One Year In Florida

ducks for blog

THE DUCKS THINK THIS BRIDGE WILL TAKE THEM ACROSS THE BORDER TO CANADA. 

As of Aug. 1, I’ve been a Florida resident for one full year! Driver’s license, car registration, voter registration, all accomplished within the first couple of months. Survived my first hurricane, too. Last week, I signed a lease renewal. Small rent increase, now will pay $699 a month. And my typical electric bill is around $46. Zero commuting time and distance.

Won’t try to write a full account of the year, but if I did, it wouldn’t be long. Compared with the first nine months of 2017, which included putting my financial house in order and removing myself from Maryland to Florida, the past 12 months have been a walk in the park.

I met the neighbors in the other three apartments on my floor. Three lone individuals, like me. I speak to one of them nearly every day. Big improvement over the $900 basement apartment in wealthy Montgomery County, where my neighbors were the storage room, the trash room, and the laundry room.

I soon discovered two excellent public libraries and one big bookstore with excellent discounts. And I tried a few churches. Like everyone else, I shop at Publix supermarket and Walmart. Four cheap restaurants are nearby. They meet my need for simple food and ambiance. But I eat in the apartment a lot. I know where to recycle newspapers and aluminum cans, but not plastic bottles.

Each apartment has its own air conditioner outside. My unit died in early July. No problem. Apartment management installed a window unit to tide me over two days while a new outside air conditioner was installed. It is powerful and efficient. Inside air temperature is NOT a problem, I can assure you! The outdoor temperature, humidity and rain in summer, that’s another story. Don’t even want to talk about it.

You have not seen lightning until you’ve lived in the Tampa Bay region.

Full disclosure requires me to report that I turned 70 in June. I’ve been aging at an alarming rate the past few years. Sleep too much. I accomplished the move to Florida on adrenaline fumes. Did it in the nick of time; not sure I’d be able to manage such a feat five years hence.

Truth is, I’m well on the way to becoming a cynical old man. Possibly I’ve already arrived. If a man isn’t cynical at this point, he just hasn’t been paying attention.

The move to Florida was necessary, and possibly life-saving. I escaped the nasty winter cold and the impoverishing Montgomery County cost of living. I haven’t had bronchitis since departing Maryland. Here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, I survive nicely and balance my budget. And that’s enough honesty for one blog post.

— John

Advertisements

Thinking About A State To Call Home

Via Facebook, I see that the question of where to live in retirement strikes a chord.

A friend from high school and college (he’s definitely a retirement-eligible Baby Boomer)  provides some interesting info. He reports that the best five states to live in, if you want to stretch $1 million in retirement savings, are Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kansas, and Oklahoma. I can see how they’d all probably be among the low cost-of-living states. And Tennessee is picturesque, plus it has Nashville. I don’t know that I’d be interested in the other four. ($1 million in retirement savings? Only in my dreams!)

Long as we’re on the subject, my friend reports the five worst states to spend your $1 million are Hawaii, Washington, D.C., California, Oregon, and New York. Or maybe they’re the best places to spend a million real fast. They all sound plenty pricey. Hawaii is probably worth it. And the other four all have some advantages to recommend them, depending on your individual preferences.

An excellent source for all kinds of U.S. geographical information is Bob Wells, famous for his Santa Claus beard and his YouTube channel, CheapRVLiving. Bob goes into the question of home states in some detail, including four long videos on YouTube and posts on his website, CheapRVLiving.com.

After listening to Bob, you’ll understand that choosing a state to call home is not an inconsequential matter. Far from it! It’s a lot more than cost of living, although that is important. First, he sets us straight about legal issues. You can own or rent a home in more than one state, if you can afford it. But Bob says only one state is your legal domicile. You can only have a driver’s license or vote in ONE state. “Domicile Sweet Domicile.” Doesn’t sound poetic, but it has serious implications.

I’m not going to repeat everything Bob Wells explains. Go to his YouTube channel or Website. Some of the most important domicile considerations for retirees who aren’t old enough to qualify for Medicare are medical. Does your health insurance cover you wherever you roll in the USA, or only in your home state?

Bob approaches the question of legal domicile from the perspective of folks who live on wheels, in their recreational vehicle (RV). It could be a travel trailer, a Class A, B, or C motor home, a van or pickup truck, or even a car. Whew! Come to think of it, more than a few retired folks choose exactly that lifestyle. Once they were tied to jobs, now they’re free to take to the open road.

Bob Wells identifies some of the best states for RVers to consider as a domicile, even if they’re rarely in that state. They are: South Dakota, Florida, Texas, and Nevada. A major item of interest to RVers is how easy the state makes it to become a legal resident, get a driver’s license and register your vehicles. In SD, FL, TX, and NV it’s pretty easy. South Dakota is easiest of all. And all four states offer the advantage of no state income tax, a major attraction for many retirees.

Other states with no income tax are Washington state, Wyoming, New Hampshire and Alaska. I’m not sure about Tennessee.

I think the Middle Atlantic states are generally among the higher cost of living and taxes. My state of Maryland has an income tax, plus a county income tax that piggybacks on the state tax.

Many people from Maryland move to Delaware for retirement. Far as I know, Delaware has income tax, but no sales tax. My Uncle Joe owns a home in southern Delaware, and besides no sales tax, he brags about his low annual property tax. Uncle Joe just turned 90 and he’s sharp as a tack.

Remember, it’s not all about money. Low cost of living and low taxes are not the only considerations, and maybe not the most important. Please don’t make any decisions based on the information in this post, or anything else you see on the Internet. Do your due diligence and make decisions based on verified correct info.

In a day or three, I’ll get back to why I chose Florida. Hint: It’s not about the income tax.

