21 Oct

Six Months of Early Retirement

Back in March, everything was coming together nicely: we had reached our financial goal of $1M, quit our jobs and cleared out our two-story rental home in Oakland using Craigslist. We had successfully purchased and fixed up Bruno – our used 2000 Toyota 4Runner, and we started driving down to Costa Rica from California. It’s now six months later and in this post I’ll answer such questions as: Have you run out of money yet? What do you do in Costa Rica? and Did Bruno break down and fail you yet?

Playa Pelada, Costa Rica

Playa Pelada, Costa Rica – This is our beach, a two-minute walk from our back yard!

No, Bruno did not fail us. He is insulted that you would even ask! We successfully drove through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, finally arriving in Costa Rica in June. After settling into our rental house for 2.5 months, we took a month away for additional traveling (without Bruno). We went to Panama, then flew into Washington, DC and bused up to New York City.

Life in Costa Rica

As I type this, we’re back from New York, once again enjoying life in Costa Rica next to the beach for another couple of months. We eat healthy, exercise regularly, read lots of books, study Spanish, and get our fair dose of downloaded entertainment. I try to surf everyday, if possible. Sometimes the ocean is quiet and there will hardly be any waves to catch. Other times, there are 6-foot monsters crashing, and threatening to destroy anyone foolish enough to paddle into their path. On those days, I usually return from the beach, slightly out of breath with Amanda telling me it looks like I’ve seen a ghost and lived to tell about it. Surfing is really great exercise, since it requires balancing on your abs while paddling around a lot (avoiding death from crashing waves).

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Look at this bozo – he thinks he can surf!

Day to day, we try to set goals for ourselves. For example, today I’m going to do three sets each of: 5 pull-ups, 5 push-ups (holding each for 15 seconds),  90-second planks, and 25 squats. Tomorrow I might do some running/sprinting on the beach and some yoga. In my opinion, this is hands down the best part of not working everyday – being able to spend more time staying healthy.

Whistling and making Fudge Brownies - Costa Rica at it's finest!

Whistling and making Fudge Brownies – staying healthy is hard work.

A frequent highlight of Costa Rica living is watching a troop of howler monkeys slowly jump from tree to tree across the property. It’s quite magical. The average troop size is maybe a dozen or so monkeys, and sometimes it takes them 20 minutes to meander through. They spread out, exploring the trees looking for the freshest leaves to eat. Sometimes they laze on the tree branches, and the males make a bunch of noise. In all our time traveling Central America, so far we have not seen a monkey eat a banana, which according to pop-culture is something that should be happening. I’m tempted to conduct a science experiment and hang a banana from a tree branch and then observe what happens. However, I also don’t want to negatively affect their habitat. It makes you think though, how might a human react to finding a Fudge Brownie dangling from a tree branch? Another potential science experiment.

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Life in Costa Rica is pleasant, although there are always ups and downs. Nosara is in a fairly rural part of the country and it is definitely the smallest town either of us have ever lived (the “greater metropolitan area” has less than 6,000 inhabitants). Our Spanish is certainly not on par with the locals, which makes fluid conversation a real struggle. So aside from the occasional friends and family visiting, there is a sense of remoteness. Thankfully, the internet is fast and fairly reliable; power and water, less so. Temperature-wise, it’s pretty hot here. I never wear a shirt, and when I’m forced to (no shirt-no shoes-no service?) there is immediate sweating. It’s now rainy season here, so although the humidity gets cut with a nightly thunderstorm, the mud puddles on the dirt roads mean more mosquitoes. At this time of year, the risk of dengue fever is real and we do what we can to protect ourselves from bites. As if “regular” mosquitoes were not menacing enough – mosquitoes with dengue are like sharks armed with laser beams!

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Our wonderful backyard complete with hammock and pool. Only slightly less awesome when dengue mosquitoes could be lurking.

Are We Broke Yet?

Who needs money when you have love? The answer is everyone. When we left the U.S. in March to begin our travels, our portfolio was around $1,030,000. Currently, it’s closer to $960,000, which is a drop of $70,000. Considering we’ve only spent $17,400 in that time, the bulk of the drop has been out of our control. The stock markets have yo-yo’ed over the last couple months, which is annoying but it’s how markets behave. Instead of worrying, we do our best to ignore crazy market behavior and focus on living within our means – keeping our spending low. Our goal has always been to live on 3-4% of the portfolio, which at $960,000 translates to an annual budget of between $28,800-$38,400. This gives us a monthly budget of $2,400-$3,200.

The good news is that so far during our traveling, we’ve done a decent job of adhering to our budget. Here are our monthly expenses so far:

Month Monthly Spend Comments
April $2,044.39 Traveled through Mexico and Guatemala
May $2,763.59 Traveled El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
June $4,215.56 Costa Rica living with purchase of flights to D.C.
July $2,684.01 Costa Rica living
August $2,800.96 Traveled Costa Rica and Panama
September $2,826.01 Traveled Washington, D.C. and NYC
Overall Monthly Average $2,889.09

This overall monthly average of $2,889 represents an annual spend of 3.6% of our portfolio. Not bad – we’re pretty much on target! With any additional drops in the market, there is still room to continue life as we know it. If the markets really dropped, we’re always ready to flex our frugal mustaches to cut the various unnecessary ‘nice-to-haves’ in our life without affecting our overall happiness. For example, we think we eat pretty lavishly in Costa Rica. If we wanted to cut some costs, we could reduce the amount of expensive meats we enjoy, and instead eat more meals with rice and beans.

