Planet Boomer: The Beginning

Jim Herrier and Ellen Ma,

By Jim Herrier

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

When my wife Ellen and I announced to our friends and family that we were moving to Asia the consensus was we would be back in less than two years.

That was ten years ago.

Our first move to Singapore was simply fantastic. A beautiful and sophisticated city on the doorstep of every dream destination you can imagine. Within weeks we were in Bali (the weekend retreat of Singapore ) and we’ve now been 17 times. Beijing was next, then Hanoi, then Phuket and Bangkok in Thailand. We never stopped travelling in Asia and have never run out of amazing places to go.

After two years we left for a business opportunity in Shanghai. The drama and pace of living among 23 million people in what is surely one of the most dramatic cities in the world was exciting but getting out of it was a necessity. We kept travelling, throughout China and farther afield: Sri Lanka, India and all over Australia.

While in China we made friends with two respected Australian journalists: Steve and Colleen Wyatt. As reporters for the Australian Financial Review they went to places we had only heard of, covering stories ranging from worker unrest in Mongolia to riots by Uyghur peasants in Urumqi. Dinner with them was never dull.

After three years, business — this time our own — took us back to Singapore and our travels continued unabated. More India, Laos, Cambodia and the delightful towns and villages of Hoi An, Danang, Ho Chi Minh, Luang Prabang, Chiang Mai, and Phnom Penh. Our Australian friends were posted back to Sydney and then to their hillside home in Byron Bay. On a Skype call Steve revealed they were writing a new book. No surprise, they had written a number of business books; usually exposes of big business and government fiascos. But this one was different.

A new book on Retirement

The new book was about retirement in Southeast Asia. On returning home for the first time in seven years they realized what a great lifestyle Southeast Asia offered and for a fraction of the costs at home. I had a restless night and called them the next morning. What if we partnered up and repurposed their book idea for Canada ? Our countries are similar in so many ways: small population in a huge country, heavily taxed, stretched medical care, pensions under threat, large Baby Boomer cohort and people’s investments damaged by the financial crisis of 2008.

They had the same thought and we quickly flew to Byron Bay to map out our ideas. We felt it had to be packed with interviews with people who had made the leap. That it wasn’t just for typical retirees but for anyone over 50 who wanted change and wanted a life cheaper and better than they had it at home. We also decided on our key themes: cost of living, medical care, visas, property purchase and rental, taxes, security and stability.

book-cover-finalAnd we needed a name. After much white wine and spectacular food ‘Planet Boomer’ was born.

Months of interviews followed with trips to our five chosen countries and over 15 destinations. As they were farther ahead their book was published in late August of 2014 to positive reviews. Our website,, followed their launch. To date they have sold 10,000 books and, as we geared up for the launch of our Canada book  on July 21st we were nearing completion of interviews for the US version. [See the Hub’s recent advance review of the book: 5 Asian locations where retirement is more affordable than North America.]

Cost of living is 50% lower

All four of us are completely committed to the idea that you can live a richer fuller life, either part time or full time, in a Southeast Asian country. Your costs can be reduced by over 50%, your lifestyle can be amazing and health care isn’t just good enough. It is, in many places, among the best in the world for a small fraction of the cost of private care in Canada.

The book process had a dramatic effect on Ellen and me.  After three more years in Singapore we tired of its ever-increasing costs and moved an hour’s flight north to Penang Island in Malaysia. Our rent dropped by two thirds for a waterfront condo of 5,800 square feet, four times the space we had in Singapore. Better yet, we are now a part of a vibrant expat community from all over the world.

Is it our last move ? Never say never. But we know we will always maintain a home in Asia. Life here is too good and we can always see snow and ice in the movies.

Jim Herrler was previously the President of DDB Advertising’s Toronto operations and Ellen Ma was the VP of Marketing for Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada. Both have had extensive careers in advertising in Canada, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and the US.

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