You know that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the parents gift the newlyweds a house. The first time I saw the movie, I thought “That’s so Hollywood! Who does that happen to? That never happens in real life!” Actually… it does. It just happened to Paolo and I! Here’s the story.
When Paolo and I first started dating nearly 10 years ago, his parents were looking into selling their vacation home. At the time the Italian real estate market was repressed. Then the next year came and went, and the market hadn’t improved. Then another year, and another. The cozy little vacation home was sitting empty in the Italian Alps for all but a few weeks out of the year. I’m sure you can guess where this is going, but wait! There’s a twist.
After living in New York City for a decade, living in small-town Italy seemed like a bad idea. I’d be the only American, and likely the only English speaker. Making friends, and finding work, are downright impossible. Paolo worried I would always be “the American.” Nope, we needed somewhere more lively with an expat community I could tap into while I learned to speak Italian. Somewhere like Florence.
Deciding Where to Live in Italy
As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence offers endless museums, art, and culture. Florence also has one of the largest English-speaking expat communities in Italy. Since less than 35% of Italians speak English, it was our leading choice. Plus, Florence is surrounded by Tuscan wine country, perfect right?
Paolo and I had our move to Italy booked for March 2020. At the time, we had reservations for a month-long house hunting trip through Tuscany. Those rolling hills, wine country, we were headed to Florence! Or so I thought. Then something unexpected happened. COVID.
Moving to Italy in 2020 & COVID
When COVID hit, all our plans for moving to Italy went right out the window. When we finally boarded that repatriation flight to Italy we had no idea what was next. Our only plan was to quarantine in Bardonecchia to keep Paolo’s parents safe. House hunting in Florence was indefinitely on hold.
While quarantined in Bardonecchia, Paolo and I kept saying “this should be stressful, but we’re happy here.” Thanks to COVID, we had no clients left, but being in Bardonecchia meant also having no overhead, no debt, and no bills to pay. We had money in the bank and an overwhelming sense of gratitude that we were safe and secure in the time of COVID.
We began to wonder, could Bardonecchia be the answer we’d overlooked?
Living in Italy Rent & Mortgage Free
One of our strengths as a couple is our flexibility. We have always been willing to sacrifice having a dream home to live in the now, not years down the road. Our other strength as a couple is agreeing on what matters.
Living debt-free. Working for ourselves so we can travel. Living below our means to have freedom of time. These are the things that matter. Living our priorities has enabled us to save beyond our means, instead of living beyond our means.
We had promised each other our first home would be paid outright, no mortgage. We figured a home in Tuscany with some renovations would cost us around $300,000.
We’d saved it, we had the money, we were ready, but spending time in Bardonecchia made us ask better questions. What if we kept that money invested? $300,000 with even a 6.5% interest rate compounded over 20 years is a million dollars. That’s our retirement right there and we already had it.
We faced a major decision. Should we spring for a place in Tuscany near Florence like we had saved for, or keep the money and retire early?
Paolo’s parents had wanted to give him the property years ago, but he’d said no. It was too small, too remote, needed too many renovations, not what we planned. COVID changed our minds. After spending time in Bardonecchia in May, June, July and August, we were ready to make it home.
COVID didn’t just change our plans… it changed the trajectory of our lives.
As an adult, I’ve had 18 addresses in six states and three countries. Paolo has lived in Ireland, London, New York. Together we became nomads and even tried living in Portland. Through it all, Bardonecchia patiently waited for Paolo and I to come home.
Thank you Mama & Papà for holding out hope that Bardonecchia would remain in the family. You’ve given us the impossible, the gift of time.
Get the Skinny on our Northern Italian Home Renovation on ALOR.blog
As promised, here’s a look at our far-out, funky crib in the Italian Alps. Can you dig it?
Catch you on the flip-side!