The Overseas Retirement Haven

Follow Your Priorities To The New Life Overseas That’s Right For You

“On a recent visit in the United States,” writes Retirement Planning Correspondent Paul Terhorst, “we ran into our long-time friend Susan. Vicki asked her what was the most important thing that had happened during the past year. Susan replied, ‘My pet sheep didn’t die.’

“Susan’s sheep amounts to a live-in lawnmower, and the little guy had been sick recently. Susan was pleased with the recovery.

“Vicki and I later learned, after chatting a bit with Susan and others, that, during the year, Susan had also built a new house, witnessed the birth of her first grandchild, and gotten a new job.

“Call me weird, call me unromantic, call me obtuse. But I think having a first grandchild–or any grandchild–would come before a sheep. I also figure that building a house, even if only a rental, and getting a new job, even if in the same field, would come before a sheep. But not Susan. Susan has few priorities. She’s at her best when she improvises in the moment. Susan keeps intensely busy. She rarely reflects on where she’s going with her life or what’s most important to her or even whether she’s happy.

“To live a life that goes beyond crisis management and keeping busy, a life that makes us happy, I’d argue we need to know our priorities.

“Someone once said that when a man’s knowledge is not in order, the more of it he has the greater his confusion. In talking about retirement, I think we can say that when a man’s priorities are not in order, the more likely he’ll misspend the golden years.

“If someone offered you a hundred dollars for every number you could name between 1 and 1,000, you’d start with 1, pass to 2, and so on, until you got to 1,000. You’d never think of saying, ‘Well, I know 961 is in there. And 154…and 26. And then there’s…’ No. If you did that, you’d forget some numbers. You’d leave money on the table.

“You’d prefer the alternative–that is, you’d go right through the numbers, following the well-ordering principle you learned in high school.

“Yet we have a tendency to forget the well-ordering principle in our personal lives. If what we want in retirement is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we ought to think rigorously about how we plan to get those things. We ought to order our priorities and make sure that everything we do, every move we make, and the money we spend, leads us toward what we want out of life.

“For example, if our moods change according to the weather, we need to find a place where the weather brings out our most pleasant moods.

“A recent study published by anoints Fargo, North Dakota, as the best place to live in the United States.

“I’ll tell you up front: They never considered the weather.

Business Week looked at affordability (house prices) and quality of life (low crime, high education levels, low poverty levels). Fair enough, right? We all like low crime.

“But note what they left out, namely, weather and what to do with yourself once you’re set up in Fargo, North Dakota. Fargo’s website says ‘Fargo-Moorhead is a lively, cultural community that boasts a pleasant variety of things to do and places to see.’ There’s a celebrity walk of fame, an air museum, historical buildings, an old vaudeville theater, a historical and cultural society, an art museum, a zoo, and children’s museum.

“I’m sure Fargo must be a comfortable place–for someone else. Those activities might keep me entertained for a day or two. But I know my priorities. I know that I suffer tremendously in cold weather. And I know that I need out-of-the-ordinary things to do.

“Recent research tends to support the notion that we should do something out of the ordinary to better our lives. Researchers at Science Direct state that, “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right.” Their recommendation: Buy experiences instead of things.

“For example, you could buy a life overseas.

“You’ve probably thought about moving to France, Mexico, or Vietnam. The happiness research suggests you should go ahead and do it. You’ll be better off. First you need to travel to and experience those countries that have caught your eye. Then you need to move and fill up on the local scene.

“You’ll want to keep your priorities in mind. If you like to go to the theater, keep pets, talk on the phone to family back in North America, go on long hikes near home, ride bikes, or eat meat and drink wine–or all of those things–you need to find a part of the world where you can do all of those things. If you’re on a budget you need a place where you can afford all of those things.

“Vicki and I take the travel idea to extreme. We’re perpetual travelers, PTs. We wander around the world going to, and also returning to, places that fully engage, excite, entertain, and educate us. I recently spent a month in Eastern Europe simply because a friend was going to attend a birthday party in Bulgaria. We started to think about it and put together a jaunt through Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine.

“Recently I talked with a young man named Ron, from California. Ron had just finished his freshman year at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It so happens that I was raised in California, and I, too, spent a year in Grand Rapids. One of the things I hated back in Michigan was the short daylight hours. As I remember it, in winter it didn’t get light until 10 a.m. or so, and by mid-afternoon it was dark again.

“But my memory can fail, so I checked with Ron. What time does it get light in winter in Grand Rapids? Ron thought hard, then shook his head.

“‘I don’t know,’ he said.

“He just hadn’t noticed. From what I gathered, Ron was too busy having fun, making friends, and otherwise getting on with his life to worry much about what time it got light. Yet when I was there the daylight factor drove me nuts.

“Conclusion: One of the best things about retiring and moving, especially moving overseas, is that we can find a place more suitable to our priorities. But remember the key first step: We have to know what our priorities are.

“Are you like Ron, unconcerned about daylight, or like me, suffering in darkness? And what’s more important, a pet sheep or a new grandchild?

“Make a list of your priorities, and the related pros and cons of where you’re thinking of living. Follow through. Spend your money and time on a life that fits.”

Kathleen Peddicord

Editor’s Note: Paul Terhorst writes a regular retirement-planning column, sharing his retirement-planning wisdom monthly with subscribers of our Overseas Retirement Letter.