When I resigned my government job after 18 years I was making an annual salary of more than $150,000. Comprehensive health insurance for me and the family was costing me less than $400 a month while the government picked up the substantial difference. I had a defined benefit retirement plan and was maxing out my 401(k) annually with an employer match. I got 12 paid holidays a year and over four weeks of paid vacation. I also got paid sick leave. My commute was a 30-minute bike ride along the Potomac River. I had my own office, with a view, and worked the basic 9-5 day with one of those hours spent at the free employer-provided gym lifting weights and doing a Sudoku puzzle. I never worked weekends. My boss trusted me and I actually liked the work that I did and the people that I worked with.
Basically, I was happily dancing my way to a comfortable retirement where I could do anything that I ever dreamed of and I would have to be a fool to give it up. Well, the rest of this post is written by a fool, because I gave it up.
The thing is, I don't feel like a fool. Here I am in San Miguel on a warm, weekday afternoon, sitting in the shade of our patio umbrella and listening to the Grateful Dead with my wife at my side, casually watching our puppy chew on a big hunk of wood we picked up from our walk through the arroyo this morning and prepping to lead my kids and their friends through a giant spider lair later this afternoon. Sure, I could have waited another dozen or so years for full retirement benefits to do this, but by then it might have been too late. I might be too far gone to enjoy the Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo, the puppy would be grown, and it's doubtful my kids would still be interested in hacking imaginary spiders to pieces.
From the perspective of immediate satisfaction, the choice doesn't even have to go to the parole board for review. It's only when I start to think too deeply about what we walked away from and what that means financially for me and R in our doting old age (and to a lesser extent - my kids' life) that I begin to get cold and clammy.
A recent study reveals that savings in America is at an all time low - the majority of people surveyed couldn't even cobble together $400 in an emergency. Basically, people earn money to go to the movies, have a cable subscription, and buy cars. R and I never fit that description. Sure, we've seen our share of movies where we sprung for the bucket of popcorn, but we've always been the type of people to bury our money in the backyard rather than spend it on luxuries. Our focus on saving, however, was always geared for retirement at age 60; this whole let's turn on and tune out at age 47 thing is more of a recent development.
So now that the Philadelphia Eagles have won the Super Bowl, the thing that keeps me up at night is this - how are we going to make money to meet our day-to-day expenses without spending down everything that we saved for our real retirement.
The rental income from our house in Alexandria covers our rent in San Miguel, the kids' private school tuition, and a fair amount of tacos. If I only had to support myself, this would do it. But with the wife always wanting to do stuff, the kids wanting to eat stuff besides tacos, and now the puppy (rubber chicken squeaky toy = 145 pesos (nearly $8 USD!), we've got to come up with a little more. Our solution - do the hustle.
The hustle is doing anything that puts spare change in our pocket. I did it during my college summers when I collected aluminum cans from trash bins and sold them to the scrap metal yard for 28 cents a pound. I do it when I visit my Dad in New York and return bottles and cans to get the nickel deposit. I like the hustle - it makes me feel like I'm getting something over on The Man. Though, admittedly, relying on my prior dive bar versions of the hustle will have us living in an alley before long, so we need to think bigger.
R and I have some ideas on how to monetize our passion for travel. We've thought about giving tours of San Miguel or in some of the other places that we came to know and love during our own overland adventure. We've thought about buying a property and opening an overlander campground. We've thought about being AirBnB hosts either at Joyce's house or for other snowbird homeowners in San Miguel. I like to write, so have ideas for articles and stories chronicling our own travel experiences or about things that I make up to make our own travel experiences seem more interesting (note - this may require you to buy something that I write.) R has been making and giving away lotions, creams, and soaps for a few years; maybe I can squash her philanthropic spirit and get her to sell them for a few pesos.
We have a modicum of legal expertise in immigration and U.S. tax law that might come in handy. R has ways that she could make money getting rich Mexicans visas to the U.S. (despite what you may have heard about all Mexicans being criminals and rapists - the U.S. will still give a visa to a rich one, because, you know, rich people don't do that kind of thing.) And, in fact, I'm considering taking a job in town helping a CPA with U.S. tax return preparation. At $20/hour for a few hours a week, I could earn about $100. (Reminiscing for a moment back to my college days, that's payment on collection of about 11,000 aluminum cans.) While $100 might not seem like a lot, it goes a lot farther south of the border than it does at Target.
And let's not discount the earning potential of the kids! After all, this move is designed in part to grant them exposure to the many options they have to live a life. R and I are committed to instilling in them a strong, entrepreneurial work ethic and we see several options for their future. J has taken a shine to squeezing juice out of oranges. Since there is not a juice-seller on the block of the house that Joyce built, he could fill the void by selling it from our garage for 20 pesos a glass. And who doesn't love cinnamon rolls? Coconut makes some tasty ones that the gringos at the Saturday organic market would scoop up and could wash down with the kombucha she also makes.
We know none of these schemes will make enough to buy a house, pay college tuition, or fund R's nursing home care. But drinking at home instead of at the bar for all these years has paid off because we've already got savings for those things covered (though, if R needs care earlier than expected we could be up the creek.) But, if any of these plans pan out for even just a few hundred pesos a week then we can pay for a few hours of paintball without taking a loan from my 401(k).