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retirement and rrsps

Sechelt inlet. Because the Sunshine Coast is only a 40-minute ferry ride from West Vancouver, it's become an easy option for anyone who wants to get away from urban living and live on the ocean at a relatively affordable price. The area is popular with retirees looking to live in small communities such as Sechelt and Lund, with easy access to surrounding islands and a temperate climate. The region is known as an artist enclave, as well as a draw for nature lovers into boating, hiking and walks along the beach.Getty Images/iStockphoto

In our Living in Retirement blog, a recent retiree chronicles the ups and downs of her real-life retirement journey.

When my first friend moved away from the Toronto area twenty years ago, I wasn't certain why. When my second friend left two years ago, I decided to consider if retiring in a small town would be right for me.

Barbara Ledger, now 59, set out for Sechelt on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast in 2012. We'd taught together for 25 years at Sheridan College and no one was more surprised than me when Barbara and her significant other, Jim Buttonshaw, both sold their houses in the greater Toronto area and moved in together. But not in Ontario. Instead they purchased a beautiful new home directly facing the ocean. Their 2,800 square foot house, which they purchased for $650,000, was brand new and a stone's throw from the water's edge.

The housing market on the Sunshine Coast has since slowed, but Barbara and Jim believe they purchased at the bottom of the market and they are staying put. "We did really well on real estate in Ontario and it allowed us to buy exactly what we wanted in B.C," says Jim. It's a 10-minute walk into town, there's a hospital with a new wing, they've secured a family physician and on a clear day they can see Vancouver Island from the window of their great room.

Yet there are downsides to moving. Barbara has family in Vancouver but Jim left his entire family back in Ontario. Barbara left her friends and it hasn't been easy to start up new friendships in a completely untried environment. "We both had successful careers where we connected with our friends. When you move far away, you're starting from scratch," Barbara says. "If you're extroverted, it would be easier," she adds.

A forty-minute ferry ride from Vancouver is how Sechelt promotes itself, but Barbara, who travels regularly to the city to visit her kids and grandkids, admits that it's actually a day trip at best and an overnight trip most of the time. "If shopping is your passion, Sechelt isn't the place to be," she says.

Now that Barbara and Jim are sharing one home, their living expenses have decreased considerably, but prices aren't much less on the Sunshine Coast than they were in Toronto. Although there are fewer restaurant and theatre bills, they still operate two cars and there are always expenses related to occupying a new home.

Along with revelling in the natural environment on the Sunshine Coast, Barbara and Jim, are also poster children for the joys of early retirement. Jim missed retiring on his 55 birthday by four days. The couple confirms that being diligent savers during their working lives made it all possible. Plus Barbara accumulated a healthy Ontario college teacher's pension and received a small inheritance from her mother. Jim, who was a computer programmer, benefited from a long-time financial adviser who guided him to an early retirement.

I wouldn't conclude that re-locating to B.C. has been easy for Barbara. But she and Jim are committed to making it work, both financially and socially.

My childhood friend, 62-year-old Sheryl Davies, left Toronto and returned to her hometown of Windsor, Ontario 20 years ago. Sheryl and her husband John Liedtke, who moved to a spacious home on Victoria Avenue - often considered the best street in town, think it was the best decision of their lives. They vacated a 42nd floor apartment in Leaside, an upper middle-class Toronto neighbourhood, four years after their only child was born.

"We were orphans in Toronto," says Sheryl, who was born and raised in Windsor. "We found our community immediately in Windsor; we had neighbours who knew who we were."

Their career plans took off in Windsor. Sheryl owns and operates The Wedding Guide for Windsor and Essex County and together the couple organize the Bluesfest International music festival. Neither plan to retire early, but both believe that Windsor is a great choice for retirees who wish to continue working part time or volunteering.

I was curious about what it's like to return to the town that's been getting bad press since the auto industry hit the skids. "Our friends left in the early seventies," Sheryl says. "White collar left, but blue collar stayed. Now some are starting to return, to see Windsor as the splendid retirement destination it is."

Modest house prices are the biggest advantage for retirees moving to Windsor. If I sold my 895-square foot Toronto condo for about $450,000, my partner and I could buy a fully renovated 3,000 square foot plus home on one of the loveliest tree-lined streets in town for $350,000 or we could settle in the surrounding countryside where luxurious new homes are priced at about $300,000. Some even have views of Lake Erie or Lake St. Clair. And there would be cash left over for investing or decorating or travel.

The issue for me is, I like the Toronto area. Not so much living in a cramped condo and not directly in my downtown neighbourhood where most of the population is below 35, but I enjoy teaching at the college, having lunch with my publisher and nurturing the friendships that have matured over 25 years.

I also like being able to attend readings at the International Author's Festival or shopping at the Queen Street Hudson's Bay. Most of all, I like the people, friends and family, who are so engaging that I can't imagine being more than one hour away for them. Okay two hours, if you count for the traffic.

"A small town like Sechelt wouldn't work for you," my friend Barbara says. "You're just not suited for it." As usual, she's right.

In my next blog I'll explore other options to owning a condo, such as renting in Toronto, since moving from the Toronto area doesn't appear to be the best solution for me, no matter how gorgeous the view or inexpensive the real estate.