A while back, I posted about my problems with Androgen Deficiency. This seldom-diagnosed problem affects a lot of middle-aged men, and can really make a mess of your life. It has been almost six month since that post, and a lot has happened. This seems like a good time for a follow-up report.
NOTE: For the basics of Androgen Deficiency and how it impacts guys, please check out my previous post on this subject.
A Quick Recap
Shortly after my original post, I went to an endocrinologist here in Ecuador. He ordered a battery of tests that showed promising results. By changing my diet and the supplements I was taking, I had managed to get some of my hormone levels into the proper range. But my total testosterone level was still too high, while free testosterone was too low.
The endocrinologist prescribed a powerful anti-androgen to drive down my level of total testosterone. He also prescribed some things to mitigate potential side effects of the treatment.
So how did that work out?
Results of Anti-Androgen Treatment
The initial results of this treatment were very encouraging. I felt great. I had more energy and more focus. My sex drive came roaring back. My wife and I both loved the changes.
But then things started to go wrong.
My sex drive waned. So did my energy and focus. After about a month of treatments, I was back where I started from.
Things continued to get worse. I lost all desire for sex. All motivation to do anything. I spent more and more time staring off into space, accomplishing nothing.
A middle-aged man with hot flashes and chills? What the #$%&?
Then I started having chills and hot flashes. In the middle of the night I would wake up so cold that I needed to wrap myself in every blanket I could find. Then I would lie there shivering until I fell asleep again. A couple of hours later, I would wake up drenched in sweat.
Clearly, this was not working.
Trust But Verify
I thought about going back to the doctor to find out what the hell was going wrong. But first, we decided to do more in-depth research into the meds the endocrinologist had prescribed.
We found that the medications were good choices for reducing my testosterone level. But the dosage of the anti-androgen that the doctor prescribed was crazy.
One use of anti-androgens is to eliminate testosterone from the systems of guys with Stage 3 prostate cancer. Testosterone stimulates prostate growth. Eliminating it makes sense for guys who have bad prostate cancer. While this helps with the cancer, crushing a guy's Testosterone levels can have ugly side effects. These include: low or no sex drive, loss of energy, chills, and so on.
The endocrinologist had prescribed a dosage for me that would serve a guy suffering from heavy-duty prostate cancer. The symptoms I was experiencing were those you get when you have almost no testosterone in your system.
What Do You Do When the Treatment is Worse than the Problem?
At this point, I could have gone back to the endocrinologist to find out what the hell he was thinking when he gave me that prescription. But we had no faith in the guy after this. The plan was to get my testosterone levels into the normal range, not turn me into a whimpering mess.
We decided I would take things into my own hands again.
Time to take things into my own hands again.
Progress Against Androgen Deficiency Without the Doctor's "Help"
First, we cut the dosage of the anti-androgen by 75% to get it into a range that seemed more normal based on the information we could find online. And I kept on doing the dietary things that had put my other hormone levels into their proper ranges.
This helped a lot. I wasn't feeling or performing at 100%, but I wasn't a pathetic excuse for a man, either.
After about a month of that, we decided to eliminate the anti-androgen altogether. I was happier to be free of that stuff, but I did start backsliding a bit. Things were okay, but I wanted to feel strong and healthy again. To be productive and aggressive and fit again.
Getting Help From an Old Friend
I decided to try an experiment. For a while, I used an aromatase inhibitor to maintain my free testosterone levels. At the time, I thought my problem was low total testosterone. I didn't know that there is much more to androgen deficiency than your total "T" levels.
This product had worked for more than a year, but lost its punch over time. You should cycle potent substances like that. That is, you take it for a month, then take 2 to 4 weeks off, some system like that. If you don't, you can cause negative reactions in your body. Your body will also adapt to the treatment, requiring higher doses for the same effect.
I had overdone it with the aromatase inhibitor by the time it stopped working for me. But now it had been several months since I used the stuff and it only made sense to give it another go.
About a month ago, I started taking the lowest dose I could of my old aromatase inhibitor. The effect became obvious in days. I'm suddenly back to sharp and strong and fit and productive. My sex drive is good, and everything functions better than it has since I was in college (many, many moons ago).
While things are great right now, I realize this isn't a final solution for me. Based on past experience, I expect that this effect will start to weaken in a few more months. But we've bought some time. I can now find a new endocrinologist, or study the literature, and find a better solution.
So what have I learned from all this?
There are several morals to this story. Here they are, in no particular order:
- If you are a middle-aged guy, feel like carp, and don't know why, get tested! Many doctors don't even want to give guys the most basic sex hormone test (it shows total testosterone). But even that test will only give you incomplete, possibly misleading results. Getting a complete set of sex hormone tests (total testosterone, free testosterone, estrogen/estradiol, SHBG) is the only way to knwo for sure what is going on.
- Even if your doctor is a recognized expert in his or her field, do your own research to confirm what they are telling you. That includes double-checking the dosages that are prescribed. If I had done that, I could have avoided some really unpleasant side effects.
- Androgen Deficiency is a real, yet not widely-recognized condition. And diagnosing it may take more than the standard tests most doctors recommend.
- Self-medication carries risks, but it does give you a route forward if you can't find a doctor that can help you. There are alternative treatments out there for most situations.
- Sometimes, the best thing you can do is buy yourself time. Going back to something that worked in the past, gives me the time and energy to look for a better solution.
Let’s talk about the expat life again. While there are many positives to starting over in a new country, there are negatives as well. Two of them are dishonest salesmen and unexpected costs.
Wherever you go in the world, you will find dishonest salesmen. I’m sure you’ve experienced sharp sales pitches that leave out inconvenient details. And you’ve probably had salesmen lie to your face trying to get you to sign on the dotted line.
That stuff happens everywhere to everyone, but there are some twists to watch out for when you are an expat. Here are two I’ve seen:
Most foreigners come to Ecuador from a place that has a much higher cost of living. And many are downright ignorant. Both of the language (Spanish) and of what things actually cost around here. As a result, prices often shoot up when a “gringo” is buying or is even in a party of shoppers.
Whether it is a price in a local market, or the rent on an apartment, some people try to take advantage of foreigners. Here in Ecuador, it is called gringo pricing.
For example, my brother and I went to look at an apartment that had been listed in a local newspaper. The rent was something like $325 per month. But when us two foreign boys showed up at the door, the landlady insisted that the rent was $375 per month. She stuck with it, even when we told her we had seen the $325 advertised price.
Your best bet here is to wait outside while a trusted local friend shops for big-ticket items. Once they settle on a price, you can go inside and pay the bill.
Different Ways to Play the Game
Another thing to watch out for is that the tricks salesmen use can vary from place to place. When I lived in the USA, the price that was posted in a store was the price you paid. That is not always the case here. In most stores, prices are open to negotiation.
But you need to know how to play the game. My wife illustrated this brilliantly when we were buying a rice steamer of all things. I should have realized something was up when she got dressed up to go to the appliance store. We are not part of the local elite, but she can present herself as someone of importance when she wants to.
I didn’t wait outside the store but followed her around the store, trying to look imposing. I am about 6 inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than the typical local guy here in Cuenca.
She spotted the rice steamer that we wanted, but the price was something ridiculous like $109. She told the salesman that we wanted that rice cooker, but were not going to pay that price for it.
He countered by offering to let us finance it at some ridiculous interest rate.
