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The Best Retirement Advice from Stitch Member Rita

Retirement Advice

Retirement advice from RitaThe following post was written by Stitch member, Rita. She shares her story about wanderlust, relocation, spouse separation, and offers her best retirement advice.

Holy Stitch!  I’ve never written a blog before but, now that I’m retired, I’m trying new things and that’s what I’d like to talk about.  If you haven’t already retired, I sincerely hope that someday you’ll get the chance.  It can be the most wonderful, free, fulfilling time in your life.  I’d like to share my experience so far because, at 64, that’s what I’ve got.  Some of them are worth using and some are good as lessons learned.  In August, I’ll have been married for 36 years if the divorce isn’t final by then so let’s just start there.

My most valuable lesson so far is that you have to try things on for size before you commit yourself.  Don’t’ be afraid to kick the tires or test the waters.  It’s good to know what isn’t a good fit for you before you spend your time and money on something or somewhere that isn’t going to work in the long term.  Keep in mind what the realtors always say; location, location, location!

For me, an absolute must was to get out of my hometown.  Maybe, for you, staying close to family and friends is an imperative but not for me.  I would have loved to stay near the kids and grandkids but the climate was too harsh and variable and we live in the age of Skype and Face Time so I didn’t consider relocating as severing the ties.

I was born and raised in Oswego, New York, which is set on gorgeous Lake Ontario where it intersects with the Oswego River.  A sunset in Oswego is as beautiful as a sunset on the Pacific Ocean.  Lake Ontario is wide enough so the sun sets into the water on the horizon.  While the setting is breathtaking, it’s only good for about five months and then winter sets in.  I’d tried to escape the weather several times before but wasn’t able.  Retirement was my big chance and I wasn’t going to blow it.

Retirement advice from RitaWe’d always been a camping kind of family so we thought moving around for a while might be a good way to explore more options.  There were a few decent tent excursions but the big storm of 1990 on the Outerbanks of North Carolina was the end of tent camping for us.  We sat in the minivan with four teenage girls and watched our tent be pummeled by wind and rain for 4 hours.  When the storm was over, everything was soaked and we had nowhere to sleep.  The next week, we upgraded to a camping trailer.  First a small one, then a larger one, and finally we went for a 36’ Class A motorhome.  Didn’t try one on for size by renting one…noooo….we bought it and the mortgage that went with it.

It’s a comfortable little home with two big slides and quite a few amenities.  It has served us well but mostly as a summer cottage in our son’s side yard. As we saw it back when we bought it, the retirement plan was to sell the home we’d lived in for 17 years and motor around North America as the weather permitted.  Canada, northern US and visiting family in Oswego would be fine in the warm summer months and then head south in the cold winter months.  This would have been a great way to see every nook and cranny we wanted to and meet tons of interesting people, including other “snow birds” (term for people who live in cold places who migrate to warmer climates in the winter.  Cute, huh!

Retiring into a motorhome or camper of any kind is a great option for a lot of people and some make it a long term lifestyle.  There are organizations and campgrounds scattered throughout North America that cater to those who have the urge to become gypsies.  If you’re considering this option, think about the size of the home you’ll be happy to live in.  Remember that you’re going to have to drive whatever rig you choose across the continent.  Camping trailers are wonderful but you have to have a large tow vehicle to handle the extra weight.  If you choose a motorhome, chances are you’ll also want to tow a small vehicle so you can leave the motorhome in the campsite and go on short excursions.  Both of these options require a good amount of gas.  A more expensive rig to buy but one that’s more economical to run is a diesel pusher.  I’m sure you’ve seen them on the interstate highways.  They’re gorgeous and have all the comforts of home but their price tag is equally impressive.

Holy Stitch!  So complicated!  Camping sites come in all shapes and sizes and range in price from economy to luxury.  Volunteering at a campground can help with the cost because you can get a free or discount campsite plus it’s a good way to help a retiree feel useful.  Living in a motorhome might have been a wonderful way to spend a few years but it never really came to pass.

