Uncharted Waters Ahead! Could Previous Retirement ‘Plans’ Become a Fed’s Financial Moby Dick?

Not properly crafting your retirement plan can leave you stranded if a storm hits the financial markets.

“Tenacious,” “Steadfast,” and “Resolute” are all convincing, sturdy, and upbeat adjectives to describe a person’s situational actions or attitude, yet today, the world we now inhabit MAY favor words like “Flexibility” and “Patience” over “Determined” when trawling for the retirement you anticipated only a few months ago.

Many of us are flopping around in a dark and open sea, attempting to understand the “new norm.” A new normal for many federal employees will include a deep dive into what they THOUGHT they knew about their federal retirement. Specifically, what can and should they (those retired or nearing retirement) be prepared to encounter in the waters ahead? How should (or can) they proceed with their retirement financial futures?

Rarely does the average man or woman truly participate in making history, but we are living in a moment in time that will be studied by our descendants as momentous. 

As the “stay at home” and “put your life on hold” mandates from the past couple of months begin to expire, we are beginning to dip our collective toes into the vast and transformed sea once again.

So, perhaps it’s time to discuss feds’ retirement finances once more, notably, the rationale of federal employees trusting their past retirement planning assumptions.

With so many changes happening so quickly, can your previously predicted retirement income and expenses still be presumed today, or should federal employees’ retirement futures be reevaluated to account for the new conventionality?

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick has been described as the most significant piece of American literature ever penned. It has countless nuances and depths that can be discovered with each new reading.

Perhaps the most recognizable theme is Ahab’s obstinate hunt, a pursuit that will allow nothing and no one to alter its self-determined path. Ahab finds himself on a quest that must have been destined and cannot be postponed or altered in even the slightest. 

Feds May be in danger of “Ahab-ing” their retirement plans

Lee (not her real name) is a married current federal employee. Lee has over 30 years of service, is over 60 years old, will receive a FERS pension, and is the owner of a diminished TSP. 

Lee also has an unwavering retirement “Harpoon.” Lee’s harpoon is decisively trained on a date and lifestyle that, in her mind, has been fated. Lee has been planning on a specific retirement lifestyle and timeframe for nearly 20 years and is unwilling to consider any alterations in her plan.

The COVID-19 coronavirus has caused the markets to take us all on a heck of a ride. Lee’s TSP balance began the year at more than $500,000. When Lee’s TSP balance dropped 10%, 20%…40%, she grew concerned. 

Several weeks ago, Lee moved her TSP assets into a more protective position, but the bulk of the losses had already occurred. Today those TSP balances are less than $325,000. 

Lee’s spouse suffered similar damages to his retirement savings as well. Combined, they lost nearly $400,000 in those savings, yet their retirement plan, which will rely heavily on those assets, has not shifted by even a single nautical degree. A loss of this amount begs for at least a modest course correction. 

Lee does not have a “professional” retirement plan, but she does have some self-designed spreadsheets and a mental picture of how their retirement income and lifestyle will appear. 

Overview of Lee’s plan:

  1. Retire in the first pay period of 2021.
  2. Expenses will be approximately $70,000 per year.
  3. Income from all immediate and fixed income sources are estimated to be $72,000 per year.
  4. They will use their withered retirement savings assets to cover any monthly shortcomings.

The Risk

If their retirement savings are utilized too soon during retirement, the couple could deplete their savings faster than it can replenish. This could lead to an empty cargo hold (savings) later in life when the couple is too far from port (too old) to go back to work and acquire more payload (generate more savings). 

Lee is determined to land her retirement prey by the same means and approach she has always intended to use. She does not understand that a new, more flexible approach may be less treacherous. 

Alternatives to pursuing Lee’s lofty retirement goals

Abandon Ship

Staying the old course in today’s environment may be a whale of a mistake. Some experts are assuming a lasting slump in the markets or even a full-blown depression. I do not know that I would be that unenthusiastic, yet these outcomes are certainly possibilities. Therefore, a plan put in place PRIOR to this new environment seems suddenly outdated.

Send out an SOS

Don’t be afraid or intimidated to seek help. Perhaps if Ahab had unearthed help in the form of a fleet of ships, he could have returned to port in only a day with an enviable trophy to hang on his wall, thereby making Melville’s masterpiece a thinner and prospectively easier read. 

We are all in uncharted waters, but that doesn’t mean a financial professional couldn’t help man the mainsail by offering balance, insight, and experience that arguably is needed even more today than it was just a few months ago. Lee could reach out to a professional that understands federal retirement and focuses on federal employees to help re-chart her retirement course.

Spot the Changing Waters

What seemed like a solid plan a few months ago may be unwise today. Lee could take an in-depth dive into her current and future situation.

Understanding tolerance for stormy seas can make for a precise course correction before her retirement gets swamped by unexpected submerging waves. Many sites offer free financial risk assessments. These assessments can help identify a fed’s comfort with choppy economic seas.


Our markets and financial futures are perhaps more fluid now than at any time during our lives. Word to the wise sailor – don’t be caught fixated on the horizon for an old vision of your future while your Pequod is sinking. 

Infinity Financial Services is a Registered Investment Advisor and a member of both the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA®) and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC).

Any opinions expressed in the article are those of the author alone. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risks, including the loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss. Silverlight Financial, Infinity Financial Services and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction. For a list of states in which I am registered to do business, please visit www.silverlightfinancial.com

About the Author

Randy Silvey is the published author of You FIRST, Federal Employees Retirement Guide, one of the bestselling books of its kind on Amazon and Kindle. For over 18 years, he’s been educating and guiding Feds in pursuing wealthier retirement lifestyles. Randy can be reached at 816-524-1515 or visit his website at www.silverlightfinancial.com. Securities offered through Infinity Financial Services. Member FINRA/SIPC.