So, to begin with, a warning. This is going to be the spare-no-detail version of our story. I’m sure there’s going to be a cute “About Us” page that tells you the tl;dr version and it will cover the highlights, so if you ever think to yourself “holy hell how long is this going to go on??” I encourage you to pull the ripcord and check out that page. If you’re the kinda cat who likes to know everything then, kitty, this is gonna be catnip.
Lisa and I had formulated a retirement plan over the first umpteen years of our relationship; a good, solid, dependable, American retirement plan. We would work into our 60s, then move to Ashland, Oregon or one of the neighboring towns. There, we would integrate with the artistic and spiritual communities, volunteer at the Shakespeare Festival, and generally enjoy our life. We even had our eye on a retirement community a little north on I-5 that we always saw when we drove down, and figured that was where we would transition to if we weren’t able to live on our own at some point. It was a fine plan.
There was another part of this plan, one that came into being after we traveled to Europe a few times on vacation. This part of the plan detailed how we would spend a month or so every year in Europe, going to all of the great museums and archaeological sites we could get our arms around, for as long as our health allowed. The airport in Medford is small, but it has flights to San Francisco and Seattle every day and, from those two hubs, the world would be our oyster. Great plan!
As the years rolled on, we came to love this part of the plan more than the whole “retire to southern Oregon” part. After all, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is great, but even if we see all 11 plays, twice even, that’s… well, not even a month. There are other, smaller theaters in the area… maybe a month and half total. After that, we’re in a tiny town surrounded by rural area. (We’re talking golden hills as far as the eye can see.) We found ourselves noodling on the expense of traveling back and forth to Europe every year or so. The biggest expense, we thought to ourselves, was the actual traveling part. Once you get to Europe, it’s not particularly more expensive to vacation or sight-see there than it is in the United States. “What if”, one of us said to the other at some point, “we just lived in Europe for awhile?” But that’s not something people like us do, right? That’s fancy people. That’s Ernest Hemingway drinking Bellinis at Harry’s Bar in Venice, not John and Lisa doing… I dunno, John and Lisa things.
Meanwhile, several years ago we had started trying to get a grip on the financial side of retirement. In a story that is too long and boring even for a detailed narrative like this one, we had a terrible experience with a financial advisor who, after metaphorically pulling a shark’s-mouth worth of teeth, gave us a report that was simultaneously exhaustively detailed, completely inscrutible, and utterly useless. We had no better idea of where we stood after working with him as before. Worse, when we explained that we wanted to workshop a variety of scenarios to know what our options were, we were basically handed a horrendously complex tool and told, “hey, this is what we used, plug away!” So, we threw up our hands for awhile. Fortunately, friends of ours told us over dinner one night that they loved(!) their financial advisors [https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevin-j-chang] and we booked an appointment on their recommendation. After a couple of introductory meetings and some data gathering on their part, they had a meeting with us to explain in very clear language that our goals were completely attainable, we’d done an even better job than we’d realized in saving for retirement, and then showed us some ways to be even more prepared. This was actually a pretty emotional moment, particularly for Lisa who, it must be noted, has been the guiding star for our financial success. Both as the primary bread-winner and as someone willing to make hard financial choices, it was a tremendous moment of validation for her that she had fundamentally succeeded. Don’t get me wrong, I did a share of the lifting, but the simple truth is that she surpassed me professionally for most of our relationship; she just killed it in the working world. (Can you tell I’m proud of her? I’m proud. 🙂 )
Buuuut hang on. If we’re in so much better shape than we even realized… does that make us fancy people? Well, maybe, maybe not. We at least felt like we had permission (so to speak) to investigate fancy-people options that we had previously thought were beyond us. As soon as we began to even nibble at this idea, however, something became very clear: you don’t have to be fancy people to emmigrate to Europe. At least, some parts of it. Most countries just want proof that you aren’t going to be a burden on their social systems and will play fair and contribute to the tax system if you plan to partake of their services. While it would be wrong to say “anybody” can do it, way more people can do it than probably think that they can. And as soon as we realized that, the wheels started turning.