Debbie L. Miller
In May 2019, Joan and Steve Reid left their part-time day jobs — Joan at the public library and Steve at a florist — and relocated from the affluent New York City suburb of Pearl River, N.Y., to the oceanfront community of Vero Beach, Fla. The aim for the couple, both 67 at the time, was to retire, slash their spending and live off an income of less than $30,000.
Back then, Next Avenue wrote about the Reids and their plans in what became one of its most popular stories, “Retiring on a Shoestring.” Next Avenue thought it would be interesting to check back to see how things have gone and how things look, two years on.
“All in all, our total expenses are about the same between New York and Florida,” Joan says.
But even though their frugality hasn’t exactly paid off as planned, the couple is content with the decision to relocate. “Our standard of living and residence have been a total plus. We live the way we always have,” Joan says. “It’s not luxury, but it is comfortable.”
How does retirement feel?
The geographic and psychic transitions haven’t been easy, though. “Our feelings vacillate from being very grateful that we made the move and what we have in retirement to a sense of loss, which has lessened gradually,” Joan says. They still miss New York’s seasons, especially autumn.
In 2019, they eagerly looked forward to a quieter and slower pace of life in Florida. That turned out nicely. “We’ve adjusted to the slower pace, but it may have more to do with the comfort and acceptance of retirement, which is an opportunity to slow down,” Joan says.
Their income: then and now
These days, the Reids cobble together an income from several sources, much as they did in New York.
Steve, who creates art from found objects and mixed media, sold two pieces of art this year for a total of $350.
From November 2019 to April 2021, Joan worked as a content editor for two local magazines, grossing $800 a month. “This was an incredible boost for us,” she says. She earned $630 in 2019 from freelance writing, editing and teaching, but only $305 in 2020 and zero so far in 2021.
After leaving her editing job, Joan focused on writing “Joyful Passage: A Woman’s Path to Retirement,” which she self-published on Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +0.47% . It chronicles how the Reids approached retirement, their planning process and ultimately the relocation to Florida. Joan expects to earn a $45 royalty from it in November.
The book’s message, she says, “is that it doesn’t require a person to be financially wealthy to retire.” While there were no upfront costs writing the book, Joan pays shipping fees on sales and covers the cost of any author’s copies. “I do my own marketing through social media and emails,” she says.
The couple received a $2,400 pandemic stimulus check from the U.S. government in 2020 and one for $2,200 in 2021, which were a great help.
They get a combined $257 in pensions each month, too. And while their Social Security benefits have increased a bit each year (both began claiming at 62), so have their Medicare premiums, so it’s basically a wash.
All told, they project 2021 income to be $24,769, roughly the same as in 2020 but down from $27,000 in 2019. Florida has no state income tax, which helps them keep more of what they bring in.
What’s happened with their expenses
Their overall daily living expenses are on par with those when they lived in New York, though they’re higher for medical costs, food and automobile insurance.
In 2020, their medication costs totaled $423. This year, they’ve already hit $583. “Steve’s meds have increased in quantity,” Joan explains, “which means more doctor visits and follow-up visits. And co-pays became more frequent.”
To lower their prescription costs, the couple has applied for patient-assistance programs with pharmaceutical companies, and Steve has been able to get free medication for his dry-eye syndrome.
Medical co-pays shot up from $848 in 2020 from about $505 in 2019. “The Cleveland Clinic swallowed up a lot of medical practices in Vero Beach. It adds another tier of payment to every doctor visit,” says Joan. Now, they try not to use medical practices associated with the Cleveland Clinic, which in 2019 took over Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach, having first arrived in South Florida three decades earlier.
To save on doctor visits, the Reids take advantage of free blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol checks at their primary-care physicians’ offices.