Think About Test Driving Your Retirement

Taking a “test drive” of your retirement can help you avoid costly mistakes and make the most of the experience.

Zig Ziglar, a famous motivational speaker once said, “When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal, you do not change your decision to get there.”

Henry Ford could have used this advice early in his career.

On June 4, 1896, Henry Ford was ready to test drive his “Quadricycle”. It would be the first automobile he ever designed or would drive. Ford encountered a significant challenge on that June morning. The doorway for the coal shed in which he built the vehicle was too narrow to accommodate his car. Ford and his chief assistant took turns with an ax to attack the brick wall to enable the quadricycle to be rolled out.

How could someone like Henry Ford dedicate years of passion to planning and designing the quadricycle only to overlook the obvious issue of getting it out of the coal shed? Perhaps Ford was so focused on his vision of the vehicle going through its first road test. His working environment’s access to the first test drive was not an obstacle to him. He was so mentally engaged in the eventual external environment that the coal shed’s door was not elevated as an impediment to his enduring work until the morning of its completion.

Planning for retirement can be a challenge because we must yoke a long-term end state to our short-term thinking process. F. Scott Fitzgerald offered insight into the challenge of dealing with multiple time horizons in planning.

In a 1936 essay The Crack-Up, he observed that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Today, when we are working, is a different place from the far off tomorrow when we will be retired. Are we grounded enough today to appreciate the details of our retirement years from now?

The Retirement Test Drive

Attending a retirement seminar is a good place to start gaining an appreciation for how wide the doorway to our retirement is. A day or two of being introduced to your future self’s relationships with Medicare, Social Security, long-term care, and estate planning can be a sabbatical from the worries of your current working world and start you thinking about that doorway into retirement.

It can be challenging to account in advance for the various concepts which will frame the doorway into one’s retirement test drive. Retirement planning is about confronting assumptions, but we do not have to wait till the eve of our retirement to exit the doorway to take a test drive. Consider these three scenarios leading up to test drives.

Couple A wanted to spend their retirement years in a recreational vehicle while touring the United States. I suggested they rent one before retirement and spend a week test driving that experience before purchasing one. They balked about how expensive the one-week rental would be. Then begrudgingly consented to try it. 

They rented a recreational vehicle and found the encounter to be claustrophobic after a few nights. The one-week rental test drive prevented them from undertaking a huge investment not only in dollars but in time and maintenance for a second home on wheels. 

Couple B wanted to spend their retirement years in Florida. They loved visiting Florida for the past several years every winter for a week. Did they ever consider visiting during the other three seasons I asked? Too expensive! My suggestion would mean a loss of some annual leave they were hoping to cash in at the time of retirement. Then they visited Florida in the summer.

Their summer vacation in Florida was not followed by spring and autumn vacations in Florida. They decided to explore alternative states as a sanctuary for their twilight years.

I asked couple C what their plans were for retirement. The husband shared they were going to live on a houseboat. The wife corrected him to remind him they were going to take care of her mother as her sister had helped the mother for years and it was now their turn. I never found out how this confusion eventually got sorted out.

All these conversations took place during the short time I was a practicing financial planner. It seemed in that job I was sometimes an inquisitor for policing retirement dreams. That was not my purpose. I was asking questions about the doorway into their retirement. 

So, think about attending a retirement seminar, learn some details about the retirement portal awaiting you, and talk to a financial planner about your planned test drive. Or keep an ax handy. You may need it.

About the Author

Francis Xavier (FX) Bergmeister, CLU®, ChFC®, CASL®, ChSNC® has been Certified Financial Planner® for 30 years. He is a graduate of the Wharton School and earned a Doctor of Arts from George Mason University. He provides retirement seminars thru Federal Career Experts.