Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Forces

It’s been a stressful week—and it’s not over yet.

Over the past 10 days, I’ve managed to survive three college move-ins, an earthquake in our nation’s capital and—with a little luck—a hurricane bearing down on the Northeast even as I write this column.

Now, I know it’s summer—Labor Day is only a week off—and there’s a lot looming over our industry’s head, but the fact is, I am—perhaps like many of you—having trouble focusing on anything other than Hurricane Irene.

See, we live in a neighborhood that seems particularly prone to losing power, and we’re frequently the last in our town to have it restored—and that’s when we don’t have a hurricane sweeping the Eastern seaboard!

It’s bad enough to be without power for several days, but the last time it happened, it was accompanied by some significant rainfall, and we quickly found out (the hard way) that the sump pump that normally keeps that extra water from pouring into our basement requires electricity to function. Fortunately, we were able to borrow a neighbor’s generator before things got too out of hand, and once we were past that crisis, I determined never to go through that again. Figuring that a small portable generator was a prudent investment, I did a little online shopping, decided I knew NOTHING about portable generators, made a mental note to go back to it when I had time to deal with it… and never did.

Now, life throws a lot of curve balls at you—and forces of nature, more often than not, simply happen with little, if any warning. Hurricanes, on the other hand, you tend to see a long way off. Oh, there’s always the chance that they will peter out sooner than expected, that landfall will result in a dramatic shift in course and/or intensity, or that, like with Hurricane Katrina, the real impact is what happens afterward.

But still, hurricanes don’t generally spring up out of nowhere the way that tornadoes (or earthquakes) do. Incredibly, these massive storms with 100+ mile-per-hour winds seem to creep slowly toward land (with the relentless determination of a zombie in a George Romero classic) over a series of days.

In theory, that provides you with time to prepare—but, this week anyway, it mostly seems to have provided time to wonder why I didn’t do more.

I suppose a lot of participants are going to look back at our working lives that way as they near the threshold of retirement. They’ll remember the admonitions about saving sooner, saving more, the importance of regular, prudent reallocations of investment portfolios. Sure, you can find yourself forced suddenly into an unplanned retirement, but most have plenty of time; not only to see it coming, but to do something about it.

But only if they choose to do so before their retirement storm makes landfall.

—Nevin E. Adams, JD

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