How I Created My Location Independent Lifestyle

Guest Post by Amber S. Hoffman

After 10 years as an attorney, Amber left her job at the largest law firm in the world and decided to start living her life.  She is now a recovering tax lawyer, traveling the world With Husband In Tow.  This is her second RTW trip.  Her first RTW ended with a return to the tax world.  This trip hopes to explore Europe, Latin America, and ultimately end in a happy existence somewhere in Asia, where her passion really lies, outside the law.

Over five years ago, I was a tax attorney at the largest law firm in the world. I was 32 years old and making good money, on track for partnership. My husband and I had a well-decorated condo in a great Chicago neighborhood, a sporty Mini Cooper S, and enough wine in storage to host a week long Italian wedding celebration.

Then, I came down with tendonitis in my right wrist, caused by the repetitive nature of my not-so-glamorous work. I was miserable, in pain, crying. I hated my job and my life. One night my husband, who admittedly made less than I did in his advertising gig, told me to just quit. He would support me no matter what I did, and I knew that.

Feeling the freedom in Croatia

Living the Predictable Life

But, I knew I could not quit. We had a mortgage, student loans, and expenses. We had been paying down our mortgage and maxing out our 401ks, but our extra savings was not where it should have been for someone with our income. My husband’s income alone could not cover our mortgage, let alone our lifestyle.

Our lifestyle was not excessive for our income – we were certainly living within our means, even with our 3-bedroom condo loaded with stuff from Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel. But, we were not planning for a future outside of the law. I assumed I would make partner and that my income would continue to rise every year until I was in my 60s.

Then, it hit me. I didn’t want to have a heart attack at my desk. I didn’t want to spend a large chunk of my life behind a computer monitor, on conference calls, and talking about tax law. I did not want to work 70 hours a week, weekends, holidays, and vacations. I did not want to be so stressed I was always fighting with my husband, a marriage destined to end in divorce, according to the statistics.

But, what did I want to do? At some point I realized – I will figure it out later. For now, let’s change our lifestyle.

Dream, Dream, Dream

Financial Independence

We tested the travel road, by taking a year-long RTW.  We loved it; we figured out how to travel on a budget.  We were hooked – let’s travel the world and live overseas. Cheaply. We returned to the US and settled back in Washington, DC, where we put our plan into action.

We rented out our Chicago condo for a 2-year lease before we left on the RTW.  We moved into a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Arlington, VA, a few Metro stops from my office. We automated everything. We continued to max out our 401ks. We had automated savings from each of our paychecks, and a regularly scheduled transfer from our checking account into our savings. We watched our savings grow. I tracked in all in an Excel file.It became addictive.

Most importantly, we stopped spending extravagantly. We still enjoyed meals out once in awhile, but splurged on Thai or Indian instead of fancy steak dinners. We used Groupon and Living Social as guides to our eating habits, offering great discounts. I stopped buying work clothes, shoes, and bags. And, wore the same old suits for all my meetings and speeches. When we had to buy new clothes, we agonized over the expense and had to ensure ourselves it was worth it.

Together in Slovenia

Less than three years later, at 36, I retired from the law. Our savings hit our magic number.  We took the risk, sold everything, including our beloved Mini Cooper, and left the US.

Location Independent Lifestyle

Since that time, we have traveled through Eastern Europe and Central America. We know we cannot continue to travel at this pace forever – its too expensive to keep on the move like this. But, we will slow down some, and eventually stop, most likely in Southeast Asia, to live cheaply and well.

Now, I have two blogs, I freelance write, and hope to write a book someday. I plan to teach yoga or English overseas. My husband continues to sell advertising on a contract basis. But, for a good period of time, I am okay not earning any money at all. We saved enough. We can work when we want to, and where we want to. All we need is a decent internet connection. We have become both financially independent and location independent. And, I am happier than I have ever been.

Need to find work or want to be location independent? Click here

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Domestic Medical Tourism

Guest blog post by G. Keith Smith, M.D. of The Surgery Center of Oklahoma  a 32,535 square foot, state-of-the-art multispecialty facility in Oklahoma City. This center is owned and operated by approximately 40 of the top surgeons and anesthesiologists in central Oklahoma. The facility has been accredited by the AAAHC since 1998 without interruption and has annually provided care to thousands of patients.

The beginning

A little over 15 years ago, Dr. Steve Lantier and I began the operation of The Surgery Center of Oklahoma.  We invited 10 surgeons to join us in this venture, physicians who like us were tired of the old hospital games.  We had grown weary of the way hospitals treated us, the surgeons we worked with and the way they treated patients, frankly.  We decided that we could complain about this the rest of our careers or try to do something about it.

From day one our mission was very simple.  Provide a quality surgical experience that was second to none, charge patients fairly and honestly and never deal with the federal government programs, Medicare or Medicaid.  In our 16thyear now, we have never deviated from our mission.

