By Catey Hill, MarketWatch
At age 60, she wasn’t entirely sure where Bali was. By age 62, she was living there.
Sherry Bronson , now 69, spent much of her life in Minnesota, where she raised three daughters and worked in real estate. But she didn’t love it: “I have hated the weather in Minnesota since I was a child,” she says.
So in 2010, when her oldest daughter, who was teaching in South Korea, asked her to come to Bali so they could celebrate Sherry’s 60th birthday together, Sherry — after, she recalls with a laugh, Googling “Where’s Bali?” — jumped at the chance.
It didn’t disappoint: “The first thing that struck me as I got off the plane was the air — it was chewable, humid and warm with a scent of incense,” she says. “It was sweet and spicy and magical.” The next morning, she awoke to roosters crowing and the swooshing sound of a woman sweeping flower petals that had fallen in the night.
And as she headed out to her balcony in Ubud — a city of roughly 70,000 in the Indonesian province of Bali that’s popular with tourists — in the morning light, she watched a duck herder coaxing a quacking flock into the rice paddies. But it was on a tour of the lush, undulating rice terraces (the area is known for them) where she says she knew she’d be back. “I burst into tears and knew I would return.”
Indeed, many an expat has felt this way about Ubud, falling in love with its mix of tradition and spiritualism with a modern twist. “This is a place where traditional Balinese culture imbues every waking moment, where colorful offerings adorn the streets and where the hypnotic strains of gamelan [traditional Indonesian music] are an ever-present soundtrack to everyday life,” Lonely Planet, which speaks of Ubud as a place of “spiritual awakening,” writes. “It’s also somewhere that is relentlessly on trend — a showcase of sustainable design, mindfulness, culinary inventiveness and the very best that global tourism has to offer.”
In 2012, at age 62, Bronson took early retirement and moved to Ubud, after having spent the previous two years downsizing (by the time she moved to Ubud, all of her remaining possessions fit into four plastic bins, she says), paying off debt and saving money.
Here’s what Bronson’s life is like in Ubud — from costs to health care to language to making friends:
MarketWatch photo illustration; photo credits to Ketut Partadana, Lucy Marinelli and Jessa Waters.
The cost: Bronson says Bali is fairly inexpensive, noting that you can “live simply on $1,000 a month” and “live very, very comfortably on $3,000 a month,” which, she adds, means you go out to dinner with wine multiple times a week. ( Other blogs provide similar calculations of the c ost of living , with most people said to be living pretty well on about $2,000 a month.)
Bronson says her monthly expenses include $100 for electricity, city water and internet; $25 for gas for the house and drinking water; $15 for laundry. Her groceries cost about $75 a month, she says, noting that she purchases them from a traditional market and has “simple tastes,” eating mostly fruits and vegetables. “If you buy organic produce, eat meat every day, and drink a lot of alcohol, your food and beverage costs can approach Western prices,” she adds. If you want to go out to eat, you could spend a ton, she says, noting that “there are high-end restaurants where the cost of a meal and drinks can exceed $100” for a couple. But most restaurants are far less expensive: “You can have a delicious meal and two cocktails or two glasses of wine for under $20.”
When she first moved to Ubud, she rented a place for $500 a month. Five years ago, she entered into a 15-year lease on an older two-bedroom house for a total of $60,000, including furniture and other extras, she says. (There are laws about property ownership by foreigners.)
All told, Bronson says her expenses are pretty low, since she paid for her house upfront. “My monthly expenditures hover around $500 for food, utilities, staff, home maintenance, transport, and entertainment,” she says. However, travel back to the U.S. — which she does roughly every nine months — can be pricey, ranging from $900 to upward of $2,000.