Wait, What? I’m a Self-Made Millionaire??

Somewhere up above, the spirit of my grandmother is smiling.

See, while working on my taxes recently I decided that I needed to make an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all my assets. I have various bank and brokerage accounts on four continents… and I have to file various bits of information about those accounts to the US Treasury Department every year…

So after completing this year’s taxes—and with all the documents readily available—I decided to whip up the Excel spreadsheet.

And when it was done, I realized something I’d never known…

I’ve managed to accumulate more than $1.1 million in stocks, bonds, cash, gold, and crypto.

I am—unexpectedly—a self-made millionaire.

And, frankly, I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

Now, let me stop here to say bluntly that this dispatch is not even remotely about crowing. Yes, I am proud of my accomplishment. After all, I was raised by my grandparents—a department-store tire salesman and a glorified secretary for a chemical company—so I didn’t come into this world with a silver spoon in my mouth or a trust fund to fall back on.

The only assets I’ve received as an heir are 71 shares of Honeywell my grandmother left me (she worked for a company that Honeywell bought). Those shares, which I still own, are today worth just under $15,000. So the rest of the road to $1.1 million was all me.

Moreover, like a lot of people I know, that path to “self-made millionaire” was full of enormous potholes.

I went through an asset-depleting divorce, and at 51, I lost a high-paying job I loved. Both of those fueled my return to school in Southern California for a screenwriting program, which drained my savings dramatically.

(Note to self: California is not the best place to move to when you have no income.)

But like I said… I’m not sure how to feel really about the millionaire thing.

I didn’t celebrate the news in any particular way, other than to tell my son, simply because I was so shocked by the revelation.

I feel a bit numb to it all because… Well, I realized that even a million dollars doesn’t really mean all that much in US terms. And that actually left me feeling a bit sad.

I mean, I am of a generation—the Xers—who saw $1 million as the finish line.

We thought when we started our careers in the ’80s and ’90s that if we reached that level of wealth, we’d have a golden retirement.

Alas, not so much really.

I’m 58 now, and I pay a great deal of attention to retirement studies. Recent research and surveys I’ve seen suggest that Americans now need $2 million to more than $4 million to retire comfortably—to enjoy a lifestyle similar to what they had during their working years.

I don’t know if that range is accurate. There are so many unknowable factors, and so much comes down to personal circumstances.

But what I do know is this…

I have a great option—and I am going exercise it.

That option is to retire abroad to a lifestyle that is richer, more fulfilling, and more comfortable, but at prices 40% to 60% cheaper than in the US.

That discount means much less of a risk of running out of cash before oxygen.

I’ve travelled all over Europe, for instance, and the quality and cost of living is so superior to America. That’s not a dig at America. It’s simply the unvarnished reality of the costs in the US vs. the costs in much of Europe.

I can buy an apartment in Greece, right near the water, for $300,000 or less. Same along parts of the Adriatic.

I’ve found fantastic houses and apartments across Portugal and Spain well under $300k.

I’ve seen incredible apartments near lakes and rivers, or up in the forested mountains of Germany and Central Europe, or across the wine country of central France and Tuscany, for $175,000 to $250,000.

Down in Uruguay, in South America, I’ve toured superb apartments, condos, and houses—within walking distance of the beach—for $250,000. Along Mexico’s Riviera Maya, it’s the same, often less.

In Thailand… oh good goobily goo! (Sanford & Son throwback; a 1970s sitcom for you Millennials and Zs). The hillside, ocean-view apartments that are available for under $150,000 are unbelievable.

In none of these places am I talking about sketchy apartments and houses in areas you might not feel safe walking the streets… I’m talking lux. Very well appointed. Properties that would consume my million dollars, and then some, pretty much anywhere near water in the US.

Healthcare is wildly cheaper abroad too.

Same with most food and entertainment.

If you’ve not lived overseas, it’s hard to imagine this, I realize.

Nevertheless, ’tis true.

And that’s why I think the spirit of my grandmother is smiling upon me…

Sure, she’s proud that her only grandson took the few financial lessons she knew to impart and turned them into “self-made millionaire” status…

But I know she’s happier still that I am using my money wisely—and pursuing the retirement she always wished she could have lived.

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