Pretirement story: Making the move to Mexico

Today I am delighted to share the first guest post on It’s a wonderful pretirement story from my good friend, Rebecca Smith Hurd. Rebecca and I are old college buddies who share a craving for exploration and adventure. While I left my fancy corporate job to take care of Pretired Baby, Rebecca decided to bail on her corporate job to move to Mexico. There she found a new life, language, culture, husband and founded All About Puebla, the leading English-language resource on Mexico’s fourth largest city. I hope you enjoy her story! 

Why I Outsourced Myself to Mexico

By Rebecca Smith Hurd

Rebecca and her husband, Pablo

Rebecca and her husband, Pablo

What happens when you realize that your dream job is no longer as dreamy as you’d like it to be? You quit. Or at least that’s what I did back in March 2006, when, after 20 years in journalism, I resigned my post (and gave up a six-figure salary) as an editor of an award-winning national magazine. My departure did not make headlines, but it altered the course of my career—and my life—for good.

At the time, I didn’t think of myself as pretired. After working for two decades in the U.S. media business, I was just plain tiredtired of stressing over deadlines, tired of lying awake at night fretting about possible errors, tired of saying “no” to friends and family because I had professional obligations, and tired of having to, er, strap on a pair to get taken seriously. I needed a break, stat!

So, I took one. I went skiing, ran a 10K, camped out at Coachella, and rafted the whitewaters at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I spent two months using my 37-year-old body instead of my brain, as one colleague observed, and it was fantastic. But it wasn’t enough.

Shortly thereafter, I started freelancing to pay the bills while I figured out what came next. To drum up clients, I printed business cards with the title “word nerd” (because it rhymes with “Hurd” and pretty much sums up my skill set), and I emailed former colleagues. Whenever I didn’t have to go to someone’s office, I worked at my coffee table in my pajamas. I took random afternoons off to run errands or hang out with friends. I drank wine on Tuesday nights. I was, as the saying goes, the boss of me.

But I was also still paying nearly $2,000 per month in San Francisco rent, plus other standard living expenses, which meant I was working as much as ever, occasionally on the weekends. Sigh. This wasn’t the break I needed. Could I afford to take a sabbatical? I couldn’t just do nothing for six months, could I?

Puebla's picturesque Cathedral, located on the city's the main square

Puebla’s picturesque Cathedral, located on the city’s the main square

As the year drew to a close, I flew to Spain to visit a friend—and found the answers. My aha moment came as I was sitting in a bar in Madrid, chatting with him and two other Europeans. Each of them spoke several languages and, as the conversation flowed, it dawned on me that they were using English exclusively for my benefit. You know, me, the stereotypical American who, despite calling herself a “word nerd,” had mastered only one language. So humbling.

I returned to the States in mid-January, determined to become bilingual. I would take that sabbatical and study Spanish! I researched language programs in various countries—and ultimately came up with a plan to spend the last six months of the year in Mexico. I enrolled in the intensive summer program at the Monterey Institute for International Study in California, followed by 16 weeks of immersive study at the Spanish Institute of Puebla. Why these schools? Because they were serious, affordable*, and highly recommended by former students. Beyond that, friends of the family kindly agreed to put me up for free near Monterey, which sealed the deal. That June, I gave up my apartment, put my belongings in storage, and hit the road.

Many of my friends and relatives thought I was taking a huge risk. But they were nonetheless supportive; a few even commended me for being “brave.” Personally, I thought the move made perfect sense: I’d not only get the break from routine that I sorely needed, but also learn a new skill that would make me more marketable as a word nerd. I’d return to San Francisco with a second language on my resume, ready to land my next full-time job. ¡Andale! Sounds entirely practical, right?

A plateful of mole poblano, perhaps Mexico's most iconic dish, which was invented by nuns in Puebla

A plateful of mole poblano, perhaps Mexico’s most iconic dish, which was invented by nuns in Puebla

Except that things didn’t turn out as I’d planned. While spending four months in Mexico’s fourth-largest city, I fell in love with the place and a Poblano. I reached out to a few colleagues in the U.S. to see whether they had any freelance jobs I could do 100% remotely. They did! And so began my pretirement.