The Surgery Center of Oklahoma

Over the years, uninsured patients in the Oklahoma City and surrounding area came to know our facility as the place to go, as we would quote them prices over the phone, prices that were a tenth or less the amount they would be charged at the so-called “not for profit” hospitals here in town.   As I tell people now, by virtue of our physician-ownership structure, we had eliminated the most inefficient and greedy profit seeker from the surgical price equation:  the big hospital.

Unexpected power plays lead to posting upfront and bundled pricing

We very naively thought that insurance companies would flock to us, as in a market economy, high quality at very low prices usually brings ample business.  On the contrary, insurance companies assiduously avoided us, steering with all the power they could muster (through various “out of network” penalties and deductible tricks) those who were under their policies to the large, more expensive hospitals.  This “steerage” away from our facility led us to a point where about 4 years ago, we decided to post our prices online for all to see.  We could not in our wildest dreams have foreseen the effect this move would have here in Oklahoma City and indeed, in the whole country (even outside of the country).

Discover the best retirement secrets

We had hoped to make ourselves more “known” to the uninsured population requiring surgery, but primarily wanted to expose the price-fixing arrangements between hospitals and insurance groups.  The first thing that happened, however, shocked us.  Canadians started calling.  And then flying to Oklahoma City for their surgery. Individuals with high deductibles and increasingly, self-insured companies have been drawn to our upfront and bundled pricing as well, pricing that is all-inclusive; the facility, surgeon and anesthesia fees altogether.

Partial list of procedures

Price transparency spurs national movement

Other physician-owned facilities in Oklahoma City, following our lead, are now providing price quotes for joint replacement and open-heart surgery.  Oklahoma City has now become a medical tourist destination for people from all over the United States and beyond.

Upfront and honest pricing has been absent from health care for far too long.   While our price transparency has led others locally to join us in this effort, it has spurred a national effort, as well.  Some physicians and facilities are inclined to emulate our model simply because it is the right thing to do.  Others are frantic to do so, as patients are coming to Oklahoma City, rather than have their operation in the town where they live, whether in Anchorage or Fort Lauderdale.  Surgeons and hospitals far from here don’t like to see patients head out the door for Oklahoma City for any reason, least of all for not having provided them a price for their care.  This fear of loss of business we believe will continue to fan the flames of price transparency in this country, leading invariably to a deflationary effect on pricing everywhere.

Patients’ stories

We are blessed to have met grateful patients from all over the country and beyond and there are so many great stories to tell.  I often think of the Canadian woman who was told she would have to endure her painful uterine bleeding for 3 years before she could see a gynecologist for a hysterectomy.  She was quoted $40,000 at a big name hospital (not including the surgeon or anesthesia fees) in the northeast U.S.  We did her surgery for a fifth of that.  I often think of the man from Minnesota who had ruptured a disk in his back and was unable to walk and in constant pain, with a numb and useless foot, as a result.  He was quoted $80,000 after begging for a price by a big name hospital in his state.  We did it for a tenth of that.  He did well, but went home only to slip and fall, an injury that required another level of his back to be operated on.  We did that surgery too, for only the cost of the supplies – the surgeon and anesthesia  fees were waived.

While we hope our model catches on, we also look forward to meeting more patients requiring affordable surgery from all over the world.

For more information, on Medical Tourism, click here

Watch Dr. Smith at Surgery Center of Oklahoma on this informative video

Posted in All Things Financial, Guest Blog Posts, Health, Is It Work or Is It Passion? | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Battle of the Bulge

Guest post by Laverne H. Bardy whose humorous, often irreverent, slant on life in general, and aging in particular, draws a large readership. She has been syndicated with Senior Wire News Service since 2004.  Her book, How The (Bleep) Did I Get This Old? was released in January, 2012, and is a compilation of the best of her columns.

I was swimming at a Cancun resort when I exited the pool for a bathroom break. In the stall I removed my cover-up and looked for a place to hang it. There was no hook. The stall door was too high to sling my cover-up over it, so I folded it and held it between my teeth.

I ripped off several strips of toilet paper and placed them on the seat the way my mother taught me, because everyone knows that toilet paper is the prophylactic most doctors recommend to prevent venereal diseases.

WooHOO! Fun on a Mexican beach

I was wearing a one piece industrial strength bathing-suit that had been crafted to conceal rather than  reveal, which pretty much guaranteed that men’s eyes would avert, and not flirt, ignore and not explore. It was the style worn by matronly, plump women who would be only too happy to pierce one of their own eyes with a fish hook if doing so promised that she would once again fit nicely into a bikini.

