How Would You Structure My Portfolio?

Dear Billy and Akaisha,

Heartfelt thanks to you for your inspiration and helpful guidance for those of us who are not sure if we’ll be able to retire.  I’m writing to ask for your help and expertise about my situation regarding possible retirement.

Briefly, I’ve been a low wage earner most of my life and was late getting into investing.  However, the last twenty three years I’ve made every effort to put together enough for some kind of retirement.  I’m 73 at present and hope that at 75 I’ll be able to begin the last phase of my life in retirement. At this point I have almost $300,000 in investments.  By the age of 75 I’m pretty sure I’ll have that amount and, perhaps, a little more.

 My question for you is, how would you structure that money that it would last 25 years ?  I will have 17,000 a year from S.S. and a miniscule pension.  I live a fairly frugal life, I’m fluent in Spanish (Peace Corp-Colombia 65-67) and plan to spend a few months in Latin America every year of so.  I have some ideas of how I would structure my portfolio, but I would really like your input.

Thank you, again, for all that you have shared.  I enjoy all your stories and the other information you include on your site.

Best wishes and good luck,


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Hi John,

Thanks for your interest in our site.

Although I cannot give out specific investment advice, I can talk in generalities.

Your 300K divided by the 25 years you want it to last will give you 12K per year. This amount, plus your 17K from SS will equal 29K per year or $2400 per month. You can easily live on that in Mexico or other parts of Latin America as well as Asia. These numbers are using the 300K with it not being invested. If you invest the money your returns could be better either by stretching the money out longer or leaving it intact. With your investment, you just have to average 4% of your 300K to make 12K a year, and then you will be leaving your original investment intact. Some combination of bonds and stocks funds should be able to produce that 4%.

I hope this helps.




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Specialty Papers

Specialty PapersWalking around Saigon, Vietnam, Billy and I see many of these simple displays of colorful papers. The rolls are slim and for the longest time, we never saw anyone purchase these papers. We wondered what they were for?

So Billy took a photo and when we went back to the Compass Parkview, we showed the front desk and asked the concierge what in the world these things were used for!

To our surprise, we were told that one chooses the colored paper they like, and then this paper is placed over the back of your cell phone, on a motorbike part, or you can give your computer a colorful facelift.

Once we found out how this paper was used, we started noticing people stopping by and having their digital gadgets cosmetically renovated. Today we saw a man applying this type of contact paper (sticky on one side) to a motorbike helmet.

Carefully and painstakingly, the man removed the paper from its backing and attached it to the round helmet. I am thinking “How is he going to avoid the wrinkles when he puts a flat paper on a round object?”


To stretch, shrink and form the paper to an odd shape, the vendor takes out his cigarette lighter and heats the paper. Ever-so-quickly, he then pushes the paper into the form and it makes for a tight seamless, wrinkle-free fit.

Depending on the vendor, there were papers of every color and design. So simple! So affordable! A new stylish look is at your fingertips!

For more stories and photos of Vietnam, click here.

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Flower Man

flower manBet you don’t see THIS every day!

Billy and I were out walking again the other day and low and behold, we see this moving flower show on a bicycle! Finally, when the angle was right we could see that the flower show was being man-propelled and we were able to catch a photo of him.

When was the last time you saw so many flowers in one place?


You never know what to expect here in Saigon, Vietnam.

For more stories and photos of Vietnam, click here.

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Evening Barbeque

Evening BarbequeThe food in Vietnam is wondrous.

The other night we went to Ben Thanh night barbeque and ordered up greens, elephant ear fish, mussels and shrimp.

The shrimp were very fresh and were displayed around a fresh coconut with the heads turned out. Paraffin wax was placed around the coconut and set on fire, blazing the shrimp. When the wax died out, our waiter came by, and one-by-one removed the shrimp, peeled it and then placed it inside the coconut with its fresh coconut water. More paraffin was placed around the coconut and lit on fire so that the heat would cook the shrimp in the coconut juice. When the fire died out, the shrimp were done and ready to eat.


