Name: Tom Stephenson
Living in: Ajijic, Mexico
At the age of 88, after more than 45 years living in Southern California, Tom Stephenson packed up and moved to Lake Chapala, Mexico, to begin a new life.
International living wasn’t a new thing to Tom. Drafted into the Signal Corp before Pearl Harbor, he was first stationed in Iceland and then in North Africa, Italy, Austria, Germany and France. After the war he earned a degree in electrical engineering and then he was off again to see the world, working as a technical writer for oil companies. “I’ve lived—in the domiciled sense—all around the world, including Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Burma, Indonesia, and” he adds with a wry smile, “Texas.”
In 1956, while working in Venezuela, Tom took a leave of absence and, with his family, drove through Mexico. In Guadalajara, they rented a house for a few days and fell in love with the people and the climate. Tom knew then that some day he would return.
Tom retired in 1995 but he continued to write. When his beloved Margaret passed away in 1998, Tom, then 80 years old, began to feel adrift in his own community. “That’s when I began thinking again about the dream Margaret and I had of Mexico.”
Tom began to study the area around Guadalajara. Soon he located to Lake Chapala and discovered there was a large expatriate community settled there.
In May 1998 he attended Judy King’s popular weekly seminar for newcomers, Living at Lake Chapala. With Judy’s help, he located a comfortable and convenient apartment in San Antonio before he left. It was furnished right down to the pots and pans.
He sold his house (at the top of the market), put the proceeds into his bank, sold or gave to his children almost everything else he owned, and on Aug. 1, 1998, arrived at the Guadalajara airport with “a knapsack, skivvies and a laptop.”
Tom paid $400 a month for that first apartment (with another $100 to $150 for utilities). He got by comfortably on his Social Security.
Then, he says, another little miracle occurred. “I discovered the non-denominational but old-fashioned church close to where I lived, Little Chapel by the Lake. It’s the kind of church we used to have 50 years ago.” Soon Tom was singing in the choir.
A year later he discovered that a beautiful new retirement community—called Abbeyfield—was ready to open in Ajijic, right down on the lake. Tom moved in, first into one of the four studio apartments in the large house. The organizers wanted to build four small houses (casitas) on the large, closed-in property. Tom helped them out, loaning them the money on a three-and-a-half-year contract to build the casita he now lives in.
Tom likes to cook and eat alone, but most people who live there choose the full plan. That includes room and board and all services (except laundry and cleaning) for around $1,300 per month.
Each week he goes to SuperLake—his favorite grocery in San Antonio, several miles down the road—and often to the new Wal-Mart nearby. A family of taxi drivers takes good care of him. They pick him up, wait for him or help him shop, load his groceries into the car, and then carry them into his house. They charge him $12.
From the time he was a boy, Tom was a writer. He again writes a monthly column, “Tom Checks It Out,” for a magazine in English called Lake Chapala Review. He also contributes to a new online magazine, Ajijic News.
The right move? “It sure was. I love it here. I love the Mexican people. I love the courtesy. I love the way everybody talks to everybody else.”
Tom’s Tips to Retirees:
- Before you move, learn all you can—through books, magazines, and online research.
- Sell everything you can before you move. It’s fun to begin again.
- Be sure you have enough money to last you the rest of your life.
- No car. Taxis are easy, convenient and cheap.
- Rent first and move around a bit before you buy.
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