5 Ways Planning for Retirement Is Like a Relay Race

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Since its beginnings in Portland, Ore., the concept of a long-distance relay race has jumped to many cities. Although Hood to Coast will always be the granddaddy, these other endurance events offer their own lessons to those who have made bold plans to prepare for a thriving financial future.

This past weekend, I ran in the Ragnar Relay Series with nine other members of my former University of Virginia cross-country team and two extras to round out a relay team of 12. Our approximately 200-mile journey started in Cumberland, Maryland, and finished at the National Harbor in Washington, D.C. Each leg ranged from 2 to 10 miles and varied in difficulty.

As a financial adviser, I can’t help but find lessons in this race that apply to those who are serious about meeting their retirement goals.

1. Getting started is the hardest part.

If it weren’t for my friend Tim Marriot, our team would not have made it to the start line ready to compete. We all needed reflective vests and communal headlamps. And we needed two vans so one van could leapfrog the other from one drop-off point to the other. And who would run each leg of the race? I could handle one difficult leg, but wasn’t in shape to handle two. Tim wasn’t going to let our natural talents of procrastination ruin this race. Bottom line, we needed a plan and someone to oversee the logistics.

Everyone dreams of winning the race (which, ahem, we did), but there’s a good deal of planning and goal-setting needed to ensure a successful outcome. Retirement goals also require logistics. How much should you be saving each month? What savings vehicles are the most efficient? When do you hope to start and finish the journey to financial freedom? Before you can execute, you need to make time to create the plan.

2. Expect to course correct.

One of my favorite quotes from the weekend was when a teammate shared, “I didn’t care much about this whole government shutdown until it affected me.” This half-sarcastic comment was jokingly referring to the fact that some of the legs of our course had to be altered because we were unable to run through several national parks on the original race course. In the scope of the entire government shutdown, this was a small adjustment but, really? Did they need to block our access to the paths that run along the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial?

Course corrections are also required in retirement planning. People lose jobs, investments underperform, and stuff called life just happens. Some can get up after being knocked down; others never make it back to their feet. Your ability to cope is directly related to your expectations. If you expect to adjust, you will likely be more flexible when encountering trials along the way. Plan to review your progress at least every other year and to make any necessary adjustments.

3. No pain, no gain.

Many of the teams had hand-painted pithy slogans on the outside of their vans. “This seemed like a good idea six months ago” was one. Another read, “200 miles to beer!” A last slogan that stick out to me read: “RUN. EAT. SLEEP? REPEAT.” There was little sleep to be found during the entire overnight event.

The only reason we got 12 people to commit to run through the night over the Appalachians is because we all wanted to be part of a memorable experience. Only those who put in the sacrifice experience the runner’s high.

Retirement planning is similar for most. If achieving financial freedom were easy, I’d be out of a job because everyone would do it on their own. I like to think of the saving and investing process as an installment plan to financial freedom. Buying your financial freedom one month at a time is an endurance sport and requires sacrifice. As you make these sacrifices, be careful when seeking advice. Some financial advisers are hazardous to your wealth and can make the sacrifice feel futile.

4. Celebrate the journey.

At five times during the race, our entire team (both vans) met up at a transition point as one van load handed off the slapstick baton to the next van of runners. We all looked forward to these fun celebrations as we shared updates from the race and cheered on incoming and exiting runners.

Your long journey to financial freedom requires celebrations as well. Consider these reasons to rejoice: Did you pay off a lingering debt? Have your savings and investing crossed major thresholds? Did you get all the kids through college? The truth is there is no destination. Ask any retired person if they feel like they’ve arrived. Every step is part of the journey, and you need to make sure you’re enjoying time with friends and family along the way. You can find ways to mark your achievements without breaking the bank.

5. Find a group that shares your goals.

I have no doubt that many in our group would have dropped out early if there were no teammates waiting at each exchange point. It’s not much fun when you’re slogging all alone.

Doubtless you’ll need to find similar groups in the long march to financial freedom. Choosing to live below your means is a countercultural act of defiance to the spirit of this consumer-oriented age. Every business in the world is drumming up all of their creativity to convince you to dispense with your wealth. You’ll need accountability to resist the inevitable commercial and social pressures.

Some entrepreneurs join study groups of like-minded individuals who share goals and tips with one another. Others may join a Financial Peace University training group. The bottom line is that you need to audibly share your goals with others (including your spouse), who will remember to check in on your progress. Without accountability, we are all a group of fallible humans who lean toward the path of least resistance.

With or without a functioning government, your journey to financial freedom is within your grasp.


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