Chapter 32 You won’t believe how we afford to live in Mexico

February 11, 2019

Moving to Mexico:

Chapter 32:  You won’t believe how we afford to live in Mexico

My iPhone lock screen this morning.

A view of the beach off Diamante K in Tulum.

We are getting close, but I am really missing Mexico.

I recently had a reader reach out to me and ask me a couple of things:

  1. Are we rich?  Is that how we’re doing this?
  2. Can she and her husband find work in Mexico?

I can’t speak too much about the second question as I have never worked in Mexico.  I plan to but have not done so yet.  More on that as things progress. From my initial research, it’s difficult for an American to work in Mexico and the compensation is nowhere near what we’re used to here at home.  Many expats in Tulum bring some expertise and a little money to open a business.  Take a look at this guy who left New York City for Tulum:

Other people marry a Mexican national which opens the doors to many other opportunities.  Virtual jobs are very popular for expats worldwide.  I’m not going to open a company and I’m already married so I have to find a different path.  I can tell you this:  if you are unskilled in any profession, you probably will not be successful in Mexico because there are many people there in that category.  Unskilled workers in Mexico work very hard and earn little money.  You could probably survive, but you will be taking a job from a local and I never think that is a good idea.

Regarding the first question, I am more than willing to divulge how we will do this. 

We are fortunate in that we have already built a home in Tulum.  That much you already know.

Again, here are the Airbnb links:

Unless you are a shopaholic, eat out at fine restaurants every day or insist on driving an imported sports car, lodging is usually the biggest bill we all face.  I knew this going in, so I wanted to make sure that we had that base covered.  Betty and I are NOT gamblers when it comes to our money or our future.  I know many people like us and I also have friends who have done things much differently.

Some of our best friends built a 7,000 SF house in an area full of homes that are about ¼ that size.  Their home is a custom-built masterpiece built for just the two of them.  As an appraiser, I would have advised them against what they did, but they are very happy with their decision and it seems to have worked out for them just fine.  Different strokes.

Betty and I dreamed of a similar home back when we were in the heyday of our industry success.  We even had a close friend, who was a real estate agent, take us around to look at several mc-mansions in the $1.5 million-dollar range, teasing ourselves about purchasing one.  In the end, we never found anything that made us want to take that leap and our stalwart financial discipline held us back.  The mortgage payment, taxes and ongoing maintenance frightened us.  To many people we knew, we were being far too conservative, but we felt at ease in our decision. 

In 2001, we sold our first house and bought a 2,000 SF home built in the 1960’s in a decent neighborhood where we live to this day.  We could have afforded more but decided to invest so we could retire earlier.  We had reached a level of comfort that was “good enough” for us.

I put good enough in quotes because many people never get to that point.  They are always reaching for a bigger home, a newer car, more stuff, more travel…gotta see the Pyramids of Giza, sail the Panama Canal, visit Venice and climb Machu Pichu.  These people acquire these things by trading the hours of their lives.  They acquire these items and experiences by trading the one thing we can’t get more of:  time.  They choose to work harder, work longer and retire later.  That is their choice.  It is not ours.

For example, I have a watch that looks like it cost a LOT of money.  Every time I wear it, I get compliments.  It looks kind of “blingy”, but not over the top.  Here is a photo:

It’s not a fancy brand, a Nautica.  Betty bought it for me at a dive shop on St. John, USVI twelve years ago for $200.00.  It has always worked, and I love to wear it.  Many of my friends at that time were buying Breitling watches, a very expensive brand that was in vogue at the time.  A similar watch from Breitling would cost around $5,000.00. 

One friend with a Breitling has also bought one for his wife so they had a matching set and they made sure everyone saw their fine watches at a BBQ one night.  This was the same couple who divorced a few years later due to money issues.  Bullet dodged.  I always thought those oversized watches looked ridiculous.  I don’t want a bread plate on my wrist, regardless of the current trend.