About the time my husband was ready to retire, our older daughter spent a college semester in Costa Rica.  She introduced us to the beautiful beaches, gorgeous scenery and Pura Vida lifestyle.  We fell in love with the place!  It’s funny how life is what happens when you’re making plans.  I found Costa Rica to be the most wonderful place I’d traveled so far.  There are shell or white sand beaches and black volcanic sand beaches, there are majestic mountains, which is why travelers call it Little Switzerland, and there are jungles and volcanoes.  The climate in the mountains never gets below 60 F and rarely gets to 90 F.  Of course, the coasts are hot but that’s not a problem if you’re a beach person.

Long story short, after a couple of trips, we bought a piece of land with a nice view, built a house, and moved down, lock, stock and barrel.  There was a decent sized foreign population to greet us in Costa Rica (close to 1000 around the lake where I live) and Ticos are a generous and welcoming people.  No one needs to feel isolated especially if you’re willing to learn Spanish.  With the rest of our lives ahead of us, and the house finished, we settled into building a vegetable garden, meeting new people, and figuring out how to occupy our time.  Filling our days was never a problem.  A garden is easy because everything grows here except plants that need a freeze to regenerate.  When you move to Costa Rica, you soon learn that people just show up at your doorstep and bring family; it’s the norm so meeting new friends was easy.  Day and weekend trips around the country also helped us feel more comfortable and at home in our new land.

Relocating to a foreign country also brings surprises and things to adjust to.  One of the most surprising things about living 10 degrees north of the Equator was that it gets light in the morning between 4:45 and 5:30 all year around and gets dark between 5:15 and 6:00 every night.  This requires a new schedule!  If you’re a person who wants to stay up past midnight and sleep until 9AM, you’ve missed a good portion of the daylight hours.Retirement advice from Rita

Many people here don’t feel comfortable driving long distances on unfamiliar roads after dark.  There’s a lot of undeveloped space in Costa Rica and it doesn’t have the level of service that you might be used to in a first world country.  You can travel 50 miles in rural areas without seeing a service station at night and tow trucks are few and far between.  AAA doesn’t have a branch here so if your car runs out of gas and or you break down on a rural road at night, you might have to spend the night in your car.  There is a lot more planning that has to happen when you live in a developing country.  It takes an adaptable and tolerant person to adjust to the every day differences that living happily here requires.

Conversely, Costa Rica is more developed in some ways and simpler in other ways than the US, where I gained most of my experience.  In NY State, we had to go to a government building to look up the title on a piece of property.  Here, it’s all in the central registry and readily accessible on the internet.  The bus system here takes you anywhere you want to go and quite economically.  Cell phones get great coverage and an unlimited plan with data only costs about $20.00 a month.   People ask me about the cost of heat and air conditioning.  My answer is that when it gets cold, I close the doors and when it’s too warm, I open them.  Property taxes are also a fraction of anywhere else I’ve lived.  Having a healthier diet is also easier here with the year round growing season and abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables.  If you want to maintain the lifestyle you are used to in Costa Rica, you certainly can find most products that you’re used to but they are likely very expensive.  I have the luxury of garden and housekeeping help, which is common here, and that cost is quite reasonable.  A retiree can get really lazy when domestic help is so readily available.

On the other hand, if you are stopped by a traffic officer in Costa Rica and don’t have valid documentation on your car or a current driver’s license, the officer can pull your license plates on the spot.  Electricity is expensive because we expats tend to exceed the amount allowed in the base rate which means the more you use, the higher your rate goes for the extra usage.  Obtaining residency here is difficult also.  The laws have changed in the last couple of years and Costa Rica only gives residency to people who can prove they are self-supporting.

The point to this story is to tell you to please do all your homework if you’re thinking of relocating to another country and, when you’ve found your ideal location, rent for a full year before you buy.  Many retirees prefer to rent permanently rather than ever having a place of their own.  They choose to be footloose and fancy free.

