Retire in FranceI’m a sixty two year old ex-pat Englishman living in an old house (which I am restoring) on an estuary in western France, I am also in the process of renovating an old 1960’s classic sailing boat. My life and my boat restoration activities are the subjects of two blogs which I try to keep up to date ‘Frugal Living in France’ and ‘Simple Sailing Low Cost Cruising’. I play blues guitar (rather badly). I should also say that I retired from mainstream, full time work about sixteen months ago. Since then my interests have focused on a simple prime aim, to develop a Champagne lifestyle on a Brown Ale income. How best to make use of time (of which I have plenty) to replace money (of which I have somewhat less than previously) to obtain the best possible quality of life?

I think I’m getting there but it hasn’t always been an easy road and some of the lessons I learned took some understanding. When I left full-time paid employment I told colleagues I was going to sit under a tree and sip wine. How naive can you get? In truth any attempt at an alternative lifestyle takes more time and energy than you would imagine. If its comfort you want then stay in the centrally heated, salaried luxury of mainstream living for as long as you can. Personally, I wouldn’t go back there for all the tea in China. The starting point for me was to understand just how lucky we are:

  1. no previous generation has ever been able to retire with the financial benefits available to us and forecasts suggest no subsequent generation will be so economically blessed;
  2. no previous generation has been able to look forward to such a long retirement. Our life expectancy is much greater than any generation before us. Subsequent generations will be expected to work much longer;
  3. no earlier generation has been so free thinking and liberated. We are boomers remember, children of the post war world, adolescents of the 1960s, we never did what was expected then and there is no evidence that we will start now;

But retirement can be a double edged sword. On the one hand you have the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it. On the other hand, your job, your status and maybe even your identity has been taken away. Last year you were a senior member of a company, a teacher or a public servant. This year, you’re just another old guy walking down the high street on a Thursday morning. How do you cope with that?

Retire in FranceIt’s not enough to think that you will fill your time doing those things that you used to enjoy at the weekend. Pastimes such as golf or tennis can never fill the gap that the loss of identity, status and employment had created for you. Life shouldn’t be about passing time.

So, the trick is to prepare and plan for new activities that will allow you to maintain self-respect. These activities must be important to you. In short, you need a project or two; something that matters, something that gets you out of bed in the morning, something that drives you – something that you can feel passionate about. When you find that, you’ll also find that the weekend golf or tennis is enjoyable again – as a fun activity, not a job replacement strategy.

So, how does it work for me? Well, although I stopped working for the man sixteen months ago, I haven’t yet managed to describe myself as ‘retired’. I downsized my house and bought two other houses, one in the UK which I rent out. The other, here in France, is my home. I bought it in need of renovation and I’m still digging trenches, hammering, plastering, plumbing and painting – skills I have had to learn.

As for the boat, well, I’m renovating her too. And there is a sense of urgency because I want to launch her within the next few months so I can get some serious cruising done this year. In truth, when you add the vegetable garden and the hens into the equation, I’m probably working harder now than when I had a full time job but the rewards are greater and more tangible too.

I used to describe myself as a Civil Servant – now I’m a self-employed property developer, boat-builder, blues guitarist and hen keeper, not really retired but in receipt of a good pension – and happier than I have ever been. If you ever find yourself in a small town called Plouer sur Rance, look me up. Maybe we’ll find time to sit under a tree for a while.

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