Michael Spooner, Utah

“What would your dream retirement look like,” asked the advertisement, “if money were no object?” Since my kids grew up, I have stopped responding to idiotic questions; instead I sink my teeth into my knuckles. Money is an object. And after the Great Recession, retirement is a remoter dream than it used to be. And I really hate dreams. I thought about giving myself a nice paper cut, too.

My wife and I attended the IL Live and Invest Overseas conference in Vegas not to dream, but to do some practical and hopeful research on countries where our damaged 401(k) plans might actually support us in our golden years. I can tell you right now, Vegas is out of reach.

In case some of us attending weren’t ready yet to dream the dream of retirement overseas, IL opened the first talk of the conference with a challenge. For himself, he said, he had to give up asking how much money he could sock away before retiring, and ask instead “how soon I could do it?”

He must be reading my mail. I was seventeen years old when I left my parents’ trailer in the woods of Alaska with forty-seven dollars, one suitcase, and a guitar. My parents were dreamers, or they never would have moved to Alaska in the 1950s, but they paid a price for it. Oh yes, money is an object, especially when you don’t have it. I hate dreams, because I’ve had to defer them all my life.

So IL’s question struck me like a Zen koan. What is the sound of one hand balancing a checkbook? How soon could we retire, if we were aiming for a life where financial security cost half of what it does in the dear old North American rat race? Or less than half?

John Curran showed us one way to do it. His vision of living a sustainable Walden-esque life in the highlands was truly an inspiration.

Money is an object to John–an object to be used sparingly and with respect. We loved his love for his town, his land, his neighbors. His chickens. On the internet, we learned, nobody knows you’re a chicken.

Steenie Harvey, Roberto Moreno, Kristin Kuchem, Federico Fischer, and Cecilia Campbell all had plenty to say about money and the dream.

Surprisingly, they were not attending the conference to sell us something; they were there to show us something. They wanted to show us how soon we could do it.

In ten years, I can have $1400 coming from Social Security, and that much more from my pension plan. My wife has a similar outlook. We’ve got a money market and a few unimpressive stock funds. We’ve got ideas about freelancing. I’ve been hoarding the royalties from my last book. In short, we’re classic middle Americans. When we think about the cost of living outside of the Estados Unidos, when we wrench our eyes away from the zig-zagging of the S&P 500, it seems clear: you know, we could do it pretty soon.

Maybe money isn’t that big an object after all.

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