Evaluating Santa Fe for Early Retirement
After nine months in Boulder, we were a little concerned that only a month in Santa Fe wouldn’t be enough time for us to decide if it was in the running. However, we felt that one month was enough time to determine whether we wanted to try it out for a little longer.
As glad as I am that we spent nine months in Boulder, I am just as glad that we only spent a month in Santa Fe. We decided pretty quickly that it wasn’t for us. Since it was the second stop on our tour of potential homes, I’ll compare it to Boulder, our first stop.
The biggest drawback to Santa Fe’s location is that it is farther from our families than Boulder is. We can drive to my Mom’s house from Boulder in one day, but it takes two days (or a day and a half) to drive there from Santa Fe. When I had a family emergency this month, we would both have liked to go to Iowa, but I wanted to get there more quickly than driving would allow. This meant I had to fly to Iowa alone, leaving Stephen and Chiqui in Santa Fe for a week. If we had still been in Boulder, we probably would just have all driven to Iowa together.
The Albuquerque airport is about the same distance from Santa Fe as the Denver airport is from Boulder. But it actually ended up being around $300 cheaper getting my emergency flight out of the Santa Fe airport, which only has one gate. It was nice not having to drive to Albuquerque, however, there are fewer flights in and out of Santa Fe, so if there is a delay, it can mess up your whole trip, which happened to me in both directions.
We learned early on that pedestrians are not safe in Santa Fe. We try to walk at least 4-5 miles a day, so every day, and we felt we were putting our lives on the line. The drivers in Santa Fe simply don’t seem to notice or care about pedestrians. We came very close to getting run over several times, even though we had the right of way. Once, some guys turned left in front of us, and then gave us the finger, apparently just because we existed. On our second to last night in Santa Fe, we were at the plaza, waiting for the four way pedestrian walk signal. When the light changed and we started across the street, some girl started turning right against the light and nearly hit us. When I pointed out that we had the pedestrian signal, she yelled, “Shut up! This is my town, not yours!” Then just to make herself look extra ridiculous, she added, “How would you like it if I came over there and beat your ass?” Her incredibly mature and classy display really made it crystal clear that just in terms of being pedestrians, we simply can’t live in Santa Fe. Most drivers aren’t obnoxious like that young woman, just careless. But I don’t feel like putting my life on the line every time I go for a walk, which is every day.
Additionally, the crime rate is much higher in Santa Fe than in Boulder. We heard sirens throughout the night. The first week we were there, a prisoner escaped from a work crew and they shut down a chunk of the city while they looked for him. If you look at city-data’s crime index, Santa Fe scored 400 (US average is 295) whereas Boulder scored 190 (lower is better).
COST OF LIVING
We don’t usually notice big differences in cost of living between cities, except in housing. Trader Joe’s and Costco prices tend to be pretty similar wherever you live. However, going to Costco requires a drive to Albuquerque, so that adds considerably to the cost of groceries. Costco was much closer to Boulder. In both cities, we were able to walk to Trader Joe’s and Walgreens.
Although both cities have very expensive housing options, in general housing here is cheap compared to Boulder, but like in Boulder, there aren’t so many options for lock it and leave it condos in high-rise buildings. But you can get more home for your money than in Boulder. In comparison, the median detached home price in Santa Fe is $393k vs $617k in Boulder.
Housing is plentiful and cheap, and that was probably the best thing about Santa Fe. It would be easy for us to find a nice home at a good price. But that is also a drawback because houses stay on the market for a long time here. If we decided we wanted to sell, it might be extremely difficult to find a buyer. Also, most of the condo complexes here seem to have a small number of units. A small condo association can be problematic.We’d much rather find a big complex with lots of units, which is more sustainable and less prone to personal disagreements.
Santa Fe is definitely more diverse than Boulder. There is a large hispanic population and a decent size native American population. But there are also a lot of older, wealthy white people here as well. The population of Boulder seems to skew a little younger and we liked that. What we didn’t like about Santa Fe was the wealth gap – it almost seemed like two different cities depending where you were.
It can get pretty hot in Santa Fe in August, although certainly not as hot as Albuquerque. Because Santa Fe is at a higher altitude than Boulder, we understand that the winters can be worse, but we haven’t experienced winter here.
There is a sizable artist community here in Santa Fe, but although I initially found that appealing, it seems like what that promotes is a lot of shopping. A lot of expensive shopping. While it can be fun to explore the galleries, it doesn’t provide endless entertainment, and it’s definitely better as a visitor I think. I wouldn’t be going to the galleries and artist studios all the time if I lived there.
We also found that there are fewer meetup groups in Santa Fe than in Boulder, and definitely fewer of interest to us. There is an active book arts group, but it didn’t have any activities scheduled for August, so I didn’t get to check them out.
Apparently, the most popular pastime in Santa Fe is sitting around. I’m not kidding – we actually read that in all the promotional literature. True or not, we definitely noticed more obesity in Santa Fe than in Boulder. Colorado is supposed to be the fittest state in the U.S., and a healthy, active lifestyle is the norm. Not so much in Santa Fe, and that’s something we really missed while we were there. Interestingly, while people would ask us for money on the street in both Boulder and Santa Fe, the people in Boulder really looked like they needed it. We often had reasonably well-dressed young men ask us for money in Santa Fe.
There are a lot of cultural activities in Santa Fe, but they often seemed centered around commerce. There are artist markets every weekend, and often large art festivals as well. There are lots of free concerts in the summer, which is great. Also, the street musicians in Santa Fe were definitely more talented than the ones we saw in Boulder.
Although I didn’t have as much time to see everything I wanted, because I had to fly to Iowa and my consulting work got incredibly busy during the last two weeks August, it was clear that Santa Fe just isn’t for us. Parts of town have a lot of charm and it’s fun to explore. But for us, it was much better as a travel destination than a home. I wouldn’t mind returning when I have more time to just be a tourist (without family emergencies and work emergencies), but I definitely don’t want to live there.
All photos by Stephen Bay – Bay Images