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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Interview with Early Retirees Kevin & Valerie Cooper

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Peaceful Lake Chapala, Mexico

One sunny afternoon in Chapala, Mexico, I was sipping coffee, relaxing on a bench overlooking the Lake and letting my mind drift when a couple walks past me. Noticing my stylish Retire Early Lifestyle Tee shirt, they turn around and introduce themselves to me as Kevin and Valerie Cooper. They made a point to tell me that they purchased our Chapala Guide and said they found it helpful.

I had more questions than we had time for as Kevin and Valerie were exploring Chapala, and had plans for moving on to Morelia in the morning.

Wanting to know more about them and thinking their story would attract the interest of our Readers, we contacted Kevin and Valerie and submitted the following questions to them.

Please enjoy this informative and practical interview with Kevin and Valerie Cooper.

REL: Could you tell us a little about yourselves?

Kevin: I was born and raised in Kentucky. I got a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Murray State University, lived in worked in Northern Virginia for about 15 years before moving to Southern California in 1986. For 10 years prior to retiring in 2010, I was an independent contractor working for American Honda Motor Company headquartered in Torrance, CA in their Information Systems Division. My career was spent in various roles related to Information Technology.

The Adventurer's Guide to the Possible Dream

Valerie is a third generation Japanese American whose parents both moved to California from Hawaii prior to getting married. After high school Valerie got married and started her family, raising 2 sons and 1 daughter. Prior to leaving the working world, Valerie was a Regional Specialist with the cosmetics maker Merle Norman Cosmetics, headquartered in Los Angeles, CA.

Valerie and I have been together since 2006. When we retired, I was 57 and Valerie was 49.

At a Coffee Plantation in Columbia, South America

REL: How long have you been retired?

Coopers: Our last day of work was the day before Thanksgiving, 2010.

REL: When did you know you were ready to retire and what motivated you?

Coopers: To me, it comes down to this. You have to find the right balance between time, money and expectations. You can choose to work longer in order to save more money but you’re trading time for money. Working an extra 5 years doesn’t extend your life by 5 years; it shortens your retirement time by 5 years. Expectations have to do with the type of retirement lifestyle you envision for yourself. Once you can match your expectations with your retirement income, then you’re ready to retire.

We wanted to be able to experience life in other parts of the world and to do so while we still had the energy and curiosity that would enable us to fully enjoy that experience. 

Financially, it’s about taking all of your retirement planning and turning it into a sustainable income. That’s the point when the idea of retirement freedom becomes real.

 

REL: What has been your greatest challenge in pursuing Early Retirement? Your biggest lesson?

Coopers: Perhaps the greatest challenge is simply to understand that there’s no one to hand you a check, give you a handshake and tell you how to make this happen. Not only that, in my opinion, 99% of “financial planners” can’t show you how to do this either. Most of them only have some magic annuity to sell you or can only give you a set of asset allocation models to choose from. None of this will lead you to a fulfilling sustainable early retirement.

Exploring Isla de Ometepe in Nicaragua, Central America

REL: Do you have any advice for someone looking to do the same?

Coopers: Have a plan. And not just a financial plan. Figure out what you’re going to do with your time.  It has to be about more than just not going to work the next day. It’s all about expectations.  Understand your budget and set your expectations. Then go about creatively meeting or exceeding your expectations.

REL: What do you like most about being early retired?

Coopers: It’s the sense of freedom and self reliance. We are living solely on the income we are able to create for ourselves and we can make that life anything we want it to be within our budgetary limits.

Volcan Chimboraza, Ecuador

REL: What style of retirement are you creating? Do you have goals?

Coopers: We are trying to create a retirement in which we can have new experiences and see places that are new to us. We’re studying Spanish and want to reach conversational proficiency. Who knows, this may inspire us to explore additional languages. Also, we are expanding our base of references for house sitting and are planning to go outside of the US for house sitting opportunities:  Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

REL: Where have you traveled?

Coopers: In 2011, we spent 3 months exploring Ecuador (including the Galapagos Islands) and 4 months going through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. Currently we are traveling in Mexico, beginning in Guadalajara and working our way across to the Yucatan.

On the Beach in Costa Rica

REL: Do you have a home base?

Coopers: Just prior to retirement, we sold our home and virtually all of our possessions. This put us “all in” for a travel lifestyle. We like to think of it as being “creatively homeless.”  This may not work for everyone but it certainly eliminates a whole set of expenses and potential anchors that can hold you to a particular place. While in Southern California, we are able to spend some time with Valerie’s mom. Also, we have been using house sitting (WeSit4You.com) as a way to travel that also gives us a place to stay. As a bonus we get an occasional “pet fix” by being able to provide pet care along with house sitting.

REL: What do you do about transportation? Do you own a car?