I stuck my thumbs under my soaking wet steel-belted straps, forced them down over my shoulders and jimmied my elbows out from under. I wondered why God, in His Infinite Wisdom, had opted to create boneless breasts. Other than to nurse infants and titillate men, they were useless. Boneless breasts are only good in chicken recipes. I have to jam them into horribly uncomfortable constricting bras, and when I lie on my stomach, on the beach, I’m forced to scoop out holes for them to rest in the sand or they get squished. If my breasts had bones they could have assisted me in my struggle by pulling themselves out of the suit. Instead, they just hung there acting as though they were not involved, and did nothing more than get in the way of the cover-up that was still dangling from my teeth.

Life is an adventure, follow your dreams.

I took a deep breath and continued to push the suit down where it refused to go. I pushed, and wiggled, but it remained dormant.

Time had become an issue.

My wet suit was as tight as a boa constictor

Several more gigantic shoves and it slid down to the floor, just in the nick of time.

My toughest challenges lay ahead.

I bent over and grabbed hold of the sopping wet coil hugging my ankles, but the wad of fabric in my mouth made it impossible to see what I was doing. A solid five minutes of backbreaking tugging got the suit back up to my hips, but no further. I was trapped in a Mexican toilet and held hostage by a floral print boa constrictor.

I wondered if my husband had noticed how long I’d been gone. I thought about shouting, but I wasn’t about to let anyone rescue me in this condition.

It was then I saw the pipes on the wall in back of the toilet that I hadn’t noticed before. I removed the cover-up from my teeth, tucked it between the pipes and returned to do battle with my bathing suit.

Several lifetimes later I succeeded in getting the suit all the way up, no thanks to my two useless girls.  I reached for my cover-up, and then the unthinkable happened. It slipped from my fingers and dropped into the toilet. What to do? Who was I kidding? That cover-up could have been a diamond encrusted Diane von Furstenberg original and there was no way in hell I was going after it.

I’m supposed to be relaxing at the beach

I exited the restroom and walked toward my lounge chair. As I prepared to sit a woman, several chairs away beckoned to me.

“Excuse me,” she smiled. “I don’t want to embarrass you but there’s a long strip of toilet tissue stuck to your back and another one behind your right thigh.”

Thank you didn’t seem appropriate, so I giggled and reached for the wet paper on my back.

When it only came off in tiny strips, I asked for my husband’s help. As he peeled off paper he said, “I understand how it may have attached itself to the back of your thigh but I’m anxious to hear how it got stuck to your back and shoulders.

I picked up my sunglasses, hat, and book, and dropped back into my lounge chair. “It’s not something I care to discuss.”

Other posts by this author:

How the Home Shopping Network Turned Me into a Zebra

Open at Your Own Risk

Up, Up and Away – Or Not

An Apple a Day Doesn’t Work

Vacationing with a Stranger

Help! I’m Drowning in Minutiae

Posted in Guest Blog Posts, Humor, Women's Work | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Don’s Personal Medical Tourism Experience

Don, one of our Readers, has been very kind to share his recent personal medical tourism experience with utilizing Bumrungrad, located in Bangkok, Thailand. Thank you Don!

I had an appointment scheduled for 10 a.m. at Bumrungrad, a private hospital across the street from my hotel here in Bangkok. I arrived at 9:20, 40 minutes early for my consultation. The procedure was done, and I paid the bill, and got both receipts and my paperwork and I was able to leave the hospital at 10 a.m.

This whole transaction was completed in those 40 minutes and the MRI on my knee itself took 30 minutes!  Note: Bumrungrad had brand new machines from Siemens.

I believe they could only have done this more quickly if they had me RUN between machine and cashier. But from what I could see, it was merely a brisk trot.

I go back there to see specialist this afternoon at 2 p.m. for the interpretation of my results and my free CD.

Later that same day

I returned to Bumrungrad and had my post-consultation with the orthopedic Doctor, received my free CD and written report.

Unfortunately, this time I had to wait 40 minutes or so to see the doc, which is very rare here.  Usually one waits less than 5 minutes!  Still, I was out of my appointment in about an hour, CD and report in hand.

I could see the pictures on the monitor. Quite a few were taken and they gave many angles. All were very sharp, and clearly indicated where the problems are.

Unexpected bonus

When I went to settle up my bill at the cashier’s, rather than be charged more for this second appointment, I was given a refund of $70, bringing the total cost of the MRI, consults, CD, report and insurance documentation to $470.

Overall I am pleased with what I got and with the amazing efficiency of this hospital!

Don

For more information on Medical Tourism, Click Here

For more articles on the topic of Health, click here

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Creative Ways to Save Money in this Economy

In today’s economy saving money any way possible has become fashionable, not to mention sometimes very necessary.

If you have outgrown your home office but aren’t yet ready to commit to a long term lease with the added expense of utilities on top of that, you can choose from a range of self storage sizes to suit your need and change that office space as your business grows. If you want a temporary warehouse or have inventory that changes depending on the season, this could be an answer for you as well. Using a storage facility allows you the flexibility you require instead of being tied to a long term financial agreement in between your buying seasons.