She told him no, we were going to pay cash, but we would only buy it if he gave us his best price. She looked and acted like someone important, and I didn’t do anything to disabuse him of the notion.
He caved and gave us the rice steamer for $58.
Later, my wife explained that the high posted price was for regular people. It was also useful for making things too expensive for many local people to buy with cash. They would then have to use the store credit. As a result, they would end up paying several times what we did for the same item.
The rice steamer incident leads nicely into the topic of unexpected costs. But here, I am referring to different kinds of costs. Some things that are cheap in your home country will be expensive in another country and vice versa. This goes for services as well as goods.
Unexpected Costs of Services
In the last year, I’ve had to get a lot of documents notarized and mailed to one place or another. In the US, that is not a big deal. You go over to your local bank and get someone to notarize the document, then you throw it in the mailbox. Cheap, easy, and quick.
Notarizing documents is easy in the USA. Not so in Ecuador.
But getting things notarized here is harder. There are a limited number of notaries that you can use. The price for notarizing a document is low, if the stars align for you. Some documents first need to be translated into Spanish by an approved translator.
Other documents need to be apostilled (authenticated in some government office in your own country). Once apostilled, they need to be translated, then notarized.
It Gets Worse
Sometimes a local notary is not acceptable. For most of the documents I was dealing with, the notary had to be an official US notary. And the only allowed official US notaries in Ecuador are in the US Consulates.
For me, that means making an appointment with the Consulate days or weeks in advance. Then a 3 1/2 hour trip over the mountains, several hours at the Consulate, and a $50 fee for each notarization. All followed by the 3 1/2 ride back home.
Once the documents are properly notarized, I can’t simply toss them in a mailbox. It will usually take weeks for mail to get from here to the US, if it even arrives at all. So mailing a notarized document means a trip to the DHL office on the other side of town. Depending on the size of the document it costs around $60 in shipping fees.
Unexpected Costs of Goods
Aside from examples like my rice steamer, you may still find that certain things cost far more than you expect. Your favorite brand of pretzels may cost double what they do at home, since they now have to be imported.
Depending on your new country’s trade policies, other costs may be far higher than you expect. Ecuador has had large import tariffs on hundreds of products for years. Phones and computers are particular sore spots. The latest tech is often not available here at all. And when it is, the price will be at least double what you would pay in the US.
A popular tactic is to get someone coming in from the States to carry these kinds of items into the country for you. Many people travel to a country with more liberal trade policies once or twice a year. One goal of the trip is to stock up on stuff that is way too expensive here. I’ve heard that if you do it right, you can save enough money to more than cover the cost of the trip!
Wherever you go, there are negatives as well as positives. The key is to be aware of the negatives so you can at least try to avoid them.
Things in the USA look ever worse for anyone who wants a freer tomorrow. Charlottesville is just a taste of what’s to come. Things like dishonest salesmen and unexpected costs may mar the expat lifestyle. But they are small things compared to what’s happening up North. If you value your freedom, I urge you to consider getting out while you still can.
P.S. For a fascinating take on the current events in the USA, check out this post by Scott Adams.
In my last post, I said I would talk about a hormone problem I am having. Its name is, “Androgen Deficiency.” It affects many aging men, particularly those of us who grew up in the USA. It is seldom diagnosed. It makes your life suck. And there’s a good chance it will affect you too (if it isn’t already).
Something Was Not Right
I am 58 now. Several years ago, I realized that something was not right with my life. I was living the life I had worked for years to achieve. I had achieved all the personal goals I had set for myself years earlier.
I should have been on cloud nine. But everything was kind of gray and dreary. I had little drive or energy. Staying fit was becoming ever tougher. I was starting to look and feel old.
I thought maybe I was lost because I had achieved all my goals. To fix that, I went to Puerto Rico for three months to work for a startup. That helped a little, but not much.
I started doing some research and found that I was exhibiting all the symptoms of low testosterone. I asked my doctor if I could get tested for this, but he said no. He told me I was simply depressed and needed to get more exercise and sunshine. That helped a little, but I was still dragging.
As I read more, I learned that Testosterone levels are declining worldwide. The problem is particularly acute in the USA. Long-term studies conducted in the United States have shown that at any given age, each generation has a lower level of Testosterone than the previous one.
Given all of the above, the idea that I was suffering from low testosterone (androgen deficiency) sure seemed to fit the bill.
This Is Where You Come Into the Picture
If you are an aging male from the United States, there is a good chance that this story sounds familiar. If so, you should definitely talk to your doctor about getting your testosterone levels checked.
Low testosterone is an ever-more common problem, but it is seldom tested. There seems to be stigma against the entire concept of testosterone up there.
While my whole adventure with this has taken place here in Ecuador, I’ve read reports of guys in the USA needing to go to several doctors before finding one who would even agree to test their testosterone levels. Even here, my primary care guy said no.
So if you are seeing the kinds of symptoms I’ve described, you should definitely talk to your doctor. But before you do, keep reading. There’s another wrinkle to this story.
Self-Medicating: Finding Supplements That Helped
My research and my doctor’s refusal to test led me to try self medicating. (The fact that I was too apathetic to argue with the doctor is in itself a good sign that my testosterone levels were low!)
I started looking into ways to boost my testosterone levels. I found a lot of hype and bullshit, along with a few things that can have a small positive effect. Then I found a supplement that really seemed to do the trick. I started taking this stuff and within days I felt better, looked buffer, had more energy, everything. I figured I had found the answer.
Then the FDA forced the product off the market. Damn!
After a while, I found a new supplement. This had much the same benefits as the stuff I was using, but worked via a different mechanism. Life was great again.
For a while.
I got great results from the minimum daily dosage of the supplement. But as the months went by, I found I needed more and more to get the same results. After about two years I was taking the maximum recommended dose but it seemed to have little effect. I thought it was a problem with long-term use of this supplement. But it seems something else was at work.
Blood Tests with Very Weird Results
About this time, my brother had started seeing a new doctor for an unrelated issue. Amongst other good things, he prescribed more thorough blood tests for both my brother and me. He included testosterone levels and a bunch of other stuff I never heard of. It was expensive but very enlightening.
First I saw that the testosterone-boosting supplement I was taking was doing its job. My level of Total Testosterone was off the charts. As in higher than was normal for a guy in his 20’s.
The next thing I noticed was that two related results were also sky-high. Both my Estradiol and Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) levels were way too high.
I started researching and quickly learned that Estradiol is a component of the primary female sex hormone Estrogen. Very roughly, in guys, Estradiol counteracts the action of Testosterone. So my high Estradiol levels were working to counteract my high levels of Total Testosterone.
And SHBG is a protein that tightly binds to sex hormones (both Testosterone and Estrogen/Estradiol). As a result, SHBG renders Testosterone and Estradiol unavailable for your body to use.
This is important because the level of Free Testosterone in your body is what matters. Free Testosterone is the fraction of your Total Testosterone that isn’t bound to substances like SHBG. That means it is available for your body to use.
Using some equations I found online, I calculated that my level of SHBG was sufficient to leave me with virtually no Free Testosterone despite my high levels of Total Testosterone.
Estradiol and SHBG levels both tend to climb quickly as men age. Now throw in the generally lower levels of testosterone production that guys from the United States suffer from. The result is a straight path to Androgen Deficiency in our 50’s and maybe even our 40’s.
More and more people are starting to recognize that low Testosterone levels can be a problem. But there is more to the story than simply driving your Testosterone levels to the moon. Too much Testosterone can cause problems in itself. There are healthy ranges for Testosterone, Estradiol, and SHBG that you want to hit. If all three are not in the right range, you end up with problems.
This is an important point for you to bear in mind before getting blood work done. Oftentimes, doctors will test only your Total Testosterone, and not Estradiol and SHBG.
Without all three results, you are left guessing. Is my Testosterone high enough? Is my Estradiol too high? How about my SHBG? Both of them? All three things screwed up? If you don’t have all the information, you can end up like me, manipulating the one variable you know about and hoping for the best.
Now What Do I Do?
Now that I have all the information, I know what I need to do. I need to somehow generate more Free Testosterone. My Total Testosterone is already sky-high, so trying to push it higher doesn’t seem like a good idea. That leaves me with trying to reduce Estradiol and SHBG.
There are lots of things you can do to try and lower these levels.
- You can change your diet (broccoli helps reduce Estradiol and eating more carbs can lower your SHBG)
- Exercise more (if you do the right kinds of exercises)
- Use fewer plastic containers (which contain estrogen-like substances that can leech into your food or drinks)
- And more
I am only at the beginning of this process. But thanks to getting the comprehensive blood work, I at least know what I need to do. I’m already seeing results that show I am on the right track. Life gets better by the day.
A few days ago, I met with my endocrinologist. This was a follow-up meeting to review testing he ordered for me. The result of that meeting was that I am now taking something to reduce my level of Total Testosterone.
After making changes to my diet and supplements, I have gotten my Estradiol and SHBG into the normal ranges. But the Testosterone is still too high. Too much Testosterone is generally less of a problem than too little, but it makes sense to get everything into the normal ranges. We’ll know more in a month.
If you are a middle-aged male, particularly if you grew up in the United States, Androgen Deficiency is a real risk. If you are feeling run down, low energy, getting fat, and just don’t give a damn, you are probably already experiencing this wonderful syndrome.
Talk to your doctor. Get your testosterone levels tested. And make sure the doc ticks the boxes for Estradiol and SHBG too. What you learn could really change your life.
It seems that the universe is completely oblivious to the pathetic plans of us mere mortals. Back in early July, my life seemed to have settled into a regular routine again. I was looking forward to getting lots of work done and making real progress on my plans for my life.
Then my wife needed an entire week’s worth of medical testing before “minor” surgery. The surgery turned out to be not so minor and required a week of bed rest to recover. My brother became very ill and was bedridden, recovering just in time for previously scheduled major surgery of his own.
As for me, I had to make an urgent, unexpected trip back to the USA. Happily, there was a bright side to this trip, as I got to spend a few days with my wonderful daughter while up North.
Adding to the fun, I learned that I had developed a significant hormonal imbalance. This is forcing me to redesign my diet, my exercise program, and even my sleeping patterns.
Now that all this has blown over, it is time to get back to work. But I am not ready to get back into the regular Freer Tomorrow type of posts. First, I am going to write about this hormone thing that I am dealing with.
Why should you care about my hormone problems?
This issue that I am dealing with turns out to be a fairly common one. In particular, it manifests itself among men who are now in their 50’s, and grew up in the USA. In other words, guys like me and many of you. It is also something that is seldom tested for, so rarely diagnosed.
In my next post, I will tell you about the problem and what I am doing to try to resolve it. Chances are good that some of you are suffering from the same issue without knowing it. I hope sharing what I have learned will help you too.
Nootropics is a strange-looking word that most people have never heard before. But the word nootropics refers to a topic that you will want to understand if you want to live better in the future.
In this post, I will give you the rundown on this very important topic. I’ll also talk a bit about my own experience with some nootropics.
No matter what your vision of a freer tomorrow looks like, I doubt it includes slow thinking, lack of focus, and a crummy memory. Especially for people like us who are building our own future, instead of following the herd. It is very hard to be productive and do great things when you feel dumb, can’t focus, and keep forgetting the damn keys!
But wouldn’t it be easier to build a freer tomorrow if you felt sharp, focused, and had a great memory? Of course it would. This is why you need to learn about nootropics. Let’s go.
What the Heck are Nootropics?
Nootropics are substances that help you think better, stay focused, or remember stuff. Or any combination of those things. Also called smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, nootropics are becoming ever better known. It seems everyone is using them:
- College kids use them to get better grades (high school kids too)
- Top executives and entrepreneurs use them to compete at a higher level than they otherwise would
- Emergency room medics use them to stay sharp and focused in total chaos
- Military pilots use them to stay awake on long, dangerous missions
- People dreaming of a freer tomorrow use them to make those dreams come true faster
Nootropics vs Stimulants
We need to talk about the difference between nootropics and stimulants. Nootropics are substances that boost your cognition or memory. They act on certain neurotransmitters to change the way your brain works. But so do stimulants such as amphetamines, which are not considered nootropics.
The differences include:
- Which neurotransmitters they affect
- Nootropics generally have few side effects
- They don’t cause you to crash after they wear off like stimulants do
- Nootropics also don’t have the addiction risk that stimulants can have
But these differences are somewhat subjective. And some substances have characteristics of both nootropics and stimulants. Which category they fall in depends on which expert you care to listen to.
Finding Useful Nootropics
There are lots of substances that people claim will boost your cognition or memory. Many of them don’t work. Others have very subtle effects that only show up in lab testing. But there are some that actually do what they say when used in the real world.
Some of these substances are newish creations fresh out of some scientist’s lab. And some are expensive, hard to get, or even illegal. But others have been around for a long time and are easy to get your hands on.
A guy named Scott Alexander did a survey of nootropic users in 2014. This survey got nootropics users to rate the substances they use. The survey is full of useful information. Among other things, it says that YOU likely use a powerful natural nootropic every day.
Caffeine – Your Grandfather’s Nootropic
Caffeine is the most widely-used nootropic in existence. Caffeine is the active ingredient in coffee, which people have been using for over 1000 years.
The caffeine in coffee has both stimulant and nootropic effects.
Caffeine straddles the line between nootropic and stimulant. It definitely has some stimulant effects. You can develop a tolerance to it, and you can crash after you use it.
But caffeine also has nootropic effects. It inhibits the function of adenosine in the brain, increasing alertness. If you have ever used caffeine to stay awake and alert, you are well aware of how this works.
Other Plant-Based Nootropics
Besides caffeine, there are several other plant substances with reported nootropic effects. Here are two examples:
Studies have shown that the extracts from this plant can reduce fatigue and boost memory. It is also known to improve concentration.
I had access to a very pure, very strong supply of Rhodiola Rosea for a short while several years ago. I noticed major improvements in concentration and resisting fatigue.
Unfortunately, that supply lasted only a few weeks. After that, I only had access to the much weaker concoctions available in health food stores. These didn’t have any noticeable effect on me.
This substance comes from a moss that grows in India and Southeast Asia. Studies have shown it to give some boost to memory. It works by partially blocking the function of Acetylcholinesterase in your brain. This results in higher levels of Acetylcholine, which is important for memory.
I have no personal experience with Huperzine A. In Mr. Alexander’s study, nootropics users rated Huperzine A as mildly effective.
Products from the Lab
Besides natural nootropics, there are potent cognitive enhancers that come out of labs. While this is a rapidly changing area, we can talk about two products to get a sense of it all: Adderall and Modafinil.
