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Money Saving Tips for a Retirement Abroad: What I Don’t Spend Money On

Reality check for those who are seriously thinking about a traveling retirement: It is almost nine o’clock in the morning, it’s getting dark outside – that means it’s going to rain, again. Maybe I should say it’s going to rain some more. Yes, definitely rain. I hear fat drops hitting the tin roof of my [...]

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Reality check for those who are seriously thinking about a traveling retirement:

It is almost nine o’clock in the morning, it’s getting dark outside – that means it’s going to rain, again. Maybe I should say it’s going to rain some more. Yes, definitely rain. I hear fat drops hitting the tin roof of my casita now. I enjoy a nice rainy day when I can stay snugged up in a cozy little casita and don’t have to go out in it. The problem is that today I don’t have to go outside to be in the rain.

When I rented my $150 USD a month casita (utilities included) in Mexico what I didn’t know was that a crew of men would be arriving every morning at seven o’clock to build an addition on the back wall. When they get here, the first thing they do is rip off the roof along that wall. That includes the roof over the bathroom. So, it is hammering and banging all day long — including Saturdays and Sundays. That is bad enough but not the worst of it. The worst is when they knock off for the day they just half-ass put the roof back on. And this is the rainy season. It has been raining every night now for over a week and sometimes, like today, it rains in the daytime. I’ve got the trashcan and every other container I have set to catch the leaks but the floor is already two inches deep in the low spots. Looks like more broom work today.

I mention this about the casita because housing is one thing I don’t spend much money on. The less money I spend now, the faster my traveling money will build up for my next trip. I thought about moving but was assured by someone who has been here many years that any place I could get in the same price range would have similar problems – maybe worse. I hope that isn’t always true, because beginning in the middle of July I’ve got what appears to be a much nicer place lined up for about $185 USD a month. For those who don’t care to be this much in touch with local living conditions, for a hundred more a month (around $300 USD) there are much nicer places here with roofs that don’t leak.

In any case, this is just part of the cycle of the trip I am on: I sit still for a while to save money then spend that money to travel to the next destination. It works and is certainly not a boring strategy.

Housing cost is just part of the way I save money. The money I save on this is substantial, but there are other places where I save even more. Most of these saving have to do with insurance, taxes, and upkeep I don’t have to pay because I don’t own a house or an automobile. Last year, when I was thinking about a traveling retirement, one of the things I did to see if it was feasible was to make a list of the things I was paying either monthly or yearly that I wouldn’t have to pay if everything I owned fit in a backpack. It seems obvious to me now but at the time it was an eye opener. I no longer have that list so I can’t give exact figures but I can give some very close estimates.

Take, for instance, owning a house. Since I don’t own a house I no longer have to keep the house up. That saves a minimum of $600 a year. This is a very conservative figure. Just think what it would cost if a heater or air conditioner went out in your house? Another savings is termite insurance: $125 USD per year. Insurance on the house itself was about $2000 a year. Property taxes ran about $300 a year. Utilities were a minimum of $2400 a year. And I don’t even want to talk about the mortgage.

Then there is the other money pit: an automobile. Where I lived in the USA there was absolutely no public transportation — not even a rogue taxi. Owning an automobile was a necessity. Gasoline cost was a minimum of $1200 USD per year and that is with no out of town trips. Insurance was $350 per year which just covered liability, not the vehicle itself. Maintenance was another $200 a year. Add another $100 a year for tags and taxes. Then, there was depreciation. Some people don’t think of that as an expense but it is. I estimate that my vehicle was depreciating at a rate of $2500 per year.

Adding all this together (swiftly in my head) I get about $8800 a year that I no longer have to spend. If I count in what my mortgage was versus what my rent is now, you can add roughly another $7200 a year on to that for a grand total of $16,000. See now why I can afford to travel?

One other place I also save is on health insurance. I don’t have any. This is not as risky as it sounds. Healthcare in the USA costs at least twice as much as it does in England, which is next highest in the world. In Latin America, healthcare costs are less than my deductible was in the US.

[NOTE: at this point I had to stop writing because my roof developed its own little Niagara Falls and I had to start baling water. I emptied a three gallon trash can and a two gallon wash pan 22 times in 30 minutes, not to mention all the empty yogurt containers I had under small leaks. In addition, I spent over an hour sweeping out the water. That wouldn’t have been so bad if the broom handle hadn’t broken. See the picture. The smile looks fake because it is. Now, back to healthcare.]

