Sunday, March 31, 2013

What’s your number?

I’m ready to move to Merida.  Now.

Of course, it’s never that simple.  We’re no longer young enough to be impulsive, and not quite old enough to be retired.  I could write a whole separate post on the first half of that sentence…is it a good thing or a bad thing that we don’t take the same kind of risks as we get older?  Is it true or not true that your opportunities to start over again are fewer at 50 than they are at 25?  But I digress….

So I periodically (and by periodically, I mean at least four times every day) try to figure out when the time and circumstances will be right to make a move.  While that evaluation depends in some measure on other issues like ageing pets and parents (not necessarily in that order), it’s mostly a question of money.  When is it financially ok to take the leap of faith that things will most likely turn out ok?  Where is the line between responsible and capricious?

Mostly when I’m agonizing about this issue, I go to  The little trend lines are reassuring, and there is something devil-may-care about deciding that your risk tolerance is satisfied by a 74% chance that you won’t spend your 90s eating cat food. 

Tonight, though, I was thinking about that old ING advertisement…What’s Your Number?  It turns out that the campaign has a website, and that you can enter certain basic data and get a very specific-sounding number that represents exactly what you will need to retire.  Sounds simple, right?  So I entered a few details…my current age, the age at which I wanted to retire (55), the age I planned to live to (90), and the relatively modest amount that I thought would be sufficient for us to live on an annual basis.  I clicked the button, and:

Your Number is

That's pretty precise!  But it is also a good deal of money, and since it didn’t seem likely that we would achieve that amount before I turned 55, I dropped back to a more traditional plan.  My current age, the age at which I would be forced to retire if we didn’t want to be destitute (65), the same life span, and the same modest amount for our annual expenses.  The only difference was in the first try I wanted to retire at 55, but in the second I planned to retire ten years later, at 65.  I gave the button an unenthusiastic click, and:

Your Number is

Now, if you’re paying attention, you’ve noticed that (at least according to ING), I will need more money to retire at 65 than I would if I retired a decade sooner, even though in both cases I plan to end up as a nonagenarian with the same spending habits.  Huh?  How can that possibly make any sense?

I’m sure that there is some fantastically complex financial and mathematical reason for the result, but that’s beside the point.  The better lesson seems to me to be that life isn’t mathematically precise, and no online calculator can tell you when it is time for a new option or whether it will be a success.  Also, it may not always be true that the path that sounds more “responsible” actually will be.

Several trips to Merida ago, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman at Café La Boheme who was sitting outside enjoying the morning with a cup of coffee and his dog.  He was younger than me, perhaps late 30s, and said that he and his wife had recently pulled up stakes in the relatively rural south and moved to Merida to try it out.  The thing that he said that stuck with me was that, a year into their experience, he didn’t know why they had waited so long to do it.

Now it’s possible that he invented the Snuggie or had a trust fund and therefore wasn’t too worried about his "Number."  Or maybe he felt like it was still early enough in his working life to survive a really big “oops” moment if the whole Mexico plan didn’t work out.   Maybe, though, that guy having his morning coffee with his dog at a sidewalk café in Merida was far smarter, and far more responsible, than those of us who are having our coffee at 6 a.m. in some random airport on the way to some other random airport, or having it handed to us through the window of the car, while we mutely await permission to dream a little after we have reached 65 or have satisfied some on-line retirement calculator that we can afford our hypothetical old age.

Maybe I should be pondering over that and not worrying so much about my Number.


  1. Numbers? Bah humbug. You can't be too calculating to make this move -- it's a crazy, romantic notion that everything will come out OK, and an act of faith. Plus, I'm bad at numbers so I have to choice but to hope that we're doing the right thing.

  2. It's a great theory! Darren is the "romantic notion" one here. I have a tendency to put together a spreadsheet just to go grocery shopping. One way or another, it will happen. I'm just waiting for you guys to finish so we can see the pictures for inspiration!

  3. My number is 3-2-1. 3 houses, one to live in, two to rent. 2 jobs or hobbies that can produce income for life. 1 Permaculture food forest. Remember that ING is a bank that makes money by managing your saved up labor. Manage it yourself. Just diversify and get unbiased (paid per hour/not sales commission)professional advice when needed.

    1. Hi PK...I just looked up permaculture food forest. What a great concept! I saw an exhibit at the National Botanic Garden's conservatory in Washington DC recently on the plant culture in the Shallow soils of the tropics that concentrated on a similar concept about the interdependence of the various indigenous plant species...fascinating! Thanks for your comment.

  4. I just stumbled into your blog. I love it,=; and your style. My partner and I are struggling with some of the same (what's your number) issues. I'm the optimist ("it'll all work out") and he's the pessimist ("but, what if ______"). We make our third house hunting trip in July and I'm ready to move. I hope to hear more about your deliberations and conclusions.
    Until then, best regards.

    1. Thanks Paul! So far, we are all "deliberation" and no "conclusion." We will see how things develop. Are you planning an imminent move? Enjoy the house is over all too quickly! I miss that part of the process. Best, Wade

  5. What a great blog post. It seem so 'familiar'? My husband and I are planning to retire at 55 and are looking for a part-time retirement home in Merida (we have another one in the US), but 7 years seems so far away! Your blog helps me look beyond our own circumstances and realize there are others agonizing over similar issues. I look forward to reading more about what you plan and decide for the future.
    Best of luck!

  6. Thanks Mike. Even though this question is, I think, very high on the list of questions for most would-be expats, it's tough to get a handle on the answer. I think that Lee's comment has the best option available!

  7. Hi!
    Have you moved to Merida finally?
    I'm in the same situation.
    The difference is that we are living in France with my mexican husband and think we would be happier in Mérida.
    He's from San Luis Potosi (center of México) and i've lived there for 3 years.
    I don't really like the city.
    Last year we travelled to Mérida and despite the heat we really loved the city.
    I really don't know if i'll ever live there but this city gathers all that i love in México.
    I hope you finally moved to Mérida.Please tell me more.

  8. hello, my name is kristen. i have been online looking for 2 friends of mine, emily and ryan (newie). they should be in the merida/yucatan area looking for me too. if you've heard of anything at all or know of someone who meets a lot of people passing through, please drop me a line and let me know...
    anything at all would help.
    thanks so much for your time,