I stopped telling people what they can and cannot do. Sure, there’s no shortage of backward thinking. But over the past several years, I’ve learned there’s no limit to what people can accomplish with a bit of creativity. In many cases, I’ve said (either to myself or to others), “I don’t think that can’t be done.” But then I meet people doing it. And yes, I have met people who retired on $300 a month.
When I hit the road to travel the world full-time, in 2014, much of what I saw smashed traditional retirement planning lore to bits. I met Americans, Europeans and Canadians in Bali, Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Guatemala who retired on a fraction of what I thought possible. Many of them enjoyed a far higher standard of living while retired than they did when they were working. And they were spending far less money.
In 2014, I met Jerry Brown and his wife, Lori, in Ajijic, Mexico. Jerry loved to talk about personal finance. We were both part of the Lake Chapala Hiking Group. While we climbed into the mountains overlooking Mexico’s largest lake, Jerry shared his personal story. He and Lori lived frugally. While working in the United States, they invested intelligently. Then they retired early to travel the world. Eventually, they settled in Ajijic. We shared like-minded stories about travel and about the frugal, adventurous retirees we both met over the years.
I moved on to explore other countries while Jerry continued to meet interesting retirees in Mexico. Eventually, he started a Youtube channel. It reveals his fun, quirky personality, while he shares stories about people living on a shoestring. In his latest video series, he profiles three people who spend between $300 and $500 a month. They bought a home together in Ajijic for about $200,000. Their property taxes are less than $200 a year and most people in the United States pay more for electricity in a month than this trio pays in a year.
While they appear happy, not everyone wants to live on just $300 a month. Not everyone wants to retire in Mexico, either. But if you have a sense of adventure and you’re willing to embrace other cultures, I recommend retiring (or spending the winter) in low-cost countries.
If you’re looking for information on retiring overseas, International Living magazine is a great place to start. Its contributors write from locations like Mexico, Ecuador and Panama. But they’re also cheerleaders for a life that won’t suit everyone. For example, you won’t find the same familiar restaurants that you find at home. U.S. brand name grocery items, if you can find them, are more expensive abroad. Although there are plenty of English speakers in the regions recommended by International Living, living abroad is easier if you learn some of the local language. Services from banking to home repairs can also take a lot more patience, especially in relaxed, Latin-American cultures.
However, if you have done a bit of traveling, you like trying different foods, you’re patient and you’re keen to embrace new people and a new culture, then moving overseas might be right for you– especially if you don’t have a lot of money.
Suzan Haskins and Dan Prescher published International Living’s Guide To Retiring Overseas On A Budget in 2014. It’s still my favorite resource for retiring overseas. They also published Live Richer, Spend Less with International Living in 2019. This second book is less detailed and, at $37 including shipping, expensive for such a short, light read. You might not find it on Amazon, but you can purchase it here. It hurt me to spend so much for such a quick read, but Haskins and Prescher retain their clear, inspiring writing quality. They also offer several helpful online resources for people who want to retire in different countries.
In life, I’ve learned that there are people who always try to tell you why you can’t do something. Don’t listen to those people. If you want to learn how something can be done, instead of why it can’t be done, find somebody already doing it. So, while you might not want to retire on $300 a month, I’ve learned that you can…if that’s what you want to do.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller Millionaire Teacher and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas