by Tom Bunker
My name is Tom Bunker and I was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1948. I met and married Marcia there in 1973. She was born at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi and had moved around a lot because her father was a career Army officer. A veteran of WWII and Korea, he retired to Wisconsin as a full colonel with 30 years of service.
Marcia had recently graduated from nursing school and earned her RN license. She was working in a hospital and I was a factory worker. These were days when there still a lot of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and a high school diploma would get you a job.
Shortly after we married, I was wanting to get a better job and talking about going back to school. With Marcia’s support and encouragement, I enrolled in the University of WI and obtained a BS in electrical engineering. After graduation, I took a job in Beloit, WI, where we lived until 1984.
We were both sick of the frozen wasteland that is Wisconsin and longed for warmer climes. I was thinking of Florida, but Marcia suggested California. I had never been there and knew nothing about it. After vacationing there, I accepted a job in southern CA. So we moved to Orange County.
Shortly before we moved, we had developed an interest in sailing and I signed up for lessons and joined a group where we could rent 30 ft. sailboats by the day. We became very active sailors and rented mostly out of Newport Beach, CA.
After gaining sailing experience and reading everything I could find about boats, sailing, cruising, and living on boats, we bought a Tayana 37 ft. cutter-rigged boat that had been cruised extensively.
A few months later, we made our first unconventional move when we moved aboard our boat in the Los Angeles Harbor. This was our first major downsizing and we sold almost everything, but made the mistake of putting many items into storage. After a couple years of paying storage fees and never using or even seeing any of the items we could not part with, we cleared out the unit and sold, donated, or disposed of the remaining items.
In 1993 we moved the boat to Ventura, CA when I accepted a new job. In 1995, after 9 years living aboard, we moved ashore and sold the boat. When we moved into an apartment, we bought 2 lawn chairs and borrowed an air mattress to get started. We started acquiring things again and eventually bought a house a year later.
Our years of simple living allowed us to save a lot of money and kept us from going into the maximum debt for which we qualified. We had long since also stopped buying new cars, and would buy late model used cars and keep them for a long time. We have no children. So with two good incomes, we were able to maximize our 401K and IRA plans and still live comfortably.
We also like to travel and have been to many locations in the U.S. as well as Spain (twice), Switzerland, Australia, Thailand, Costa Rica, Bahamas (many times), and Mexico (many times).
My job also took me to Norway and Japan. Living comfortable lives in the economic bubble of soaring portfolios and housing values, we retired early at age 57 and started living on our savings and 401K plans. Two years after the bubble burst, we faced the fact that we couldn’t afford to maintain our lifestyle. We had cut back as much as possible, stopped traveling, and still had too many fixed expenses — the greatest, by far, health insurance.
We considered moving to Mexico because we were familiar with it and always enjoyed traveling there. But the escalation in the drug war violence was starting to involve too many innocent by-standers. I started investigating Costa Rica, reading everything I could find, and joining ARCR (Association of Residents of Costa Rica). Even though we had only been here once, we thought we had a pretty good feel for what we would find. So, we sold our house and cars and sold, donated, or discarded all but 6 suitcase of possessions and, with our 2 cats, moved to Costa Rica. Our destination was a studio apartment near Zarcero that I found on VBRO.com.”