Way back in 2012, a younger Joe and I were hanging out and talking about our eventual retirement (as all young people do) and possibly even early retirement.
We were entering a period in our lives where our work was starting to burn us out, and the idea of getting off the hamster wheel sooner rather than later sounded like a pretty good idea! Right? So, with this simple aspiration to retire early, we figured it would be smart to increase our real estate assets.
Perspective – the way we choose to think – is everything #cartoon #humour #death #attitude pic.twitter.com/WOB3YcPvYT— karen unrue (@KarenUnrue) October 25, 2016
Focusing Our Real Estate Goals
Next, we began to ponder exactly what kind of real estate investment to make next. Joe (clever man that he is) came up with an idea that I loved! We could seek out a potential retirement location—one that would also be a good place to make a real estate investment.
In this scenario, the house would be paid for by the tenants, and would eventually be there waiting for us upon retirement. (Of course if ultimately we chose not to retire there, the investment would still be funding our retirement—so win-win!). We ended up going a little off script and made a riskier bet…but it worked out well nonetheless.
Where Is the Best Place to Retire?
Hmmm…so many possibilities! If we were to retire early, we'd still have a little scoot in our boot, and probably want to live in a place with some nightlife. Perhaps a university town? Definitely somewhere warm—maybe a vacation rental? A beach? Hey, I've always heard good things about Santa Fe! We were all over the bleepin' map.
Eventually, we decided to go online and just search “best places to retire.” Ahh. As usual, Money magazine (Joe's a loyal reader), had their annual review (always a good read).
But then, in addition to the usual results, up popped a bunch of articles from International Living Magazine (ILM). Well, at the time I'd never heard of it. ILM covers a lot about travel, but largely focuses on inexpensive foreign countries to retire in, where your money can go 5-10 times farther than in the US.
And just like that, lightning struck. Synapses fired. We were just like, “Eureka! That's it! We get to travel AND have an early retirement!” While we didn't have a ton of money at the time, we knew that small amount in a much cheaper place, would bring us WAY closer to retiring early.
Immediately we wanted to start visiting some of these countries! Costa Rica and Belize had caught our eye because they were warm climates and at the top of the list of “Best Places to Retire.” So we decided to begin our search there.
Let the Research Fun Begin!
First we flew to Costa Rica! Jungle…check. Beach…check. Surfing…check. Not too shabby.
We drove the entire northwest coast, ending up in the beach town of Mal Pais. Driving through rivers and ruins among howler monkeys was an amazing adventure! Certainly, Costa Rica was a beautiful place, but we just didn't have that one moment where we thought, “This is it.”
Next we scouted Belize! (Of course, when you have a full time job, you can't just go on vacation any ol' time, so it was two years in between each trip!) Now this country had the calm turquoise Caribbean waters we really love.
After traveling through most of this English-speaking country, we felt pretty confident that this was a place where we could envision ourselves having an early retirement. Since we liked Belize the best, we put our money where our minds were. Sold.
Buying Our First Piece of Land
We bought a piece of raw land on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize. It felt a little crazy—ok, REALLY crazy–but if we wanted to get serious about this early retirement idea, we had to commit!
With our lot's perfect view of the turquoise water, it gave us a real place to imagine ourselves someday, far away from the 9-5. Plus, I think we could see Leonardo DiCaprio's island eco-resort from our future front porch. We were (hopefully) on the path to freedom.
Buying Land with a Self-Directed IRA
We bought this property using our IRA funds, by moving them from a traditional IRA account to a self-directed IRA. A SDIRA allows you to invest your retirement funds in almost anything—real estate, a business, or other assets like oil wells, equipment leasing, etc. There are a bunch of rules, but it's pretty cool once you figure it out.
Real Inspiration to Commit to Early Retirement
So there we were, Belikin beers in hand, and land owners on an island in Belize. It was too cool to be true. Now we had a beautiful and peaceful place to picture ourselves enjoying our future early retirement.
Of course, once we'd made the purchase, we couldn't just enjoy the feeling and let it lie. We began to wonder, “Why can't we just move there NOW? Right? Couldn't we build a house on our land, and rent it out as a VRBO and manage the rental from Belize?”
Then again, how would we make money if we just quit our jobs in Los Angeles? Could we really retire early, this early? Hmmm…
The gears started to turn. It was clear that we both wanted an adventure.
As we flew back to our lives and jobs in LA, we had a feeling that we had opened a doorway in our minds that could never be closed.
Selling Our Early Retirement Property
Ultimately, we did not go to Belize when we finally quit our jobs and moved roughly four years later. We sold our Ambergris Caye beachfront lot (for a tidy profit) after owning it for three years—mostly because we started to get paranoid about global warming and rising sea levels.
