Parades, wine and tapas are high on the Wassermans’ to-do list these days.
Indeed, when I first tried to schedule an interview with the couple — who retired nine months ago to Granada, a culturally rich college town in southern Spain, from Dallas — their response made me laugh: “It’s a big holiday here (Dia de la cruz) with parades and wine and tapas, so we will be ‘engaged.’ ”
Festivities like these — coupled with a rich local history (Granada boasts hundreds of centuries-old buildings, castles and churches, most notably the Alhambra, a breathtaking palace with Islamic decor that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site) and lots of cultural offerings including a plethora of live music and flamenco performances — compelled the couple to move to Granada.
A delicious and affordable culinary scene didn’t hurt: “The tapas is included free with the drinks,” 54-year-old Jiab enthuses. Granada is one of the only places in Spain that still does that, so you can eat and drink well at a restaurant for the euro equivalent of about $10.
Before they retired, Jiab Wasserman was a banker and credit-risk manager, and her husband was a lawyer–turned–economics teacher.
What sealed the deal was the cost of living in Granada. The Wassermans were considering Costa Rica, too, but Jiab and Jim crunched the numbers and determined they could live in Granada for about the same cost. (More on exactly how Jim and Jiab spend their money below.)
So that combined with Granada’s other perks to really set it apart for the couple. “We just fell in love with Granada,” Jiab says. “It’s a really international city, I love its size [250,000 people], it’s really vibrant, and we can walk or take the bus everywhere.”
What do you spend each month? In a typical month, the Wassermans spend a little over $2,400 (not including travel), they say, with their biggest expense being their 800-square-foot apartment that’s about a 15-minute walk from the city center. They live a frugal lifestyle by not having a car (they walk or take the bus everywhere), using a cheaper mobile plan (we talked using WhatsApp, but they also use Vodaphone), and taking advantage of free or low-cost things like free concerts, dances in the public plaza or just hanging out with friends. Jiab notes that it helps that groceries are pretty cheap, and she often makes a meal of the free tapas she gets with her drinks. “We don’t need a lot,” she explains.
• Rent: €1,000 (about $1,120), including utilities and internet access
• Groceries and household items: €450 (about $505)
• Entertainment: €500 (about $560), for going out for drinks or dinner a few times a week and playing tennis
• Health insurance: €180 (about $200), paying for any prescriptions out of pocket, but Jim notes that they are affordable.
• Phone: €30 (about $35)
• Transportation: €40 (about $45), mostly for buses
• Miscellaneous: Occasional expenses include one-off special events, for example, or buying new hiking gear. “Funnily enough, one of our biggest add-ons is stuff related to our two cats, who dislike Spanish litter and hate Spanish cat food, so we go to a particular store to get American stuff,” Jim says.
What’s your biggest splurge? Both agree that it’s travel, but they try to do it as cheaply as possible. Last year, they went to Asia — Jiab is from Thailand — but paid for the flights with credit-card points and then mostly stayed with family. This month they went to Madrid, but took the bus there. They go back to the States about twice a year, and though they rent out their Dallas town house to their son’s friend, he’s agreed to let them stay in the spare room when they come back. The couple say they’ve spent about $14,000 in the last year on travel, which included five international trips and monthly trips to different cities in Spain (which typically run about €50 to €75 a day).
How did you save up to retire early (the Wassermans are both in their 50s)? “We lived way below our means — we didn’t starve, [and] we took family vacations — but we just practiced cutting corners whenever we could,” says Jim.
Though they lived in a good school district (the couple has two sons who are now 22 and 23), they lived in a modest home and didn’t do things to it like renovate the dated kitchen (“I didn’t need shiny new floors, I like old-fashioned cabinets — we didn’t go for the upgrades,” says Jiab.). They also always drove modest used cars and kept them for years (Jim’s last car was a Toyota Scion, and when the handle to the trunk fell off he simply duct-taped it back on and kept driving it).
“We don’t overbuy,” says Jim, who still uses an iPhone 5. “We just buy what we need. … I don’t need the latest bells and whistles and doodads.”
How hard has it been to make new friends? The Wassermans note that Granada has a thriving expatriate community that frequently holds meet-ups, so they easily made friends. “We expats welcome each other,” Jim says. And he adds that locals at first may seem standoffish — enter a restaurant, and they will simply say, “Dime,” which means “Tell me” or “What do you want?” — but once they realize you’re part of the community, “they will welcome you with open arms — and multiword sentences,” Jim jokes.
What’s the deal with health care in Spain? The Wassermans both say they’ve been pleased with the health-care options — Jiab got bronchitis a few months back and says she got in to see a doctor promptly — and the low cost. (International Living notes that private health insurance in Spain will cost about $100 to $150 per month for expats depending on health.) And Spain is known to have one of the best health-care systems in the EU, according to expat information site Expatica.com.
What do you miss most about the U.S.? Jim says he misses the spicy Tex-Mex he used to get in Dallas. “Spanish food is not Mexican food. It does not have picante, does not have spice,” he says, though he notes that it is flavorful in its own way. “When I go back to Texas, that’s what I’m getting.” For Jiab, she misses the easy, free access to tennis. “Paddleball is bigger here,” she says. “It’s not really a tennis community.”
Bo ttom line: The Wassermans love the new pace of their life. “Granada has a way of slowing you down [so that] you’re more present,” says Jim. “Here we walk everywhere, we’re in the moment — the lifestyle means we sit outside, we see people.” Indeed, they’re often without a laptop: When I had a few questions for them last week, they let me know it might take a couple days to answer, then sent me a photo of them in Madrid watching a tennis match with the jolly note: “We are in an important meeting.”