There are many wonderful places around the world that welcome foreigners.  Panama makes it very easy for newcomers to feel wanted and it’s a beautiful country.  We have friends who live in the highlands of Guatemala and love it there.  Friends, who were originally from England just moved to France after spending two years here in Costa Rica.  She found even the moderate mountain climate here a little too warm, especially because she has a tendency for those pesky hot flashes that plague some of us at this age.  They’ve rented their house for a year to a nice Canadian couple and are trying different parts of France to see that it’s not too hot for her and not too cold for him.  Reminds me of a story: they need their climate “Just Right”!

Another important aspect of a happy and fulfilling retirement is to stay active and involved.  I can’t stress how important it is to stay as active as your health will allow.  We’re like vintage cars, when we sit, we rust so stay active and keep involved.  Make sure the area you try out has activities you enjoy or want to get involved in.  Where I live, there are tennis courts and swimming pools available.  There’s a women’s group that meets monthly and puts on activities to benefit the needy in the area.  There’s a garden club, bridge and other card or board game groups, yoga  and Spanish classes, volunteer work, and community events.  Other people meet at a local bar once a week just to get together, or have a nice meal at a local restaurant.  There are also many people who get together for pot luck dinners at each others’ homes.  It’s important to become a part of your local community so you aren’t isolated.  Get out there and meet people.

The most important aspect of retirement for me turned out to be whether I enjoyed spending 24/7/365 with my housemate, AKA husband.  I’ve read a statistic recently that said the rate of senior divorce has skyrocketed in the last few years.  I know that sounds like a vague statement but I’ll stand by it anecdotally.

My husband and I spent a lifetime having demanding but rewarding jobs.  Our lives were spent focused on earning a living and raising a family.  We didn’t spend any time together as empty nesters before we moved to another country and that was a mistake.  When we got to Costa Rica, it didn’t take long to realize we didn’t have much left in common and didn’t agree on a few key issues.  It’s a sad thing to be a statistic but this isn’t a sad story by any means.  We’ve both learned that we have a lot to give and many years left.  We are looking forward to the new chapters in our separate lives.

I’m starting a new life on my own while continuing to live most of the year in Costa Rica.  What will the future bring?

Holy Stitch, I don’t know!  That’s the beauty of it.

I’m going to work with a sea turtle conservation program for International Volunteers in October and November and I’m planning a trip to the Caribbean coast of Mexico in February of 2017 with my daughters.  I’m hoping to take a few weeks to ride my motorcycle, a Can Am Spyder, from Oswego, NY to Austin, TX this September.  I’m looking forward to being more active on Stitch, meeting new friends and planning activities together.  I’m also going to find us some things to do in Costa Rica and Central America!  Anybody want to visit?

The bottom line is, now that I’m single, I can do whatever I want and so can you.  My advice is to do a lot of planning and trying out.  As I say on my profile, “Life is an adventure and I’ve got a lot more living to do.”  Make the most of your retirement and surround yourself with happy people and enriching activities.  Does anyone remember the last Calvin and Hobbes cartoon?  It was the new year, which gave them a fresh start.  They talked about having a clean piece of paper to draw on and having a magical world all around them.  They didn’t know what the future would bring so they said “let’s go exploring!’

27 Comments

  1. Jerry

    Thanks for the great simple advice, we can do anything and try before you commit.

  2. Dev

    Jan:
    Thanks for the advice. I’m thinking of relocating New Jersey to live near my son in Manhattan. I’m a California native so this will be a big change. You are much more adventurous than me, but I’m learning to do activities on my own. I’m traveling as much as I can afford to take advantage oft excellent health. Thanks again for the words of wisdom.