Much of the cognitive enhancement from caffeine comes from its action as a stimulant. Adderall provides a much stronger boost because it is a much stronger stimulant. Adderall is a combination of two chemical forms of amphetamine. Doctors prescribe it to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.
It is no surprise that folks without these conditions would try this stuff when under the gun. Drinking black coffee or popping caffeine pills only takes you so far.
It turns out that Adderall does indeed improve cognitive performance in healthy people. Clinical trials show it can improve memory as well as attention. But remember that this drug is an amphetamine. Using this stuff for cognitive enhancement has serious risks.
Side effects from using Adderall can include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty urinating
- Tolerance (requiring ever larger doses to get the same effect)
- Crashing when the drug wears off
In short, Adderall works as a cognitive enhancer, but if you use it, you are taking serious risks.
My Favorite Nootropic: Modafinil
Modafinil is a true nootropic. That is, it boosts your cognition and memory with few side effects. It doesn’t cause the crash amphetamine users can experience, and is not addictive.
Doctors prescribe Modafinil for people with narcolepsy and similar disorders. It is also used off-label to treat various conditions that cause fatigue. It is not a typical stimulant. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how it does what it does.
But as far as I am concerned, here are the important points:
- It isn’t addictive
- You don’t crash when it wears off
- People have been safely using it since the 1990’s
- It works
What Does “It Works” Mean?
What do I mean by, “It works?” I mean it boosts my focus and productivity tremendously. When I use Modafinil, I can completely lose track of time. Today, for example, I started working on a project around 8AM.
I was completely focused on what I was doing and blasted out a ton of work. When I finished the project, I looked up and realized it was 1:30PM. I also realized I hadn’t eaten anything in 18+ hours.
I wasn’t tired or hungry but it seemed like a good idea to have breakfast (lunch, whatever). So I quick grabbed some food, took a short walk, and got to work on this article. It is now after 4PM and I am still not hungry, or tired. And I’m still cranking out the work.
This is what Modafinil can do for you.
And you don’t need to take my word for it. Numerous studies have shown Modafinil’s effectiveness. Here’s just one example. It is the first study I encountered when investigating Modafinil for my own use. This 1999 United States Air Force Modafinil study showed that Modafinil helped keep flight crews functioning effectively after 40 hours with no sleep.
About Regular Modafinil Use
I’ve been using Modafinil for around 3 years now. But I do not use it every day. In my experience, it seems to lose a bit of its punch if you use it too many days in a row. Besides, I don’t always want to be so focused and alert! I like being able to relax once in a while.
It makes sense to limit the use of any drug, even safe ones like Modafinil. I have seen many different suggestions for usage schedules. Here are some of them, along with ideas on when they might make sense for you:
- If you are still working a regular job, you could try using it during the workweek and not on the weekends
- If your job features crunch times or hard deadlines, you could use Modafinil then. This is the way I do it
- If you tend to party a little too much during the work week, you could use it the morning after to mitigate the effects
How Much Do You Need?
The exact dosage of Modafinil depends on you. Some people get the desired effect from 50mg. Others need 200mg. It depends on your weight, age, and who knows what else. It is something each person needs to experiment with.
How Do You Get Modafinil?
This is where things can get a little tricky. Here in Ecuador, Modafinil is an over the counter drug. I walk into any pharmacy and walk out with a box of 20, 200mg tablets for about $20. In most countries, it is a prescription drug. If you can get the stuff at all, it usually costs several dollars per dose. In the USA, it is a Schedule IV controlled substance. The legal treatment varies from country to country.
Modafinil is a powerful nootropic that is available OTC here in Ecuador.
Despite the restrictions on Modafinil, large numbers of people use it as a nootropic. Some get a friendly doctor to write them a prescription. But many get the stuff through other channels.
Modafinil is easy to buy on the Internet. Several companies in India and China manufacture it and will ship it anywhere in the world. Apparently it ships in plain, non-descript packages. These usually make it through Customs and the postal system without problems.
If a package does get stopped by Customs, it doesn’t seem to cause any problems for the buyer or the seller. Some sellers will even ship another package as soon as Customs intercepts the first one! So expect the use of Modafinil and related drugs to keep on increasing.
Where is This All Going?
Now that you know what nootropics are, you may be wondering where this all leads. Real, effective drugs do exist that can boost your memory and concentration. More and more people are using them every day.
What does this mean for you? If you don’t use Modafinil or something similar, you are at a disadvantage against people who do. It may not seem fair, but that is the reality. What are you going to do about it?
Do you use Modafinil or some other nootropic? Are you in favor of their use or opposed? What will you do as more and more people start using this stuff? Leave a comment and let us know.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big advocate of expatriation from expensive, unhealthy, collapsing locations like the European Union and the United States. But every part of the world has its benefits and drawbacks. Here in Ecuador, one of the biggest drawbacks is lying landlords. I’ve had 9 or 10 landlords in my time in this country, and it is no exaggeration to say that half of the them fit into the “lying landlord” category. The problem seems a lot worse than what I experienced in my decades of living and renting in the USA.
In this post I’ll start by giving you a few recent examples. I’ll wrap it up with a stab at explaining why this happens. Hopefully reading some of my experiences will prepare you for similar problems if you expatriate some day.
What Qualifies Someone to be Called a “Lying Landlord?”
Anyone who has rented a house or apartment has probably experienced exaggerated claims about the property. Whether it is the landlord of a property or some kind of rental agency, the person trying to get you to sign the contract is a salesman. They’ll puff up the positives and downplay the negatives. And, honestly, they will often lie to you to get the deal. And at the end of the contract, the landlord probably exaggerated the wear and tear on the place in order to keep more of your deposit than was justified.
But this isn’t what I’m talking about when I refer to a “lying landlord.” Here in Ecuador I have experienced a whole new level of dishonesty from landlords and their underlings (I am including both in the lying landlord category). I am talking about blatantly violating the contract and fun stuff like that.
Let me give you some examples.
NOTE: I am writing about these things from memory, so I might have some details wrong. But I have tried to be as objective and fair-minded as I could. There’s no need to exaggerate with situations like these!
What Do You Mean I Owe an Additional Month’s Rent?
I rented one apartment for almost two years. It was in a very nice, upscale building, with all the amenities. Expensive, but at the time I felt it was worth splurging. I actually never met the owner of the apartment. All my interactions were with the lawyer representing her. He is a big-name attorney with private clients as well as a government contract for certain services. Seems like an ideal guy to deal with, right? Not so much.
After the year of my original contract, we agreed that I would rent month-to-month instead of doing a new contract. So far, so good.
Things Fall Apart
When I decided I was ready to move to a new place, I contacted him. I told him I wanted to move out by a particular day and that I would pay the prorated portion of that month’s rent. He said that was unacceptable and that I would have to pay an entire additional month’s rent if I went past the 25th or whatever day the lease would have otherwise expired. So we agreed that I would move out by that day.
As we got close to that date, Ruth and I got everything moved to our new place, making sure to leave ourselves a few days leeway. There was no point in giving this guy a chance to screw us out of a month’s additional rent.
