GEOarbitrage in retirement is trading locations with location-based differences in cost-of-living, and or income, to capture greater wealth. Arbitrage captures differences in pricing. GEO is short for geography or location. Hence GEOarbitrage or geoarbitrage.
Trading Places for Income and Wealth
GEOarbitrage was made popular by Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich) and other young entrepreneurs who moved abroad to stretch their income or savings while blogging about it.
Should you move to make your retirement savings last longer?
Trade a high-cost city for a lower-cost city to spend less and get the same (or more) in living expenses?
Trade a low-wage country for a higher wage country and get more income?
Live in a low-wage country and earn in high-wage country?
All of these are examples of GEOarbitrage.
Look at this map to see the opportunities for retirement GEOarbitrage in the United States.
But since the objective is more wealth, you have to be careful that moving for higher income isn’t just consumed with higher living expenses. Or vice versa, moving for lower living expenses isn’t defeated by even lower relative income.
GEOarbitrage could be the perfect opportunity
GEOarbitrage is a serious opportunity for retirees because our income tends to be fixed or determined by Social Security and savings. These incomes don’t vary by state but rather are the same for similarly situated people nationally. The Social Security benefits equation does reward working in high-wage cities or states during working years. However, once in retirement, the Social Security benefits equation does not control payout by location in retirement (at least within the United States). Once benefits are set, staying in a high-wage location like New York City or San Francisco drains the fixed income faster because these are also high-cost places to live.
Living Abroad: The extreme version of retirement GEOarbitrage
The extreme version of retirement GEOarbitrage is living abroad, say Mexico or Vietnam, or in a U.S. territory like Puerto Rico.
LifeAfterCubes offers an eye-opening example of an American expatriate (expat) in Vietnam. http://www.lifeaftercubes.com/2009/12/24/geoarbitrage-%E2%80%93-holy-that%E2%80%99s-cheap/
Also Jerry Brown Travels has become a popular YouTube series. Jerry and Lori Brown share travel advice about retirement living on less in Mexico.
Family & Friends Matter In Retirement
Wealth maximization isn’t our only goal and will likely not be your exclusive goal. Proximity to family, close friends or other competing objectives may limit your desire or ability to GEOarbitrage.
Another complication is access to quality healthcare. Healthcare quality and access can vary widely by location. Rural and frontier areas have difficulty recruiting and keeping physicians and other healthcare providers. As always there are exceptions to the rule. But as you plan for or live in retirement, GEOarbitrage should be one of the options considered.
We have an adult daughter in a high-growth, high-income urban center (Minneapolis/St. Paul). But it also features high taxes and a relatively high cost of living. Condos in the Twin Cities go for a $50,000 plus premium above similar options in Des Moines (the urban capital of the next state south). And we save even more over urban Des Moines by living in a small resort city in Iowa near the Minnesota border, two hours from the Twin Cities. But we’ve looked at relocating to nearby South Dakota (even cheaper with no income tax) or an outer ring Minneapolis suburb (closer to the daughter and better healthcare).
Relative Cost-of-Living Scores
We live in Clear Lake, Iowa. The national average cost of living ratio is 100 (by definition). Our local cost of living is 92.2% of the national average. (Approximately 8% less expensive than the national average.) We lived most of our career in Des Moines. Des Moines’s cost-of-living is 4% higher than Clear Lake. Minneapolis cost of living index is 109.4, almost 10% more expensive than the national average. See your location’s ratio here. https://www.bestplaces.net/cost-of-living/
GEOarbitrage and/or Downsizing
Downsizing is a version of GEOarbitrage. Here in Clear Lake, we have friends that have moved from expensive lakeshore homes to luxury condominiums for net savings in the monthly budget. The price difference between the lakeshore and even a block off the lake can be $500,000 or more. Real estate wealth locked up in the home is hard to use for living expenses. It’s not spendable cash until a successful sale. (We’re not fans of reverse mortgages.)
Aging-in-Place works until it doesn’t
It’s great to be so wealthy that you don’t have to move. Most of us have a predisposition to stay with the familiar. Hence the emphasis on aging-in-place. But it’s necessary to consider the potential savings of moving. There are a lot of unknown variables in retirement planning. For instance, we don’t know how long we’ll live. Or how much health care or assistance we’ll need. That means we have to exercise more control over the known variables, like cost-of-living. Where we live strongly influences cost-of-living.
Here’s a list of the U.S. states by relative cost-of-living. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/17/states-with-cheapest-cost-of-living-in-america.html.
Even this list misses big differences within a state between urban, micropolitan (small cities and towns), and rural locations.
There are also big individual differences in income, taxes, housing choices, health needs, energy, food, and more. It’s perfectly possible to live beyond your means in a low-cost state. The challenge for most of us is making the most of our available, often fixed, retirement resources.
FreedomIsGroovy has an example and offers a simple GEOarbitrage calculator. http://freedomisgroovy.com/the-geoarbitrage-calculator/
SmartAsset lets you do comparisons between specific cities or locations. https://smartasset.com/mortgage/cost-of-living-calculator