Amidst dire reports of America's bleak retirement outlook, there's a quiet sect of workers who've built the kind of lives cash-strapped workers might only dream of today.
Bill and Patty Sutherland are among an estimated half million retirees who decide to live out their golden years abroad.
Nearly 15 years ago––both in their early 50s––they sold 90 percent of their belongings, booked a pair of one-way tickets to picture-perfect Tuscany, Italy, and started over from scratch.
With a 300-year-old stone farmhouse surrounded by vineyards and olive trees to maintain, the couple knew that sitting back and twiddling their thumbs through their golden years wouldn't be an option. They needed some source of income.
Inspired by their mutual love of Italian cooking and the people who did it best––their own neighbors––they decided to leverage Bill's cooking chops (he studied under celebrity chefs like Julia Child and Jacques Pepin) and business savvy (he ran a successful real estate firm for three decades) and Patty's skills as a commercial artist.
“We had been invited to enough (Tuscan) homes and the best food (came from) the local women who were just making dinner for us,” Patty said in a recent interview with AARP. "Eventually, an idea started forming…and before they knew it, a Tuscan cooking school was formed."
For five months out of the year, they host a dozen visitors per week at Tuscan Women Cook, a school where local women give guests hands-on practice cooking authentic Italian cuisine.
The program isn't exactly cheap––rates start at about $4,000 per pair, which includes lodging, food and transportation. They source their meals from raw materials grown on their farm and devote afternoons after lessons to showing guests the surrounding village by chartered bus.
“We want our guests to experience something totally different, totally authentic," they write on their website. "The comments we get most often from our guests is that they never would have been able to have these experiences on our own as a tourist.”
" The greenback goes a lot farther in Central and South America and in Eastern Europe, especially when it comes to real estate," he writes.
"It's impossible to generalize about the prices, but for anywhere from $10,000 (for 10 acres in Argentina) to $500,000 (water-front home in Panama) you can find property that most people would never be able to afford in the lower 48."