Because I decided to retire early and start living my dream

Retirement snapshot

Jen Barnett and her husband stroll down Paseo de Montejo in Merida, Yucatan

Jen Barnett and her husband, Brett Andrews, stroll down Paseo de Montejo in Mérida, Yucatán

Photo: Julio Leal / instagram.com/juliolealphotographer/

  • Name: Jen B.
  • Location: Birmingham, Alabama
  • Age: 51
  • Retired in: 51
  • Marital status: Married
  • Profession: Co-founder of Expatsi.com

After a 30-year career in marketing, Jen is semi-retired in 2022. She felt trapped during the pandemic, at work, at home, and in her life. Finding a “happy place” became very important to her. Jen didn’t want to fight younger people for jobs in the culture during the Great Resignation. She also acknowledged that her parents died at the ages of 70 and 72, so she didn’t want to wait another 15 years to “start living.” So Jen retired at 51 and began her journey. Part of that involved setting up a company and planning a move. We spoke with her about her retirement.

Retirement reality

Anticipated retirement: What does a day in retirement look like to you?

Jen: My pitbull and partner Squiggy and I wake up when the mood strikes and head to the kitchen for one of my husband’s delicious triple lattes. I spend the morning writing TikTok scripts or working on our website, then stop to make lunch.

During the pandemic, I started growing vegetables and making my own stocks, and I love to cook decadent meals that we eat for days, like a bacon and leek chicken pot pie or beef vindaloo. Brett works remotely in a home office, so we connect for lunch, which makes my day.

In the afternoon, I’ll shoot, edit, and post videos, answer questions from other expats, and prepare for our move, like listing items we want to sell on eBay or Poshmark.

Your retirement plan

Anticipated retirement: Did you have a solid plan for retirement?

Jen: We did, but I finished it! We planned to spend 10 years visiting countries we might want to live in and then drilling down into regions and cities while continuing to save for retirement. But after visiting Mérida, I didn’t want to wait that long.

We had an idea for a website and an assessment that would help people like us find the best country to move to, so we decided to go for it and started building it this year. It’s called Expatsi. I also use TikTok and blogs to advise people on how to move abroad.

We will be moving to Merida in April. Because the cost of living is lower, I was able to retire and work at Expatsi now. We will continue to visit other countries to see if we would like to move again someday. Brett is in his 40s, and as long as he’s working, we basically have unlimited runway to bootstrap Expatsi.

The best place to retire

Anticipated retirement: What is the best part of retirement?

Jen: Freedom! I like the work I do and I like my hobbies. I take improv classes, cook and grow vegetables and play with my animals. I can read a book for fun. It’s an incredible privilege.

Challenges in retirement

Anticipated retirement: What is the biggest challenge in retirement?

Jen: Because we live in Alabama, we already have a low cost of living, so there are a lot of places we can’t afford to move to, especially within the US. We had to decide what compromises we would make to find our highest quality of life at the lowest cost of living. We see this a lot in people who take The Expats Test, which is our quiz that suggests countries that suit your needs. Everyone wants to live on the beach in western Europe, but they also want it to be affordable. You usually have to choose.

Retirement costs

Anticipated retirement: We want people to understand how much pensions really cost. How do you manage your money now? Do you have a budget, do you meet with your advisor on a regular basis, etc.?

Jen: Consultants are a critical part of the process. I think there is a prejudice that you have to be very rich to use them, but you don’t. They can help you with any budget.

Because we are starting this business and still based in the US, we have to spend part of our savings every month and we are on a strict budget. We also make judicious use of the money we make by selling our belongings before the move. Our goal is to make our business profitable by 2024 so we can put the brakes on spending, but also our cost of living in Mexico will be much lower. It’s not dirt cheap – just less so.

Retirement Advice

Anticipated retirement: What is the best advice you would give to someone about to retire?

Jen: I think the younger generations have figured it out. We must work to live, not live to work. I realize that won’t mean much to someone who has to work three jobs to make rent, but if you can afford to live on less, go for it. Enjoy your life without worrying about accumulating assets or keeping up with the Joneses.

Things I wish I knew

Anticipated retirement: What are some things you wish someone had told you about retirement/this time of life/transition?

Jen: The world has changed so drastically in recent years that I feel like we are charting our own course. Looking forward to meeting like minded retirees in Mexico.

Better retirement vacations

Anticipated retirement: What is your favorite vacation or vacation spot?

Jen: Unsurprisingly, I love Mérida. Countless beautiful beaches, inspiring Mayan heritage sites, incredible food and the kindest people. I look forward to being one of them.

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