Today’s guest post is from Shawn over at Freedom 33. He left his native Canada for Mexico and now spends his time surfing, taking photos and exploring. Not a bad life.
And Shawn’s story strikes a chord with me. While I have no plans to move now, after our girls leave the house, all bets are off. I’ve always loved the ocean, but living anywhere near it in the United States is very expensive. I can see myself being Shawn’s neighbor down the road.
And if you take nothing else from this post, do yourself a favor and take this line to heart:
“What I love most about my life in Mexico is that although my income isn’t high, my entire life is open to exploring new opportunities and interests, which is where I believe the real magic is made.”
That’s powerful stuff.
Take it away Shawn! And keep some cerveza cold for me!
There’s only one way to become wealthier – save more money. And there are two ways to do that. One is by making more money, and the other is by spending less. In many cases, people are already making plenty of money and the prospects for increasing by much, especially quickly, may not be all that high. But people don’t see it this way. They only see how much others are making, or how much they aren’t earning, or how much everyone is spending, rather than focusing on what they have and seeing spending and earning as completely distinct from one another. The problem with cultivating a focus on chasing endlessly higher earnings is that you’ll never feel totally satisfied because you can never have all of the money in the universe. Many have tried, all have failed.
Alternatively, in most cases, quickly reducing spending is very achievable. You can learn to feel far more of a reward from saving and investing your money or avoiding consuming something that’s better left unconsumed than you ever would have from adding a bit more money to the top of your money stack. Hell, you may even just save the world in the process, and there’s a lot of ways to do this. Money is simply a tool to help you live the life you want to live. As Tim O’Reilly said:
“Money is like gas during a road trip. You don’t want to run out… but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations.”
Never forget that.
So what’s my secret?
Well, in a time where the cost of living is soaring and wage growth is practically ever-stagnant in Canada and the USA, I am here to proclaim that The American Dream is alive and well.
In 2016 I sold my house in Canada in an unreasonably hot market. Although it wasn’t the plan at the time of sale, a few months later I used the proceeds to purchase a small duplex in Baja California Sur, not too far from the world-famous Cabo San Lucas. I rent out the two units to tourists and travelers on Airbnb. The income from this is enough for me to cover my basic cost of living in Mexico including food, utilities, household items, beer and the occasional surfboard repair. I am, of course, mortgage-free.
Mr. 1500 note: I LOVE that part of the budget goes to surfboard repair!
Currently, I continue to work in Canada remotely. I rotate 3 weeks on and 3 weeks off. I continue to work in order to further build my ‘seed’ for the future and to possibly invest in an expansion of my house that will further increase versatility and rental income. But in theory, a simple life in Mexico is already sustainable. I plan to leave my current job by the spring of 2019 before I turn 34.
While house prices continue to rise to unreasonable rates and beyond in many desirable parts of Canada and the USA, there are still many beautiful parts of Mexico where one can own or rent a beautiful space for a far more reasonable price, allowing them to enjoy it and their free time that much more. Mexico is an incredibly diverse place. For me, the draw is the beaches and the surf of the Pacific coast. However, there are all sorts of adventure communities including those based around world-famous rock-climbing locations, trekking, rafting, scuba diving, fishing, skydiving and more. Mexico City is among the largest in the world and is a truly global metropolis where one can explore modern and ancient cultures. Meanwhile, throughout the rest of Mexico are cities and villages of all sizes full of cultural, archaeological and artistic riches as well as a deep and important history. If you’re still not convinced of the magic of Mexico, just consider that all of the chili peppers in the world originated there*.
Now, are you sold?
My house in Mexico cost me $75,000 USD and as well as providing me with a place to live, generates about $1200 USD/month in rental income. My monthly mobile phone bill in Mexico runs about $20 USD per month without any kind of contract, and I pay about $10-15 USD for 2 months of power services. Since my house is in a fairly remote location, one of my most expensive utilities is internet at about $40 USD per month. A bag of deliciously fresh groceries usually runs me about $30 and will last most of a week. Most of any work I do there is online, so I rarely use my car to commute. Primarily I use it for larger trips like week-long surf excursions while I walk to and from the local beach as much as possible.
