Football season is entering a critical stretch, and the thrilling nature of the games is boosting the sport’s popularity during this time of year. Have you ever watched a game and thought that the fourth quarter always seems to matter the most? As the game gets closer to the end, the pressure builds, and teams start changing their game plans and playing styles to try to win. It usually results in a lot of excitement.
People may not find retirement planning quite as exciting as football, but the closer you get to the end of the process, the more the pressure builds, and the more you must carefully consider your investment decisions to ensure a positive result. If you think of retirement as the culmination of a career-long game plan, you can break down that plan into four quarters. And while every second counts, just like in football, mistakes and missteps are magnified and strategies have to be changed as time runs out.
Here are a few things fourth-quarter football strategy can teach you about retirement planning.
Whether a football team is leading or trailing when the fourth quarter starts has a big impact on how they play. If they’re leading, they’re going to play conservatively by running the ball more. This chews up game time and minimizes the chance of mistakes. If a team is trailing, they’re going to have to take more risks and throw some long passes if they want to win. They’ll also have to run through their plays a lot more quickly.
It’s similar when thinking about retirement planning. If you’ve saved consistently throughout your career and are on a steady track to meet your retirement goals, you may want to reallocate some of your money into safer investments to “protect your lead.” You’ll want to move away from risky stocks and towards bonds, or even annuities which may offer a more stable rate of return.
If you’ve put off investing, you may have to take a few more risks in order to meet your goals. You may want to be more aggressive in your asset allocation than you would otherwise. Ultimately, the choice of how much risk you really want to take on is a personal one, but what is certain is that you’ll have to play “hurry-up” and be willing to adjust more quickly and actively to changes in the market, and not take too long to make decisions.
Yes, you should “protect the lead,” if you have a nice nest egg, but there is also such a thing as being too conservative. Football defenses run into this problem all the time. At the end of close games, they’ll set up what’s called a “prevent” defense in an attempt to avoid giving up the big play. The strategy is built on the idea that the opposing team can be allowed to gain yards, but that there should be a last line of defense to make sure they don’t score. Not bad in theory, but all too often this results in offenses getting a bunch of small gains very quickly and putting themselves in position to score anyway.
This is worth remembering when investing during the fourth quarter of retirement planning. No, you don’t want to start making crazy bets on stocks. But if you are too conservative, you run the risk of coming up short on your retirement goals and possibly outliving your income and assets. Don’t just shift all of your money into a money-market fund. Continue to explore some growth opportunities while making sure you have some downside protection with a balanced portfolio. This is especially important for you to do so that you avoid overtime–working longer than you planned to. It’s a common consequence when you aren’t sure if you have enough to last you through retirement.
Football players say it all the time when they make a thrilling comeback at the end of a game: “We practice that every day.” It may sound cliché, but it’s true. Every football team practices different late-game situations so that when they are in the real moments, they’re prepared.
Obviously, you can’t really “practice” for retirement planning. But you can do a number of things to help prepare yourself for what retirement will bring. First of all, you should try to envision what exactly you want your retirement to look like. Do you want to travel the world? Are you going to downsize to a smaller home? Will you be trying to pay for your grandchildren’s college tuition? By mentally going through these specific situations, you’ll be in a much better position to make financial planning decisions. You’ll be thinking about retirement in real terms instead of in the abstract. Just like the best players, you will be well-prepared to win at crunch time.
In football, good coaching becomes more important in the fourth quarter than it is at any other point in the game. Coaches are calling plays, taking timeouts and making constant adjustments to try to win. If a coach makes a really bad decision, it can lose his team the game. Good coaches have the ability to motivate their players when the pressure is at its highest and call plays that put them in a position to succeed. They’re also great teachers, imparting knowledge and advice at the most critical moments. As essential as good coaching is in football, you still have to have coachable players to win.
Good coaching matters more when you’re closer to retirement as well. You’re worried more than ever about whether you’ll have enough finances to last through retirement. You may realize that there is a lot you don’t fully understand about your investments or your portfolio. A short and timely meeting with your financial adviser, just like a timeout, can make all the difference. They can reassure you in times of fear, explain investment strategies to you in clear, simple terms and put your money in the right places so that it can both grow and be protected, depending on your specific needs and situation. You can make your coach’s job a lot easier by communicating regularly with them and being willing to take their advice.
Just like the fourth quarter of a football game, the fourth quarter of retirement planning is a critical time. It takes courage, effort and skill to make it through to the end goal. There will be setbacks as well as successes. But in the end, if you can commit to the process with a good coach and the right team around you, victory in the form of a care-free, secure retirement can feel like winning the Super Bowl.
Phil Simonides, CFP®, is Group Vice President at McAdam , where he oversees the firm’s Washington, D.C., metro, New York City metro and Boston offices.
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