We’ve decided that we would like to move to Portugal. Great! Now how exactly do we make it happen and when will we be able to afford it. We work some things out with our financial advisor (again!) and have a solid plan that, according to some extensive modeling, seems to be 80%+ likely to result in a successful post-work life, starting at Lisa’s 59-and-one-half birthday, which is when we gain access to her 401(k)1. That puts “R” day in early 2027. So, ok, solid plan. The only problem with it is, for both of us, once we started thinking in concrete terms about moving to Europe, we really lost patience quickly with the idea of waiting so long. It’s already far earlier than we ever expected to do it, but that doesn’t change the fact that we had the bit in our teeth and we didn’t want to spit it. We kept noodling on plans. We figured out how to maximize our savings with a larger balance outside of our retirement vehicles (401k, IRAs of all kinds…) because we could basically “buy” months of early retirement by being able to pay cash on the barrel. In other words, if our monthly budget in retirement is $7000, every $7000 in liquid, non-retirement savings is a month we can chop off of the wait to move. (This simplifies a lot of things, like moving and initial expenses, maintaining emergency savings and so on, but you get the idea.) We figure that the process of time passing + increased saving money over that time will meet at about 18 months or so of extra retirement. Awesome! We’ve moved “R” day all the way up to late 2025. That’s way closer, right?
Welllll yes, but still. The small child portions of our brains were still very much “but I wanna go nooooooww!”, and we weren’t really fighting all that hard to hush those voices. There are some personal considerations that we won’t get into just now, but Lisa in particular has carried a very difficult situation in her life for many years now, and she’s done so with tremendous grace, but retiring and/or moving would cut the situation cleanly out of her life, and I’ve wanted that for her very badly for a long time now. If you’ve guessed what came next, congratulations – again, not rocket science, but we had to work through these things at our own pace.
The home we live in has been a question mark for some time now. Some people in the retirement-advice game suggest that you make your home a rental property while you’re gone, as your destination country really likes to see an ongoing income stream even if you’re retired. Also, it means you’ve got a home to come back to. On the other hand… we’ve been assiduously paying down our mortgage for the 11 years we’ve lived here and owe less than $200k. Have I ever mentioned that we live in a suburb of Seattle, Washington? (Alarm bells just started going off for some people.) This is one of the absolute hottest real estate markets in the country lately; this was written in June of 2021 and is publishing in October of 2021 – hello, readers from the future! This actually makes me sad, as it makes housing less and less affordable for people who need it. However, it can’t be helped that it’s also insanely good if you’re a seller. Normally we ignore news about the housing the market, because we’ve liked living where we do; this means any thought of selling our house is immediately followed with “yeah but then we have to buy back into the market, so that’s basically a wash.” Sure… but what if we aren’t buying back in? What if we take the money and, almost literally, run? We run some numbers once again(!) and, suddenly, we have incredible freedom in picking our “R” day. We come to settle on May of 2022(!!!) as our target. This is incredible! At this point, we tell ourselves, the only thing we aren’t sure about is whether we really are going to Portugal.
We had booked a “scouting trip” to Portugal for October of 2021, hoping that the pandemic would have loosened up enough by then that vacation travel would be allowed again. We have a nice itinerary picked out, where we’ll spend some time in a few different likely spots to settle into. And let’s just settle this now – yes, you’re right, that’s not really enough time to be sure about a place to live in. For sure. However, you are required to have a one-year lease already signed when you apply for your visa, so you’ve got to pick some-where. Some people decide to make several trips before picking a place, which is a perfectly reasonable way to do things. What Lisa and I decided was that we wouldn’t be moving with a lot of household goods; we’d be renting a furnished apartment. And, well, we can put up with ANYTHING for a year. So, we were going to do our best to find a landing spot, land there, and if we hate it we have twelve months to ramble (a ha!) around the country and find where we want to go next. It’s just no skin off of our noses. So, good? Good. Trip in October, come back and have a “come to Jesus” meeting on November 1st; a household meeting (I mean, there’s just the two of us, but whatever) where we look each other in the eye and say “yea or nay” to this whole expedition. Assuming “yea”, we’d then have from November to May to get our affairs in order. No problem-o. (We also come up with this really lovely plan to sail across the Atlantic to begin our new life; it started out as a way to make the best of not having enough airline miles for another international flight so soon after October, and also to avoid showing up to our new home jet-lagged. The more we ponder it the more we really like the idea.) The November 1st house meeting began to loom in our household as a Very Important Date. We would explore, then we would Decide.
Except. As we are noodling around with our plans, we see several houses in our neighborhood go on the market and sell, almost instantly, for significant amounts over their asking prices. Like I said, insanely hot market. The numbers keep going up. And somewhere out of the blue (but certainly out of much thinking in her mind) Lisa says to me “if our house would sell for an additional $50,000 from where we’ve been budgeting, I’d be comfortable with leaving earlier.” See, our budget had already included what we already had thought was an optimistic estimate of a sale price for our home, but the market seemed to be blowing past this estimate like we were standing still. So, with quite a bit of anxiety, we schedule a meeting with an old neighbor friend of ours who is now a quite successful real estate agent. Not that we’re bragging about our real estate agent, we just mean to say that he’s a reliable source of information; he’s sold hundreds of homes over the last few years. We met on Monday, June 21st. After a lovely presentation the conclusion is that he recommends us to list at $60,000 over our budgeted number, and notes that on average the homes in our area have been going for ~9% over asking price. Gulp.
Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes, I’m told, and certainly a lot can go wrong in the world between now and then. But if the world spins on at even roughly the way it is now, we are going to list our home in late October. We will spend Thanksgiving with Lisa’s family in San Francisco, and on the 29th of November we will board a flight that will end in Lisbon, Portugal.1 Adherents to the FI/RE movement would not approve of this math; typically they see ~80% success as way too tolerant of risk. We’ve learned a lot from those folks, and I’m not really prepared to dispute their logic. All I can say is that we’ve searched our hearts and decided we’re comfortable with this level of risk.