the message I have for you and what can you expect to learn from reading this site? If you’re anywhere near in my position financially and you dread the idea of living a church mouse existence, getting steadily poorer as the social fabric of America disintegrates, maybe you should do something about it sooner rather than later. None of us knows how much time we have left. Cut your losses and make a break for it
If you’re a retired orthodontist with a net worth of six million dollars, then none of my suggestions will apply to you. If you’d like the stimulation of living abroad, look into Switzerland, Denmark or the South of France. You can build a gated Xanadu on a Central American coast, but chances are you’ll soon feel isolated and bored and eventually drink yourself to death. So make sure you go somewhere where you’ll find a community.
I don’t pretend to know what the best place is for you, since I don’t know for sure what the best place is for me. But I do know that I’ve found two pretty darn good places that make me feel less like a victim and more like a fully-functioning human being than trying to not slide to the bottom of the ever-growing remnants of what used to the American middle class.
I’m not trying to sell you on any specific plan of action or place. I’m a good writer and photographer, hence this web page. I’ve been looking into this for almost a decade, and putting a lot of energy and time into finding an affordable, delightful place to call home. So chances are you’ll learn something by reading my stories, and maybe even become inspired by some aspects of them.
Again, this is not a tutorial. There are other sites to visit and books to read if you want step-by-step directions of how to retire in a certain place. Chances are that’s not your problem now. Your first step is to decide to do something about your situation, and to realize that it’s OK to try a bunch of things and see which ones feel best. You can always change your mind. Nobody’s keeping score. As long as you don’t over-extend yourself financially (and only you know what that would mean for you) you’ll have many more options than you would staying put and hoping the next administration extends unemployment and food stamp benefits while keeping a lid on the War on Terror. I don’t want to be living in America when our skies are buzzing with surveillance drones.
My intention is to reach a certain segment of the population who are in a position close to mine, and would benefit from the increased freedom and emotional rewards of living in an emerging economy.
It’s amazing what a tonic it is to never worry about the cost of things.