An about-to-turn 65 friend has been visiting me in Southern California this week and our dinner conversations have focused a lot on retirement and the superstorm that has devastated much of the shore area where she has a home.
The two topics converged much like their own perfect storm: How much of a factor is weather in deciding where to retire? Retiring snowbirds from the Northeast and Midwest have long headed to Florida and Arizona for weather reasons, and I wondered if my friend was planning on leaving New Jersey's dreariness -- and the occasional massive hurricane -- once she quit the daily grind.
It turns out today's midlifer is more of a homebody than our parents were. An AP-LifeGoesStrong.com poll last year showed that very few retirees expect to leave their current home state, with 67 percent calling that possibility "unlikely" and only 13 percent saying there's even a "good" chance they'd move across state lines. And of those who did say they would move, just 30 percent said it would be for a different climate. Almost half said it was extremely or very likely that they would stay put in their own homes throughout retirement.
The findings echoed what the Turning 65 Survey by AARP found in 2010: 87 percent of poll subjects said better weather wouldn't prompt a move in retirement and 91 percent put the nix on moving to be closer to family, according David Nathan, AARP spokesman. Boomers today are all about aging in place.
My friend is a veterinarian, which means she has mobile skills. Apparently there is no shortage of demand for an experienced vet who is willing to work weekends and per diem shifts at animal hospitals, so the reality is that she can go pretty much anywhere and pick and chose how much work she wants to take on.
So where will she go once she retires? Nowhere. But the decision to stay put for her was an evolution of thinking. As part of her initial retirement planning, she bought land in Vermont. Her emotional attachment to the state is undeniable; she went to college there and visits every year.
But still, I was taken aback. Not Florida? Not Hilton Head or San Diego? Vermont, which has an eight-month winter on a good global warming year and knee-deep mud for two months thereafter? Me, an Angeleno who long ago left her mittens 3,000 miles away, was aghast.
Retirement, said my friend, is multi-phased. First is the adventure stage where you now presumably have the time and means to explore the world. You are active, engaged and feel as healthy as you do today, but no longer have a daily grind to attend to. Vermont for her in this stage is hiking, crafts fairs, outdoor concerts, the smell of pine trees, long walks in the autumn leaves and drives to summer lakes. Winters, while harsh, are also cozy when spent in a circle of warmth and friendship.
But then came the reality of moving to a place where you don't have the same extensive network that comes from living in a place your whole life: In her case, New Jersey. She has her siblings and their children; clients and long-time close friends; and she has her neighbors who -- when a storm is bearing down on your home, will be there to help batten down the hatches.
If retirement is about having an easier life, there is a compelling case to be made for staying put. And Vermont? It remains a wonderful place to visit.