Save. Spend. Splurge.

Why I am no longer going to retire in Portugal

I’ve been a rabid renter for years. In fact, even now I am not sure I even want a place, I want to rent and save the rest of my money if I can.

No, it has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with our family being extended, and everything to do with the fact that after we visited Europe and cruised through where we THOUGHT we might want to retire, we realized it was no longer a good deal.

We no longer want to live in Europe when we’re old.

We had originally planned on going to some hick village in the middle of nowhere Portugal, buying a property for cheap, and re-doing it with local labour (they’re fantastic stonemasons here when given proper direction and supervision!), then living our lives out in a fully-paid for, all-stone abode.


After visiting Portugal, this is no longer an option for us for these reasons.


The euro really, frickin’ effed up a lot of poorer, otherwise reasonably-priced and popular retirement destination countries like Spain and Portugal to name the two we were looking at.

What used to cost the equivalent of 2 EUR in escudos, now costs 10 EUR.

In Portugal, you could have purchased food for so cheap, at such high quality it would have brought tears to your eyes in the past.

Or so everyone tells me.


Now, the minimum price for something is “1 EUR”, which is 100 escudos, an amount that would have been considered significant, to the equivalent of about $10.

Can you imagine paying $10 for 3 oranges? I can’t.

Or how about paying $30 for 2 tubs of yoghurt?

It sounds crazy, but that’s basically the kind of money crunch people here are going through.

As a result, prospective retirees such as myself are not as keen to move to this country to live, if I am going to have my money basically be hamstringed by the greediness of everyone around me.

It’s a better deal in Canada.


Now that the economy has tanked in Portugal, there is less of a life. Older people are now basically sitting on chairs outside, waiting to kick the bucket. If they’re not waiting outside to kick the bucket, shooting the breeze with other old-timers and trying to catch young people to have a conversation with, they’re inside, watching TV and slowly letting their brain turn into vegetable soup.

They aren’t really mingling and chatting any more because everyone is so stressed and unhappy about what’s going on, and the general feeling in this country is one of discontent.

Putting all that aside, even if the economy was better and people were as happy and as “rich” as they were before, swimming in escudos, I have had a lot of time (A LOT!) to think about what “retirement” means to me.

I had originally thought at 23 when I started my job that “retirement” would be me, sitting at home, doing jack squat. Yes, I’d cook, garden, read and perhaps continue to blog as some crochety ol’ grandma, but I wouldn’t be doing ANYTHING.


Sounds like utter bliss, right?



(This would be me in retirement)

Although… now, as I have had half my career (actually more than 50%) where I have been taking off long periods of time and NOT WORKING AT ALL, I have been unconsciously rehearsing for what my retirement would be like.

Frankly, I find the entire “retirement dream” quite stifling.

It’s so boring, I could scream. I did everything i thought I would in retirement, and I was so bored, I was on the verge of picking up a part-time job at Starbucks just to have something to do.

Seriously, why do you think I blog daily now? It’s because when I don’t work, I need to channel my excess mental energy somewhere, and you’re unfortunately, getting the brunt of it all!


Turns out, I need a medium-sized, moderately modern city (look at that alliteration!) where I am able to take walks around the same old neighbourhood or downtown core, feel the energy of young’uns around me and get re-energized as a result.

I simply cannot, and will not, force myself into a country life that I am not fit for.

I have realized that am more of a city mouse (sans television-watching) than a country mouse, it turns out.


The reason why I liked Europe SO MUCH was because I could just take a flight from one city to another, and in a few hours, be in another environment.

Plus since I’ll have kids, they’ll have grandkids and they PROBABLY won’t be living anywhere close to me, but will stay in North America for the most part which makes it paramount that I am able to have them visit me easily and vice versa.

Who wants to really take a 13-hour flight and a 3-hour bus ride to go see Grandma in the middle of nowhere? I want to make it easy for them to visit!


