Let’s just say that Plan A for your retirement didn’t quite work out the way it was supposed to do. Whatever the reasons, the fact is you are a 60-something baby boomer looking to retire on a lot less money than you thought you would have. Luckily for gritty you, sulking is not an option. Here are 10 of our best ideas on what you can do to retire in style – and on a budget.
1. Move, now. Most people about to retire are living in a lot more house than they really need. So downsizing, the sooner the better, is the smart move. You’ll end up paying less in taxes, utilities, and maintenance right away. But you say the market for your home is terrible? It is, but this works two ways – you’ll get less for your current house than at the peak but you’ll be able to replace it with a steal. By selling your suburban home in the northeast or rust belt you might be getting out when the getting is good, while setting yourself up for possible sun belt real estate appreciation.
2. Look for low cost housing areas. Up until a year ago we would caution anyone to move away from the coasts to get a good deal in real estate. In Tennessee, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas, and Mississippi you can usually pick out a very nice home or condo in a desirable area for less than $100,000. While it is still almost always true that real estate more than 50 miles away from a coast is less expensive, the real estate melt down has created opportunity in south Florida, the southeast, and Arizona. There are some really nice homes in the Fort Myers and Miami areas going for unbelievable prices (the median was $92,000 in October, 2009). For recommendations on low cost housing towns at Topretirements use our free Retirement Ranger (just specify lower than average cost of living when you take the quiz).
3. Look for a short sale or foreclosure. While not for the faint of heart, short sales and foreclosures offer the potential for huge savings (the National Association of Realtors says they typically sell for 15 to 20% less). They are the big reason why real estate prices are so low – other types of sellers just can’t compete with these sales. To succeed you need to be smart and energetic. You need to have a good real estate agent with expertise in short sales and foreclosures. You also have to use common sense. To find good deals spend time cultivating banks, checking out neighborhoods, and talking with residents (See NY Times article about the Cape Coral, FL real estate market, where over one fourth of the homes have been foreclosed). Many experts advise individuals from buying at auction because of the risks, which can include faulty title. In south Florida you can even go on foreclosure tours as a way to find properties. Just be careful, you are usually buying a home “as-is” with no recourse. (see foreclosure resources at bottom).
4. Look for a resale. Many marketers of new 55+ communities have a lot of unwelcome competition in their own projects – previous buyers who want to sell their units. You can almost always pick up a unit for less than a brand new one. You might not get to specify all of your personal touches, but you will probably get many custom features at no or low cost, with the bugs worked out.
5. Consider moving abroad. This plan is not for everyone. But if you like learning foreign languages and customs, don’t need to frequently visit friends or family, and are up for adventure, an expatriate retirement might be for you. Mexico, Guatamala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, and Nicaragua all have very desirable and safe towns where the almighty dollar actually still has some purchasing power (see our Directory of Active Adult Communities).
6. Go with a manufactured home. Prices are generally much lower in communities of manufactured homes. You won’t live in fancy architecture, but you will generally get a well-built, comfortable home for fewer dollars.
7. Look for a cooperative community. Florida, California, and Arizona are filled with cooperatively owned active adult communities. These are places where the developer long ago sold all of the lots and built all possible homes. Now the community is owned and run by the residents, who generally try to keep expenses (dues/HOA fees) low and services efficient. With the housing market down, resales are almost always available at a good price.
8. Get creative. There are lots of ways to lead the good life without paying top dollar. Buy a 2nd hand mobile home (or boat) and move south in the summer. If you live in a desirable place, swap or rent your home during the season and go on vacation. Swap your handyman skills for lower rent. Talk with everybody you know, read, and look online for different ideas.
9. Keep working. If you have a good job and you can save some money, consider working a few years longer to give yourself more options. Or, cut down your hours and semi-retire. Other options are looking for part-time work or starting a home based business. Is there a way you can make money with your hobby? If you want part time work, be careful about where you retire. Make sure there is industry nearby that matches your skills, or a vibrant tourist trade where part-timers are always in demand.
10. Be positive. Maybe everything hasn’t worked out the way you dreamed it would. Keep looking for the silver lining, and don’t waste your time complaining. You’ll be happier, and so will your friends and family.
What Are Your Ideas?
Please post your ideas for great retirement living on a budget in the Comments section below.