Six years later, I’m still in Puebla. I’ve effectively outsourced myself. My husband and I could relocate to the States, but financially we’re better off here. My freelance clients—all of whom are in the U.S.—don’t care where I am, as long as I meet their expectations. I’ve also been able to take on new projects, including minor translations, because I speak English and Spanish. My language investment is paying off.

Lucy the cat asleep on my desk in Rebecca's home office, a near daily occurrence

Lucy the cat asleep on my desk in Rebecca’s home office, a near daily occurrence

What’s more, because my overhead is 30 percent of what it was in San Francisco, I can charge competitive rates (in dollars) and work fewer hours (about 35 per week) than I could otherwise. Of course, I could do more, and I’ve had a few lean months along the way. But the work-life balance is worth it. I now have enough time, flexibility, and mental space to focus on personal projects, such as running a local travel website, putting out a monthly expat newsletter, and writing posts like this one, for my college buddy Pretired Nick.

Best of all, my job is dreamy again, and I’m rarely tired anymore.

*The cost of the 2007 program in Puebla, which included all instruction plus room and board was $100 per month less than my rent in San Francisco.


Thanks for sharing, Rebecca! It’s so inspiring to hear about someone deciding to give up the big salary for a better life! Anyone else considered moving overseas to bring their pretirement dreams closer? Or considering a move to Mexico? Tell us about it in the comments! And be sure to visit All About Puebla to learn about Rebecca’s fascinating city. 

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29 Thoughts on “Pretirement story: Making the move to Mexico

  1. This kind of adventure really impresses me.

    My roots run so deep with family and friends that I cannot imagine moving anywhere else.

    But others were born with wings, I was not.
    No Waste recently posted…Why I’m A Boglehead (Part III)My Profile

    • Thanks for saying so! We’re surrounded by so much of my husband’s family here in Puebla that I can completely understand not wanting to leave home. If we ever do go to the U.S., we will truly miss having such a strong support network so close.

  2. I lived in Mexico (various parts of Baja California) for a month at various host families through the Rotary Group Study Exchange. I really like being immersed in another country. I also love learning other languages and think that more people should learn more than one. My wife has a knack for languages and is trilingual. It’s crossed my mind to move to another country to pretire, but it’s tough as I’d be far away from family. Loved hearing your story.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted…Higher Price, Better Product?My Profile

    • Thanks, Andrew! Baja is on my bucket list of places to visit in Mexico.

      I guess I have the advantage that my friends and family members are scattered around the world, so I have to travel to visit everyone no matter where I am. Extra bonus: Mexico City is a shorter flight to either San Francisco or Pittsburgh, two places I frequent, than those cities are to each other.

  3. Love this post! We currently live in St. Louis and have definitely been thinking about moving somewhere tropical. Cost of living is pretty low here and I like being near family though.
    Michelle recently posted…Should Your Job Dictate Your Emergency Fund?My Profile

  4. Thanks, Michelle! Mexico has many tropical locations, including Merida and Akumal, which are popular with U.S. expats. I highly recommend checking them out if you’re contemplating a move south.

  5. That’s a really cool story! I think it’s great that you did something bold in order to make yourself happier. I’m not sure I could give up my family and friends in the states if I made a move abroad. I think I’d miss them too much. Although, the Mexican weather sure would be nice!

    • Thanks, Jake! The truth is, I didn’t give up my friends or family in the U.S.; I gained friends and family in Mexico. Thanks to email, Facebook, Skype, Google Hangouts, and other modern technologies, I can talk to—even see—anyone and everyone daily for free, if I’m so inclined. (This goes for clients, too.)

  6. Wow that’s really cool! I’ve never been to Mexico – maybe I’ll go there some day. However, I don’t think I’d move to a tropical place. No snowboarding!
    Troy recently posted…Why the Stock Market has not Peaked YetMy Profile

    • Thanks, Troy. And, yeah, although Puebla is not tropical, the only snow here is on the peaks of the nearby volcanoes, three of which you can hike or climb, but not snowboard. My poor skis are collecting dust in my SF storage locker …

  7. A beautiful story! I love reading this types of posts that manage to inject new energy into my spirit and make me hope that someday I will be able to do something similar. I am already working exclusively from home and until recently had a pretty solid income and I was hoping to give it a try living in Portugal or Spain for a few months and see how it goes. It’s absolutely encouraging to read a success story like this one, one that keeps my dream alive :)
    C. the Romanian recently posted…Can a Family Live on $1,500 per Month?My Profile

  8. I am humbled by those who can walk away from the big money when they know it’s not working for them, and then try something entirely different. Thanks for sharing your story.

