Outside the Box: Having a dress rehearsal before moving in retirement can be a real eye-opener


I love red Ferraris— so much so I ask for one for my birthday every year. I even received one once (it was 3 inches long).

But as much as I love Ferraris, I would take the car out on the road before I ever bought one. I bet you test-drove the last car you bought, too. So why do so many people make a much bigger, life-changing decision without trying it on for size?

I’m talking about retirement and specifically about relocating after retirement. It’s a common occurrence: According to a study by AgeWave, 64% of retirees plan to move at least once during retirement. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College says it’s not a bad idea: Moving after retirement can improve psychological well-being, especially for those who proactively plan to move.

I don’t know how many of the retirees in that survey tried out their new retirement destination before settling down, but I can tell you from my experience as a retirement planner that it’s critical to hold a retirement dress rehearsal before making any big move. I’ve seen my share of retirees who had a much different experience than their plans led them to believe. In many of those cases, the reality did not live up to their expectations.

Do more than thoroughly research the location and visit a few times: Rent a home for three to six months before relocating. You’ll learn much more about your new community, about how you and your spouse (if applicable) will fit in, and about unexpected factors that might greatly impact your happiness in retirement.

Here are eight areas to explore:

Affordability. You’ve probably researched taxes, housing and utilities, but there are almost always surprises when relocating—and some can actually be good surprises! For example, when one couple decided to move back to the country in Louisiana, they realized they were able to cut their cost of living by more than half. They also found they much preferred the slower pace of country living to their former harried, traffic-infested life in the big city. Their rehearsal affirmed their dream in more than one way, and they were able to make their permanent relocation decision with financial peace of mind.

But many retirees discover additional expenses during their dress rehearsals. Unanticipated costs like higher property taxes or property insurance can really add up over time, even to the point where retirees risk running out of money. Discovering these expenses during a dress rehearsal can certainly change retirement plans.

Community. People are happiest when they are socially connected—and it’s tough to learn about your new community until you’re in the middle of it. You may find a great church or hiking group that welcomes you with open arms, or you may find it’s tough to break in as a newcomer and you miss your friends “back home.”

Distance from family. I met a couple who retired to Belize. During their “dress rehearsal” they lived near the beach, enjoyed great weather and spent less than they would have in the United States. But during their retirement rehearsal they found they missed their family more than expected and visits were tough, costing more time and money than they’d imagined. They’d considered this issue before their rehearsal, of course, but didn’t feel the impact until they’d already moved to another country.

Environment. That couple in Belize also discovered they weren’t crazy about resort-living year-round. They loved that lifestyle on vacations but needed to live it to discover it was a bit too much all the time. They ended up returning to the U.S. to live out their retirement years.

Weather is another consideration. You can’t really know its subtleties until you live somewhere. The mild weather at your new beachfront home may come with a bone-chilling dampness in winter, and that briny breeze you loved at first makes you crazy when encountered every day.

And there’s more to environment than weather and lifestyle. The outdoor festivals you looked forward to may come with a big increase in traffic, noise, and trash—and now you can’t escape by going home.

Neighborhoods. Renting can be great idea when moving to a new community because it allows you to try out a neighborhood before committing. You may find your new neighborhood is not as quiet as you’d like, or that another neighborhood has a great park you’d like to visit regularly. I also suggest you look at which neighborhoods offer the amenities you’ll need as you get older, like single-story housing and access to public transit.

Transportation. Many people dream of moving to a quiet place in the country, but it could be a real problem if you need to stop driving (as many do at some age) and there’s no bus, taxi or Uber. While living in your new home during your dress rehearsal, you can explore public transit and the area’s walkability.

Medical care. Again, you probably researched the availability of good healthcare in your new hometown. But by living there even temporarily, you can do some boots-on-the-ground research: meeting your doctors and dentists, checking out specialists—and learning about their availability. The U.S. faces a growing physician shortage, and small towns and rural areas are especially impacted.

Culture. The feel of a community—its social structure, politics, civic and cultural engagement, etc.— can vary widely depending on the part of the country you choose, the size of the city or town, even the neighborhood. I believe you can only get a true feel for the cultural aspects of your new home by living there.

Read: Before you move to a new town in retirement, check the local Walmart – and 5 other hard-learned lessons

If you’re thinking about moving out of the country, I even more strongly advise having a dress rehearsal. You’ll learn not just about the aspects of your new home previously mentioned, but about what it’s truly like to live in a different culture.

You may find a leisurely attitude about time suits your relaxed retirement just fine, or it may make you crazy to wait a week to have your stove repaired. You may learn that a language barrier is tougher—or easier—to navigate. You’ll discover how exchange rates affect your costs, and how the infrastructure (utilities, roads, even banks) works–or doesn’t. You’ll have a chance to experience healthcare in another country. And you’ll learn what it truly feels like to be far away from the culture you know.

I’ve always believed that retirement should be like a second childhood without adult supervision. If that childhood involves flying kites on the beach in your new hometown, I think you should reach for that dream. But before committing to a new place and a new way of living, I say you try it on for size.

Also read: Want a happy retirement? Have at least this many hobbies 

Ken Moraif, CFP®, CRPC®, MBA, is a senior advisor at Retirement Planners of America, an investment advisory firm based in Plano, Texas.

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