Two days before I had to be out of the apartment, the attorney calls me. He starts ranting in high-speed Spanish that I have trouble following. I put Ruth on the phone so she can try to find out what is going on. She tells me that he claims I have violated our agreement and did not vacate the apartment on time. He also tells her that my car is parked in the apartment’s assigned parking space and that my lock is still on the apartment’s assigned bodega (storage space). As a result of these violations, I need to pay him an additional month’s rent immediately.
Once she gets off the phone, we talk about the situation among ourselves. Our conclusions:
- The agreed move-out date was still two days in the future
- We don’t own a car and have never used the apartment’s assigned parking space
- We have never used the apartment’s assigned bodega and don’t even know where it is located
- This guy is trying to screw us out of a month’s rent
Ruth consults with an attorney she knows, who tells us that the guy can’t do what he is claiming and to fight him. We decide to go to his office and talk to him face to face. We go to the guy’s office and he and Ruth try to come to some sort of agreement. Eventually, they agree that if have the apartment clean and turn over the keys by the end of the day he will stop demanding additional rent.
So we scramble like crazy to get that done. Right at the end of the work day, we return to his office with the keys. The three of us go to inspect the apartment. There are a couple of minor things like scuffed paint that need to be fixed, but otherwise the apartment is good. Then we go to check out the bodega and the parking space.
The bodega is empty and so is the parking space. We have no idea what the deal was with those, but he is satisfied. Even better, he pays our deposit, minus the costs we have agreed for fixing up the apartment, in cash, right on the spot.
Would You Like to Extend Your Lease?
Another time, we rented a place for a year from a guy who was going to be living in Spain for a while. He said that we would probably be able to extend our lease after the first year. From our initial interactions with him, we were sure that he would try something sleazy at the end, but we wanted the place and figured we would deal with it when the time came.
A few months before the lease expired, he contacted me and asked if I wanted to extend the lease. I said yes. He said he would like to inspect the house and sign a new contract as soon as possible. We agreed to a date and time for him to come by. When he arrived, he carefully inspected the place. Everything was in good shape. However, he spotted that I had mounted a pull-up bar in one of the doorframes and immediately stated that this was going to be a problem. I told him that it was just screwed in place and would require a couple of minutes and a bit of putty to be good as new again. He merely grunted.
Then we sat down to talk about extending the contract. Except, that wasn’t why he was there. Instead of extending the contract, he demanded that we move out a month early! He said that his wife wanted to make changes to the place before they moved in, and that he needed us to get out of the house so his workmen could come make the changes. He then offered us the choice to leave voluntarily, without creating a new contract, or he would force us to sign a new contract stating we would leave early.
A signed, legal contract will only protect you so far.
In places like the USA or Europe, renters are protected from bullshit like this. In Ecuador, the consumer is not as well protected. This guy comes from a wealthy family, and we were confident that they had an attorney on retainer to deal with annoying peons who wouldn’t do what they were told. We also concluded that his inspection of the house was aimed at looking for a reason to evict us and/or reasons to avoid returning our retainer at the end of the rental.
Fortunately for us, we found a new place within days. As a result, we were able to move out 2 months earlier than this lying landlord wanted us to. He protested vigorously, but since he insisted that we scrap the old contract and we hadn’t signed a new one, we were under no obligation to stay until he was ready for us to leave. While this may have caused him problems, he deserved it. He brought this upon himself by tearing up our original contract for no good reason.
Possible Reasons for the Lying Landlord Situation
These are the two most extreme examples of lying landlords that I have experienced. The rest have involved lying to try and keep the deposit at the end of the lease. In addition, I have heard dozens of stories like mine from other expats and natives here in Ecuador. The question is, why?
I think there are a few factors at work. They include:
The Legacy of Colonialism
As you probably know, this part of the world was colonized by the Spanish hundreds of years ago. This had many negative results, one of which I think comes into play for this issue. There is a definite class system here. The rich, who mostly have at least some Spanish blood, generally look down upon everyone else. Over the years I have heard from several landlords that they prefer renting to foreigners, because the locals (those with darker skin and more indigenous blood) don’t pay their bills and don’t take care of the rental units. On the other hand, non-rich people expect that they will be screwed by their landlords and all have their own horror stories.
As a light-skinned foreigner, you would think that this would work in my favor. In some ways it does, particularly at the beginning of a contract. Landlords are usually anxious to rent to me. But that doesn’t prevent about half of them from trying to pull some sort of dishonest shit at the end of the contract. It seems to be just the way they do business.
Weaker Consumer Protections
Another issue here is that the consumer protections are weak. I don’t even know what the laws actually say. What I do know is that in practice it is foolish to go up against a landlord in any kind of legal action. The upper-class all know each other and look out for each other in a small city like Cuenca where I live.
The Screw the Foreigner Effect
The final factor that comes into play is the “screw the foreigner effect.” If you know anyone who has spent time in this part of the world, you have probably heard of “gringo pricing.” It is common for the price of a product or service to increase drastically if someone who looks like me is involved in the transaction.
Part of it is due to the perception here that gringos are rich and ignorant of what things are really worth. Because prices are so much lower here than where we came from, many gringos will pay inflated prices for things without even realizing it. They go away thinking they got a great deal on whatever it was, when in reality they paid 2 or 3 times what a local would have paid. Ruth will frequently negotiate prices for things while I stay out of sight just to avoid this problem.
However, this isn’t just a Latin American thing. As far as I can tell, anywhere you go in this world, some people will try to take advantage of you because you are a foreigner. It is something to be aware of whether you are moving to a new country, or simply vacationing somewhere far from home.
And one more thing. The screw the foreigner effect doesn’t just come into play between you and the natives of wherever you are. Sometimes the people from your own country are the worst crooks. Anyplace where there are lots of foreigners will have problems like this:
You go to scout out Upper Slobovia as a place to live. Right away you meet some guy (or girl) from back home who says they have been living in Upper Slobovia for years. What a relief! A friendly face. Someone who speaks your language and knows their way around the country. Even better, they offer to help you find a place to stay, show you around, whatever. This is too good to be true.
After a little while you discover that it was too good to be true. You discover that you paid way too much for your hotel, the clubs they showed you specialize in ripping off foreigners, they sponged off you for a month then disappeared, or even worse. Anywhere you go there are predators looking to rip someone off. Being a stranger in a strange land makes you more vulnerable to people like this.
If you come to Latin America, you need to be prepared for the lying landlords. Make sure you get someone fluent in Spanish (and ideally the local rental laws) to review any contract before you sign it. This will help, but expect problems sooner or later. And when you are tearing your hair out, or swearing about the jerk you rented from, remember that anywhere you go there will be good and bad situations. Also remember that as a foreigner, there will be people specifically looking to take advantage of you.
Also keep in mind that every country and region (not just Latin America) has its own good and bad points
These are not reasons to avoid travel or expatriation. Simply things to look out for when you start serious travel.
Do you have your own horror stories about lying landlords? Got advice for international travelers that can help stay out of trouble? Share your stories in the comment section below!
The Live Here, Hire There approach is the third type of geoarbitrage I want to cover. This will be a short post since I have little experience with this approach myself. So…
This approach takes advantage of the fact that pay rates vary drastically around the world. Data gathered by the Gallup organization a few years ago illustrates what I mean. It shows that in 2013, US citizens reported a median income of over $19,000 per person. Meanwhile, people in the Philippines were reporting a median income of $478 per person!
Add these facts:
- There are millions of well-educated, English-speaking people in low-wage countries like the Philippines and India.
