Revamping Retirement in Mexico

Lia Krantz was the only one in her family who was not into cooking. Her mother is a caterer, her brother owns a restaurant, and both sisters cook for large organizations. Other than occasionally chopping vegetables for her mother’s catering business, cooking was not something Lia was drawn to—until she moved to Mexico.

When she moved with her husband Marshall to his hometown of Boston in 1991, she was amazed to see foods similar to those of her native Indonesia in the Chinatown market. With a longing to try to cook these foods herself, she would call her sister and mother, asking how to make chicken soup. “I guess cooking must be in my blood,” she says, “because it came rather easy to me. But I never thought I could make money from it.”

Lia and Marshall vacationed in Ajijic for three summers before moving there. They fell in love with the area’s friendly people, low cost of living, beautiful surroundings, and ideal climate. “We’re delighted that we never have to wear heavy clothes, like we did in Boston,” says Lia.

Situated along the shores of Lake Chapala—Mexico’s largest natural lake—Ajijic is an ideal retirement destination for expats. Retirees are drawn to its stunning lake and mountain views, incredible year-round climate, close proximity to the Guadalajara Airport, low cost of living, and abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables.

When Lia and Marshall visited the area in 1998, they found an older Mexican-style home for sale in an upscale neighborhood. Paying around $75,000 in cash, they moved in the following year, when Marshall retired. Little by little they upgraded their home, transforming it into their near perfect sanctuary and work space.

Once in Ajijic, Lia would often receive compliments on her cooking at dinner parties. With multiple requests to teach Asian cooking, she began her home-based, income-producing cooking classes, charging students $14 for five different dishes.

After teaching for one year, she was ready for a new challenge. That’s when someone suggested that she sell her food at Ajijic’s Monday market. “I had never done that sort of thing before,” says Lia, “but I decided to give it a try, so I signed up and reserved a table.”

Lia started with three simple things: spring rolls, dumplings, and potato samosas. Much to her delight, the items sold well, so she began adding new items one at a time—her latest being six sushi rolls for $5 a carton. As an expat living at Lakeside, Lia found her niche.

Nowadays, she sells from 15 to 20 items at two markets, including frozen soup and vegetable dishes. “I always seem to sell out of my spring rolls,” she says. “During the high season, I make 25 dozen spring rolls for both markets, not including my private orders and catering gigs.” She charges $0.55 for each spring roll—$6.20 for a dozen.

Although she mostly works by herself, she hires a helper for six hours a week, due to her growing business. The helpers vary according to their availability. “My son also helps me out when he visits during school break,” she says. “I’m teaching him how to cook.”

Lia’s business brings in about $1,400 a month, which helps significantly with their monthly expenses. Adding up their low property taxes, utility bills, restaurant tabs, and food receipts, it’s easy to see why the two can live comfortably on Lia’s earnings combined with Marshall’s pension.

When she’s not working, Lia enjoys sipping tea with friends and people-watching at the Ajijic plaza. On Saturday mornings, she joins her friends for a walk along the Lake Chapala malecón (waterfront embankment), taking in the stunning views.

As for her “movie aficionado” husband, one of his favorite volunteer projects includes running the weekly movie at Ajijic’s Lake Chapala Society, which he has done for the past 17 years. The Lake Chapala Society is one of Ajijic’s biggest draws, with its lush gardens, fish ponds and well-stocked English language library. Locals can partake in a wide variety of classes, lectures, health services, bus trips and volunteer opportunities, or spend time leisurely dining and socializing at the outdoor cafe, Café Corazón.

With the wide variety of activities and the ease of making new and lasting friends, one never needs to feel alone living in this magical Mexican town. For both Lia and Marshall, retirement has been sweet.

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