If you are retiring, or considering it, chances are you have been surveying your world atop a pillar of success. You have built a career, becoming an expert in your field, all while simultaneously growing deep roots that steady you and keep you secure in life all-around.
And then WHAM, you are done. You go from, “I’m a teacher/banker/crash test dummy” to “I’m a…, um, retired?” It can feel like you have gone from being a mighty oak to a tumbleweed, not sure where the winds will blow you or even if you want to go wherever that might be.
It’s scary, not because you can’t handle it, but because you haven’t dealt with uncertainty, newness, and being out of your expertise in a while.
But it can also be exciting, like when you first started down your career path many years ago. And just like many years ago, there are some steps to take to start that transition on the right foot, building a new solid base.
1. Don’t over-commit to make the first leap permanent:
Some retirees have had a plan of what their post-work life would be. Some even start to create that vision by buying property. If this is you, great. Most people, however, have only a gauzy, romantic, far-away vision of what retirement would be like (mostly defined as not working). For them, I recommend not jumping into a commitment right away. This might mean investigating several places first, or leasing a place to test it out. I’ve known people who have jumped right in by buying a “dream spot,” only to then change their mind later about what they wanted out of retirement (or were ready for the next phase), but were now anchored.
For us, we imagined a life of having an initial locale in Europe based on convenience but then moving about every year or so. Turns out we love Granada and we want it to be our home, so we are changing up the game plan. Still, we aren’t ready yet to buy…just in case.
We also transitioned out of our Dallas residence slowly. When our sons moved on to college and beyond, we sold the big house and bought a townhome. When we moved here, we rented the townhome to a friend of our sons but kept an upstairs bedroom for ourselves. Now committed here, we’ve re-let the place fully to a stranger and have a property manager oversee it for us. As the Spanish say, poco a poco.
I hope you’ll fall in love with a place like we have, but remember when your child (or you) first fell in love as a teenager? There is always talk of staying together forever, but reality says your first love is probably not your last.
2. Feel the vibe.
Remember picking a college, either for you or for your child? Sure, there were the academics, scholarships, and facilities, but such practical factors weren’t the end-all of the decision, were they? The reason people visit colleges is to get the “feel” for the place. Do they like a big or small campus? Big city with lots of non-college stuff or a college town with school spirit? What’s the weather, and perhaps most of all, are the people walking around the campus ones you can see using the word “us” about for four years?
The same is true for retirement-land. Cities have personalities, paces, and vibes. This is especially true ex-patting as we did, where ex-pat colonies can be like sub-set communities. Many of our friends who live on the Costa del Sol say they love the beaches and getting together mainly with other expats from just a few countries (or sometimes just their own). On the other hand, we love that Granada’s ex-pat community is small, but very diverse, and integrates substantially with the local community. Granada is funky, especially compared with, say, Sevilla, and that suits us well.
3. Oh yeah, there are practical considerations.
As an economist, I have written about my bugbear that people compare choices by doing benefit vs. benefit rather than true COST-benefit. If you are saying there is the Prada museum in Madrid but Granada has the mountains, then I’m sorry, you aren’t doing a choices comparison correctly.
For the plus that is the Prado, plus having a wide array of restaurants, how much does the traffic congestion and higher cost of living negate that? For the smaller-town, intimate feel of Granada, how much is that countered by having problems finding an English-speaking doctor or the extra inconvenience of traveling somewhere because you are off the path? What is each places plus/negative “score?”
You may imagine all the great future times you’ll have for enjoying the high-points of life in retirement, but most times you’ll just be shopping, eating, and generally living, and you need to know how those mundane minutes will be as well.
4. Consult consultants.
There are a lot of books and other resources out there, so do your homework (or have a partner that does it all, like I have). You could do what many do and throw out questions on social media, but as they say, advice is worth what you pay for it.
Remember, though, as any lawyer (or teenager) will tell you, there are “the rules” and then there is the realistic “local practice.” For our transition to Spain, we hired a local lawyer in Granada who has advised us on occasion. She was most helpful in reviewing our lease, ensuring our landlord was legit, and letting us know what Spanish law says and how it is actually carried out in Granada (like that rental deposits are held by the city and the process and terms of reimbursement). Believe me, a good advocate/expert/guide who knows the lay of the land is worth the price.
5. Listen to the oldies
By the time most people retire, they are the veterans who give out more advice than they take in. Now, you gotta reverse it. You are a newbie again, and there is no better way to figure out the game than to ask the players already in it.
Talk to people ahead of you on the retirement path. What do they wish they had done? What do they like/not like about their experience? There are a lot of Meetup groups for retirees (and even more for expats), so go to them and just say you are there to gather info. People will be glad to share.
Important, however, is that you also consider from whom you are getting advice. I used to advise students to find an older student LIKE THEM (studious, partier) to ask what a course was like. You should do the same. If you anticipate traveling, ask seasoned travelers if a place is convenient; if a museum-goer/socialite, ask if there are enough things to do there.
Look at the stars, but watch your step
The key is not to reject being a newbie, but to embrace it. Be wide-eyed and open to all the possibilities. Live the dream, but test it in reality before you commit. I think the best way to think about retirement is to remember that the Spanish word for it is la jubilación , or jubilation! So, jump for joy, but also plan a bit and keep an eye out to make sure you come down from that joyous leap onto firm ground.