  3. Natalie

    What a great article and as soon as I retire fully I will be away too! I travel now a bit and am ready to change with the flow of life! Costa Rica is on my list! You’re an inspiration

    Best

    Natalie

    1. Rita

      Thank you all for your kind words. If Costa Rica is on your list, drop me a line and I’ll help in any way I can. If you’re in the neighborhood, hot and cold drinks are always ready.

  4. Sandra

    I read your article I must say I admire your courage to do these things, still continue to explore.

  5. Werner

    A bit in life – unimageinable for most people. I’ve traveled in the course of my professional career in the US and Canada and then of course Europe, Middle East Med Sea Etc. Always after 4 or 5 weeks was ready to get back to work in my profession. Then retirement – what was left with my wife going through 4 different cancers (beating three of them) over a time span of 20 plus years. Taking the spouse responsibility seriously and the intrigue of Medical travels to Santa Barbara with great medical treatment facilities in Southern California. The travels were substuted for medical studies and understanding of the human body. Appreciation of all this is note worthy and then when one’s dear wife passes on – a emptiness and lonesomeness sets. Covenant members are a partial positive measure. So life goes on and through the eyes and the wanderlust of someone else experiencing is truly significant. The story written is so erudite and one of the best synopsis I have ever read. Only James Mitchner could do a new book and intertwine it with the zest of relationships and peoples, cultures, and I might add the unimaginable of relocating. I’ve traveled a good deal and there is no end but family relationships are so important and the shortness of our life span places us in a finite measure of time. The unveiling of life at a celebration someone’s finality causes many reflections and the glimpses to the Maker who has given us so much to behold and be thankful for. Thanks again for the unique presentation. Werner

    1. Rita

      Werner:
      I’m so sorry you lost your love but happy you feel hope for the rest of your days. You’re absolutely right that we need a home base to feel safe and calm so when I talked about adventures to come, I’m sure they’ll be of short duration. I hope to do much of my traveling with volunteer organizations. I was reminded by a friend a few years ago that visiting a place as a tourist doesn’t allow the culture or customs of a people to be experienced. After living in a culture for a short time and working along side locals, I’m sure I’ll crave the tranquility of home.
      Thank you so much for your kind words about my blog. I hope the very best for you.
      Rita

  6. michael

    Thank you so much for your inspirational article. I speak spanish and have studied in Mexico and vacationed there for many years. I also studied Spanish and salsa dancing in Antigua where I taught yoga and volunteered in a hospital. I love the Latin culture and want to travel throughout South America including Costa Rica. About ten years ago I started a non-profit that funded a school in Costa Rica and would love to visit it sometime.
    Where do you live? Check out my stitch profile and write back if your interested in corresponding. My passion now is writing and completing a story based on an experience in Oaxaca and The Day of The Dead.
    Miguel

    1. Rita

      Hi Miguel:
      Yes, I would be interested in corresponding but have not way to look up your profile. It sounds like you have some similar philosophies and experiences. I live in the mountains of northern Costa Rica. I also love the Spanish culture and am really trying to get serious about learning the language. I’ve been volunteering and teaching English so don’t have enough opportunity to practice (I know, it’s an excuse). If you can look up my profile, please do or respond to this comment if you can’t. Have a good day and take care, Rita

      1. Michael

        Rita,
        I’ve been in computer hell for days. Spent hours with Apple Care to restore my data and not yet completed. I hope to have email again tomorrow and would prefer corresponding with you in that way.
        Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. Please stay in touch . I’ll have more time on the weekend.

        Michael

        1. Rita

          Hi Miquel:
          sorry about your computer problems. Message on Stitch when you can. Rita

          1. Michael Zimmerman

            Rita,

            Como estas?

            Is this correspondence public? Stitch site has said my browser doesn’t allow me to enter the site – I asked Apple Care today and they didn’t know.
            Again I prefer you writing to me at [removed] it’s easier and more reliable. I can write a profile and send photos.