Coopers: We do have a car for when we are in the US. When we travel outside of the US we use the bus services. We have found them to be an efficient, reliable and inexpensive way to get around.

The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement, 3rd Edition

REL: What do you do about healthcare?

Coopers: Currently, we have U.S. based health insurance. We have a high deductible so that we sort of pay as we go for routine care and would count on the insurance to cover the extreme cases, should they occur. I still debate this issue in my head and consider not carrying any insurance, but with the current confusion regarding the Affordable Care Act who knows how things will shake out.

Enjoying Quito, Ecuador

REL: How do you manage your finances on the road?

Coopers: We have most of our investments and banking with Charles Schwab & Co. The Schwab Bank has a debit card that can be used with any Plus or Interlink ATM in the world and Schwab will reimburse any ATM fees, plus there is no fee for currency exchange. So when traveling we simply withdraw cash for routine expenses. Naturally, we can manage these accounts including bill pay on the internet.

Also, we have a “virtual mailbox” for any mail that needs to reach us. When mail is received at this address, the service provider scans the envelope and we get an email to let us know that we have mail. We can view the envelope and request that the item be forwarded to some other address or that they open the envelope and scan all of its contents which we can then view, save to our local hard drive, print or ask to have shredded. And of course any credit cards we use can be managed online with electronic statements. So as long as we have access to the internet it’s quite easy to manage our finances from anywhere.

REL: Can you share with us anything about your portfolio? Did the market declines affect your retirement nest egg?

Coopers: We were still working during the 2008 dive in the markets however we have structured our investments to rely upon dividend growth holdings along with MLP’s, REIT’s and preferred stocks. Our spending comes from the income generated from these holdings and generally speaking, the income is not affected by market swings. So the fluctuation in the value of the holdings becomes secondary to the income generated. In fact, many of these reliable payers (eg. McDonalds) are able to continue increasing their payouts during downturns. Also, these payments provide inflation protection since they are generally able to increase distributions at the same rate as or faster than inflation.

(I have written some articles for the website Seeking Alpha, one of which provides a bit more perspective on this, Zero Percent Withdrawal Retirement Plan.)

 

REL: What do you budget annually for your retirement?

Coopers: Our spending budget for 2012 is about $40k. This is our "all-in" budget. Actual spending for 2011 was several thousand less than this.

REL: Share with us your best money-saving secret.

Coopers: Not owning a home is a money saver. Mind you, this doesn’t mean that we don’t have any housing expense, it just comes in different forms and we have no fixed cost for something we don’t use.

When traveling, eat local. Find the local market, there will be food stalls there with a good selection of inexpensive dishes. Also, stay in places with a kitchen you can use so that you have the option of keeping food on hand for a snack or breakfast.

A note about budget travel:  We don’t deny ourselves completely. We frequently pay for tours to better explore a unique aspect of the town or its surrounding area. But sometimes we will find local bus transportation options that will allow us to see an outlying attraction when a tour would offer little additional benefit.

Also, we allow ourselves certain special excursions. For example, when visiting Ecuador, we spent 8 days on a boat touring the Galapagos. And, to get from Panama to Colombia, we paid for passage on a private sailboat which allowed us to spend 3 days sailing and snorkeling among the San Blas Islands. Both were unique experiences that we would not have wanted to miss.

REL: What is a typical day for you?

Coopers: Have breakfast and get some exercise. This could be a 3 or 4 mile walk and/or work out with an exercise band. Get on the internet to check email and the news. If we are traveling, we will generally have some plan for the day to explore the town or visit some points of interest. Towards the end of the day we will upload and organize any new photos, update our travel blog and maybe update plans for the next leg of our trip.

Also, we try to spend a little time each day working on our Spanish. We are using the Rosetta Stone course that is web based.

Remarkable San Blas Islands, Panama

REL: What are your greatest passions in life?

Coopers: Continue to learn, grow and explore. Maintain a sense of adventure and curiosity. Flexibility is a must.

REL: Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

Coopers: Honestly, I don’t know where we’ll be – physically. We intend to continue to travel and explore as long as we are still enjoying it. We have already found a few places that we want to return to for more extended visits but so far no plans to “settle down” in some foreign address.

I’m working on developing a sideline career as a travel writer. Hey, we have to continue to dream, right?

All of our books lead to adventure. Don't miss out on yours!

REL: Where are you going next?

Coopers: In the near term, after Mexico, we have a couple of house sitting assignments this fall, Hawaii and Hermosa Beach, CA. We enjoy snow skiing so we’ll reserve some time for that early in 2013. After that? We haven’t decided. Maybe Peru and Argentina. We haven’t been to Machu Pichu or Iguazu Falls, two “must see” destinations.

We would like to thank Kevin and Valerie Cooper for their time and willingness to answer all of our questions.

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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