The problem is that with the way Europe is (even before the crisis), it is a new style of life you have to get accustomed to — lower standards of customer service, basic amenities I take for granted in Canada like having a clean, stocked with toilet paper and soap, public bathroom available FOR FREE, EVERYWHERE, etc etc.

If I am old, I’ll probably be in something close to adult diapers if I live in Europe, but in North America, I’d be able to get away without having to wear diapers in my old age if bathrooms are free and readily available in stores and restaurants.

Minor point, but something I thought was important to bring up.

Back to my lifestyle point — it gets frustrating even as a tourist for a short period of time when things are not like you’re used to in Canada, especially the customer service bit.

It’s a small interaction at each store or restaurant each day, but it adds up on your consciousness and builds an emotional and mental debt that takes a toll after a while and breaks you.

Yes, I said it, BREAKS YOU.

I don’t really want to live a life in frustration because things are not the way I am used to.


France has a much better healthcare system by far (a little too good for the amounts people pay.. or should I say, don’t pay), but how long is that really going to last with the way the country is going? Not for very long, I suspect.

I couldn’t retire in the U.S. because there’s no healthcare there, but I could stay in Canada and do my part to stay healthy, but be assured that I am in decent hands.

On the plus side, there are still a few good reasons to move to Portugal if you are so inclined.

Here are the plus sides that still exist:


No winter, or a very mild one. Sun about 99% of the time, and not a raincloud in sight.

Now, I am going to go a bit negative on this “positive” spin.

The only downside is that during the summer, it is hot as #$*&#%.

Some people love that, but I am not one of those folks. I’d prefer it to be too cold than too hot, plus I hate being in the sun.

You can’t go out from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. without wanting to kill yourself and bake under the heat like some pop tart. You basically hide in your cool, stone house from the heat, and the sun is relentless.

You definitely need a car here if you are to survive, unless you plan on waiting 45 minutes for a bus to go do some basic groceries.


I really like that in Portugal, you can randomly find blackberry bushes and gorge yourself on eating the best, most organic, sweetest, juiciest berries you have ever had in your life.

Figs, oranges, and all those other fruits are also easily grown if you are interested in doing so, and you can definitely buy enough land around your home to grow potatoes and other basic vegetables. Maybe even a few chickens.


The water in some areas is even free if you are able to get a source of it running through your property.

This, they have down. A nice space, with a good way to grow food, get water.. it’s dreamy for a pretend country mouse like me, who in the end, is a true city mouse.


A village in the middle of nowhere was once asking 150,000 EUR for a decent-sized, 3-level home.

That price has now dropped to 25,000 EUR since we’ve asked, and although it sounds like a deal, you still have to consider that you might want to do renovations on top of that…. and all my other points above about the kind of lifestyle that is.

Now, you can also pick up small dilapidated homes for 5000 EUR, even 1500 EUR, and to redo it, it might take 20,000 – 50,000 EUR, but you’ll have a nice, sturdy, stone house at the end of it.

If you are really, truly not able to save well for retirement, Portugal is still a nice option for people.


Hey, by the time I retire in 20-30 years, maybe things will have flipped the other way again and I’ll be in Europe after all (maybe somewhere in France, instead), but based on my assessment I doubt it.

20 years is a relatively short amount of time for any country or continent to turn itself around. You need at least 10 years to stabilize, and another 10 to try and recuperate. If I had 40 years ahead of me, Portugal may still be on the table.


What I am not doubting is that if I don’t have enough money saved for retirement, Portugal remains my Plan Z.

(It is so far down the list, it is “Z”, not even “B” or “C”.)

I will move and live in Portugal to retire, waiting to kick the bucket by sitting on a chair staring at the landscape outside, if I have absolutely NOTHING LEFT for retirement.

Talk about motivation to save for retirement, eh?

I’ve even gone so far as to consider printing a photo of a house I took in Portugal (see above) and writing the words:



  • Abbey

    This is a narrow view of things since Lisbon, Coimbra and Cascais are very lively and affordable. Investopedia named Portugal the best place to retire for the last two years in a row. I am a Portuguese descended, second generation Canadian and the old Portuguese folks will always complain about something. There are lively expat communities in the cities mentioned above. Good luck with the search.