- The Internet makes it possible to work with distant people extremely inexpensively.
The result is the outsourcing movement from the end of the last century.
Corporate Outsourcing, the Predecessor to the Live Here, Hire There Approach
The outsourcing movement is where I got to see the potential (both good and bad) of this form of geoarbitrage. I was working as a manager at a startup during the dot-comm boom. While I didn’t hire software engineers, my company did. Somehow I got tasked with reviewing contracts, including one that involved outsourcing work from our company in New Hampshire, USA, to some small engineering firm in India.
Without giving away any proprietary details, I can say that the engineers in India were being billed to us at something like one-fifth of what we were paying our own local people. It was crazy, and more than a little scary. Fortunately for our local guys, the people managing the project screwed it up and we gave up on outsourcing. But the potential savings were enormous.
About now you’re probably saying, “Yeah great Bill. Another war story from decades ago. Why should I give a damn?” The reason you should give a damn is that this kind of geoarbitrage or outsourcing isn’t limited to just businesses hiring businesses. You can hire people in other countries to do work for you too. There are a few ways to go about it.
Working Through an Outsourcing Firm
And you don’t have to be looking for engineering help or similar techie skills either. There are companies like BrickWork India that provide what they call remote executive assistance. In addition to hardcore techie services, they offer virtually any service that can be done remotely across the Internet.
The Live Here, Hire There Approach is a form of personal outsourcing.
If you need someone to monitor your Outlook Inbox for you, or do some detailed research and analysis, companies like BrickWork can get it done for you. Rather than waste time and space trying to summarize their offerings in this post, I suggest you use the link above to visit their site and see for yourself.
Finding Someone Providing Specific Types of Work
Another way to implement the Live Here, Hire There approach is to go to marketplaces where people offer the particular type of work you are looking for. One such marketplace is Fiverr.com. Here, people offer a specific service, usually at a fixed price. I’ve used them for gigs like translating an article to a different language, or recording short videos for marketing purposes.
You can find people to do the kinds of things that BrickWork India and similar companies can do for you. But at Fiverr you are generally hiring a specific individual for a specific short project for a specific low price. It used to be that all the stuff at Fiverr was $5 (a fiverr) but now they are more flexible.
The other difference with marketplaces like Fiverr is that you are exposed to service providers from all around the world. Whereas BrickWork India provides you with people from India, anyone from anywhere on Earth can offer a service on Fiverr. You could end up working with someone from India, or anyplace else, including your own back yard. It is more of a coincidental geoarbitrage play.
Get People to Bid on Your Specific Projects
Here you go to a network like Upwork and post a specification for the work you want done. People then bid on the job and you get to choose who you work with. I have used their service both as a buyer of services and as a provider.
In my experience, the lowest-price bidders are likely to be from low-paid countries like India, rather than from places like the USA or Europe. But for the kinds of work I was involved with, qualifications were much more important than where a person was from or how much they were charging. As a result, the live here, hire there approach didn’t really come into play.
Pros of This Approach
Here’s your quick summary of the benefits of the Live Here, Hire There geoarbitrage approach:
- You can often get quality work done for a lower cost using workers from “there”
- The lower cost can make it practical to hire people for tasks that otherwise wouldn’t make sense
Cons of This Approach
While the financial benefits of this approach are clear, there are some non-financial drawbacks:
- As I saw in the company I worked for, managing workers “there” can be difficult
- With nationalism on the rise around the world, outsourcing work to foreigners is getting a bad reputation
Wrapping it Up
The Live Here, Hire There approach really doesn’t fit with my workstyle/lifestyle. Still, it is a viable way to do things. Outsourcing stuff at great prices can definitely make you freer tomorrow. If you want to explore this topic in more depth, I suggest you search for:
in your favorite search engine. You’ll find a ton of links related to the topic.
Have you tried the “Live Here, Hire There” approach? If so, leave a comment below and let us know how it worked out for you.
A while back we were talking about how to know what you really want in life. I said that I couldn’t give you good advice on how to figure it out. And I suggested you consult with other people who were have more expertise than me on the subject.
I’ve changed my mind. Sort of.
While I still don’t claim to be an expert, nor to know the best path to figuring all this out, I do want to describe one approach that has greatly improved my life.
It is called visualizing your ideal day.
Visualizing Your Ideal Day is NOT Some Mystical Hocus Pocus
Before you shake your head and click away from this post, understand that I am not a believer in mystical forces or psychic powers or anything like that. Visualization is a very practical, real world technique you can use to achieve real results. Granted, there is a lot of hocus pocus wrapped around the idea, but at the core it is pretty simple.
See if this makes sense to you…
We are barraged with huge amounts of stimuli every day. Our senses bring in information constantly, far more information than we can consciously handle. While you are reading this, your brain is receiving information on the position of every one of your joints. It is receiving touch and temperature information from every millimeter of your skin. The background noise all around you. The amount of pressure on your right butt cheek as you sit in your chair. And much, much more. But most of the time, most of this information is of no importance and you simply don’t notice it.
Our subconscious mind has the job of processing all these inputs and filtering out the stuff that doesn’t matter. We are only consciously aware of the information that the subconscious passes along. That’s why you can concentrate on this post instead of the sensations in the toes on your left foot, or the fact that your stomach is hard at work digesting your lunch.
A Basic Survival Strategy
This subconscious filtering is a basic survival strategy. If we had to think about, or even be consciously aware of, everything that was going on in our bodies and our environment every moment, we would be overwhelmed.
Imagine if you were out in the wilds and you had to deal with all this stuff consciously. By the time you got done sorting through the sensation of the blades of grass on your legs, and the wind in your hair, and all the other thousands of stimuli bombarding you, the tiger that was watching you from the bushes over there would probably be having you for lunch.
So something needs to quickly filter out all the irrelevant stuff, so your conscious mind can deal with the little bit that gets past the filters. It is the job of your subconscious to sort and sift and filter that flood of information to find important stuff to pass on to your conscious mind.
The stuff that gets passed on to your conscious mind is normally stuff like pain. If you drop a kettlebell on your left foot, you will suddenly become quite aware of the sensations in those left toes. When the background noise that you have been ignoring turns into a fire alarm, you will suddenly become quite aware of it. In effect, your subconscious mind looks for stuff that you need to pay attention to. Then it slaps your conscious mind and tells it there is something important to attend to.
Reprogramming Your Subconscious by Focusing Your Attention
Remember when I said that your subconscious mind only passes along important stuff (stuff that needs to be consciously attended to) to your conscious mind? Your subconscious has a built-in bunch of things that it automatically classifies as important. Things like pain and hunger. When you break your leg or are starving, your subconscious lets your conscious mind know it.
But your subconscious also responds to input about what is important from your conscious mind. When you focus your attention on something, your subconscious treats that thing as important. The more you focus on it, the more important your subconscious considers it. After all, you are spending all that attention on whatever it is.
In response to this conscious focus on X, your subconscious mind starts passing along anything related to X that it finds.
For a trivial example, you’ve probably had an experience like this:
You decide that you are going to buy a convertible sports car. But instead of buying a red one like all those guys who are going through a mid-life crisis, you’re going to buy a black one to show you are different. So you do.
But that very afternoon you head out to some No Name bar to celebrate your purchase, and what do you see? A black convertible!
