Nancy L. Anderson
Preparing for retirement is like getting ready for a trip — it never goes quite as planned. But the better the plan, the better the outcome. When things go wrong, you want to have the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. You never know what retirement will be like until you get there.
One component of any retirement plan is making a smooth transition by “practicing retirement.” Think of it as a dress rehearsal before you take the big (and often irreversible) step to fully retire.
Right now, you may be used to taking two or three weeks of vacation every year. But when you retire, you suddenly have 52 weeks of unoccupied time on your hands.You may also move to a different community or state, start a new hobby, or realize all your friends are still working. That is a lot of change at one time, which can be a prescription for disaster. Who wants to work all his life only to retire and realize what he thought would make him happy doesn’t? You might wish you’d tried it out first.
Practice retirement while you are still working. In fact, making a long, drawn-out transition to retirement could actually be part of your retirement plan. According to a new study by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies and the Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement, 64% of U.S. workers expect to retire at age 65 or later or not at all.
Here are some moves to make that will help you ensure a smooth transition to your golden years:
1. Take more weeks of vacation.
The top retirement wish I have heard from clients over the years is to travel. Why wait? Even if you don't have time to take a 24-hour flight to New Zealand and back, check out the U.S.A. You can get halfway across the country in a day. Go swim in the waters off the Florida Keys, visit the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, take a whiskey tasting tour in Tennessee, hike on the red rocks in southern Utah, or take a raft down the Grand Canyon.
One of my clients is a personal injury attorney who only takes two weeks of vacation a year. His cases keep him busy all year long, because in his business, there isn’t a slowdown in the summer or a winter break. He can’t even imagine retirement — he doesn't know what he’d do with his time. Since he won’t know until he tries, he should be diligent about carving out another two or three weeks of vacation for himself now.
2. Change your work hours.
Even if you think your company won’t be open to a flexible, remote, or part-time schedule, you never know until you ask. The New Flexible Retirement study found that 25% of people 55 and over reported that their employers allowed workers approaching retirement to switch from full-time to part-time schedules. You could be part of the lucky 1 in 4. If so, take advantage of the opportunity. If not, make a case for it.
3. Spend four seasons in your retirement destination.
Have you always dreamed of being able to walk to the beach with your snorkeling gear for a morning swim? A retirement move to the beach, an island in Hawaii, the mountains, or the desert might sound wonderful, until you move there and realize you miss four separate seasons, or you are freaked out living on an island. It's much different living in a tourist destination full time than vacationing there. Instead of just spending prime times at your retirement dream spot, go in the off-season and see if you like it. Do you love the desert? Go to Arizona in July. Talk to the locals about how they enjoy living there year round. How do they adapt to the heat in the summer to enjoy the beautiful winters?
4. Make friends who are already retired and doing activities you enjoy.
A strong social network is a key to happiness. When I was a girl scout, I remember singing the song, “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold.” Consider following the advice given to your kids and grandchildren: Transition to retirement by making new friends who also enjoy your favorite activities.
Whether you are moving to a new location or staying in your current one, your social network may consist mainly of the people you spend the majority of your time with — your work buddies. Guess what? When you retire, they will still be working, and your interests will change. Consider that it takes some time to make good friends — deep friendships aren’t made overnight. Instead of waiting until you retire to make new friends, start making new connections now.
5. Rekindle old hobbies or start new ones.
What did you love to do as a kid but haven’t had time for as an adult? What have you always wanted to try? Start up that hobby now. Some hobbies, such as photography or skiing, require start-up expenses in equipment and lessons. It might be a good idea to make that financial commitment while you have a high salary.
Frankly, you also enjoy life more when you are following your passions. In my case, I learned to ski when I was 50 and moved to Park City, Utah in large part so I could ski. Even though I am still working full time, I’ll ski at least 25 days this season and I'm trying for 30!
Obviously, I look forward to the weekends. But I also now try to incorporate my hobbies into my work. I recently offered to coordinate an offsite team-building event for my colleagues at the bank where I'm a financial planner. We'll meet at a ski resort in the morning, eat lunch, and hit the slopes in the afternoon.
6. Go ahead and move.
If you are among the majority of Americans who plan on working until age 65 or longer, and you want to make a change in location, consider planning the move now. This gives you more years to enjoy the place you love, set some roots, and make new friends.
Great jobs in highly popular destinations are hard to come by, but not impossible. If your company has an office in a location near your retirement dream spot, ask for a transfer. Is your company open to you working remotely? Ask for a work-from-home solution.
7. If you are staying in your home, make expensive repairs now.
Whether you are planning a full remodel or upgrading to new appliances, consider starting your project now. You might have more time when you retire, but your mindset may change. I have many clients who have a difficult time making lump-sum payments (like you’d need for home upgrades) once they’re retired and living off their nest egg. You never know, you may find that psychologically you don't want to spend your lump sum, even if you have a huge surplus in your retirement plan. Either earmark your “remodel dollars” in a separate account, or do the project now while you have a steady income stream from wages.
8. Live on your retirement income.
If your retirement plan involves living on 70% or 80% of your current income, test it out now. Could you live on less and enjoy retirement? You don’t really know until you try. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking to your savings that reduces your monthly spending money to mimic your retirement income.
9. Rekindle your most important relationships.
If you are married or in a long-term relationship and you both retire, you are going to be spending a lot of time together. Take some time now to work on that relationship. Start a weekly “date night” if you aren’t already doing so. Trade the responsibilities to plan your outings to keep things fresh. The same principle applies to your closest friends. Think about whom you like to spend time with and enjoy the most from your fund of friends. Make plans with the people that enrich your life so you can have stronger bonds as you transition to a new phase.
10. Try something new every week.
Routines can be good. A morning habit of stretching and doing some pushups and sit-ups is certainly healthy. However, routines can turn into ruts. I saw this with my parents when they retired and see it now with some of my clients. As they aged, my parents always ate the same foods, went to the same vacation spot, and watched the same TV shows. Their lives contracted instead of expanding.
Being open to new experiences can help people of any age adapt to change. Consider trying something new every week as you transition to retirement. This could be a new culinary experience, a new hobby, or something as simple as watching a movie from a genre you wouldn’t normally choose.
You never know what wonderful experiences lay ahead of you. A little planning can help you to be better prepared to enjoy them.