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Experiment before picking up stakes

Question: I'll be retiring in a few months and my husband is already retired. We are thinking of selling our home in Florida and moving to California to be closer to our children and grandchildren, who live in Los Angeles. Another option might be to keep the house in Florida, buy an RV and camp out in an RV park in California until we wear out our welcome. Either of these decisions has major financial consequences. Up to now, we've always managed to live within our means, but making a major decision at this time of life seems daunting. What are some of the pitfalls that we should try to avoid? Nancy, Milton, FL

Answer: My recommendation is to do some lifestyle experimentation first before committing to either approach (or another option).

For example, you could rent an RV or borrow one from a friend, drive cross-country, live in the RV park and see how it goes for you and your husband, as well as your children. Another time you could try a short-term rental in their neighborhood and see if you like living in Los Angeles. You could explore neighborhoods, research housing costs, grocery stores, what you end up doing for fun and so on. Another option is budgeting for travel to visit the children and grandchildren. How does that stack up against moving financially, emotionally and psychologically?

These are the kinds of experiments I would try, while at the same time always running the retirement numbers.

What I would urge you to avoid is spending too much money upfront only to realize you actually want a different lifestyle or approach to bringing your family back together.

Years ago, when I had a public television personal finance show called Right on the Money we interviewed a freelance writer with a good career. A wonderful person. She lived in a condo in Santa Monica, Calif., a town she loved. But she yearned for a home in the country. She sold her condo and bought a cabin in the California countryside. She says she was seduced by the beauty of the countryside, the mountains and the quiet. It wasn't long before she was bored and isolated. She lasted 3 years and moved back to the city. (She had the savings to unwind her lifestyle mistake.)

Time is a more precious commodity as we age. It's wonderful you want to be near children and grandchildren. How to accomplish that is part of a much bigger question, matching up financial resources and lifestyle. A period of renting and lifestyle experimentation allows you and your children to get some concrete feedback on the trade-offs concerning how to best reunite your family.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.
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