Sage: Husband is concerned about major move to sunbelt without plan

Dear Sage:


My Dear Bride of 40 years has been scouring the Internet for our retirement mecca and has decided that she wants to move to a small town in Louisiana that’s on a little lake and that is known for having two attractive parks, a dozen nice restaurants, and very low taxes. It was on one of the countless best-places-to-retire lists, this one created by some website that I’ve never heard of that probably picked the only ten places it had photos of.


We are both water rats, having grown up on lakes in the Midwest, but our lakes are not part of a state that has 2 million alligators! Nevertheless, she’s convinced that this is our new Shangri-la. I, however, am far from persuaded, and am concerned that this could turn into a fiasco – way too abrupt a departure after decades in the same area of Minnesota. My thought would be to keep the moving van outside our new place for a week in case we have to turn right around and come back to our familiar surroundings. Better yet, I have encouraged her to rent down there for a year or for a few months and see if we like the area, but she thinks that would be a waste of money. She tells me to trust her intuition. Would you?


                                                                                                         • Cold Feet in Minnesota


Dear Cold Feet:


   The Sage suspects that you are not the only person to have cold feet in Minnesnowta, and he can certainly see why your wife yearns for warmer weather. However, he will not get in the middle of this disagreement, as he prefers not to become lunch for either the alligators or the Minnesota Vikings.

   However, given that the Vikings’ teeth are smaller and less sharp, he would tend to side with whichever one of you is preaching prudence, patience, research and many visits to your possible new love nest. Clearly he is going to play this one right down the middle. So …

   Any such move – including ones from one retirement spot to another – can be stressful, let alone one to a place that neither of you has even visited. So let’s start with three very basic questions:

   • How flexible is your financial situation? Will you be able to reverse course if alligators take up residence on your back porch and you’d even be willing to walk back to Minnesota to get out of there?

   • Are you both healthy enough for such a move? The Sage always recommends conservative medical vigilance – get thorough physicals and make sure that your blood pressure, other vitals and overall health will likely enable you to endure the rigors and emotional challenges of uprooting yourselves into a whole new life.

   • Finally, and this, too, is absolutely critical. If you have no or very little social support in your new area, you would do well to build quite a bit of it before you move. Think of all the conveniences, comforts and psychological backing that you have now. All your friends? Family? Your own doctors, dentists, accountants, clerics, hairdressers and grocers? Most important, your coffee shop (will you have to put 10 Equals into a small cup of java to make it palatable in your next town)? Oh, and not unimportant for many, will you be able to find a trusted wine expert at your local store, or – most essential to the Sage -- your brand of peanut butter at the supermarket?

   Think, think, think about your social life. Will you really be able to leave all these loved ones and live to tell about it? Be realistic! How will you feel if your closest pals in the new community turn out to be your upstairs condo neighbors -- a manic couple who dance the Hakke Toone on thin oak floors in their Dutch wooden clogs every morning between 1 and 4 a.m. – and entertain you by day with nonstop political musings proving that they’ve remained faithful to the principles forged during the Inquisition?

   Now … be honest. Is there enough to do in the new area? Do attractions and events fit your lifestyle? If you’re a sports enthusiast, will you have access to pro or college athletics? Will you be able to swim (or kayak) without alligators? Hike or play tennis? Two parks does not a retirement place make. Even Stooped Geezer, Oklahoma, probably has a couple of parks, or a few interesting statues, or a pond, or a museum, or a model railroad exhibit, but you won’t spend 24 hours a day at any of these places. Will you have to drive 500 miles every weekend for social stimulation?

   If you are going to move anywhere, The Sage strongly suggests that you already have at least a basic social structure well before you leave. Visit your new place multiple times, including trips at the worst time of year for heat (or cold, if you are so inclined!). Talk to people in stores, restaurants, places of worship, coffee shops and elsewhere, to start.  Can you see yourself mingling seamlessly with this crowd? Ditto if you have your heart set on a neighborhood or a 55-plus active retirement community. You want to feel right at home.

   It is also a good idea to meet with people who participate in the same activities that interest you AND those that interest your significant other. That could be a golf club, mah-jong, bridge, bingo, a boating club or a church group. Greet people who are already there and talk to them in person. Get their names and stay in touch with them as you continue your research. If they remain in contact and make you feel welcome, that’s a good start. And be certain that friendliness is genuine – don’t deceive yourself or rationalize a bad choice.

   Another stressful aspect of a move is the medical one. Is there a good local hospital? Who will become your doctor and dentist? Get recommendations from residents and contact these medical professionals to make sure they are seeing new patients and that they will accept your insurance. And find out how to transfer any medications to a new pharmacy. All of these will relieve some of the anxiety of the move.

   You should feel a strong sense of home culturally, emotionally, psychologically and, even, politically. If the political makeup is 5,000 of them and 1 of you, well, you’ll have to talk to yourself if you feel that everyone else comes from Mars.

   Visit your place of worship as well. Does it feel right? Or would you be afraid that your photo would end up on the cover of the next weekend’s bulletin with a caption that asks, “Is THIS what we’ve come to???” You will be able to tell quickly – try a church social and make sure that any spiritual sense of benevolence is not a charming anachronism, followed by a demolition derby and loud horn-honking by people jockeying to get the hell out of the parking lot.

   If you feel out of place, well, better to know now and avoid an unnecessary debacle, not to mention financial Armageddon. At the very least, you could end up stuck in a place you hate with no option but to stay and try to make the best of it somehow.

   The Sage wishes you well. Don’t find yourselves up to your necks in alligators – or Minnesota Vikings!

   Humbly Yours,

   The Sage