But Mexico is dangerous.
True, violent crime is at an all-time high in Mexico and has been steadily increasing for over 10 years. However, whether you like to accept the fact or not, that violence exists due to the size and voracity of the American market for drugs. Mexican cartels make a large portion of their money moving drugs from Central and South America to the USA and when such large and seemingly endless profit margins are available, there will always be a struggle to control them. And when this occurs outside of the law because of a failure by governments to regulate narcotics, violence ensues.
Tourists, expatriates and regular Mexican people are not at much risk of this violence on a daily basis. And the fact of the matter is that where you live is likely just as dangerous, if not more. There are a million and one things one could do that are statistically more dangerous than going to Mexico.
Although inequality is rampant (as in much of the world these days), the Mexican economy is recovering nicely from the 2008 crisis, with unprecedented low-interest rates and inflation thanks to a relatively high amount of macroeconomic stability. Because of this, more people are staying home rather than seeking work abroad**, which should have positive social impacts moving forward.
But foreigners can’t own land in Mexico.
Not true. Well. It is sort of true but it’s not really. Foreigners can’t own land directly within 50km of the coastline, but just stop with your complainypants attitude already. All you need is a ‘Fideicomiso’ which is effectively your title held in trust by a bank, but as the beneficiary, you get to call the shots and receive the benefits, making it effectively yours. There is a small annual fee, but the up-front costs are quite high, in the range of $6,000 – $10,000 USD depending on the property size and value.
But you’re giving up your career.
There are so many ways to make money these days. I sell my photos for $15 USD (at least 2 day’s worth of tacos, for example) at the local Farmer’s Markets and shops. I provide Spanish-English translation services online, effectively getting paid to continue to improve my language skills. I even sell photos on a stock photography website. No, none of these things currently bring in high returns, and many never will. But they’re things I’m interested in and when you understand that any additional income is pure gravy, it doesn’t really matter if you earn $100 or $100,000. Gravy is gravy. I don’t know many people who are holding on to their careers simply for the love of it rather than the paycheque. The bottom line is that everything you have done in the past is part of who you are and shapes how you will do the things you will do in the future. Don’t be afraid to let go of something you’re not even that crazy about in order to live freely and on your own terms.
But what will you do?
Oh, I don’t know, maybe I will pedal around New Zealand chasing empty waves for a while. Or have a great time exploring the beaches near home where the surf is consistent and the community is amazing. There’s also the whole rest of Mexico that has even better places to surf. All I’m saying is this: Find your “thing” and you’ll never run out of a meaningful pursuit no matter how long or short your retirement may be or what the markets do. I may have a family one day, and it will be great to be able to spend my time with them as my children grow rather than sitting in an office somewhere looking at a picture of them. In the meantime, I will fill the time between surf sessions with reading, writing, practicing languages, taking photos, training for triathlons and sharing cervezas with the good people around me.
What I love most about my life in Mexico is that although my income isn’t high, my entire life is open to exploring new opportunities and interests, which is where I believe the real magic is made. That is, the opportunities that spark my curiosities, not simply whichever pay the most in the short term. We do our best work in these situations and I may just stumble across something that will earn me just as much or more than did my previous career. Although I am not counting on it at all; this would be simply a pleasant side-effect of the pursuit of curiosity and interest.
The bottom line.
You don’t actually have to move to Mexico, that’s just what I did. I wanted to live somewhere I can surf almost every day and still have time to pursue other interests. Although moving to another country might be a surprisingly direct way to achieve some of the spending and lifestyle actualization goals you hold, you may not have to move at all. However, if an unfounded fear of all-things-related-to-change is what is holding you back, and what made you skeptical of even getting this far into this post in the first place, then you’re exactly who I am writing this for, and I’m going to need you to play along.
There is no place here for unfounded fear of change, for change is exactly what we seek to achieve. I mean, why else would you be here?
*It may also be that wild chili peppers existed in a small part of Ecuador prior to colonization and domestication. Either way, very grateful for the propagation.
**There is a growing sentiment within Mexico that people should stay in Mexico when they can. Of course, the current American political climate is probably discouraging people from seeking opportunities there that they may have in the past.
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