We had a relatively reasonable fear that half of our property would be swallowed up by the sea before we had a chance to live on it. (Don't believe me? Leonardo DiCaprio will tell you. Watch Before The Flood!)
Another reason we sold our land was that we had a new curveball to factor into our early retirement aspirations: our son. He was born in 2015, and our desire to retire early (or at least semi-retire) became even stronger.
Early Retirement Squarely In Our Sights
At first, after having our son, we just assumed we'd both return to work, and life would continue on as it always had. But for me, everything changed.
Now, I was always rushing to work in the morning, after trying to squeeze in as much time with my son as I could, and then rushing home to see my son before bed. If I had to work late, my husband would come home early and put him to bed—and some weeks I wouldn’t see him before bed at all.
Before having our son, we'd been living a lifestyle that was solely focused on working 10+ hour days, going out at night, and enjoying our leisurely weekends.
Now, we had someone who demanded all of our time and attention. And of course, our jobs hadn’t decreased in the amount of time that they demanded in order for us to succeed. I started to feel like I was failing on all fronts (probably the same feeling every working mom has).
Slowly, it became clear that “going back to the way things were” wasn't working for us. We knew that we needed to make a major change. Mostly, we wanted to get back some time for ourselves and our relationship, as well as our son.
Changing Priorities Pushed Us into an Earlier (Semi) Early Retirement
Our goal had always been to work hard, invest smart, and retire early (like in our 50s). But after having our son (I was 35 and Joe was 40), we decided it was the right time to put our early retirement plan into motion.
Even though we were not yet Financially Independent, we were financially free enough to make this kind of decision without having to worry too much about money as we figured out how we were going to work and how much.
But LA was too expensive for us to stay and live comfortably without our high paying jobs. Early retirement would mean we'd have to leave LA and say goodbye to the amazing friends we considered our Los Angeles family, and as well as the company that we'd all spent almost 2 decades building with blood, sweat, and tears.
It was much easier to daydream about leaving than to put our plan into action.
The Big Retire Early Plan Solidifies
Now, as I mentioned earlier, we sold our Belize property because of fears of rising sea levels. But, it was also partially because we just weren't ready to manage the logistics of moving to a tiny island in a foreign country with a baby. (I am officially humbled and awed by anyone who has the guts to do this.)
Therefore, in order to retire early, we needed to find a cheaper state to live in in the U.S.—but we still wanted to have an adventure! After much hemming and hawing, we solidified our exit plan: we would sell our home, move to Austin, TX, where we'd renovate one of our rental properties there, and…drumroll…start a blog (I know, I know, big surprise).
“Howdy, Texas!” or “Wait, What Did We Just Do???”
Our plan was thrilling—but also terrifying. We were plagued with doubt. I mean, could we really just leave our hard-won careers, our dear friends, and our daily routines to start completely over with a toddler?
Are we doing the right thing for our child? Are we inadvertently sabotaging all the progress we’ve made in our lives, both professionally and monetarily? Are we COMPLETE IDIOTS???
So, yeah, it would be quite an understatement to say we had some reservations—ha! But, if we were brutally honest, we knew our hearts were telling us that we had to make this transition if we were going to live the most meaningful lives we could possibly live. Our priorities had clearly changed.
That said, psychologically it was pretty hard to make this transition. We ended up reading Eckhart Tolle's books The Power of Now and A New Earth multiple times! It helped.
To summarize: it can be pretty scary when you decide you're ready to let go of who you thought you were, and embrace who you’ve become.
That's How It All Began Folks
So…that's how that little piece of Belizean beachfront land really kicked off our aspiration to get out of LA and retire early (or to at least “kind of semi-retire”). It was the little spark for us that eventually lit a fire.
And How Did It End?
Did we fall in love with the Live Music Capitol of the World and live happily ever after?! Well…we ended up moving to Florida three months later so I think you can guess the answer to that.
Luckily, we found the perfect spot in FL for our family's early retirement (currently semi-retirement) and we LOVE it here! Bonus: there's a good amount of affordable and charming real estate to buy.
We definitely haven't given up our dream to spend significant time abroad. In fact, now that we've “cut the cord” from our old lives in Los Angeles, we're even more inspired to try a different version of life. I guess we'll just have to see how this “raising a child” part unfolds in the next couple years.
If you'd like to read more in depth about our adventure in Belize and specifically why we chose to buy in Ambergris Caye, read Our Story of Buying Ambergris Caye Real Estate, and Investing in Paradise!