“It’s not what you make,

it’s what you keep.”

One of my favorite quotes.

The point I am making is twofold:

  1. Looks are deceiving and perception is everything.
  2. If you buy right, you can save money, get what you want and keep it for years.

Betty and I have made spontaneous purchases many times.  We have been far from perfect and not 100% diligent with our conservative spending.  We have definitely lived.  But we never outspent what we had, kept to a budget and always invested.

My reader may have thought we are wealthy, but we are far from rich.  I’m not turning over my financials here.  Suffice to say that we cannot continue to afford the lifestyle we have had for many years in California.  We can either make this change now or continue to slave into old age to afford something we don’t even want anymore.

What would you do?

For most of us who are not wealthy trust-fund brats or Silicon Valley start-up investment capitalists, dripping in disposable cash, where you live depends on how you want to live and what you can afford.  Our life plan called for diligent saving and conservative investments.  In 2008, we learned that you can do everything right and still get your feet taken out from under you.  A lot of us learned that lesson.  Yet is seems we are headed that direction again.  People learn.  Society never learns.

When we designed our home, again we planned for the future.  We knew we did not need a 3,000 SF house.  It would be nice to have all of that space, but we decided to cut our home into three units, so we could rent the two smaller units downstairs to guests.  We’ll see how that goes.  It’s a unique way to live and not for everyone, but we could have easily just built a smaller home and kept the build money for another investment, a condo or smaller home somewhere that we could rent.  We chose to do it this way because we wanted friends and family to come visit and be close to us when they were here.

That is how we will afford to live in Mexico.  We will spend a lot less than we do now, downsize our lives to a more manageable lifestyle and use half of our home to generate rental income.  We also plan to do some work online, but we still haven’t figured that out just yet.  More on that later.

A home is definitely the meeting grounds for friends and family, so let’s sidetrack to the topic of friends and family for a moment because it’s a huge consideration when you think of moving outside the USA. 

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that if it takes a plane ride and a trip through customs to visit you that your current social circle will visit you less.  Much less, or as we learned when we lived in the Bahamas…not at all. 

I saw an ad for a new “reality” TV show about rich Mexican families.  It looks ridiculous, like most reality shows, but I’ll probably take a look at it anyway because it’s about Mexico.  In the ad, I think I overheard one of the family members say that familiar sentence:

“Family is everything.”

And I wondered, is it?  Is it really? 

“Family” is a very broad term that is used far too loosely.  I have a friend who introduces me to everyone as his “brother”.  It’s endearing, and I appreciate it. But recently, one of his colleagues asked him,

“Man, how many brothers do you have?”

That led me to think that it was quite possible that “brother” was a term he used very loosely.

It’s kind of like when someone calls Kendrick Lamar a “genius.”  It takes an I.Q. over 135 to qualify as a genius and less than 1% of people in the world have that.  Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin were geniuses.  Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci were probably geniuses.  Kendrick Lamar is a rapper.  He is talented but not a genius.  *By the way, Snoop Dog is reported to have an I.Q. of 420, which is not surprising. 

Is family really everything?  If it is, then why do we have a reunion only every couple of years?  I would think that people that important to each other would want to visit a little more often.

Is it even possible to have a close relationship with every member of your family?  Do you even want that?  I don’t, and I never have.  Some people in my family are just people I know because we are related.  Besides a few scattered DNA traits, we have zero in common.  Others are people I call, “Of a time” meaning that we were close once, but that time has passed.  People grow apart.  Married couples can stay together for decades and then when they divorce in their seventies, they will say,

“Well, we just grew apart.”

That happens in families, too.

Family members can also grow closer over time.  My wife and her sister were not very close when I met them.  Years later they became much closer and now they are like best friends.  Their “time” is now.  Conversely, an in-law of mine recently got into a fight with his twin brother and they have not spoken since.  I am told that it was pretty serious and that they may have severed ties.  They were thick as thieves for decades and now, nothing. 