The next day on your way to work you see a couple of them too. There’s even one in the parking lot at the office now. What’s going on? Did every Tom, Dick, and Harry out there decide to copy you and buy a black convertible?
This is a perfect example of how you can reprogram your subconscious by focusing your attention. Focusing so much of your attention on your black convertible sends your subconscious the message that black convertibles are important. So your subconscious passes along anything related to black convertibles to your conscious mind.
There are NOT suddenly more black convertibles on the road. You are simply noticing them more. Your subconscious got the message that they are important to you so when it detects one, your subconscious signals your conscious mind so that you notice it.
SLAP! Hey! Look at that! Another black convertible!
That’s all great, but what does it have to do with visualizing your ideal day?
Visualizing Your Ideal Day Focuses Your Attention
Visualizing your ideal day involves thinking about what your ideal day would be like. In detail. The more detail the better. By focusing your attention on your ideal day like this, you are telling your subconscious mind that this is important stuff. As a result, your subconscious mind feeds your conscious mind any information related to your ideal day it happens to come across. This increases your chances of making that ideal day come to pass.
Say your ideal day starts with waking up in your beachfront condo in some tropical paradise. Because you visualized your ideal day so intensely, your subconscious knows that “beachfront condo” and “tropical paradise” are things that are important to you. So if some guys on the train happen to be talking about Curacao, or you drive past a billboard advertising timeshare condos, your subconscious is much more likely to pass that information along to your conscious mind.
Visualizing your ideal day in great detail helps you achieve it.
The more you notice information related to your ideal day, the better. You may notice something that will help you achieve it. If nothing else, noticing things related to your ideal day makes you think about it. And that tells your subconscious it is important to you. This feedback loop helps keep you on track.
In short, visualizing your ideal day focuses your attention on it. And focusing your attention makes you more likely to achieve the results you want.
Steps to Visualizing Your Ideal Day
Now that you’ve seen how visualizing your ideal day helps you get what you want in life, let’s talk about how to go about it. Here are the steps:
- Find a space and time where you won’t be disturbed for at least an hour. This is a private exercise. You don’t need to tell anyone else you are doing it, or share your vision of your ideal day with anyone you don’t want to. This is particularly true when your ideal day is very different than your current life. You don’t need people questioning your goals or telling you what you want to do is impossible.
- Before you go any further, remember what we talked about in the post on knowing what you really want. Visualizing things you really want will make you more likely to get them. Visualizing things you think you are supposed to want will make it more likely you will live the life others want you to live instead of the one you want to live.
- Imagine that you are waking up at the start of your ideal day. Where are you? What do you see and feel when you open your eyes? Who are you with? Imagine each of these things in as much detail as you can. The more detail you can provide, the more powerfully the images will stick in your subconscious. Seeing yourself in “a one-bedroom beachfront condo in Ambergris Caye, Belize” is much more powerful than seeing yourself in “a cool beachfront condo someplace warm.” Writing things down as you go will help to cement them more firmly in your mind.
- Imagine the first thing you will do on this day. Again do this in as much detail as you can.
- Continue doing this until you have gone through the entire day and fall asleep.
- Once you finish, think back to (or read what you wrote about) the ideal day you have just visualized. Does it include only things that you really want in your life? If so, great. If not, visualize that part of your day again, substituting what you want, instead of what your mom, or your church, or anyone else says you should want.
- Revisit your ideal day every so often. Some people review what they wrote once a week or even every day. If something about your ideal day changes, incorporate that change into your visualization.
The idea is to think about your ideal day frequently enough and deeply enough to embed the details in your subconscious. Once you do, your subconscious will go to work scanning and sifting and filtering the stimuli you receive, looking for anything that will help you achieve your ideal day. You’ll start noticing things that you might have overlooked before. Ideas will “pop into your head out of nowhere” that can help you get what you want.
You’ll be putting your subconscious mind to work to help you achieve the ideal day you visualized.
This is what I did. I spent quite a lot of time figuring out what my ideal day would look like. This vision eventually became so embedded in my mind that I don’t have to review what I wrote any more. Doing this has helped me to notice things that have helped me get closer to what I want. It is a powerful technique and definitely worth trying.
Have you tried visualizing your ideal day? If so, let me know how it worked out for you in the comment section below.
In this post, we will talk about the “Live Here, Retire There” approach to geoarbitrage. This is in contrast to the “Live Here, Earn There” approach we covered last time. With the Retire There approach, you follow many of the same steps as before, except that you move to a new location after you retire. This will be short and sweet so let’s get going.
You’re Probably Already Contemplating a Live Here Retire There Approach
If you’re old enough to be contemplating retirement, chances are good you have been thinking about something like this. For an awful lot of people, moving to a less expensive location after you retire is a necessity. Typically, a person’s post-retirement income is much less than their pre-retirement income. Moving to a less expensive location after retirement is a must for millions of retirees every year.
The Retirement Money Equation
Many people calculate how large their retirement incomes must be to survive. This retirement money equation then governs their lives in the years before retirement. To avoid misery after retirement, they plan on saving enough, and working long enough, to make the equation balance. That makes sense.
Economic conditions are blowing up people’s retirement plans, forcing them to work many years longer than planned.
The trick is hitting the numbers you need to hit. In the US and Western Europe, interest rates are ridiculously low, crippling retirement savings. And payments for programs like Social Security aren’t keeping up with real-world cost of living increases. As a result, many people have to work longer and longer to make the math work. Or they find themselves working minimum-wage jobs into their 70’s and 80’s just to put food on the table.
Rebalance the Equation
Working longer and harder to earn more money for retirement is one way to make the equation work. The other way is to reduce the amount of money you’ll need. The “Live Here, Retire There” approach can make this possible. By retiring to someplace where the cost of living is much lower, you reduce the amount of income/savings you will need to live comfortably.
I know several expats who live comfortably in Ecuador on pensions of less than $1,400 US per month ($16,800 per year). What does “live comfortably” mean? It means:
- Renting a nice house or apartment, possibly with a maid to cook and clean
- Eating fresh, healthy food and going out to eat with friends several times a month
- Getting quality medical care when needed
- Visit family and friends back home every now and then
In most cases, these folks would be in deep trouble if they were back in the USA or Europe. The US Poverty Level for a family of 2 in 2017 is $16,240 so these folks would be living not far above poverty level. Not what most of us picture for our retirement years.
We’ve seen that the Live Here, Retire There approach is a powerful way to make the Retirement Money Equation work. You can actually take things one step further than that. This geoarbitrage approach makes it easier to retire when you expected to. But why stop there? This approach can let you retire years earlier than you ever thought possible!
Blow Up the Retirement Money Equation Altogether!
I’ll use my brother Tom to illustrate this. He worked as a computer tech at a community college in Morris County, NJ for two decades. It sounds like he would be all set. Unfortunately, that is a very expensive place to live. And state budget cuts resulted in budget cuts at the college, along with pay freezes and other fun stuff. As a result, even though he was working full time, money kept getting tighter and tighter.
What about his retirement? What about that annoying equation? When we looked at this, he was only 52. He had a long time to go before retiring, but the numbers didn’t look good. It seemed that Tom would be one of the tens of millions of Americans for whom a comfortable retirement would be out of reach. It looked like he would have to join the folks on the “work your ass off and hope your pension plus Social Security will be enough to live on someday” plan.
