When Fred and Linda Gruenert took off their military uniforms for the last time and decided to retire, they soon realized that their California lifestyle was too pricey. Linda served over 20 years in the U.S. Navy as a journalist, half active duty and half as a reservist. Fred also served his country in the airforce reserve while working as a warehouse distribution manager.
The next chapter of their lives led them to open a limousine rental company combined with a wedding planning service. The San Francisco Bay area was full of wealthy folks who needed drivers and as the business grew they hired eight employees to help.
While high-priced California served them well during their working years, they couldn’t afford to stay after retirement. They visited Panama on three different vacations and finally decided to make it their new home in 2005.
“For me it was extremely important to move somewhere that used the U.S. dollar,” Linda says. “Besides that, we loved the warm climate and friendly people.” They sold their house in California and moved with just some boxes. “No one needs to move to Panama with stuff,” Linda adds. “Everything you need is available here.”
They began searching for homes online and found one 20 minutes outside of Panama City in the town of Arraijan. “We didn’t want to live in the city but I wanted to be close so that I could drive there myself,” Linda says. Situated on over three acres of lush, tropical jungle with plenty of fruit trees, the house also came with a 15-year property tax exemption.
“Our cost of living is roughly half of what it was back in high-priced California,” says Linda. “Lunch at a nice restaurant with a bottle of wine is less than $40. And since we do love our wine we keep plenty in our pantry,” she adds. “A decent bottle of wine can be purchased for $3 to $6 in any grocery store or even less at a warehouse club.
“We use propane to heat our hot water, cook with, and to run our clothes dryer. A large tank costs less than $5. Even with a large hot tub and running our air conditioner to cool off at night our electricity costs are less than $100 per month. Back in California we paid two to three times that much,” she says.
A typical month for Linda includes at least four lunches out with her friends in the big city. And for one of those socials she’ll be decked out in a red hat, feather boa, and mismatched purple clothing. Linda’s what some might call, “a red hatter,” or a member of the The Red Hat Society.
According to Linda, “The Red Hat Society is a bunch of old broads that like to eat and have fun while all dolled up in sparkles and glitz.” But there is plenty more to this active 72-year old than her glitzy, glamorous outfits.
“I don’t know how we ever had time to work,” remarks Linda. While she keeps busy with her friends, 72-year old Fred is content to keep busy at home. “Fred quit smoking after we moved here and needed something to do so he took up cooking,” Linda explains. Nowadays Fred is known as the soup chef around the house where he always has a fresh pot brewing on the stove.
And although Fred and Linda have had no formal training to learn Spanish, they’ve managed to survive. “After living here for 11 years I think I understand more than I realize,” Linda says. “And it’s amazing what a little sign language can do.” When needed, she pulls up a translator on her phone or takes her gardener with her to translate.
“Fifty years ago when I was just 21 years old I came to Panama with the military,” Fred recalls. “Little did I know back then that someday I’d be calling Panama home. After 11 years we’re still very happy here and fortunate that we found this place. Moving to Panama was a huge step for us, but one we’ve never regretted.”
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