Retirement

4 questions to answer before you make any big changes to your life in retirement

For some people, retirement represents the chance to try something different or embrace a lifestyle that previously was impractical or unattainable. You might dream about settling down abroad, traveling the world, relaxing at a beach house, or buying an RV to explore the country.

Before you go all in on what you think is your dream retirement, it’s worthwhile to test out your vision first.

Think about retirement in the context of buying a car. Before purchasing a car, you’re going to take it for a drive so that you can try out the different features, get a feel for how it handles, gauge how comfortable it is, and experience its driving behaviors. A test drive can help you determine what you like or don’t like about a car, and ultimately can be the deciding factor.

Just as you wouldn’t bring a new car home without taking it for a test drive, you shouldn’t commit to a certain retirement lifestyle before giving it a try. In order to have a more successful, happy retirement, it’s important to take your vision for a test drive, so that you can make a more informed decision on whether it’s the right plan for you.

Read: Is quarantine like early retirement? These people think so

Why test drive your retirement

Trying out your retirement lifestyle can help you answer a number of important questions, including:

1. Are you on the same page?

If you have a spouse or significant other with whom you will be retiring, you might have differing views on what that time of your life looks like. By testing out the options, you can determine first if you are in agreement, and second which vision you prefer. It can help you and your loved one talk more openly about retirement and come to a unified decision as to where the two of you will retire and what you will do with your time.

2. Do you actually enjoy the lifestyle?

It might sound idyllic to step out of your home onto the beach every day or to visit a new destination every few weeks, but are you prepared for your home to be covered in sand or to live primarily out of suitcases and hotels? The saying, “try before you buy” is particularly applicable in this situation; before you commit to a new lifestyle, you have to spend some time living it. You might find out that the vision is better than reality.

3. Are you budgeting appropriately?

You might be allocating a percentage of your paycheck to your retirement, but you may not have actually crunched the numbers to see if you’re saving enough. Whether you plan to relocate, travel, or simplify your life, your cost of living is bound to change once you’re in retirement. By testing out your retirement vision, you can get a sense for the actual cost of living, so you can better prepare your finances for that next adventure.

4. What are the pros and cons?

When you think about your ideal retirement, you’re probably looking at it with rose-colored glasses. Doing a trial run can give you the opportunity to evaluate the good and the bad aspects, and to discover any unexpected challenges that you might not be taking into consideration. You might find that you love the new lifestyle, but that there are a few surprises that you hadn’t been planning for—better to find out before you’re fully ensconced so that you can plan accordingly.

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How to test drive your retirement

While doing a short-term test isn’t going to tell the full story, there are a few ways to become more acquainted in preparation.

The first step is to take time off of work and do whatever it is you want to do in retirement. Go to the dream country, rent an RV and take a road trip, or spend a week in a beach cottage. Pay attention to everything you like and don’t like about your time, and be conscious of whether you feel relieved or reluctant when it’s time to go back home.

The next time you do a test run, do it for longer. Start at one week, and then try two. Go once a year, and then go twice a year. Does it feel like a chore or do you look forward to it every time? Does the longer time period or increased frequency bring about any different challenges or make you like the lifestyle any more or less?

You should also test your vision during different seasons. A beach town is very different in the winter than it is in the summer, and driving an RV in snow might not be as appealing as sunshine. If you’re planning to make this lifestyle your permanent retirement plan, you need to get a sense for what it’s like during all four seasons, and not just your ideal season.

Read: Another victim of COVID-19: Social Security

During your various test runs, also try to spend the time as if it’s your full-time life, and pay close attention to the cost of living. Go grocery shopping, check out the local real estate, calculate gas costs, find out if there are membership fees for any activities you like, etc. Every location and every lifestyle has different cost trends, and those can also vary seasonally, as well as differ for short-term dabblers versus long-term residents.

Finally, talk to people who have already embraced the retirement of your dreams. During your test visits, ask neighbors for their insight, or check to see if there is an online community you can join. People who have already been there and done that can help you learn about the realities from a firsthand source.

Any big change comes with hidden challenges that you don’t know until you experience them. Trying out your ideal retirement lifestyle can help you discover whether you are prepared, physically, emotionally, and financially, for this new way of living. It can help you consider and plan for the minutiae, and it can help you make sure that your ideal retirement is indeed the perfect life for you.

Mike Lynch is managing director, applied insights, and a registered representative of Hartford Funds Distributors, LLC.

This article was originally published on MarketWatch

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