            I feel like I’m emerging out of what turned out to be a long, enervating process to retrieve
            my data.The stories I’ve been working on I was able to find. I hate that I so depend on this technology.When I lived in Guanajuato,Mexico we didn’t have a phone for a year and had no problems communicating everything to everyone in person, in fact it was fun. However we saw everyone we knew everyday. Part of my interest in living in Latin America is the sense of community one feels from everyone. It’s warm and loving.
            I have 5 months this winter to explore. I’m not sure where to begin. Maybe Cuba for the jazz festival in December.I have a friend from Spanish class who wants me to visit in Guadalajara. Quien Sabe?

            So what do you do everyday? What do you like besides writing? Do you miss being married? Remember I was a psychologist and am used to talking about these topics. I hope you don’t mind me asking. You said in your blog you liked the freedom in single hood and I assume you didn’t feel that way in your marriage. Too bad!

            Miguel

          2. Rita Pfeifer

            Hi Miguel:
            I’m afraid Stitch is very protective of our privacy and your email was automatically deleted from your message. I have no problem with this forum until you can find a way to get your profile figured out. I have a Mac also and have had no problem with Stitch. Sorry and hope it gets ironed out soon.
            I don’t remember you telling me that you’re a psychologist. What type and who do you work with? Very interesting, I’m sure.
            Most of my day here includes taking a walk, running errands, and putzing around in the garden or weeding something. I meet friends either for lunch or dinner once or twice a week. I don’t cook for myself as well as I should but I enjoy the peace and quiet. When I respond to your email, it doesn’t allow me access to it so i’m having trouble remembering what else you wanted to know.
            I’ll begin traveling for the next few months starting at the end of this month. I’ll be in the US, back to a different part of Costa Rica, then to Nicaragua. It’ll be a busy time but I’ll get to visit family. I hope to visit Cuba also sometime soon, before the prices go up and it becomes too commercialized.
            Take care and best of luck with your computer problems. Rita

          3. Michael

            Hola Rita,
            What a challenge Stitch presents to get around using their site as a way to correspond. Congratulations to them. I’m too challenged by the gauntlet they have set in place. Part of the hero’s journey as we know from Beowulf and all the other myths is the need to conquer all obstacles. Now I don’t want you to think I’m some sort of macho guy who gets off on being a hero. I’ve been to humbled by life and at my age of 70 to old go there. In this response I will include my michaelzimmerman1 you can figure out the rest by looking at how I sign off.
            DO you travel alone? I don’t. Because of 2 long marriages( I like being married) and hundreds of trips all over the world – It seems I attract and attracted to what I call the California go girls. Women who love to travel, who are adventurous, don’t let fear stop them, physical and willing to jump into the unknown with me (if I hold their hands and have their back). Do you posses any of these qualities?
            By the way I liked the energy in your writing, keep doing it, let yourself go. I write non-fiction so have to rely on my imagination. Actually I was never much impressed with reality, since societal and familiar messages were telling me I couldn’t do this or that and I tried new stuff. Some of it worked and some didn’t, but I like the energy of new beginnings, there’s more heart and enthusiasm.

            Adios.
            mac

  7. James

    Sad to think that people will divorce simply because they “have nothing left to say”. Why not try finding new things to interrelate with. before dumping a life long companion. One wonders what, if anything was there in the first place. A very shallow self centred materialistic world society that we live in.

    Regards

    James

    1. Michael Zimmerman

      When my clients tell me they have nothing more to say to a mate I tell them it’s the beginning of being real with each other. It’s scary try it our sometime.

      Michael

  8. Rita

    Hi James: You appear to have an issue with the reasons for my divorce. I think the article I wrote says that when we retired ” we didn’t have much left in common and didn’t agree on a few key issues”. I didn’t say anything about nothing left to say.
    I would like to point out that anything more than what I said would be indelicate on a public forum. My issues, my husband’s issues, and the issues in our life together are no one’s business but our own.
    I encourage you to work on your tendency to assume knowledge and make judgements on that assumed knowledge. This article was on retirement and all the possibilities. Have a wonderful life. Rita

  9. Noreen

    Hi Rita
    I really enjoyed reading your blog it was very entertaining and full of excellent advice. If I ever get over your way I will certainly look you up! If you are over in Oz it would be great to catch up.