For more stories and photos of Vietnam, click here.

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Living with a Roommate Could Just Save Your Life

Guest post by Karen Venable, Founder, Roommates4Boomers

To read an interview with Karen, click here.


Chances are, if you’re a Boomer and you’re living alone, you like it that way. You love your independence and your ability to totally control your life. Why would you want to give that up?

Benefits of having a roommate

There is in fact a darn good reason for giving up your solitary lifestyle: Living with a roommate could very well save your life.  I don’t mean just the difference between life and death in an emergency situation – a sudden illness or injury – I’m talking about literally living longer, and healthier, and happier than you are likely to do if you live alone.

Consider this statistically proven fact shared by Suzanne Braun Levine in her keynote address last July at Women At Woodstock: Men who live with a wife or female partner live longer than men who do not. Women who have girlfriends live longer than those who don’t. In other words, having females close to you to share your life or your home may literally add years to your life.  (Suzanne is the original editor of Ms. Magazine and author of several books including You Gotta Have Girlfriends).


So why is this so? Consider how you eat, for one thing. How many of you have felt concern for a mother or an aunt who lives alone and almost never cooks any longer? It’s pretty common to hear these women say that they don’t care about cooking anymore – or it’s too much work – or (perhaps unspoken) it’s just too depressing to prepare a meal and then sit down to eat it alone. Packaged instant meals or even junk food may become their main sustenance, and if you’re honest with yourself, you may see yourself traveling that path in the future as well.  Many women in shared living situations have reported that they cook far more often than before they moved in together.  One may love to cook, and now is motivated when the cooking is for two. Or one may feel she can handle cooking when she knows someone else is going to clean up after. Or one may hate cooking, roommate or not, and reap the benefits of living with someone who loves to create in the kitchen. These women literally eat more nutritious food than they did when living alone.

Cuddle hormone

When women spend time together, they produce more of the hormone oxytocin – sometimes called the cuddle hormone. Says Dr. Paul Zak, author of The Moral Molecule, “There’s a very clear mapping from positive social relationships back to health.” More oxytocin, he says, means less cardiovascular stress and an improved immune system.  Women, and the hormones they cause you to produce when they are with you, are literally physically good for you.

Positive considerations

Of course, taking on a roommate does mean giving up some autonomy. Your kitchen will not be exclusively your own, nor will your common living areas.  But what if you and your roommate moved together into a larger home than either of you could afford on your own?  Many Boomer women have actually pooled their money and bought a new home together, with enough square footage for each of them to have her own private suite, or at least a private bedroom and bathroom.  A larger home too will mean larger areas for hanging out, entertaining, cooking, and eating, and possibly a bigger lot as well. With an expanded home and grounds, roommates have often found that contrary to feeling hemmed in or crowded by their shared living arrangement, in fact they feel less constricted than before.

This larger space can foster a renewed interest in entertaining, too.  Suddenly a garden party is possible, or a dinner for six, or a birthday celebration. There’s room for it. And, with the enthusiasm and shared responsibility of a housemate, planning and hosting social gatherings is just plain more fun than it was before.

Solutions to challenges

The downsides too have so many workable solutions. If tastes in television are disparate, roommates can record their shows and exercise their “viewing times” separately – or they might have enough space to have televisions in two separate rooms. If they have something of a Felix and Oscar situation with regard to clutter and cleanliness, they might be able to hire a housekeeper to come in once or even twice a week to do some light cleaning and straightening up. If family visits are a problem – with noise or grandchildren perhaps impinging on the other’s peace and quiet, they can agree on alternate locations for get-togethers with their families, or they can set certain dates and times when one roommate can entertain the little ones while the other finds another activity outside the home.

