Should You Give Up City Living and Retire Off the Grid?
January 6, 2016 | Enjoying Retirement
By Amanda Reaume
If you live in a city, at some point you’ve probably fantasized about retiring to a remote location that’s miles away from the nearest neighbor or big-box store. Perhaps as you sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you can even hear the wilds of Alaska or the wide-open spaces of Arizona calling out to you.
Although many people who make the move relish spending their retirement years in the beauty of nature, special considerations are associated with aging in a remote location. So, before you pack up and move to your little piece of paradise in the middle of nowhere, consider these tips from retirees who have done it themselves.
1. Think about your health. Many retirees are in great shape at 65, but health can change over time. Moving to a remote location can require a lot of physical work around your property. It can also mean long drives to see doctors. If you get to a point where you can no longer drive, it may be necessary to move if you can’t find alternative transportation to get to medical appointments and run errands.
For Pete Burokas, 69, who lives in a remote cabin in the wilderness of Alaska, medical help is 65 miles away. Despite the trek, he has lived for years in his remote paradise and loved every minute of it. But this year he has decided to move some place less remote for a number of reasons, the biggest being “living out here in this extreme winter environment requires more work than I can now physically do,” he said. For Burokas, shoveling snow and chopping wood are two tasks that are now too difficult for him to manage.
Before you move, research your medical options carefully so you’ll be prepared for how far you may have to travel. Be sure to include in your retirement budget money for transportation and any help you may need around your property.
2. Consider distance from family and friends. Moving somewhere remote means you’ll likely see a lot less of your family and friends. In fact, one of the other reasons Burokas decided to move is to see his grandchildren, who live in Texas, more often.
But Dean Warren, 58, a former aircraft technician who moved with his wife, Roberta, to the Tehachapi Mountains from Los Angeles, believes it’s possible to live remotely and keep in frequent contact with family.
“With the Internet and cellphones these days, staying in touch is very easy,” Warren said, adding that members of his family often visit because they enjoy getting out of the city.
Choosing a location that has reliable cellphone and Internet access may help fight the potential isolation of living remotely. Also, planning trips to visit family and friends or making sure they can visit you is important.
3. Do your research. For Warren and his wife, the move has given them their dream lifestyle. They are growing an organic garden—something that was important to them—and they appreciate the rich forest soil and the clean well water of the Tehachapi area.
If you’re considering a move, it’s crucial to determine your priorities, do your research, compare options and figure out what trade-offs you’re willing to accept. Warren believes that if you’re married, both of you should be equally prepared.
“You both need to consider and agree on the lifestyle changes that you will inevitably experience,” he said.
But don’t let all that research scare you. Burokas advises people not to talk themselves out of living remotely just because they don’t have all the answers. He said that adaptability, as well as being “willing to surrender some of the modern conveniences that you currently think that you cannot live without,” are key.
4. Know the true cost. When you’re considering the move, it might seem cheaper to live in a remote location where housing costs are lower. But you may end up paying more for things such as construction, shipping and everyday products. Burokas has found that food prices are much higher because of the cost of shipping goods so far north.
For Warren, the biggest challenge is budgeting for the times when they go to town and spend a lot of money stocking up on supplies. “Otherwise,” he said, “we save money on all utilities, and we have some tax benefits.”
Before you buy a piece of property, research what others living in the same area are spending on essentials such as utilities and food.
Leaving It All Behind
Despite his plans to leave his wilderness outpost, Burokas is adamant that he has never regretted his choice. During his time there, he has experienced things most will never see, he said, such as total tranquility, clean air and some grizzly bear and wolf pack sightings he’ll never forget.
For Warren, the move has allowed him and his wife to escape “a world inundated with noise, stress, pollution and crime,” he said. Instead of worrying about the annoyances of city life, he now spends his time watching wild animals play on his property and listening to what he fondly described as “a symphony of birds singing from dawn to dusk.”
Escaping the frenetic activity of city life can be the ideal way to spend your retirement. But it’s important to consider whether or not you’re willing to give up some conveniences and work around the challenges of remote living. If so, you can enjoy a quiet retirement in the remote location of your dreams.
Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.
Amanda Reaume is a freelance writer and the creator of the blog Millennial Personal Finance. She is also the author of two personal finance books aimed at millennials: Money Is Everything and The Complete Guide to a Debt-Free Education.