Check It Out Before You Check Out

By Victoria Northrup

Now that my Boomer friends are winding down from their climb up the corporate ladder, our casual discussions about work and money have turned to how best to manage finances, when to begin withdrawing from Social Security and how long to work. None of us jumps to the retirement topic often; it’s too scary. But what if an opportunity presented itself to let you see what life is like during retirement without actually having to retire?

Due to the eclectic career path I took over the years, I’ve been subjected to various layoffs over the past three decades from the computer industry, the recreational products sector and the automotive field. Thanks to managing my own finances somewhat successfully during the last decade, I was able to take my time selecting the next position on two separate occasions. I called this “test driving retirement.”

What If?

It was exciting! I was curious to see how I would fill the days, what hobbies I would take up, and what new challenges might emerge that would cause a knee-jerk reaction that isn’t present when so busy working. It’s no surprise that money is the chief driving factor and having a mortgage hanging over one’s head will motivate more than any other single factor. But what would happen if you were debt-free, had no mortgage, money socked away and no dependents relying on you but still too young to retire? It was an interesting experiment.

If anyone else happens to stumble onto this situation, I do have some advice for you – some best practices if you will – to keep yourself out of trouble during this test drive phase of your life.

Factors to Consider

  1. Resist the urge to set the cruise control. This is a temporary situation and you will probably be back to work in less than a year so don’t get too comfortable and slack off on the job search. If this happens, just buy a house. The mortgage fear will get you back working faster than anything else.
  2. And this is probably the hardest for most people, put on the brakes when it comes to spending. Adopt the “essential items only” practice and watch your budget carefully. Never spend more than what’s coming in on unemployment and interest bearing accounts.
  3. Stay in your lane and no veering – or learn to say ‘no.’ If ever there’s a time to decline unimportant trips or events or the chance to send a much smaller check as a gift, this is the time to do it and it’s justified. Your kids won’t hate you since they know it’s temporary and trust me, once you’re back working, they’ll hit you up for those large birthday checks once again.
  4. And finally, relax and have confidence in yourself while you’re on this path. You didn’t lose your job because you’re worthless. You lost it due to the economy. So slow down for awhile, steer carefully, enjoy the view and make some plans.
    If given the opportunity, take several small early retirements for a year or so while you’re still somewhat young. I just never understood working 30 years straight and retiring overnight only to wake up to declining health and unexpected financial hardships. And who knows? Based on where we’re heading with Social Security, healthcare reform and a host of other uncertainties, my age group just might be looking at not retiring until we’re ninety anyway. So if life throws you a curveball and lets you take a rest from work, take it. You’ll be back in the fast lane quick enough.

Victoria Northrup is the president and CEO of the Greater Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce.