When William and Eleanor Seavey contemplated retirement, they didn’t picture themselves staying in their home of Orcutt, California, where they were living when they were in their late 50s. Instead, they had their sights set on Cambria, a seaside village about 80 miles north, where they envisioned opening a bed and breakfast.
So they started taking trips to try it out.
“We visited Cambria maybe a half dozen times, tending to stay longer each time,” says William, 70, who is also the author of the book “Moving to Small Town America.”
Once they were sure about taking the plunge, they bought a 2,400 square-foot home, and now they’re living their dream, hosting guests and enjoying their new lifestyle.
“We do not need to work anymore, but choose to,” Bill says. “But had the B&B not been successful, we felt we could still make a go of living here.”
As people near retirement, they sometimes get caught up in dreams they’ve had for years, such as moving to a warmer climate or becoming a scratch golfer.
Of course, once in retirement, people often realize the reality of these lifestyles isn’t quite what they expected. Fewer than half of retirees describe their retirement as being “very satisfying,” according to an analysis from the Employee Benefit Research Institute—and one in 10 retirees say it’s “not at all satisfying.”
Thankfully, retirement doesn’t have to be a complete shock to the system. There are a variety of ways to give your retirement game plans a try to make sure they measure up, just as the Seaveys did. Here are some strategies:
Take a vacation test-drive
Many people envision moving somewhere else when they’re older and grayer. But how much research have you done on the location you’re targeting for your golden years? Do you know what it’s like in the off season? Have you considered what it will be like to be far from friends and family? If you have the means, rent a house or apartment in your locale of choice for an extended period, so you can try it out before you make a permanent move. If your profession allows it, work remotely from there. Your future retired self will thank you for doing the legwork before making a big move.
Volunteer in advance
Maybe you’re picturing spending your retirement hours doing good works for your favorite charitable organizations. But you can start in on volunteering even before you retire. Consider offering up some of your evenings and weekends so you can get a feel for how volunteering works and whether you enjoy it. You can also take this time to try out different charities to see which may be the right fit for you.
Go ahead and start that business
If you’re thinking your retirement will be about reinvention—you’ll finally turn that hobby into a money-making venture—you’ll want to get a jumpstart. Sometimes turning a pastime into a business can backfire; maybe you won’t really enjoy knitting baby hats when you’re doing it 30 to 40 hours a week. But there’s no way to know that unless you start monetizing that side gig now. If it turns out that money-making kills the magic, you can make other plans.
Live on your retirement budget
Making ends meet on your retirement savings feels like a fuzzy hypothetical until you actually have to do it. Determine how much money you’ll have coming in and going out in retirement, then adopt that budget for several months—or even a year or more. Is it feasible, or do you feel squeezed from every angle? It could be that you need to save more or work for a few more years to live the lifestyle you want to, and it’s better to know that before you are actually retired.
Stepping out of the workforce after so many years can feel pretty strange, so it’s not surprising that the experience can catch some people off guard. Dipping your toes into the water ahead of time can make the transition easier—and may also open your eyes to a path you’d never before considered.
Kate Ashford is a freelance journalist who writes about personal finance, work and consumer trends. She has written for BBC, Forbes, LearnVest, Money, Real Simple and Parents, among others.