The grass is greener outside of the Golden State. That’s the message from other states that are trying to lure workers and businesses out of California.
Some Califorians are taking advantage of remote work options and exploring to live in other states, where the pace of life is slower and the cost of living is cheaper.
But Christina and Amon Browning from the Bay Area took it one step further by retiring early and moving with their children to Portugal.
Zócalo Public Square commentator Joe Mathews has been talking with the Brownings about their adventure and how they managed to pull it off.
Opinion column by Joe Mathews:
Californians obsess about the sheer number of people leaving our state. But maybe we should worry more about the quality of these departures.
Californians are supposed to dream big. So why do our ambitions get so small when they head for the exits?
Enough with vamoosing to vapid Vegas subdivisions. Cool down before you sign a lease in hot Phoenix. Think twice before taking a mortgage on that house in Houston. If you’re going to depart a state as fabulous as ours, why not make your leaving a fantastic triumph?
Amon and Christina Browning can show you how.
Two years ago, entering their 40s, the Brownings retired and left the state with their two teenage daughters. Their destination: Portugal and a lifestyle that rivals California’s at a much lower price.
The Brownings documented their move on their YouTube channel “Our Rich Journey,” fueling fantasies of flight among Californians, including this columnist. When I reached out to the couple, I learned that nothing was ever so Californian as their leaving it.
Amon, an urban planner, and Christina, a lawyer, met at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Christina grew up in Stockton. Amon’s family moved around the East Bay. And at one point, they were homeless.
Growing up without wealth made the Brownings take finances seriously. And when they returned to the Bay Area a decade ago after stints in San Diego and overseas, they embraced the FIRE movement (“Financial Independence Retire Early”) and made a plan to retire in 10 years.
To achieve it, they saved relentlessly (70% of their income), added income through side hustles (including Uber and Lyft driving), and bought run-down homes, fixing them up as they lived in them, before selling them. They hit their financial target two years early.
“I don’t think we would have been able to make as much money and be as successful on our journey if we weren’t in California,” says Amon.
HOW WE RETIRED AT 39 | Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) https://t.co/udCxqEnE6t via @YouTube WE DID IT!!!! We achieved FI and retired today at age 39 and 41!!!! #financialindependencescream #financialindependence #FIREmovement #retireearly #FinancialFreedom #debtfree pic.twitter.com/o8Dk5kHzl4— Our Rich Journey (@ourrichjourney) August 8, 2019
If they were going to stay in the United States, they would have remained in California. But their money could go further elsewhere, and they wanted to live overseas.
Portugal offered similarly amazing weather but with less crime (it’s the world’s third safest country). Lisbon also tops rankings of the best cities for raising children, and the Brownings say schools there feel more welcoming than American high schools. Portugal is healthier too, with an average lifespan four years longer than America’s and cheap universal health care.
Amon and Christina have marveled at how their neighbors embraced COVID vaccinations, making Portugal one of the most vaccinated countries on earth.
And the housing is much cheaper. After renting for a year to study the market and establish residency, they bought a house on Portugal’s central coast, not far from the beach, for 190,000 Euros (about $220,000 USD).
Even as they grow their YouTube channel, create online financial classes, and make media appearances, including on “Good Morning America,” the Brownings are enjoying retirement. They have more time for their children, for themselves, and for trips around Europe.
“It’s this very relaxed environment, peace of mind. You don’t feel like you’re looking over your shoulder,” says Christina.
The Brownings are African American, and friends often ask how race is shaping their European experience. Their answer is that Lisbon is diverse, and they feel comfortable.
“When I’m in California, when I’m in the United States, I have to be conscious of race wherever I go,” says Amon. “I’ve never had a problem here, or a bad interaction with people here.”
Life in Portugal isn’t perfect. Learning Portuguese is harder than they thought. And they miss family, friends, and their home state’s unmatchable culinary diversity (especially Mexican and Chinese food).
The Brownings say they love California and will continue to visit as much as possible. They could eventually become bicoastal, splitting their time between the west coasts of Portugal and the Golden State.
“We couldn’t see ourselves living in any other state,” Christina says. “We positioned ourselves where we could leave, experience what it’s like in another place, and then go back if we couldn’t handle being away from California.”
After all, the perfect California departure is one that leaves the door open for a return.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.