    1. Rita

      Hi Noreen:
      Thanks for the compliments on the article. I’ve only known one Noreen and you talk about catching up. Do I know you? Take care and happy stitching, Rita

  10. Lori

    Hey Rita!

    I enjoyed your post, you touched on a few things that I, too, have wondered about. I think we are sometimes penalized for ending a long marriage. I’d like to propose an alternate way of thinking about it. Those of us in long relationships usually marry with goals that either are met or expire 25 or 35 years down the road. For myself I wanted a family and to build a career and I wanted to take that journey with the wonderful man I married. 25 years later, two kids thru college and careers well played it was time to change gears. Why is it so bad for 2 heathy adults to decide that their later-in-life goals may now be mutually exclusive. Why can’t two civilized people peacefully, kindly part ways. When did it get to be badge of honor for two people to slowly grumpily become disenchanted and resentful of one another. Those couples who were luckily enough to find a mate that “fit” for the rest of their lives are to be envied, just as those couples who can recognize the time to call it quits–and do so gracefully. It’s a gift to realize that life is short, and every day should be lived well. Retirement, divorce, and widowhood should be opportunities to reassess, screw up your courage and see what else is out there! Good luck to us all!!

    1. Rita

      Hi Lori:
      It would be quite civilized and mature of us all if we could fall in love and maintain a happy marriage throughout our lifetime. I couldn’t agree more. It is exceptional when a couple can part as friends and I’m happy to say that my ex and I have done that but I see so many couples who aren’t able to. So sad when the parting becomes vindictive and a power struggle.
      It’s amazing to me how silly little blogs can touch a nerve in us and make us think about related things like marriage and separation. Thanks for your comments and insights. Rita

  11. Rob

    Great blog! I am also restless in retirement although I must say the weather here in Sydney is not a reason. It is the middle of winter and I went fishing in shirtsleeves today (I did put a jacket in the car just in case!) I have been focussing on Phuket, Thailand, and Malta as the places to buy my retirement place, but both you and a site I subscribe to (International Living) have highly praised Ecuador, so I will consider putting the area on my ‘visit and research list’. I also house-swap my apartment and car with people in Europe for cheap holidays. Enjoy! Regards, Rob

    1. Rita

      Thanks, Rob. I’ve also heard that Ecuador is a beautiful place to retire. So many people are doing a house swap for vacations. It’s a great idea and I’m glad it works out for you. Thanks for reminding us. Hope you caught some fish. Rita

  12. DP

    Rita;

    This is a small world, The one blog I choose to read this morning and it was someone from Oswego, I lived there too for 62 years, Living in CT now but leaving for Fl soon, I have had enough of the winters !
    Although I do miss those big Lake Effect snowfalls when everything is quiet outside and then the Sun comes out after 3 ft of fluffy snow has fallen, Ok enough of that I don’t miss anymore ! Sounds like your having a good life, Enjoy and have a long healthy retirement.

    1. Rita

      Thanks, Andrew. Yes, get out of the weather in the NE. Happy retirement to you, too.

  13. Rose

    RIta, I’ve lived/ worked in Honduras and Guatemala. I would love to visit Costa Rica someday, Panama too. I will contact you before I head south. What is the best time to visit? Are you hosting an event?

  14. Gladys

    Rita,
    Thank you for your blog. You’re a girl after my own heart. I’ve traveled to over 165 countries and during the last 50, I have been looking for properties close enough to the U.S. so I could fly back home on long weekends and holidays and it not cost me an arm and 2 legs, something I could afford without totally giving up my base camp, someone who was adventurous enough to live in the now, where ever it is. Hooray for you, living life to it’s fullest.

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