THE BLOG
02/12/2014 01:45 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2014

Lesson from Mike Tyson: Stop Admiring Your Balance; Start Fighting for Your Retirement

I was watching an interview the other day with Mike Tyson. He was talking about his life, his one man show and his book, Undisputed Truth. Like so many celebrities, he rose fast and fell hard. At one point in time, it's reported his wealth could be measured in the hundreds of millions. It's also reported that his lifestyle demanded several hundred thousand dollars a month to sustain. When it all came crashing down, he was no longer able to maintain it all and was forced to file for bankruptcy. What's the lesson here? There are many, but the one I take away is this -- stop admiring your current account balance. If you aren't saving and budgeting, it could all be gone tomorrow. Start fighting for your future self in retirement by saving today.

You work hard. You bring home a paycheck. You pay your bills. Hopefully you have money saved for retirement. As we go through life, the economy ebbs and flows. If you're like most Americans, you check the balances in your retirement accounts periodically. During bad economic times, you're probably concerned, worried, even depressed, as you watch your retirement account balances go down. When the economy is good and your retirement account is higher, I bet you look at your account and feel more secure.

No matter what the economy of the moment is doing to your account balances, your paycheck continues to flow. You continue to pay your bills. Your paycheck is the fuel that keeps your life moving -- heat, water, gas, food, vacations, medical expenses, birthday gifts, etc.

Let's fast forward to retirement. Something big is missing in the equation. Your paycheck is gone. An important source of fuel that kept you moving through good economies and bad. The tap is dry. Now it's about living the rest of your life with the resources you have -- the savings you brought into retirement. No more paycheck. For many Americans, Social Security will play an important role in meeting basic expenses and keeping you going in retirement. But for others, Social Security will not cover even basic expenses. Retirement savings will need to play a critical role for these Americans.

The point in all this? When it comes to getting ready for retirement, we need to think more in terms of creating a paycheck, not just receiving one. Will you have enough fuel -- enough retirement income -- to meet your basic needs? Will you have enough fuel to check off some of those key items on your bucket list? Are you really thinking about income in retirement?

Or, like a colleague of mine, Ted Longnecker, likes to ask his clients, do you spend too much of your time "admiring a balance?" That is, defining your level of retirement readiness, security and confidence based on the balance of your retirement savings. That may feel right during your working years, but it might be a precarious approach to carry into retirement. If you cross the retirement threshold and the economy takes a turn for the worse, your account balances may go down and you'll likely feel bad. But even worse, the bills keep flowing, and there's no paycheck to carry you through.

Because of this, consider focusing less on account balances and more on efforts around securing the right level of income. This includes striking the balance of growth and protection when it comes to the vehicles we use to provide that fuel (social security, IRAs, 401(k)s, annuities, etc).

Stop admiring your account balance and start fighting for retirement. Start thinking paycheck. Learn from Mike Tyson and train for retirement so you can to pay yourself enough to cover the bills and do the things you want to do in retirement -- despite the ebbs and flows of the economic environment.

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