Keeping Your TSP Strategy Disciplined in the Face of Adversity

Federal employees who stay the course with their retirement strategy will set themselves up for a winning retirement.

Football players playing a game on a football field
Credit: Ian Smith

Hello readers. Welcome back to my series, Don’t Miss These Three Federal Retirement Lessons from… Football?.

Today we will dive into lesson #2: Discipline in the Face of Adversity Pays Off.”

The great Jerry Rice said, “Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.”

That’s a great quote that almost begs for images of one more rep or an extra hour studying film. While such activities frequently contribute to enhanced output, I will chide you to also consider images that include forgoing some activities or behaviors in favor of a better outcome. I will pass on watching a movie in favor of going to bed early, for example.

I ALWAYS say that playing college football was one of the best things that happened for me. Discipline was instilled into my daily routine. Rise and shine for morning lift, then head off to classes for the day. Feeling a little draggy in the afternoon? No worries, it’s time for practice from 3-5:30pm. Add to that, four days a week for film, followed by homework (remember, it’s STUDENT athletes). Thank goodness for weekends, right? Well, then came gameday and Sunday walkthrough. That’s a pretty full schedule but it was also filled with synergistic behavior that helped us succeed. 

Did we WANT to do all those things? Heck no! Did we do them anyway? Yes!

Do you have anxiety about financial stresses or your retirement? Good news, you have the tools to change that. Some are obvious activities, like increasing your TSP contribution as your income rises. Other examples include resisting the temptation to make emotionally based TSP allocation changes. Financial outcomes can be influenced by emotion, but wrangling our emotions can lead to better outcomes.

Staying the Course With Your Federal Career

Let’s take a look from a different perspective. Discipline in the face of adversity can also mean staying the course with your federal career. We meet folks regularly who began their jobs with every intention of a long and productive career, but now are in the mode of, “How soon can I retire?” Adversity can also mean difficult bosses, budget cuts, hostile administrations, and false public perceptions. 

Federal service can feel pretty unappreciated sometimes. Do not let that get in the way of your retirement plan and financial goals. For example, if your original plan was to retire at 62 or 65, and now you are exploring MRA (minimum retirement age), your retirement lifestyle may suffer. I’m not saying don’t retire at MRA. I am saying to make that your plan (early), work toward it, and do not let external factors bump you off track.

Did I enjoy running sprints? (No, I was a defensive lineman.) Did I like being behind at halftime and the other team would be getting the ball first? (NOOOOOO!) But did we have plans and strategies that we would follow to get through difficult times? You bet.

If you have at least 20 years of service and you retire at age 62 or later, you will get a 10% bump to your pension for life. Don’t let work frustrations lead you to stop before you get that bump. Likewise, don’t let Fed rate increases or regional bank failures knock you out of your asset allocation and funding strategy for TSP. Stay with the plan and trust the process.

Solutions like this are simple, but not always easy. I get it.

Frustrated with the state of your Federal career? Maybe it’s time to grow. Perhaps adding a master’s degree to leverage mental capital.

Difficult supervisor? Can you apply for a different position? Can you build a relationship with that manager? Find a way without compromising your integrity or work. More remote work, or part-time work perhaps, to get to 62.

If all else fails, have a plan for an early exit that preserves your options and maximizes your situation as you transition to a new employer.

Market Conditions

Let’s wrap up with well-known and much-discussed adversity – market conditions.

I believe that it is firmly part of the human condition to try to understand, control, or predict life and life events. And here’s where it gets very tricky, and the result can be very damaging.

Sometimes we guess right. Yes, I said we guess right. The market, Congress, and the Fed do exactly what we predicted. Even worse, many times this behavior is combined with an investment or portfolio change that results in a good financial outcome. Again, that’s right, I’m categorizing guessing right, and having a positive financial outcome, as a bad thing.

Why? Because this type of behavior followed by a good outcome can embolden us. We may feel that “we are on to something.” This can lead to us making bigger “bets” based on what we feel or even believe will happen. This raises the stakes to the point where our losses are outsized when we inevitably guess wrong. There is more empirical data today than ever before that shows that jumping in and out of the market, or making sharp portfolio changes because of short-term volatility or conditions, will lead to lower returns over time.

I believe that the singularly most damaging element of market risk is human behavior. So, let’s understand that and have a plan to manage it.

Do the homework (or consult a CFP® or Fiduciary Advisor) to craft the correct allocation within your TSP (and outside accounts) based on your ability to tolerate risk. Then stay with it. If you feel the need to do something, then rebalance. 

What do I mean by this?

For illustrative purposes, let’s say your proper allocation consists of 40% C Fund, 20% S Fund, 10% G Fund, 10% F Fund and 20% I Fund (NOTE: I am NOT making a recommendation here!!!!), and after a year, it now sits at 38% C Fund, 22% S Fund, 11% G fund, 8% F Fund and 21% I Fund. What do you do? Get out of F because it went down? No. Bring your percentages back to the original mix.

Modern Portfolio Theory posits that 95% of an investment portfolio’s returns come from getting the allocation right and maintaining it over time. Yet, the vast majority of people obsess over the factors that contribute to the mere 5% remainder. These may include perfect timing, hot tips, new offerings, etc.

My final thought for you is this: Unlike a football game with a final whistle, it is (almost) never too late to choose to adopt a better financial game plan.

I hope you have found this second installment interesting and helpful. I’ll be back next time to wrap up with the third lesson. The additional investment makes all the difference.

Until then.

**Any opinions are those of Wes Battle and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. The information contained in this material does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. Future investment performance cannot be guaranteed, investment yields will fluctuate with market conditions. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. Prior to making an investment decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation.

About the Author

Wes Battle CFP®, ChFEBC℠, AIF® proudly hails from a Fed family. Beginning with his grandfather, their service to the country reaches back 70 years. Wes brings a decade and a half of financial experience to his service to federal employees and works to treat them as family. You can reach Wes at