Why You Should Totally Start Designing Your Retirement Home in Your 30s

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A few months ago, while my husband and I were on vacation in Maine, he told me he needed to talk about something serious. I braced myself: We’re mulling over a whole bunch of adult decisions, so I was ready for a heavy talk about values and cost-benefit analysis. 

But he surprised me. In between burrito bites, he laid out his grand plan:

“I think we need to be thinking about our retirement home,” he explained. This was definitely not what I was expecting to hear. “We know we want to retire here, and if I can pull a certain salary in my next job, we can start socking money away faster. I figure if we both start hustling now, we can actually buy it before we need it in 30 years.”

He kept peppering me with questions. “What do you want out of a retirement home? Do you want to be by the beach, or more inland? How big do you think it should be?” he asked. Clearly, he’d given this a lot of thought. 

I, on the other hand, had not—at all. I had just gotten past the “I’m exhausted and I want something to look forward to,” reward mentality of my mid-20s. Since my husband is a bit older than I am (he’s Gen X), he’s had more time to practice his financial patience. His M.O.? “Assuming that there’ll always be money in the future isn’t a strategy.” He’s helped me realize that yes, while Millennials are still recovering from the 2008 recession and suffering from the rising cost of living, meeting similar financial goals as previous generations isn’t impossible. With a good strategy and savings habits, we still have time to catch up.

As he and I continued to talk about this future home, we discovered we both want to be by the water—keeping an eye on rising ocean levels, and the potentially high tax costs on coastal properties. He wants a view; I want the sound of the waves and the smell of salt water. There will be hardwood floors and light furniture, with a beachy-chic aesthetic. He wants plenty of space for grown kids and guests. We’re both in a city now, so quiet will be a welcome relief. We want neighbors and access to food and fun—but not to be too close to the action (Maine is terrific in this respect).

We both want to age in place as long as we can, taking a hint from Baby Boomers. We won’t want a ton of stairs and floors. Instead, I’d love a high-ceilinged ranch-style house, with long, expansive rooms and an open floor plan. Our interest in a hot tub dovetails with the need for railings and steps in the bathroom for accessibility. Being near a good hospital will be key.  

The more we discuss it, the more tangible of a goal it becomes. We even send each other actual house listings. What started as seemingly random talk has literally revolutionized the way I think about expenses. To make this dream retirement home—one built with all our real estate goals in mind—a reality, we have to start planning and saving now. Thankfully, we’ve been able to put together a concrete, 30+ year plan to follow. Yes, it’s a long, bird’s eye view of our life together, but since we have so long to go, we don’t even have to change our lifestyles all that much in the meantime to achieve it. We just have to do small things here and there, like opening a savings account dedicated to this goal at some point or saying “no” to a few purchases.

I’ve found that since I’m able to visualize our future home, I’m motivated again and again to keep saving, and striving, for this shared vision of ours. Whenever I feel the “I deserve a treat” mentality crawl into my thinking, I find it easier to say no to whatever I’m yearning for and yes to my future home. Not now, I remind myself. But someday

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