Here are the expenses broken down for July, which was a pretty low-key month:

Category Amount Comments
Rent $1,000 We signed a five-month lease to get this rate.
Airbnb/Hotel $843 We booked various places in advance of our month-long travel in Aug/Sept.
Groceries $672 We eat a lot of meat, which can be pretty pricey here. If you’re interested, a spreadsheet with food prices is provided below.
Electricity $66 Electricity rates in Costa Rica are $0.28 per kWh. We don’t use air conditioning, but our pool filtering pump is kind of expensive to run.
Travel $48 Purchased bus tickets in advance for Aug/Sept travel.
Auto Insurance $29 Geico for your money.
Misc. $24 New bicycle chain ($17), cellphone wifi-only plan ($5), website hosting ($2).

When we first moved to Nosara, we recorded some of the food prices from the two main grocery stores in Nosara to contrast and compare: Super Nosara and La Paloma. If you’re interested in seeing the breakdown of grocery prices for Nosara here’s the Google Spreadsheet: Food Prices for Nosara, Costa Rica.

Aside from rent and food, some of the big ticket items for the other months have been:

Amount Comment
$360 Parking Bruno in San Jose for 3 months.
$300 Two bicycles to get around in Nosara without Bruno. We plan to sell these when we leave.
$530 Two used surfboards, which we’ll also sell before we go.
$762 We both went to a dentist in Costa Rica and had some work done.
$200 New reading glasses for Travis in Panama City.
$1000 Flights from Panama City to Washington, DC – and then return from New York back to Costa Rica.
Playa Pelada, Costa Rica

Sunset on Playa Pelada

As I think back on the last six months, they actually feel quite long and stretched out. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been constantly doing new things and seeing new places instead of executing a series of routine and repetitive actions (wake up, eat breakfast, commute to work, sit in office chair for 8 hours, commute home, exercise, make dinner, enjoy some entertainment, go to bed). My grandmother used to say that time would get faster as I grew older, but I think I’ve proven her wrong with the last six months!

If you’re already financially independent or retired, what were your first 6 months like? If you’re not quite there yet, what are you excited for? We love feedback and comments!

  • Congrats guys! This is awesome and inspirational. Thanks for sharing.

    • Travis

      For sure, thanks for reading!!

  • I’d definitely eat a fudge brownie hanging from a tree branch.

    My first six months was all about decompression from the working world and getting into the groove of “doing nothing”. It was also a period of time where I thought a lot about who I am and what I’d like to get out of the rest of my life since I reached the big Retirement in my 30’s.

    Have you guys figured out your next destination after Costa Rica? I recall you were looking at lower COL areas in the US.

    • Travis

      Yeah, we’re thinking we might slowly drive up to Nova Scotia and stop at various places along the way. Asheville, NC is one place we want to check out and see if we like. That’s the plan for now, we’ll have to see if it changes!

      • East coast USA/Canada road trip, sweet! 🙂 I’ve got a bunch of travel posts in my archives from our North Carolina to Quebec City road trip last year FYI.

        Asheville has a cool vibe to it. Plenty of craft beers, dirty hippies, and clean hipsters. And great weather 😉

  • Brian Sisco

    Thanks for the tremendous detail. My wife and I sold our home in Nova Scotia in addition to our business and spent the summer chilling on the sunny Florida west coast. We leave November 9th to spend 6 months touring CR, Panama and Ecuador looking for our forever home. First stop, Tamarindo. We hear about living on 2500 a month and figure it is a tourism generated myth but you make it seem relatively reasonable. We’ll see for ourselves soon. Thanks again. Nova Scotia is a great place to visit in late August, early September.

    • Travis

      Awesome, I grew up in Nova Scotia! Tamarindo is bit touristy, but enjoyable. If you sign a lease somewhere (at least a month), you can definitely make $2,500/month work. Good luck on your upcoming journey – the only advice I can offer is to practice your spanish as much as possible!

      • Brian Sisco

        We had planned to take Spanish lessons at the school in Samara but decided otherwise in the end. It is a bit of a concern but hoping we can get by until we commit the time to learn the language. We have twelve destinations booked, some touristy beach areas, a couple of bigger centres and then a couple of one horse towns. Thanks again for showing us we aren’t the only crazy people chasing this lifestyle.

  • SE

    I admire what you both are doing but need your help taking the “step.” Wife and I have enough money saved to follow you but are 5 years away from full retirement (medical and dental). Logical thinking is to push through to age 55 and retirement but that means we miss out on 5 amazing years of living life the way we want. Good problem to have I know, but what are your thoughts?

    • Travis

      Hi SE! If you check out what kind of plans you’d be eligible for with the Affordable Healthcare Act, you could do a gut check and weigh 5 more years of working or supplementing your medical/dental with an ACA plan. You may be eligible for nice subsidies at your lower income (like Amanda
      and I are – you can read more here
      http://freedomwithbruno.com/early-retirement-with-zero-income-taxes/ ). It sounds like you know what portfolio size you need to retire (and have already amassed it!), just need to work out the final details. Congratulations!

  • Great job. I have ~7 months left before i give up the mega-corp!

    You should catch a monkey and keep him for a pet. I always wanted one.

    • Amanda

      7 months is no time at all! Hope it goes quickly for you. The monkeys we’ve been seeing are much to large to keep indoors – they’d terrorize your house! lol I agree that the small ones are super cute.

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  • Just found your blog from the budgetsaresexy guest post! Addicted to it already, as my wife and I are starting our financial independence journey! We have a long way to go, but it’s good to see inspiring stories like yours!

    • Amanda

      We love hearing from others on the same path. Best of luck to you and thanks for reading, Phil!

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