Sunday morning I almost drowned. Seriously. It was a beautiful, calm and quiet morning and I went out with a group to do a little open water swimming. I was a little freaked out that there were fish swimming alongside me, but I tried to block out their little fish faces as I swam. The water was cool but not cold yet it still made my sinuses tingle and burn. I swam on. After 200 yards or so, someone bumped into me. I stopped swimming. I treaded water and then decided to just stand for a few seconds to catch my breath. I forgot that I was too far from the shore to touch the bottom. I panicked. My heart raced and I was cooked. I was done. I could not regain my composure. I tried to change course and swim back to the shore but couldn’t take more than two strokes without hyperventilating. “What a beautiful day to drown” I thought to myself. WHAT?! That’s it? After five minutes, you cry ‘uncle’ and cash in your chips? I tried again to make it to shore but I was just too tired. I yelled for my coach to come back and save me and he did. My swimming experience was finished for the day.
I shared this story because once I caught my breath, it reminded me a lot of an article I read last week in U.S. News and World Report about the retirement fears of baby boomers. The article stated four main issues that strike fear in the hearts of those eyeing retirement:
- Financial Shocks
- Lack of Investment Knowledge
The findings were based on a survey of 300 retirees and soon-to-be-retirees. As I skimmed through the list, I couldn’t help but think “Yeah, and?” meaning so what are they DOING about facing those fears? Sure, the economy is cyclical and financial shocks (both negative AND positive) do occur, but there are ways to brace ourselves for such things. Poverty seems to me to be much more avoidable. Avoiding poverty in old age has a lot to do with good preparation in your earlier years and decent budgeting skills. Lack of investment knowledge is certainly an easy one to fix. It doesn’t mean going back to school or even pursuing any type of formal education. It simply means reading, asking questions and paying more attention to the world around you. If you need some ideas on where to start, there are lots of great lists out there of the best personal finance books. I like this one from My Dollar Plan. Maybe one day I’ll come up with my own. Lastly, when it comes to fraud, it makes sense to feel like everyone is out to get you given all of the scandals that we have endured in the financial industry. However, at some point you have to find the faith to put your money somewhere. How do you know whom to trust? Check them out! Your state regulatory agency will typically be willing to check out anyone offering securities for sale in your state. To find your state regulator, check out the North American Securities Administrators Association — NASAA – they’re the guys who watch the watchers, so I think you can trust them. Another thing you can do is go national. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority — FINRA – the guys who watch the guys who watch the watchers — have a cool thing on their website called the BrokerCheck. You can search for a broker and get the dirt on them online if there is any. I would argue that these are great ways to calm those fears.
So, how am I facing my own fears? Good question! I’m taking baby steps. I’m reminding myself that I’m a strong swimmer and I can swim a mile in a lake without stopping — even though I can’t touch the bottom or grab onto a rope. I’m hitting the pool hard to work on my strength and technique. Heck! This morning I hit it so hard that I jammed a finger slamming into the side of the pool after a tough set! Still, I’m not going to go out again and attempt that mile right off. This week, I’m aiming for 300 yards, next week I’ll try for 450 yards and so on. That’s my plan and I’m sticking to it. I know that cutting and running won’t make it any better but if I arm myself with strength, confidence and a plan and I put in the work, I can conquer my fears — and so can those retirees!