On a personal level, perhaps you are a student who wants to travel for a few months during the summer holidays and not have to pay rent for an apartment. Maybe your family has large leisure items like golf clubs, skis, canoes and windsurfing equipment that you would like not taking up the whole garage. Declutter your home! Put some things in safekeeping at a storage facility.

If you are a couple considering job opportunities abroad, having your possessions safely in storage while you check out your options first-hand could release the worry about your cherished belongings. You know that your treasures are secure in a reputable location and only you have the key.

These days it’s a perfect time to offer a room in your home for rent to a tenant. Put your extra goods and furniture into storage and make a bit of money each month to help pay your mortgage. If this proves to be a prolonged situation, or if renting a room out suits you, arrange to receive a discount for the long term.

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SAY WHAT?

Guest post by Laverne H. Bardy whose humorous, often irreverent, slant on life in general, and aging in particular, draws a large readership. She has been syndicated with Senior Wire News Service since 2004.  Her book, How The (Bleep) Did I Get This Old? was released in January, 2012, and is a compilation of the best of her columns.

 My daughter-in-law, Nanci, sent me an e-mail that included a complaint about her husband, my son, Joe. She made reference to photos he was supposed to have sent me, but she wasn’t sure he had, yet.

“Regarding the photos,” she wrote, “Joe has them and he is in another world these days. He doesn’t hear me when I talk. I told him to mail the pictures to you and I thought he processed my words, but I’m not sure. He doesn’t hear anything I say anymore. In fact, come to think of it, I’m not sure he ever has. If my words don’t involve dentistry or sports, he’s stone deaf…lol.”

Loosen your grip on routine. Click here

The poor girl sounded despondent, so I responded immediately:

I understand, Nanci. The problem you have described is rampant among couples married more than two minutes. Even my loving husband, Mighty Marc, often displays the exact symptoms you have described, and this concerns me, because until recently I actually believed he was different from other men. How’s that for naivety?

I’ve done some research, and what you describe is a malady called Selective Hearing Syndrome. It is not deadly and, remarkably, side effects only affect wives, whose symptoms include loud, frustrated screams, and an uncontrollable urge to ram Q-Tips in their husband’s ears.

From all I have read, it seems the only cure, albeit temporary, is for the wife to leave home for several days. Of course she will inform her husband that she is leaving, but since he won’t be listening, it will come as a surprise when, several days later, he finds himself sitting alone at the dinner table, waiting to be served, but no one is there to do that. He will have a gnawing suspicion that something isn’t right when he trips over a growing pyramid of wet towels on the bathroom floor, or rolls over in bed and falls out, because you are not there to block his fall.

Huh?!

When you return home, Joe will notice your presence, be receptive to your words, and give you his full attention. It will be an ideal time to repeat everything he hasn’t heard you say to him over the past years……..before he zones out again. And he will.

Good luck,

Mom

I had been harping on Mighty Marc about this exact issue. At his age I’m sure he has some hearing loss but he refuses to admit it. On this particular day, I was in the bedroom and he was in the kitchen. I shouted, “What time is your doctor appointment?”

He didn’t respond so I shouted a little louder. “What time is your doctor appointment?”

After a moment he yelled back, “Wow! That’s great.”

I stood there baffled. “What’s great?” I shouted back. “I asked what time is your doctor appointment.”

He left the kitchen and came up to me looking somewhat sheepish. Then he giggled. I had never heard him giggle.

“Well….I never actually heard what you were saying,” he confessed, “but I thought ‘Wow! That’s great,’ was a safe generic response that would cover whatever it was you had said. I guess I was wrong.”

“Ya’ think?”

He continued having hearing problems, and the fact that we work on different levels of the house didn’t make it easier. He works in his basement studio, where he designs and hand crafts magnificent violins. I work at my desk on the main level of the house. Shouting is not an option, so we went to Radio Shack and bought a number of small plug-in intercoms.

Last week I sat at my desk working while the cleaning girl vacuumed all around me. I share my office with Molly, our parrot, who hates the vacuum. Mighty Marc was thoughtful enough to take Molly downstairs with him because she had become obnoxiously loud, and I was unable to concentrate on my work.

Molly

Barely three minutes had passed when I heard the intercom’s beep, followed by “Blah, blah, gurgle, gurgle,” mingled with what sounded like Molly’s squawks.

I responded by pushing my intercom button and shouting, “I CAN’T UNDERSTAND YOU. NIKKI IS STILL VACUUMING MY OFFICE.”

His response was more of the same. “Gurgle, blah, blah, gurgle, gurgle.”

Again I yelled, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU. NIKKI IS VACUUMING. IF YOU WANT TO TELL ME SOMETHING YOU’LL HAVE TO SPEAK CLEARER AND LOUDER.”

