Cost of living. Life quality. Tax environment. Climate. We know all about these clever tips to help you find the perfect retirement destination. And they are smart. But what if our living conditions, unforeseen pandemic consequences or simple myopia take a different path?
That describes my situation of living in a small town in the south, far from where I imagined at that age, hours away from that sugar-sand beach and that cute downtown full of wonderful restaurants and those younger relatives who help out in a pinch. How dare I give advice?
Didn't your parents always tell you to learn from your mistakes? You were right. Therefore, I am giving you a few tips that will accompany you on your search for paradise. And please remember: these tips are offered with humility and even fear, knowing that I am just a Google search away from a classic car that has exhausted the thrill of Pickleball and may want to pursue me with a few select adjectives. Or a paddle.
Don't choose a retirement location primarily because of the weather. It is not for nothing that the word “change” appears regularly after “climate”. My little town, once a bastion of the sweetest springs and autumns, is now the newest version of Hurricane Alley in the fall and a historically unheard-of cold in the winter.
Another point: endless sunshine can be too much of a good thing. After a surprisingly short time, you start to itch like a snow storm.
Beware of your love of beachfront real estate. How many of you have actually lived on or near a beach? And since your hip / knee / shoulder surgery? Is the beach really fun now? Or did the dousing of sunscreen and sand somehow lose its appeal when your swimsuit started to fit poorly?
In addition, the sun goes down too. Every day. After sunset, looking at the ocean can be very similar to looking at your spouse's aging bum: either ominous or boring.
Even if you hate the idea, take a tour of the nearest Walmart in your proposed retirement paradise – if the place has one. (And if not, be warned. Walmart does far more market research on its locations than you ever will and knows where it invests from.)
On a Walmart walk-through, you will find out almost everything you need to know about the locals: how they shop, their attitude towards cleanliness, their satisfaction, hidden questions about class and taste.
And if there is no self-checkout, you are very scared. You will never get back the hours you spent waiting for Uncle Cy to unload his cart.
Everyone is always telling you, "Take a test drive or two to your dream location". In this case, anyone could be wrong. On my three test drives to my small town, the locals couldn't have been more caring – or cunning. Little did I know that with every serving of banana pudding they assessed me as a potential civil good – new “meat” for the preservation of monuments or the sacristy.
But I'm not a complete idiot. It only took me a few months to discover these committees embroiled in endless arguments about when to hold the annual chilli cooking evening.
Oh, the potholes and wrong turns on Memory Lane! I had visited the south many years ago and, as so often, fond memories of those visits tarnished my judgment. Cities change. They change. The charming bar that I first fell in love with is now a laundromat. The lovely Victorian B&B I stayed at for a recent vacation is now a shabby rental.
Understand in advance that you will resist anything I tell you now. How i did Memory is so fun – and tragic.
New South Books
Politics and religion
Do not think that you can hide your own political or religious beliefs forever and live peacefully as a blue minority in a red state / county / city. Or the other way around.
It would be nice to think that way, but after a couple of years of silence at social gatherings, you will inevitably explode and throw a glass in someone's face and then end up in awkward meetings in the grocery store's grocery section for months. Take this advice to heart. You're welcome.
After all, all of this is just another way of saying "know yourself". Or don't lie to yourself.
In my small town, which is so different from so much of my life experience, I am much more used to self-assessment – and compromise. I figured out how to avoid certain groups of citizens without incident. I've learned why I don't want to join the country club, but I'm happy to be in the church choir. I've learned when to express a political preference – and when not.
I even used the free time I had in a small town to publish a book about my quirky retirement. And the neighbors are still talking to me. Finally, there is still a lot to be said for southern hospitality.
D. B. Tipmore is the author of My Little Town: A Pilgrim Portrait of a Unique Southern Place and recently retired to southern Alabama. So far, his degree of assimilation has included owning a bush pig and making a mean spaghetti casserole.
Read now: MarketWatch’s Where should I retire?