From Broke to a Beautiful Retirement in Cancun

Our tumble from a very nice, safe, and secure middle-class life began when my second heart attack struck in 2009—right in the middle of a global financial crisis. I lost my upper-level management position and the health insurance that came with it. Try as I might, I was unable to find a good job for the first time in my life.

I was unemployed, uninsured, and recovering from a serious heart attack with ongoing medical expenses every week.

I did what work I could find, but my earnings combined with those from my wife Diane’s job barely managed to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.

I was exhausted from the effort required just to survive. For the first time in my life, I felt old.

Then, despite our valiant efforts, we lost our home. We took little solace in knowing we were not alone. With our home equity gone and our savings dwindling, any hope we may have had for a comfortable retirement all but vanished.

Because my 62nd birthday was on the horizon, I knew I could begin to collect a modest check for retiring “early.” Surviving on that relatively humble sum with any quality of life seemed impossible…so I began to spend some time researching offshore retirement destinations. I quickly discovered a host of locations where folks could reportedly retire with a nice standard of living for far less money than was possible in the U.S.

Impressed by what we found, Diane, and I made the decision to sell what remained of our lives to the highest bidders and reestablish ourselves in San Vicente, Ecuador a small coastal town of about 2,000 people about an hour south of the equator.

We set an initial budget of $1,500 monthly which even permitted us a small amount to go into savings. We rented a beautiful, furnished two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo on gorgeous grounds for $450 per month. I could throw a rock into the Pacific surf from the front gate. Life suddenly became not only survivable, but wonderful! There was an abundance of fresh, inexpensive food available in this small fishing and farming community. Gasoline for our used 4-wheel drive rig was government regulated at $1.48 per gallon and car insurance was $65 per year. We even bought a cute motor scooter which was perfect for town errands and zipping Diane to and from tennis lessons. It sipped fuel, getting about 90 miles per gallon.

Our Spanish language skills were nearly at zero when we arrived in Ecuador but as almost no one in the entire town spoke English, we had to learn…fast! The people of Ecuador were warm and welcoming and we were treated as family by all we encountered.

After two years, we came to learn that emergency hospital care was very limited where we lived and I became increasingly concerned at the two-day travel time to return to the States.

So, as difficult as it was, we said goodbye to our friends in Ecuador, packed our bags, and set off for Cancun, Mexico. Cancun looked great to us. It’s a modern city with First-World infrastructure, splashed by warm Caribbean surf, cleansed by sea breezes, and Miami’s only a two-hour flight away. Most importantly, Cancun has several modern, well-equipped hospitals.

Today, we have a nice two-bedroom, two-bathroom, furnished condo with a large roof deck and view of the Caribbean Sea on one side and a huge lagoon on the other. We have direct access to the Caribbean just a few steps beyond the pool deck and take advantage of it regularly.

Our days are spent walking the beach, floating in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, or taking trips to the nearby Maya ruins. We’ve also enjoyed exploring a few of the many local cenotes (clear underground pools and caves) scattered around the area. Water sports are everywhere with jet skis, kayaks, boats, tour operators, and guides providing snorkel trips to the huge reef system just offshore with deep-water fishing just beyond. I also have plenty of time to write and maintain my active blog, Donald Murray Expat.

Although the cost of living is higher here than in Ecuador—you can live a very nice life in Cancun for around $2,500 per month per couple—the advantages, for us, are well worth it.

Making the decision to leave the States was not easy and took courage. But when I look at the life we have now, I’m glad we didn’t let fear hold us back.

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