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Playing Offense in Retirement

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In a comment responding to my recent post about making better decisions in the face of uncertainty, a reader wrote: “Life is inherently risky. To try and compensate for every contingency is irrational. We can “what if” ourselves right into a straight jacket! You retired early … you won!”

As a lifelong football fan, this comment reminded me of Super Bowl LI. At the 8:31 mark of the third quarter, Tevin Coleman hauled in a six yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Ryan, putting the Atlanta Falcons ahead of the New England Patriots 28-3. 

Game over.

Even with future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady on the other sideline, there was no chance of New England overcoming a 25 point deficit in a game in which they were being dominated by a formidable foe.

Except they did.

New England scored the last 25 points in regulation to force overtime. Four minutes into overtime, James White ended the game with a two yard touchdown run. Final score: New England 34, Atlanta 28.

Atlanta took its foot off the gas pedal. They tried to run out the clock. And they lost.

There’s a valuable lesson there that we can all apply to retirement planning. . . It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. 

If you’re retiring at the traditional retirement age, you may only be in the third quarter of life. If you leave your career early, like I did at age 41, it may not even be half-time. You haven’t won yet.

Traditional retirement planning, assuming earning no more income and focusing on safe withdrawal rates, is akin to trying to run out the clock. It’s playing not to lose.

Let’s look at why you should continue to play offense in retirement, especially if you’re planning to retire early.

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