The Great Turnaround

What the 1980 U.S.Men’s Olympic Hockey Team can teach us about late-stage retirement planning.

Late Stage Retirement Planning

It was February of 1980, at Madison Square Gardens during the height of the Cold War. It was there, that the U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey team took on what experts considered the world’s best hockey team at the time: The U.S.S.R. It was an exhibition match meant to be a preview of the upcoming Olympics and the U.S. was trounced, 10-3.

Fast forward ten days later and after being given no chance by critics and fans alike, the United States men’s team pulled one of the biggest sporting upsets of all time by defeating the U.S.S.R., 4-2. That team would then go on to win the Olympic Gold Medal and their story would become known as the “Miracle on Ice.” So how did they do it? How did they go from being given no chance to pulling off the inconceivable?

Some say it was one of those perfect moments when miracles happen. Others point to something more solid: the preparation. The Russians spent their practice days before the medal round sitting around, studying plays, and generally relaxing. In general, they didn’t really prepare. The U.S. team practiced as hard as they ever had before. The coach looked for weaknesses and planned a winning strategy.

Their dramatic turnaround in such a short time is a solid example of two things: 1) It’s never too late to reach your goals, and 2) with the proper planning and strategy, you’re more likely to accomplish great things. This couldn’t be a better vision to have in your head if you’re nearing retirement and haven’t spent much time planning and saving for life after work. While not all investment stories end successfully, with just the right combination of perseverance, planning, and sacrifice, you may still be able to retire in relative comfort even if you got a late start in the game.

Your strategy and frame of mind are the keys when beginning to save for retirement later in the game. You can sit around like the U.S.S.R., resting and doing basic review, or you can prepare yourself mentally for the challenging, (but potentially rewarding) road ahead. When faced with the reality of catching up, you must also accept the fact that you may have to be more aggressive in your savings habits and your investments than some of your friends or co-workers who started saving long-ago. You no longer have the luxury of
being as conservative later in life as you may like. You may also have to consider the possibility of working past age 65.

Most Americans who work today breeze past age 65. There’s a growing trend of people who love their jobs or just love to work. Realizing that you may have to work a bit longer is something you might have to consider at this stage. Now that you’ve sharpened your skates, and prepared mentally, it’s time to go out and play.

First things first. If you’re starting late in the game it’s extremely important to take advantage of the catch-up provision offered by 401(k)s and IRAs. In order to catch up and still have a comfortable retirement, you’ll want to contribute the maximum amount to each, plus the extra amount you can add by law. This is known as the “catch-up provision.” If you’re 50 and older, the catch-up provision for 401(k)s in 2005 was $4000, and now increases to $5000 in 2006. IRAs allow you to contribute a catch-up of $1000 for 2006. While it may seem difficult to contribute the maximum amount plus a catch-up, you have to ask yourself if you’d rather sacrifice now or worry a lot later. This helps you stay
focused on your goal and every day needs of retirement. One of the biggest pieces of advice available today has to do with planning a budget and trying to play catch-up. You should list your retirement fund expenses first, as the most critical, before anything else and budget up from there.

Just playing catch-up isn’t the only way to save this late in the game for a successful retirement. One way to help (be more comfortable) later on in life is to reduce some of your heaviest debt right away. By reducing the amount you owe in credit card bills, car loans, or even your children’s extra college expenses, you ensure that when the time comes for you to retire, you do so knowing that your largest debts are behind you. This keeps you focused on the every day needs of retirement.

Finally, if you’re entering the retirement planning phase this late and you enjoy working, you might consider doing so a while longer. Besides the added financial benefit, you’re also contributing to your personal well-being both mentally and physically. You may even consider starting your own small business and making a bit of extra income while setting your own hours. After all, you’ve earned this freedom; shouldn’t you be taking advantage of it?

There is always something you can do to save for retirement, even if you think it’s too late. While the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey team may have been called the

“Miracle on Ice,” planning for retirement this late in your life doesn’t take a miracle. But it does take a certain amount of self-sacrifice, some elbow grease, and some trusted planning from a financial professional. These are just a few of the basic ways to be prepared for retirement this late in the game.

It won’t always be an easy path to retirement savings but with the right combination of hard work and trusted planning, you may find yourself with more time to enjoy life after work.