Why it pays to test-drive your retirement

Figure out which activities you’d enjoy and what your golden years will actually look like



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retirement test drive

(iStock / monkeybusinessimages)

Rhonda and Mike made a costly mistake when it came to their retirement plans and it didn’t have anything to do with how they invested their nest egg or the golf clubs they chose. It was where they decided to live.

They loved their vacations in Europe and decided to buy a place to retire in Malta, a stunning archipelago off the coast of Italy. But the couple hadn’t done a dry run and learned very quickly that the weather in winter wasn’t always so idyllic, and that they really missed their friends back home.

You can learn from their cautionary tale by taking your retirement plan for a test drive. Sure, you can only do so much to simulate what your life will be like when you’re no longer drawing a pay cheque, but give it a go. Take part in the activities you think you’ll want to do, spend only what your retirement budget will allow, and try out—for a short period at least—the country, new town, or downsized condo in which you plan to live.

We talk incessantly about the financial side of your retirement plan —rate of return, tax efficiency, income splitting and RRIF drawdowns. But your happiness in this stage of life is also deeply affected by the activities you take part in and the relationships you nurture.

The test-drive approach can illuminate what you actually enjoy, versus the fantasy you see in advertising. Those slim, silver-haired stock photography models seem to be having a great time riding a Vespa in Tuscany. But is that what YOU want? A test-drive will also help you see if you’re really ready to retire, or if a more gradual transition might be a better option.

Of course, a lot of people resist retirement planning because they fear change, the loss of identity that work provides and, perhaps most importantly, their own mortality. The test drive approach makes retirement more of a reality instead of just a theory. And most of us tend to pay more attention to what feels real, even if it scares the hell out of us.

Here are some suggestions for getting started. First, print off a calendar for one week and write down how you might fill your time. Is it easy or difficult to figure out what you’re doing to do once you’re caught up on all your chores? Next, think about whom you’re going to spending your time with. Work provides a ready-made community, and that can be tough to replace when you’re no longer showing up at the same place every day. It turns out those relationships really matter to your health. According to research from the Stanford Center on Longevity, “socially isolated individuals face health risks comparable to those of smokers.”

At this point, you might also want to update your financial plan to ensure your finances are also on track to support the lifestyle choices you plan to make in retirement. As your financial picture changes, your plans might change, too.

Talk to your spouse and friend. And arrange a meeting with your advisor to review your plan. All of that will give you the confidence you need to move forward with fewer worries.

The last, and toughest step of the test-drive, is to take time off work to give it all a try—a few weeks will give you a better sense of things than just a one-week trial. Remember, retirement isn’t just an extended vacation. It is more like being unemployed, but without the focus on getting a new job. You have to find ways to fill your days with whatever it is that makes you happy. Believe it or not, that is no easy task.

There are limitations to the test drive approach, of course. It is a short-term experiment and the stakes are low. Think about parenting. I had babysat for years and had lots of diaper changing experience. But that didn’t prove to be a comprehensive look at what being a parent is actually like. And remember, with life expectancy in Canada on the rise you could be in the retirement life stage for decades. All the more reason it’s best to check out your options, so you can make the best use of that time.

4 comments on “Why it pays to test-drive your retirement

  1. Set driving your retirement is important. I retired at 50, just over two years ago and with family and other things on my agenda I have been kept busy. My wife also just retired mid 2016 at 50 as well. We are shortly off to the sun for a month, the longest we have ever vacationed. When I return I am venturing out to look for part-time work, not for the money, but to fill my agenda. I have finally realized I am retired and need to be busy. Being a self proclaimed workaholic for my entire life, I am finding it hard to throw an anchor in the water and abruptly stop from working, while almost all of my friends still work and probably will until mid sixties (most of my friends are 8-10 years older than ourselves). I always anticipated entering back into the workforce to fill 15-20hrs per week but thought it would come a little later. I find myself needing to try and keep busy particularly this winter when it is cold and I am not a “winter guy”. When I return, if I cannot find employment, self gratiftying hours with the hospital, Cancer society or other charitable organizations will help and not take away a job for someone who needs it for monetary reasons. cheers :-)


    • Great personal insight. And glad you’ve got some action items. You still have have lots to contribute.


    • Thanks for your comment – good points which compliment the article. I like the idea of part-time or seasonal work after retirement.


  2. Great article and good points to consider. I took early retirement in 2010 taking a reduced company DB pension. I was 51 years old. After a few months realized that full retirement was too soon and decided to get back into the workforce. But after a while I realized that I was not willing to work full time hours for the pay any more so looked for part time hours of work and eventually gained a renewable part time contract position at our local community college, an environment I was comfortable with and processes that I was able to do based on past employment history. The contract was from Sept to April so it gave me the summers off to enjoy my semi retirement. It was a perfect way to lead into full retirement since my husband was still working and not planning on retiring until 65 or more! Not I’m approaching 58 and fully retired. I miss the work colleagues but not the work. I find there is always something to do at home, outside, with family etc and the key to a happy retirement is keeping busy. Thanks again for your articles on retirement, I thoroughly enjoy them.


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