How I Achieved Financial Freedom and a Stress-Free Life

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on September 8, 2020 in Live Better

Money magazine called me last week. One of its reporters wanted to chat about Americans who are increasingly interested in skedaddling to destinations south of the Rio Grande—particularly Panama, Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay, and Brazil.

So many Americans now have the capacity to work from wherever, and the cost-of-living is generally so much cheaper, that relocating your life can do wonders for actually improving your life.

The writer told me that, now, he’s even looking to buy in Medellín, Colombia, a garden city where prices for high-end, penthouse apartments have fallen relatively sharply amid the global pandemic and now represent great value (that’s per my colleague, Ronan McMahon, at Real Estate Trend Alert. I had a conversation with him about Medellín a few weeks ago).

But this has nothing to do with real estate. I’m just recounting a small snippet of a conversation with the Money writer to underscore the main point: Why work from where you are when you can work from anywhere you want to be? 

That’s the beauty of the age we live in. Our only limit is fear.

Which, I realize, is an odd way to phrase it. But it’s true: Fear is what generally stops us from taking the chances life throws our way.

Do I leave a job that fills me with ambivalence for the possibility of getting my dream job? Do I remain anchored to a city that makes me yawn or that sucks my wallet dry, or do I venture forth and find the city that might make me feel alive and excited, even as it demands far less from my pocketbook?

As someone who’s asked and answered those questions, I can tell you that, in hindsight, the answers are a no-brainer. I’ve said it before, but I wish I’d pursued a life in Europe way sooner than I did. The lifestyle, the happiness, the contentedness, the tranquility, the personal and professional freedom. And this isn’t just because I’m a writer with a certain background. I’ve met people from all manner of careers who say the same thing about chasing a new life in some new destination. 

I do recognize why someone would struggle with those questions, however. An affirmative answer represents a potentially dramatic life change. I mean, it’s not like you’re adding a bit of whimsy to your day by skipping your favorite filet mignon so that you can give escargot a shot. You can always push the snails aside and call the waiter over and order your steak if buttery-garlic gastropods turn out not to be your thing.

You can’t, however, always reclaim a forsaken job. And quickly relocating back from whence you came after a misguided move across the state or across the country—or across the world—costs a whole lot more than an ill-advised plate of baked snails.

I get it. I understand. Giving up that one bird in the hand for those two in the bush you might get…it’s a leap of faith.

What if, however, you’re not comparing one bird with two?

What if the bush holds 10 birds…20 birds…100 birds? I mean, two birds—that’s not going to change anyone’s life, so keep what you’ve got and get on with living.

But 100 birds? 

Well, now the risk/reward ratio is exciting and, I’ll argue, dramatically skewed toward reward for those who take their chance at a different kind of full-body happiness.

And here’s why I say the bush has 100 birds rather than two…

I’ve spent the last two years now living in and working from Prague, as you know. And, as you probably know, the move has opened up so many opportunities for me, personally and professionally, that I would not have had if I’d remained in Los Angeles.

Just one small example: The pace of life. In America, I always felt like I was rushing somewhere, and I was always stuck in traffic trying to get there. Here, I walk wherever I want to go, or hop on a tram. It’s calm. Stress-free. Invigorating. The smell of the air. The new sights I always find. Stopping to window-shop on my way to wherever. Never any traffic to navigate. Rarely having to be anywhere at any specific moment. I feel weightless all the time.

I have to manage some language issues at times, sure, but that’s never been a major issue. More often than not, I’ve been happily surprised by:

• The new experiences I’ve had, such as the daily excitement of living in and learning a new culture;

• The places I’ve seen (too many to name from the Middle East to the Baltics to coastal villages in southern Ireland);

• The job opportunities that have arisen that, logistically speaking, I would not have had from a home base in L.A., such as writing walking tours of European cities for a smartphone app;

• The growth I’ve experienced in myself. I’m naturally an introvert and living in a foreign culture forces you, out of necessity, to interact with the society around you.

This isn’t my attempt at recruiting you into a life overseas. Even relocating from, say, New York City to, say, Ames, Iowa can be an experience that renews your sense of adventure and opens a door to new opportunities…or even a level of happiness that, maybe, you forgot existed. If nothing else, it’s a chance to slash your living costs and buy yourself some financial freedom. Lower costs (mine fell by more than half in moving to Prague from Los Angeles) let you breathe again. They give you the chance to rebuild your financial cushion, and they afford the opportunity to try something new, be it a career switch you’ve always wanted to pursue, or, maybe, travel or a new hobby.

So put aside fears of the unknown and, to the degree you can, chase the dream of living and/or working wherever it is in the world you want to be.

By Jeff D. Opdyke