Aging Options

When Dream Retirements Become Nightmares: A Little Advance Homework Can Spare You a Lot of Disappointment

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How do you define your “dream retirement”? Each of us might answer that question differently, especially when considering where we might live. For some, our retirement dreams take us to the beachfront or to that town in the mountains. Others picture a carefree life of golf in the sunshine or spending time with the grandkids. You may envision yourself in a Mexican village or on the coast of New England. That’s the fun part about dreams: they help paint a vivid picture of “what could be.”

But dreams – especially retirement dreams – have a downside, and when it comes to retirement, whatever your dreams may be, you need to evaluate them with a healthy dose of realism. That was our take-away from this enlightening article from NextAvenue in which writer and personal financial coach Christine Moriarty warns us of the danger of letting our dreams run away with us. Moriarty is creator of a website called MoneyPeace, and she has counseled many retirees whose dreams have turned sour. Her article is a cautionary tale.

Caught Up in the Illusion

Moriarty begins her article with a much-needed dose of reality. She writes, “When it comes to where to retire, people often get caught up in the illusion, rather than the reality. Before making a commitment to move, understand this change is a fine mix of dreams, practicalities and your vision.”

She adds, “You can find your perfect mix when you consider all the factors, beyond the weather, amenities and proximity to friends.” However, it takes planning.

You can look at as many “Best Places to Retire” lists as you like, she notes, but none of them will take into account your unique needs and preferences, both practical and financial. Here are three “retirement dreams” that new retirees often find are a lot less fun and satisfying in practice than they were in theory, according to Moriarty.

Dream #1: Living Near Your Children

This is a very common retirement dream, right? You finally have the time and capacity to enjoy your family, and if you have grandchildren, you can at last get to know them better, too. This intergenerational way of living can be rewarding and enjoyable for everyone involved.

But Moriarty warns, “There are some valuable conversations you need to have with your children before you put up that ‘For Sale’ sign and look for a place nearby. As your children are working with full schedules, plan time for a serious chat. This important conversation is so you can understand their life a bit more and learn what works for them.”

Moriarty provides a few points to ponder before that chat, such as, “How does your child and their family fit you into their life? Do they want you around more often? Are they worried about the time and energy of being with you?”  What’s more, it’s worth considering that your kids might already be thinking about what it may look like if they have to care for you, eventually, so that’s worth bringing up, too. Don’t just assume that assimilating yourselves into the family life of your adult kids is going to be seamless.

On top of all of these conversations, Moriarty then poses the important question that you should ask yourself: do you like the area enough—weather, community, amenities—that you would move there even if your child was not living there? If the answer is no, think again.

Your Kids Already Have a Life Without You!

If you’ve asked and answered all of these questions and still want to make the move, Moriarty encourages you to “remember that your adult children had a routine and schedule before you got there.”

She writes, “When you arrive, create a life without them as much as with them. Retirees who settle in and focus only on family often feel lost 10 years down the road when the toddler grandchildren who they saw everyday grow into teenagers who prefer to be with friends. If they end up moving away for college, you will see them even less.”

Moriarty’s message is simple: prepare for change. “A job transfer, career change, corporate merger or any number of other life-disrupting events may lead your child’s family to relocate in coming years,” she writes. “Would you feel you had no option but to follow them again? Or could you stay put because you had built a community that would let you confidently live on your own?”

Dream #2: Living in Your Favorite Vacation Area

What’s better than the idea of retirement as an endless vacation? Sounds amazing, right?

Well, Moriarty encourages you to remember that living in your favorite vacation destination isn’t the same thing as visiting for a few days or a few weeks. To test whether your favorite destination would make a good year-round home, Moriarty encourages you to “stay longer than usual. Rent a home for a month, a season or a year. Explore the area as a local. Do not forget seasons. Spend a winter at the lake or a summer at the ski resort before committing to buy.” Those blistering summers or frigid winters might sour you on the idea of living there!

The consequences of not doing your due diligence ahead of time can be tough. “Many people move twice because they thought they knew what they wanted. And moving is expensive,” Moriarty writes. “The average moving company bill for a 1,200-mile move is $4,000.” On top of the cost, there’s the headache and physical strain of relocating, problems that will only get worse as we age. It also can be much tougher to meet new people as we get older.

While your personal reasons for moving are important, there are a host of other costs—such as taxes—that also need to be taken into account. “If you change residency to a new state, consider the cost of new car registrations and legal fees for an updated estate plan. Explore the true costs of the area you want to move to, so you avoid surprises,” Moriarty advises.

Dream #3: Heading for the Border and Skipping the Country

For some people, the idea of moving to their favorite vacation spot after retirement takes them outside the borders of the United States to Canada, Mexico, Europe, or somewhere else. But the excitement of an international move can sometimes outweigh practical considerations you need to take into account.

“If you are moving for cultural immersion,” Moriarty writes, “understand many of the places that attract you also draw other Americans. The good news: you can associate with people who share your experience. But by sticking together, you are less likely to be treated as a local than foreigners who assimilate.”

On top of cultural differences, there are legalities to consider about residency in another country. “Understanding how you can live in a country long-term is essential, so check out the visa process. A country may or may not make it easy for U.S. citizens to immigrate. For example, new laws in Canada recently forbid foreign nationals to buy property for two years,” Moriarty explains.

While the cost of living might be a big draw of living outside the U.S., understand that the grass isn’t always greener. Malissa Marshall, a certified financial planner in Vermont, explains, “Retirement income will be 100 percent taxable by the U.S. and perhaps additionally in the country you move to. The tax situation may be higher than anticipated, offsetting the lower cost of living.” Moriarty recommends hiring two tax professionals—one in the country you are considering, and one in the U.S.—before finalizing any plans.

Retiring Abroad Means Planning for Health Care

Healthcare and insurance are a big consideration when planning to live abroad, especially if you choose not to pay for Medicare premiums while overseas. “If you ever return to the U.S., your Medicare insurance premiums will be permanently higher. Medicare charges a premium penalty for the months you did not pay but were qualified, even if you were covered overseas,” Moriarty writes.

One final important question, especially after living through a pandemic, is how you would feel about having an international border between you and loved ones in the event of an emergency. Would it be okay with you if it wasn’t possible for either of you to cross and see the other?

“If you keep the above in mind,” Moriarty concludes, “the facts and fiction of retirement location will be clearer. As you consider each possibility, be prepared to adjust dreams and make tradeoffs. Knowing the actual cost of your choices will make your retirement more like the fairy tale you want.”

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(originally reported at

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