Health and as we age

And the obvious life-saving and health-preserving benefits are not to be ignored. Someone will be there with you if you become suddenly ill, or you injure yourself, or you could just use some TLC when you come down with the flu. You won’t have to hope that you are able to make a phone call if it’s serious and you need immediate help. And, let’s be honest, as we get older we do become somewhat more forgetful, which can cause some danger long before we approach anything like dementia. If you leave the burner on in the kitchen, a roommate will likely see it and turn it off. Or if you put something down in a now-forgotten location (can we say reading glasses?), she may know the answer to that frequently asked question, “Where did I put my…?”

We Boomers have always forged our own paths – it’s what we do – and now that we’re entering our second adulthood, millions of us are defining our own self-arranged communal living situations, rather than depending on family or moving into retirement communities.  More power to us.

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Having Healthcare Needs Met Outside the U.S.

Q: What do you do about healthcare needs while traveling outside the US?

A: We have been traveling the world for over 2 decades now and have had very good care in Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam and Guatemala. If you are traveling off the grid, you might need to travel to a larger city to receive this care as smaller towns may not have the choices you would find in a more populated area.

We pay out of pocket for care in foreign countries as, in our experience, it has been affordable.

As we age, the health conditions might be more serious or acute and I understand the fear over having adequate health care when traveling. However, Billy had acute care in Guatemala City, Guatemala (we had to travel there after seeing local doctors in Panajachel) and in a separate incident I had emergency care for a de-gloving incident involving the ring finger on my right hand. I received good emergency care in Antigua and then did follow up and surgery in Guatemala City.

In some respects the care we have received outside the US has been superior, more user-friendly and more affordable than that which we would get in the States. At this point, since we are “going naked” when we travel to the US we take out traveler’s insurance through World Nomads to cover our time being there.

Again, I want to say that I respect the fear that surrounds this issue, especially as we age. But on the other hand, must it come down to a choice between holding this fear and an adventure to a foreign country that would enrich our lives?

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Crossing the Street in Saigon, Vietnam

Just walk right into traffic!

Just walk right into traffic!

Did you ever think crossing the street could be an adventure?

In Vietnam it is!

The traffic is so continuous in Saigon that in many locations, if you want to cross the street, you must walk right into the moving cars and motorbikes.

No kidding!

If you want, you can put your arm up high and make a slight chopping motion which notifies vehicles that you are entering the fray and crossing the street. You must not, for any reason, make any sudden moves because this is all an orchestrated chaos. Everyone times their speed and movements according to everyone else. Jerking or dashing would ruin the flow and cause danger to others.

One must also be careful of the city buses and never cross in front of them as they don’t play the “crossing the street game” and you could end up injured or worse. Most cars abide by these unwritten rules, but you must be on alert in case someone doesn’t modify their speed or direction.

For the most part, it is safe to cross the street even with all the bedlam!

For more stories and photos of Vietnam, click here.

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U.S. Expat Taxes – An Introduction

Guest post by John Ohe, IRS Enrolled Agent and chartered Financial Analyst.


American expats are subject to U.S. income taxes regardless of where they live and where they make their income. For tax year ending 2013, individuals with income over $10,000 USD (see chart below) must file a federal tax return. However, self-employed people have a much lower threshold. They are obligated to file a tax return if they have $400 USD or more in earnings.


Over the past few years, the IRS has been increasing its scrutiny over U.S. expats. As such, “better safe than sorry” is fast becoming an applicable quote if you are an American citizen living outside the United States. Note that there are penalties for not filing.


For many people, a trip to the dentist is preferable to preparing a tax return. The good news, however, is that many U.S. expats end up not owing taxes because of certain exclusions and credits available to the expat community. The most important of these are the foreign earned income exclusion (FEIE) and foreign tax credit. With the FEIE, up to $97,600 of foreign earned income while living abroad is excludable from federal tax. The $97,600 USD works in conjunction with other deductions. As a result, one can have more than $100,000 USD in income, and pay no taxes. With a working spouse, the excludable amount is doubled. In order to qualify for the FEIE, one must meet be either the bona fide residence or physical presence test. With the foreign tax credit, taxes that are paid to a foreign country offset U.S. tax liabilities. The foreign tax credit is normally utilized when one has paid income tax to a country with a higher tax rate than that of the U.S.

