A Decade in the Making … More or Less (Part I)

As with most things in life, a little context couldn’t hurt …

Lest you maintain the impression that Cherie and I just woke up one day in Seattle and decided to radically alter our lives, a post to provide some background is probably in order.

Our move to France was not a whim. Having traveled abroad on a regular basis over the first decade of the 2000’s, Cherie and I had become increasingly aware that we were drawn to Europe. Between the two of us we had visited England, Wales, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Switzerland, France and Italy. All of our experiences in Europe had been so fun, relaxing and rewarding. Each time we returned home we would romanticize living in one of these places.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we got jobs in London?”

How great would it be if we could somehow start up a small hotel in the Italian countryside?”

I’m sure you‘re familiar with the kind of wistful daydreaming we all engage in from time to time. The sentiments are comforting, even though they’re tinged with a certain air of impossibility. How often do we indulge in the fantasy of winning the lottery despite the infinitesimally small chance it will be us holding the comically oversized check? So, for some years we just fantasized without any real conviction.

Photobombed in Munich, der Englischer Garten

Until 2010. For some time I had been aware that Cherie was spending much more time with one of my two competitors for her affections: spreadsheets. [The other is, of course, our standard poodle, Saxon.] Cherie is a true artist with spreadsheets. She’s like the Georges Seurat of columns, fields and headings. If you look too closely at the letters and numbers it looks as if Neil deGrasse Tyson had just barfed up his Mars trajectory calculations all over a checkered tablecloth; but as you pull away it begins to form the most amazing vision. It’s magical, really.

Cherie discovered that it would be possible for us to take an early retirement from our jobs at the 20-year mark and have enough money to live comfortably for the rest of our lives. Initially, I took this news with equal parts of surprise, glee and terror. As any sensible financial coward will tell you, impoverishment is always a fear to be respected. So I was pretty apprehensive about calling it quits from our careers early. But with great patience Cherie walked me through her various calculations, worst-case scenarios and cost of living analyses. I would be lying if I claimed to have fully-comprehended the individual parts. My mind just doesn’t spin that way. But I could see the big picture and it was pretty damn glorious. Retire at the age of 52 and 47? An exciting prospect.

All of a sudden, we had crossed over from the realm of idle fantasy into serious planning. Initially, we intended to move to the U.K. thinking that this would be the least complicated, particularly with regard to language. Turns out, we were right – but that’s a topic for a later post. We thought it would be good to invest in a property there, providing us with a firm link to the country and helpful in obtaining a residency visa. So, in 2012 we took a vacation to England, found a small house in the city of Norwich and purchased it. Now we had our foothold. Our first tangible connection with Europe. Moreover, we became friends with Clive, our B&B host in Norwich. A lovely man who we still correspond with and plan to visit as soon as possible. We were fortunate to have secured a local property management company who quickly found a family to rent our English house. Job done. It felt really good to have taken such a concrete step in out plan.

Norwich Cathedral

And then we discovered that immigration law in the U.K. had changed. Our scheme to retire there took a fatal blow. It was no longer possible for us to simply relocate to England, set up a household and be retired. Not with our humble finances. The rules no longer allowed for it — unless you are very wealthy (in which case rules are for suckers). We had seriously considered starting a business under U.K. rules which would allow us to live there under that circumstance. But two things occurred to us:

1. Starting a business would require a large financial investment. So large, in fact, that it would risk our future ability to retire if the business did not succeed. Despite appearances, we are not big risk takers. We decided that such a gamble was not our cup of tea.

2. Part of our goal was to have the freedom not to work. Although working for ourselves would allow for a certain flexibility, the rigors of running a business were likely to tie us down even more than the jobs we intended to leave.

So there we were. Owners of a second house in Norwich, for no apparent reason. Our plan to retire to England was in shambles. And we had no idea where to go from there …

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