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‘We’re dreaming of a new life’: My wife and I have $2.5 million saved. We’re in our

I grew up poor and in an unstable environment as a result of my parents’ serial divorces. I started saving at 16 as a direct result of the financial instability of my youth, and my wife and I have been able to build what most of the world would describe as a small fortune through diligent saving and investing. I recently left a job, and my wife is unsatisfied with hers. 

We are 47 and 45 and we’re dreaming of a new life. We are both looking for work, but we are also considering leaving the workforce for volunteer roles or expatriating ourselves to a Latin American country.

We have $1.5 million in our IRA accounts, $1 million in our brokerage accounts, a home with $400,000 in equity, $100,000 in cash and no other debt. In the next five years we expect to receive $200,000 from an estate sale. We do not have children and do not plan to have any.  We have a few years until we can access our IRAs without penalties, and we plan to draw down our balances later in life.

We have used the Marketwatch Retirement Planner, which indicates that we could retire now if we can lower our spending to $90,000 per year. The math seems to work even if we take the 10% early withdrawal penalty on our tax-deferred accounts.

We love the idea of moving to a beach town in a Latin American country, learning Spanish and immersing ourselves in a new culture. What do you think? Have we reached a point where we can hit the beach, or do we need to work another five or 10 years?

Dreaming of Sunsets

Dear Dreaming,

Whether you move to Latin America, Europe or retire close to home, you should at all costs avoid withdrawing money from your IRA before the age of 59½. If you do make early withdrawals, you will incur penalties: The federal government will charge you a 10% penalty, which you’ll pay in addition to any state taxes. You can avoid a penalty if you’re withdrawing to help pay for your first home — although there are limits — or if it’s for certain medical, disability or education expenses, among other reasons.

One of the best parts of retirement — for those who can afford to retire — is the planning and the dreaming. The thought of moving to a Central or South American country with your beloved is a wonderful idea — and you have many countries to choose from. Anyone thinking about retiring overseas should know that many Latin American, European and Asian countries have rules about minimum monthly income for expats. The good news: Your income far exceeds any of those thresholds.

Taking $90,000 a year before taxes on $2.6 million in total liquid assets equates to a 3.46% withdrawal rate, which is below the 4% annual recommended withdrawal rate, but if you factor in income taxes, you may hit that 4% rate, says Cary Carbonaro, senior vice president and director of women and wealth at Advisors Capital Management. And because you are still in your mid-40s, your current projections may need to be revised upwards. The IRS has more details here.

If you want to avoid that aforementioned 10% penalty, you would have to withdraw $90,000 a year from after-tax assets, which equates to a 8.2% withdrawal rate, Carbonaro says. “This is unsustainable over that same time period, regardless of investment returns. This would create quite a bit of risk to your withdrawal strategy, if electing to try to avoid pre-59½ IRA withdrawal penalties, and having full withdrawal access to your retirement funds, in the event you need it.”

Start taking Spanish classes today so you can hit the ground running when the time comes, and don’t sell your home until you are 100% sure that you are happy in your new overseas life. If you have the freedom to choose, you might end up deciding to spend six months or a year in Panama and another six months in Argentina, Mexico or the Dominican Republic. Always go carefully when making decisions that are irreversible — in retirement and in life. 

Ultimately, you can sell your home and likely buy a nice residence for $400,000 in the city or town of your choice — if you decide to buy rather than rent. But if you find yourself jumping through hoops to make this early retirement happen, the answer is in the question: Your job may not always fulfill you, but that’s not a reason to pull the plug just yet. If you cut your expenses now and work five years longer than you planned to, you will be in a better position to retire.

Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas. 

By emailing your questions, you agree to have them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

‘We live a rather lavish lifestyle’: My wife and I are 33, live in New York City and earn $270,000. Can we retire at 55?

I gave my daughter $5,000 for her divorce, but she lashed out when I refused to give her more. When will enough be enough?

‘He wanted nothing to do with me’: I discovered my biological father through Ancestry.com. Am I entitled to a share of his estate?

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