Illustration by Chris Gash for M
By Rick Kahler
June 24, 2016

Retirement is more challenging than you think—so challenging, in fact, that you need to rehearse it ahead of time.

Really? Practice not working? As odd as that may seem, yes. Otherwise, you might end up like one of my clients, Todd. Six months after retiring at 66, he complained that he was bored. “I can’t fish and play golf day after day,” he said.

Or you might end up like other clients, Ted and Melinda. Though their income was slated to drop to $4,000 a month from $10,000, they were sure they had drawn up a sound budget. Then they realized they had forgotten to include food.

It’s easy, though, to avoid such problems. Before you retire, take these steps to get ready.

Test your budget

To check that you can fund the life you envision, try this: Write up a one-month retirement budget, including fixed costs like housing, utilities, and taxes. Then, estimate annual outlays (using recent spending as a guide, where applicable) on intermittent costs like health care, travel, and home repair. Divide those annual costs by 12 to get your prorated monthly spending, add it to your monthly fixed costs, and subtract the total from your estimated monthly income. The result will be the money you have for day-to-day discretionary spending in retirement.

If the expenses you’ve already totaled up are greater than your projected retirement income, you need to redo your budget. If not, take the difference between income and expenses and withdraw that amount from the bank. Use only that cash to fund groceries, gas, and entertainment for a month.

This exercise will show you whether you can match your current standard of living in retirement—something, in my experience, people expect to do. When Betty, another client, tried this, she ran out of cash in two weeks. So she decided to work until she could afford the retirement she wanted.

Calculator: Are my current retirement savings sufficient?

Go through the motions

Take a long vacation—ideally for at least a month. Within the above budget, live as if you were retired. Be as realistic and specific as possible. Volunteer. Invite the grandchildren to visit. Build a bookcase or make a quilt. Think year-round; don’t simply focus on seasonal activities like gardening and golf.

And keep away, as much as possible, from your work and co-workers. Jobs are often a major source of people’s social life and mental stimulation, so you’ll need to fulfill those needs in other ways.

Even if rehearsed, the transition can be rocky. Evelyn, a client who tried these practices, told me she needed a few months to develop a new social life and daily routine.

Retirement is a transition to a new lifestyle as well as from your career. With practice, you can make your new life perfect.

Financial planner Rick Kahler is a co-author of four books on financial planning and psychology.

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