Wednesday, June 19, 2024

A boomer couple who were ‘watching every single penny’ they spent in the US moved to Portugal 2 years ago — and money isn’t a concern for them in retirement anymore

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Moving around is nothing new for Ann.

Ann, who requested to use a pseudonym to protect her privacy, told Business Insider that throughout her life, she’d traveled to and lived in Belize, the UK, Mexico, and Hawaii. During her last four years in the US, she lived in Arizona.

The 67-year-old said she and her husband were not living the life they had hoped to live in Scottsdale. While they were each earning solid incomes, she said, they found themselves “working nonstop” to afford their basic monthly expenses, and they couldn’t enjoy their lives given the financial strains.

“We’ve always tried to not have debt, and it just felt like as fast as we were earning money, out the door it went on increasing costs over there,” Ann said. “And we talked about it over time and said, ‘We’re never going to be able to retire.'”

That’s when they knew it was time to make a change. After researching affordable places to live in retirement, Ann and her husband settled on Portugal. They had traveled there before and were already familiar with the area, so they decided to give it a shot — they sold their condo in Arizona, used the money to buy an apartment in Portugal, and have lived there happily for just over two years.

“Our quality of life is so much nicer because we’re not worried about money like we were in the States,” Ann said. “We were just watching every single penny.”

According to documents reviewed by BI, Ann and her husband spend about $82 each month on a bundle for their TV, cellphones, and internet; about $21 a month on water, sewer services, and trash collection; and about $55 each month on electricity. Ann said the Social Security they receive is just over $3,000 a month, which allows them to cover all of their basic expenses, with money left over.

They don’t have to worry about rent or mortgage payments, but major expenses they consistently deal with include health insurance, which Ann said cost about $275 a month.

While Ann can live comfortably in retirement abroad, many older adults in the US are struggling. In the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, just over half of Americans older than 65 said they made $30,000 or less in 2022. The Social Security program is set to no longer be able to pay out full benefits by 2035, the latest Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees report found. That means that unless Congress intervenes, Americans might not be able to rely on the benefits they were hoping for.

Ann said she knew that moving abroad wasn’t the perfect solution. There are many bureaucratic hurdles in Portugal, she said, that go beyond obtaining a residency visa — ex-pats have to get a new driver’s license and car insurance, and they have to register with the tax authorities and health agencies.

It’s not easy at the outset, but once Ann and her husband got through the initial moving challenges, they found that spending their retirement in Portugal was one of the best decisions they could’ve made.

“It’s just nice to relax and have things to do and places to explore, and even our Social Security is enough to live on and travel a bit,” Ann said, adding that “our life here is just way better than it could have ever been” if “we had stayed in the US.”

‘The United States is a very difficult country to retire in’

With high inflation and interest rates, it’s not easy for many people to live in the US right now, and it’s forcing some older adults to push back their retirements.

BI previously spoke with Diane Senffner, a 63-year-old who lost her job during the pandemic and depleted her savings. Now she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to retire. “I was somebody who did really well, and it’s very disheartening because I have no idea what’s going to happen with retirement,” she said.

While certain cities allow for cheaper retirement than others, the US is an expensive country, which is why moving abroad was so appealing to Ann and other ex-pats.

“We understand how hard it is to try to accumulate enough money to retire and stay in the United States,” Ann said. “And for us, it was basically impossible.”

She added: “The United States is a very difficult country to retire in.”

While their life isn’t perfect in Portugal, Ann said that she and her husband truly enjoyed the warm weather, outdoor activities, and ability to easily travel to nearby cities. With their expenses so low, they have the freedom to spend money on things they enjoy doing in retirement, and they don’t have plans to leave Portugal anytime soon.

“Every morning when we’re off on our walk, we have a beach that we walk to, and there’s a castle there and beautiful cliffs, and we have a whole beach to ourselves,” Ann said. “And every single morning, we say, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s so beautiful. Aren’t you glad we live here? ‘”

Did you move abroad or do something unconventional in retirement? Share your story with this reporter at asheffey@businessinsider.com.

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