Last week, I “helped” a newly retired friend.
He’s preparing for a 5 month hike from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,663 mile trek he’ll be starting in April. To help get him in shape for the marathon hike, I suggested we take a long day hike while I was at our cabin in the North Georiga mountains for a bit of vacation. He accepted the invitation, and last week he came up to the cabin for the “training hike”.
We had perfect weather, and enjoyed each other’s company during our 13 mile hike along the Benton MacKaye Trail in the Cohutta Wilderness Area. The picture up above is the two of us at the beginning of the hike (I’m the old guy pointing to the Cohutta sign – I can assure you we didn’t look nearly as lively by the end of our 13 mile walk). The picture below is my friend, a man soon to be attempting to walk from Mexico to Canada! (By the way, he also posted a guest article on this site about his early retirement)
7 Ways Hiking Is Like Planning For Retirement
As I thought about our hike in the days following, some parallels came to mind between hiking and planning for retirement. I’ve had fun thinking about the analogy, it’s surprising how many parallels there are in the two seemingly dissimilar events:
1. Both Have Ups & Downs
Hiking: At the start of our hike, we hit a 900 foot climb within the first mile. It was a brutal way to begin a 13 mile hike. Throughout the hike, we had many ups and downs as we followed the ridgeline trail along the Appalachian Mountain range. We endured the ups, enjoyed the downs, and made it to our destination.
Retirement: In retirement planning, we also face many ups and downs. Uphill challenges include things like; health care issues, aging parents, changes in plans, stock market declines, college expenses, etc. Downhill opportunities include things like; getting a raise or promotion, a child getting a job and contributing toward their expenses, a strong stock market, gas price declines. We endure the ups, enjoy the downs, and hopefully make it successfully to our destination of retirement.
2. Preparation Is Required
Hiking: The night before our hike, my friend and I studied maps of trails in the area. We wanted to find something hard enough to train our bodies, but easiest enough for two old guys to do without having heart attacks. After choosing a “point to point” hike (not a loop, but “in” at one place and “out” at another), we realized we had some logistical planning to do. Thanks to our loving wives, we were able to drop a car at the “end” of the hike, and get a ride from our wives (who followed us when we “dropped” our car at the exit point) to the “beginning” of the hike.
Retirement: In retirement planning, preparation is key. HAVE A PLAN, but be prepared to change. Don’t set off on your hike toward retirement without understanding your financial situation, your spending needs, the income you can generate in retirement, and what you’ll spend your time on after you retire. Track your net worth, and insure it’s on the right trajectory. Plan with your spouse, and together insure you’ve made the arrangements to insure a successful retirement.
3. The Proper Gear Is Required
Hiking: My friend told an interesting story while we were together. 3 years ago he hiked the Appalachian Trail (yes, he made it from Georgia to Maine!). In planning for the hike, and throughout the first 2 weeks, he said the majority of discussions among hikers was all about the gear. Weight weight weight. Obsessive focus to reduce weight. After 2 weeks, no one talks about gear as much, and all of the focus becomes an obsession with food. I guess walking 20 miles a day does that to a body. Regardless, you can’t walk 2,000+ miles without the right gear. From boots to hiking poles to backpacks to tents to stoves….having the right gear can make the journey much more tolerable.
Retirement: In retirement planning, there are also many tools. From how we allocate our assets, to understanding how different financial products serve different purposes, it’s really all just an understand of the tools we can use for our journey. Annuities may generate a lifelong income stream, but you need equities to keep up with inflation. Don’t forget the stability offered from fixed income investments. Use retirement calculators to project your path. Use these tools to insure your money lasts through retirement. Having the right gear can make the journey to retirement much more tolerable.
4. Some Have A Heavier Burden
Hiking: For the training hike, my friend intentionally carried 35 pounds on his back. While it sounds sadistic, the reality is that he wanted to simulate the actual conditions he would endure on the walk to Canada. As much as I may have struggled up the big hills, I realized he had it significantly worse given the weight he was carrying on his back. Regardless, we both made it through the hike, and successfully reached our destination.
Retirement: In life, some folks have a heavier burden than others. Some make a lot of money, others make less. Some face challenges with illness, job loss, family issues and the other myriad options which can weigh us down. Regardless, with adequate planning, all can make it through the journey of retirement planning, and successfully reach our destination.
5. Sometimes It Hurts
Hiking: Imagine getting up wherever you are at this moment and spontaneously walking 13 miles. It’s a long way, especially when you consider the elevation gained and lost as you trek up and down the mountains. By mile 11 or so, the knees feel it, the feet feel it, the back feels the weight of the pack.
Retirement: In retirement planning, sometimes it hurts. You have to continually make savings decisions that delay gratification. Perhaps there’s something you want to buy, but decide to not purchase it. Sometimes theres a gift you’d like to give, but can’t. Balancing the long term priority of retirement savings against the short term goal of living is an ongoing lesson in sacrifice, and sacrifice can hurt. As Dave Ramsey says:If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else. Dave Ramsey Click To Tweet
Make the sacrifice. You can’t stop time.
6. Rest Is Required Along The Way
Hiking: At mile one, climbing a 900 foot hill isn’t easy. We had to stop a few times to catch our breath. Half way through the hike, we sat down and ate lunch (picture above, stylish hat thanks to skin cancer which I had carved out of my forehead a year ago. Yeah, it’s tough getting old). Every few miles, we’d stop to take a mini-break, drink some water, eat a snack. You can’t easily walk 13 miles without stopping. So, you rest.
Retirement: In retirement planning, you can’t commit 100% effort non-stop to the retirement effort. Sometimes, you need to rest. For my family, this “resting from retirement planning” meant we prioritized vacations, and took some fantastic trips over the past few decades. Life has to be lived both in the moment (rest) and longer term (retirement planning). Have a balance. Don’t over-work yourself. Take all of your vacation. You can’t easily invest for retirement for 30+ years without stopping occassionally to catch your breath.
7. It Ain’t Over When It’s Over
Hiking: After about 6 hours of hiking in the Appalachians, you’re glad when it’s over. Except it’s not over. We reached the end of the trail, our final destination, but life went on. We got in the car, drove home, took showers. The next morning we woke up, and our friends returned to their home. A few days later, I returned to work. Tonight, after a full day of meetings, I’m sitting in my hotel room typing this blog (by the way, I LOVE writing this blog, I hope you enjoy reading it!). Life Goes On.
Retirement: In retirement planning, we must remember achieving retirement is not the end. It’s a new beginning. A new chapter. Make sure your retirement planning doesn’t just focus on the financial numbers, but thinks about what your life will be post-retirement. Work as much on your bucket list as you do on your spreadsheets. Don’t make the mistake that many do and fail to plan, resulting in a retirement that’s depressing. Think about what you really, really want to accomplish before you die. Define for yourself your purpose. Life is different, but Life Goes On.
Hiking, like retirement planning, is a great adventure. Grab a hold of your retirement planning. Enjoy the process. Rest along the way, and make a plan for the hills that you’ll climb along the path. Endure the occasional pain, bear your burden. Live like no one else. Educate yourself on the tools available to help on your journey. In the end, with adequate preparation, you’ll have a great journey.