Test-Driving Retirement

The pandemic hasn't pushed up our retirement timeline, but it has presented an opportunity to test out our retirement lifestyle.

Lake in Leelanau County, MI photograph
(Image credit: <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/" target="_blank">Richard Hurd via Flickr</a>)

We debated whether we should go ahead with our cover story this month—our annual list of great places to retire—in light of the pandemic. Are new retirees rethinking the list of places they might go? Are retirees even contemplating moving right now? Particularly with a reluctance to fly, at least in the near future, proximity to family and grandkids might be a higher priority. In the end, we decided to go ahead with the article, but with a slightly modified list of criteria. We looked for smaller cities with less density but not isolated—excellent broadband coverage was a must. Good health care was high on the list, as were recreational and fitness opportunities. And as always, we chose places with a moderate cost of living that are also tax-friendly or tax-neutral, per our Retiree Tax Map.

Relocating for retirement. Our roundup of retirement places activates a part of me that looks forward to a simpler, less stressful life, free of commuting and meetings and deadlines. A couple of years ago, to accompany one of our retirement places roundups, I wrote about how my wife, Allyson, and I had been exploring retirement in Michigan. We spent a few days in Petosky, Mich., to see how we’d like living there full-time. The conclusion: maybe not so much. Residents we talked to said the town had a different vibe when the summer crowds left and the long, cold winter descended. And it felt far away from family and friends. That trip inspired us to commit to staying in Washington, D.C., for the time being. We hired an architect to design an addition for our house and started to interview builders. Then last summer, while we were vacationing with family in Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, we decided to look at homes for sale. We fell in love with a house with a view of Lake Michigan, took our renovation money and made a fat down payment on it.

The pandemic hasn’t pushed up our retirement time line, but it has presented a serendipitous opportunity to test-drive our retirement lifestyle. When the Kiplinger offices closed in mid March and the staff began to work remotely, we decided to pack up the car and move to our new home for a few months. Yes, we are working as hard as ever, but with commuting time freed up, we are also taking post-workday hikes and long weekend bike rides. When we don’t fret about COVID, we realize we are far less stressed because we are surrounded by natural beauty (so what if it takes longer for the flowers to bloom?). We’ve even made friends with neighbors. Allyson and I are both able to do our jobs remotely, and our paychecks are intact. (Thankfully, Leelanau County has had a total of only 12 COVID infections.)

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We realize how fortunate we are as we acknowledge that a lot of people have been hit hard by the pandemic and the recession. Many near-retirees have had to rethink their retirement plans, and the fallout from the coronavirus has laid bare the imbalance in equity and privilege in America. (See a new feature that profiles workers who are grappling with challenges sparked by COVID and the recession.)

Our commitment. The mission of this magazine is to make your financial lives more secure, with advice that is actionable, accurate and accessible. The word accessible implies easy to digest and, as much as possible, personal. More broadly, that means we attempt to reflect situations that apply to all of our readers, of all races and backgrounds.

At Kiplinger, we have had discussions about inclusion, some motivated by readers who think the pages of our magazine don’t reflect enough diversity. Please know that we are working on it. We are also having discussions about how to promote diversity in hiring companywide. If you have suggestions about how we can improve diversity or would like to volunteer to be featured in one of our personal finance stories, I’d love to hear from you.

Mark Solheim
Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Mark became editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine in July 2017. Prior to becoming editor, he was the Money and Living sections editor and, before that, the automotive writer. He has also been editor of Kiplinger.com as well as the magazine's managing editor, assistant managing editor and chief copy editor. Mark has also served as president of the Washington Automotive Press Association. In 1990 he was nominated for a National Magazine Award. Mark earned a B.A. from University of Virginia and an M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Mark lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, and they spend as much time as possible in their Glen Arbor, Mich., vacation home.