  • Nelson

    Your change in retirement priorities and goals is understandable. I can see how this would influence your decision not to retire in Europe. However, you then justify your decision using subjective and unsubstantiated anecdotes and sweeping generalisations about Portugal. As this blog post is not dated, verifying your economic assertions is impossible. As an advice blog on retirement options I am unable to reconcile the information you provide with that of comparable retirement advice blogs and posts and with OECD data.
    Cheers and good luck.

  • Maria

    Hi! I respectfully submit that your money source was exaggerating just a wee bit. Having been to Portugal many times before and after the euro change over, it was One Thousand escuros (roughly) equivalent to ten American and Canadian dollars (we have departed from Toronto plenty of times). Also, I agree, the interior is hot as blazes, but the far north coast is absolutely lovely, relatively un-touristy, and low cost. Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Dinis

    Do you even know what you’re talking about? “With proper orientation”?? 100escudos = 1euro??? It’s too hot? Well shit, maybe youll get used to it like youve got used to where you live. Do us a favor, dont come to Portugal.

  • Julie Jewels

    Typical Canadian hogwash. Not surprisingly, as Canadians are notoriously horrid tourists: CHEAP, RUDE, UNCOUTH MOUTH-BREATHERS… EH?!
    Please, I beg you, for the sake of the WASHED masses and the rest of us who know how to tip and that haggling is NOT always appropriate – STAY IN CANADA.

  • PG

    Living in Portugal is becoming problematic due to the reduction in all services , whether government or otherwise . Outside major cities things are dying slowly
    even in towns like the tourist town of Tomar in Central Portugal .
    Officially a million of the 10 million population has left since the start of the crisis , but that does not include those who have just got in their cars and driven to other countries in the EU as there are no border controls .
    Many places are just full of older people with little or no pensions living off the land they still have . Also selling their products is now a problem as distribution companies now have minimum quantities of products they will take , so much of the local produce which cannot be sold is just left to rot . Even the olive oil industry is in decline and most oil is sent to Spain who then commercialises it worldwide .
    Toll motorways are overpriced and do not have normal EU facilities except near the major cities . The only part of Portugal which is maintaining itself is the Algarve , where there are a large proportion of foreigners and retirees . Many parts of Lisbon the capital are considered not safe ate night , even by the locals .

  • Frank One

    Seriously you need a reality check. If I put your calculations at retiring in 20-30 years, you are approximately 30-35 or younger. You are still a young visionary with views of the world that need fine tuning. You don’t actually realize life for at least another 10-15 years. That is when you don’t judge countries by brief visits if there was one. Feel free to post what you choose but in reference to Portugal you are extremely off. Although you say you have been I would dispute you living there, obviously you are Canada driven so stay there. The zest and love of life from the people in Portugal is above the level of experience you suggest you have and the costs you claim are absolutely ridiculous.

  • jooseppi

    What a propaganda you write. Is Canada scared of people moving to warmer countries? Just had 2 person hamburger meal near Lisbon with soup and coke costing 6,00 total. Everything is fine here.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      Canada is scared of people moving to countries where they can’t really pay their debts. Who do you think is going to end up getting screwed? Rich foreigners.

  • Samuel

    I just don’t have words to explain what i read here. I think you are frustrated because you always dreamed with something that now, as you grow older, you realize that it’s not your dream. It happens, don’t be angry and don’t blame Portugal because of that please. We don’t have nothing to do with your change of point of view.
    Saying that 3 oranges costs 10 dollars is ridiculous. The price per Kilo (Kg) this winter was about 0,75€ – 1€ . Depending on dollar quotation is about 0,90$ to 1,30$ per kilogram.. I don’t know where you get information about my country, but i think that it’s good for your to check it again, to avoid writing this misunderstandings.