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On a very practical note: many people with modest income do not file tax returns (e.g., not required to file because their income falls below the dollar thresholds). However, they are losing out on valuable tax credits that are fully refundable. For example, the Child Tax Credit is worth up to $1,000 USD per child. There is a good chance of qualifying for this credit (if you have a child under the age of 17 that is a dependent) as long as earned income is at least $3,000 USD.


Lastly, the U.S. government is increasingly interested in knowing about the foreign assets held by its citizens and residents. The FBAR (Foreign Bank Account Report) is one of the key reporting requirements that Uncle Sam utilizes in its monitoring efforts. FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act) is a second and distinct requirement. U.S. expats often get these two confused with one another. With the FBAR, the reporting threshold is met if the aggregate balance (combining all the accounts) exceeds $10,000 USD at any point during the year. The second report is Form 8938 (FATCA). The threshold is much higher. For expats filing an individual tax return, it is $200,000 USD aggregate balance on the last day of the year, or $300,000 aggregate balance at any point during the year. For expats who are married filing jointly, the threshold is double.

The penalties for failing to disclose are onerous. With the FinCen 114, failure to report carries a penalty up to $10,000 USD. Willful non-compliance potentially raises the penalty up to $100,000 or 50% of the taxpayer’s foreign assets (whichever is greater). With FATCA, The maximum penalty for failing to file Form 8938 is $60,000 USD for each foreign asset that you failed to report (even more onerous than for the FBAR).

If you would like to submit a tax-related question, please visit us: .

All responses are provided by John Ohe (IRS Enrolled Agent and Chartered Financial Analyst).

Hola Expat helps Americans living abroad with their U.S. tax returns. Our professionals are IRS Enrolled Agents with expertise in expatriate tax return matters. Take a look at our fee schedule. We offer the most sensible pricing among our competitors.

Disclaimer: The answers provided in this article are for general information, and should not be construed as personal tax advice. Tax laws and regulations change frequently, and their application can vary widely based on the specific facts and circumstances involved.

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Chased By a Hippo…and Lived!

Guest post by Stacey Ebert. Stacey is a traveler at heart who has visited over 50 of the world’s countries and met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. An event planner by day, she is creative with a love of writing, travel, the beach, yoga and all things chocolate. Always ready for an adventure, she believes that any day by the ocean with her toes in the sand is a great day! Check out her blog at

Bio Photo for Articles“Run, Stacey, run!” Maria screams in my ear as we jump out of the mokorro. Grabbing our bags, we follow the polers to higher ground jumping over trees that block-in the hippo pool.

My husband and I were on an adventurous trip in southern Africa. After traveling from Capetown up the Skeleton coast through Namibia, we arrive in Maun, Botswana to spend two nights in the Okavanga Delta. At the Delta Station, much different than the likes of Penn or Paddington, we meet our transport that will take us on our journey. Local transporters are known as polers. These men and women stand at the back of the mokorro (boats from hollowed out trees-now there are some of fiberglass) using a very long pole to literally push the boat through the delta.

With the hard work of Samuel, our poler, we reach our destination in just over an hour. The ride takes us through reeds, riverbeds and many water lilies saturated with the ever-present African flies! We have on our long pants, long sleeves, hats, sunscreen and bug spray and clasp our constant supply of water as this journey is in the direct sunshine.

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We aren’t just passengers in this mokorro. When the water level is too low, it takes all of us to keep the boat from dredging. Strategic maneuvers are often implemented since every reed that Matthew can block snaps back as he passes by and then hits me. After awhile I learn to scoot down really low so some of the reeds pass over my face.

