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Did You Know Baseball and Planning for Retirement Have a Lot in Common?

Photo of author, Brian Gongaware, CFP®.
Brian Gongaware, CFP®
Director of Advisory Services and Chief Compliance Officer

The onset of the 2016 baseball season caused me to reflect on our national pastimes of baseball and planning for retirement – and just how similar they are in strategy. You’ve probably not heard someone refer to planning for retirement as a pastime. However, in decades of working with individuals, families, and business owners, I believe traditional retirement planning can be a pleasant and enjoyable experience (like watching a ballgame), when one recognizes the importance of focusing on both the present and the future, and making needed corrections in strategy along the way when life throws you those curve balls.

While I reference retirement in this piece, we could argue that a superior modern definition of retirement planning is “financial autonomy.” The practices of earning, saving, and investing can produce a level of financial autonomy where one can choose various paths of work and lifestyle without having to follow the traditional retirement route.

Whether you are the highest-paid All-Star or the rookie pitcher sitting in the bullpen, staring at the scoreboard in the middle of the game can be defeating and distracting. Nonetheless, we must keep score throughout the game, not to celebrate or to become desperate, but to assess if we are on-track for “success” at the end of the game.

The passages and tables below contrast many baseball concepts, strategies, and tactics with comparable retirement ideas, models, and behaviors. You will notice that the approaches differ as you progress through the innings and phases.

Baseball, like retirement, can be viewed in three phases. The first phase (Innings 1-5) is about amassing runs, playing sound defense, and taking an early lead. In retirement, these are considered the wealth accumulation years. Assets are being earned and saved. Investment strategies tend to be more aggressive and appropriately speculative with many years (innings) ahead of us.

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The second phase (Innings 6-7) is a critical transition time. The starting pitcher has begun to tire, batters are having an “off-day,” and the scoreboard shows a close game. Runs scored and errors made earlier in the game are having a lasting impact but don’t always pre-determine the final score. In retirement, these are the transitional years just before retirement, and the first years afterward. Earnings, commonly, are at their peak levels right before retirement. Then an odd shift occurs—equal to that of bringing home a first child into the family. The impact of financial decisions is magnified as the time to “re-earn” losses is limited.

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The final phase (Innings 8-9) is the fruit of well-played earlier phases. The two teams have different perspectives based on the score. The team leading on the scoreboard is looking for some additional runs to increase the margin and play intelligent defense. The closing pitcher is well-rested and ready to enter the game to secure the victory. The manager is making small moves to protect the lead and bring home a win. In retirement, these are the years in which one is fulfilling their life ambitions and living a good life. They have realized their ambitions, not just in retirement, but throughout the entirety of the game of life.

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In baseball, a team can only score when they are batting (on offense). While the team can’t score any runs while playing defense, they can keep the other team from scoring. Through all three phases of retirement planning, one needs to have both a strong offense and defense. Applying healthy practices to accumulate resources (runs) is just as important as having well-grounded, disciplined defensive strategies.

While there are many parallels between baseball and retirement planning, there are an equal number of parallels between a baseball manager and a wealth manager. There are countless opportunities to read the circumstances and apply sound situational management strategies and tactics to maximize the possibilities for success.

In baseball, success is defined as scoring more runs than your opponent. In financial autonomy (or retirement planning), success is defined in many different ways. Your opponent is not your neighbor, best friend, or the average American. And the question is: How do you define a good life?

Recently, we released a “Financial Practices Self-Assessment” tool. This can be one means to think about and articulate what success really means for you – defining your “good life.” My experience is that most people are challenged to fully articulate what a “good life” really looks like to them. They may have a gut sense of their goals but find it difficult to express it in a coherent way that is consistent with their available resources.

Our team of advisors at McKinley Carter Wealth Services is equipped to lead our clients through those kinds of complex conversations and coach them through the alternatives during all phases of their financial life.

McKinley Carter – Investing in a Good Life.

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