The tail end of hurricane season — and more specifically the disastrous flooding of Hurricane Florence — brings to mind my last serious brush with nature’s fury.
It was 2011, and we had just dropped our youngest off for his first semester of college in North Carolina, stopped off long enough in Washington, DC to check in with our daughters (both in college there at the time), and then sped home up the east coast to Connecticut with reports of Hurricane Irene’s potential destruction and probable landfall(s) close behind. We arrived home, unloaded in record time, and rushed straight to the local hardware store to stock up for the coming storm.
We weren’t the only ones to do so, of course. And what we had most hoped to acquire (a generator) was not to be found — there, or at that moment, apparently anywhere in the state.
What made that situation all the more infuriating was that, while the prospect of a hurricane landfall near our Connecticut home was relatively rare, we’d already had one narrow miss with an earlier hurricane and had then, as on several prior occasions, been without power, and for extended periods. After each I had told myself that we really needed to invest in a generator — but, as we know, inertia is a powerful force, and reasoning that I had plenty of time to do so when it was more convenient, I simply (and repeatedly) postponed taking action. Thankfully my dear wife wasn’t inclined to remind me of that at the time, but the regrets loomed large in my mind.
People often talk about the retirement crisis in this country, but like a tropical storm still well out to sea, there are widely varying assessments as to just how big it is, and — to borrow some hurricane terminology — when it will make “landfall,” and with what force. Most of the predictions are dire, of course — and while they often rely on arguably unreliable measures like uninformed levels of confidence (or lack thereof), self-reported financials and savings averages — it’s hard to escape a pervasive sense that as a nation we’re in for some rough weather, particularly in view of the objective data we do have — things like coverage statistics and retirement readiness projections based on actual participant data.
Life is full of uncertainty, and events and circumstances, as often as not, happen with little if any warning. Even though hurricanes are something you can see coming a long way off, there’s always the chance that they will peter out sooner than expected, that landfall will result in a dramatic shift in course and/or intensity, or that, as with some (like Florence) — the most devastating impact is what happens afterward. In theory, at least, that provides time to prepare — but, as I was reminded when Irene struck, sometimes you don’t have as much time as you think you have.
Doubtless, a lot of retirement plan participants are going to look back at their working lives as they near the threshold of retirement, the same way I thought about that generator. They’ll likely remember the admonitions about (and their good intentions to) saving sooner, saving more, and the importance of regular, prudent reallocations of investment portfolios. Thankfully — and surely because of the hard work of advisors and plan sponsors — many will have heeded those warnings in time. But others, surely — and particularly those without access to a retirement plan at work — may find those post-retirement years (if indeed they can retire) to be a time of regret.
As retirement advisors are well aware, the end of our working lives inevitably hits different people at different times, and in different states of readiness. But we all know that it’s a “landfall” for which we need to prepare while we still can.