  • C. the Romanian

    I hope that pretty soon I’ll be able to start my life as a digital nomad and Portugal was high on my list of European countries to test out this type of lifestyle. It still is one of the cheapest Western European countries and all my friends who are living there are considering it the best country in the world. I have never been there though so it’s always good to have a second opinion. Before checking it our for yourself 🙂

    • save. spend. splurge.

      Portugal is ridiculously cheap if you go into a village in the middle of nowhere and pay 20 EUR a month for a place to live, but compared to what it was before, it’s quite expensive for many folks who have been used to escudos.

      • Thinkingnow

        20 € a month to live? when have you been in Portugal? 1980? not even a tent in the middle of nowhere would cost 20€ a month, if you would want at least running water.

        Your text and responses show that you know nothing about Portugal (or you visited another country probably where 4 oranges cost you 10 dólars). Portugal is a nice and sunny country and, although the prices for basic things were inflated after entering the euro (which by the way, was in 2001 – more than 15 years ago) it is, in most ways, one of the cheapest Europe countries, and the prices here are not even comparable to Canadian ones. Portugal is also one of the safest and friendly places in the world with good facilities and healthcare.

        If you doubt any of these informations come and visit us and we’ll show you (I can go to the supermarket and I can charge you 5 dólars for the oranges and still have around 300% profit). But, as said earlier, maybe it’s better for you (and especially for us) that you do not retire in Portugal.


  • eemusings

    I enjoy country getaways but I am a city person through and through. However, in a suburban way – I want a garden and a house, not an apartment.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      That’s true. I always imagined there would be a grill and a place to grow things, but I am willing to give both of those things up and make do with a community grill in the park, and a community garden 🙂

  • Jason

    Good article

    I’ve been chasing retirement for quite a few years too and have come to a similar conclusion. I feel like the whole concept of retirement is almost a myth, just a story to tell people to keep them looking forward to something. But, when you really examine it, the whole concept falls apart. Would you really want to just sit around and watch the world go by? Even if you assume a good income, concepts like “traveling the world” just seems exhausting after awhile.

    But then my question is: what’s at the end of the road? It’s either more work (blech) or NOT more work (boring). Is this *really* what I’ve been busting my ass for? I honestly feel a little cheated…

    As for the Canadian winters, I’m from Canada originally and I can tell you that there actually are a few places in Canada where you don’t have any harsh winters at all, most notably the south-central area of BC, near Nelson/Kelowna/Oliver. And, even now, the housing prices there are dropping each year.

    I’m definitely watching housing in that area. If housing prices crater in Canada like some people are predicting, it would be great to pick up some nice rentals there.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      Traveling the world IS exhausting. I’ve been doing it since I started my career and it has lost its luster. It is too tiring..

      As for it being the “End of the Road”, I guess what I want is the option to work less or not at all if I feel like it when I’m old. Not that I would want to take this route, but it is something I am thinking about.

      Funnily enough, it has been warmer in Toronto recently. The past 2 years haven’t been bad at all, although knock on wood.. it might be a hard one this year.

      • joe

        Save, Spend and Splurge

        I am 71 and have been retired for five years now. I stay very active both physically and mentally. I speak a number of languages fluently including Portuguese, Spanish and French. I have traveled extensively all over the world. I can live anywhere I chose. Portugal is a very attractive option for me but Canada or China are not. I live in the Seattle area and like it here but Portugal offers a number of attractive benefits such as excellent climate and easy access to all of Europe.. The cost of living is also very attractive..

        It is too bad that you find it so difficult to find sources of excitement and stimulation. Those originate from within the individual. If you have the right approach you can find them everywhere but you need to have the right personality and a good dose of imagination and curiosity.If you are missing those you will find yourself staring aimlessly into empty space.

        Yes, you seem to have a lot in common with those old folks that are sadly wasting their life away. The world offers a very large variety of wonderful places to be enjoyed but you need to supply your own excitement energy to enjoy them..

