Training for the Retirement Marathon

Many years ago, I made up my mind to train for a marathon. I was what you would consider an amateur runner at best. I had never had any formal training, nor had I run any previous races at all. Most would set an expectation to start with a shorter race and build up stamina before running a marathon; however, that’s not what happened. Ambitiously, I signed up for the full 26.2 miles, paid my money, got my t-shirt, and began to train.

Fast forward the clock 8 months (and many miles) later. I’m running this race as well as can be expected until, up ahead, I see the “mile 15” marker. Suddenly, it seemed as if every ounce of energy and motivation left my body, and all I wanted to do was walk the remainder of the race. I was experiencing what marathon runners refer to as “The Wall.”

Many people approaching the end of their working years begin to hit a wall. No motivation. No vision. Even if you love your job, it is common to reach this point in your life and want to “coast.” You are likely in the highest earning years of your life and it’s easy to become lax on your financial discipline. If you are nearing the end of your working career, here are some steps that can help you stay focused and finish strong.

Picture the Finish Line

With any goal you set for yourself, whether it’s retirement or something else entirely, you need to spend some time dreaming. Dreams create the drive. Your motivation to prepare for retirement is in direct proportion to how big your dreams are. Sit down with your spouse and spend some time picturing the finish line. What do you want retirement to look like? What will you do? How much income do you want? 

These are important questions to ask yourself when preparing for the best years of your life. Rather than thinking of retirement as a stagnant season, I want to repaint this picture to portray retirement as the years when you should have the most freedom you’ve ever had. Maybe that means playing golf every day, spending time with your grandchildren, or maybe even starting the business you’ve always been afraid to start. Whatever your dream is, define it and write it down.

Find a Coach

Thinking back to mile 15 of my run, after hitting “the wall,” I began to walk. By some providence, I heard a voice to the right of me say “Don’t look down!” An evidently seasoned runner came alongside me and was able to coach me through that “wall” I had hit. We ended up running together for the next couple of miles. With every step I took, I kept thinking “Don’t look down, eyes on the prize. Don’t look down, eyes on the prize.” 

What I noticed is when you look down while you’re running, all you see is the ground. But when you look ahead, you can see your progress. Progress creates momentum and momentum helps get you to the finish line. When it comes to your retirement, you need a coach. You need a partner. Someone who will run alongside you to help you make it to the finish line. It’s important to know when to bring in an advisor to be the coach who will help guide you towards your dreams for retirement.

Remember Your Training

While running takes a lot of discipline and effort, building your retirement has a personal cost as well. If you are within a few years of approaching retirement, here are four practical training tips that can help push you across the finish line.

Budget, Don’t Fudge It

Create a written plan for your monthly cash flow and stick to it. Begin to live on what you expect your retirement income to be. If that is less than your income is now, try to start adjusting to this amount prior to retiring.

Make Debt a Threat

If you have debt in your financial picture that you’d like to get rid of, think of it as an obstacle that stands in the way of your dream. Do anything you can to overcome that obstacle whether that means selling the car, downsizing the house, or saying no to some unnecessary expenses to help pay down debt. 

If you still have a mortgage, sit down with a financial advisor and have them help you decide how you can best allocate your dollars. That may mean paying extra on your home, or it might mean putting more into your retirement accounts.

Save More, Savor More

There’s a pretty good chance that you need to be saving more. Nearly every client I meet with who wants to plan for retirement has a gap between how much they are currently saving and how much income they want when they retire. Think of every dollar you save as one step closer to the retirement finish line.

Don’t Rob the Bank

Many people think of their 401(k) or their IRA as this retirement piggy bank in which they receive their IRS-approved hammer at the age of 59½, and bust it open before they should. If there are major expenses outstanding such as renovating your home, buying new vehicles, or moving, those decisions often are best made on this side of the retirement finish line. When you take money from your 401(k) or IRA to make major purchases, not only can it create a potential tax burden for you, but it can rob you of your income later on in retirement.

Finish Strong

I’d love to say I finished my marathon perfectly and ran every step of the way from mile 15 through the finish line, but it wasn’t that idyllic. While my story wasn’t perfect, I did finish strong. I crossed that finish line with motivation and passion. It was the greatest feeling of achievement I’ve ever experienced. With the right help, you can cross the retirement finish line and enter into your best years. Don’t look down, keep your eyes on the prize and finish strong! ν

Content in this material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Consult a financial professional to discuss your personal situation.

Brandon Grable is a registered representative of and offers securities and investment advisory services through MML Investors Services, LLC, Member SIPC. 949 South Shady Grove Road, Suite 300, Memphis, TN 38120. 901.767.5951. CRN202703-6095987