He called back. “I SAID, IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO ME I WON’T HEAR YOU. MOLLY’S SCREAMING, SO I’VE GOT EARPLUGS IN MY EARS.”

Nikki laughed and said, “I should be paying you every week. You two are better than watching a reality show.”

Why don’t I find that humorous?

Other posts by this author:

How the Home Shopping Network Turned Me into a Zebra

Open at Your Own Risk

Up, Up and Away – Or Not

An Apple a Day Doesn’t Work

Vacationing with a Stranger

Help! I’m Drowning in Minutiae

Posted in Guest Blog Posts, Life Between the Tweets, Women's Work | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Thinking of Volunteering on Your Trip to Thailand? Start Here!

Guest blog post by Katie Boyer, Director of Volunteer Abroad, Go Overseas. Her dream volunteer trip includes backpacking around Southeast Asia with a special stop in Thailand to get up close and personal with the elephants! 

Thailand is truly a country of wonder and awe.

If you are planning a long-term trip to Thailand, consider volunteering abroad. Volunteering in a new place is a great way to get a first-hand look at a different culture, allows you to be involved in the local community and it lets you see their needs in a whole new way. Instead of passing through as a tourist, volunteering gives you the chance to learn about the local people and their daily lives while learning about yourself as well.

Donating your services overseas is easier than you may think. As this segment of tourism grows, it’s becoming easier to find organizations which run volunteer projects overseas. That being said, sometimes there are too many options. (Thailand is actually one of the most popular volunteer destinations out there!

Here are several ways to start narrowing down your volunteer options.

Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.

Where do you want to go?

Is there a certain city or area of Thailand where you want to spend your time? Start your quest by taking a look at projects that take place there. Ask yourself this important question: Do you want to be somewhere more secluded, traditional and rural as opposed to volunteering in a big city like Bangkok or Chiang Mai?

Volunteering is a transformational experience

There are tons of options in these urban metropolises. Big cities around the world see similar problems when it comes to poverty, disease, and crime. Bangkok and Chiang Mai are great cities in which to find social volunteer work.

For a more unique volunteer experience, consider venturing to more rural villages of Thailand. What about a coastal or island destination? Rural doesn’t mean you have to go without hot water, a nice bed, and other comforts of home though. Many bed and breakfast type accommodations can be found anywhere in this amazing country.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a location, it’s time to figure out how to give back once you’re there.

What do you want to do?

Volunteer projects are available in virtually any industry. It’s best to choose an undertaking that caters to your skills and expertise. This will ensure that your work is just as helpful for the local community as it is for yourself. If you’re still not sure what kind of project would be best for you, consider some of the more popular options:

Teaching English is a very popular choice

Teaching English – There is a high demand for native English speakers in all of Asia and Thailand is no exception. Even volunteers with no teaching experience can be of help in a local Thai classroom. Teach students conversational English basics through games and activities while also sharing your own culture with them. You will be surprised to find how much you have to teach!

Conservation– Thailand’s diverse nature and animals make it a great place to volunteer in wildlife, marine, and environmental conservation. Elephant tourism is especially popular but conservation projects take a step further. Don’t just ride an elephant; learn to care for these gentle giants and save their habitats.

Thailand offers exotic experiences

Migrant Workers’ Rights – Yes, this can be a complicated field but there’s no reason that a passionate volunteer can’t help get the word out. Supporting migrants from neighboring countries like Laos and Myanmar can make a difference for those that are abused, underpaid, and discriminated against on a regular basis.

Choosing a provider

When giving your time and money to any type of organization, do research on them first to see if they are trustworthy. The easiest way to investigate volunteer project providers is to read reviews from past volunteers in Thailand. If the organization’s alumni have mediocre things to say, you should probably dig a little deeper. Important questions to ask are: Is the organization involved and communicating with the local community about their needs? Where does the money for the volunteer program go?

Once you’ve chosen where to go, what organization to work with, and what project to work on, most of the heavy lifting is out of the way. It’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the planning.

Successful preparation for a volunteer trip to Thailand includes getting up-to-date on your vaccinations or shots like tetanus and exploring the social/political issues and etiquette of where you are going.

Using these tips to prepare to volunteer in Thailand will ensure that you make the most out of your time in Thailand while having an amazing, life-changing experience.

For more information on Volunteering Opportunities around the world, click here

Posted in Guest Blog Posts, Heart Song, Indigenous Life, Is It Work or Is It Passion?, Volunteering, Women's Work | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Buying Medical Care vs. Buying Medical Insurance

 Guest post by Lori Shea, Owner, Guatemala Medical Travel.  Lori first arrived in Rio Dulce, Guatemala aboard a sailboat in 2005 and had a home and business there for two years.

