Capital Investment Advisors

How To Plan For An Unexpected Retirement

I have a client who’s a fantastic guy. He’s a veteran and recently retired commercial airline pilot. I’ve been working with him for a while, so we’ve gotten to know each other well.

I want to share his story. It illustrates strength in the face of adversity, the challenges of an earlier than desired retirement, and a commitment to finding happiness, nonetheless.

For anonymity purposes, we will call him “Marshall.”  Marshall was in the Marine Corps for 20 years. He transitioned out, became a commercial airline pilot, and did an amazing job saving for retirement. Not only had he planned for himself, but also for his wife and their adult children in the event he was to pass away.

Unfortunately, his wife died when Marshall was 64. At first, Marshall threw himself into his work, which was a much-needed distraction from his grief. But then, earlier this year, at age 65, he was forced into retirement by a federal law that mandates all commercial airline pilots retire at that age. At the same time, COVID-19 hit.

Now, Marshall could have buckled under all of the loss and the uncertainty. But, he didn’t.

While he wasn’t prepared mentally or emotionally for retirement, Marshall channeled the Marine in him and dug his heels in. He was adamant that he would make the best of a tough situation. And ultimately, he did.

His story is one of perseverance and overcoming adversity. I’ll share how he did it in a bit, but before I do, I want to speak to everyone who may have to deal (or has dealt) with an unexpected retirement.

Forced retirement can either creep up on us, as in Marshall’s case, or it can come as a surprise one day while we’re at the workplace, chugging away. While we can’t fully control our retirement dates, there are some things we can and should control.

Let’s talk about the money piece first.

Your Financial Picture

Can you answer this question: Do you have a plan for your money based on your retirement goals?

Once you become a retiree, you’ve reached the end of the accumulation phase of planning, and you are now in the distribution stage. What type of plan do you have in place? Is it enough to help you achieve your retirement goals? Our goal at Capital Investment Advisors (CIA) is to turn your nest egg into a utility that generates consistent cash flow for you to live out the post-career life you envision.

Here are some common concerns you may have, and a general answer to them. As always, everyone’s situation is different and you should review your specific situation with a financial professional. Below will serve as a general guide.

Where should you pull income down from first?

Taxable retirement vehicles, your Traditional IRA and 401(k), and your Roth IRA, in that order.

What about Social Security? When should you start your benefit?

While we typically advise that most people wait until they hit full retirement age to begin receiving their Social Security benefits, everyone’s situation is different. At CIA, we do Social Security planning for our clients, helping them decide the best strategy for them. Is it worth putting more stress on your portfolio to delay your monthly benefit checks? We can help you decide by analyzing your financial situation.

Are you living within your means?

 We’re proponents of the 4% Rule. This rule broadly states that a retiree can take 4% of their initial retirement assets and up that amount every year to account for inflation. The rule assumes a 50% to 75% portfolio allocation in stocks. If you use your assets this way, they should last you for 20 years – at a bare minimum! Often, your nest egg could go far beyond these two decades.

Now that we’ve sketched out how to manage your retirement money let’s talk about what you’ll use it for.

Back to our friend Marshall. He’s now seeking his best life and living it as he makes new discoveries about what brings him joy. He’s found happiness in biking, hanging with his friends, and trying to find new hobbies. These things bring him both pleasure and purpose, two ingredients every retiree needs in their life.

At CIA, we call these activities “core pursuits” – the passion hobbies that you enjoy and engage in regularly. Your “purpose pieces.”

In researching his book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think, my colleague Wes Moss found that the happiest retirees have an average of 3.6 core pursuits. Unhappy retirees have only 1.9 on average.

So, where do you start?

In a sense, Marshall started from scratch because his retirement plans were so drastically different from the reality of his post-career life. This is one option – to seek out your core pursuits as you go. But you don’t have to do it this way. You can bring the activities you love to do and do often with you from work life to retired life.

Always loved tennis? Great! Keep it up! How about golfing? I say stay in the game! These are but two examples of a ton of core pursuits out there. You just have to find what fits your personality.

If retirement is here, it’s time to tap that rainy-day fund. Put it to good use and get out into the sunshine of a happy retirement. It may not be what you expected, but you can make the most of it – and have fun doing it – along the way.

Dan Abramowitz is a member of the Money Matters team and an investment advisor at Capital Investment Advisors. You can reach out to him or any of our advisors by emailing

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