I don’t like to admit it, but for my first 45 years I had my head in the sand…going through life with blinders on.
I had very little choice about how I lived, and wasn’t even aware of it.
Where I settled…the properties I bought and sold…what I invested in…the retirement I’d planned…and even the weather, were all taken from the standard set of options available to the average U.S. resident.
In other words, I was mainstream. It was like this…
Imagine yourself in a restaurant with only two menu options; chicken or fish. And with those, you have a choice of green beans, corn, or mashed potatoes. That’s the “standard menu.”
Now envision an extensive international menu, serving delicacies from all over the world. You can have a juicy steak from Argentina…a rich, chicken stew simmered in aromatic spices from India…fresh, home-made pastas from Italy…an exciting new Chardonnay from New Zealand…mouthwatering pastries from France…
You find these items on what I call the “expanded menu.”
And life is the same way. For most of it, I created lifestyle combinations from the “standard menu.” In other words, I lived the metaphoric equivalent of chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans.
Frankly, I believed we already had the best of everything in the U.S., and saw no need to look further.
So I never challenged this status quo until it came to retirement. The best “standard menu” option at my income level included working until I was 62, and then settling into a modest, fairly unexciting retirement.
So I considered living abroad…the blinders came off…and I began to explore the “expanded menu.”
For starters there was the choice of retiring at 49 instead of 62. That’s a 13-year difference. And it was by no means a modest or unexciting retirement. In fact, it was far more of an adventure than I had ever imagined.
I found that I could live a luxurious lifestyle for almost nothing. The budget not only allowed for a nice home, but for two. I paid about $1 per gallon to fuel the car and around $200 per year in property taxes…for both properties.
Perfect all-year-round weather was not an option before, since San Diego was out of my price range and I couldn’t afford a winter home in Florida or Arizona. But by looking abroad, I was able to choose among several places that had glorious weather every day of the year.
I found that real estate worked the same way.
My traditional options were mostly limited to the U.S. But the expanded options included countries with booming economies, strong housing markets and a rosy employment picture. In some cases, they were countries whose strong currencies were multiplying the earning power of my rapidly-weakening dollars.
Let me give you an example. I bought a beachfront house in Brazil in 2009, and I sold it 10 months later for 33% more than what I’d paid, in Brazilian reails. This alone was a windfall, given that the housing markets in the U.S. were still sinking.
But the gain was multiplied by the fact that I was diversified outside the U.S. dollar, at a time when the dollar was losing value. So my 33% gain became a 77% gain in dollar terms…and it’s a good example of the opportunity you’ll find when you’re using life’s “expanded menu.”
These expanded options of course, are nothing new…they were there all along.
But I didn’t see them or hear about them until I was part of the world’s international culture. Until then, I was blinded by the paradigms and stereotypes that we Americans have about the rest of the world.
Of course if you’re reading this magazine, you’ve already taken the first step, and opened up to the idea of expanding your horizons to everything the world offers.
But keep in mind that opening up to the idea of living abroad doesn’t give you an instant look at what’s behind the curtain…at least it didn’t for me. Some of life’s new options will be obvious right away…but it will take years of exciting discovery to fully appreciate the huge potential that’s out there.
In the end, you’ll see that’s what moving abroad is really about…choices. You’re giving yourself all the options you deserve to make the most of your life.