Golden Goose Egg
Aug 18, 2009
By Shoshana Hebshi
Photo © 2009 Stan Brewer
By Shoshana Hebshi
My next-door neighbors just bought a motor home. It’s a behemoth, really; it should be called an estate-on-wheels. They had it parked outside our house one day last week, and it took up more than half of the width of the road, threatening to swallow up anything parked in its path.
They are a great couple: married for almost 20 years, four grown children, five grandchildren, fun-loving, generous and warm. They are the kind of people whom everybody knows, and who aren’t shy about walking into a bar in some Podunk town and engaging the entire patronage in conversation about anything.
They spend their vacations mostly on their bicycles, riding through the American landscape with their possessions battened down on their saddlebags. They pitch tents in fields when it is time to call it a night, then they wake up the next day, hop on their bikes and ride off again.
The motor home purchase marks a departure and a beginning for them. The husband retires in two years with full pension from a good unionized job he’s had since high school. He will be 52. She will also retire from her lesser job at a nuclear pharmacy, and they will hit the road. They plan to sell the house, most of their possessions, pack up what they want to keep—including their bikes—and load it up in the motor home and take off.
The plan is to drive until they find a spot they like, park the behemoth, hop on their bikes and ride until they tire of the scenery. Then they will return to the rolling motorized mammoth and find their next Shangri-la. They will do this for two years or until they find a spot they love and want to set down anchor.
They are adventurous people, and they love life. I can’t imagine them doing anything else.
All of this planning for retirement got me thinking about how blissful and footloose this couple will be as they enter retirement in their early 50s. I look at others I know who are struggling with the idea of retirement at 60, 65, 70 years old because of financial constraints.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that there is not only a great disparity in the cost of living between places like Iowa and California—the two places with which I am most familiar—but there is a disparity in the quality of life, as well.
My friends and family living in California, where I grew up and lived until three years ago when we moved to Iowa, pay astronomical prices for housing, food, utilities, insurance and leisure activities. I often give the example that the price we paid for our house here in Des Moines would have barely covered a down payment in the San Francisco Bay Area where we were living. Not only the house price itself was exponentially smaller than its counterpart in California, but our other expenses were drastically reduced as well. Our car insurance, just to drive this point home, was cut in half.
Sure, California has its perks, like great weather, beautiful landscape and an inordinate amount of activities to choose from on nearly every corner, but if you can’t afford to frolic in this playground because you are in some fluorescent-lit office all day long slaving behind a computer screen to make ends meet, is there really a point to living there?
When I see my neighbors—who have worked hard all their lives to get to this point—ready to retire at ages 49 and 52, and have witnessed so many others back in California continuing to work well into their 60s and even early 70s because their 401k crashed or they won’t be able to afford good health insurance, it makes me wonder, who really has the best quality of life?
My husband and I have talked about this topic a lot since we left California. He has always been of the mindset that living in a cheaper part of the country would be more financially advantageous. I countered with the “live now” mentality: I want to live in a place that makes me happy at this moment, rather than wait until my retirement to enjoy life. But, if my retirement does not come until I’m 75 or 80, will there be any spit and vinegar left in me to enjoy those Golden Years on the open road?
It’s tough to see the future. I try, but the crystal ball I bought at the Fair doesn’t seem to show anything but static. Until I get some clarity, I will be cheering on my neighbors and strictly adding to my 401k and hoping it bounces back enough that when it’s my turn to set out on that journey I will have the means and the ability to enjoy it.
Shoshana Hebshi will never tire of making comparisons between California and Iowa. You can read more of them at: http://shebshi.wordpress.com