Our mokorros

Our mokorros

We have three days living among nature in the environs of the Okavanga Delta. We set up camp, dig our toilet, cook over an open fire and are gifted with incredible sunsets, astounding wildlife and Ouma Buttermilk Rusks that when dunked just right into a cup of tea make the morning that much more perfect.

On our last evening in the Delta, we take a sunset cruise and a get a chance to see hippos in their natural habitat. We find hundreds of birds, a sky filled with multiple hues and a family of hippos on their way to wherever it is they go. We’re reminded never to use our flash when photographing. Sitting in the hippo pool, one swimmer allows us to get close enough for great photos. He is the most dangerous animal in all of Africa and we are sitting just feet away from his wide, strong jaw. Amidst many camera clicks, my heart beats loudly.

His mate, the next hippo to pass by isn’t as agreeable. As we get close, some ‘tourist’ snaps a picture with a flash and the hippo loses it. She gets angrier and more frustrated by the minute. Most of the mokorros in our group make it safely through the weeds that separate the hippo pool from open water; but two are stuck with a thrashing hippo charging.

Hippo pool with hippos

Hippo pool with hippos

This is not my mother being worried about me traveling to far off places; when the polers freak, you know it’s real. With panic-stricken faces they paddle to the edge as fast as they can and frantically gesture to us to get out of the water. “Follow me and run-run, fast!” Samuel yells, and we do as we’re told. Maria’s Portuguese accent behind me bellows, “Run Stacey, run!” as we leap over fallen trees while dodging droppings of elephant dung. As they keep running, the polers look back and shout, “If she comes on land, we have to climb a high tree!” Now I’m really rattled!

We run until Samuel tells us to jump back in the mokorro. We’ve reached a point where they think we are safe and past where our deadly stalker can break onto land and charge. We fling ourselves over the edge and Samuel and his mate pole as fast as their arms can carry us. Through the darkness they stealthily maneuver to find their way threw deep brush getting us back to land unharmed.

Sunset on the delta, Botswana

Sunset on the delta, Botswana

Shaking with adrenaline we make our way back to camp to retell our harrowing tale. After sharing dinner and introducing s’mores to our poler saviors, we finally stop shaking and realize this is one of those stories to wait to share with our parents until they can count all of our fingers and toes right in front of them. According to the polers, it makes sense that the momma hippo rushed. They believe there was a baby with her and as so many know; there’s nothing more ferocious than a mother protecting her young.

The Okavanga Delta is just one of the many brilliant gifts we were given on this African journey. We’ve seen wildlife, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, landscapes that make you sit up and take notice and a had a chance to commune with nature as a humble guest. We used a ‘bush toilet,’ practiced being a ‘poler,’ hiked past elephant bones and really listened to what the Delta had to teach. A few days of bush camping in the Delta are definitely worth the stink that all of us have been covering with baby wipes and powder.

If you are lucky enough to visit, please remember the following three rules: take out whatever you bring in, never use your flash in a hippo pool, and if that hippo comes on land run as fast as you can and head up the highest tree you can find.

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Sashimi Anyone?

IMG_9083aYesterday we went out for an evening of sashimi. There is a Japanese restaurant within a block of our residence at  Compass Living, so at about 6 p.m. we took a short walk and arrived a few minutes later.

The first thing we saw was fresh sushi and sashimi on small plates that were traveling on a moving transport system up and down the sides of a counter. All the restaurant seats were lined up at this counter so if you wanted an appetizing dish you simply took it off this moving belt.

Menus were given to us right away. There were so many choices and it all looked so scrumptious it was hard to choose. We ordered a plate of sashimi and began taking plates off the conveyor system too. We wanted it all!

Our tea arrived and we dove in on our plate selections with gastronomic pleasure. Excellent!

After half a dozen dishes our bill with tip came to 500VNDong or about US$25. We couldn’t have eaten this amount of Japanese food for as low a price in the States. What a deal!

For more stories and photos of Vietnam, click here.

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