Does the “Aviation Accident String” Concept Apply to Retirement Planning?

accident string

A pilot is preparing to depart on a planned flight. As he performs his final inspection, he spots a mechanical issue that he should have caught much earlier in his pre-flight check. Attending to this issue causes the pilot to miss his scheduled morning takeoff.

Instead of rescheduling for the next morning, the pilot decides to take off in the early evening.

During his flight, some unexpected bad weather rolls in – nothing that would have troubled this pilot much during the day, but with less visibility at night the situation quickly becomes dangerous. The plane veers off course.

Suddenly, this pilot finds himself in a potential life-or-death situation. One bad thing has led to another, and then another.

We pilots call this the “aviation accident string,” but I’ve also seen this same principle throw many retirements off course over the years. Here are a few examples:

1. Not planning early.

According to a report by the National Institute on Retirement Security, an astonishing 66% of millennials have NOTHING saved for retirement. No 401(k) contributions, no Roth IRA, nothing.

Far too many young people think that retirement is so far away that they can put off serious financial planning. They need somewhere to live, transportation, and money for monthly expenses right now. They figure there’s time to worry about the rest later.

Unfortunately, these folks are missing out on the benefits of compounding interest. We ran some conservative hypothetical numbers on a previous podcast: a 22-year-old who puts $500 per month into an investment account could be building towards a retirement nest egg in excess of $3 million. The forecasted returns drop substantially every year that millennial puts off investing, so misses out on the stock market’s potential wealth-building power.

And not planning early often leads to …

2. Not living within your means.

Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone who doesn’t have a long-term financial plan is being irresponsible, running up credit card debt, and making superfluous purchases. But does a financial plan help keep those kinds of expenses in check? Sure! Otherwise, in many cases, you end up spending more than you should.

Even if you do keep a budget and minimize your debts, if that budget doesn’t include automatic savings and investment contributions to help build your future financial security, then you’re looking at your finances through too narrow a lens. You may be living within your means month-to-month but overspending in the long term.

When we work with clients at Keen Wealth, we take the 30,000-foot view of their money and their lives. Monthly spending is just one item on our checklist, but it’s a big one. There’s no more powerful adjustment you can make to your financial planning than spending less than you make while saving and investing as much as you can.

And if you’re not taking that 30,000-foot view of living within your means while you’re working, then that means you’re probably …

3. Not preparing for the retirement transition.

When you clock out of work for the last time, everything changes. No more monthly paycheck. No more employer-subsidized health care for you and your spouse. You’ll file taxes differently. You’ll have to decide when you want to start taking Social Security. You’ll have to sort through the Medicare options available in your state of residence. You’ll have a whole lot of free time – maybe more than you know what to do with.

These are just some of the “far-off” issues that can become very real for seniors in a hurry once retirement nears. All of a sudden, a string of poor decisions and suboptimal planning has accumulated in a retirement that’s on shaky financial ground.

And this might be a best-case scenario! What happens if you or your spouse becomes seriously ill and one of you is forced to retire early? What if your home needs a major repair that isn’t in your budget? What if you decide after a year or two that you should have moved closer to your family, but you don’t have enough saved to afford the move?

The Keen Wealth “pre-flight” checklist.

At Keen Wealth, we want our clients to enjoy a dream flight into retirement. We tackle as many “what ifs” as we can early in the planning process because we never want our clients to look back and say, “I wish I’d done that differently.” If our expert team can’t provide the most thorough possible review of a particular issue, then we can connect our clients with tax, legal, or health care pros to coordinate possible strategies for different aspects of the financial plan.

Some turbulence is unavoidable on even the best-charted flight. But by controlling what we can control, our clients are in a much better position to adjust when their retirement hits a patch of bad weather: we regroup, stick to the plan, and steer away from a string of more trouble.

Bill Keen: Don’t let one bad thing turn into an accident string that throws your retirement off course. 

About Bill

Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit

Keen Wealth Advisors is a Registered Investment Adviser. Nothing within this commentary constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Keen Wealth Advisors manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed here. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  

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