"I started working at the age of 14," explains retiree Alice Goers, "and I did not retire until my full Social Security age, which, for me, was 66. I wanted to draw every penny of income that I could. I paid into the program during all of my working life and wanted to collect my retirement income. This was not a government benefit; this was a return of my own savings."
On a Sunday night in June 1993, Alice and her husband went to bed. On Monday morning, Alice woke to find her husband dead. He was 48; she was 46. Alice has been on her own ever since.
"I remained in the home in Cleveland, Ohio, that I'd shared with my husband for 20 years. After all, my husband and I both had been born in Cleveland, Ohio," she explained. "My parents both had been born in Cleveland, Ohio. It was my home. All I knew.
"However, on my own after my husband was gone, I came to a realization. When the time came to retire, I was leaving Cleveland, Ohio," she added. "It may have been all I'd known, but I sure wasn't going to spend the remainder of my life there."
Retiring beyond Cleveland was one thing. Retiring overseas was something else entirely, an idea that, when she began planning for her retirement, didn't even occur to Alice.
"I bought a series of books on retiring in different regions of the United States," she explained. "'Retire in the Northwest', 'Retire in the Southeast,' etc. Everything I read seemed to offer an exciting alternative that sounded like the ideal choice. After two years of this, I was really confused."
Realizing she'd never be able to make a decision this way, Alice set out to experience different options firsthand. She bought a fifth-wheel trailer and spent five years traveling around the United States.
"Climate was very important to me," Alice said. "I'd grown to dislike Cleveland summers immensely -- way too hot and humid. I was tired of spending all of my time indoors in air conditioning. Winters were almost as bad -- too much snow and howling winds. I was tired of having to pay for snow removal and, again, I was tired of being captive indoors."
Alice's other priority as she considered her options for retirement was healthy living.
"In Ohio," she said, "I was a member of a herd-share program, entitled to my share of the production from the herd on an Amish farm. I made my own yogurt and ice cream from the raw milk. I bought their raw butter and their grass-fed, free-range, hormone-free meats. Wherever I eventually settled for retirement, I wanted to continue this lifestyle."
Alice admitted that something else was important, too. "As retirement grew closer," she said, "I knew that I did not want to have to lower my standard of living. I had worked all of my life to enjoy certain luxuries and was unwilling to give them up. I like my manicures and visits to the hair salon, and I'd always enjoyed being a member of the Cleveland Orchestra Society, the Botanical Gardens, the Zoological Society, Playhouse Square, the Cleveland Playhouse, the Light Opera Company, Cleveland Metroparks, etc. I'm a joiner. I like community."
Then, via an ad in an alternative health newsletter that Alice subscribed to, a big new idea suggested itself. "How To Retire Overseas," the ad read.
"I followed the link," she said, "and I was intrigued by what I found. Not that I was suddenly sold on the idea of leaving the United States, but I was looking for a Plan B. And this seemed like a very interesting Plan B."
Alice made a list of all the things that were important to her in retirement, and then she began researching everything she could on the idea of retiring to a new country where she might find those things. Eventually, her research led her to two options: Medellin, Colombia, or Cuenca, Ecuador. Just as when she'd been considering options within the United States, Alice knew that the only way to determine whether either of these two cities might work for her would be to visit them. She traveled first to Medellin.
"After a few days in Medellin, I determined that, for me, it was too hot, too humid, too crowded, too big... just too much," she said. "Then I got worried. What if I travel to Cuenca and that isn't for me either? I will have to start all over again."
But that was not the case.
"Within a few days in Cuenca," Alice continued, "I knew that I had found my next home. What I discovered in this mountain city were friendly people who were not only willing to help but who greeted me warmly and went out of their way to help. I liked the weather, the scenery, the culture, the food, the prices, the available healthcare, the architecture, the amenities, the size, the walkability, the transportation system -- just about everything. I returned to Cleveland confident of my plan. I would retire to Cuenca."
Alice retired on Aug. 31, 2012, at the age of 66. One week later, on Sept. 7, she was in Cuenca.
"I'm living in a three-story single-family home in an Ecuadorian neighborhood. The home is not only beautiful but has exactly what I was hoping for in outdoor space. I'm renting the place unfurnished, which means I needed to find furniture," she said. "Neighbors I met took me shopping all around town. Everything in my home is to my taste, and many items were custom made just for me. In the States I never would have been able to afford to furnish a home like this.
"I've made so many new friends. One invited me to her home for Christmas Eve dinner. There I met her parents, brothers, sisters and children. In my neighborhood I am surrounded by Ecuadorians," she said. "They do not speak English, but they look out for me. I feel perfectly safe in this community.
"I am as happy with my choice of Cuenca now as the day I made it. I have access to all the things that matter to me -- grass-fed, free-range meats... homemade artisan breads, butter, cheeses... fresh produce...
"I'm also delighted because the cost of living here is as low as I'd been led to believe it would be. I pay $350 a month in rent. My Internet (the fastest speed available) is $80 a month," she said. "Cable (I selected the most deluxe package) is $85 monthly. Water, gas, and electricity total $32 a month. I spend $8 a month for my cell phone service.
"Because my necessity costs are so low, I'm able to afford all the little luxuries that I enjoy. I go for a manicure weekly at $8. I have a facial monthly for $25 and my hair colored, cut and styled each month for $45," she said. "You can spend as much or as little as you want for grocery shopping and dining out. I haven't really kept track but guess that I spend about $50 per week on groceries and $50 per week on dining out.
"Most of my friends and family think that I am very brave, leaving the United States and moving alone to a new continent all alone. I don't think of it that way. I use MagicJack and Skype to keep in touch with all of my friends back home," she said. "They cannot believe how full and rich my life has become. Some are envious.
"Most important for me, though, is that, while I made the move here alone, I am not alone. My days and nights are filled with activity and company. Sometimes I have a hard time deciding what to do next, and I cannot walk through town without seeing someone that I know," she said. "At this point, I cannot imagine moving back to the United States again. I love being retired in Cuenca."