        Portugal seems to offer many and varied exciting opportunities.


        • save. spend. splurge.

          Thank you for your comment.

          China is definitely out. All of Asia actually.

          Portugal is pretty boring if you are used to having a lot of action although I suspect in my retired years, I will want less action and more family time. I will probably end up living close to my son and his future family and without a doubt, it will not be in Portugal.

  • dojo

    Our dream is to move to Croatia in few years. Which is not easy to do, since it’s expensive to live there. But I’d be very happy to go to the sea EACH day and not have to deal with our nasty winters here. Portugal, Spain or the South of France wouldn’t be bad either 😀

  • cj

    SS, I love the idea of being close to big cities. They offer the intellectual verve that towns simply cannot. And as or retirement, I’d need several lifetimes just to do the classical guitar composing I want to do. Then if we throw in fitness, travel, writing and darts, I’d need several life times more. I’d never have to have a job and I’d be perfectly content for thousands of years – easily. Have a jiggling one!

  • Tania

    I’m definitely moving back to the city when I’m older. A smaller place like Maui is much more difficult for a senior with no children to live(I also will shortly have no man either). If you need to go somewhere and can’t drive or physically can no longer work in the yard for hours at a time, it’s difficult. The main reasons being the lack of public transportation and everything is spread out including grocery stores, doctor offices. The availability of small living spaces with no yard upkeep is also a major factor. The small apartments/condos that are available are walk ups in bad areas or are in combination tourist rental property (loud partying tourists are not “real” neighbors). When my parents are gone, I’m heading back to Honolulu and living in a studio apartment or small one bedroom in the central area where you can catch a cab/bus, etc. Hawaii has got good weather for sure but oy it’s still very expensive. Even a studio ain’t cheap.

  • AdinaJ

    Lol, I’m a pretend country mouse too, but I know now that I couldn’t do more than a month or two away from the city. My retirement dream would be to move to one of the really expensive cities of the world (London, Paris, heck even Vancouver) and get to enjoy a “tourist” lifestyle (museums, cafes, strolls, shopping, etc) on a permanent basis. Of course, that would be one expensive retirement! Zero chance of that happening, but a girl can dream.

  • Leslie Beslie

    I’ve never understood the “dream” of retiring at 35 – or ever. I never seen myself retiring completely. I’ll either have a second career, or open a business, or SOMETHING! Spending days doing nothing sounds like a punishment to me! Certainly not anything I’d dream about.

  • SarahN

    Umm… right! I didn’t know you wanted to move to Portugal to retire (like it seems almost every Brit – that or Spain). Firstly, we’re only a few years apart, I’ve not even thought of my retirement beyond saving for it. BUT… I don’t agree with you, I don’t think it will be as bad as you seem to think it is, and take 20 years to recover. BUT, and I think this is my issue, why is it that everyone wants to move to somewhere ‘cheaper’ – wtf is wrong with where they live now? I don’t know, I just think it’s capitalising on developing economies. Which I suppose is how capitalism works, til it catches up with these places, and makes them like where most people are fleeing… I also think people still talk, chat, natter, GFC or not. But, hey, what would I know?

    • save. spend. splurge.

      I did want to move to Portugal a long time ago on my old blogs that I sold in 2012 (Fabulously Broke in the City and The Everyday Minimalist).

      I am not interested in moving to Europe, period. The euro has killed everything and unless they can find a way out of that mess, it is not really that cheap. It is a lot more expensive than living in Canada, which is why I am retiring in Montreal.

  • Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle

    Both Guelph and Kingston are lovely cities that are big without being too big.

    Where your children and grandchildren are living may be a consideration to your location but when your elderly parents need care that can be the deciding factor.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      I actually looked into both and don’t like them… 🙂 Montreal for me, is where I want to retire.

      For my parents needing care, there’s an unspoken agreement that it won’t be me. I will only take my mother but not my father, so my siblings will have to figure out how to split or not split the two amongst them.

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