— John

Income can decline quick and easy, spending seems frozen

One thing I know. It’s easy for income to crash and burn. It’s not so easy to reduce outgo, that is, spending.

People become accustomed to a standard of living. It’s painful to take an ax to that standard of living after a loss of income. People cling to the familiar. Spending seems frozen solid. It thaws slowly.

If you live in a house, mortgage payments won’t go down, at least not easily. Selling the house could take months, or years. If you live in an apartment, you might at least have to wait for the lease to expire before you can move. And then, move where?

The kind of clothes you’re accustomed to wearing, the food you’re accustomed to eating, the entertainment you enjoy, whether lavish or simple. The car you drive! And the cost of gas. All the familiar things constitute your lifestyle. They cost money. Lifestyle is change-resistant; cutting spending is slow and painful. It’s the way of the American capitalist-consumerist economy.

A few days ago, I promised to outline the steps that brought me to the present, which includes being able to restart this blog. I don’t want it to be all about money. Money is not important; that’s been my philosophy. Nonetheless, income and spending dictate the details of the way we live.

When I turned 65 in the summer of 2013, and became eligible for Medicare, I imagined I could afford to retire. You know, stop working. So when the motel closed at the end of the season, I told the owner I wouldn’t be back for the 2014 season. Even now, I can’t say if that was the right or wrong decision. No point in looking back.

I moved to my home county, because that’s where I grew up and where most of my relatives still lived. It seemed the logical thing to do. But the Washington, D.C., metro area is high cost-of-living. It became apparent that I couldn’t afford to rent an apartment congruent with my accustomed lifestyle. (And I was accustomed to living in quite small, one-room efficiency apartments.) Since rent is the largest item in my budget, rent became the central issue.

So I decided to stop working (retire) in 2013. Retiring and moving in the same year are probably not a good plan, but that’s what I did. The reality of the income/spending lifestyle predicament soon became obvious. I should have been more aware that retirement would reduce income and require adjustments.

The obvious question, which I raised two posts ago, presented itself:

How and where do I live a good life at this late age on a sustainable basis?

Before long, in early 2014, I began pondering and researching the above question. Researching consumed most of 2014, 2015 and 2016. In a day or three, I’ll pick up the story.

— John

Florida Next Winter

Note: This post was first published Jan. 8, 2015 on one of my experimental blogs. Now it’s December 2015. The year has come and gone, and a new winter will begin Dec. 21. And I’m not in Florida yet. My excuse is that major life decisions take time. I’m working  on it. 

Baby, it’s cold outside!

Tuesday, we had snow and 26 degrees. Wednesday, it was 17 degrees in late afternoon, and down to 12 degrees by the time I got home from work, around 9:30 p.m. I live in the Mid-Atlantic states. The climate here is supposed to be relatively moderate.

Except when it’s not. Tonight, it’s cold as a witch’s tit.

The heater in my 216-square-foot apartment runs constantly all night. It can’t raise the temperature inside high enough to cut off.

Is it any wonder that every year about this time, my thoughts turn to Florida? I’ve only been there once. I flew into the Tampa airport to help rescue my brother (he was very ill) and drive him back to Maryland. I have very little direct experience of Florida, but I know a lot about it second-hand. (Update: Took a two-week road trip to Florida in June 2015 to research housing options. So I’ve made a little progress.) Continue reading

AARP Online Retirement Livability Index

A new AARP Livability Index can tell you how your city or town (or the place you’re thinking about relocating) ranks as a place to live and grow older. The Livability Index, which can rate practically any neighborhood in the U.S., goes live this week, according to The Washington Post and a host of other mainstream media outlets. You can find it at aarp.org/livabilityindex. (Interestingly, many MSM sources fail to give the url for the new AARP tool.)

AARP describes the new resource as follows:

“The Livability Index is a signature initiative of the Public Policy Institute to measure the quality of life in American communities across multiple dimensions: housing, transportation, neighborhood characteristics, environment, health, opportunity, and civic and social engagement.

An interactive, easily navigated website, the Livability Index allows users to compare communities, adjust scores based on personal preferences and learn how to take action to make their own communities move livable.”

I entered my Maryland zip code into the system and found out in about half a second that my Gaithersburg neighborhood rates 59 on a scale of zero to 100. I also received specific ratings on the following livability measures:

  • Housing (affordability and access)
  • Transportation (safe and convenient options)
  • Environment (clean air and water)
  • Health (prevention, access and quality)
  • Engagement (civic and social involvement)
  • Opportunity (inclusion and possibilities)

Housing in my neighborhood rates a measly 36. Not a surprise to me. I already know that generally speaking, you can’t buy or rent a home in Montgomery County, MD, unless you’re affluent. You need two middle-class incomes or one high income to support a family here. (That’s why I’m researching communities in Florida. The cost of living in many parts of Florida is quite reasonable, compared to the Maryland suburbs. Needless to say, the AARP Livability Index will be a great help in my search.)

On the positive side, my neighborhood rates high in Health (79), and gets pretty good scores of 64 on both Neighborhood and Engagement. (I’m doubtful about the high rating for Engagement. If AARP considered voter turnout in the last election, we would rank much lower.)

Transportation rates 56. Even if you own a car, that’s an optimistic number. The Washington, D.C. area is notorious for rush hour traffic. If you depend on public transportation, I dunno. My part of Montgomery County is past the end of the line for the Metro subway. And Metro overall? I don’t have to ride the subway every day, and I’m glad I don’t. MARC commuter trains are good if both your home and workplace are near a rail station.

The transportation score could go up or way down in the future, depending on whether our leaders and voters are willing to fund plans for the Purple Line in the southern parts of Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties, and Bus Rapid Transit in northern Montgomery.

Take a look at the AARP Livability Index. How does your hometown rate? Are your civic leaders going to be bragging, or running for cover?

— John Hayden