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Synclair found it's cheaper to live abroad

Synclair is a 41-year-old business owner who makes $80,000 a year running her own tea company, LaRue 1680. In 2020, she looked into purchasing a home in Atlanta, especially since mortgage rates had plunged. However, the homes in her desired neighborhoods were still out of her price range — going for upwards of $800,000 by 2021.

With a budget of $450,000, Synclair began looking at properties outside of the U.S. and discovered Mussomeli, a Sicilian town known for selling abandoned homes for just 1 euro.

Acquiring the help of a real estate agency, Synclair managed to find a fixer-upper in the town that didn’t require quite as much work. She’s budgeted around 20,000 euros ($21,000 U.S.) for repairs and renovations, which included converting the garage on the ground floor into a living room and bar area and adding another bedroom and bathroom.

In addition to paying less for a home, Synclair’s everyday living expenses in Italy are also much lower than what she’s had to cough up in the U.S.

In Atlanta, where she still lives part-time, she spends around $2,635 a month on rent, utilities and internet, and $1,165 on her car payments and gas. In Sicily, her utilities and internet add up to just $258 a month, while she paid $389 for a car rental and gas in March (noting prices can fluctuate depending on the travel season). She also appreciates the access to fresh and affordable produce and baked goods at the local markets in Mussomeli.

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Why she plans to retire in Italy

The primary reason Synclair plans to retire in Italy is so she can settle down with a much lower income.

She didn’t start actively saving money until she hit her 30s when she decided to automate weekly transfers from her checking to her savings account, and increased the diverted funds whenever she exceeded her business goals.

As of October, she’d amassed about $14,000 in savings, $33,000 in a Roth IRA and $950,000 in a brokerage account.

“If I was to retire in the U.S., I would need at least $2.5 million to retire comfortably. That’s taking today’s inflation in consideration,” she said.

She says she’ll only require about $450,000 to retire in Sicily.

“If I was to live here and live a life of eating out regularly, travel, shopping, etc., I only need about $18,000 a year, and that will be with money left over.”

She's not alone

The Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO) estimates that at least 5.4 million Americans live abroad as of 2023.

It’s unclear how many are retirees, but according to the Wall Street Journal, citing data from the Social Security Administration, nearly 450,000 people received Social Security checks outside the U.S. as of 2021, up from 307,000 in 2008. Nearly half were citizens.

Thanks to heavy inflation and high interest rates at home, plenty of Americans are rethinking their retirement plans. But even if you end up living abroad and receiving regular Social Security checks in a country with a lower cost of living, it’s a good idea to prepare for retirement ahead of time by building a nest egg. Experts typically recommend you start saving for retirement as early as possible, so that your money has more time to grow.

Make sure you’re growing your funds with steady investments in a tax-advantaged account, and perhaps talk to a financial adviser if you need some help with your retirement planning.

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Serah Louis is a reporter with Moneywise.com. She enjoys tackling topical personal finance issues for young people and women and covering the latest in financial news.

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