Maintaining healthy bodies and minds is a serious responsibility that requires careful consideration in both our daily lifestyle choices and our long-term financial decisions.  We exercise and eat well, drive safely and pay for our health insurance every month.  But, medical expenses are increasing at 8-20% per year while our incomes are not, and the rules are changing.  For the benefit of ourselves and our families, we must learn about all the options in order to determine the best possible plan.

The real cost of your health insurance

Many people would never dream of giving up their medical insurance, for fear of financial ruin due to catastrophic medical expenses.  They live in the comfort of knowing their medical coverage is “free” from their employer, or the Veterans Administration, or Medicare.   When your knee replacement is $75,000 and a cancer treatment program is $150,000, while insurance companies rack up billions of dollars in quarterly profits, and fraud is estimated $60 billion, there is nothing “free” about it at all.

You, the patient or consumer, had your annual salary reduced by about $12,000 so that your employer could offer group health coverage benefits to you.  The Medicare check that pays your doctor bills this year was funded by YOU, in the form of paycheck deductions, every week, for the past 40 or 50 years. And the veterans, well, we all know the price they paid.

Reduce your cost of living. Pay less for medical care. Find better weather. Create a healthier way of life.

Become informed of your options

Private insurance is expensive and many people opt out, hoping that they have enough in savings to cover unexpected medical bills.  To save money, they might buy the fear-inducing, Armageddon-anticipating “catastrophic illness” coverage, with a deductible so high, and limitations so lengthy, that you might as well just pay for the bills yourself.   We need to make the move to being informed consumers, purchasing quality medical services and products at a fair and reasonable price, instead of policyholders asking permission to get a good value from our health care expenses.

Examples of medical pricing in Guatemala

Maybe cancer is your “worst-case scenario.” Here in Guatemala, in June of 2012, Peter paid $6500 for the delicate neck surgery to remove the cancerous tumor that invaded the lymph nodes in his neck.  Only four months earlier, he paid over $20,000 for cancer surgery with a well-respected surgeon in Florida to do the same job, but that doctor obviously did not.  After a few weeks of healing, Peter was able to start six weeks of daily radiotherapy treatment to totally eradicate his cancer, for $12,000.  Now, how do those prices compare with your kitchen renovation or your son’s wedding?  Maybe it’s not so catastrophic after all.

Some procedures offered by Guatemala Medical Travel

Do you keep that insurance to cover a one-in-a-million rare, drug-resistant bone infection that requires an astronomically-priced, month-long hospital stay and dozens of doctor visits?  That happened to our GMT client in May of this year, and he paid about $125 per night for the hospital room, and $70 each for visits with specialists in laparoscopic microsurgery and infectious diseases, for example.  After receiving three surgical procedures, daily IV antibiotic drip for a month, and numerous therapies and medications, he paid only $10,200 in medical expenses until he was 100% healed and ready to return home. For some people, that’s less than one year of insurance premiums.

Kenny felt fortunate that his insurance company covered 80% of his hip replacement. But, at $65,000, that still left him paying $13,000 out of pocket. Total hip replacements are routinely performed in Guatemala’s high-tech hospitals, with state of the art prosthetic implants and globally experienced surgeons, for around $11,000. Sure, it’s a big dent on the credit card, but a far cry from bankruptcy or losing your house.

The best health insurance

So what is the best health insurance of all?  Get serious about treating your body like the most precious, fragile personal possession you own, striving to maintain all of your systems in the best possible working order. Keep yourself nourished and lubricated; active and challenged; calm and happy.  See your doctor to find out exactly where you stand, and keep enough cash on hand to self-insure in case of serious illness.  You can tell those “billions in profits” and “catastrophic expense” guys that you won’t be buying their products any more.  You have a better plan.

Other articles by this author:

Cancer Treatment in Guatemala

Stem Cell Therapy – The Future

To watch an insightful and instructive video on Guatemala Medical Travel with interviews of both Doctors and Patients, Click Here 

Interview with Lori Shea, Owner, Guatemala Medical Travel

Posted in All Things Financial, Guest Blog Posts, Health, Women's Work | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

How the Home Shopping Network Turned Me into a Zebra

Guest post by Laverne H. Bardy whose humorous, often irreverent, slant on life in general, and aging in particular, draws a large readership. She has been syndicated with Senior Wire News Service since 2004.  Her book, How The (Bleep) Did I Get This Old? was released in January, 2012, and is a compilation of the best of her columns.

I was channel surfing and landed on the Home Shopping Network. I had assumed that people who buy from HSN are either housebound, lonely, or certifiable. Why would anyone purchase items they can’t first touch, smell, taste, or try on?

What was I doing watching Home Shopping Network?

Two women, each with perfect hair, Chicklet smiles, and saccharin voices, were promoting stretch jeans. They waved their hands, ala Vanna White, and described the color, texture, pockets, stitching, and thrill of being able to remove them at the end of the day, and not find a red ring around their waist.

Red ring? How was it that I’d never had one of those? I felt cheated.

