Why You Should Take a Retirement Test Drive

My practice retirement taught me I’m not ready to retire.

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Not long ago my company was acquired by an equity investment firm. Having previously experienced the dramatic changes this typically entails, I decided to take some time off and exit the working world. I planned to take about six months to travel, visit friends and family, and generally recharge. With the state of the economy, this period extended to 18 months.

[See 10 Places to Buy a Retirement Home for Under $100,000.]

During that time I began to ask myself whether I was actually retired instead of merely between jobs. Assuming I had enough to live on —which I did for this trial period —how would I cope with being retired? What would I do to stay busy, engaged, and living the life I wanted to live? I realize that 18 months is a short subset of what for many people will be 20 to 40 years of retirement. But here are a few eye-opening things I learned that will be helpful to me when I eventually do retire.

Diversity. I will not be able to stay busy with only my current interests. Travel, reading, exercise, and movies are all great, but there is only so much time that I can do these activities before I become bored. To take advantage of my retirement, I will need broader, longer-term endeavors that stretch me beyond the person I am today. For example, I can learn a language and then use it first hand for an extended period of time in its country of origin. Being an avid reader, I have also always contemplated writing a book. I now know I will need more on my list of things to do than I currently possess.

[See 4 Tips to Slow Down in Retirement.]

Not alone. My retirement test drive did not include my lovely wife, who unfortunately had to continue working to support her retired husband. When we are together, we don’t get bored. Whether we choose a hike at a nearby park, have an excited discussion of our next travel excursion, or to sit together in the backyard enjoying the gurgling fountain while doing our own thing, our togetherness makes the time fly. And those special moments shared are far superior to anything I experience alone. When I retire my wife will have to retire with me.

I do not actually hate work. Looking back on my various jobs over the years, I realize that I do not necessarily dislike working. There are certainly toxic work environments that should be avoided. But the people and friendships and the challenges and successes of a job can add to a satisfying existence. I might continue working in some capacity after reaching retirement age.

[See 7 Signs You Have Successfully Retired.]

It isn’t cheap. Although I am not a spendthrift by any measure, I willingly pay a bit more for organic food and like to travel non-stop if possible. Neither of these is cheap and, once I retire full time, I realize that I will have to live on a relatively fixed income. I need to have enough saved ahead of time so I can enjoy a fulfilling retirement.

It was an enjoyable and educational 18 months I spent practicing to be retired. I know that I am not ready to retire today. But my test drive gave me a better idea of what I can do now to better prepare for my retirement.

Dave Bernard is not yet retired but has begun his due diligence to plan for a satisfying retirement. With a focus on the non-financial aspects of retiring, he shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement–Only the Beginning.