Cleaning up

The author tending to the leaky roof on his $150 per month house in Mexico.

A good example of healthcare costs in Latin America:

Once in Guatemala, the first time I had tourista, I was looking for a doctor because I wanted to be sure I didn’t have something worse, like a parasite. I was directed to a clinic in San Marcos. I went in and was asked to take a seat. I was not asked my name. I didn’t have to fill in any forms. I wasn’t asked if I could pay or if I had insurance. I settled in and tried to resign myself to a long wait. Surprise! The wait was only about 10 minutes. I was directed into another room where I saw a nurse practitioner. After checking me over and asking several questions about my symptoms, she gave me a small bag containing antibiotics and powder to mix with water for dehydration. Although I did have to sign a sheet for the medicine, I was not asked for any ID — I could have signed Donald Duck and it would have all been the same. After I received the medicine, I asked about cost. The answer? “Nada.” Nothing. I offered to make a donation but that too was refused.

Another example:

I have been to a doctor here in Catemaco, Mexico twice. Because he speaks English, he charges more than other doctors for office visits (at least to Gringos). The cost per visit is 150 pesos, or about $10.50 USD at the current exchange rate. There are other doctors in town that charge 30 pesos, and they may be just as good but they don’t speak English.

Just a reminder: nothing I say should be taken as a recommendation that you should do the same. Get all the information possible and make up your own mind.

I’ve got to go now. The sky is getting dark again and I’ve got to place the trashcan and the dishpan back in their places. Hasta luego!

– Gar

Read the other articles in the Senior Vagabond series series.


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Filed under: Budget Travel, Senior Travel, Senior Vagabond

About the Author:

Gar Williams liquidated his former life, sold all his possessions that wouldn’t fit into a 46 liter backpack, and left it all behind at age 63. He is now traveling the world, and, in his words, is finally doing what he wants to do. Gar stops by at VagabondJourney.com from time to time to offer his wisdom and advice on the Senior Vagabond series. has written 65 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Gar Williams is currently in: Ecuador

6 comments… add one

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  • trevor June 20, 2012, 2:14 pm

    like reading ur up dates….. yes ..life is not always about what u earn but more about what u dont spend…. i am an english man living in switzerland , working half way up a mountain… we pay a set amount for food and lodging…. there is nothing else to spend our money on….. i have free WIFI. no cell phone, no car , a free swiss bank account…. i can walk to the next cafe and drink a coffee if i want…. but just one, never 2…. i always thinking… mmm with the 8$ that this will cost me , i can live for a whole day in Cambodia with this money….


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  • Martin Pietrzak June 21, 2012, 5:19 am

    Health is an expensive proposition in North America (Canada or US). We are in Poland now, which is becoming a fairly popular health tourist spot for good reason. I just went to the dentist for a cleaning and paid $17US! At home I will have to pay at least 4-5 times that much. These health costs alone can save you hundreds.

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    • Wade Shepard June 21, 2012, 8:29 pm

      Right on, Martin! For sure, there is something that is just not normal about the cost of medical care in the USA. As you’ve found, in most countries you can walk into a doctor’s office, get care, and pay for it out of pocket without it putting you in ruin. Thanks for sharing.

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  • Nora June 23, 2012, 4:51 pm

    I really like your posts Gar. Most people can’t see how they can afford to travel longterm because they are looking at their current expenses which can be high if they are living in the U.S. It is really shifting or allocating the money that you would typically spend to a travel expense or living expense in another country (and of course saving for the next journey).

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  • Colleen November 26, 2012, 12:14 am

    Loved reading your post. It’s shocking to think about how much we spend in the U.S. on things that are completely optional in other parts of the world. When you put it like this, it’s easy to see how affordable it can be to live in another country.

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    • Wade Shepard November 26, 2012, 7:45 pm

      For sure. What’s worse is that we often think we need the crap we buy.

      But I guess shopping is a form of recreation for those with some disposable income. What else are people going to do with their excess money? haha. It’s truly amazing how the shopping craze has completely taken over the middle and upper classes of many developing countries where buying things for status is way more pertinent than even in the USA. It looks disgusting, but, ultimately, I think it’s a good thing. There’s nothing worse than middle class and rich people hoarding their money. It sounds strange, but I’m all for consumerism. It’s amazing to observe how people buying status and junk they could never need keeps the economic wheels of may societies well greased.

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