By Bev Bachel
I’ve been saving for retirement since I was in my early 20s. And as someone who has been mostly self-employed as a freelance writer for my entire career, that often meant forgoing time off in favor of billable hours.
But when I turned 60, rather than celebrating with a big party, a new piece of jewelry or an exotic trip, I decided to take a one-year sabbatical in order to take retirement for a test-drive. That one year quickly became two, although I did take on some assignments along the way: ones that could be done in four to six hours anywhere at any time.
I wrote a blog post while hanging out at a beach house in Panama, edited a colleague’s book while renting a log cabin in the Smoky Mountains and conducted interviews for one of my corporate clients while staying with my sister in Los Angeles. I also developed a couple of pitches for future projects, applied for a fellowship and helped three colleagues strengthen their LinkedIn profiles.
My two-year sabbatical has come to a close. Here are five lessons I’ve learned during my retirement dry run that may be of help to you as you consider trying retirement on for size:
While saving money might be a hardship for many, doing so has always come easier to me than spending it—in part because I’m not married and don’t have kids. So, it took time for me to come to terms with larger-than-usual credit card bills and dwindling bank balances. A couple of months that included airfare for multiple trips caused me to panic. So, did having to unexpectedly buy a new car. But gradually, I’ve gotten more comfortable spending my savings (though I haven’t touched my retirement savings and have no plans to do so until after I reach my full retirement age of 66 and 6 months.) After all, the reason I started saving 40 years ago was so I would have money to spend, whenever and however I wanted.
When I heard a friend, who lives in New York City was going to be spending a month in Barcelona, I asked if I could sublet her Upper West Side apartment while she was away. I worried that my request might be overstepping, but she said yes in an instant, creating a win-win for both of us, one we look forward to repeating the next time she’s out of town for more than just a few days.
Even when I was out of the country, I stayed in touch with family and friends via phone, text, email and social media. I even occasionally wrote long letters by hand. After all, I didn’t want people to feel abandoned. Nor did I want to feel awkward calling on them when I needed help. For instance, one shoveled my driveway, and another picked up my mail after I’d exceeded the USPS 30-day hold limit. But the best part of making the effort to connect while I was gone was coming home to cards and messages from people who missed me and wanted to reconnect.
After several missed steps over the past decade, I’ve finally found meaningful volunteer work that is a perfect fit for me. Not only does it connect me to others, it gives me the sense of purpose many experts advise having as you prepare for and enter into retirement. For me, that purpose means shining a light on Minnesotans 50+ who are making a difference in the lives of others and encouraging people of all ages to go for their goals. My trial retirement showed me that carrying these meaningful volunteer activities into my next chapter will be relatively easy.
I started out my trial retirement thinking I needed a detailed plan for what I was going to do when and with whom. Trying to create that plan got stressful. Plus, anyone who knows me will tell you that for most things social, I’d much rather fly by the seat of my seats. This is especially true when it comes to travel as I tend to leave making airfare reservations until the very last minute. At first, that felt like a problem. But it turned out to be a blessing as having an open schedule enabled me to say yes to several last-minute trips, including three weeks at a friend’s Wisconsin cabin and a spur-of-the-moment flight to Chicago to see Hamilton. It also enabled me to daydream about the future: what I’d like to do, where I’d like to live, who I’d like to spend time with and how and when I’d like to unplug again … and eventually retire.
I’ve settled back into life at home in Minneapolis where I’m once again writing articles, coaching colleagues, taking classes, hanging out with friends, volunteering and more. And while I’m sad to have seen my trial retirement come to an end, it feels good to know that when I do decide to retire “for real,” I’m now better prepared for what lies ahead.
Bev Bachel is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It. A lifelong goal-setter, she’s tapped into the power of goal-setting to make new friends, be a better partner, and go to grad school. One of her retirement goals? Live in Paris for six months.