First Person: You Can Still Retire in a Dream Town Even If You Started Late

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To be honest, I didn't think much about my retirement in my 20's and 30's. I was just trying to raise a family and make ends meet. There were just too many expenses during those years with child care and school tuition to worry about. So it wasn't until my early 40's when I started to think about where I wanted to be in my late 50's and early 60's.

I was living in Philadelphia at the time and frankly was getting tired of it. I always talked about moving somewhere warmer like California or Florida. It was a dream that I wanted to eventually turn into a reality. A lot of people talked about moving to a warmer climate to retire but few do. I didn't want to be one of those guys who got stuck in Philly with a snow shovel or a cheese steak in my hand.

So I looked at my assets: a house, a small 401K, some IRAs, a few thousand in mutual funds. I told myself that this wouldn't cut it. At this rate I would be lucky to rent an efficiency apartment in Clearwater. That didn't appear sexy to me. Then there was my divorce that set me back a little--but it also motivated me to think about my financial future, if not to get back what I lost in my divorce. So I thought about it.

I had always an interest in stocks but never did so much as to dabble in it. But then I got on e-trade and began to really think about what stocks would be a good investment. I began to follow several stocks like Apple, Amazon and Whole Foods--and did my research. Like they say, Buy low and sell high, and thats just what I did. I didn't talk about it. I didn't want to jinx it. I just gradually socked more and more money into the stock market and viewed that activity like a part time job. A very lucrative job indeed.

Then at age 57, I began to fix up my house. The housing market wasn't so good in Philly but it was time I had to make my move. The kids were grown and out of the house. I didn't have any responsibilities to my family and I hated the winters. I wanted to enjoy my retirement and wanted to be active in the outdoors. Above all, I wanted good weather not just a couple months out of the year. I wanted it year round.

So my son and I fixed up our house. It became a part time job as well. We painted, got some new appliances, replaced the windows, fixed up the deck and it suddenly became very marketable in a weak housing market. I had many showings and before I knew it, there was a SOLD sign on my front lawn. It felt like a miracle had just happened. My only problem now was to decide whether it was California or Florida.

Florida would be cheaper but California has more to offer and I have a couple of good friends there so I decided on the West Coast. A good friend recommended Santa Barbara, home of the likes of Dennis Miller, Oprah, Arnold Shwartzennegar (who lives in nearby Monticeto) and other famous people. Santa Barbara was referred to as the American Riviera with beautiful mountains and gorgeous beaches. Everything about it met my criteria for the perfect retirement town.

So I moved to Santa Barbara. The only thing I brought was my Prius and everything I could fit inside of it. A good friend was gracious enough to allow me to stay with her until I got settled and my finances were straight. Then I rented a cozy one bedroom not that far from the beach and in the center of town.

Now I live off my dividends, profit from the sale of the house and part time writing gigs. Next year I will be able to have access to my 401K and my IRA savings. I don't live as well as Oprah or Arnold, but I get plenty of sun, do yoga twice a week, bike along the beach, and I am learning to paddle board in the Pacific Ocean. A dream come true.

No more cheese steaks and aluminum shovels for me!

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