I did not grow up with my sister as we lived with different parents.  We are tremendously close today and have been for many years.  She is the one family member I would call “everything.”  As close as I feel to her, I cannot stay here much longer.  She is saddened by my decision and I feel guilty for hurting her with this move.  I wonder how many other people I am hurting.

From my eleventh birthday, I lived in a bachelor house with my father and my brother.  We did everything together.  About eighteen years ago, my father and I stopped talking to each other.  It was nothing new.  We had only recently reunited after a nine-year break, so it was normal for us to distance from each other. 

As grown men, we simply do not like each other.  We have tried to rekindle our relationship several times and failed.  We have a nice time for a week or so and then the old injuries make it difficult to navigate the same historical minefields without arguments.

It’s the same thing with my brother.  We were very close for many years and then after working together for several years, we grew apart and eventually he turned his back on me completely.  I was mildly surprised but not truly hurt.  He was not someone who made a huge impact on my life.  He came around when it was convenient for him, did not stay long and only needed me when he needed something.  It’s hard to tell when people like that distance themselves from you because it’s not that different from when they supposedly are close to you.

“You can’t miss

what you never had.”

I’ll wind this family discussion up by saying this:  family is important, but it is not everything to me.  Some members of my family are incredibly important, some come and go, and others simply fade away.  If anyone in my family needed help, I would do all I could to assist.  I think they would do the same for me.

We are like firemen to each other, just not as close as firemen are to each other. 

Perhaps we are more like insurance.

I think of these things as we are just 126 days from my birthday in June, which I am using as my D-Day.  It could be a little sooner or a little later, but using my 54th birthday seems appropriate as moving to Mexico seems like the greatest gift I could give myself.  I think of how much we will miss people we are close to here.  Then I am reminded that right now I miss many of them and they are busy doing other things.  How I feel now is how I will feel later.  The only thing that will change is the distance between us.  Or should I say the “geographic” distance because how close we are will never be determined by miles.

The two people I am closest to:  Betty and our son.  I would die for either.  And yet, Betty was a stranger to me, not my family.  We met in the-old fashioned way:  a nightclub in SF.  Our son was also a stranger to me until he was born.  We “made” him, and immediately he became the center of our universe.  I only pray that it stays that way for my lifetime.  I truly believe it will.  I am not my father.

I have already written about the cost of living in Tulum, Mexico being roughly 1/3 the cost of the USA, and a lot less than living in the SF Bay Area.  An 802 SF apartment in Walnut Creek, CA will rent for an average of $2,440.00 per month.  The same apartment in Tulum will cost about $490.00, or about 1/5.  If you did the math on when you would retire, and your savings could last you 4 to 5 times as long, when could you call it quits working in the USA?  That’s exactly how we determined how we would afford to live in Mexico.

“Prices are too high.  If you sell your house in the Bay Area, you can never come back.”

My First Answer:  GOOD!

My Second Answer:  Let’s see if you say the same thing the next time the real estate market tanks and investors are snatching up cheap California real estate again.

We will all be watching.

One thing we probably won’t see much of in Tulum:  morning frost.

Take a look at these recent morning shots of our deck and the roof of the shop.

I know, I know.  California winters are nothing compared to Wisconsin.  It’s all relative.  I’m just looking forward to the incredible warmth I feel when I go for a walk early in the morning in Tulum. 

I think we need to schedule a trip there soon.  I am really longing for a visit.  It has been too long, and I think we just may have enough airline miles.  I’m going to ask Betty.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 32 You won’t believe how we afford to live in Mexico”

  1. This is what I mean. A raw, yet informative piece. I appreciate the personal touch and opening up. Great writing, Tom Collins. Keep it coming.

    1. Thanks, Hector. And thank you for sharing my writing with your group. I really appreciate it. Let me know if you have any other properties you would like spotlighted.

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