    I need to learn some Spanish, too, as I’ll be visiting South America soon. I don’t know if an immersion course in the budget…maybe Rosetta Stone?
    Done by Forty recently posted…July Net Worth Update (In August…)My Profile

    • If you can swing it, I highly recommend an immersion program, because you essentially are forced to not only speak but also live in Spanish … which provides extra motivation. You also learn how the language is truly spoken in a particular place vs. what you read in textbooks. That said, if haven’t ever tried Rosetta Stone, and any effort to learn another tongue is worthwhile, in my opinion. ¡Te deseo mucha suerte!

  9. I love it! It sounds like you’re having fun and loving life. I probably could do something similar if I was single. Now we have a kid though and my wife is still working.
    Someday we’ll get there.
    Joe recently posted…Make Your Own Retirement Road MapMy Profile

    • Thanks, Joe. I suspect that I would have made entirely different choices if my personal life had involved a spouse and a child when I decided to quit my job (and later move to Mexico), but in hindsight I’m glad the circumstances played out the way they did!

  10. I just got back from Mexico last month and I fell in love with it as well! Thanks for sharing your story!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted…Kiplinger and Lifehacker Japan, Say What? (and Link Love)My Profile

  11. Mexico is fabulous, isn’t it?! Thanks for reading my story.

  12. This is so great! Bilingualism really will get you far in a lot of industries…so great that you were able to use it to become the boss of you! Congrats on your pretirement!
    femmefrugality recently posted…My First Lesson In Personal FinanceMy Profile

  13. This is nice story and nicely written and easy to read article. I enjoyed it.
    The other day I was thinking to retire in Mexico as well due to cheaper living (at least I think it would be cheaper). But I am not ready yet although I am already tired of working myself too. However, I admire you taking that stop and go on freelancing or your own. I am still afraid if I do the same myself, I would file for bankruptcy soon.

  14. That’s such an incredible story of salary arbitrage, and really doing what you want. It’s so cool that you gave up your high paying job to figure out exactly what was important to you. Mexico sounds wonderful!
    CashRebel recently posted…P2P Lending Update: My first defaultMy Profile

  15. Thanks for reading my post and commenting, y’all! Sometimes the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. So far, so good. :-)

  16. That’s such a great story! Best of luck in Mexico, looking forward to hearing another story with all the details!
    MonicaOnMoney recently posted…$25 August Giveaway and Goals!My Profile

  17. Wow! As someone who’s obsessed with stories about taking chances and living a full life, your story really resonates. I love the a-ha over your language problem. You made me want to enroll in a course right now!

  18. Pingback: August Round-up: Best Reads & Plans for a Better Month | Romania Experience

  19. Pingback: Pretirement story: Planning a move to Spain |

  20. Victoria on September 26, 2013 at 11:45 am said:

    Loved this article! I studied at UDLA from 1973-76. Loved Puebla and never wanted to leave, unfortunately finding a way to stay and work legally was impossible back then. Best of luck to you — I’m definitely jealous!

  21. Nick, this post is awesome. Props to your friend Rebecca and her gutsy move to Mexico. Puebla is such a beautiful city full of rich history. I bet it is a blast to live there. We certainly enjoyed our long weekend there when we backpacked through Mexico during college.

    The cost of living (at least 13 years ago) was much less than the US, and especially low if you spoke Spanish and don’t mind living like the locals do. We have explored the idea of moving down there instead of remaining here in the US, but with kids it would be a little more challenging (although interesting!).

    Got to say, love the blog! It looks great, and is full of the interesting kind of stuff I like to read and daydream about.

    • Pretired Nick on September 27, 2013 at 7:54 pm said:

      Glad you enjoyed it, Justin! I personally haven’t been there yet, but it’s very high on my list! Thanks for the kind words!

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