But that didn’t take into account the Live Here, Retire There approach. I was already living in Ecuador at the time. Tom had visited me here and liked what he saw. He had also just recently reached the 20-year milestone at work. That meant he was eligible for early retirement at a reduced pension. This wasn’t an option he could consider if he stayed in the USA.
So we ran the Retirement Money Equation using his early retirement pension and my cost of living for Ecuador. Those numbers worked nicely. In other words:
- He could keep working, keep scrimping, and keep praying that he could pay his bills for another 13 years. Then pray that his pension plus Social Security would be enough when the time arrived. Or…
- He could retire right then, move to Ecuador, and live comfortably the rest of his life.
Not surprisingly, he filed for early retirement shortly thereafter, got his Ecuadorean residency, and left all the ugly stuff behind him.
Let that sink in for a minute. Because Tom was willing to think outside the box and apply geoarbitrage to his own life, he was able to retire 13 years early.
Live Here, Retire There let’s you blow up the Retirement Money Equation. A better retirement (and freer tomorrow) is in your future!
Now moving to another country certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you want a better retirement, or if you just can’t make the Retirement Money Equation balance think about this approach. Even moving to a less expensive part of your own country could make the difference between a comfortable retirement and eating cat food in a shack during your golden years.
Is it Hard to Do?
This approach can be very easy to use. Your pension will normally follow you wherever you move within a country. So you could, for example, work in New York City until you retire, then move to someplace like South Dakota, where the cost of living is much lower.
NOTE: I don’t know the exact rules that apply to your retirement income. You need to confirm the details for your specific situation before retiring to someplace far away and discovering that your retirement income can’t follow you there.
Where things can get tricky is if you want to retire to a different country than the one where you earned your pension.
How Changing Countries Affects the Live Here Retire There Approach
There is usually no problem getting access to your pension money or savings when you are living in the same country as your accounts. But that may not be the case if you want to retire outside the country where you earned your retirement.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you specific advice because the rules vary depending on the source of your income, as well as the country you are starting out from and the country you end up in. What I can tell you is that who your income comes from and what your exact residency status is, could affect whether or not you can receive it while living outside your home country. For example:
- People who get their pensions from non-governmental sources will probably have no problems.
- People who get their pensions from governmental sources and give up their home country citizenship might forfeit their pensions.
- People who have their savings or retirement accounts in their home country banks might be hit with charges to move money to another country. These kinds of currency controls are becoming more and more common around the world. Here in Ecuador, taking money out of the country hits you with a tax (3%? 5%? I’m not really sure).
- People whose home country uses a different currency than their retirement country will be at risk due to exchange rates. I have retired friends who are Canadian and get paid in Canadian dollars. But we use the US dollar here in Ecuador. So my friends have to change their money before they can spend it. Now the value of the Canadian dollar is down sharply against the US dollar. These friends are still getting their same pensions as before in their home currency. But their pensions buy them far fewer US dollars than they did a year ago, leaving them less money to spend here.
US Citizens, FATCA, and the Live Here, Retire There Approach
I’ve touched on this topic before, but if you are a US citizen, the law called FATCA makes following this approach much harder. The law has made it much harder to find a non-US bank that will open an account for US citizens. It also imposes extra reporting requirements with brutal penalties for non-compliance or even for making a simple mistake filling out a form. As a result, many US retirees will be better off simply leaving all their money in the USA and using ATMs or wire transfers to get money as needed. The ATM fees and wire transfer fees and exchange rate risks hurt, but allow you to avoid the problems caused by FATCA.
Pros of This Approach
Here’s your quick summary of the benefits of the Live Here, Retire There geoarbitrage approach:
- You can have a better quality of life in your retirement years
- You can use it to make the Retirement Money Equation balance
- You might be able to retire early, even way early
Cons of This Approach
While the financial benefits of this approach are clear, there are some non-financial drawbacks:
- You need to move someplace new at a time in your life when change is harder
- You may have to move far from friends and family
- Governments often make this harder than it needs to be
Wrapping it Up
In my experience, the Live Here, Retire There approach to geoarbitrage is the most commonly used approach. It is one of the few ways that people can improve or even maintain their standard of living after retiring in high-cost places like the USA or Europe. If you are approaching retirement age, this is definitely something you should consider too. You can’t be freer tomorrow if you can’t afford to live after retirement!
Geoarbitrage is a strange word. It doesn’t appear in any dictionary I’ve seen, but it is used a lot in certain circles. In this short post, I’ll give you a usable definition of the term and show you why it can be a key to your freer tomorrow. This will set the stage for the following posts. There we will look at the different aspects of geoarbitrage in more detail.
What the Heck is Geoarbitrage?
Geoarbitrage is a “blend word,” made up of two words combined together, like brunch (breakfast + lunch), or spork (spoon + fork). It is a blend of the words Geographic, and Arbitrage. Unfortunately, that still doesn’t explain much, so let me give you a good working definition. For our purposes:
Geoarbitrage is taking advantage of the differences in incomes, costs, or investment returns between two or more locations.
Great. So what does that mean?
It means a few different things. Instead of trying to give you formal definitions of different types of geoarbitrage, let me give you some examples:
- Getting paid as if you were living in an expensive location while actually living someplace much less expensive. (The “Live Here, Earn There” approach)
- Getting the pension of a worker living in an expensive location while actually living someplace much less expensive. (The “Live Here, Retire There” approach)
- Hiring someone from a lower-paid location to do things for you that would cost much more if you paid someone to do them locally.
- Earning money in one location and saving or investing it in a location where it can get much higher returns.
How Can Geoarbitrage Make Me Freer Tomorrow?
Seeing the examples above has probably given you an idea of how this can make you freer, but let’s be sure it is clear. You can use geoarbitrage to take advantage of the differences between locations to get more benefit than you would get if you did everything in one place.
In example 1, your paycheck goes farther in a place where the cost of living is lower. You are not getting paid any more than before, but you can buy much more for that same amount of money. The leverage you get can be enormous. I used to pay $1400/mo. for a nice 2-bedroom apartment in the USA. Now I pay $390/mo. for a nice 3-bedroom house in Ecuador.
Example 2 works the same as example 1, except you are living on a pension rather than a paycheck. This has been the salvation of vast numbers of retirees from North America and Europe. A pension that would leave you sleeping on someone’s couch in those areas can support a nice lifestyle in many locations around the world.
Example 3 shows that you don’t have to pick up and move to South America or Southeast Asia to take advantage of geoarbitrage. Big companies have been outsourcing work to lower-paid places like India for years. Now regular folks like you and me can do this too. A competent, inexpensive personal assistant may be just what you need to achieve your freedom dreams.
Example 4 is another area where you can benefit without having to leave your homeland. If you are from Europe, Australia, or pretty much anywhere other than the United States of America, there are many banks all around the world that will hold your money for you. And with none of that negative interest rates crap either. Many banks in Ecuador, for example, pay more than 6% interest on insured accounts. And there are places that pay much more than that.
If you’re from the good old USA, taking advantage of this kind of offshore banking is much harder. Uncle Sam’s FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) law has caused most banks in the world to stop dealing with US citizens completely. It is still possible to find a bank that will work with you, but the cost, hassles, and extra tax paperwork (complete with brutal penalties for any mistakes) may make this impractical for you.
That’s my introduction to geoarbitrage. In coming posts I will go into more detail on the subject, including showing you how I use it to give myself a far better and freer life than I could otherwise lead.