On an outing with my son where we were lost in the fog, I realized that this must be what it feels like not having a financial plan in place. It was a Saturday morning and Oliver, my 8 year old son, and I were headed out fishing. The sky was clear and the sun was shining when we left our home, but by the time we arrived at the boat launch the fog was pretty thick.

I could see the sun trying to break through so I figured it would not be long before the fog had burned off. My plan was to get the boat in the water, stay close to shore and just fish right near the shoreline until visibility improved.

As we started to drift into the Puget Sound, the fog started to get thicker and thicker until what had once been a very bright sun in the sky had completely disappeared. At first I thought, “Wow this sure is beautiful.” It was just me and Ollie, and we couldn’t see land or other boats or anything. We could hear fog horns every couple of minutes and at one point a great big sea lion popped up about 20 feet from the boat. The water was completely calm; I was busy at work dropping our fishing gear into the water.

After I had both of our fishing poles set up, I looked up and realized I was a little disoriented. Having lost sight of the sun and land, I wasn’t sure where we were. I stood up and looked at the compass. The compass said we were headed South. I have never really paid close attention to the compass before this moment, but South just didn’t seem right. So I pulled up the GPS, which is several years old, and it said we were headed in the opposite direction I thought we were headed.

That didn’t seem right. It was then that I started to get a little worried. At first I thought, “Well I’ll just start motoring toward shore.”  But as we began motoring, I realized the GPS indicated we were going the wrong direction. It was so strange how I was sure we were headed one direction but my instruments told me I was headed the wrong way. Then my imagination started to get the best of me. I started thinking, “What if my GPS goes out for some reason. Will I be able to find my way back to shore? What if this fog doesn’t burn off or worse yet what if the fog keeps getting thicker.” Even though I had almost a full tank of gas, I started worrying about whether the gas had been sitting too long in the tank from the last time I filled up. Would the gasoline still good?  What if my motor dies out here? On and on my imagination went and starting creating all kinds of doubt and fear. Now of course I acted as if nothing were wrong because I didn’t want Oliver to be concerned, but I said to myself I need to get back to shore.

So I pulled up all our fishing gear, turned on the big motor and started following the GPS instructions to get us back to the boat launch. Really there was no reason to doubt the accuracy of my instruments, but I can tell you I was doubting them. It just didn’t feel like we were headed in the right direction. Steering by GPS is a unique challenge because it takes a little time for the GPS to refresh and let me know if we were indeed going the direction we needed to.

After  motoring for what seemed like eternity, but was likely only a few minutes, I saw a boat. The boat was white, and it just appeared out of nowhere. It was anchored down and not moving. Then all of a sudden I saw another boat. Again it just appeared. It is weird how the fog keeps obstacles hidden until you are right up on them. Finally we were about 15 feet from the boat launch when it came into visibility. I pulled the boat out of the water and so ended our day on the water.

As I thought back about this experience, I am reminded how fear can override our senses and make us begin to doubt all that we know is true. My instruments were accurate and following them turned out to be the best course of action, but I’m lucky I didn’t let my gut instinct direct me away from following the instruments.

Having a retirement plan is a lot like having a GPS on your boat. You know which course of action you should take even when the fog rolls in and fear and uncertainty try to knock you off course. Sometimes you just have to put faith in the fact that you made good decisions when you created the plan and know that there are going to be times when every ounce of your being believes you may be going the wrong way, but that may be when it matters the most that you stick with your plan.

Remember having a good financial plan is not for the good times. It’s easy to have a great plan when everything is going great. Everyone is a genius when the stock market is rising.

Having a good financial plan is for the bad times. When disaster strikes, when your health begins to slip, when governments shutdown, when stock markets crash and when fear rules the day. These are the times when we rely heavily on the preparations made in good times so one can weather the storm and find their way when  perspective or visibility is lost.

Having a good retirement plan is like having a good GPS. The fog will roll in and create fear, doubt and uncertainty, but having the right equipment on board will guide you safely to your destination.

Let us help you create a GPS for your financial and investment life.


Also published in the June 2014 Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal.

Orginally posted 2013-10-24