I never knew so much detail could be ascribed to a pair of pants, other than they come with a waist band, zipper, and two openings for legs, which I don’t recall them mentioning at all.

Callers phoned in, swooned, and agreed that since they had been wearing those jeans they, too, were without red waistband rings. It became my mission to find someone with a red waistband ring and make them show me what I’d been missing.

All this fuss over jeans!

Celia, from Atlanta, called and admitted to already having seven pairs of those incredible jeans but decided to make it a nice round number by ordering five more.

“They’re absolutely wonderful,” she oozed. “I wear them for just about everything: digging in the garden, working at the office and, with the right accessories, I’ve even worn them to weddings and bar mitzvahs.”

As they listened to Celia’s review, the two saleswomen began salivating; barely able to contain their excitement. They reminded viewers to not wait another moment. “Get to your phones or computers and order immediately. We’ve been advised that there are only eight hundred sixty three pairs of these unique jeans remaining, and you do not want to miss out on this stupendous offer.”

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I was prepared to switch channels when those two honey-tongued sweeties brought out a product that clutched at my heart: “Tan Towels” – self-tanning towelettes.

I live in New Jersey. I hadn’t seen or felt sun on my body in over five months. I looked like I’d been dredged in flour. A few hours earlier I remarked to Mighty Marc that it was time to head south, because I had begun to blend in with the walls.

The camera zoomed in on a model’s arms. One was pasty white, like mine. The other was a golden tan. She slid a moist Tan Towel over her untanned arm, and we were assured that within minutes she would look like she just returned from two weeks in Hawaii.

Before I could think it through, I reached for my credit card and phoned the number on the screen. I knew I had to do it immediately because there were only six thousand and three Tan Towels left, and their phone lines were lighting up.

I made the fateful call and returned to the television, afraid I might miss something.

This time Margaret was on the phone. Margaret was extolling the magical wonders of “Tan Towels”– self-tanning towelettes, which she had purchased at an earlier date.

“I’ve been using them for several months, now,” she said. “They make me look and feel so good.”

Sugar dripped from her lips as one of the beauties asked, “Margaret, would you mind telling our audience your age?

“Not at all,” she said. “I’m eighty four, and my boyfriend says I’ve never looked better.”

“I feel pretty, oh so pretty…”

The saleswomen could hardly catch their breath.

“Did you hear that?” one of them gasped. “Margaret is eighty four and still cares about how she looks. How absolutely adorable.”

I froze in my tracks. Was there a cutoff date for caring how I look? I’m seventy four. Margaret was eighty four, which meant, if I was lucky, I still had at least ten years of caring ahead of me. I made a note to go to Google and find out how much time I had before I no longer gave a damn.

My Tan Towels arrived and I couldn’t wait to start smearing them over my body. The HSN ladies assured me that my color would never turn orange or streak.

I hadn’t realized that since the moisture was clear, there was no way of knowing whether I was overlapping areas. Also, I couldn’t reach my back.

I now look like a member of the animal kingdom; leathery brown knees and elbows, and zebra striped body. Somehow I managed to totally miss my hairline so I look like I’m wearing a white headband.

I wonder where I can buy a lightweight, summery, burka.

After my self-tanning towelettes

Other posts by this author:

Open at Your Own Risk

Up, Up and Away – Or Not

An Apple a Day Doesn’t Work

Vacationing with a Stranger

Help! I’m Drowning in Minutiae

Posted in Guest Blog Posts, Humor, Women's Work | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Retire to Chile, South America, Part II

In 2010, Mark and John decided to retire to Chile to live simply but without compromising on quality. One of their values was to retain the freedom to travel while having a home base. To read Part I of Retire to Chile, click here

 Overview

In general, we enjoy a similar quality of life in Chile as we did in Vancouver.  We have potable water in the taps, regular garbage pickup at the curb, high-speed internet to the house, and a large number of TV stations – including many English language stations – through a small satellite dish. There are several shopping locations within walking distance or a short drive from our home, and in major cities like Santiago or Vina del Mar, one can find all sorts of imported/exotic foods.  Because there is a large expat community living in Chile, it is easy to meet others living here, and to share information about where to buy specific items. Not to mention all the online forums!

Million dollar view from our deck

Airline connections in Chile

Chile’s national airline is LAN Chile, which is part of the ‘One World’ network of airlines.  They are excellent, and compare favorably to the other major airlines in the network – indeed I would say they are better than many.  The planes are new and well-appointed, the staff are friendly, and LAN Chile has a good safety record.

Santiago is also served by American Airlines, Air Canada, Iberia, TAM, Delta, AeroMexico, Qantas and Copa to name but a few.  Connections from North America include regular non-stop flights from Toronto, Miami and Dallas, with one-stop connections through many major cities, such as through Lima, Mexico City and Sao Paolo.  Connections to Europe include non-stop daily flights to Madrid and Paris.  There are also direct flights to Auckland and Sydney.

