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Don’t get excited faithful readers… this how we moved to Italy story isn’t about Gary and I. Recently, I met an amazing woman, Brandy Shearer. We both giggle a bit because neither one of us can recall exactly how we met! We are guessing it might through a Facebook group about Italy or perhaps she found us from our blog. Regardless, she is a new friend, former fellow New Yorker, and blogger – I’d love for you to meet her.
Brandy and I have spoken on the phone from her home near the French and Italian Alps in Northern Italy. I enjoyed hearing the apps, (three-wheeled little trucks) you see all across Italy, in the background when we chatted. They make a very distinctive sound and it brought a smile to my face during our conversation.
Brandy in Sardinia, 2018
During our recent survey, several of our readers asked us to include some posts or interviews about people who have made the move to Italy. We listened. Here is the first in what we hope will be many guest posts to follow.Hope you enjoy her story – Ilene
How We Moved to Italy in our 40’s Without Jobs
Nice to meet you, I’m Brandy Shearer! Dual American Italian citizen, Author of ALOR.blog, and wife of Italian American photographer and artist Paolo Ferraris. Ilene asked me to share a bit about our story because in our mid-40s we just moved to Italy, without jobs. I’m proud to say, it isn’t as difficult or as impossible as you might think. For us, it all came down to trust, mobility, and flexibility.
Two years after Paolo and I met in New York City we said our “I do’s” overlooking Central Park in front of 29 of our closest family and friends. Not long after we threw caution (and our careers) to the wind. Which is why our story starts with trust.
As a Producer for HBO, Programming Director for Food Network, and eventually the Executive Producer for Discovery Digital Studios my work, quite literally, began killing me. By the age of 38 stress had manifested itself into daily chest pains.
One morning Paolo looked at me and said “You look like you’re headed to war, not work.” At his urging, we took a vacation to Costa Rica. Staring out at the ocean a voice inside me said “If you don’t start living for yourself now, it’s going to be too late.”
Moving to Italy Step 1: Trust
It was time to trust myself and walk away from a successful yet highly stressful career. It was also time to trust Paolo. Trust that we could have the life we dreamed of if we worked towards the same goal. A smaller, slower, sweeter life in Italy. After we returned from Costa Rica I took a flying leap into freelance consulting.
Those first two years were terrifying. I didn’t know how to be a consultant, how to get clients, or how to find the right type of work. As my savings dwindled I had to continue to trust myself to figure it out.
Step 2: Mobility
I stuck with it because I knew being a consultant meant my “home office” could be anywhere in the world including Italy. Two years into freelancing, I had learned to leverage my experience in content marketing and production and established a remote client base.
Soon after, Paolo began working with me as a photographer on a few projects. For the first time, we saw a glimpse of the possibilities ahead. In time, our mobility and the freedom it gave us made us start thinking differently. We began asking ourselves better questions. Questions like, what’s keeping us here?
With an office to report to daily no longer being the answer, we quickly realized the answer was too much stuff and not enough savings. First, we focused on increasing our mobility by getting rid of the stuff that held us back. We sold, donated, or threw away nearly everything we owned.
The second step was our biggest expense, housing. Although we hated to leave Manhattan, we knew a month overlooking the ocean cost less than the view of our air shaft. We packed our bags and let go of being New Yorkers.
As our mobility increased so did our savings. One day I asked Paolo “How much is enough?” Meaning how much did we need as a couple to move to Italy and retire? After closely monitoring every penny we spent for the next two years, Paolo could forecast what we needed to retire in our 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. With those three scenarios laid out in front of us, we were able to answer the question “how much is enough.”
Step 3: Flexibility
For Paolo and I, the difference between moving to Italy in our 40s and our 60s came down to a simple formula. Earned minus spent equals saved. In order to move to Italy in our 40’s, we opted for short term sacrifice for long term gain.
This is where our mantra Earn American, Live Italian comes in. Every choice we made went through this filter. In our first year of planning for our move to Italy, we reduced our cost of living and increased our annual savings by over $30,000. Over the next few years, we continued to reduce our cost of living and found we could live on a fraction of what we made.
We had a secret lifestyle of living vastly below our means. Our clients never knew we ran our business out of a small apartment. No one knew we shared a car we had paid for in cash or knew I cut my own hair or that Paolo’s Mac was 15 years old.
No one knew because outside of our family and a few close friends, we didn’t share our private lives. There was no pressure or temptation to keep up with the Joneses. FOMO had nothing on us. We had a plan and each day, we got closer and closer to Italy.
We broke the news in 2019 that we would be moving to Italy in March of 2020. Now, I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, that COVID came into play for our move. Our original flight to Italy was canceled about the same time our clients called to put our contracts on hold.
For many years, I felt we were behind in life. We were in our mid-40s and had no kids, no pets and we had never bought a home. When COVID hit, our trust in each other, mobility, and flexibility is what allows us to move to Italy without jobs. That and a little luck thanks to Paolo catching an article in an Italian newspaper that lead to us catching a repatriation flight to Italy.
While our story is unique to us, trust, mobility, and flexibility are key for anyone considering a big life change. Paolo and I chose to live a smaller lifestyle early on, so we could have our freedom sooner. While how much money you need to retire in Italy is personal there is one universal truth. Making more and spending less means retiring sooner.
Since how much you make and how much you save are the two biggest factors in determining when you can retire, there really is no magic number I can share. If you have a dream to move to Italy and find answering the question “how much is enough?” daunting, try reading “How Much is Enough” by Arun Abey & Andrew Ford or using a free financial planning tool like Personal Capitals Retirement Planner. Let’s just say if yachting or polo is your thing, you’re going to need a lot more than a million dollars to retire. If enjoying good conversation over wine and cheese sounds good, then Italy just might be the place for you.
Barbara Dale WinshurstAugust 27, 2020 at 9:02 am
Great post Brandy & Ilene. There is nothing in your “living small” plan that I do not find attractive. Will be following your new life.
imodicaAugust 27, 2020 at 10:37 am
Thanks Barb for the comment. Will be following her too!