Retirement Is Starting to Look More and More Like an Obstacle Course…

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“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it” Molière

The popularity of the TV show ‘American Gladiator’ during the 1990s likely led to the development of related programs such as ‘Wipeout’, ‘American Ninja Warrior’, and ‘Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge’. The idea of overcoming barriers is now so popular that even the long running hit show ‘Survivor’ makes use of obstacle courses in some of its competitions. 

Events like the Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, and Tough Mudder have become well-known parts of the modern recreational scene for those who find the sweat and dirt of real competition more satisfying than watching others compete from the comfort of home.

The obstacle course, like nearly everything in our physical culture, trace their origins to the military and the building of better warriors, but not many of us consider the similarities between traversing an obstacle course and the planning and implementation of your retirement strategy.

From Known Obstacles to Unknown Challenges

Most people have a pretty good idea of what awaits us during retirement and tend to plan accordingly during our working years. Establishing a savings account, contributing to 401(k), funding an IRA or two, saving and then saving more, etc… have become part of financial advisers’ mantra. Everyone knows the drill — or sort of.

But the economic landscape is forever changing and memories of the 2008 financial crisis have millions of Americans questioning their own level of preparedness. In a recent survey, the Wall Street Journal found there are many things keeping retirees up at night, things they did not foresee or take into account during their active working years. The findings related to financial concerns, including paying for basic needs, saving enough for retirement, having enough money for emergencies, paying for health-care expenses, and paying for extras such as large purchases and travel.

On an actual obstacle course event organizers set up clearly marked barriers and other easy-to-see impediments for the contestants, but in the real world of economics, obstacles are not always so obvious.

When It Comes to Meaningful Reform, Washington Is On (Permanent) Vacation

Most will agree that uncertainty and ongoing money challenges are two of the last things anyone wants to contend with during retirement. However, when it comes to D.C. and the game of financial reform, the one thing you can be certain of is that the field of play is never level.

Individually, we try to plan our future based on a known set of economic principals, but can quickly find ourselves, with very little or no warning, on a completely different course with little more than a change in the markets or new legislation coming out of Washington.

Many of us make the mistake of thinking passage of a new law means another problem taken care of — case closed, end of discussion. But, not so fast.

Take the Dodd-Frank bill, for example. When he signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, President Barack Obama said he’d landed a decisive blow to the reckless financial corruption responsible for the global economic crash in 2008. “These reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history,” he told an audience in downtown D.C. on July 21st, 2010.

“In history,” he repeated, further emphasizing the point.  

Predictably, critics of the legislation said it went too far while supporters felt it didn’t do enough, but from the very moment it was signed into law lobbyists and lawyers fought regulators over every inch of ground in the rulemaking process.

But the latest presidential election changed everything. Why? Since becoming president, Trump has made it clear he intends to deregulate the banking industry and he plans to start by taking down Dodd-Frank. Even if he fails to eliminate it altogether, it seems likely he’ll find enough support to greatly diminish the effectiveness of the legislation.   

To put it another way, congressmen and presidents may be able to get a law passed occasionally — but they can no longer make sure it stays passed.

It’s too soon to know what kind of impact this revocation will have on the banking industry or the markets in general, but we know for seven years the banking lobby fought hard to make this regulation go away, and now it seems nearly certain they’ll get their wish. They are getting exactly what they want and, at least for now, they couldn’t be happier. That alone should be enough to give the rest of us pause.


With so many other problems facing the country it’s hard to believe overturning this legislation could be a priority for any new president. The question is, could this turn out to be another major obstacle for retirees or just another bump in the road? For now, it’s impossible to say.  

But when you consider the number of government and market sector obstacles already aligned against you and your savings, the road to retirement can appear somewhat overwhelming. But rational, thinking people don’t ignore such obvious risks, and they understand the biggest risk of all is doing nothing.

Like a competitor on a course in the real-world, those who have done the best job of preparing themselves are more likely to prevail, and those who come up short will likely regret having not used their time and resources more wisely.

It’s OK to hope for the best, but nothing beats the feeling of being prepared to match the competition step-for-step, regardless of how long it takes or how many obstacles stand in your way.

Plan well.

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