Basically – it is easy to use Chile as a travel hub, and it isn’t difficult to get here.

The airport is quite modern and Immigration is easy as most major countries get a Visa upon arrival (fees may apply – although if you take a Visitor Visa, the fee is payable once and is valid for the life of your passport).  Customs processes are simple and are focused primarily on keeping unauthorized food and insects out of the country, much like traveling to Australia.

Reduce your cost of living. Pay less for medical care. Find better weather. Create a healthier way of life.

Transport in Chile

Chile has an excellent public and private network of transit, based mostly on buses.  There are several large coach operators which provide very high quality and comfortable bus connections throughout Chile’s large and medium-sized cities.

For example, where we live (near Algorrobo) there are buses from Santiago arriving hourly 7 days a week, 18 hours a day.  The cost is about $7 per person (around 3500 Pesos) each way for the 90 minute bus ride from the city.  You can even book these trips online.  The coaches are superb quality with comfortable, clean seats, restrooms on board, and they provide on-board entertainment.  For longer rides, say from Santiago to Puerto Varas for example, coach companies will sometimes include airline style service of snacks, drinks and fully reclinable ‘Lazy Boy’ type seats, sometimes with individual TV screens.

Even if you don’t like riding city buses in North America, you will likely be pleasantly surprised how easy and comfortable it is to travel short-to-medium distances in Chile.  Santiago and other large cities also have excellent Metro/Subway systems, as well as city bus networks which serve to connect people in the city.

Canellilo Beach

Most cities and medium-sized towns have a network of collectivos – which are informal taxis that run on set routes.  These cost just a dollar or two, and can be both a fun and affordable way to move smaller distances in town.  Basically one stands on the side of the road and flags down the next collectivo – you may be sharing the car with others.  They won’t take you door-to-door like a taxi, but you can ask the driver to stop anywhere along his route.  You need a little Spanish to use collectivos appropriately, but they are a cheap and efficient mode of getting around.  It is very possible to live without a vehicle in Chile, if this is your preference.

Postal Services in Chile

The Postal Service is quite reliable, and we haven’t experienced any problems using it.  It can be slower than expected to receive items from North America, but we haven’t had any major mishaps.

Sending and Receiving hasn’t been problematic for us, but we have been told to use ‘Registered’ mail to ensure nothing goes missing.  The only issue we have experienced is a significant and annoying delay when an Ebay purchase got stopped by Customs for some import duty.  Out of dozens of packages, this was the first time anything was stopped to collect taxes.  The process was a bit bothersome and time consuming, but everything worked out in the end.

In our small town, our ‘Post Office’ is actually a small shop which offers a mail counter and we are charged 100 pesos (about 20 cents) for each letter or parcel we receive.  If you live in a major city, you will receive mail delivery to your door.  Major courier companies such as FedEx and DHL operate in Chile as well.

The beach by our home

General observations

Immigration

When we established ourselves and bought our house in Chile, we found that Immigration was very easy to navigate, once we engaged the services of a company who specialized in working with expats.  We applied as retirees, and demonstrated that we had sufficient finances to look after ourselves.  Our ‘Temporary Residency’ Visa allowed us to get a Chilean ‘Carnet’ – which is the photo ID card that every Chilean resident uses and carries with them.

After being in country for 183 days out of one calendar year, we were able to apply for ‘Permanent Residency’ which took about 6 months to be granted.  Having this status allows us to live and even work in Chile without restriction – the only thing we cannot do compared to a Chilean citizen is vote.  After 5 years of permanent residency, we are then eligible to apply for citizenship and we don’t have to give up our Canadian citizenship. Having permanent residency will provide us with the right to vote and even to get a Chilean passport if we wish.

Banking

Getting a bank account was one of the most frustrating aspects of getting established in Chile.

It is very difficult to get a bank account without having your ‘Carnet’ – which takes a few months of applications.  We were fortunate in that the bank we used in Canada was also operating in Chile, and they were able to assist us to get started.  However, the only North American bank currently operating in Chile is Scotiabank.  (HSBC was operating here, however they were recently bought out by a competitor).

If you are planning on coming to Chile to buy a house/car or are planning on checking the country out as a place to retire, we recommend talking with one of the major banks operating in Chile such as Itau, Santander, or BCI, at one of their head office locations in Santiago.  You will be able to find a representative who speaks English at the large locations, and they will be able to assist you – if not to open an account – at least to manage transfers coming in from your home bank.

Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.

We have had no issues moving money into or out of Chile, and there are no restrictions that we are aware of in moving money in or out of country once you are established.  At many banks, you can also hold an account in a major foreign currency (such as US Dollars) so you can manage your foreign exchange needs accordingly.

While you may not have considered Chile, South America as a retirement destination before,  from our perspective, we have found this country to be a most satisfying choice.

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